Venus has completed her retrograde journey through Scorpio, and it has truly felt like a descent into the Underworld. We’ve traveled through uncomfortable conditions seeking the source of our power and confronted the intimate secrets that have taken our power away. Now, Venus has reached Libra, a sign that she rules. Here, she is less cut-throat, less ruthless. But there are still lessons to learn.
When I focused on the energy of this transit, I was reminded of a particular myth: if Venus in Scorpio was her descent into the Underworld, her retrograde through Libra is like Orpheus seeking Eurydice. Orpheus was a great hero of Greek mythology, a legendary musician, poet, and Argonaut. But his greatest adventure was not the capture of the Golden Fleece–it was the story of his love with the nymph Eurydice. Nymphs were notoriously elusive, but Orpheus’ song moved everyone he played to. Eurydice fell in love with him, and they wed in a beautiful forest ceremony, complete with a feast fit for the gods. The lovers had eyes only for each other, and when a local shepherd threatened the bride on their way home, neither Eurydice nor Orpheus saw the serpent in their path. Eurydice was bitten in her flight and died on her wedding night. The grief-stricken bridegroom refused to accept his loss. With the blessings of Apollo, he descended into Hades to retrieve his wife. His song moved even the God of Death, and he was granted his wife’s soul. As long as he left the Underworld without looking back, his wife would follow in his footsteps and return with him to the living world.
Orpheus was alive. According to legend, he was the son of Apollo, the Radiant God of the Sun, and the Muse Calliope, an ecstatic. He’d seduced gods and monsters with his song, and adventured the ancient world. Everything about him was alive. Death is incomprehensible to the living, especially to those truly alive. Hades was filled with Shades, lifeless souls devoid of will, left to wander endlessly through the underworld as pale semblances of their former selves.
There’s a fine line between closure and destruction. Orpheus saw his wife die. He witnessed the shepherd’s chase and the snakebite. He saw the life leave her eyes and wept over her body. He remembered her as the beautiful, coquettish wood nymph who had stolen his poet’s heart. He had traveled into the underworld to bring that woman back to life, so they might continue to live the life they’d constructed together. Hades’ stipulation was that Orpheus not lay eyes upon his wife as a Shade. When I first heard this story, it was easy to imagine Hades was just being difficult, throwing in one last challenge to make Orpheus work for his reward because a living man entering the realm of the dead and seeking out and serenading its lord was not challenging enough. But 2018 has been all about Shadow Work with its extensive retrogrades and energetic twists. And after getting up close and personal with Pluto, it now occurs to me that Hades was protecting Orpheus with his stipulation. Hades knew that to see Eurydice as the wandering shadow she had become would change her husband’s perception. He would be shocked by her lack of vivacity. He would break down in sadness for her broken will. Even on the other side, he would forever remember her soulless eyes, her phantom nature. It would ruin them both. So Hades, moved by Orpheus’ plea and struck by his song, said kindly, “Take your wife home. But as long as you are in the Underworld, do not look back. Trust that your wife walks behind you. Keep moving forward, even when you do not believe that she is with you. When you reach the other side, she will be there. Never look back.”
This is what Venus asks of us while she walks backwards through Libra. Here, it is easy to wax nostalgic about love lost. We’re all ready in the Underworld, seeking its power for our own. It feels now as if it would be easy to dig up old relationships, old partnerships, old ideals, and drag them back to the surface with us. We seek shades of the dead, convinced we can revive them. But sometimes, memories are best left fondly in the past. Living beings have no place amongst the dead, and once we see their phantom faces, our memories are forever altered. Orpheus never made it to the surface. He hesitated at the gate, suspicious that he’d never heard a single footstep, felt no presence behind him aside from the general haunted thrum of Styx. And rather than taking a deep breath and crossing the threshold, he turned. Eurydice was there behind him. She’d been less than a step behind the whole time. Orpheus’ eyes brushed over her ethereal form, so small and helpless against the void of the underworld, and with all the horrible silence of his ascent, she was pulled back into the darkness of Hades.
Orpheus was forever changed. His songs were woeful and stricken, and he lived in solitude amongst the rocks, taking solace only in the winds that drowned out his thoughts. A group of maenads begged him to sing something joyful, and when he refused, they tore him apart and threw him into the river. This is the price of regret and nostalgia: our grief tears us apart and scatters us helplessly to the elements.
In the next two weeks, we will be tested. We will appeal to the gods of lost things, begging and bargaining to retrieve what we perceive is missing from our lives. We will think of all the things we’ve lost to time–lovers, lives, dreams, decisions–and we will try to dredge them from the depths of the underworld. Some of us may even find them. But memories are often very different from reality. These things existed in a time and place wholly different from where we are now. Holding them to the candle of our new realities may alter our understanding of them, casting them in new and unfavourable lights. Sometimes, we lose more by trying to recover the past than we do by letting go.
When Venus stations direct on November 15th, we’ll make our way back to the gate. We’ll have appealed to Hades for our heart’s desires and know what bargains need to be made. We’ll know the challenges ahead and what’s at stake. And some of us will be unable to resist looking back, hesitating, and ruining the memories of what was unless we have perfect faith in what will be. That is the true message of this retrograde journey: have faith, don’t look back. Mourn what was, grieve for what you never had, but don’t let that grief tear you apart. When we exit the retrograde shadow in December, we’ll have a much better understanding of our needs and desires. We’ll have reinvented our concept of intimacy and perfected the trajectory of our relationships with partners, finances, and our personal shadows. And though it won’t be easy, and we’ll resent the trials we face along the way, wondering whether the universe is just being difficult, we will emerge with invaluable information for our growth and betterment.
Ask yourself what you have chased into the Underworld. What Shades of the past have you pursued, and what have you bargained for? Of what do you need to let go before grief tears you apart, and where do you need to place your faith in order to move forward?