It seems fitting to turn my thoughts toward Aphrodite during the month of February when Valentine’s Day is on the minds of those who wish to express their love and those who would rather not speak of that day, as my eldest daughter puts it. Truthfully, I don’t have a very close relationship with Aphrodite, but She has always helped me toward excellence in sometimes very intimate ways.
Most will remember Her role in the Trojan war: She promised Paris the most beautiful woman in the world– who happened to be married to someone else (details, details) and whose husband was probably looking for a reason to start a war anyway1. I don’t want to dwell on that part of Her story too much. There’s a lot there that could be explored, but my primary concern is with how the Theoi act in my life today rather than with 3,200 and some-odd year-old international incidents. While that’s very interesting, I don’t find it very relevant to developing a personal relationship with Her.
Aphrodite helped me conceive my children. Let’s start with that. When Sunweaver is not feeling beautiful, Sunweaver does not want sex. No sex = no children unless you intend to go the assisted reproductive technology route2. My eldest was a happy not-quite-an-accident and my youngest was deliberately planned. Part of that planning included purposeful reaching out to Aphrodite before the appointed hour with my husband and I remember distinctly feeling her presence and feeling very feminine and womanly and beautiful. That’s all very “ho-hum,” unless you know that feminine, womanly, and beautiful are not ways in which I usually identify. “Feminine” particularly feels like a costume I put on sometimes because I enjoy wearing costumes, but not something I am intrinsically. Aphrodite, for all intents and purposes, helps me into that costume and shows me how to have fun with it. I do rather enjoy sex with my husband when we are not trying to have children and I don’t necessarily need to feel “feminine” to do so, but putting that on did seem to help move things along in a positive baby-having direction for me.
Your mileage may vary by rather a lot.
In fact, my mileage varies on a day-to-day basis and it occurs to me that I have very little idea how a gentleman or non gender binary Hellenic might have a relationship with Aphrodite because Her influence tends to be of such a personal nature. I hesitate to speculate because of that, but I can think of a few examples of what Her blessings and influence might look like.
I have a growing teenage daughter who is developing self-confidence, ideas about beauty, and an understanding about what love is. She’s also learning about sex. There is nothing simple about any of that and, by the grace of blessed Aphrodite (and what I hope is good parenting), the eldest will come to understand these areas of her life in a way that is healthy and positive. So far, so good. She seems to be pretty well-adjusted as teenage girls go.
My former hairdresser used to volunteer her time and skills to cut and style the hair of women who were incarcerated. I have also had a female Pagan friend who was incarcerated for a short time and would occasionally speak on what it felt like to have her hair done while she was an inmate. Essentially, everyone deserves to feel good about themselves. You’re not going to die if you don’t get your hair done, but an expertly styled coiffure can contribute to your personal arete. Those who, for whatever reason, end up in a corrections facility are most likely not at the most excellent point in their lives and even a small boost in confidence and self-worth can be the straw that tips the scale toward a better life.
Beauty, love, and sex are as powerful as any weapon of war3. There are plastic surgeons who donate their services to victims of domestic violence, children with birth defects, or people who have suffered traumatic injuries. That’s how I see Aphrodite operating in the world. On a much, much smaller scale, we can do Her work by turning our thoughts toward kindness about others’ appearance and, more importantly, acting on those kind thoughts. Tell the cashier lady that her hair looks nice. Flatter the little old lady in line next to you. Tell that gentleman you like his sweater. We can also do Her work by supporting those healing from rape or other sexual misconduct or, even better, by speaking up to prevent it in the first place; we can support domestic violence shelters in our area; and we can promote good sexual health by teaching safe, sane, and consensual practices.
My firm belief is that the Theoi demand excellence from us and when we are able to open ourselves to the blessings of Aphrodite, it becomes possible to find our arete through love and beauty. Even though my personal relationship with Her is a little bit off-and-on, I know Her blessings can be great and numerous.
1. I have no basis for that assumption whatsoever, aside from the fact that starting a war is almost never as simple as “Dudebro took my wife.”
2. I imagine that reaching out to Aphrodite might help with assisted reproduction, too, but that would certainly be a different experience than mine.