On September 25, 1991, between 6:15 and 6:45am local time in Padua and while traveling to the airport at Venice, Italy, I observed Venus as I have never before seen the planet. In a clear reddish sky, well above the brightening horizon, it appeared as a brilliant, slender thread of light with pronounced radiance’s at its two extreme points. Squinting reduced the glare somewhat, and enabled me to see that the planet was something like a crescent, and quite unlike the bright dot of nearby Jupiter. The only other astronomical body visible at the time was the just-past-full Moon near the opposite horizon.
The only special circumstance that surrounded this particular sighting was the large amount of upper atmospheric aerosols (hence the strikingly red skies at sunrise and sunset) from the June 12, 1991 volcanic explosion of Mount Pinatubo.
The one thing which I am not prepared to accept is that I saw something that expert ancient [astrologers] did not see. They certainly noticed that the planets were different from the other celestial bodies, and understood perfectly well that the religiously exceedingly important “Morning and Evening Star” were one and the same. The puzzle thus becomes, if they saw it as a crescent, why didn’t they say anything about it?
Of course, if you already know that something looks a certain way, it is a lot easier to see it that way. There are enough authenticated instances of naked-eye observations of Venus as a daytime celestial object that I am reasonably confident that the ancients saw it that way, too. A light mist, autumnal haze, volcanic aerosols, smoke from large fires (On October 20, 1991 I had an opportunity to observe the Sun through just such a pall as three thousand Berkeley and Oakland homes went up in flames-it made quite an effective neutral-density filter) or even filters made from amber, crystal, or other transparent stones would also produce a reduction in glare.
How to demonstrate [the] awareness [of the ancients] of the crescent phase of the planet? I propose to show that the important goddesses of the ancients, all of whom were in varying degrees associated with the planet Venus bear as part of their adornment, or have associated with them in some significant way, a crescent, and that this crescent is not the crescent of the waning or waxing Moon, as has usually been supposed, but is the crescent of the very planet which they represent.
Therefore, without any specialized knowledge or particular skill as an astronomer, anthropologist, archaeologist, historian or classicist, I here embark on an attempt to discover facts to bolster my theory, in the process discovering much more than I had set out to find, and keeping all the while in the forefront of my mind that when searching for evidence of a non-literary sort, especially when it is to support a pet theory, there are many snares and pitfalls, not least of which is suppressing inconvenient data or, as has been the case among even highly respected scholars, simply making the missing data up out of whole cloth.
It seems obvious to me that if the deity represents Venus, then there should be some artistic reference to that planet in her adornment.
Since we know two incontrovertible things, first that Venus has a crescent phase and, second, that it can be seen – albeit under unusual conditions – by ordinary people with ordinary eyesight, we do not have far to go to relate the crescent associated with these deities with the argument that the ancients were well aware of the phases of the planet.
As to the puzzling question of why there is no reference in ancient literature to something so important I can only present two possible explanations: first, these were goddesses of mystery religions, in which information was hidden from the eyes of the uninitiated and was sparingly, if ever, committed to writing. Second, much of ancient literature has been lost or corrupted in copying.
Before discussing goddesses associated with Venus, let me dispose of the Moon as a likely candidate for representations of crescents. An important corroboration of my theory derives from the relative insignificance in Pagan worship of the Moon and deities associated with the Moon, as well as the fact that seemingly they all originally were male.
Another name for the minor deity Selene was Mene (pronounced meenee), in reference to the monthly changes of the Moon. Indeed, the Moon-god was originally the male deity Men (pronounced meen), whose cult came from Attica through Asia Minor. It is important here to stress that in Semitic mythology, the Moon was always a male divinity, and was in no way confounded with the female supreme deity. The Babylonian Moon-god was Sin, who was a distinct deity from Ishtar (the planet Venus) and Shamash (the Sun).
So far from occupying a central place in the Pagan pantheon, Selene is of only peripheral importance. She was the daughter of Hyperion and Theia, sister of Helios and Eos. By Zeus, she was the mother of Pandia. She was represented as a beautiful young woman with wings and a golden diadem, sometimes riding in a chariot drawn by winged horses, cows or bulls (perhaps symbolizing the Moon’s crescent, but more likely a late borrowing and adaptation from the major deities who were associated with Venus). Later, she was identified with Artemis, and as such was worshipped as Phoebe, sister of Phoebus Apollo.
The Roman goddess of the Moon was the minor deity Luna. I argue that though she certainly represents the Moon, she was probably one of the many manifestations of the earth-goddess Ishtar. Selene’s later association with Artemis and Luna’s with Diana was probably more of a reuniting of aspects of the same deity than the coming together of entirely separate goddesses. These bleedings of Moon goddess and Venus goddess were not the association of Venus with the Moon, but rather of the Moon with Venus. Selene is absorbed by Artemis, Luna by Diana.
Though I do not mean here to cite every ancient goddess or belabor the connection of their epithets and attributes with the planet Venus, in order to make my argument clearly, I will discuss a few of the most important: The Babylonian Ishtar (Istar, Nana, Innanna, Nina, Anuit, Easter) is the counterpart of the Phoenician Astarte. The Great Mother goddess is portrayed as both life-giving and as life-taking. She passes through seven gates to the underworld, and “. . . at each gate some of her clothing and adornments are removed until at the last gate she is entirely naked. While she remains in the nether world- whether voluntarily or involuntarily is hard to say-all fertility ceases on earth, but the time comes when she again returns to earth, and as she passes each gate the watchman again restores to her what she had left there until she is again clad in her full splendor, the joy of mankind and of all nature.” (Encyclopedia Britannica, eleventh edition, entry “Ishtar,” page 871)
Annually, the planet Venus disappears from one horizon and, after an interval reappears on the opposite. The connection with “Horned Ishtar” is inescapable. “In the astral-theological system, Ishtar becomes the planet Venus, and the double aspect of the goddess is made to correspond to the strikingly different phases of Venus in the summer and winter seasons. On monuments and seal-cylinders she appears frequently with bow and arrow [compare Athena and Diana], though simply clad in long robes with a crown on her head and an eight-rayed star as her symbol.” (ibid)
Birth of Venus
The votaries of Ishtar were in all cases virgins who, so long as they remained in her service, were not permitted to marry. This tradition is found also among the Roman Vestal Virgins and is recapitulated in the celibacy of Catholic priests and nuns instituted in 305ad by the Spanish synod of Elvira.
Astarte (Ashtoreth) is the female counterpart of the Sun-god Baal worshiped by the Canaanite’s and Phoenicians, and to the Dagon of the Philistines. She was a patroness of the hunt, and as such was inevitably later identified with Artemis. Her worship fused with that of Aphrodite, Artemis, Diana, Juno and Venus. Her star was the planet Venus, and classical writers gave her the epithet Caelestis and Urania. Lucian and Herodian testify that she was represented with horns, and the place-name Ashteroth-Karnaim in Gilead (Ashtoreth of the horns) is considered ample corroboration. The Minoan Great Mother of ancient Crete has as attributes the double axe and the bull. The shape of the double axe and the horns of the bull recall the crescent Venus. Her religious being survived in the worship of Aphrodite and Rhea.
The Egyptian Isis (Ese) wore the horns of a cow, and the cow was sacred to her. Her cult was the most persistent in maintaining itself against Christianity, with which it had a great deal in common, both in doctrine and in emblems. Her worship declined after 307ad, though it persisted in Italy until the 5th century. Her last remaining shrine at Philae was closed in the middle of the 6th century.
Isis is identified with Demeter by Herodotus. Demeter is the mother of Persephone, who is carried off by Hades to the underworld. Demeter is enraged at Zeus for permitting the abduction. “In her wrath, she makes the earth barren, so that mankind are threatened with destruction by famine, as she does not allow the fruit of the earth to spring up again until her daughter is allowed to spend two-thirds of the year with her.” (Dictionary of Classical Antiquities p. 177)
Like Aphrodite, she is associated with the water-god Poseidon. The cow is sacred to her, and among her attributes is the torch-a common attribute of other deities associated with Venus. The Romans identified her with Ceres, who was commonly portrayed with a ram’s horn in her left arm, filled with fruits and flowers.
Aphrodite is the counterpart of the Roman goddess Venus. Aphrodite asteria (starlike), was identified with Phosphor (Lucifer) the morning star as well as Hesper the evening star. As Aphro-geneia (foam born) or Anadyomene (she who rises from the sea) she is much associated with the sea-she even had a son named Ichthys (fish), perhaps because celestial objects were thought to rise from the sea. In art she is often represented as rising naked (like Ishtar) from the sea, or from a bath. Part of the worship of the Minoan Great Mother survives in her epithet Ariadne, “the exceeding holy.”
Aphrodite is connected with the lower world, and was looked on as one of its divinities. Just as Ishtar descends to the kingdom of Ilat the queen of the dead, to find the means of restoring her favorite Tammuz (Adon, Adonis) to life, so does Aphrodite. During her stay all animal and vegetable productivity ceases, to begin again with her return to earth-a clear indication of the conception of her as a goddess of fertility. This legend strikingly resembles that of Persephone. There is no logical reason to associate this legend with the Moon, and as far as I can determine, no such association was ever made; however, it fits Venus beautifully. Her most distinctive title, Urania, the Semitic “Queen of the Heavens,” corroborates her association with the planet Venus.
Pallas (perhaps from pallaks “virgin”) Athena (athela “not giving milk; unsuckled-this seemingly refers both to her virgin state as well as her extraordinary birth from the brow of Zeus) is associated with the storm cloud, the pure ether, the dawn and twilight. With Zeus and Apollo, she forms a triad which represents the embodiment of all divine power. Though usually represented in her manifestation as protector of cities, goddess of war, she is also portrayed as the pure virgin (Athena Lemnia). In Roman mythology she is Minerva, goddess of wisdom.
Artemis, the virgin huntress, is the counterpart of the Roman Diana. She is often portrayed as girt for the chase, and on her head she wears a crescent. My argument that this crescent does not represent the Moon, but rather Venus, is based both on the complete absence of early association of Artemis with the Moon, as well as the transference of the crescent from deities such as Aphrodite and the Cappadocian goddess Ma, another manifestation of Cybele associated with the planet Venus. Like the goddess Demeter one of her important attributes is the flaming torch.
“Another view of the original character of Artemis, which has found much support in modern times, is that she was a moon goddess. But there is no trace of Artemis as such in the epic period, and the Homeric hymn knows nothing of her identification with Selene.” (Encyclopedia Britannica, eleventh edition, entry “Artemis” page 665)
Mexican Madonna on tin
Though etymologically suspect, it is interesting that Saint Jerome suggests that the origin of the Hebrew name “Mary” was stella maris, “star of the sea.” This early association of the Virgin not only with the morning star but with “foam born” deities, such as the Greek Aphrodite and Roman Venus, tends to confirm the carry-over of surviving Pagan religious practices and their grafting onto early Christianity.
Through the first three centuries of Christianity, Mary’s perpetual virginity is nowhere mentioned. In 387 Jerome argued the case with much vehemence in his tract Against Helvidius, and by 451 the concept of parthenogenesis was adopted by the Council of Chalcedon.
Mary Queen of Heaven
The appellation “Mother of God,” an epithet formerly connected with the great nature-goddesses, was not applied to Mary before the close of the third century, though by the 4th century, it had become commonplace. From the time of the Council of Ephesus in 431, the cult of Mary had become an established aspect of orthodox Christianity. In adopting indiscriminately the panoply of Pagan nature-goddess, Mary Queen of Heaven (this epithet is identical to that of Aphrodite Urania) is also given the attribute of the crescent associated with her predecessors.
This metamorphosis of Ishtar, Isis, Artemis etc. into the character of Mary coincides neatly with the idiological vacuum created by the triumph of the “pale Galilean.” Indeed, I would argue that at this juncture the Church Fathers, and in particular Saint Jerome, were all but consciously incorporating the Pagan female deities into the person of Mary the better to accommodate many of those who became professing Christians at the political eclipse of Paganism and who entered the Church with the instincts derived from the nature-religions in which they had been brought up fully developed. Saving the change in position of the crescent, modern artistic representations of Mary Queen of Heaven are indistinguishable from ancient representations of Ishtar.
The crescent and star of Islamic nations may also be based on the planet Venus rather than the Moon. Bradley E. Schaefer of nasa-Goddard Space Flight Center, in the British weekly New Scientist, as reported in the February, 1992 Sky and Telescope handsomely disposes of all likely astronomical associations with the crescent Moon. Though he has found reference to the star and crescent throughout Persia, Italy, Romania and Yemen as far back as 2600bc, he confesses that none of them stands up to scrutiny if it is assumed that the symbol is a representation of the Moon and some other bright celestial object.
However, it may be that he has been looking for an explanation of these symbols in the wrong place. Having disposed pretty neatly of the moon as a candidate, we are left with the only other celestial object that presents a naked-eye crescent. If it is conjectured that the symbol of Islam is actually a graphic representation of the sun-disk-and-horns headdress of the ancient Mother Goddess, things begin to fall into place, especially when it is remembered that before the Prophet Mohammed (570ad) the Islamic peoples were polytheistic.
Just as one goddess absorbs, is absorbed by or changes into another, taking over her epithets and attributes whole-hog as cultures collide-cow’s horns and crescent planets become one; rising stars turn into Ocean goddesses washed up by the sea in enormous eggs, tended by midwife doves to burst upon a wondering world as a paradigm of love-so do basic symbols change mistresses while retaining their basic natures. The ancient ankh-symbol of life, womankind and the planet Venus-becomes the Christian cross; the headdress of the Great Mother hides in plain sight on the flags of Islam.
Egg of Isis
“An egg of wondrous size is said to have fallen from heaven into the river Euphrates. The fishes rolled it to the bank, where the doves having settled upon it, and hatched it, out came Venus, who afterwards was called the Syrian Goddess-that is, Astarte. Hence, the egg became one of the symbols of Astarte or Easter.” (The Two Babylons, Alexander Hislop, page 109, quoting Hyginus’ Fabulae pp. 148, 149) The Sacred Egg of Heliopolis looks like nothing so much as a minaret, and the crescent at its peak like nothing so much as a representation of the crescent Venus.
As the civilized peoples of the Tigris and Euphrates delta spread, they brought their religion with them and it is no surprise to find the symbols of Venus extant in Islamic countries today, both crescent and egg, though the ancient connection to the nature-worship that antedates Mohammed has been lost. In further support of this conjecture, it is interesting to note that the star accompanying the crescent is often said to be Venus.
The most important gods and goddesses of all Western polytheistic religions merge upon examination into only two, one male and one female. The male god represents the sun, and the female the planet Venus. She takes many forms: the Assyrian Ishtar, the Phoenician Ashtoreth (Astarte), the Syrian Atargatis (Dereto), the Egyptian Isis, the Babylonian Belit (Mylitta), the Arabian Ilat (Al-ilat), the Greek Aphrodite, the Roman Diana and the Roman Catholic Mary. It becomes plain that all the female manifestations of the deity-the horns of bulls and cows as attributes of Isis and Ishtar; the bull-dancing of Minoa; Diana and Artemis wearing a crescent on their brows; Mary Queen of Heaven standing on what appears to be the crescent Moon and so on-are not wearing, or standing on, or primarily associated with the Moon at all but rather the planet Venus.