XVII. The Star

paris-17

Meaning:  Peel back the curtains and reveal the mysteries of nature.  Let your observations take you beyond your familiar zone and into new territory.  See how fleeting this life is, sing until the end.


Reversed:  There are times when beliefs that help us feel in control conflict with the beliefs of others.  The solution is to return somewhere where everything meets, to meet them out in the open.

Marseilles
Sforza-Visconti

 

Visconti-Modrone

If there was some credible pattern to the order of the trumps, it would be that after all the trials of Death and the Tower and so on, the celestial group near the end do seem like a kind of reward, icing on the cake.  The Star marks the end, and for enduring these trials, with new eyes the universe becomes apparent for its wonders.  That would be a point of maturity, I’d venture.


History

With the celestial cards in the tarot limited to Sun, Moon and Star, this card would first bring to mind not a generic star, else it would be called The Stars, but specifically it is Venus.   The planet is often the first and brightest star, and in the night sky appears to interact with the Moon’s phases.  More familiar after the Middle Ages as Stella Maris, Star of the Sea, this card is yet another face of the classic Mother goddesses, she frequently wears the blue cloak of night.  About half of the old cultures believed life crawled out of the sea.  But as the night goddess she was also associated with death, rebirth and status in the old days, when the elect such as a King waited in the chilly depths to be reborn.  For many cultures, that place of waiting was the glass castle at the North Star, another possible candidate.

Amiens Cathedral, North Rose Window, French Gothic, 13th Century
Amiens Cathedral, North Rose Window, French Gothic, 13th Century.  The ancient church is built on an ankh shaped footprint, the sign of Venus.

The Star by the time of the tarot has a new layer of meaning, as something of a candidate for muse of the Humanists.  The occult picked up on this also, being enamored with the star as the analogy of the preciousness of every person’s scintilla of being.  But to the people of the 15th Century as much as to ourselves, the stars are both knowable and true in their movement, and hold certain information for us in plain view if we’re devoted enough to record it.  This card is usually the most open to artistic interpretation, but typically features stars and water.  Easily conflated with Aquarius, this card is more primal, referring to the old Sea Mothers, such as Aphrodite and Venus, who had been reduced to ‘love’ emblems.  This is the card of creation, of the stirring of life from the seas. Primal, and contains a range of emblems referring to it, the myth of the star’s descent into the sea.  The Paris example has an astronomer at work, the Marseilles has Temperance emptying her jugs into the big drink, and one of the Visconti decks feature a woman kneeling in the open with an anchor tied to her and a severed head, possibly a link between St. John the Baptist, whose head was said to reside at Amiens, and Orpheus the head that washed up still singing, symbol of prophecy and poetry.  At other times, the downward pointing spear may appear, having various meanings, it is also analogous to the thrown lightning bolt, victory, and the stirring of the seas.  In any case, the card is a reference to preceding matriarchal religion of long archaic times.

Andrea del Castagno, 1450, Tomyris Queen of the Getae
Andrea del Castagno, 1450, Tomyris Queen of the Getae

Hermetic, from a 19th Cent. cenotaph.  Phoenix  held up to the light by Venus.
Hermetic, from a 19th Cent. cenotaph. Phoenix held up to the light by Venus.

“The type of the goddess is that of Aphrodite the Modest, unclothed and decorous, and the material is ivory, closely joined. However, the goddess is unwilling to seem painted, but she stands out as though one could take hold of her . . . The maidens are singing, are singing, and the chorister frowns at one who is off the key, clapping her hands and trying earnestly to bring her into tune . . . Eros, tilting up the centre of his bow, lightly strikes the string for them and the bow-string resounds with a full harmony and asserts that it possesses all the notes of a lyre; and swift are the eyes of the god as they recall, I fancy, some particular measure. What, then, is the song they are singing? For indeed something of the subject has been expressed in the painting; they are telling how Aphrodite was born from the sea through an emanation of Heaven. Upon which one of the islands she came ashore they do not yet tell [..] but they are singing clearly enough of her birth, for by looking upward they indicate that she is from Heaven, and by slightly moving their upturned hands they show that she has come from the sea, and their smile is an intimation of the sea’s calm.” Philostratus the Elder, 3rd C. BC

Venus Hygeia with her son Eros, late Antiquity
Venus Hygeia with her son Eros, sleeping as one did in her sanctuary, late Antiquity

Aphrodite, known to the Romans as Venus, is a very old cult, traced easily to the island of Cyprus, to a place called Paphos, where remains of goddess worship date back three thousand years.  It must have been a mother cult, and the story as it was passed along always had to it a bit of a riddle, that she had fallen from the heavens, and so she was a star, but that she arrived at Paphos by coming out of the sea, like a shipwreck survivor.  Whoever this stranger was, she was very wise, and well liked, and founded a goddess centre that survived to the very end and the bans brought by the Roman Empire.  In some versions of her story, she ascended again and awaits a time to return and lead a new era.

The most famous image of Venus today, the Birth of Aphrodite Anadyomene, Goddess of the Sea, is one of the few such images of the old religions to continuously remain.  Seen as analogous for beauty, the goddess who rose out of the sea, born a full grown woman (and therefore a virgin) who could restore her virginity simply by returning to the sea.  This understanding gives a picture of what the popular temple offered women of the Mediterranean who were able to travel.

Stella Maris
Stella Maris
Aphrodite and Mermen, Pompeii.  Defaced.
Aphrodite and Mermen, Defaced

As goddess of the sea, Aphrodite was patroness of sailors.  The sailors of North Italy, the sailors of Marseille, the sailors who played Tarot knew the Goddess of the Sea perfectly well.  Who but the antique sailors lived close enough to the elements to be struck permanently pagan by circumstances alone.  They called her Star of the Sea, Stella Maris, the -s being silent and sounding like Marie, about all the Catholic they could get out of the hard bitten coastal enclaves.

Copy, Aphrodite is the model of the Odalisque, until Roman times easily spotted as the only goddess to be shown unclothed.  The lion skin rug refers to being discovered in a sea cave by Hercules, servant of the goddess.
Copy, Aphrodite is the model of the Odalisque, until Roman times easily spotted as the only goddess to be shown unclothed.

 

Earliest known Aphrodite Anadyomene painting, from Pompeii
Earliest known Aphrodite Anadyomene painting, from Pompeii

 

Birth of Aphrodite Anadyomene, Roman, Villa Borghese, 3rd Cent. CE
Birth of Aphrodite Anadyomene, Roman, Villa Borghese, 3rd Cent. CE.  Rare depiction of sea lions.  Grain goddessess and Mermen making eyes.  Aphrodite holding a veil overhead, emblem of the skies.  Without the stars, the sailors were stuck.

 

Aphrodite Cygne
Aphrodite Cygne – in the early myth her champion Herakles defeats a wicked king and at the same time wounds and routs Ares, god of war.  This prosperous mother goddess rides the defeated tribe’s symbol, and the tale is one of war avoided.

 

leda
But by Olympian times, in the late days of Greek culture, Zeus and patriarchal rule had begun, and Leda and the Swan tells of the rape of the goddess, of the people of the Thunder god taking the old legendary sanctuaries of Cyprus, and Aphrodite was made to wed Ares.

 

Zeus and Aphrodite having a chat like old friends.  You can almost hear her – “Sure you got away with that whole rape thing.  But too bad for you, I’m still up here in the Olympic league because they love me.”  The goddess of beauty, of young girls and self made women, the lady of the sea, will never go away, in her hand the thread of fate and the wheel of fortune.

 

Remembered, distantly, here the ancient cross of the sea mother, essentially the crescent and ankh combined.
Remembered, distantly, here the ancient cross of the sea mother, the anchor, essentially the crescent and ankh combined.
Venus of Laussel.  There is of course a reason the earliest Mother Goddesses are all called Venus.  25,000 years old.
Venus of Laussel. There is of course a reason the earliest Mother Goddesses are all called Venus. 25,000 years old.

stella maris

Milesian, Scylla, 3rd Cent. CE
Milesian, Scylla the sea goddess.  Similar to the companions of Aphrodite.
Scylla, late antiquity, note anchors.
Scylla, late antiquity, note the anchors.  Under the Olympians she was demoted to an angry sea monster.  Her companion dogs, symbols of a goddess, were merged into her to create a hideous chimera.
Scylla, archaic style as emblem of life, and old sea Mother Goddess.
Scylla, archaic style as emblem of life, and old sea Mother Goddess.
By the time of the Renaissance, degraded in plain sight as a variety of mermaid known as the siren.
By the time of the Renaissance, dissolved into plain sight as a variety of mermaid known as the siren.