History: John Dee

(c) Wellcome Library; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

John Dee
A 16th-century portrait by an unknown artist[1]
Born13 July 1527[2]
Tower Ward, London, England[2]
DiedDecember 1608 or March 1609 (age 81)
Mortlake, Surrey, England
Alma materSt John’s College, Cambridge
Louvain University
Known forAdvisor to Queen Elizabeth I
Spouse(s)Katherine Constable
Jane Fromond
Scientific career
InstitutionsTrinity College, Cambridge
Christ’s College, Manchester
Academic advisorsGemma FrisiusGerardus Mercator[3]
Notable studentsThomas Digges[4]

John Dee (13 July 1527 – 1608 or 1609) was an Anglo-Welsh mathematician, astrologer and occultist,[5] and an advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. He spent much time on alchemydivination and Hermetic philosophy. He advocated turning England’s imperial expansion into a “British Empire“, a term he is credited with coining.[6]

Science and sorcery

To 21st-century eyes, Dee’s activities straddle magic and modern science, but the distinction would have meant nothing to him. He was invited to lecture on Euclidean geometry at the University of Paris while still in his early twenties. He was an ardent promoter of mathematics, a respected astronomer and a leading expert in navigation, who trained many who would conduct England’s voyages of discovery.

Meanwhile, he immersed himself in sorcery, astrology and Hermetic philosophy. Much effort in his last 30 years went into trying to commune with angels, so as to learn the universal language of creation and achieve a pre-apocalyptic unity of mankind.[7] A student of the Renaissance Neo-Platonism of Marsilio Ficino, he drew no distinctions between his mathematical research and his investigations of Hermetic magic, angel summoning and divination: all his activities were part of his quest for a transcendent understanding of divine forms underlying the visible world: Dee’s “pure verities”.

Dee amassed one of England’s biggest libraries. His scholarly status also took him into Elizabethan politics as an adviser and tutor to Elizabeth I and through relations with her ministers Francis Walsingham and William Cecil. He tutored and patronised Sir Philip Sidney, his uncle Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of LeicesterEdward Dyer, and Sir Christopher Hatton.


Early life

Dee was born in Tower Ward, London, to Rowland Dee, of Welsh descent, and Johanna Wild.[8][9][10][11][12] His surname “Dee” reflects the Welsh du (black). His grandfather was Bedo Ddu of Nant-y-groes, PillethRadnorshire; John retained his connection with the locality. His father Roland was a mercer and gentleman courtier to Henry VIII. John Dee claimed descent from Rhodri the Great, Prince of Wales, and constructed a pedigree accordingly. His family had arrived in London with Henry Tudor’s coronation as Henry VII.[9] Jane Dee was the daughter of William Wild.[5]

Dee attended Chelmsford Chantry School (now King Edward VI Grammar School) in 1535–1542.[13] He entered St John’s College, Cambridge in November 1542, aged 15, graduating BA in 1545 or early 1546.[14][15] His abilities recognised, he became an original fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge on its foundation by Henry VIII in 1546.[16] At Trinity, the clever stage effects he produced for a production of Aristophanes‘ Peace earned him lasting repute as a magician. In the late 1540s and early 1550s, he travelled in Europe, studying at Louvain (1548) and Brussels and lecturing in Paris on Euclid. He studied under Gemma Frisius and became friends with the cartographers Gerardus Mercator and Abraham Ortelius. Dee also met, worked and learnt from other continental mathematicians, such as Federico Commandino in Italy.[17] He returned to England with a major collection of mathematical and astronomical instruments. In 1552, he met Gerolamo Cardano in London, with whom he investigated a purported perpetual motion machine and a gem supposed to have magical properties.[18]

Rector at Upton-upon-Severn from 1553, Dee was offered a readership in mathematics at Oxford University in 1554, which he declined, citing as offensive English universities’ emphasis on rhetoric and grammar (which, together with logic, formed the academic trivium) over philosophy and science (the more advanced quadrivium, composed of arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy). He was busy with writing and perhaps hoped for a better position at court.[19] In 1555, Dee joined the Worshipful Company of Mercers, as his father had, through its system of patrimony.[20]

In that year, 1555, Dee was arrested and charged with the crime of “calculating”, because he had cast horoscopes of Queen Mary and Princess Elizabeth. The charges were raised to treason against Mary.[19][21] Dee appeared in the Star Chamber and exonerated himself, but was turned over to the Catholic Bishop Bonner for religious examination. His strong, lifelong penchant for secrecy may have worsened matters. The episode was the most dramatic in a series of attacks and slanders that dogged Dee throughout his life. Clearing his name yet again, he soon became a close associate of Bonner.[19]

Dee presented Queen Mary in 1556 with a visionary plan for preserving old books, manuscripts and records and founding a national library, but it was not taken up.[19] Instead, he expanded his personal library in Mortlake, acquiring books and manuscripts in England and on the Continent. Dee’s library, a centre of learning outside the universities, became the greatest in England and attracted many scholars.[22]Dee’s glyph, whose meaning he explained in Monas Hieroglyphica.

When Elizabeth succeeded to the throne in 1558, Dee became her astrological and scientific advisor, even choosing her coronation date.[23][24] From the 1550s to the 1570s, he served as an advisor to England’s voyages of discovery, providing technical aid in navigation and ideological backing to create a “British Empire”, a term he was the first to use.[25] Dee wrote in October 1574 to William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley seeking patronage. He claimed to have occult knowledge of treasure in the Welsh Marches and of valuable manuscripts kept at Wigmore Castle, knowing that the Lord Treasurer‘s ancestors came from the area.[26]

In 1577, Dee published General and Rare Memorials pertayning to the Perfect Arte of Navigation, a work setting out his vision of a maritime empire and asserting English territorial claims on the New World. Dee was acquainted with Humphrey Gilbert and close to Sir Philip Sidney and his circle.[25]

In 1564, Dee wrote the Hermetic work Monas Hieroglyphica (“The Hieroglyphic Monad“), an exhaustive Cabalistic interpretation of a glyph of his own design, meant to express the mystical unity of all creation. Having dedicated it to Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor in an effort to gain patronage, Dee attempted to present it to him at the time of his ascension to the throne of Hungary. The work was esteemed by many of Dee’s contemporaries, but cannot be interpreted today in the absence of the secret oral tradition of that era.[27]

His 1570 “Mathematical Preface” to Henry Billingsley‘s English translation of Euclid’s Elements argued for the importance of mathematics as an influence on the other arts and sciences.[28] Intended for an audience outside the universities, it proved to be Dee’s most widely influential and frequently reprinted work.[29]

Later life

The “Seal of God”, British Museum

By the early 1580s, Dee was discontented with his progress in learning the secrets of nature and his diminishing influence and recognition in court circles. Failure of his proposed calendar revision, imperial recommendations and ambivalent results from exploration of North America had nearly brought his hopes of political patronage to an end. As a result, he began a more energetic turn towards the supernatural as a means to acquire knowledge. He sought to contact spirits through the use of a “scryer” or crystal-gazer, which would act as an intermediary between Dee and the angels.[30]

Dee’s first attempts with several scryers were unsatisfactory, but in 1582 he met Edward Kelley (then calling himself Edward Talbot to disguise his conviction for “coining” or forgery), who impressed him greatly with his abilities.[31] Dee took Kelley into his service and began to devote all his energies to his supernatural pursuits.[31] These “spiritual conferences” or “actions” were conducted with intense Christian piety, always after periods of purification, prayer and fasting.[31] Dee was convinced of the benefits they could bring to mankind. (The character of Kelley is harder to assess: some conclude that he acted with cynicism, but delusion or self-deception cannot be ruled out.[32] Kelley’s “output” is remarkable for its volume, intricacy and vividness. Dee claimed that angels laboriously dictated several books to him this way, through Kelley, some in a special angelic or Enochian language.[33][34]Edward Kelley

In 1583, Dee met the impoverished yet popular Polish nobleman Albert Łaski, who, after overstaying his welcome at court, invited Dee to accompany him back to Poland.[21] With some prompting by the “angels” (again through Kelley) and by dint of his worsening status at court, Dee decided to do so. He, Kelley, and their families left in September 1583, but Łaski proved to be bankrupt and out of favour in his own country.[35] Dee and Kelley began a nomadic life in Central Europe, meanwhile continuing their spiritual conferences, which Dee detailed in his diaries and almanacs.[33][34] They had audiences with Emperor Rudolf II in Prague Castle and King Stephen Bathory of Poland, whom they attempted to convince of the importance of angelic communication. The Bathory meeting took place at the Niepołomice Castle (near Kraków, then capital of Poland) and was later analysed by Polish historians (Ryszard Zieliński, Roman Żelewski, Roman Bugaj) and writers (Waldemar Łysiak).[citation needed] While Dee was generally seen as a man of deep knowledge, he was mistrusted for his connection with the English monarch, Elizabeth I, for whom some thought (and still do) that Dee was a spy. The Polish king, a devout Catholic and cautious of supernatural media, began their meeting(s) by affirming that prophetic revelations must match the teachings of Christ, the mission of the Holy Catholic Church, and the approval of the Pope.

In 1587, at a spiritual conference in Bohemia, Kelley told Dee that the angel Uriel had ordered the men to share all their possessions, including their wives. By this time, Kelley had gained some renown as an alchemist and was more sought-after than Dee in this regard: it was a line of work that had prospects for serious and long-term financial gain, especially among the royal families of central Europe. Dee, however, was more interested in communicating with angels, whom he believed would help him solve the mysteries of the heavens through mathematics, optics, astrology, science and navigation. Perhaps Kelley in fact wished to end Dee’s dependence on him as a diviner at their increasingly lengthy, frequent spiritual conferences.[35] The order for wife-sharing caused Dee anguish, but he apparently did not doubt it was genuine and they apparently shared wives. However, Dee broke off the conferences immediately afterwards. He returned to England in 1589, while Kelley went on to be the alchemist to Emperor Rudolf II.[35][36] Nine months later, on 28 February 1588, a son was born to Dee’s wife, whom Dee baptised Theodorus Trebonianus Dee and raised as his own, though he may have been Kelley’s, as Dee was 60 at the time and Kelley 32.

More at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Dee

The Redemptive Power of Sexual Anarchy

Cengiz Sisman (perspectives.ajsnet.org)

Center panel from Hieronymus Bosch. The Garden of Earthly Delights, c. 1480–1505. Oil on panel, 87 x 77 in. Madrid, Prado. Google Earth via Wikimedia Commons.

Two or more couples attend the ceremony; the ladies in their best garments and jewelry serve a meal of mutton to the diners. After dinner, the candles are extinguished, and the husbands exchange wives. It is believed that children born of such unions are regarded as saintly.

This is rumored to be a scene that took place in one of the most transgressive Sabbatian practices, better known as “Lamb Festival.” The Sabbatians are the followers of the self-declared Jewish messiah, Sabbatai Zvi (1626–1676), who initiated one of the most remarkable messianic movements in world history. After Sabbatai Zvi’s infamous conversion to Islam under Ottoman duress in 1666, some of his followers created a crypto-messianic sect that came to be known as the Dönmes. The sect, overtly Islamic and covertly messianic Jewish, sustained its enigmatic identity in the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey and still exists today. The Sabbatian movement impacted Judaism via its “heretical” theology; influenced Islam via the Dönme Kabbalah; and had an impact on Christianity via Frankist radicalism in eastern Europe. By the eighteenth century, Dönmes were divided into three subgroups, Yakubi, Karakas, and Kapancı, each of which followed a unique historical and theological trajectory. In the meantime, they disagreed practically on anything. For example, the Kapancı’s “Lamb Festival” was called the Bahar Bayramı (Spring Festival) among the Yakubi and Dört Gönül Bayramı (Festival of Four Souls) among the Karakas.

Religious communities often use calendars and festivals to reenact the significant events in their history, to renew their cosmic time, and to perpetuate their existence. Calendars and festivals serve as mirrors of experience. The Sabbatian calendar celebrates both Jewish and Islamic holidays—often in a subversive manner—in addition to its own holidays. The Lamb Festival was perhaps the most antinomian (and, by communal standards, antisocial) Dönme festival, so much so that only the radical members dared to observe it.

The most basic description of the festival, based on several historical and contemporary accounts, is as follows: on the night of 22 Adar (sometime in mid-March) the couples gather and perform a series of rituals in a ceremonial manner. The most important element of the meal at the dinner table is the seasonal lamb. Before that day, believers were supposed to refrain from eating mutton. The dinner is accompanied by songs, hymns, prayers, and drinks. At the end of the night, according to the most widely circulated rumors, the couples extinguish the lights and randomly swap partners. Babies who were conceived on that night were believed to be holy and would-be messiahs. Yitzhak Ben Zvi, an Israeli politician and historian who visited the Dönme communities several times in the first half of the twentieth century, noted: “The candles are put out in the course of the dinner which is attended by orgies and the ceremony of the exchange of wives.”

There are several other written and oral Jewish and Ottoman accounts that claimed the existence of this transgressive practice. For example, a pamphlet circulated by the Istanbul Rabbinate in 1714 makes the same allegation. The Italian rabbi Joseph Ergas refers to it as early as in 1715. These sources suggest that most rabbis refused to work with the Dönmes in later centuries, maintaining that they were likely to be bastards (mamzerim). Therefore, it was forbidden for them to belong to the congregation and marrying them or their children was out of the question. According to a 1914 circular, the Ottoman chief rabbi still held this traditional Jewish attitude toward the Dönmes, accusing them of “immorality, sexual perversity, infidelity, and blasphemy.” Echoing this rabbinical anathema, the historian Joseph Nehama (d. 1971) repeats that the Dönmes lived in sexual anarchy and swapped wives. In the 1870s, an Ottoman bureaucrat, Ahmed Safi, related that a young man of Salonica once happened to see about fifteen people having sex and drinking in one of the Dönme houses. In 1925, a Karakas woman claimed that she was forced to participate in one of those parties. Another young Kapancı man related that the practice continued in the nineteenth century, exclusively among married couples. In the same year, another apologetic Karakas man, Rüstü, corroborated that the most important and the most blessed of those holidays in the eyes of the Dönmes was the Lamb Festival. In later years, claims that widows were providing sexual training to bachelors and other allegations circulated.

To be sure, the Dönmes were not the originators of this particular antinomian practice. Although its historical origin is unclear, similar rumors and allegations of libertinism have been leveled against closed, esoteric, and messianic communities—including some of the Anatolian Alawites, Eastern Armenians, and Oriental Jews—since antiquity. Even Evliya Celebi, a seventeen-century Ottoman intellectual, mentions the existence of similar rumors in eastern Anatolia.

The Sabbatian theology was conducive to antinomian sexual tendencies from the beginning. A certain sexual wantonness entered the movement with the marriage of Sabbatai to “Sarah the harlot,” a Polish- Jewish orphan who dreamed of marrying the messiah, though engaging in forbidden acts had been part of Sabbatian theology from the beginning, based on the talmudic teaching that “the Messianic Age will come when all men are righteous or all men are sinners.” While Sabbatai was in Izmir, he demanded that his followers bring him their virgin daughters but he sent them back a few days later without having touched them. In Istanbul, one of his believers accused him of having committed adultery with his fiancée and impregnating her. The Sabbatian prophet Abraham Cardozo accused Yakub Çelebi, the founder of the Yakubi sect, of sleeping with his followers’ wives. Even more scandalous sexual allegations were leveled against Osman Baba, the founder of the Karakas sect.

Like the Dönmes, the Frankists, that is, the Polish Sabbatians, were also the subject of wild rumors about their antinomian behaviors, particularly their ritual transgression of sexual prohibitions. They committed adultery, engaged in wife swapping, studied banned Sabbatian books, and professed the faith of Sabbatai. The diary of the sect’s founder, Jacob Frank, details scenes such as the following: “The Lord set up a guard in the courtyard made up of our people, so that no one might dare even to look through the window, and he himself went in with the Brothers and Sisters, undressed nude and also Her Highness, and ordered all those gathered [to do so]. . . . after that, the sexual relations took place thereafter according to his ordination.”

Such “strange acts” were justified by the postmessianic Dönme Kabbalah, which professed that the messiah had already come and abolished the rulings of the Torah of Beri’ah (this world) and initiated the Torah of the ‘Azilut (world-to-come) in its place. In order to penetrate into the ‘Azilut world fully, a believer was supposed to transgress the rulings belonging to this world. To be sure, one of the Sabbatian commandments deals with the prohibition of fornication, but it is formulated in an ambiguous fashion, given that the sexual prohibitions belonged to the world of Beri’ah. Gershom Scholem speculates that some of the Dönmes were of the opinion that as long as incest taboos are in force here on earth “it is impossible to perform the unifications above.” In the mystical suspension of the prohibition on incest, man will become “like unto his Creator in the mystery of the Tree of Life.” With this, as Scholem would call it, “redemption through sin” would be realized.

Sexual transgressions paradoxically signify rebirth and purification in mystical traditions. In the case of the Dönmes, through singing, drinking, and eating the “holy flesh of lamb,” which was identified with Sabbatai, the believer became part of the holy community. This is akin to the Eucharist, when the believer partakes of the consecrated bread and wine and is thus united with the body of Christ. But the sexual union would be the closest and highest form of identification with the holy of the holiest.

There is a necessary link between eroticism and mysticism; both of them aspire to realize the ultimate union. In Jewish, Christian, and Islamic mysticism, sexual experience and sexual images play an integral role in the mystical journey to God. That’s why mystical language uses erotic imagery abundantly in trying to describe the indescribable. One of the most inspirational Muslim mystics, Ibn Arabi (1165–1240), for example, likened the moment of orgasm to the Unio Mystica experience. So, it would come as no surprise Sabbatai and Sabbatians used sexual imageries such as “marrying Torah,” and “being the bride of the Shekhinah” in their discourses. Fittingly, the “Song of Songs” and “Meliselda” were Sabbatai’s favorite romances.

We are not sure whether all the Sabbatians put those transgressive ideas in practice, or whether they simply entertained the idea in a speculative manner. In the earlier times, the rite was practiced on the evening of the traditional commemoration of Sabbatai’s birthday in the spring, but it is not clear whether it was associated with sexuality. The early Dönme songs and hymns contain implicit and explicit references to the festival, such as symbols of “eating,” “the table,” “the opening of the rose,” “providing,” and “lending.”

One of the infamous Dönme leaders, Dervish Efendi of the eighteenth century, institutionalized this practice in full. In his mystical commentaries, he defended the abrogation of the sexual prohibitions contained in the “Torah of Beri’ah.” Basing his interpretations of obscure passages in the Zohar, he introduced a sort of “collective marriage,” wherein the women of the sect were married to all the men of the sect. He was even rumored to practice sexual hospitality, a practice that made its way to the Frankist circle. In Dervish Efendi’s homilies, formulae such as “Freedom is the secret of the spiritual Torah,” and “Soldiers are released from the Commandments” clearly refer to these antinomian practices. To some of the Dönmes, this lawless and nihilist attitude toward sexuality granted them the most liberating and redemptive experience on the way to the messianic age.

Was Jesus a woman?

Aida Edemariam

Fri 23 Jun 2006 (theguardian.com)

Shares35The Right Revd Katharine Jefferts Schori has compounded the offence of being the highest-ranking woman in the Anglican church by saying, in her first sermon since her election as 26th presiding bishop of the US Episcopal Church, that “Mother Jesus gives birth to a new creation – and you and I are his children.”

“Conservative anger was fuelled [by this] yesterday,” reported the Telegraph gleefully, but in fact, notes Revd Dr Liz Carmichael, fellow and tutor in theology at St John’s College, Oxford, they’d have really to be quite conservative to get so vexed: “There is a strong, accepted tradition of feminist thinking in the mainstream church.”

The point, she says, is “that in orthodox Christianity you don’t assign gender to God. ‘Father’ is simply a metaphor for a figure of authority” – which doesn’t make God a man, but makes it more important that His feminine qualities – gentleness and nurturing – be emphasised. The same goes for Jesus: regardless of his actual sex, “son of God” is a metaphor for an all-encompassing filial relationship.

Although it was men who first explored the feminine qualities of the godhead – in the second century, Clement of Alexandria was already speaking of “the Father’s loving breasts” and “the milk of the Father” – the best-known proponent of the idea in the western church is the 14th- century female mystic Julian of Norwich, whose formulation Dr Schori was using (a cliche so beloved by theology students that Rowan Williams once sighed he wished she’d never written it): “And so Jesus is our true Mother in nature by our first creation, and he is our true Mother in grace by his taking our created nature.”

It is true that thereafter the Julian feminine interpretations rather took a back seat, only reappearing again in the late 60s and 70s, and reaching their maturity in the works of Elisabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza and Elizabeth A Johnson. Their theses are so established now that perhaps Dr Schori, in the current troubled climate, should have reached instead for another of Julian’s well-known utterances: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

New word to me: Parrhesia

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In rhetoricparrhesia is a figure of speech described as: “to speak candidly or to ask forgiveness for so speaking”.[1] This Ancient Greek word has three different forms, as related by Michel FoucaultParrhesia is a noun, meaning “free speech”. Parrhesiazomai is a verb, meaning “to use parrhesia”. Parrhesiastes is a noun, meaning one who uses parrhesia, for example “one who speaks the truth to power”.[2]


The term parrhesia is borrowed from the Greek παρρησία parrhēsía (πᾶν “all” and ῥῆσις “utterance, speech”) meaning literally “to speak everything” and by extension “to speak freely”, “to speak boldly”, or “boldness”.[3] The term first appears in Greek literature, when used by Euripides, and may be found in ancient Greek texts throughout the end of the fourth century and during fifth century B.C.[2]It implies not only freedom of speech, but the obligation to speak the truth for the common good, even at personal risk.

Usage in ancient Greece

In ancient Greece, rhetoric and parrhesia were understood to be in opposition to each other through the dialogues written by Plato. There are two major philosophies during this period, one being Sophistry and one being Dialectic.

Sophistry is most commonly associated with the use of rhetoric or means of persuasion to teach or persuade an audience. In its opposition is the practice of dialectic, supported by Plato and his mentor Socrates, which uses dialogue to break apart complex issues in search of absolute truth or knowledge. In Plato’s writings, specifically Gorgias, the term parrhesia is more closely associated with dialectic, meaning that it is “free speech” and not rhetoric or manipulation.

Parrhesia was a fundamental component of the democracy of Classical Athens. In assemblies and the courts Athenians were free to say almost anything, and in the theatre, playwrights such as Aristophanes made full use of the right to ridicule whomever they chose.[4] Elsewhere there were limits to what might be said; freedom to discuss politics, morals, religion, or to criticize people would depend on context: by whom it was made, and when, and how, and where.[5]

If one was seen as immoral, or held views that went contrary to popular opinion, then there were great risks involved in making use of such an unbridled freedom of speech, as Socrates found out when he was sentenced to death for not adoring deities worshiped by the Athenians and for corrupting the young.[4]

Cynic philosophers

Main article: Cynicism (philosophy)

Parrhesia was a central concept for the Cynic philosophers, as epitomized in the shameless speech of Diogenes of Sinope.[6]


Main article: Epicureans

Parrhesia was also used by Epicureans in a friendly manner of frank criticism during teaching Epicurean philosophy and offering psychotherapy.[7]

New Testament use

A related use of parrhesia is found in the Greek New Testament, where it means “bold speech”, the ability of believers to hold their own in discourse before political and religious authorities (e.g. Acts 4:13: “Now when they saw the boldness [την παρρησίαν] of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus.”). It also is used to describe the reply Jesus made to the Pharisees.[1][8][9]

More at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parrhesia

Carol Carter Memorial

Carol Carter, H.W., M.

In what was undoubtedly the largest online gathering in the history of The Prosperos, some 26 students from across the country and the world gathered together on Sunday morning (Pacific time), May 31, to pay honor to our friend and mentor Carol Carter, H.W., M.

We talked about her past, her years in New York, her time at Co-Op ’69, and her funny, funny skits for the Clapsaddle Chorale. Then we discussed her love of psychodrama and the significance of her combining traditional psychodrama with the release inherent in Releasing the Hidden Splendour (RHS).

We closed with a moment of silent communion and Peggy Lee’s Love Song.

It was a healing moment for all of us, including, I think, Carol.

–Mike Zonta, BB editor

Wonder and the Sacred Search for Truth: Ann Druyan on Why the Scientific Method Is Like Love

By Maria Popova (brainpicings.org)


“We, this people, on a small and lonely planet / Traveling through casual space / Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns / To a destination where all signs tell us / It is possible and imperative that we learn / A brave and startling truth…” So begins Maya Angelou’s cosmic clarion call to humanity, one of the most beautiful and poignant poems ever written — a poem that flew to space, a poem that came from space: a poem inspired by Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot — his lyrical meditation on the landmark photograph of Earth, which the Voyager spacecraft took in 1990 as an afterthought upon completing its unprecedented photographic survey of our Solar System, and which Sagan spent years petitioning NASA to permit.palebluedot.jpg?resize=680%2C922

The “Pale Blue Dot” photograph captured by the Voyager 1 (NASA/JPL)

The Voyager, which had sailed into space thirteen years earlier, carried alongside its instruments The Golden Record — a visionary, intensely poetic effort to capture the essence of Earth in sounds and images that would convey to another planetary civilization across spacetime, and, perhaps even more vitally in the middle of the Cold War, mirror back to us who and what we are: a single symphonic species.

Tasked with the impossible, inspired work of distilling that essence was the project’s creative director, Ann Druyan. In the course of composing the record, Sagan and Druyan, to their own wonder-stricken surprise, found themselves composing a stunning love story with their lives. They spent the remaining two decades of Sagan’s life fathoming and figuring the universe together — writing poetic inquiries into the origin of comets, dreaming up children’s book ideas, collaborating on the iconic 1980 television series turned book Cosmos, which The Library of Congress listed among 88 books to have shaped the country’s conscience, alongside epoch-making triumphs of courage and vision that have changed the course of culture and the understanding of nature — books like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.margaretcook_leavesofgrass17.jpg?resize=680%2C853

Art by Margaret C. Cook for a rare 1913 edition of Leaves of Grass. (Available as a print.)

Two decades after Sagan’s death — decades coruscating with dazzling scientific discoveries that have disquieted us into shedding more myths and beholding more of reality — Druyan picked up the thread of wonder to write and produce a continuation of Cosmos, starring astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and soaring into these new frontiers of our ever-evolving understanding of space and time. In the companion book, Cosmos: Possible Worlds (public library), she extends an invitation “to feel more intensely the romance of science and the wonder of being alive right now, at these particular coordinates in spacetime, less alone, more at home, here in the cosmos.”

Tracing our cosmic story — from the cyanobacteria through which life first bloomed on our rocky world billions of years ago to our search for life on possible worlds many lightyears away; from the cave walls on which early humans first mapped their spatial coordinates to the Rube Goldberg machine of discoveries that led to the lasers with which these caves are now studied; from the symbiotic evolution of plants and the pollinators that feast on them to the Russian scientists who starved to death in a murderous dictatorship to protect their precious collection of seeds ensuring our planet’s biodiversity far beyond their lifetimes — Druyan takes up the mission not as a scientist herself but as a lifelong student and steward of the scientific mindscape, a self-described “hunter-gatherer of stories”: stories that begin with the human, with individual scientists or teams of scientists, and beget the cosmic, parting the curtain to let in a few more golden rays of reality, chiseling some precious fragment of knowledge from the immense monolith of the unknown.

At the center of her expansive reach into past and future is a lucid, luminous look at the realities and responsibilities the present is calling us to rise to — an inquiry into what it would take for us to transcend our human limitations and foibles so that we may endure as stewards rather than destroyers of this irreplaceable planet. In a testament to the fundamental fact that science is “a truly human endeavor,” Druyan writes:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngScience, like love, is a means to that transcendence, to that soaring experience of the oneness of being fully alive. The scientific approach to nature and my understanding of love are the same: Love asks us to get beyond the infantile projections of our personal hopes and fears, to embrace the other’s reality. This kind of unflinching love never stops daring to go deeper, to reach higher.

This is precisely the way that science loves nature. This lack of a final destination, an absolute truth, is what makes science such a worthy methodology for sacred searching. It is a never ending lesson in humility. The vastness of the universe — and love, the thing that makes the vastness bearable — is out of reach to the arrogant. This cosmos only fully admits those who listen carefully for the inner voice reminding us to remember we might be wrong. What’s real must matter more to us than what we wish to believe.


Art by the Brothers Hilts from A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader.

Learning not to confuse the strength of our beliefs for the strength of the evidence is, of course, one of the greatest, most difficult triumphs of our growth — as individuals, as societies, and as a species. In consonance with the tenets of Sagan’s timeless Baloney Detection Kit for critical thinking, Druyan offers her simple, elegant formula for telling the two apart:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngTest ideas by experiment and observation. Build on those ideas that pass the test. Reject the ones that fail. Follow the evidence wherever it leads. And question everything, including authority. Do these things and the cosmos is yours.

She opens and closes the book with the words of Albert Einstein, spoken at the 1939 World’s Fair, where he had gone to leave a time-capsule of wisdom for posterity:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngIf science, like art, is to perform its mission truly and fully, its achievements must enter not only superficially but with their inner meaning into the consciousness of the people.

I am reminded — by Einstein’s words, by Druyan’s endeavor — of John F. Kennedy’s miraculous defense of poetry: “We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth.” The man whose unassailable vision had landed the first human foot on another celestial body understood that in the poetry of reality, every portal of wonder, be it art or science, is a portal to truth. Sometimes — if our passion and persistence are great enough, if chance rolls its impartial dice suitably enough — it is a portal to “a brave and starling truth.”

What emerges from Druyan’s Cosmos: Possible Worlds is a rosary of such shimmering sometimeses. Complement it with poet Marie Howe’s stunning ode to the singularity of our cosmic belonging, then revisit physicist Brian Greene on wresting the poetry of existence from an aloof universe and Carl Sagan on how to live with the unknown.

A new Venus cycle – Venus’ metamorphosis from an Evening star to a Morning star

June 1, 2020 (astrobutterfly.com)

On June 3rd, 2020 Venus retrograde is conjunct the Sun. This is when a new 584-day Venus cycle begins.

This is also when Venus transforms from an evening star into a morning star.

Venus goes retrograde less than any other planet, but when it does, it touches us to the core of our heart.

Venus retrograde is similar to a descent into the underworld: a part of us must die so that a new version of ourselves can emerge.

Did you know that Venus, our sister planet, is the 3rd brightest object in the sky, after the Sun and the Moon? Venus affects us deeply, and when it changes direction, our life changes too.

Venus retrograde is so much more significant because it happens only once every 1,5 years of 584 days. And Venus retrograde is nothing else but the beginning on a new Venus cycle.

Yes, just like Sun has a cycle (365 days, or a year), just like Moon has a cycle (29 days, or a lunar month), so does Venus.

What is spectacular about the Venus cycle is that it has two distinct phases: Venus morning star, and Venus evening star.

For 9 months (btw, did you know that Venus cycle correlates to the human gestation?) Venus rises before the Sun. This is her morning star phase.

She then disappears from the sky for approximately 2 months. After 2 months, she rises again, this time as an evening star. After that Venus disappears again, this time for only two weeks. A new Venus cycle starts, with Venus rising again as a morning star.

Complicated? Venus’ movement back and forth, before and after the Sun can seem confusing. It was confusing for our ancestors too, and some cultures believed that Venus was two different stars!.

Venus’ metamorphosis from an evening star into a morning star occurs in the middle of the Venus retrograde cycle – that is June 3rd, 2020.

The Rebirth Of Venus

Venus retrograde happens exactly at the end of a Venus cycle when Venus shifts from an evening star to a morning star.

Venus changes her clothes and metamorphoses from an evening beauty into a morning warrior.

When retrograde, Venus has to leave behind her beautiful evening gown (Venus evening star) and embrace the purity of nature (Venus morning star).

Venus retrograde is nothing else but Venus’ rebirth.

The transformation is a complete metamorphosis. No wonder Venus retrograde completely turns our life upside down, too.

Venus retrograde is a process of transformation that is absolutely necessary.

Venus is retrograde for 40 days. Many myths have been connected to the 40 days period: Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for 40 days. Moses and the ancient Hebrews wandered in the wilderness for 40 days. Buddha is said to have fasted and meditated for 40 days before reaching Samadhi.

But perhaps the most significant Venus retrograde myth is the Sumerian myth of Inanna’s descent into the underworld.

Venus And The Myth Of Inanna

Inanna is no one else but the Sumerian counterpart of Venus. Inanna was the Goddess of fertility and abundance and the most important deity of the times.

Her morning and evening phase were indicators of agricultural productivity. Food was the most important thing for our ancestors, food basically meant life. No wonder Inanna (Venus) played such an important role at the time.

The myth of Inanna’ descent into the underworld is nothing else but an allegory of Venus’ retrograde cycle.

  • The myth starts with Inanna deciding to travel to the underworld to visit her sister Ereshkigal, the Goddess of the Underworld. To the Sumerians, Venus disappearing under the horizon meant Venus went to the Underworld
  • Inanna passes through 7 gates to Underworld and she has to remove a piece of clothing or jewelry at each gate–> she needs to let go of her old identification of the self
  • She finally arrives in the Underworld, but her sister decides to kill her –> this is the phase when Venus is conjunct the Sun and a new Venus cycle starts. To start anew, a part of us must die
  • The goddess of the Underworld who strikes Inanna dead is nothing else but our shadow side, which we need to learn to integrate
  • Emissaries from the Earth come to rescue Inanna and resurrect her. Inanna is resurrected and comes back to Earth –> this is the phase when Venus appears again in the sky, this time as a morning star.
  • Inanna’s myth is the story of Venus retrograde when Venus ‘shapeshifts’ from Evening Star to the Morning Star.

To recap:

  • At the beginning of Venus retrograde, Venus appears to change her direction and starts moving backward
  • Venus becomes invisible in the evening sky as she is approaching the conjunction with the Sun
  • Mid-retrograde cycle Venus conjuncts the Sun and a new Venus cycle starts
  • 7 days after the conjunction Venus appears again, this time in the morning sky
  • And 10 days after her appearance, Venus finally starts to move forward again.

The Real Meaning Of Venus Retrograde

Two things are important to keep in mind about Venus retrograde:

  1. Venus changes from an evening star to a morning star–> Venus retrograde is about a metamorphosis from one state of being to another
  2. Venus starts a new cycle –> Venus retrograde will come with a new beginning in your life.

Venus retrograde and a new beginning? This can come as a surprise to you because you probably have a long list of things you should NOT do when Venus (or any other planet) is retrograde.

But now that you know that Venus actually starts a new cycle when retrograde, it makes sense it comes with new beginnings.

That’s not the case in the first half of Venus retrograde. The first 20 days of Venus retrograde are about letting go of the old, and NOT a time for new beginnings. This is when old lovers or unfinished things from the past come into your life – so that you can finally deal with them.

So yes, the first half of Venus retrograde is about letting go of something we value.

However, when we start the second half of Venus retrograde things take a completely different turn.

Born Again

This is a little-known secret but exactly in the middle of the Venus retrograde, when Venus is conjunct the Sun and closest to the Earth, this is the best time for a new beginning. This is when you have more free will than ever. In the heart of the Sun, you can manifest whatever your heart desires.

This can also be a time of confusion. When Venus is conjunct the Sun, she is “invisible” disappearing in the glare of the Sun. Things may not be what they seem. But now, more than ever, it is important to listen to your heart.

Let the heat of the Sun burn you, just like Venus throws herself into the arms of the Sun, just like Inanna is killed by her alter-ego, Ereshkigal.

If you do it, you will finally shed your old skin, and let go of whatever is no longer serving you.

And then, just like Venus is born again, this time in the morning sky, a new you will emerge.

At the time Venus is conjunct the Sun, she is as close to the Earth as she can be. This is the time to have an honest look at your core values and discover what you hold most dear.

Yes, Venus retrograde can initially come with a loss. You will have to let go of old values, relationships, or your attitude to these relationships. But if you do it, then your life will be completely transformed.

Even if Venus conjunct the Sun will come with great insights and clarity – this doesn’t mean you should make big decisions yet. It will take a few more days until Venus will appear in the sky again (Venus will rise as a morning star for the 1st time around June 10th, just before sunrise). This is when things will start to make more sense to you.

Venus Morning Star, Venus Evening Star

Venus retrograde is that part of the 19 months or 584-day Venus cycle when Venus changes from an evening star to a morning star.

Venus spends half of the cycle as a morning star and the other half of the cycle as an evening star.

These two faces of Venus correspond to the two signs Venus rules: Taurus and Libra.

Taurus has the characteristics of Venus as a morning star, and Libra has the characteristics of Venus as an evening star.

When Venus rises a morning star, before the Sun, she is straightforward, sensual, and keen to meet her needs and desires.

Venus morning star is about self-love – about learning how to love yourself for who you are, straight and simple.

You were born with Venus as a morning star if your Venus is before your Sun in your natal chart.

EXAMPLE: If you are a Virgo, but your Venus is in Leo or Cancer, you are a Venus morning star. If you are a Virgo and your Venus is also in Virgo, Venus has to be before the Sun (e.g. Venus is at 10° Virgo, and Sun is at 20° Virgo) to be a Venus morning star.

When Venus rises as an evening star, she has (hopefully) already learned how to love herself. She is now is concerned with the love for another. That’s why she appears in the sky AFTER the Sun has set (the sunset is a Libra symbol, by the way).

Venus is now interested in others. You were born with Venus as an evening star if Venus is after your Sun in your natal chart.

EXAMPLE: if you are a Virgo, and your Venus is in Libra or Scorpio, you are a Venus evening star. If you are a Virgo and your Venus is also in Virgo, Venus has to be after the Sun (e.g. Sun is at 10° Virgo, and Venus is at 20° Virgo) to be an evening star.

Venus: Self-Love And Selfless Love

We need both types of Venus in our life: self-love (Venus morning star) and selfless love (Venus evening star).

Your Venus natal phase tells you which type of love you were born to master in this lifetime.

Are you a Venus morning star? You then need to master self-love. You need to learn how to love yourself. Attention, narcissism is not self-love, it’s, in fact, a lack of self-love masked as self-love. True self-love does not need validation from the outside.

Are you a Venus evening star? You then need to master selfless love, the love for the other. This doesn’t mean you have to become a doormat and do whatever it takes to please the other. It simply means to love ‘the other’ for who they are.

No matter what your natal Venus phase is, Venus retrograde, or Venus’ metamorphosis from an evening star into a morning star, is a reminder that in order to fully embrace Venus, you need to explore both.

You cannot love the other if you don’t love yourself. And what is self-love alone, if it cannot be shared with another?

Venus retrograde is a promise that just like Inanna rose from the dead, your heart can rise too, into more and more love, with every Venus retrograde cycle.

Wishing you a wonderful Venus cycle,

–Astro Butterfly