Fall 2018 is a little spookier than average, and not just because Venus Retrograde is dredging up the ghosts of Tinder past in time for Halloween. This Venus Retrograde is taking place within a certain stretch of the zodiac that old-school astrologers often cordoned off with caution tape, and though this isn’t a reason to fear what’s ahead, it does serve as an apt metaphor for the devilish delight of becoming just a little undone and unapproachable.
The Via Combusta (Latin for “the burning way”) generally spanned the late degrees of Libra and the early degrees of Scorpio. There were varying definitions of where the bookends fell, but the commonly accepted range among modern astrologers is 15 degrees Libra to 15 degrees Scorpio. When the moon or the sun traveled through these degrees, they were thought to be debilitated, a little off the rails, and potentially destructive, and so horary charts that contained these placements were often thrown out or judged unfavorably.
Why this stretch of the zodiac? There are a couple theories. One is that it contains a concentration of malefic fixed stars (the exception being Spica at 23 degrees Libra, which is actually one of the most fortunate points of the whole zodiac). The other is that Libra and Scorpio are the signs of the sun and moon’s fall, respectively, and that they’re also where the two so-called “bad” planets do some of their best work (Saturn is exalted in Libra, and Scorpio is one of the traditional domiciles of Mars).
Truthfully, Via Combusta is a really antiquated concept that was only used in the context of horary and electional charts (in other words, divination and planning for good outcomes). Birth charts weren’t even a thing people cared about back then, and even if medieval astrologers did think you were cursed for having natal placements in this range, a lot of these old-school judgments were colored by the religious and superstitious worldviews of that time period. The time of year associated with the sun’s journey through this darkening hour is one in which many cultures celebrate their dead, and you’ve probably heard the bit about the veils thinning between the living and deceased. Essentially, we’re basically dealing with witching hour in the zodiac.
What is interesting (and potentially useful) to think about in the context of a Venus Retrograde in 2018 is that this image of walking down a fiery, uncertain path is too appropriate to ignore. This cycle will initiate many of us into an alchemical process of sorts — one in which the only way out is through, and the only way through is by reclaiming whatever we’ve deemed too raw, real, or inappropriate to love.
Venus is stationing retrograde at 10 degrees Scorpio right now, and it’ll station direct at 25 degrees Libra on November 16. Technically, though, we started feeling the effects (the “preamble,” I should say) starting on September 3, so you probably already have a sense of what this is gonna be about. If you need another clue, try to remember what you went through in the fall of 2010, when Venus was last retrograde through the same degrees of Scorpio and Libra. You won’t be hit with the same exact lesson, but perhaps the next stanza in the poem.
Relationships factor into this literature considerably, but romantic reevaluation isn’t the whole story here. If we’re going to be really straightforward about it, then yes, all of the things you already know about Venus apply. Venus is the planet of beauty, love, money, art, and aesthetics. So when Venus goes retrograde, any and all of these things could shift into a different gear (and probably a bumpy one, if we’re being real). Venus Retrograde isn’t quite the logistical inferno that Mercury Retrograde is, but it still deals with all those “re” words: reevaluation, reflection, reconsideration, and even reconciliation. Yep, it’s true: sometimes the ghosts of friends and lovers past show up on your doorstep during this period, and it might be worth your time to consider doling out a second chance — or a second reminder to yourself that you’re way over that nonsense.
More than anything, the overriding message of Venus Rx is “wait until all the facts are in.” It’s generally not considered a good time to get engaged on a whim, make any serious relationship commitments you haven’t already been thinking about for a long time, do anything major to your appearance, or purchase any luxury, big-ticket items. Of course, rules are made to be broken, but yours truly can personally attest to a terrible DIY haircut committed during a Venus Retrograde, so make of that what you will.
On a deeper level, Venus is also about value: what we care about, what we prioritize, how we appraise other people and things, and especially how we appraise ourselves. Issues of self-worth are huge in this context, and it’s fair to say that what we ultimately do in the arena of love, friendship, money, or personal style will ultimately start here. It’s probably even more accurate to say that it’s your relationship to relationships that’s in the hot seat right now, and it always goes without saying that the most important relationship is the one you have with yourself.
Another thing that’s very interesting to think about: a Venus Retrograde period spans roughly 40 days. Where have we heard that one before? Maybe just about every seminal religious and spiritual text, cultural tradition, and post-modern self-help guide.
Forgive me if I can’t say any of these things definitively, because I’m definitely not a historian or religious studies expert. But chances are pretty good that the connection between Venus and the number “40” in the New and Old Testaments is not an accident. Allegedly, some scholars think Jews, Muslims, and Christians fixated on the number 40 because Venus’ elliptical forms a pentagram every 8 years (8×5=40), and it returns to its starting point every 40 years, with a 40-day regression. The Egyptians were also hip to the fact that the Sun’s annual cycle could only be perfectly measured in 40-day cycles.
The “40-day” concept can be found in just about every kind of culture and discipline you can imagine: from Moses wandering the desert for 40 days, to the 40 days of Lent, to 40 days and nights of fasting in Jewish and Hindu traditions, to 40-day kundalini sadhanas, to the 40 philosophical days in traditional alchemy (of purification and purging), to the 40-day drying period in Egyptian mummification, to the 40-day biblical floods, to the 40-day mourning period observed by Russian Orthodox and Christian Filipinos, to the impersonation of the Aztec god Xipe Totec for 40 days prior to the sacrificial ritual — the list goes on. All of these things involve themes of purification, of existing in a state of energetic incubation in order to pass completely from one cycle to the next. Is it any small accident that the average pregnancy lasts 40 weeks from the time of a woman’s last period, or that 40 days is the commonly accepted length of time required for a new habit to set in?
Venus knows all about passing through cycles. Venus actually has two personalities: the warrior-like Morning Star and the more “traditionally” Venusian Evening Star. Because of the way Venus interacts with the Earth and Sun, it’s constantly moving on an elliptical that causes it to appear in the evening sky, disappear from view, then reappear in the morning sky (it’s actually referred to as “Lucifer” in this phase, which is Latin for “light-bearer.” Sort of gives new meaning to the phrase “Lucifer, son of the morning,” doesn’t it?). Venus begins this cycle when it makes its inferior conjunction to the Sun in the midst of its retrograde, which occurs roughly once every year and a half. At this point, Venus is transitioning from its Evening Star phase into its Morning Star phase, though it dons an invisibility cloak for about a week in between.
If we’re not sugarcoating things, this moment has long been associated with dramatic, explosive, and sometimes violent news events, but it could also simply be a time when we emerge from our own incubation period, taking no prisoners or shit from anybody. In mythology, Venus (or Innana) is described as descending into the underworld as an Evening Star during the first part of the retrograde, experiencing a rebirth down below while she’s out of view, and then emerging anew as a Morning Star.
This year, Venus lowers herself into the underworld in the fittingly chthonic sign of Scorpio, emerging anew as a Morning Star just days before her re-entry into Libra. The dichotomy between Libra and Scorpio is very much “surface needs versus deep needs” — of “achieving the sort of balance in your relationship that’s sufficient to keep the partnership stable” versus “forging a deep, messy bond and establishing a real sense of trust.” This fall, we’re generally figuring out how to satisfy both of these functions — of first going through a Scorpionic “death and rebirth” process of encountering the burning questions and the truth in our hearts, which then makes it possible to achieve the Libran ideal of balance and harmony in a new way.
Many people who have Venus in Scorpio natally eventually learn that it’s somehow bad, wrong, or unfortunate to carry this accursed stamp of the death metal seductress. It’s neither bad, wrong, damning, or dooming. Some would say that it’s kinda hot. The reason why it can sometimes be a challenging energy to work with is because the main M.O. of Venus is to get along, make things pretty, and be likable. In Scorpio, we’re neither going out of our way to make things palatable nor presenting a version of ourselves that society won’t object to. Scorpio is the sign of the sordid, ugly, animal truth, and this knowledge of what’s really happening at the deepest, subterranean layers of the psyche can make cooperation and harmony sound like a foreign premise. If you really knew what everyone was thinking all the time, you might understandably conclude that your dog is the only person in the world you actually like.
By the time Venus re-enters Libra, we’ll be forever changed for having stared into the abyss, but the mood will become considerably lighter as we figure out how to rejoin society (and rejoin each other) in a way that feels balanced and fair, not compromised or false. With Venus opposing Uranus a total of three times over the course of its cycle, it’s fair to say we might surprise ourselves with where we end up once the scales find their equilibrium again. But one thing that’s certain is that we can’t go back the way we came. That path will have burned up behind us.
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