Pandemos: Aphrodite for Everyone

Hello, Beloveds, and welcome to a new column here on ev0ke. I thought we might have a chat about Aphrodite Pandemos and the reasons behind this column.

You see, Aphrodite is a much “bigger” Goddess than many folks want to give her credit for. There are a lot of reasons for that. 

For one thing, “we” (dwellers within this late-stage capitalist society) dismiss love, attraction, and sexual desire as being superficial or secondary. I mean, we don’t dismiss our own big, important relationships that way. Those occupy a lot of time, thought, feeling, and energy in our awareness. But certainly other people’s relationships are often dismissed as silly, messy sinkholes of time, energy, and mental health that interfere with our friends’ and co-workers’ ability to be productive and reasonable.

For another reason, a distinct smear campaign happened against the Greek Goddess of Love among some ancient writers. The Homeric tradition was particularly guilty of this. Where many other poets and historians of the Hellenic world accounted Aphrodite as the offspring of a Titan (Ouranos, the Heavens) and the Sea (in this case, not anthropomorphized, but simply a primal and eternal elemental force), the Homeric poet(s) demoted her to being a child of Zeus and Dione (whose name is the feminine form of Zeus — both being derivatives of theos, which simply means “God”). You see, there had been a regime change, and the Olympian Sky-Daddy (Zeus) had overthrown the Titan Sky-Daddy (Ouranos). But shuffling the family tree didn’t just give Aphrodite a more politically acceptable pedigree, it made her the daughter of a figure who had once been deemed her nephew, since Zeus was the grandson of Ouranos through Cronus. This revised lineage cast Aphrodite as Zeus’ junior, rather than his elder — and possibly she was considered significantly elder to him. This was likely done to subjugate her and bring her under his dominion.

And it worked. The Homeric versions of the myths became the standard, and we humans have a hard time arguing with the printed word — especially really old printed words. So most folks have run with the Homeric interpretation of the Goddess of Love as a vain weakling — a coward who flees the battlefield at the first sight of her own ichor (because the Immortals don’t have blood). “We” (society — not me, and maybe not you) see her as petty, unfaithful, and vindictive.

And that’s a real shame. After all, there is so much reason to embrace her as the complicated, primal, and powerful force that she is. 

As one example, let’s reflect on what is considered the shallowest of her traits — beauty. Beauty doesn’t have to be vain and petty and superficial. It can include those things, and I am sure we all know people who wear their own beauty in those ways. But beauty is also spatially harmonic, aesthetically subjective, and artistically inspirational. We find beauty through all of our senses, not just sight. Furthermore, we find it in every aspect of existence, not just in the faces and forms of humans. Beauty is thrilling to behold beauty perhaps because of its fleeting, temporal, and even subjective nature. It is a reminder to live in the moment, to be grateful for moments that are dripping with awe-inspiring beauty, and to drink deeply of those golden moments so they might replenish and nourish the thing within us that thirsts for them.

Likewise, all of Aphrodite’s gifts (desire, sexuality, passion, attraction, romance, fertility, friendship, etc) encompass aspects of danger and darkness, in addition to life and light. We are able to hurt ourselves and others with these things. Really, we are able to destroy ourselves and others with them. However, we are also able to heal, restore, inspire, and transform with all of Aphrodite’s attributes. That is why they are so powerful, because both destruction and creation are possible — and potent — within them.

In Ancient Athens, one of her epithets was Pandemos, which literally translates to “of all the people.” Interpretations of that epithet usually lean toward “common” — often in the sense of vulgar. It has been linked in the modern mind with base sexuality and a sort of bawdiness, and this version of Aphrodite is held in contrast (by most writers) to the Heavenly Aphrodite that we see through epithets like Ourania (heavenly, celestial) or Asteria (starry). 

While there is no denying that she is a complicated Goddess who certainly has the room within her nature to encompass the “vulgar bawdiness” of dick jokes, casual encounters, and sex work (all of which absolutely DO come under her auspices), I’d like to suggest that “common” be reframed as “universal” when considering Pandemos. 

She is universally available to us. She is universally present in each of our lives. Whether we acknowledge and honor her or not, she is one of the few Deities who touches us in very direct ways. We might not all have exactly the same experiences through her, but she is nevertheless among us — almost all the time. A parent pampering or protecting their child is embodying one of her loves. A first kiss, first touch are electrified by her power. Romantic partnerships are manifestations of her blessing. Dance parties with our besties are among  her enshrined rituals. The grief we feel at a love that has been lost (or lost loved one) is shared by her.

Back in Ancient Athens, there was an altar to Aphrodite Pandemos in the agora, the marketplace. Among all the other associations we might make of this altar’s location, we know explicitly through historical records that Aphrodite Pandemos was called to be among her people when civic matters were being discussed. Offerings were made to her so that the people of the city-state might remember their love of each other even within the political sphere. 

This column will be a place to explore the many ways that Aphrodite shows up. We’ll talk about her myths, her feasts, her epithets, her Mysteries, and her many, many gifts for us.

May we all remember and honor the power of love and the way it can touch every part of our lives.

Hail Aphrodite Pandemos!

[Laurelei Black is an American folkloric Witch, Aphrodite woman, and author.] 

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