Sexy goddess bares all in Boston

The ancient goddess of love, sex, and beauty is making an appearance at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Aphrodite and the Gods of Love is a new exhibition examining one of the most popular ancient goddesses and her place in the Classical world. More than 150 ancient works of art are on display, including famous pieces such as the Knidia, a life-size sculpture of Aphrodite made by the 4th-century BC Greek artist, Praxiteles. Another interesting piece is the Sleeping Hermaphrodite, a reclining figure who from one side looks like a voluptuous woman, and from the other like a man.

The exhibition traces Aphrodite’s sexy origins in the Near East and the place of her cult in Greek and Roman society. Aphrodite was a Greek goddess who was adopted into the Roman pantheon as Venus. She was the symbol of romantic love and ideal beauty. She also oversaw marriage, an odd choice since many of the myths surrounding her involve her cheating on her husband, the blacksmith god Hephaistos (Vulcan). Men worshiped her because she aroused male virility.

Being in charge of such important aspects of life made Aphrodite extremely popular. She was the patron goddess of Pompeii. Interestingly, Ramsay MacMullen in his Paganism in the Roman Empire points out that altars in private homes in Pompeii were more often dedicated to Foruna, Vesta, and Bacchus than Aphrodite. Perhaps because love received so much public worship, people felt they needed to give good luck, the home, and drinking some attention. They can be related, after all!

McMullen’s book (which I highly recommend) also touches on various ways the Romans worshipped Venus, including picnicking in the orchards around her sanctuary in Cnidus, and wild processions where a woman playing Venus led a string of dancing children playing Cupid. She and the other deities were very much part of daily life.

The exhibition also looks at related figures of Classical mythology, such as Aphrodite’s sons Eros (Cupid), the well-endowed Priapus, and Hermaphrodite.

If you want to meet this lovely lady and her interesting offspring, you better hurry. Aphrodite and the Gods of Love is only on until February 20, 2012.

Top photo: Fresco of The Judgment of Paris, Roman, Imperial Period, 45–79 A.D. Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei. Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli. © Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Photo of the day (9.23.10)

Some photos beg more questions than they answer. Flickr user Marisoleta snapped this statue in Nagasaki, Japan, and the caption notes that the figure is Kannon atop a turtle-shaped temple, surrounded by little children. Kannon is the Japanese Buddhist goddess of compassion, which may account for the children, but what about the turtle? She is also known as a protector of seamen, which could also extend to sea turtles. Fun fact: camera company Canon is named for the goddess as well. The temple also includes a Foucault’s pendulum, one of the largest in the world, to demonstate the rotation of the earth and a bell that chimes daily to commemorate the atomic bomb explosion.

Capture an interesting shrine on your travels, or any giant turtles? Submit to the Gadling Flickr Pool and it could be our next Photo of the Day.

Talking travel with Sacred Places of Goddess author Karen Tate

When I headed to the West Hollywood Book Fair last September, I didn’t know which writers I would meet or what to expect. The scope of offerings was impressive, and one book in particular caught my eye. Sacred Places of the Goddesses: 101 Destinations pulled me in for a chat with the author, Karen Tate.

Tate, who lives with her husband, Roy in one of my most favorite towns, Venice, California, is a world traveler, tour guide and an expert on goddesses. She knows exactly where to see their traces and influences.

Her book–part travel guide, part spiritual guide and part chronicle of history, includes each section of the world. [See earlier post review.]

Since we chatted in the shade of her display booth, Tate has been busy launching her weekly Internet radio show “Voices of the Sacred Feminine” and promoting her new book, Walking an Ancient Path.

We talked on the phone last fall, and I’ve kept up with her various activities ever since. As a person with a lens focused on travel and spirituality, Tate offers a unique perspective about how one can experience the world.

You started out on your travels searching out places of the divine feminine after age 30. How do you think this may have influenced your traveling experiences?

It totally influenced my travel 120%. I began to have a very focused and single minded passion and ambition to visit the sacred sites of Goddess around the world, including the museums that house all her artifacts. . .The prominent place Goddess once held in the world cannot be denied when one sees her presence throughout history through the lens of sacred travel and the museums.

When visiting a site considered sacred, how can people enhance their own understanding of its significance and ability to feel its power? Are there techniques you use?

This is very subjective as we all “receive” awareness, guidance and understanding differently. Some people are visual, others are kinesthetic or auditory.

I encourage people to use what has worked for them. However, I think it is important to know a bit about the site and the deity that draws you to the site so there is some foundation – but it’s very important to give equal attention to the left (academic) and right (intuitive) brain.

After you are armed with some knowledge, then you have to open your senses and try to feel, hear, sense what comes to you. It’s important to sink in to the space and be present and there, a part of the site as much as possible.

Quiet contemplation works for some. Walking meditation for others. Sometimes I recommend to travelers if they’re about to visit a special site the next day, take a ritual bath the night before, eat light, don’t let yourself be distracted and above all, ask the Divine Source, by whatever name you identify that essence, what it is you should learn from the site. Then listen and don’t judge the reply.

Finally, if you receive nothing profound. Don’t put pressure on yourself. Sometimes your epiphany might arrive in a dream or days or weeks afterward the journey.

Of all the places you’ve traveled which gave you the “Wow!” feeling the most? The kind of feeling that makes your heart beat faster-or where you want to sit down to soak in the aura.

I was very moved by Ireland and Turkey – which was a surprise because I’ve always had an affinity for Isis and Egypt. Being in the countryside of Ireland, among the green meadows and standing stones, I felt as if I were one with Nature and totally inspired to revel in her majesty, dance among the stones, and feel the magic of the land.

In Turkey, particularly in Aphrodiasias, sacred to the Goddess Aphrodite, I was in awe as I stood in the valley, her temple before me, the snow-capped mountains on either side of me, and I truly felt embraced in the loving arms of the Mother.

I still get the feeling of hair standing on end on my arms and neck thinking about that awareness of her essence that I sense when I was there. It was truly remarkable and it’s these glimpses that we get that make the travel worthwhile and can be catalysts for transformation in our lives.

When you travel, what techniques do you use or questions do you ask in order to better understand how people see the world and their sense of themselves? Is there a commonality that strikes you?

I definitely have an open mind when I travel. And I encourage Americans to do the same. We can go to other countries and realize that these people are part of our human family. They may look different, sound different, do things differently but they are all a microcosm of the macrocosm.

We all are. We begin to see them as people – instead of being “other”. We see their value and what diversity they add to the world. I think it appropriately mellows out American hubris. And I always encourage those I take along on my travels to consider themselves Ambassadors of their country, spirituality, or gender. And smile and laugh a lot. Those are always great ice breakers.

Ever since you’ve started your travels, talking, and writing about the divine, how has people’s interest in the subject changed and why do you think this is?

I think there is a resurgent interest in the Divine Feminine, Sacred Feminine, Feminine Consciousness, Goddess — by whatever name you want to call her or her essence and ideals. Books and films such as The DaVinci Code sparked dialog helping people realize there is more to history than they originally believed.

If someone is going to a country such as India that is filled with so many sites considered divine, how would you suggest choosing between them? What criterion do you use?

I always tell people to look inside and see what they hope to achieve from the journey. You have to take the time to research destinations ahead of time so that you know what will fit into your itinerary and so that you’ll you see the places that will be most meaningful to you. I’d research itineraries for six months or more. Don’t leave the planning until when you get there.

Make sure the museums are open on the day you’re there. Leave yourself time to be at the sites you feel most called to visit. Spend as much quiet time in these locales as you can.

Is there a particular treasure you’ve picked up along your travels that has particular meaning for you? What is it, and how did you come to get it?

I’m a collector of Goddess imagery and my most significant and precious statue is that of Aphrodite from Aphrodiasias in Turkey. Her image is not the typical image we see of Aphrodite that reflects the work of the artist Botticelli, naked and emerging from a shell.

Instead we see a more authentic image of Aphrodite, with Anatolian flavor, where she’s wearing a crown that reflects the walls of the city as a symbol of her being protector of the people.

Her torso is filled with images of animals, symbolic of her being Mistress of the Animals. This image shows the full power and majesty of Aphrodite, rather than her much more shallow personae as just a goddess of love and beauty. [the photo is an example, not Tate’s.]

Since spirituality is one of the themes of your life, how do you stay focused and grounded when you travel?

You have to strike a balance between taking care of the mundane and linear issues, like getting from points A to B, and then be able to shift gears and put on your receptive and intuitive hat when you arrive at a sacred place.

I guess it’s not unlike how we have to live our lives – always trying to avoid chaos by balancing the left and right brain, the masculine and feminine aspect of ourselves, embracing the ideals of Goddess and God.

If someone could only go to three sites of the Divine Feminine, which three sites would you recommend?

This is very personal depending on ones ancestry, their spiritual calling and their personal interests.

If I could rephrase the sentence and say of all the places I’ve been, which three were the most important or potent for me, I’d say feeling the living essence of Goddess in the countryside of Ireland, in Aphrodiasias, Turkey, and in the Sekhmet Temple of Karnak in Egypt.

However, that being said, you would then miss all the wonderful sites such as Knossos on Crete, the temples on the island of Delos in the Mediterranean, the Isis Temple in Philae, Egypt, the sacred Bath of Sulis Minerva in England, the wonders of India, the temples in Japan.

I think you get my point. There are so many sacred places of Goddess that span so many cultures and continents. I think a very important point that this raises is the diversity of Goddess worship that stands as a testament to Her nature of diversity and inclusiveness – two qualities many of us could certain stand to embrace, which might enhance life on our planet.

**To see Karen Tate or take part in one of the events she organizes, here is the list of upcoming dates. There are several. In October, Karen is leading at Sacred Sites trip to Turkey.