On the Second Day of Christmas my Goddess gave to me…
two turtle doves.
Today we return to a goddess mentioned in our First Day…Aphrodite (also known as Venus.) Not only is the Goddess of Love associated with pears, she has a strong connection with doves as well.
While there are variations regarding the birth of Aphrodite, one myth which comes from the area of Syria states that she was hatched from a giant egg that fell from the heavens into the river Euphrates. The fish rolled the egg onto the bank, where doves gathered it into a nest and laid on the egg to keep it warm until the goddess sprang forth from it. In this version, Aphrodite is better known as her Syrian counterpart Astarte…and we do find connections between Astarte and doves as well. According to the ancient storytellers Astarte was viewed to excel in justice and uprightness, and thus by favor of Zeus (also known as Jove or Jupiter) the fish were put amongst the stars, and because of this the Syrians do not eat fish or doves, considering them to be gods.
Ancient artwork depicting a female deity holding a dove
The Greeks have their own myth which explains how the dove became associated with Aphrodite. Supposedly the goddess and her son Eros were playfully competing in a flower picking contest, and Aphrodite was winning…because she had a little help from a nymph named Peristera, who was also known as Dove (the word peristera is Greek for “dove or pigeon”). Eros turned Peristera into a dove, and she thus remained ever after under the care of Aphrodite. The dove was seen as Aphrodite’s totem, and today doves are often viewed as a symbol of love…and indeed are sometimes released at weddings.
There are many ancient coins discovered which depict the goddess – Aphrodite, Venus or Astarte…depending on the area – with a dove:
As well as Hellenistic art:
By whatever name you wish to give her, the Goddess was closely connected with the dove, and worshipped far and wide…even by the Hebrews. King Solomon worshipped Astarte during that time period when the Israelites had yet to fully commit to a monotheistic religion. Astarte was sometimes perceived as the female consort to Yahwah, and portrayed as “the heavenly dove of wisdom.” However, with the radical shift towards masculinity in religion, we saw a decline in the worship of Astarte and/or Aphrodite, and the bird’s meaning began to transfer over to the Holy Spirit as a male God. Thus the dove, which once represented female sexuality and procreation, became instead a symbol of peace and purity.
Venus with Doves by William Bouguereau – 1879
Yet on this Second Day of Christmas, let us consider the ancient meaning of the dove, and its link to the Divine Feminine who gave birth to the new life that we celebrate during this holiday season.