“The lover carves into his soul the model of the beloved. In that way, the soul of the lover becomes the mirror in which the image of the loved one is reflected”
— Marsilio Ficino from De amore
Neptune was not known to Marsilio Ficino during the Renaissance in which he was translating ancient texts and formulating his magical astrology, except perhaps in his imagination. During 20th century astrology a concept of higher octave planets was invented in which Neptune became known as a higher octave of Venus (with Uranus as higher octave of Mercury and Pluto as higher octave of Mars). In part this has to do with Neptune signifying unconditional love as well as relating with the living soul of our greater world, feeling the interconnectedness underlying our shared field of reality. Whereas Venus places us in the pleasure of sensual reception in taste, touch, smell, colors, music, and aesthetics, her focus is centered in unifying the material of our present reality. In contrast Neptune has been linked with vaster realities such as the collective unconscious and dimensions beyond our senses and normal perceptions of time and space.
In 20th century astrology Neptune also became celebrated as a ruler of Pisces by many astrologers, to such an extent that by the end of the century it was the favored ruler among popular forms of astrology. Just as Neptune has an affinity for Pisces, Venus has been said to have her exaltation in Pisces since the most ancient days of astrology. Dorotheus of Sidon, one of the most influential Hellenistic astrologers who lived in the first century AD, wrote that planets in their exaltations “make them very illustrious and remarkable,” becoming an “authoritative figure” who can be entrusted with noble works as well as dwell with and enjoy the profits of regal endeavors. During the transit of Venus in Pisces its exalted status brings enhanced opportunities for luxuriating in sensual pleasures, soothing inner needs, and enjoying arts of all forms. When Venus and Neptune unite in Pisces, desires and reception of pleasures become amplified and otherworldly.
Since April 2011 when Neptune entered Pisces, we have been living in an interesting time period hosting unions between Venus and Neptune in Pisces. Currently they are applying toward a conjunction that will complete on April 10, 2019. Previously since Neptune entered Pisces in 2011, Venus formed a conjunction with Neptune in Pisces on 28 February 2013, 11 April 2014, 1 February 2015, 20 March 2016, 12 January 2017, and 21 February 2018. They will continue forming unions in Pisces until the final one on 27 March 2025. Amazingly, they will form their final conjunction at the very very end of Pisces at 29º53′ with Venus retrograde in 2025. Now that we have been through six of their conjunctions and are approaching the seventh, it’s worthwhile to think back upon each of these past periods of Venus and Neptune forming unions in Pisces to note what changes and realizations occurred for you within your relationships with others as well as your relationship with yourself.
The combination of Venus and Neptune in Pisces is incredibly dreamy, imaginative, and numinous. Its combination corresponds with romantic love being exalted in popular culture as the most magical of experiences. I once heard Rick Tarnas give a talk on the connections between astrology and romance in which he commented that since astrology and synchronicity are not openly acknowledged in consensus society, we end up with a heightened desire for romantic love in mainstream culture. In the materialistic consensus worldview, romantic love carries the entire magical sense of a communion between souls opening up a new universe, an opening that goes beyond the compressed isolation of the Cartesian ego toward awareness of the world soul. Notably, Tarnas pointed out that astrology, synchronicity and romantic love all (1) have great potential for profound significance, (2) are extremely susceptible to a skeptical negation, and (3) are also susceptible to both projection and illusion. The potential for illusion in love we find in the union between Venus and Neptune also veils the truth that if one is carrying the divine inside, it is possible for a communion of divinities to occur through romantic love in which reciprocal recognition of divinity occurs.
Tarnas noted we can further find these ideas within Carl Jung’s conception of the Self due to it being constellated by a profound romantic love involving the marriage of opposites, the cosmic marriage of the inner and the outer, the conscious and unconscious. Jung’s ideas also connect to another phenomenon associated with the combination of Venus and Neptune in astrology: projecting unconscious content into our relationships so that both relational partners become enmeshed within exchanging projections. The book Eros and Magic in the Renaissance by Ioan Couliano described how Jung’s idea that we fall in love with our own unconscious image projected into relationships has similarities to ideas developed by Marsilio Ficino.
According to Couliano, Ficino believed in the necessity of spirit grasping external images in order for the soul to contemplate them, like bodies reflected in a mirror. The love inducing arrows shot by Eros to Ficino are like internal fire emitted through the eyes at its object of interest with a force of fascination. Ficino saw this fiery fascination as penetrating and transfiguring the object of affection, while also creating a phantasm of the beloved that takes on its own existence in the eye of the beholder, potentially leading to possession and obsession. Couliano wrote:
“Interestingly, the love object plays a secondary role in the process of establishing the phantasm: it is only a pretext, not a real presence. The true object, omnipresent, of Eros is the phantasm, which has taken permanent possession of the spiritual mirror. Now, this phantasm represents a perceived image that has gone beyond the threshold of consciousness, but the reason it has assumed such obsessional dimensions lies in the deepest part of the individual unconscious. We do not love another object, a stranger to ourselves, Ficino thinks (Amore, VI, 6) thus anticipating the analystic psychology of Carl Jung. We are enamored of an unconscious image.
— Eros and Magic in the Renaissance by Ioan Couliano
Complexly, Couliano commented that the subject can graft itself onto the phantasmic image of the beloved so that the subject becomes changed into the object of their love while the object of their affection is simultaneously impacted by their projection. When both relational partners are engaged in this process, they each end up transfigured by their reflection in the mirror of the other. Dramatically, Couliano noted that when the object of love removes themselves from the relationship, when they remove their mirror the loss of reflection feels like a death to the subject. Couliano concluded, “after knocking hopelessly at the door of the other’s eyes, this Narcissus will die through lack of access to the glossy surface of a spirit on which (or on whom) he can be reflected.” This of course links with the long lineage of romantic tragedies that have captivated popular imagination for ages.
These ideas connect to the transformative feelings of love that come with transits of Neptune and Venus, as well as destructive feelings of disillusionment that can awaken self realization. Projections in relationships can be most harmful when they do not have authentic resonance with one’s soul but instead have been conditioned by societal forces. These external conditioning influences are often wrapped up in systematic oppression, necessitating a need to shed the way they impact our gender, sexual, and other personal identities. The more we are able to take responsibility for this work, similar to Jung’s concept of individuation, the better we can gain self acceptance for the authentic desires of our soul. As we do so, we can attract partners who genuinely resonate with our inner life, drawing us into a deepening of the lessons we need on a soul level. We also can gain a healthier relationship with ourselves so that we can foster recovery and restoration when a relationship ends.
It’s not really possible to prevent our unconscious from shaping the relational dynamics we form with others, and this is a gift in terms of the creativity and growth cultivated by the commingling of unconscious fields. We can at least gain awareness that the phenomenon is happening and open to the actual presence and needs of a partner instead of confining them to our own projection. The numinous, intermingling perceptions and projections between lovers is so full of magical potency that it has given birth to countless epics of artistry that have endured the tests of time and will continue to do so. Most importantly, it can enrich our life when not causing damaging delusion. As Venus and Neptune begin a new cycle together, as well as during subsequent aspects between them (especially when forming a square or opposition), we can claim the opportunity to reflect upon our unconscious projections. It’s essential that once becoming aware we do not bury the realization in denial but instead sustain contemplation so that it’s pattern may mutate and we may receive insight.
Neptune brings longing for the ideal and sustaining divine connection, yet can also bring debilitating pain once a shattering experience breaks us free from an illusion. After we suffer the agony of betrayal or abandonment, the ensuing underworld process of descending to our solitary depths ultimately gives rise to essential rebirth and expansion of consciousness. Like Persephone arising from her hidden kingdom into our upper world of blooming flowers, like Aphrodite arising from the depths of the ocean to fertilize new ground, we can restore our capacity for sharing and receiving love. When relationships dissolve in disappointing disillusionment, in reflection we can realize the vital, irreplaceable experiences and realizations we received through its reciprocal projections. In fact, we can realize that all of it was necessary in order to become who we are meant to become.
So as Venus and Neptune come together once more in the mutable, watery sign of Pisces, be mindful of living in a time in which you are navigating their waves of communion within the most oceanic sign of the zodiac. Their unions in Pisces can enhance awareness for how our projections are disconnecting us from reality, can lead us to love based upon resonant bonds of connectivity, and can facilitate the nurturance of self love and acceptance. Like Maya spinning a constantly changing stream of illusions, the cycle of Venus and Neptune flows through our reality with the mystical, seductive melodies of its watery stream. While musing within its current, we can enjoy its imaginal activation while maintaining practices of staying grounded and focused within earthly matters and responsibilities. As a result we may retrieve glistening jewels of wisdom from its tides rather than becoming lost at sea.
Couliano, Ion. (1987). Eros and Magic in the Renaissance. The University of Chicago Press.
Dykes, Benjamin (2017 translation). Dorotheus of Sidon: Carmen Astrologicum, the Umar al-Tabari Translation. The Cazimi Press.