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The transit of Venus presents us with a compelling metaphor and also a palpable moment of transition. It's a junction (literally, a conjunction) where we can make a conscious choice. Think of this as starting within, where most (some would say all) of our conflict originates. Think of it as an inner reunion between the masculine and feminine elements of ourselves, appropriately happening in the sign of the interplay of opposites—Gemini.
Venus is a feminine symbol and the Sun a masculine one. When Venus intersects with the disk of the Sun, it's a little like the Sun is being penetrated by potent feminine energy. Both will change in the process. My astrology colleague Adam Gainsburg (Soulsign.com) has been describing this as the emergence of what he calls the solar feminine.
"Despite the dominance of solar gods at the root of western civilization, the metaphor of light as we experience it is actually more akin to the feminine principle than to the masculine," Adam said in an e-mail to me. "Light shines, radiates, illuminates. But from our viewpoint on Earth, the Sun also sets and takes the light with it each evening. This ebb and flow of light is precisely what the feminine is: the flow, the dance, the ever-changing pattern of light into dark and back again."
With the transit of Venus, he said, "what becomes illuminated is how your feminine aspect self-radiates into the world—what you uniquely have to give to the improvement of our planet." He adds, "The solar feminine is, literally, our 'light body.' She's the one inside each of us who leaves nothing uncovered, nothing unfelt. We experience the full range of our actual feelings as her body." Yet the Sun is expressive, so this is about being moved to take creative action.
"The Solar Feminine is a confrontational idea for many religions because her very existence fundamentally challenges the fragmentary, long-held assumption of masculine spiritual superiority. By reacknowledging her, we begin to reempower her. The solar feminine shines not just through the success and expression of women, but through the power of a man's emotions received in his heart."
I think what Adam may be describing is a process of men becoming more receptive and women becoming more expressive. That would help balance things out—and at least it gives us a clear idea of what to reach for. While there have been plenty of ways in which our culture has slipped backwards in gender relations (especially when you factor in politicians), I believe there is a gradual balancing out of masculine and feminine energies within many individuals and in many relationships. With this eclipse-like event, we have an opportunity to deepen and accelerate that process.
The story of transits of Venus over the past few centuries gives us another metaphor to work with. Last year a book was published called Transit of Venus: 1631 to the Present (Powerhouse Museum, paperback, $24.95), by Nick Lomb. In Transit, Lomb describes the progression of how each successive event was seen by human eyes—and some of the implications.
No one is known to have seen the 1631 Venus transit—it was night in Europe. Kepler missed that would there be a second transit of Venus eight years later. Two people are known to have seen the 1639 transit: Jeremiah Horrocks and his friend William Crabtree, viewing from England.
Edmond Halley (of Halley's Comet fame) expected a Venus transit in 1761. He urged astronomers who would be alive at the time to observe the event. His calculations were off, but other astronomers worked out the correct timing. This was the first global scientific event, with 176 astronomers watching from 117 far-flung locations.
Eight years later, there was another transit—he second of that pair. The British crown saw the need for calculations from the South Pacific as the perfect political cover to look for islands to expand to. This adds the geopolitical expansion to the process. The desirability of observing the 1769 event from Australia led to the founding of New South Wales; modern Australia owes its existence to a transit of Venus.
In 1874, a Brit named Richard Proctor estimated that up to 400 different calculations were presented to the Royal Astronomical Society in London. More people observed the 1874 transit than any other previous one, reflecting the expansion of technology, science, education, industry, trade, and population. It was also the first one documented in photographs.
The corresponding transit eight years later in 1882 was widely observed and better documented in photos. The US sent out eight teams, including to South Africa and San Antonio. They made 1,380 measurable photographic plates (four times as many as in 1874).