Neptune transits often have us feeling lost at sea, but myth can shed light on the pain of Neptunian betrayal, the other face of trust, to a beautiful development of consciousness. This is the subject of an article I recently had published in The Mountain Astrologer that I want to share with you for contemplation. 

If you prefer to download/print, a PDF of the article can be found here

Originally published in The Mountain Astrologer, Feb/March 2018     

© Safron Rossi

Waves Become Wings: Neptune, Betrayal and the Myth of Ariadne   

        “I do not know what to do/two states of mind in me,” (1) sings the ancient Greek poet Sappho. These lines could as well be about Neptune, whose themes belong to a watery realm where contradictions undulate. Inspiration, imagination, universal love, compassion, faith and trust exist right alongside sacrifice, illusions, confusion, deception, insanity, lies and abandonment. The grace and suffering that Neptune brings, seen in our birth charts and transits, is breathtaking, time and again exhibiting this two-faced behavior. How do we wrap our minds around these conflicting meanings of Neptune? In taking up the task of deepening our understanding of this planet I want to turn to the amplificatory power of myth by which we can understand its archetypal pattern. First, a closer look at Neptune’s web of meaning.

 Neptune is the archetype of the ideal, the ineffable, transcendent, imaginal, and timeless. One of its images is the ocean of consciousness upon which the boundaries between oneself and other, oneself and the divine are dissolved so that what is separate merges into a greater whole.  Universal love and compassion come from this boundless oceanic yearning of fusion with all life. Neptune represents the longing for the ideal world, the paradisal garden where there is no separation from the divine source. It is in this vein that we can understand its connection to the themes of redemption and purification. (2) While all spiritual traditions express this in their own particular way, ultimately this is the yearning to free oneself from the burden of incarnation and return to the divine source. Symbols related to this ideal place of belonging or true home are the watery womb of the Mother or the protective embrace of the Father. In psychological terms, this is related to primal trust. Yet, where there is trust, there is also betrayal, which James Hillman explores in his brilliant essay "Betrayal", for we are only betrayed by those to whom we have given our trust. He writes, "Wherever there is trust in a union, the risk of betrayal becomes a real possibility. And betrayal, as a continual possibility to be lived with, belongs to trust as doubt belongs to a living faith."(3)  

 Finding psychological value in the dark and shadowy aspects of human experience can be challenging. But a respect for the dark side of the psyche means valuing the suffering of the soul—what Hillman called pathologizing. Our wounds are agents of metamorphosis in our lives because they can lead to greater consciousness. Soul-making begins with wounding, for the gods force themselves through symptoms into our lives. Hillman writes, “Only in mythology does pathology receive an adequate mirror, since myths speak with the same distorted, fantastic language.” (4) In this manner astrology and the myths embedded within its symbolism help us understand and value our suffering. For the ways in which our trust has been betrayed are paradoxically the places wherein consciousness is deepened, widened. Neptune is very much associated with such dynamics.

While there are a number of mythic figures that have been explored in relation to Neptune, when it comes to the theme of trust and betrayal we can turn to the myth of Ariadne, the Greek princess who gave aid to the hero Theseus.

Ariadne Sleeping. 1st century BC. Florence, Museo Archeologico. 

Ariadne Sleeping. 1st century BC. Florence, Museo Archeologico. 

      Entering Neptune’s realm requires abandoning dry land for watery depths, so Ariadne’s home on the island of Crete immediately places us in the fitting mythic terrain. Natural places of isolation and distance, islands are resonate with 12th house symbolism (Neptune’s domain) as places of retreat, reclusion, disappearance and secrets.  Crete is not only an island kingdom, but home of a great labyrinth which houses at its center the Minotaur. Neptune’s hand in the guise of deception is a prime mover in this tale. It begins when Pasiphae, the Queen of Crete, fell in love with a magnificent white bull that emerged from the sea, a manifestation of the god Poseidon—the Greek name for Neptune. This magical bull is symbolic of the incredible fecundity of the imagination, and its whiteness suggests purity and a spiritualized nature. It's rising from the ocean represents the creative potency of the watery realm, which is a primary metaphor of the unconscious. Enthralled by this creature, Pasiphae convinced the master craftsman Daedalus to construct a cow into which she could climb, thereby deceiving the bull and taking him as her lover. She became pregnant and gave birth to the Minotaur, whose body was a man's but had the head of a bull. Because of his monstrous appearance, Daedalus again was called upon but this time to build a labyrinth to both imprison and hide the Minotaur.

Ariadne was daughter of Queen Pasiphae and King Minos, and thus the Minotaur’s half-sister. She was called Mistress of the Labyrinth because she knew its secrets and how to move in and back out again without losing her life.  This is the knowledge she gifts to Theseus, the heroic son of Poseidon (Neptune) who pretends to be one of the sacrificial Athenian youths brought to the labyrinth in an annual tribute. Ariadne bids Theseus to not just kill her half-brother, but to make the death a sacred act by offering it to his father Poseidon as a sacrifice.

Sacrifice is an act of making sacred, which undertaken with a different attitude would merely be profane bloodlust. Invoking the gods, paying attention and giving due to greater consciousness is a Neptunian theme. Through devotion to something greater than one's self interests means recognizing that one's creativity (Sun) or passion (Venus) are not one's own possessions but rather gifts from the gods. This is one way—through a sacrificial attitude—Neptune's spiritualizing pressures can be managed.

Entering the labyrinth is like descending into the underworld, and in the island mythology of Crete it was believed to be a water realm. Both the labyrinth and the underworld are metaphors for descent into the unconscious, a descent by which consciousness grows. As Joseph Campbell was fond of saying, in the cave of our greatest fear lies the greatest treasure. The Cretan labyrinth with the stalking Minotaur is a twisted pathway, a journey that gives rise to deeper consciousness of the soul because it incorporates the shadow, those parts of ourselves which we judge as monstrous and therefore split off from our self-image. The Minotaur’s name was Asterion which means ‘of the stars’ suggesting that what is hideous can also be divine, but this depends entirely on how one sees.

Ariadne becomes Theseus’ collaborator in this sacrificial act and helps him navigate and return from the maze by using a ball of golden thread to retrace his steps. Her thread represents what keeps us connected when we are utterly turned around, confused, lost in the midst of Neptune transits.  The thread can be a person in our life, or a sense of meaning about what is happening. No matter what or who becomes the thread that leads us out of the maze, a connection to life is maintained even when we feel afloat in the darkest of seas.

When Theseus remerges victorious, he and Ariadne flee Crete and set sail for Athens where they plan to marry.  At this point in the story the first betrayals have occurred—Ariadne has betrayed her family not only by revealing the secrets of the labyrinth and assisting in her brother’s death, but by forsaking Crete and leaving her family and home behind. At the same time, Ariadne has taken a Neptunian leap and surrendered to the unknown. So here we see the two sides. She has fallen in love, and meaning now lies in those overwhelming tidal energies that draw her to Theseus. The rapture of the merging of two souls by love is one of Neptune’s siren songs. Drawn away from what was familiar and safe, she sets sail on ambiguous waters. Neptune journeys are those that dissolve the hold of Saturnian realities. That is the power of fantasy whose vehicles include films, music, and reveries—all are ways in which we are drawn beyond ourselves into imaginal realms that are infused with a sense of our greater selves. 

 On their way to Athens, their ship sets anchor off the island of Dia, and Ariadne and Theseus go to shore for a little while. Unaccountably, Ariadne becomes tired and lies down to rest and falls asleep. Surrendering to Neptune's dream realm, when she awakes she is alone and the ship is nowhere in her sight. She has been abandoned on the island by her beloved. Now betrayed herself, she comes to see Theseus in a cold light. Where she believed him a hero he has now shown himself a coward. Where she believed he spoke truthfully of love and marriage she hears now only his guile in pursuit of his aims. Alone on the island, the enchantment has broken, and she emerges from what appears to have been a Neptunian fog. When our trust or faith is betrayed, a primal need for security is broken. That any person or philosophy or group can unfalteringly love us, do us no harm and always be aligned with our needs is itself a Neptunian fantasy. A certain kind of Neptunian betrayal is the disillusionment that comes sometimes with spiritual quests and gurus. On one hand there is this great spiraling upward to inspiration and divine connection and then all of a sudden a rude awakening or disillusionment.

This tells us something about betrayal and how it functions to separate us from our unconscious investment of security and surety in others. We are thrown back on ourselves, wounded, but through the wounding comes consciousness. Ariadne's abandonment and betrayal by Theseus was the precondition to coming to this point. Betrayal is often a necessary experience for the deepening of consciousness and may appear in retrospect to be a necessity in the process of psychological maturity. Being alone, faced with what happened, reconciling to the experience, lead to her maturity.

What happens next is astounding. The god Dionysus finds her on this little island, “having come from heaven wrapped in a purple cloak.” (5) He falls in love with her and she with him; so deep is their love that when they marry she becomes an immortal and he remains eternally true to her. Marrying a god symbolizes consciousness joined to something essential. Places of isolation and abandonment can also hold the heart of the Neptunian mystery of bliss and sorrow, trust and betrayal.

So idealism and innocence as well as betrayal and deception are related to the Neptune archetype because they are psychologically intertwined.  Neptune's place in our birth-charts shows where we can connect with, and feel, one with a greater reality—areas of our lives that are infused with a sense of the sacred. Yet, those are the same areas of life where we can feel the victim, ravaged by disillusionment and loneliness.

The wounds of betrayal that Neptune constellates in our charts are all too real. How do we make sense of these experiences for ourselves, our clients and loved ones? Hillman's essay on the psychology of betrayal explores this theme with great care and insight. He writes, "betrayal—going back on a promise, refusing to help, breaking a secret, deceiving in love—is too tragic an experience to be justified in personal terms of psychological mechanisms and motives. Personal psychology is not enough, analysis and explanation will not do. One must look to the wide context of love and fate." (6) This wider context is given to us in myth. Myths and the archetypal figures within them provide a larger context within which to place our individual suffering. And in this way, our experiences can perhaps become meaningful because they are not only personal. Placing our individual pain into the larger container of myth is itself therapeutic. This is equally the power of astrology which places our experiences in relationship to our nature as symbolized by our birth chart, at the same time connecting us qualitatively to time as symbolized by transits. The meaningful pattern-making that astrology offers can be medicine for the shipwrecked human spirit.

Dionysus and Ariadne

Dionysus and Ariadne

Ariadne's myth shows the archetypal necessity and the potential meaning in the ineffable mysteries of Neptune. Her journey illustrates how the movement of innocent trust to betrayal to reconciliation is a process of consciousness, and deepens our way of working with Neptune so to help reconcile ourselves with the experiences he brings.

References and Notes

1. Sappho, If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, translated by Anne Carson, Vintage Books, 2002, p. 107.

2. Liz Greene has written about this at length in The Astrological Neptune and the Quest for Redemption, Weiser, 2000.

3. James Hillman, “Betrayal” in Senex and Puer, Spring Publications, 2005, p. 196.

4. James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology, Harper Perennial, 1975, p. 99.

5. Sappho, If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, translated by Anne Carson, Vintage Books, 2002, p. 113.

6. James Hillman, “Betrayal” in Senex and Puer, Spring Publications, 2005, p. 208.