I think there are few people who would argue with the statement that we are currently living through a time of unprecedented difficulty. As we close in on the 2-year anniversary of the first U.S. Covid cases, we still find ourselves in a kind of holding pattern, circling the airport, waiting to learn what the future will bring. The greatest unanswered question, arguably, revolves around the concept of returning to normalcy. Now don’t get me wrong, I know that it’s better to be safe than sorry. That’s been my position right from the start. Nevertheless, I think that one of the things we can all universally agree on is that we miss human interaction and the human experiences that appeal to our sense of aesthetics. This pandemic has required periods of isolation and restriction, many of which we thought were behind us, but this recent surge feels eerily reminiscent of early 2020. From everything we’re being told, we are NOT back in that place, but it’s certainly easy to understand why we might feel that way. The bottom line is that when human beings spend too much time alone, unable to be a part of the world, a kind of sensory deprivation begins to occur that can leave us feeling emotionally drained. We are, after all, very social creatures, and we have a certain craving for interaction, connection, and shared moments of grace at a collective level. Without these things, we are greatly changed.
As if we’re not dealing with enough, Mercury goes retrograde today, an astronomical phenomenon that has astrological consequences that we’ve all experienced before. You know this drill. Over the next few weeks, our lives will be filled with all sorts of technical snafus, crossed wires, and directional mishaps. This makes perfect sense since Mercury is the planet that governs technology, communication, and matters of trade and travel. Now, what many of you may not know is that Venus is also retrograde and has been since December 19th. Venus rules relationships of all kinds and helps us to understand the archetypal ideas of beauty, harmony, and love, and the ways in which we bring these elements into our lives. Mercury and Venus are just two of the interpersonal planets, with the third being Mars, who stirs us into action or prods us into anger, sometimes in a way that’s a bit over the top. Remember the flamethrower from my Ignition Point post? That was most definitely a Mars kind of thing. With Mercury and Venus both being retrograde, it’s not unusual to find ourselves feeling somewhat scattered and disconnected at a very personal and intuitive level. Fortunately, retrograde cycles are richly symbolic, and we can gain a different understanding of our current situation just by considering how this symbolism might be relevant.
When a planet goes retrograde, it descends towards the horizon every day until it eventually drops beneath it for a period of time. At this point, it becomes invisible to us. Because the planets can provide a means of instinctively understanding archetypal energy, their invisibility can make us feel as though we’ve lost our intuitive connection to those archetypes. Let’s take Venus as an example, since she’s really the point of this post. If Venus helps us bring the universal concepts of beauty, harmony, and love into our lives through things like art, theatre, music, cooking an amazing meal, or feeling a deep sense of connection to another person, these things may suddenly feel just beyond our reach while she is retrograde. Additionally, when a retrograde planet disappears from the sky, it moves closer and closer to the sun, until eventually the two line up at the same degree. Symbolically, the planet is said to be purified and rejuvenated by the sun’s light, and given a new message to be carried back to the world. This is the midpoint of the retrograde cycle and is called cazimi, one of my favorite words of all time. Are you ready for the best part? When we last saw Venus she appeared just after sunset, gracing the evening sky as the brightest object in the west. When she re-emerges from her meeting with the sun, we will see her in the east just before sunrise as a morning star, the bravest and most warrior-like iteration of Venus. This change marks a dramatic shift in energy and offers us a brand new perspective on the archetypal elements that Venus represents.
If we struggle, as human beings, to find beauty, love, and joy in the world, we will experience such profound sadness. There is no question that this is a time of unprecedented difficulty, and we may feel as though we are ready to throw in the towel. We may want to impose our own lockdowns and restrictions because we are too tired or too scared, but if we allow this Venus retrograde to act as a metaphor for the uncertainty we are currently feeling, then we know there is a shift in perspective that has to happen. In the closing lines of her poem The Weighing, Jane Hirshfield writes, “So few grains of happiness, measured against the dark, and still the scales balance. The world asks of us only the strength we have, and we give it. Then it asks more, and we give it.” I believe that this retrograde is an invitation from the universe to remember just how much we are creatures of the light, no matter how dark our circumstances may feel. Our resilience is astounding; history has proved it, time and time again. No matter what happens in the next few months, we need to continue to push against the darkness of this pandemic. We need to continue to find and embrace the elements of life that nourish our souls in whatever ways they are safely available to us. We need to continue to believe that when we re-emerge we will be rejuvenated, rather than broken, with a new appreciation and a warrior spirit, rising as morning stars, ready to greet the sun.
For today’s cocktail, I wanted to celebrate the particular harmony that has to occur in a drink made with ingredients in equal parts. I chose gin as my base spirit because I have come to believe that it is even more universal than vodka. Where vodka behaves as a blank canvas, gin has a multitude of flavors that act as a hub for whatever else is in the drink. My next thought was Yellow Chartreuse because of its warmth and the way in which it appeals to our aesthetic sensibilities. This is, after all, a liqueur that can transport you to the French countryside! I wanted something similarly pleasing, but totally unexpected, to pair with the Chartreuse, so I chose Giffard’s Banane du Brésil, equally warm and just as evocative of place. Lemon was the right citrus to pull the spirits together, and the end result was a cocktail that was bright, strong, and filled with joyous Venus energy. I could have left it right there, but I wanted one more component that would reflect the idea of something deeper and more serious. Bogart’s Bitters from The Bitter Truth, a Christmas gift from my co-worker and good friend Ben Donia, brought the drink down one careful notch with dark spices, a hint of chocolate, and European herbs. They are amazing! Cheers everyone. Venus met with the sun last Saturday, January 8th, and she is just reappearing in the east as of today. She completes her retrograde cycle on January 29th, at which time she will be the brightest and most easily recognized object in the pre-dawn sky. Happy Friday!
1 oz of your favorite gin
1 oz Yellow Chartreuse*
1 oz Giffard Banane du Brésil*
1 oz lemon juice
1 dash Bogart’s bitters
Long, long shake.
Double strain into a cocktail glass.
Garnish with a lemon star.
*Yellow Chartreuse is readily available at most liquor stores. If you are local to South Jersey, Traino’s in Mt. Laurel carries an impressive selection of Giffard liqueurs, all of which are excellent.