Astro Journal · Mythology

Planet Myths: The Story Behind Neptune

Neptune represents your need for transcendence and the desire to escape limitations through surrender to a timeless vision or ideal. It’s associated with the creative expression of imagination, dreams and fantasy, as well as religious devotion and mystical union that dissolves the boundaries of the self.

Neptune takes about 165 years to orbit the entire zodiac and spends about 14 years in each sign. It was discovered in 1846 during a period when ideals of the perfect society and collectivism were starting to spread, along with romanticism and spiritualism, and the development of photography and film.

Neptune is the modern ruler of Pisces along with Jupiter. The glyph represents the cross of matter between two crescents of soul, where the soul can be seen as being crucified on the cross, or crucified in matter. It’s also Poseidon’s trident, the symbol of his power – although originally it may’ve belonged to someone else, as we’ll see.

As the higher octave of Venus, Neptune represents Universal Love. While Venus shows your values and how you love on a personal level, Neptune connects you to compassion and the mystery of Cosmic Consciousness. It symbolises water as the source of life, as well as the collective psyche and Soul of the World, the depths of the unconscious, and experiences in the womb.

Neptune refines and inspires, bringing ecstasy and visionary experiences, but it also undermines and confuses, leading to deception and even psychosis. Some of the archetypes associated with Neptune include: the Great Mother and the Divine Feminine, the Saviour, the Victim, the Martyr, the Addict, the Suffering Artist, the Visionary Dreamer, and the Mystic.

Let’s see how all this is portrayed in the myths…

Neptune Myths

The mythology of Neptune is associated with gods and goddesses of the sea and rivers, as well as springs and holy wells. The planet was named after the Roman version of Poseidon, but probably should’ve been named after a goddess because water, as the source of life, is feminine. And in mythological terms, that means the Great Mother, who we met in Cancer Myths and Pisces Myths.

The earliest creation myths involve a self-fertilising goddess or creatrix giving birth to the universe. In later myths she was split in two and the world was birthed through the goddess with a little help from the god – as with Ouranos and Gaia in Uranus Myths.

The Sumerian creation myth in the Enuma Elish starts with Nammu, the primordial sea and the goddess who gave birth to heaven and earth. She was known as the ‘Lady of the Beginning’ and was the eternal source of life. Later the story evolved into Tiamat, the goddess of sea water, and her consort Apsu, god of fresh water. They were represented as an uroborus and out of their union came all the other gods.

The story changed again when Tiamat unleashed fantastical monsters against her offspring after one of them killed Apsu. To stop the destruction, Marduk dismembered her and created heaven and earth from her body. This represents the ego or self separating from the unconscious to become self-aware – a necessary step for the growth of the individual.

Egyptian creation myths include the goddess Mut, the primordial water out of which everything was created. Her name means mother and she was associated with the watery abyss of Nu, or Nun. Nun was the oldest god and sometimes split into a pair with his feminine component Naunet, and depicted as an uroborus that encircles the earth.

Nun was also associated with Hapi, the god responsible for the flooding of the Nile. He was called ‘the Primeval One’ and was depicted as androgynous with long hair and breasts. There was also the goddess Neith who wove the universe from the primordial waters. She was often called the grandmother of the gods and was the guardian of the mysteries of life.

Poseidon and his borrowed trident

The Greeks were drowning in sea deities because of their close relationship to the Mediterranean and it’s a bit of a tangled mess – appropriate for Neptune. The oldest appears to be Thalassa, a primordial goddess of the sea who was later replaced by Oceanus and Tethys. While in Orphic mythology the original creator goddess was Thesis, the first being to emerge with Hydros, the primordial waters.

Oceanus was a Titan and god of the river Okeanos that encircled the earth. He ruled with his wife/sister Tethys, and together they were the source of all rivers and springs. In some myths they were the offspring of Ouranos and Gaia, but in others, they were the mother and father of all the gods, pointing back to Thalassa.

In Orphic mythology, Oceanus and Tethys were associated with Ophion, the first king of the gods, and his wife Eurynome who was known as ‘Mother Creation.’ Her name means grandmother and she was also associated with Thesis and Thalassa.

The confusion continues with Poseidon who started out as an earthy fertility god known as ‘the husband of the Mother’ – the mother being Earth. In this role he was linked with Demeter and only later became associated with the sea. Like Ouranos and the planet Uranus, Poseidon doesn’t fit Neptune very well and his watery qualities appear to be borrowed from the ladies in his life.

Poseidon was the son of Kronos and Rhea, and brother of Zeus. When Kronos started swallowing his children, Rhea hid Poseidon in a herd of horses and gave her mad husband a foal to eat instead. But other versions say he was eaten by Kronos. After Zeus released his siblings from a slow digestion, they drew lots to see who would rule each realm and Poseidon was given the sea.

To start with, Poseidon wanted Thetis as his wife but a prophecy said any son born to her would be greater than his father, so he passed. Thetis was a Nereid and goddess of the sea, often linked with Thesis. Her name means creation – a clear link back to the earlier primordial goddesses.

Thetis ended up only mating with mortal men in order to protect the gods. This represents the need for the creative power of the unconscious depths to be channelled and given form through human consciousness, via the ego – a better solution than slaughtering the goddess as Marduk did!

Meanwhile, Poseidon hooked up with Amphitrite instead. Amphitrite was a personification of the sea who gave birth to seals and dolphins. She ruled the oceans with the Nereids, like Thetis, until Zeus gave her dominion to Poseidon, and she was demoted to being his wife.

So Poseidon inherited his rule of the sea from Amphitrite and the many primordial ocean goddesses that preceded her. The trident and symbol of his power also originally belonged to the goddess – as shown here:

Amphitrite and her trident

Amphitrite was more gentle than Poseidon who was prone to changeable moods and violent rages, triggering storms and earthquakes. He was depicted riding a chariot pulled by hippocami (horses with fish-tails), and as a shape-shifter often took the form of a horse or a bull, and sometimes a dolphin, his sacred animal.

Greek mythology includes many watery shape-shifters known as the Old Man of the Sea. These are primordial water gods and they go by various names, such as Nereus and Proteus, and could be seen as Thetis in male form. Proteus is a prophet and a trickster and is often depicted with a fish-tail. To get a prophecy, you have to catch him and hold him down while he shifts form and tries to freak you out. Eventually he’ll take his true form and deliver an oracle – which you then have to decipher.

The primordial ocean isn’t just about the creation of life – it’s also destructive and unpredictable, as demonstrated by Poseidon having one of his rages. Greek myth includes many chthonic sea monsters and serpents that represent the savage side of nature that pulls you down into the depths of the unconscious. One is Cetus, the sea monster that menaced Andromeda. There are also countless undines, mermaids and water sprites that represent the seductive, devouring side of the Mother (see Pisces Myths).

There is a god that combines both the creative and destructive sides of the water goddesses: the great Dionysus. Dionysus was the god of fertility, the vine and wine, ecstasy, madness, and theatre. He was the son of Zeus and had a terrible time because Hera kept trying to kill him. His mother varies and includes Demeter and Persephone, linking him to the Eleusinian Mysteries, but she’s usually named as Semele, daughter of King Cadmus of Thebes.

Hera was jealous (as usual) and told Semele to ask her mysterious lover to reveal his true nature. She did and Zeus was forced to appear as thunder and lightning and Semele was burnt to a crisp. Hermes rescued the unborn Dionysus and sewed him into Zeus’ thigh, from where he was later born complete with horns and a crown of serpents. Because of this, Dionysus was called ‘twice born’ – but it didn’t end there.

Hera sent the Titans after him and Dionysus was torn to pieces and boiled in a cauldron. A pomegranate tree sprouted where his blood fell, a symbol of life and another link to Persephone and her mysteries. Dionysus was rescued and brought back to life (again) and raised as a girl to keep him hidden.

But Hera didn’t give up and eventually she tracked him down and drove him mad. Dionysus wandered the earth with his followers, a group of satyrs and maenads known for getting off their faces on various substances and tearing animals (and sometimes people) to pieces. Dionysus killed a lot of people in his madness, but Rhea initiated him into the Mysteries and saved him. Later he married Ariadne after Theseus had deserted her.

In Greece, Dionysus was seen as an outsider and evidence of his worship has been found in Iran, Turkey and Egypt. He was depicted as youthful, effeminate and androgynous, and everywhere he travelled, he taught the art of wine-making. The oldest evidence was found in Georgia dating to c. 6,000 BCE in a Neolithic village called Gadachrili Gora, including ceramic pots decorated with grapes. The locals still use the same methods today.

As a redeemer god, he was known as Dionysus the Liberator and his orgiastic mystery cult had a profound influence on the development of Christianity. In Cyprus there’s a mosaic that shows Bacchus (the Roman version of Dionysus) sitting on Hermes’ lap with a halo, like Christ.

Dionysus was seen as a saviour who initiated you into eternal life after death through the gift of the vine. His cult was so popular that Jesus had to say, “I am the true vine” to convince people to leave the old pagan cults and join the new one.

The Epiphany of Dionysus

The Meaning of Neptune

If Uranus represents the Promethean will striving to awaken and become an individual, Neptune represents a different kind of awakening – one that returns you to your origin. You’re born from the waters of Neptune (Spirit) in order to develop self-awareness, and then you return to the water, conscious of your true identity as spirit.

Neptune dissolves the boundaries of the self and the walls you build against spirit and reveals the interconnected nature of life. It represents the urge to merge with something greater than yourself, to transcend or lose yourself, and soften the hard edges of Saturn. This doesn’t have to be religious or spiritual. It can be experienced in anything that dissolves the sense of being separate, such as nature, art, family, humanity, and even politics and the State.

Neptune dissolves the boundary between the conscious and the unconscious so anything lurking in your shadow will flood into consciousness. At best, this is uplifting and transformative. It can inspire religious devotion and creative expression, visionary ideals, empathy and compassion.

At worst, it’s regressive and destructive. Losing your sense of self can be terrifying, creating confusion and uncertainty, and triggering self-destructive behaviour, escapism, addiction, and madness of all kinds.

The tricky thing about Neptune is that it can go both ways simultaneously. You can be possessed by instinctive desires and fears at the same time as being inspired by genuine mystical visions. Discerning the difference isn’t easy, as Liz Greene says in her excellent book The Astrological Neptune and the Quest for Redemption:

“When is it a transpersonal longing which needs to be honoured as precisely that, and when is it an infantile regression which needs to be confronted with compassionate realism? And when is it both? Perhaps this is the true nature of Neptunian deception.”

With Neptune you can never be sure what’s going on. However, its real function isn’t to create illusion but to reveal it. Neptune dissolves your attachment to form and structure (Saturn) so you can see spirit, or the divine, in everything.

Learning to perceive reality this way isn’t easy. It means getting comfortable with paradox, ambiguity and uncertainty – with not knowing and not being in control. This can be humbling and often involves some kind of sacrifice, especially of anything you’re identified with on an ego level.

We can see this in the tragic tale of Orpheus, the ultimate Neptunian hero, and his wife Eurydice. Orpheus was a musician and poet who enchanted everyone with his songs. On the day of his marriage to Eurydice, she managed to step on a snake and promptly died from its bite. Orpheus was overcome with grief and went down into the underworld to bargain for her life.

Hades and Persephone were so charmed by the music from his lyre, that they agreed to allow Eurydice to return to the land of the living. Hades warned Orpheus not to look back until she was safely in the upper world. But Orpheus couldn’t resist and when he turned to check that his wife was behind him, she dissolved.

This was bad enough, but it got worse. While Orpheus was busy grieving his loss, a group of maenads happened to be passing and they invited him to join the party. He wasn’t interested, for obvious reasons, so they tore him to pieces – like you do!

In the confusion, Orpheus’ head and lyre slipped into a river and floated downstream, singing all the way. The head ended up in a cave where it continued to sing and prophesy until Apollo turned up and ordered it to stop because he was losing business. Meanwhile, Orpheus was reunited with Eurydice in the underworld.

Orpheus charms the pants off the animals

Orpheus failed to bring his wife back from the dead because he didn’t have faith. He didn’t trust Hades and refused to accept the word of the god of death – a bad move. Then he rejected the maenads and paid the price for disrespecting Dionysus. But this got him the result he was after (death) and a happy ending at last. The Greeks often saw Hades and Dionysus as interchangeable, like two sides of the same coin (see Pluto Myths).

Life and death, it’s all one when it comes to Neptune, and you can’t control either of them. The challenge is to let go and go with the flow – to float down the river of life singing your songs – to trust life and have faith.

When you genuinely let go without any expectations, something shifts and you activate a field of grace that creates a transformation. However, you’re not in control of how that plays out. It won’t work if you think, “If I let go then I’ll get what I want” because that’s not letting go.

You can’t control things when Neptune is around and trying to do so often makes things worse. Rejecting or denying the reality of Dionysus is dangerous, as King Pentheus of Thebes discovered. He came to a sticky end after arresting the god for being scruffy and debauched. So Dionysus drove him mad and he was torn to pieces by his own mother in a maenad-fuelled frenzy.

We see this in the madness of crowds or a mob baying for blood, the collective descent into psychosis or possession by an insane idea that makes people behave in absurd ways and lose their humanity. For examples look at the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917, or Germany in the 1930s, or even the world today.

Propaganda relies on Neptune. Mass movements and collective madness depend upon the manipulation of perception through deception, illusion and glamour. Marketing and PR only really work when you’re not conscious of how you’re being deceived – and that’s Neptune’s playground.

As individuals, we like to believe we’re rational. We want to side with Apollo, the god of reason, and yet we’re constantly overtaken by unconscious passions and delusions. When life gets chaotic, we tend to resist. Like Pentheus, we want to maintain order and control, for understandable reasons. But the dissolution happens anyway.

Perhaps we only succumb to the undertow because we deny the oceanic reality of Neptune. We fear madness and losing control, but sometimes these experiences are essential if we want to stay in touch with our souls. Not everything can be fixed using bright rational thinking – and not everything needs to be fixed.

Sometimes you need to breakdown in order to breakthrough. The dissolution of Neptune is like dying and being reborn. Like Dionysus, you are ‘twice-born’ when you’ve been to the depths and returned. If you’re very Neptunian, this may happen multiple times, usually in different areas of your life or at different levels or depths.

There may be strong feelings of divine homesickness or world-weariness, a sense of being trapped in the body and a desire to escape and return to spirit. This creates an internal pressure that pushes you to seek answers, although the journey is never easy and the outcome isn’t guaranteed.

We see this in the Sumerian story of Gilgamesh and his quest to find the Tree of Immortality which grows at the bottom of the sea. He manages to break off a branch and return to the land, but just when he thinks he’s home dry, a water snake steals the branch and eats it. Gilgamesh is devastated and sits down and weeps.

The water snake is Tiamat in disguise, the primordial goddess of creation taking back what’s hers. In other words, eternal life isn’t something you can possess or keep for yourself. You can taste it, glimpse it, but you can’t hang on to it. Like Neptune, it slips through your fingers.

The eternal life of the spirit isn’t personal – it’s not yours – but that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to misery and suffering. Divine homesickness is cured by recognising that the divine (or spirit) is present in all things. Or rather, that everything is present in God – there is nothing outside of God.

This is how the feeling of being trapped in matter can be redeemed – through compassionate recognition of the unity of all life. There’s no need to escape the physical world and float off into a Neptunian haze of fantasy. Dionysus shows it’s possible to unite spirit and body in ecstatic union and bliss while being totally present in the world.

But this requires serious spiritual discernment. The spirituality of Neptune includes all the dark and scary stuff, not just love and light. It means confronting the savage side of Dionysus: the demons and monsters and vampires and murderers and con-artists and charlatans, and recognising those tendencies within yourself.

Honouring Dionysus shows you how to balance every side of your nature. Like Neptune, he blurs the boundaries between the wild and the tame, male and female, victim and redeemer, spirit and instinct, human and divine. And even the rational and the mystical, because Dionysus shared a temple with Apollo at Delphi.

If there is nothing outside of God, then it includes the rational and the irrational, the mad and the sane, the saint and the sinner.

To find the truth of eternal life you have to see through the illusion: that whatever is born must die and that what you truly are, was never born.

There’s no need to struggle against the tide. You can relax and trust life to carry you where you need to go – to where you already are.

Neptune Myths on Film

Films that represent the Neptune archetype include stories about the sea, music, fashion and films, as well as dreams, imagination, illusion and deception, drugs and escapism, madness, mysticism, spirituality, and grace. You’ll have your own favourites, but here are a few examples of Neptune on film:

  • For a movie about a sea monster, you can’t beat the classic Jaws.
  • Robert Redford as the unnamed man battling to stay afloat on his sinking yacht in All is Lost.
  • Pi Patel surviving a shipwreck with a tiger and finding God in Life of Pi.
  • The novelist Iris Murdoch who slowly succumbs to Alzheimer’s disease in Iris.
  • Leonard Shelby struggling to remember what happened to his wife in Memento.
  • Jon and his band mates making music and confronting madness in Frank.
  • Mark Renton and his friends fighting heroin addiction in Trainspotting.
  • Tom Creo searching for the secret of eternal life to save his dying wife across parallel lives in The Fountain.
  • Dom Cobb implanting dreams and perhaps getting trapped in his own in Inception.

Explore The Fountain in depth here. More on the dream world of Inception here

More on Neptune

Images: Planet; Poseidon; Amphitrite; Dionysus; Orpheus; Water

4 thoughts on “Planet Myths: The Story Behind Neptune

  1. I once read a description of Neptune as “the blind man who sees everything”, or “the visionary”. The more I think about Neptune as an archetype, the more humble I feel.
    Thanks Jessica!

    Liked by 1 person

Comments

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.