Shining Venus trembles afar,
Earth's Higher Self, and
With but one finger touches us. — Ancient Buddhist saying
Venus has exercised an eternal fascination for humanity. Second known planet from the Sun and companion planet of Earth, it vies with Sirius and Jupiter as the brightest celestial object in the sky after the Sun and Moon. As herald of the dawn Venus is visible before sunrise or it shines forth as the evening "star" immediately after sunset. Homer called it the most beautiful star in the sky, and the disciples of Pythagoras revered it as the only planet bright enough to cast a shadow. The Greeks named their goddess of beauty Aphrodite, and the Romans named it Venus. When it was visible in the sky at sunset, it was called vesper (Latin "evening"), and as it rose before the Sun it was called the false light, the star of the morning, or Lucifer ("light-bearer").
This ancient reverence is reflected in theosophical teachings which speak of the close inner connections between Venus and Earth: "Venus is the most occult, powerful, and mysterious of all the planets; the one whose influence upon, and relation to the Earth is most prominent." (H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine 2:30-1)
Modern scientists have been equally impressed by the mysteries of our celestial neighbor. Since 1962, when the US spacecraft Mariner 2 passed within 22,000 miles of Venus, a series of US and Soviet space explorations have pierced the dense clouds veiling the planet's surface to give us a dramatically clear and detailed picture. Since September 1990 the Magellan radar-mapping spacecraft has transmitted thousands of images of areas as small as 100 meters across, covering about 99% of Venus's surface. It has also imaged about 21% of the surface from different angles, offering scientists stereoscopic views of about 80% of the planet. Three-dimensional computer simulations based on the Magellan radar maps enable us to fly in our imagination above the scorching landscape simmering in an orange sunlight.
Seventy-five kilometers below the dazzling white cloud-tops which course around the planet at 200 mph, black undulating lava plains stretch endlessly before us, indicating Venus's recent fiery geological history which has seen 90% of the planet resurfaced with molten rock. Descending through the choking fog of carbon dioxide, clouds of sulphuric acid eddy above the rocky surface, baking at 900°F, kept constant by the global greenhouse effect. We survey a landscape of lava twisted into all its possible forms beneath a crushing atmosphere 90 times the pressure of that on Earth.
The generally smooth surface appears somewhat as Earth might look seared of its oceans. Venus, however, has only two large continents: Aphrodite Terra, roughly the size of Africa, near the Venusian equator in the southern hemisphere; and Ishtar Terra, roughly the size of Australia, near the north pole. The highest point in this desolate landscape are the Maxwell Mountains in Ishtar Terra rising to about 35,000 feet above the average radius of Venus, 20% higher than Mt. Everest is above sea level. Most spectacular are Magellan's three-dimensional images of volcanoes such as Maat Mons, an eight-kilometer high mountain that shows possible evidence of eruptions in recent geologic time. The only other places in the solar system known to have active volcanoes are Earth, Jupiter's moon Io, and Neptune's moon Triton.
The largest and lowest lowland region is the Atlanta Plain northeast of Aphrodite Terra, roughly the size of the North Atlantic Ocean. The lowest point is the Diana Chasma, located within central Aphrodite Terra. Just 1.8 miles below the average radius of Venus, this canyon is shallow compared to the Earth's Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench, 7 miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean. Still, in places the flowing lava has carved long sinuous channels dotted with lava islands and channel bars. One such lava riverbed forms the longest channel yet discovered in the solar system, stretching 4,200 miles, longer even than the Nile River.
Dome-shaped hills dot the horizon like huge pancakes 30 to 60 kilometers across, their upper surfaces cracked and faulted like bread crust. Gentle winds pile sand and dust into fields of sand dunes, which look like the deserts of Earth or Mars. Towering above the volcanic deserts are huge continental blocks and also circular or oval structures 200 to 1,000 kilometers in diameter where thick molten rock has bubbled to the surface like hot mud bubbling in a geyser. Unlike many bodies in our Sun's family, there are very few craters because of the dense atmosphere absorbing incoming meteorites and the active volcanism on the surface.
There is an old saying that the "stars teach as well as shine," though their inner secrets may well be hid even from the prying instruments of modern spacecraft. It is with the inner life of the planets and stars as living beings that we are primarily concerned here. Modern environmentalists are beginning to express similar ideas in such concepts as the Gaia principle popularized by Dr. James Lovelock, which speaks of the "self-regulating" mechanisms of the Earth behaving like a living entity. Popular ecological crusader Dr. David Suzuki in his book Wisdom of the Elders: Honoring Sacred Native Visions of Nature (with Peter Knudtson, Bantam Books, New York, 1992) speaks also of the need for modern Western civilization to embrace a reverence for the Earth as a living being — recognized by all the native peoples of the world — rather than considering it as the object of endless economic exploitation.
Theosophy goes on to explain something more of the intricate web of life in the night sky. Within our solar system there are seven sacred planets forming a brotherhood to administer the building and guide the development of each world in the solar system. Those closely associated with the life of our Earth, according to ancient tradition, were Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, with the Moon and the Sun standing as substitutes for other, invisible worlds. Venus was given prominence for its role in the development of our world. Syrian mystics spoke of Venus as the home of the Principalities in their scheme of the spiritual regents of the solar system. Greek philosopher-mathematician Pythagoras called Venus the "Sol alter" (the "other Sun"). In the Christian tradition, St. Augustine saw a close correlation between the fate of Venus and our planet. G. de Purucker emphasizes the spiritual links between the Earth and Venus recognized by ancient authorities: "It is perhaps the most closely connected with the earth in a number of ways; and it has been said that wherever Venus goes, there goes the earth also, and vice versa" (Fountain-Source of Occultism, p. 329). As stated by H. P. Blavatsky: "According to the Occult Doctrine, this planet is our Earth's primary, and its spiritual prototype. . . . Every sin committed on Earth is felt by Usanas-Sukra [Venus]. . . . Every change on Sukra is felt on, and reflected by, the Earth." (The Secret Doctrine 2:31)
Planetary scientists also see a close resemblance between Venus and the ancient Earth — not the vision of swamplands and dinosaurs beloved of Hollywood movies, but the Archaean era 4.5 to 2.5 billion years ago when the Earth's crust was still scorching hot and life as we would recognize it was just emerging. Paradoxically, theosophical teachings indicate that Venus is more advanced than Earth in its evolution and that the closer a planet is to the Sun, the farther along it is in its current planetary life cycle. Although Venus is a hellish environment for Earthlings, it is said to be inhabited by highly intelligent beings as much at home in their habitat as we are amid our green forests and meadows.
Next time when you are out walking at sunset, pause a moment and look at the western sky. The first star to appear out of the embers of the slumbering sun and the loveliest of all the starry host against the blackness of the night sky, may be Venus as evening star. Ponder with the shepherds, poets, and philosophers of ancient times, and with the astronomers of our own era, on the mystery and wonder of Earth's twin planet.
[The author wishes to acknowledge the kind assistance of David F. Doody, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, in the preparation of this article.]
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