A Brief Overview of the Madonna-Whore Complex in Astrology

    The Madonna-whore complex was first observed by Sigmund Freud in the early 1900s, but the cultural effects of this phenomenon are still deeply felt well into the twenty-first century. The belief that all women must fall into one of two categories—the virgin/mother or the devious seductress—is not only limiting to each individual woman’s ability to be a multifaceted human, but it’s also a hindrance to feminist and LGBTQ+ progress in the world at large. Although the Madonna-whore complex as such has only been studied within the past hundred years or so, the seeds of this dysfunctional set of beliefs were likely planted long before the twentieth century. Evidence for the ancient roots of this problematic perspective can be found in astrology, one of the oldest studies on the planet.

    Both modern Western Tropical astrology and Hellenistic astrology share the common foundation of equating the planets and luminaries with Greek or Roman mythological deities, although the origins of astrology were first introduced through the pantheon of Babylonia. The Greco-Roman theology encompassed myriad immortals who were both male and female, and had arguably equal powers. It’s notable, therefore, that when mythological assignations were allocated to each planet, the female archetypes received quite a reductionist representation. 

    Of the ten heavenly bodies considered to be major planets in astrology, a disproportionate number are considered masculine, with only two gendered as female, and only one as non-binary. What’s particularly interesting about the two female planets, the moon and Venus, are the meanings associated with them. The moon is linked to the goddess Artemis/Diana, who was frequently depicted in stories fending off suitors to protect her virginity. Ironically, the moon is simultaneously correlated with the mother archetype, and a nurturing, emotional, and intuitive presence. The absurd idea that both chastity and motherhood should be conflated into one paradoxical image is frustrating, to say the least, and reminiscent of how Christians worship a virgin mother. Mary, the female protagonist of Christianity, is revered for her impossible immaculate conception and is the eponym of the “Madonna” referenced in the Freudian complex. Aphrodite/Venus, on the other hand, is the goddess of beauty and attraction, but also relationships—both sexual and platonic. Myths about Venus deal with vanity, jealousy, seduction, and infidelity, all of which fall neatly in line with the “whore” aspect of the Madonna-whore complex. 

    Athena/Minerva’s strategic intellect, Hecate/Hekate’s occult wisdom, and Hera/Juno’s bold ambition have all been omitted from astrology, speaking volumes with their absence about which qualities are valued in women in a patriarchal culture. Females can be virgins, mothers, or wantons, but straying outside of these boundaries, or trying to blur the lines between them, still makes our mainstream culture very uneasy. Having such limited options for expressing the divine feminine is detrimental not just to women, but also to men and to those who don’t identify as discretely one gender or the other. If we want to advance our society past the gender restraints that are stifling our cultural progress, a clear path forward would be to get in touch with the ostracized goddesses, and to embody their feminine attributes that have been cast off as taboo. Today more astrologers are recognizing the imbalance of the assigned planetary sexes, and many are trying to remedy this disproportion through using asteroids named after goddesses in their work. Although this is well-intentioned, it’s still inadequate given that the planets and asteroids are not considered equals in importance.