You may remember Jean Shinoda Bolen’s classic book, Goddesses in Everywoman, from back when we were young. This 1984 classic included goddesses for every occasion, including love and lust. Just as Erica Jong circled back to her classic Fear of Flying with the recent Fear of Dying, Bolen revisited her seminal work by publishing Goddesses in Older Women in 2001. I was sure this had to be the place to find erotic goddesses for women after midlife. After all, Bolen’s clear favorite in the original book was Aphrodite. In the 1984 book, Bolen grouped goddesses into three categories: the “virgin goddesses” (workaholic Artemis, nerdy Athena), who represent not literal virginity but rather women’s capacity for independent thought and action; the “vulnerable goddesses” (Betty Crocker Hera, ever-pregnant Demeter); and the one and only Aphrodite in the category of “transformative goddess,” she who loves with joyful eroticism and who, not coincidentally, is the goddess of creativity.
I was excited to open my new copy. Would I find a particular goddess for sexy ripe women? And there she was, the goddess we have known all along, Aphrodite, or Venus, the goddess of love and sex. Bolen describes three ways that Aphrodite can manifest in older women. The first is through creativity. The second is through sensuality tempered by wisdom: The sensual joy we feel in massage, in delicious food, as well as in sexual love. Bolen recognizes that as we age, we can develop the pansexual side of our natures, falling in love with trees, kittens, and our favorite beach. And, lastly, Bolen talks about late-blooming Aphrodite, the erotic love we can feel later in life for our long-term partner or for someone new, whether a man our own age, a younger man, or a woman. So I did not find a particular goddess in Bolen’s book who represents sexuality in our wisdom years. But come to think of it, Venus’ oldest temple in Rome dates back to 300 BC, while the story of Aphrodite goes back to the 12th century BC.
The goddess we have known all our lives, she of love and lust, of freely chosen sexuality, is herself a crone.