Eros & St.Valentina

"There's always a story.
It's all stories really.
The sun coming up every day is a story.

Everything's got a story in it.
Change the story, change the world."

(in "A Hat full of Sky" by Terry Pratchett)

Please note that this page is evolving ... because as a culture
we (humans) are always - quite literally - making these stories up as we go along :)
You are very welcome to contribute your thoughts
through the Dialogues.   These are some of ours.

We launched this page on 10th of February,
Saint Valentina day - see below for her story
We celebrate with this gift all the brave Agents of Change
who are giving their lives to what they love
in order to Transition us all 
toward a sustainable society.

Many Stories about Love

There are very many stories about love, probably because it is such a powerful force in our lives, & indeed, in all of Life.     Some contemporary thinkers have gone as far as naming Eros the 'fifth force' (these being the the other four).

The reasons we think it should be of great interest to Integral Permaculture designers (& anyone who is working for the Transition to a saner society, whatever they call themselves) is that this version of Eros seems to be one of the clearest ideas we have so far of the Evolutionary Force, a concept that is proving very useful in imagining how to get to a rational future for humanity.   (thanks to Ken Wilber & Andrew Cohen for this reference)

"What we love is what we give time to"

- is our favourite working definition of love (permaculture designers being profoundly practical people), & if so it follows that all we see around us in the world, including the collapsing ecological, social & economic systems we live in, as well as all the beauty & intelligent systems we have created, individually & collectively, is simply a result of our love, in action: what we have given our time & energy to, from hour to hour, day to day, week to week, & year to year ...   

So what's going on?  Do we somehow "love into being" also wars, pain, confusion, environmental destruction, mass extinctions, unbelievable cruelty, suffering ... or is it that we don't love peace, pleasure, clarity, Nature, other species, kindness, well-being, etc. ... enough to do what it takes to work for them instead?   

ReDesigning Eros Logos

St Valentine is interesting in terms of systems design because he's mostly used an excuse for commercializing love - which is a telling contradiction in terms - especially selling to would be lovers, & for 'celebrating love' in the popular culture, but - we would suggest - highlighting a particularly dis-empowering, consumerist & consuming (instead of generative) kind of 'love'.    

So what exactly we're celebrating is well-worth looking into, if you are a student of systems, and particularly of how the current systems work to keep the vast majority of us distracted, feeling confused, unable to use our creative energies to actually & powerfully change the world around us for the better.

Evolutionary Love is the most primal & powerful creative force we can ever experience as humans, but the codependent type of romantic love that we are heavily conditioned to seek (by St Valentine's celebrations amongst many other cultural expressions) is, by contrast, something that can tie up our time & energies into self-obsession & trauma more easily than many other things - quite its opposite.   

The story behind the Icon 

The icon for this Festival is a kind of "psychedelic Eros" image, because  Evolutionary Love requires a change in consciousness, and also (we propose, with this festival) some playful "throwing some different light" & re-designing of the -usually un-known or non-conscious - myths surrounding this powerful primeval force.

Thanks to Jose Zamora for being the creative designer of all these icons!  We had a lot of fun playing with these, hope you like them.    The original of the psychedelic Eros (Evolutionary Love) is this sculpture, a mostly un-familiar image of Eros, known as "Eros-Phanes":


< This is Eros hatched from the world egg, 
a Roman bas relief C2nd A.D., Modena Museum

Eros here is represented as a primordial deity & creative urge of ever-flowing nature, the Protogenos (primordial deity) of procreation who emerged self-formed at the beginning of time. 

This Eros was the driving force behind the generation of new life in the early cosmos. 
Here he is represented in the Cosmic Egg where he hatched from. 

He was also equivalent to Thesis, "Creation," and Physis, "Nature."  He was worshipped as a fertility deity.

Quite different from the flighty & mischievous cherub version we now think of as Eros to (see below), & isn't it perhaps telling of our culture (or at the very least coincidentally ironic...) which version is a lot more popular today?

We think it's time to do some re-claiming & re-designing: this original Eros is the god of Evolutionary Love, and we think that this concept might be very useful now, as we design the Transition to more sustainable societies, as humans.    It's a huge challenge, which many think even quite impossible, so perhaps we could do with some divine help, imaginary as it may be...

We'd love to hear what your research & imagination makes of this complex image, but one of the things we thought interesting was the animal mix:  hooves for feet, possibly horns, something that looks like a snake wrapped around him, wings and ... a lion head as a heart.

"Change the story, change the world"

If we are to mature as humans, it is time we take responsibility for all our myths, leaving behind any useless guilt & self-hatred (or blaming & hatred of others) by also taking responsibility for understanding the mechanics of how we are emotionally trapped into acting out myths & models without even realizing it, & ones that might actually be working against our own interests, & those of all of Life.

And what better way of doing so than to take an honest look at what it is that we love, and why?

During the whole Festival we'll explore these symbols & ideas, and propose some re-weaving of mythologies in order to change some of the now less-than-useful stories into more Evolutionary, useful ones.  Many of the presents that we'll be offering during the Festival - in the Dialogues - are invitations to do some very practical personal & collective work on these re-designs.  

Here are some references (we'd love to hear about more from you, see Dialogues)

Two Sides of Eros

Throughout Greek thought, there appear to be two sides to the conception of Eros. 

In the first, see above, he is a primeval deity who embodies not only the force of love but also the creative urge of ever-flowing nature, the first-born Light for the coming into being and ordering of all things in the cosmos.   

In Hesiod's Theogony, the most famous Greek creation myth, Eros sprang forth from the primordial Chaos together with Gaia, the Earth, and Tartarus, the underworld; according to Aristophanes' play The Birds (c. 414 BC), he burgeons forth from an egg laid by Nyx (Night) conceived with Erebus (Darkness). 

In the Eleusinian Mysteries, he was worshiped as Protogonus, the first-born. 

But in the second version, later in antiquity, Eros was harnessing the primordial force of love and directing it into mortals.   In this version he is a somewhat 'lesser' deity, son of Aphrodite & questionable father - either Ares (most commonly), Hermes or Hephaestus.   Rarely, he was given as the son of Iris and Zephyrus, or of Porus and Penia; this Eros was an attendant of Aphrodite, her 'messenger' of sorts (note similarity to Hermes, messanger of the Gods).  

Aphrodite of course being the Goddess of sexual, romantic love.  So this other Eros is her son &/or messenger -  definitely been demoted.

Worship of Eros was uncommon in early Greece, but eventually became widespread. 
He was fervently worshiped by a fertility cult in Thespiae, and played an important role in the Eleusinian Mysteries. 
In Athens, he shared a very popular cult with Aphrodite, and the fourth day of every month was sacred to him.

Baby Eros / Cupid

Myths are continuously re-designed and typically re-appear in different forms, changing in popularity throughout the ages, perhaps in response to what the times need, or what particular societies are stuck around.  Humans simply make them up as we go along, but some have powerful encoded maps inside, & that's why they persist.

Myths have always been used to inspire as well as to control societies, so it's very important that we become more aware of these stories, as they have a way of directing the currents of history, whether in a personal or collective sense - and whether we're concious of them or not.

What is interesting about Eros (= Cupid in Roman mythology) is that he seems to be much more popular today as a chubby mischievous baby with wings, launching his arrows at unsuspecting mortals, making them fall in love.   "Stupid Cupid".    If version 2.0 of Eros was a demotion, this 2.1 model is another step down, in terms of godly power, it seems.

This cheeky cherub is related to romantic love being flighty & irresponsible, &  this is the imagery that mostly comes up in the popular portrayals of him in San Valentine.  "He is boyish because love is foolish & irrational. ... Cupid is often depicted blindfolded & described as blind, not so much in the sense of sightless - since the sight of the beloved can be a spur to love - as blinked & arbitrary."  (Attributes)

So this is a much more immature version of Eros & this may well have something to do with the fact that we do seem to be quite immature as a society (in the consumerist 'west').    And a way to grow up is to "grow up" the symbols we live our lives by (consciously or un-consciously).

The Other Half

The most popular modern myths about love are mostly about a  particular form of romantic love that is closely related to our seeking to fulfil infant needs*, often referred in modern popular psychology as "codependent love", where we look for completion in marrying 'our other half' - a person that will save us from loneliness & isolation, that will make us feel good, wanted, fulfilled, like we have a place in the world & reassure us that we are somebody.

* or fulfilling our spiritual needs, depending on whether you talk to psychologists or spiritualists.

This romantic (or 'courtly') love is characterized by over-whelming feelings of elation as one 'falls in love' (we are hit by Cupid's arrow), often followed by a great deal of pain, as - eventually - our 'other half' cannot continue to fulfil the huge expectations of perfection put upon them.      

This "suffering for love" is immortalized in so many popular love songs that we rarely question whether something that makes us suffer could really be called 'love', but the conditions & the conditioning is so powerful that this all becomes true for most of us, as most of us at some point of our lives have experienced something of the martyrdom we seem to accept as inevitable consequence of 'falling in love', in consumer cultures.

However, when two people in a relationships, instead of staying disappointed, use the relationship as an evolutionary path, they can both grow through the inevitable frustrations, and as they do so, their definition of love changes, as they grow up.   

This is the transformation from consumption mentality (possessing, objectifying the other person, projecting our needs, wants & fantasies onto them) to true communion (or relating - realizing others are not here for us to use, but to discover: creating a relation-ship with another). 

Incidentally - or not - this is also the transformation we need to make in how we relate to other species, other peoples, with Nature & the Planet in general.   It means actually learning to love (instead of to consume out of fear).

But this Evolutionary Love is one of the best kept secrets, as it's difficult to commercialize & - worse - truly happy, mature people don't make good consumers.   So we are continuously sold the other, consumerist kind of love, in which as Eros has dwindled away to small, childish & flighty cherub, instead of the powerful primal force of Creation he was originally.

"Change the story, change the world"?

Eros & Psyche

If it's true that myths are often maps of psychological development*, the Eros & Psyche story seems very interesting in terms of where we might need to be heading.

* (many famous psychologists from Carl Jung to Clarissa Pinkola Estés have written much on the subject)

The story, very briefly, goes something like this:

Eros falls in love with a beautiful mortal princess called Psyche - a Greek word for "soul" or "butterfly", & she also falls in love with him.

But their love is fraught with difficulties, because of their very different natures.   Trying to reconcile the union of God & human is no small feat, but it's not one beyond Eros, the God part of the relationship, who eventually arranges a beautiful palace where he invites Psyche to live, & become her lover - with the only condition that she isn't to see his face.

This is all very pleasant for both Eros & Psyche, who lives there very happily for some time, until she becomes restless to see her family one day & is then tempted by her jealous sisters to become suspicious of Eros & the whole blissful arrangement (enter 'human frailties' like ungratefulness, jealousy, self-boycotting, suspicion...)

So she ends up destroying her gift, scares Eros away, the whole magical palace disappears ... and she ends up alone, distraught, & pining a lot.

The Trials of Psyche

Most of the images of Psyche have her look either elated in Eros' arms, or very depressed & alone, whilst she figures out what to do to re-join with her lover, and then bravely embarks on her trials - given to her by the Gods, as a condition to her re-uniting with Eros. 

"The Greek name for a butterfly is Psyche, and the same word means the soul.   There is no illustration of the immortality of the soul so striking and beautiful as the butterfly, bursting on brilliant wings from the tomb in which it has lain, after a dull, grovelling, caterpillar existence, to flutter in the blaze of day and feed on the most fragrant and delicate productions of the spring. Psyche, then, is the human soul, which is purified by sufferings and misfortunes, and is thus prepared for the enjoyment of true and pure happiness."  (From Bulfinch's Mythology:  The Age of Fable,  chapter XI)

This all sounds very much like the eternal & heroic story of the evolution of consciousness, "the fallen angel meeting the rising ape" in us, or the internal marriage of human & divine (lower & higher consciousness) that represents our emotional growth, both as individuals & as a society.   

We can interpret any myths in any way we like but it's the practical usefulness of the maps we create that eventually shows whether we are on a productive track, or not.     

The names of the characters in this story seem to be pretty clear as to the meaning, and it's very interesting also that butterflies appear, given that one of the most exciting modern myths about the transformation that we need to make right now in order to jump to our next evolutionary stage is all about caterpillars, cocoons & butterflies ...  

It seems that here Psyche represents the human, frail part of us, that needs to evolve & Eros the divine, powerful part of us.   It is in these parts joining (the interior marriage of the human & the divine) that we find our creative bliss, as the path of Evolution  - the apparent attractor of the natural succession we're living - seems to point to this end.

Of course we at NodoEspiral love butterflies, & especially helping them evolve ... which is why a few years ago we chose this image, the Butterfly Ship by Vladimir Kush, to represented the action-courses we do as being on a fascinating trip to new lands,  where we're all learning about how to design sustainable, more resilient societies, right alongside the titanic of our current current one.

The journey is quite tricky, often deeply uncomfortable - & even frightening for most of us - as adapting to a totally new structure (consumerist caterpillars transforming to beautiful & generative butterflies) requires a massive capacity for letting go of the old, & embracing a very different new form of being, doing, thinking ...   All very exciting.

And very, very difficult ... 

But the story of Eros & Psyche ends well, just to remind us what lies in wait for us at the other end of these massive trying times, if we come through the trials.


After successfully completing her trials, Psyche finally joins with Eros, & becomes immortal.

They have a daughter, called Voluptas or Hedone.  
Her name means pleasure, bliss.

She is often represented together with the three Charities, or Graces: Aglaea (Splendor), Euphorosne (Mirth) & Thalia (Good Cheer).    

This is a very old symbol of transformation, of the beginning of a new order - not by destroying or opposing anything, but joining with the diving & giving birth to something new.    

We've been living in the era of one of these god & human child transformations, as a very potent symbol.  
But this one is a girl, doesn't look like she'll end up crucified, & her mother had to be a lot more active in generating her.

We've yet to get there ... and the trials we are facing today perhaps include getting rid of some toxic mythology about love, St Valentine's being one of the (many) carriers of these ...

Who's St Valentine?

There are many answers to this, depending on what you find interesting ...

One one hand, St Valentine is a Christian martyr who is remembered as the patron saint of lovers.  
There are actually two St Valentines, and we were excited to find out that there is also a Santa Valentina, who is celebrated on February 10th, when we launched this site.  See below.

During this Festival we will also make good use of St Valentine's support, as the patron saint of lovers, albeit not in his commercialized form :)    

Because romantic love is also very important for designing any sustainable systems as, quite apart from the deeper meanings of love (which we'll mainly explore during this Festival), a sad reality is that quite a lot of transition projects (evolutionary groups, permaculture sites, etc.) get into trouble not because of any external difficulties but simply because the relationships we rely on, inside the project, collapse.  

This is a great practical concern but - perhaps ironically - we usually fail to think in terms of how to do some good design when it comes to these more 'invisible' (yet totally basic) levels.

Although it's not always the romantic relationships that collapse, these tend to be the ones we most rely on & so are often the more devastating, if or when they end.  So on a very practical level, how & who you love (& what kind of loving support you have for your life & work) is totally vital, for any of your permaculture or transition projects to work.  We over-look this basic "Zone1" design at our peril.

& Saint Valentina too ...

Initially, when preparing this Festival, we were quite clear about wanting to focus on Evolutionary Love (instead of codependent 'romantic' love), we played with the idea of re-designing the celebration to be 2 weeks long (instead of just one day) and we planned to turn upside-down a few other cherished popular myths of our culture.
So we joked about this being a female version of St Valentin & started calling it the Saint Valentina Festival.

This was all before realizing that, in fact, a Saint Valentina does exist, although she's not well-known.   But we hope she will much better known after this Festival, as it turns out she was, in fact, quite a good symbol for Evolutionary Love, if we wanted to find a Christian Saint for that, as she was a Palestinian woman who stood up for justice in for defending  another woman, at the risk of her own life.     

Evolutionary Love requires a lot of courage.     Courage being also one of the meanings of her name, coming from the latin 'valor'. "Valiente", to "have Valor" means being brave, courageous.   And, interestingly, the Eros-Phanes image (above) also includes a lion-heart (symbol of courage)...

This is from the thenusgarden site, of the Santa Valentina story:

"Saint Valentina was from Caesarea of Palestine. She was small and known for wearing old, worn out clothing. 

One day, when she was with her friend Thea, they joined a group of Christians gathered to hear the Holy Scriptures. Local officials broke up the meeting, grabbed Thea and tortured her. 

Valentina yelled, “How long will you torment my sister?” When the thugs heard her, they grabbed her, too. Valentina was dragged away to be burned on an altar which had already been prepared by the heathens. Kicking the altar with her feet, she knocked it over. Then, Valentina and Thea were tied together and burnt alive. 

Saint Valentina’s Christian bond with Saint Thea was so strong that whether or not they were natural sisters, they were spiritual sisters. And, Saint Valentina was not going to let Saint Thea be martyred without her. 

The women died for their faith in 308. 

The ancient Latin name “Valentina” means “strong, vigorous and healthy.” 
We honor these Holy Virgin Martyrs on February 10 and July 18.