Today, June 5, is the Transit of Venus, a celestial event that occurs only twice a century, when the planet Venus passes directly between the Sun and the Earth. Each century, two transits occur as a pair separated by 8 years. The last one took place on June 8, 2004, and after today’s transit, there will not be another until 2117. (The Exploratorium has a great site devoted to the Transit of Venus, and they’re webcasting it live from Hawaii today).
My women’s a cappella choir, Conspiracy of Venus, organized our end-of-the-season show at The Makeout Room in San Francisco this past Saturday, June 2, around the Transit of Venus – since we are, after all, named after the same diety as the planet. I was asked by my choir-mates to write a “mythology” for us surrounding the Transit. We staged a pageant in which members of the choir acted out the story as I read it aloud. The evening also included a performative interpretation of The Birth of Venus by the fabulous Ginger Murray, Founding Editor of Whore! Magazine, as well as a performance by the Lemon Twist Drill Team, a set by Carlos Forster, Mike Coykendall, and Kelly Bauman, and, of course, a full set by Conspiracy of Venus.
This was a wonderful evening to be involved in, and it was a good occasion for a fun writing assignment, which I post here for your enjoyment:
The Transit of Venus – An Irreverent Mythology
Welcome, friends, to the Celebration of the Transit of Venus, the highest of Venusian high holy days – after, of course, the Birth of Venus. The Transit of Venus occurs twice every century, as a pair of events eight years apart. We celebrated the first transit of this century eight years ago, when Venus made her first pass between Earth and the Sun. Tonight, we gather to celebrate the culmination of the holiday, when Venus again travels between Earth and the Sun, by retelling the story of the first Transit, as our mothers told us and their mothers told them and so on back into the ages before recorded history.
As legend has it, the peace-loving residents of Venus loved gardening, playing with children, throwing potlucks, deriving equations from the spirals in snail shells, inventing mythologies to explain their place in the universe, and making music. These Venusians were eager to catch a glimpse of their closest celestial neighbors as the first Transit of Venus drew near. Many of them gathered to make the beautiful, ethereal music with their voices for which Venusians are famed all throughout the galaxy, as a gift to the Earthlings.
Venus began her passage with a dance, shaking her hips, trailing ribbons of brightly colored gases, putting on a celestial show that reflected the joyous lives of her inhabitants. The Venusians looked down in great anticipation at the Earth. To their surprise and dismay, they saw a scarred, polluted planet. Worse, the Earthlings were not even looking up at Venus, because they were too busy killing each other. Even worse, no music came from Earth. The Venusians shuddered in horror.
In the eight years between that first transit and the second, the Venusians feared that the violent Earthlings might plan to blow Venus straight out of the sky with a giant killing machine on her second pass. The day of the second crossing, some Venusians hid in their basements or in specially built shelters. Some gathered in groups to prepare for the annihilation. But most simply strained to get a glimpse of what was going on down there on Earth. As Earth came into their line of sight, the anxious Venusians saw that, while some Earthlings were still pillaging the planet and killing each other, many, many more were doing something they had learned during Venus’s previous passage: they were making music. What’s more, they had invented something new by setting words to music, which had never been done on Venus. The Earthlings were so excited to communicate with their neighbors that they had even made signs in honor of the Transit of Venus. Astronomers held diagrams detailing what they’d learned about the solar system from observing the first Transit. Painters held up lovely likenesses of their neighboring planet. Children raised their hands and waved. “They did notice us last time!” exclaimed the Venusians, and waved back enthusiastically. The wise old women simply smiled and said nothing. And everyone rejoiced.
So every century, as the two planets observe each other under the Sun’s benevolent beaming gaze, we celebrate the power of music to keep violence at bay, to bring out our better selves, and to unite people across cultures, languages, and some 261 million kilometers of space. In honor of this sacred day, we have prepared a special performance of songs with words by some of Earth’s greatest songwriters – performed with decidedly Venusian flair – to celebrate the art we have created together in the spirit of peace and interstellar understanding.
Poster by D’Arcy Bertrand