On the eve of the full moon in Aquarius, I'm headed to an event that was billed to me as a "ceremonial invocation of Venus," meant to celebrate the Goddess of beauty, desire, abundance, sexuality, and love. I have no idea what to expect--only that I need to be "ready to go deep," per the woman-only event description, in order to get intimate with my inner Goddess.
The event description had also stipulated that I must bring items to lay upon Venus's altar, a "vessel" for water, and something with which to write. So, I arrive laden with my sacred offerings to the eponymous Goddess (my pink vibrator and a matchbox pastiched with a portrait of Frida Kahlo in which I keep my weed); my water vessel, a mason jar; a pen; and open chakras. Everyone's a witch these days and I am ready to become one, too.
The Temple of Venus spends most of its days as a Williamsburg apartment building. When I arrive at the address--given to me, rather clandestinely, only after my RSVP had been approved--I notice that "VENUS" is chiseled above the exterior doors of the pre-war structure, practically begging one of its tenants to host a Goddess worship ritual within its walls.
Up three flights of stairs, I join the line that ebbs out from the "temple." The women in the queue are slowly being let into the apartment one at a time. When it's my turn, a red-headed woman in a white Grecian-seeming dress takes my hand and leads me through a hallway lined with tea lights that I am certain are a major fire hazard. (Later I confirm that someone has, in fact, burned their dress on one of candles and started a small fire.) Our host asks my name and then sets me free into the room without giving hers. Inside, there are women everywhere. Some are socializing in the kitchen, drinking Lambrusco and eating plums, blueberries, whole carrots that appear freshly pulled from the dirt, and creamy cheeses that seem sensually rustic. Others are sitting in the main room on the mattresses and blankets that cover floor, forming tableaux that strongly resembles the set of a Petra Collins shoot.
The entire place is thick with humidity and the faint smell of rose water; the heat is cranked to max even though outside it's peak summer. I'm already sweating uncomfortably as I walk through the crowd of women dressed like literal goddesses--sheer gowns, silk robes, gold, draping jewelry--and I start to deeply regret my all-black outfit, which, before now, I thought was very witchy. The altar to Venus glows bright in the back of the room, and I stand shy and confused before it. There's a girl kneeling reverently in front of the carefully placed offerings--candles, gold jewelry, pearls, and flowers--meditating. In context, the items I brought start to seem like a joke that the serious practitioners in the room wouldn't exactly appreciate. I decide that my vibrator isn't, well, the right vibe and reluctantly place my stupid weed box next to a bouquet.
Soon enough, we're all sitting in a circle around Venus's shrine in various states of earnest meditation. Our host, Elyssa Jakim, sits facing toward us and starts to cry. With her hand to her heart she smiles and says she can feel all the energy in the room. "I want this to be a night where you feel free to do anything," she intones. Jakim motions to a girl in the doorway between the kitchen and the altar room. "Kat is already bringing the Goddess energy!" We all turn to look at Kat, who is grinning with her top off. At this point I slightly panic. Did I accidentally come to an orgy?
When I asked, What does this room need? it was very clear that it needed some kind of sexual healing.
The answer to my question reveals itself to be: Sort of. The Goddess Venus rules sensuality and sex, and my newfound sisters and I did, indeed, invoke her. The room temperature alone was reason enough for everyone to follow Kat's lead and throw off their clothing, but the evening was much more than that. It was also more than the tantric ritual that involved blindfolds and consensual touching, and an hour-long nude massage train. It was essentially a rare night to feel comfortable as woman. (One notable thing about being naked in a room populated only by women is that no one is trying to rape anyone.) Body positivity and self-love may have become feminist clichés; despite that, I gulped down the Temple of Venus Kool Aid and unselfconsciously belted Kundalini chants incorrectly and off-key, ready to let my inner Goddess transcend.
Elyssa Jakim is a Reiki healer, a psychic channel, and witch by trade. I went back to the Temple of Venus on a day when it was just Jakim's apartment in order to talk with her about my energizing occult experience and learn more about the women behind it. When I got there, she was accompanied by Lyndsey Harrington, a founding member of the sprawling coven and the Temple of Venus's sister project known as Moon Church. Together the two professional witches founded Fairy School, an after-school program for kids at the Maha Rose Center for Healing in Greenpoint.
Jakim opened the Temple of Venus in collaboration with The Numinous, an online lifestyle publication that covers mystic spirituality, on July 7th, just weeks before Venus went retrograde. When Jakim's roommate moved out of their shared apartment, she knew that she wanted to do something special with the extra space and so she turned to the Akashic records for guidance. Those who consider the spiritual world a truth believe that the Akashic records contain all the knowledge of everything that has ever existed in the astral plane.
"When I tell people about [the Akashic records] they ask if it's actual records, but it's not. It's a way to tap into the energy of the history of everything that's ever happened," Jakim says of the book. "You can open it for a space, too," she continues, "so, I opened it for the apartment. When I asked, What does this room need? it was very clear that it needed some kind of sexual healing."
The vacated room now serves as the Temple of Venus's ritual room. At the invocation of Venus, while we were massaging each other with avocado oil and ice cubes in the adjoining area, we were herded into groups of six to enter the ritual space for a tantric exercise. Inside the room, which was pitch-dark save for some candles, we were blindfolded and positioned across from another woman. Harrington instructed us to place one of our hands on our own heart and the other on our sister's. We were then told to ask permission to touch a part of our partner's body until we felt comfortable enough to let our hands roam freely. This, I admit, was pretty hot, but it was only the rising action before the emotional climax.
The project of sisterhood is not all Kumbaya. We are constantly unlearning internalized misogyny. That's part of the challenge and part of the exciting thing about this work.
Toward the end of the night, we returned to an approximation of the same seating configuration in which we began, this time with the altar candles blown out. In the absence of light, we were asked to say a prayer for women into the bouquets of flowers that were being passed around the room. This struck me. It dawned on me that I had just spent four straight hours positively affirming women. These witches just might be onto something; if everyone--men included and especially--could do this every day, maybe the world would become a more hospitable place for us.
"A huge part of the mission of Moon Church and for the Temple of Venus is to have a safe space for female bodies to exist," says Harrington.
"I have body image and self-consciousness issues, and I hadn't really been communally naked before," Jakim adds. "Parts of the evening were actually pretty difficult for me. I share this because I think it's important--it showed me where I was at with my body. During the chanting circle, I couldn't stop thinking, I'm leading this and I'm naked… Is that okay? I did something that was pretty big for me and I definitely think I got what I needed out of it."
Getting lost in the posi-vibes that Jakim and Harrington can't help but create (with Jakim being so open and radiant and Harrington being the definition of chill), I had to at least attempt to problematize the emphasis on self-care and safe spaces. Is it privileged? Is it selfish?
"I know I'm going to be a better to others if I take care of myself," Jakim says. "When you feel your most radiant, cared-for self, it does have a ripple effect." The Temple of Venus operates on a "pay what you want" basis; one the tangible effects of the space is that the profits from each of the events go to The Doula Project, a New York City-based organization that provides doulas to pregnant women whether they decide to give birth or abort, or experience a miscarriage.
"The project of sisterhood is not all 'Kumbaya,'" Harrington adds. "There's so much work to be done, even amongst women. We are constantly unlearning internalized misogyny. That's part of the challenge and part of the exciting thing about this work."
At the close of the Venus ceremony, the witches opened up the floor to anyone who had something that they wanted to share. This lead to an outpouring of confessions, tearful stories of growing up with body issues, and expressions of gratitude to the women in the room for being so welcoming. When it was finally time to go home, around midnight, each woman was sent off with air kisses, because Venus, of course, strongly endorses kissing.
The Temple of Venus closes August 19th. Join Elyssa Jakim at the following events:
8/17/15 Create Your Own Self Care Kit with Elise Deitch
8/18/15 Bundle Dyeing with Healing Flowers with Cara Marie Piazza