Shut Up and Listen

This was originally going to be a comment on an excellent article on a blog I follow, but it just kept growing.

The article, I felt, did speak to one of the most important intellectual and spiritual challenges of our time. It pointed out that some Pagans speak about a desire or an imagined need to “re-enchant” nature. The concept isn’t new by any means.

I’ve found this desire to re-enchant the world in various places by many people from many different backgrounds. I have heard it from Pagans, but I have also heard it from Atheists and all those other things they call themselves, from philosophers of different varieties, from Christians, from New Agers and the very wide variety of related viewpoints, from Pantheists of several sorts, especially, and also from otherwise ordinary people who would not recognize a claim to any of these labels or specific view points, even if they could properly be categorized as such if thoroughly questioned. A comprehensive list would be too large for this particular paragraph.

I’d like to point out that you’ll also find the impulse to re-enchant the world in nearly every fantasy book you’ve ever read, in particular every single “low fantasy” story, almost by definition. Neil Gaiman specializes in this genre, masterfully. Consider Neverwhere and Stardust as first examples. In each story the protagonist somehow finds a way out of this drab and dreary modern world into one of magic, fantasy, adventure, and most importantly, meaningful activity.

These stories categorized as “low fantasy” make explicit the division between ordinary “real-world” reality and the magical fantasy land where exciting things can happen. The trick to an exciting life, according to the underlying narrative of the genre, is to somehow find a way into a magical world far away from here — because magic doesn’t exist here, but clearly, undeniably, should. These stories seem to leave little doubt about that as the magical world is always somehow the better one. The main character in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, for example, even after his efforts to return home are successful, desires to go back to the magical London Underground. You’ll also notice that Harry Potter’s life was undeniably improved by many orders of magnitude when that letter came — all of them — inviting him to Hogwarts. And if given a choice between Oz and Kansas, despite Dorothy’s quest to get back home, Oz is favored; it is clearly the more exciting place, the place we would like to visit if we happened to live in Kansas, or anywhere, really. This is why the story was written in the way it was written in the first place. It accentuates the message that there is no place like home. Not even the wonderful land of Oz.

Low fantasy isn’t the only example. High fantasy, to include stories such as the Lord of the Rings, Eragon, and the Wheel of Time novels, in which the real world need not exist, possesses the same dynamic. We read the books because we want access to an enchanted world, under the assumption that we don’t otherwise have it. Even the writer of an already-enchanted world very likely sits down to write the book because he or she feels the need to create a magical world, as though feeling intuitively that one should exist and does not.

Science fiction is certainly no exception, with the proliferation of stories about meeting aliens and thereby entering into a new world, having been given access to a fantastic galactic civilization where advanced technologies and alternative courses of evolution allow nearly anything to be possible. Star Trek, Firefly, Stargate, David Brin’s Uplift saga, and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy are the first things to spring to mind. Star Wars, if you’re wondering, is better categorized as high fantasy in the image of science fiction, not as science fiction.

Comic books straddle and blur the line between science fiction and fantasy in a more complete way than Star Wars ever could, primarily because the nature of the Universe is not fixed and differs between each writer and each artist, all remaining canon. Consider that Spider-Man was given his powers initially by a radioactive spider — in the vein of science fiction — but also that those powers function as a totemic force even given their non-magical origins, which led to the story line in which he, because of his partaking in totemic forces, had to run and even hide from a hunter of sorts far more powerful than he, who — I don’t recall the details on this complicated story from probably thirteen years ago. Consider the co-existence of science, however it is defined, and magic in the character of Doctor Doom and that a portal to Hell, even to Heaven, can be opened up under the right circumstances through Reed Richards’ scientific genius. Further, the Cosmos as a whole in the Marvel Universe takes on a personified form.

Science fiction and fantasy stories are not alone in this. Every book that draws you into another world, every movie that captures your attention, every video game that draws you in and feeds your imagination, and, arguably, very nearly every work of fiction and every form of entertainment with escapist leanings serves some part of this purpose as they draw your attention away from the drab and dreary world of the mundane and into… something else. In essence, our distractions from the world and the entire massive entertainment industry are the search for a felt missing something without which the world is bland, stale, grey… mundane.

Those who express this desire to re-enchant the world, and every means of expressing that desire, either explicitly or implicitly, all share certain assumptions. The first, obviously, is the assumption that the world is not presently enchanted. The second is the assumption that enchantment is a thing done by a person to the world somehow, as enchantment is assumed to belong to the individual. It is also assumed not only that the world once was enchanted, seen as enchanted, but that it is best seen as enchanted, that it should be enchanted.

All of this searching is missing the two pieces of advice from the above mentioned article: Enchantment is already present. Shut up and listen.

The entire entertainment industry, to a greater or lesser degree, the entire story-telling enterprise, and every religion, philosophy, and world-view asking these questions, implicitly seeking wonder and the extra-ordinary are seeking to re-enchant the world primarily by the application of imagination, which I assert is a mistake. If you are seeking enchantment, creating an imaginary version of it will not give it to you.

This brings us to the most important point and deepest underlying assumption in the discussion: the sense of enchantment is personal, idiosyncratic, and completely unrelated to the true nature of the enchanted thing. You will hear modern Naturalistic Pantheists state this most explicitly: the world is fundamentally a dead and soulless place, but we love it, therefore, in our eyes, it is magical. The assumption here is that viewing something as enchanted is the feeling of an emotion, and that one may see the quality or not in exactly the same way that a person could more or less choose to be angry at a malfunctioning faucet, laugh at it, or even admire the steady rhythm of the dripping water. To an extent, of course, this is true, as it is true for all things, but to the extent that that we view our goal as a personal emotional state, we are lost wholly and completely in our efforts.

The aim here, recall, is to re-enchant the world. Consider that for a moment or for a long while.

What a massive statement of hubris! Such arrogance! To say that we could make the world a given thing, to make it have some property or not, is sheer insanity.

But that’s not what people mean when they say they wish to re-enchant the world. They are saying they want to feel enchantment about the world. They want to walk out into their backyard and feel a certain way instead of mostly dead inside, grey and empty. It is a selfish statement, though it comes from an inner knowing of sorts, which has yet to be properly expressed for lack of a proper ontology to be placed into.

The problem we see here: the belief that the world is not currently enchanted, the belief that it once was, the belief that something could be done about it, the belief that enchantment can only be an idiosyncratic experience contained exclusively within an experiencer’s mind, the belief that an experiencer’s mind is a point-like thing trapped away from the rest of existence inside of a body, and the belief that the world should contain the property of enchantment.

Lets put this together now. The world is not presently seen as enchanted. The world once was enchanted. Nothing could possibly be done by a person to the world to change a fundamental sort of property as this. And the world simply should be enchanted.

We know somehow that it should be this way, and we can see that there is nothing we can do to change whether the world of itself is that way or not, so we’re left with three options, which are really only two: either the world is somehow wrong, the world can become right, or the world is not wrong. The first of these options is wholly absurd. In what meaningful way could the Universe really be “wrong”? The second option is therefore useless. This leaves us with option three: The world is not wrong because the notion is inherently meaningless. I will not dwell on this argument.

Assuming, then, that the world should be enchanted, the world is enchanted. Consider that a Sunset is beautiful, that beauty is a property of the Sunset whether you see it when viewing it or not. If you don’t see it, you simply don’t see it in the same way you might not see a stick bug on a tree branch, despite the fact that the stick bug is there. The problem with seeing it lies in your vision, but the thing itself is not. Entertain the thought for a moment that the old saying, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” is wrong.

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The stick bug is in the eye of the beholder.

If we believe that the world’s enchantment exists only within an individual’s perception of it, then our entire effort is lost. If the world is still a dead and soulless place in fact, but ensouled and meaningful only within our imaginations, have we in any way found an ensouled and meaningful Universe? No. We have, perhaps, done the equivalent of writing a fantasy novel, more likely playing a childish game of make-believe. None of this is the least bit problematic, but neither is any of it the least bit helpful for our efforts.

Let’s take possibly the most useful approach. As a child you saw the world very differently in very nearly every way. We all know that the world can be enchanted not just through an innate understanding but because we had known it before it had been stamped out of us. That, I believe, is what we are looking for. And why I characterized in the way I did the second piece of advice from the article: Shut up and listen.

The spirits of the trees are not metaphorical. The wrath of the gods in the form of a thunderstorm or erupting volcano is not in your imagination. The world “out there” is really out there.

Really look at your surroundings and feel the fact that they are truly present beyond your body, that your perception in some way is also beyond your body. Notice even that your body is contained within your perception! There may come a point when everything pops out, becomes three-dimensional, becomes real. There may come a point where you realize the feelings you feel in relation to your surroundings in some way belong to your surroundings as much as to you.

And if you reach this point you’ve probably just remembered what it felt like to be a child.

It seems that something is broken within us as we grow up, but not necessarily so. It seems that the misguided effort to effect re-enchantment upon the world is a projected effort to heal whatever wound that is inside us.

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Outer Planet Cycles: Uranus and Pluto

In my last post on this subject I said I would explore in detail what it means that Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump may be manifestations of the same essential underlying force. It would be more accurate to say that their roles are expressions of that force.

I’ve talked a bit about the Uranus Pluto square. Actually, I feel that I’ve talked a lot about it. But I’m going to do it again. Read Richard Tarnas’ Cosmos and Psyche for a yet more in-depth analysis. For each of the following dates, assume a cushion of three to four years both ways. There will be some variation as Pluto’s orbit is eccentric, so it moves sometimes faster, sometimes more slowly.

Uranus and Pluto came into conjunction at the end of Aries in 1850, the following waxing square between the two planets occurred in 1876 between Taurus and Leo, and the following opposition occurred in 1901 between Gemini and Sagittarius. 1933 brought us the waning square between the two planets between Cancer and Aries, 1965 gave us the next conjunction in Virgo, 2013 gave us the next waxing square, and the opposition will occur sometime around 2047. The next dates are approximately 2075, 2105, and 2130.

Notice that the period surrounding the conjunction of 1850 was not only the beginning of the modern use of petroleum, but also the build up to the Civil War in the United States, when all of the pieces were put in motion and tensions began to rise. 1876 gave us the Transcontinental Railroad, Crazy Horse, and the birth of Einstein (make of that what you will). 1901 introduced us to quantum theory. 1933 is the peak of the Great Depression and the rise of Hitler.

The years surrounding 1965 involved the civil rights movement and large-scale rejection of traditional ways of thinking, in particular about sex, religion, and social power structures — major culture wars. Also in this time period, under the influence of this aspect, we flew to the Moon. I frequently try to wrap my mind around what that means, but always fail. I’ve known about the fact all my life, but the thought of flying to the Moon and walking on its surface simply blows my mind. Always.

As food for thought, as a matter of curiosity, here is the chart for the Moon landing on the Moon.apollo-moonNotice that Uranus and Pluto are not conjunct. Rather, Uranus has separated from Pluto, then both were transited by Jupiter. All three are opposed by the Earth who forms a trine aspect to the Sun and Mercury on one side and Neptune and Mars on the other, assuming an orb of 5°. The signs and especially the houses may not be comparable to the the signs and houses we know. That is a question for another century, probably.

Uranus-Pluto Square

This is what we’re dealing with now. Uranus in Ares is pulling away from Pluto in Capricorn. In 1933, Uranus was also in Ares drawing toward Pluto in Cancer, exactly opposite its position now.

Pluto reached perihelion in 1989, exactly between 1965 and 2013. This is also how Pluto was able to traverse roughly one half of the ecliptic in only 80 years, very similar to the speed at which Neptune does, and during most of that time forming a sextile aspect to Neptune. As such, Pluto and Neptune have been nearly inseparable for nearly the entire twentieth century and essentially amicably so. Inherent to the sextile aspect is the relationship of signs two each other by polarity. Two hexagons are present in the Zodiac, one yin and the other yang. The yin signs are the earth and water signs, the yang signs the air and fire signs.

The beginning of this current Uranus-Pluto square, in mid 2010, brought us the Arab Spring and all of the surrounding events. Here in the United States Occupy Wall Street popped up, and though it didn’t get anywhere it arguably set the stage and framed the national discussion, implanting in everyone’s mind that there was a problem with Wall Street, even if they didn’t quite understand it or disagreed. Similar events only emphasized the point in the global discussion, such as the European debt crisis. One major theme of the aspect was loud and clear from the very beginning.

As Uranus and Pluto move backward and forward due to retrograde motion, they have made exact square aspects seven times. The first exact square was in early July 2012, the last and final exactly a year ago in mid-March 2015. Uranus is pulling away, slowly but surely, in close aspect until June, and then as Uranus returns, again in November.

This phase, the phase after the conjunction and before the opposition, is called the waxing phase, like the phase of the Moon after new and before full. During this phase, the potential of the conjunction is released and, now that the aspect is on the whole separating, what has been created under its influence begins to manifest. This is the time when everything really begins to happen. As an example, consider how the conjunction of 1965 culminated in the Moon landing of 1969.

Our current situation echoes back to all of the prior quadrature aspects of the two planets, but it is most especially reflective of the previous two, first, for temporal proximity, second, because of placement. These few years Uranus has been in Aries while Pluto has been in Capricorn. Eighty-three years ago, Uranus was in Aries while Pluto was in Cancer. Capricorn and Cancer are the signs of the summer and the winter, Aries the sign of the spring. Most importantly, these are three of the four cardinal signs — two of the yin principle, the other one probably the most strongly yang of all signs.

Eighty-three years ago, Hitler was made chancellor and the build-up to the second world war began as the Great Depression was in full swing. We all know where that came from.

Today, we have a neo-Hitler character inciting hate and encouraging violence, racism, and claiming he’ll put up a wall in Mexico and make them pay for it, while at the same time the caliphate has sprung up in the Middle East. But we also at this time have a man who participated in the better part of the spirit of the 1965 conjunction speaking out against Wall Street, echoing not only the very start of this square aspect, but the cause of the worst part of the previous square aspect. I don’t think it’s the least bit controversial to say that were it not for that economic crash history would have played out very differently.

Notice that Hitler participated in the spirit of Pluto as it was passing through Cancer, the home of the Moon and exaltation of Jupiter. Pluto shone clearly, even in an exaggerated fashion through him. Pluto is also clearly present in Trump, but almost in a cartoonish manner. Parts of these traits are built into their birth charts but mostly they were the expressions of the spirit of the times. Trump is not an angry guy, not really. But notice how angry he likes to appear. His anger is exclusively manipulative, utilitarian. He had inherited money and has lived out most of his life as a self-important super-rich jackass. What does he have to be angry about? The same absolutely could not be said of Hitler, except the jackass part. He was a genuinely angry guy and that fueled him to do great and terrible things.

But what I want to point out is the interesting way this is expressed. Trump does not have a strong Saturn, but he seems to play out Pluto’s role in Capricorn, which is the home of Saturn and exaltation of Mars. This is not to say that he is reserved, but that his motivation to control, his grasping for power, is reserved, hiding behind the facade of incompetent loudmouth piece of trash. Hitler’s aim to control was clear, direct, openly visible, perhaps exaggerated, and eventually the obsessive focus of his every action. The Nazis had a plan and a vision for their glorious future, and Hitler had every desire to conquer and destroy in the name of that vision. What does Trump have? Apparently a dream of a wall and vague suggestions of getting rid of everyone who disagrees with him. He wants to copy Hitler, visibly, but the true nature of the underlying impulse hides behind a display of buffoonery. Whether this is an example of cleverness or not waits to be seen.

Notice also the rise of many ideas and ways of thinking that some have claimed to have arisen in the sixties and then died out, passing into obscurity. Many of these ideas are not in the same form, granted, and many are watered down, but some had sprouted then and are bearing fruit now. I am talking to you about astrology after all.

The most important part of all of this is that, given the aspect’s clear influence from both preceding alignments, we carry the potential of both time periods, which is inherent to the dynamic between Uranus and Pluto. The difference between us and the “failed” hippie movement is that we have been informed by them; they had no such help, no precedent, at least not on such a scale. The difference between us and the people crawling out of the Great Depression and preparing for perhaps the most world-changing war in human history is that we have been informed by them. They had no such help.

But a lot of new things are happening now for which we have no precedence. I don’t need examples to convince you of that.

I had considered closing with a summary of what it means that Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump may be manifestations of the same essential underlying force, but it didn’t feel right. I think I’ll let you use your imaginations instead.

Number

 

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Take a long look at this image. In this image is contained the beauty of the number twelve and the reason the number twelve had throughout history been considered a mystical number.

Notice first the three squares about the outside of the figure, each rotated so their points are evenly spaced. Just within those squares are four triangles, each rotated so their points are evenly spaced, aligned with the directions of the points of the squares. Nothing is left out, and every point is met with another between the two rings. But more. Notice, for example, the yellow square. Each of its four points is met with a point of each of the four triangles.

It’s beautiful, right? But you can do it with any composite number. Why twelve?

To start, the prime factorization of twelve is [2, 2, 3]. Alternatively, you could say twelve is two squared times three, which is 4 x 3. Contained within twelve are the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 12. What I am most interested in, though, are the numbers right in the middle there: 3 and 4.

The fewest points necessary to make a two-dimensional figure is three: the triangle. The number three has been widely recognized as significant throughout history and throughout the world. Look into any culture and you’re likely to find three things with a significant role mythologically, cosmogonically, cosmologically, theologically, ontologically, what-have-you. The number three is universally given a place of importance. In Christianity we find the Holy Trinity. The Taoists have the Three Pure Ones. The Hindus have the three primary gunas. The Greeks mentioned the three Fates. Matter on Earth naturally comes in the forms solid, liquid, and gas. Atoms are comprised of protons, electrons, and neutrons, each proton and neutron composed of three quarks, which come in three generations. There are indigenous languages which don’t get past three; essentially, they count, “One, two, many.” And let us not forget the significance of beginning, middle, and end. The list goes on and on.

fxryjqoWe also have this. Perhaps you recognize it.

One more than three is the square: Four. Also, two. Four is two twice, and the significance of the number two is unmistakable. If anything is to exist at all, the number two is implied. This is the ancient notion of yin and yang.

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If a thing is to be, there must be both that thing and not-that-thing. If there existed only a zero-dimensional object — a point — the number two would be implied as the point would not exist as a point if it had no space to surround it; if there were nothing that was not the point there would be no point at all. Two is fundamental to existence, and very clearly so.

Notice also that the fewest points necessary for a three-dimensional object to exist is four: a tetrahedron. We might get to that later. We probably won’t. The reason we probably won’t get to that later is that we are not dealing with three dimensions, not directly, at least. While we live in a three dimensional world, our direct visual experience of it is always two dimensional. More specifically, when you look up at the sky, what you see is the apparent inside of a sphere, which is two-dimensional, its apparent motions projections of the motion of the Earth, whose surface is the two-dimensional surface of a sphere. Astrology is not concerned about the planets of themselves, not really. It is, rather, concerned about our relationship to the planets. After all these years, this is why astrology is still geocentric. Astrology is, in principle, a matter of learning about the sky by looking at it as it presents itself to us. The most ancient astrologers, who did not apply complex mathematical calculations to these observations, were very likely most in tune with this — but do not interpret this as though I am saying that the mathematical calculations were a mistake! They most certainly were not. Nor am I saying that we as astrologers should not be concerned about the planets of themselves at all. I am, rather, saying that astrology as an art is a study of particular types of relationships.

As we know, the Earth is tilted about 23.5°. As the Earth orbits the Sun, or perhaps as the Sun transits the sky, it is sometimes — during the summer — further north and sometimes — during the winter — further south in such a way that it forms a ring at an angle of 23.5° to the angle of the apparent rotation of the stars about the northern star, Polaris. This ring we call the ecliptic. It is defined by the Sun, and the Moon and the rest of the planets follow along the path with minor deviations. There’s a lot to say about this, but for now I’m still talking about number.

I’ll point out here that we’re dealing with one, two, and three dimensional objects at once. I hope you can see how and I hope it helps you to visualize. Given the rotation of the Earth, all by itself, any observer has four significant points: North, East, South, and West — the cardinal directions. Given the angle of the ecliptic, the tilt of the Earth, the cardinal directions also imply Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring. These are the cardinal points not of the Earth but of the Ecliptic — the Zodiac.

The number four is inherent to the tilt of a ring relative to another ring.

At first glance we have the solstice points and the equinox points: Cancer and Capricorn, Aries and Libra. Now, there are a number of ways to make this next step. Possibly the least elegant method, but the simplest, is simply to consider each quadrant with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Thus we have twelve divisions of the ecliptic. I’m  not going to stop here. This explanation clearly isn’t satisfactory.

The ancient Phoenicians used a base twelve number system. Actually, they wound up with a base sixty number system when they combined it with a base five system. This is still apparent in the way we measure time. Phoenicia was a major center of trade in its time, and some part of its influence probably stretched far and wide with high regard. This is likely the real reason that the Zodiac consists of twelve signs, but not just because of the influence of a base-twelve system necessary for trade. The base twelve system itself came about simply out of the realization that twelve is a small highly composite number. Fifteen might have been chosen instead, but at the cost of the number two, and twenty might have been chosen, but with the cost of losing the number three and taking an unwieldy size.

One step further. We’ll get there.

If there is one of something, you can see so immediately. You wouldn’t mistake a single thing for several of them and wouldn’t even need to count it. It is clearly and unmistakably one. Now, if there are two things, you likely have exactly the same experience. You don’t even need to count or do any sort of math to see that there are two things when presented with two things, and the same is true for the number three. When we get to the number four, we might have to look a bit longer, but the result is the same. We can see immediately the quantity four.

At about five, everything starts to change. Immediately, you probably start to view five as 2 + 3. Try it now. Imagine a pentagon in your mind. Just five points. There’s a good chance that you’re imagining three things, and then two more, or two things, two things, and one more, unless you’ve spent a lot of time trying to visualize pentagons. At six, we can still glance at a thing and know it’s six, but we do so with more difficulty and most likely by seeing two sets of three. Seven brings us to about our limit: three and four. We likely have to see three and four or possibly three, three, and one; possibly three, two, and two.

Notice what happens at eight. At eight you’re forced to see four and four, probably, and possibly two, two, two, and two. You might be less likely to view eight as five and three because you’re probably already seeing five as three and two, which would force the image to be two, three, and three. This doesn’t sound more difficult than recognizing seven when explained this way, but try it yourself as I just did. Pull out a handful of coins or whatever you have on hand and try to figure out different quantities without counting.

This is called subitizing and it is essentially an arational appreciation of mathematics built into our perceptual capacities. We can subitize up to three very easily, and nearly as easily we can subitize the number four. Five through seven are more difficult, and the difficulty then increases at an increasing rate from there. Though I have pointed out that we might tend to recognize the number five as two and three, it is entirely possible to view it simply as five. A psychologist might run an experiment in which a subject would be required to state the number of dots that had flashed on a screen. There would be no time to mentally split the dots into groups; you just have to see the quantity for what it is. Children and very small babies, even as young as six months old, have the ability to subitize. As I’ve been showing, subitization comes in at least two forms: the subitizing one can do up to the number three, which infants can do, and more complex sorts which involve essentially subitizing twice, which is probably what a person does beyond the number four and almost certainly what the person does as we venture very far from that.

I have two purposes for explaining this. The first is to point out that every factor of the number twelve is within the subitizing range, even to include six, and, as such, the number twelve is readily subitized in a slightly more complex fashion. This is less true for a number such as fifteen simply because the number five is not as readily subitized, and, again, we lose our two for a five — conceptually, perceptually, not a fair trade.

The second reason for doing this is to get you to see, to feel, the qualities of the numbers. Just focus on the numbers up to four for now. Focus on each in turn and feel what the arational apprehension of each number is like. The number three has a distinct personality, I find, as do the numbers two and four and five and six and seven. And especially the number one.

There is a qualitative aspect to quantity. This is what I would like you to recognize, and regarding the understanding of the essence of astrology, the fact is crucial: there is a qualitative aspect to number.

My next post will be a more in-depth look into the twelve divisions of the ecliptic and more insight into why all of this matters.

Origin of Astrology

When trying to define a thing, it’s generally easier to point at all the things it is not than to state what it is. But the question remains. What is astrology?

I prefer to approach this question first by considering astrology’s history, in particular its origins. Astrology as we know it was inherited from the Persians by the Greeks, though the Greeks would say they got it from Egypt. Both statements are probably true. But that’s not where astrology began. Astrology stretches back beyond the origins of writing, thus before history.

Astrology is a practice we have inherited from prehistory. Let your imagination run wild on that one.

Seriously. Imagine how this practice came to be. I expect that it is, in some form, more ancient even than language. The highly intelligent apes our pre-linguistic ancestors were would have been fully capable of looking up at the sky and noticing that a few of the stars changed position over time. Venus’ motion especially would have been difficult to miss.

Imagine that, as an ancient pre-human species, as some sort of reflective intelligence who spontaneously emerged from the world, more or less a clean slate from our perspective, you are standing on a hilltop, as the awe-inspiring brilliance of the night sky emerges from behind a veil of blue while the Sun finishes setting in all its many colors. At some point in this process a very bright star catches your attention and you stare at it for a long time, wondering what it is, and marveling at its beauty. It is bright, yes, and beautiful, for sure, but much more than that. It is much more than just that. You can feel it. You know it.

Pause. Keep in mind that you are an ancient human being in this scenario, a highly intelligent pre-literate, possibly pre-linguistic primate. You view the world in a way entirely unlike the way we do now. You don’t have language, or perhaps very little, yet you are a social, empathic creature capable of understanding, even if in a crude sense, that other minds exist. Your siblings had other minds, the birds have other minds, the lions have other minds, and so does the river, and so do the clouds, the trees, and the rocks.

Clearly, over time, you see that the very bright star has a distinct mind of its own, moving as it does against the backdrop of the other stars, who all retain a definite position relative to each other. It is perfectly natural for you to see this behavior of the wanderer and not only attribute mind to it, but also motives and desires. Where is it moving to? Where is it going, and why?

Then you find four more stars who do this exact same thing, each with a distinct personality, as determined by its brightness, color, speed and so on. After looking up at the night sky with nothing else to do except maybe sleep, for months and years on end, this will be nearly impossible for any reflectively aware intelligence to miss.

These wandering stars, you automatically see, have a place within the community of spirits, whom you recognize permeate all things.

For many, many thousands of years this is all there is to it. Humans lived out their lives as hunters and gathers (or whatever), aware of the presence of the Sun, the Moon, the many stars, and the five wanderers in the sky, who move about and watch over them, perhaps benevolently, perhaps not, but certainly, unmistakably there.

That was the beginning of astrology in my mind. It emerged simply, naturally, seamlessly, from an animistic view of nature which was capable of seeing the planets in the sky.

Eventually, people started to use their numbers, and eventually, as like Pythagoras and his cult, really, really came to appreciate them. Appreciation of number, even their worship, we could say, has continued throughout history, perhaps peaking today when collections of equations have essentially taken up the role of deity in the dominant culture and are asserted to be more real than anything else.

I’m oversimplifying, of course, but the merging of this appreciation of mathematics with ancient Babylonian myth grew into the astrology we know today — not modern psychological astrology, but the kind we actually inherited from our ancestors.

From the moment of its conception, astrology was held as obviously true, in some fashion. The most serious-minded skeptics of astrology throughout history, for example, Plotinus, generally did not criticize astrology as a whole but particular conceptions of it. Plotinus didn’t disregard astrology in the Enneads, but seemed to ask astrologers — philosophers — to think about their art more seriously, in particular, he challenged two notions: that the planets had a physical influence, and, on the other side of the spectrum, that the planets were incarnated gods. Even as the Christians came around, they couldn’t reject astrology, and this is strongly evidenced by all of the astrological references in the Bible. The church usually didn’t care for astrology, but the primary reason was that it threatened to usurp some of its control over the belief systems of its followers. Even Martin Luther had difficulties as people would distrust him for not having a proper birth time to provide.

Later, as the Copernican revolution sank into the collective psyche, the church’s near-complete hold upon the whole of western consciousness loosened and the Enlightenment took form, famously beginning with the statement cogito ergo sum, astrology began to fall out of favor, eventually to be fiercely opposed. Assumptions regarding how the world operated, and more importantly ideas about how and whether things can be known pulled the ground out from beneath astrology and cast it into the bin of “superstition.”

Superstition, by the way, is a meaningless word. The closest thing it has to a definition is, “Things I don’t believe and insist you don’t believe also.” This isn’t so obvious given that the dictionary has words in the place where a definition goes and that we expect dictionary definitions to be useful, but historically speaking a culture calls a superstition anything it doesn’t like of another culture. Consider Pliny, for example, the encyclopedist of the first century who hated the Magi of Persia passionately, and all things he called “magic,” yet who very clearly accepted as authentic quite a lot that we today would label as magic, such as the method of curing a headache by way of tying a plant that had grown on the head of a statue around your neck with a red string. To Pliny, the Magi were superstitious, to us, Pliny was superstitious, to others yet to come, we will be seen as superstitious for all of our hand-washing and probably  our fixations on our phones in the apparent implicit belief that they must be checked every fifteen seconds or something important might be lost.

But it might well be true. Any given thing labelled “superstitious” may well be true. Seriously, try Pliny’s headache trick, just for fun. Maybe it works. And maybe our phones are helpful, but hand washing is just a bunch of woo. Or vice versa. I don’t know.

Astrology was tossed into the bin of superstition for a number of reasons, and they’re all good reasons within the context of the given belief system — Enlightenment sensibilities — but astrology itself was never actually disproved. It was, rather, merely attacked mercilessly and wrestled into submission, eventually to be ignored and all but forgotten.

Western astrology practically died some time in the 19th century. When it began a small revival at the turn of the 20th century, it underwent a major transformation largely brought about by Alan Leo, father of Sun signs and modern psychological astrology. According to skyscript’s biography of the man, “He gradually discarded almost the entire list of zodiacal attributes, which had accumulated from the first to seventeenth centuries. He ignored physical characteristics to focus on inner character.”

Virtually no one who has learned astrology in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has not been influenced by Alan Leo. The astrological tradition accumulated over those centuries had by his time mostly been lost in the first place. Modern astrology continued throughout the twentieth century, receiving special attention in the 1960’s, largely divorced from its origins. What remained of the tradition was mutated and repurposed. And so was the state of affairs until Robert Hand came along and in 1993, with Robert Schmidt, Ellen Black, and Robert Zoller (why are they all Robert?), began work on Project Hindsight.

By way of Rob Hand we are in a new phase of the astrological tradition in which people trained in the starved and corrupted astrology of Alan Leo are incorporating ancient techniques, associations, and insights, and yet others are learning astrology from the start directly from the ancient masters.

A lot of questions arise from this situation, and while I have so far had nothing nice to say about modern astrology I do not dismiss it out of hand, first because it does happen to exist, and second because the near-death and later reinvention of astrology brought us just a step closer to the position of that prehistoric man on the hill trying to figure everything out for the first time, while still living in the present. Granted, a good deal that has come of modern astrology is nonsense, as any decent modern astrologer can tell you of other modern astrologers, but modern astrology is primarily responsible for easing out the meanings of the outer planets — modern astrology is Uranian, Neptunian, and Plutonian. Modern astrology is, historically speaking, fresh, current. It is fuzzy-headed, high-minded (sometimes falsely), idealistic, escapist, and stubborn as all Hell. Eris came along with the revival of the old ways as the two smash together.

I’ll be clear. Attempting to revive the tradition by translating ancient books and learning the methods of the old masters through them probably will not of itself be fruitful. A tradition is a living thing passed on from human to human. No book can contain it without a human translator. Had that tradition not died out, it would have evolved with the rest of human thought. But it didn’t, couldn’t, do that, which leaves us to wonder what astrology should look like in the 21st century, informed by millennia-old manuscripts of nearly wholly alien worlds and modes of thought.

What Astrology is Not

There is a particular and very common approach to astrology with which I have major disagreements. I call that approach Sun sign astrology.

According to Sun sign astrology, I am a Pisces because I was born between the eighteenth of February and twentieth of March in the particular year I was born, and this single fact is the most important astrological fact about me. Sometimes it is the only astrological fact, at which point it becomes newspaper column astrology, which isn’t any sort of astrology at all, really. Newspaper column pseudo-astrology uses words from astrology, but as we know it consists of little more than tidbits of generally decent advice that could apply to anyone and might apply to some people more than others. Oddly enough, I have fewer problems with newspaper astrology in practice because it at least has the value of a fortune cookie.

Sun sign astrology does look at more than your Sun sign, but sometimes only just barely. It looks at each of the other planets and the signs in which they are found, but that’s pretty much it. Let me show you.

This is how Sun sign astrology views my chart.

Sun: Pisces
Moon: Gemini
Ascendant: Cancer
Mercury: Pisces
Venus: Aries
Mars: Sagittarius
Ceres: Virgo
Jupiter: Pisces
Saturn: Sagittarius
Uranus: Sagittarius
Neptune: Capricorn
Pluto: Scorpio
Eris: Aries

Then you can find a book with a little section in it called, “Interpretive Guidelines for Mars in Sagittarius” which says something like:

Asserts self honestly, idealistically, energetically, impulsively, tactlessly

What one wants is guided by one’s beliefs, morality, and inspirations

Decisiveness and strong actions are motivated by one’s aspiration toward an ideal or a guiding vision of the future

Physical and sexual excitement is stimulated by adventurous activities

Initiative and drive are colored by an expansive urge for self-improvement and a restless need for exploration

This, by the way, comes from the highly influential Stephen Arroyo’s Chart Interpretation Handbook. The primary problem is that these above statements easily become the interpretation of Mars in Sagittarius. Notice how this so easy rolls off the tongue as a single meaningful concept. Sun in Pisces. Mars in Sagittarius.

I’ll make this clear. I am not a Pisces. Rather, the Sun was in the sign called Pisces when I was born. The Sun is in Pisces in my natal chart.

The Sun’s presence in Pisces of itself does not mean any particular thing, which is not to say it means nothing. I mean to say that a formula, Sun>Pisces, does not capture the full astrological significance of the moment in question and in fact may distort it completely. Some modern astrologers get this, of course, and they’ll say just what I’ve said, though it’s all too common to find websites and blogs and books that oversimplify the art to absurdity — planet + sign + (maybe) house = some simplistic description that is a combination of only these two or three things. This is what I call Sun sign astrology, and I generally dismiss it completely as uninformed and lazy.

So. Mars has passed into Sagittarius. What does this mean for you? Well, do you have any planets in the first degree of Sagittarius? Do you have any planets in the first degree of Gemini, Pisces, Virgo, Leo, or Aries? If so, which planet is it? How does this one aspect other planets in your chart? Which house is it in, how fast was it moving, is it oriental or occidental to the Sun, is the Sun above the horizon and it beneath the horizon or vice versa or some other way, and is this beneficial for the planet or not? How are the other planets aspecting Mars, and what are their situations and their essential and accidental dignities?

You see where I’m going. This is far too complicated and far too personal to write a simplistic post on Mars>Sagittarius.

Mars’ “influence” is an influence upon a given thing, given the nature of that thing. Mars’ influence on you is not based on the fact that it ingressed into Sagittarius, for the most part, but how it relates to your own natal chart in many complicated ways and is not based upon the simple blending of mythic archetypes in such a way that Mars>Sagittarius of itself has a wide overarching meaning, and a single particular type of influence upon the whole world in one sort of way whenever it occurs. What we can say is that Mars has left the sign of its rulership and a sign of its triplicity. What does this mean? Well, that depends on the rest of the chart, naturally, and whatever your other point of inquiry is. This is critical. No part of the chart stands in isolation. Trying to read a chart in isolation, without a purpose, will probably yield no results.

Mars Ingress

So, again, what does this mean? What does it mean that Mars will be in Sagittarius until the end of May? It certainly doesn’t mean that “Sagittarians” will get a boost of energy and motivation. It certainly doesn’t mean “we’ll be able to harness this fiery, fearless energy to make things happen.”

I’m not going to tell you what it does mean because you’re asking the wrong question. Thinking in terms of the Mars>Sagittarius formula is thinking about it in entirely the wrong way.

I’ve attributed this wrong thinking to laziness and ignorance, but that isn’t quite true, not entirely.

The planets’ “influences” are not like ordinary mundane physical influences. For example, the “influence” of the Sun’s presence in Cancer is not the same as the heat of its light on your skin in the middle of June — which is not to say there is no connection between the two things.

The planets do not cause anything. Or, rather, they do cause everything. Or, perhaps, we and everything else cause the planets. Things get messy if we approach this question this way, so… how about we don’t?

When it comes to astrology, causality as it is typically understood has no place. Ptolemy was wrong about many things on a theoretical level, at least according to our current way of perceiving the world, and I’m not just talking about epicycles. Saturn does not emit cold dryness, nor does Venus emit warm moistness, which then descends to Earth and influences the world somehow. Further, the planets do not cast rays, and do not influence Earthly affairs by way of gravity, or magnetism or any such thing.

Astrology is not founded upon physics. Astrology is not a physical science. It is not a thing like chemistry and it doesn’t need to be for legitimacy. Not everything needs to be “scientific”. We need to grow out of this crutch. We need to grow out of this dependency upon the scientific elite for permission to believe any given thing. We don’t need some “scientific” study to tell us what is and is not true; we can believe things in absence of a study, and we can believe things in spite of a study, which might be and very probably is incorrect somehow. I’ll save the rest of this for later. My point right now is that astrology is not Science as we know it. Astrology is, however, science.

There are no subtle energies beaming down from space responsible for the mechanism behind astrology. You are not going to uncover the secrets of astrology by a cold hard “objective” look at the “facts” of the matter, and a statistical analysis is unlikely to be fruitful. Why? Because astrology is not a science as we understand it. Astrology was ousted from the mythology of Science — that is, the belief system called Science — for very good reason. It doesn’t fit. As such, the methods of this belief system will not be a useful tool for analyzing the subject.

We find this in a number of areas, such as psi research and the like. One of the most interesting features of psi research is that the effect observed in a study will often peter off. The statistical significance of the findings start off rather large, but fall in such a way that when viewed as a whole the effect disappears and detractors can then say that the effect never existed in the first place. Why should this be? Sometimes you’ll hear people say that test subjects just get bored with the experiments or something similar, but I don’t buy that. Carl Jung and one of his associates performed a very crude astrological study and found this same effect. Very highly statistically significant findings petered out and the effect disappeared when all findings were taken as a whole. Very strange, isn’t it?

It’s also commonly said that a psi study will yield positive results if the researcher believes in psi and expects to find something and will yield negative results if the researcher does not.

I point out psi research because it is another example of something that is rejected by the Scientific belief system as we know it and resists analysis by the tools of the belief system. Perhaps you’re thinking of this backwards. It may be that these phenomena are rejected by the belief system of Science because they resist the tools of the belief system; the belief system is not directly responsible for the ambiguous results, as some may think I am saying. It may be that the belief system merely filters out what it can’t hold.

So my point. Astrology does not belong to the domain of Science-as-we-know-it. Yet still we apparently feel compelled, obsessively, desperately, to give astrology the perceived legitimacy of Science. Just look up David Cochrane for an example (the bio I linked to says he’s had promising results, but if you really look into it, you’ll find he’s a very frustrated man; none of those promises apparently get him anywhere despite his success as an astrologer in other ways). Oh, and I do know about the Gauquelin studies. I’m definitely not dismissing them.

Astrology is not a simplistic system of blending meanings attributed to the planets with meanings attributed to the signs, and the houses are not a second set of signs. There is nothing Aquarian about the eleventh house except for ankles.

I believe that Sun sign astrology is the other side of the coin of pseudo-scientific astrology. In my view, neither approach understands astrology and neither takes the subject seriously, but both views are natural given the historical context of our situation. Sun sign astrology unknowingly wants to live up to the attributions the Scientific belief system mockingly makes of it. Sun sign astrology aims to be stupid and lacking in substance because the collective belief system demands that something take up the necessary role of Thing to be Mocked and Ridiculed — such things as astrology, psi, and “alternative” medicine in particular primarily because they conflict with mechanistic materialist assumptions and because they remind Science of what it rebelled against three hundred years ago before it became its own orthodoxy and the very same monster living in its own closet.

Now the obvious question. If astrology is none of this, what, then, is astrology? I’ll get to that in another post.