Nothing exists nor happens in the visible sky that is not sensed, in some hidden moment, by the faculties of Earth and Nature. -Johannes Kepler (1571 - 1630) from De Stella Nova
The Cosmos is a living body of Ideas. - Platonic Dictum
Astrology views the cosmos as an intelligent and harmonious whole. It sees it as being shaped and unfolded constantly by cyclical processes in which we, as conscious, reflective human beings, can participate. Whether we choose to reflect rationally on these cosmic processes or not, we participate in them intrinsically at every level of our being. This is the astrologer’s world view – that we are each a universe in miniature. This chapter gives an overview of the first principles on which astrology is based – those principles which are at work in the world and within us.
The great American astrologer Charles Jayne (1917-1989) described astrology as cosmo-ecology. This is very close to the truth, because at the heart of astrology is the concept that all things, from atoms to universes, are part of one another and of one over-arching unity. Part and whole are seen as identical in essence (but not in function), intimately connected and in continual resonance with each other. This cosmo-ecology is seen not only as applying to our Earth within the solar system, but equally to or solar system within our galaxy, around which our Sun carries us in about 230 million years. And again beyond the galaxy to the super-galaxies and super-super-galaxies, ‘wheels within wheels’, extending outward to the ultimate oneness of the Infinite one.
The concept of unity is at the core of the words we use to describe the totality of things. The word cosmos comes from the Greek kosmos, meaning an orderly, beautiful harmony, as in the word cosmetics. Likewise the word universe comes from the Latin uni-versum, meaning ‘to turn towards the One’. Hence, an ancient university was a place where one studied everything in relation to the One (ie the One Truth, the One Knowledge). In German we find the same concept in their word for cosmos, das All, the All, that which contains everything. Or again in English, we find it in that telling sequence of words, whole, hale, healthy and holy, which are all forms from the same Anglo-Saxon root meaning to be whole, robust, at one with unity.
Plato, the father of Western philosophy, who set out the first philosophy of astrology in the Timaeus, sums up the primacy of this concept of Unity:
Every diagram and system of number, and every combination of harmony, and the revolution of the stars, must be made manifest as the ONE THROUGH ALL to him who learns in the proper way. And it will be made manifest if, as we say, a man learns by keeping his gaze on Unity.
As Above, So Below
As Above, So Below that the miracle of the Unity may be perpetuated - Hermes Trismegistus, The Emerald Tablets
Astrology studies the arrangements of planets in the solar system at a particular moment in order to determine the potential of an individual or other entity born at that moment.
In terms of current Western thought, this seems utterly irrational. Viewed holistically, it is entirely reasonable, for the universe is not only a unity in itself, it is a unity of unities. And, as the Platonists pointed out, ‘all unities are identical in essence’. In this way, as the legendary Hermes indicates, ‘the miracle of the Unity is perpetuated’.
The Cosmos itself, and each part of the cosmos including we human beings, is ‘made in the image’ of the ONE, the ‘God Thought’ which thinks creation into existence. In this way, the essential patterns of the ONE is both literally and metaphorically present in every part of Creation, from super-galaxy to solar system, to man, to a cell in the body, to an atom and to the last and least of things. Everything, in this sense, is a metaphor of the primary music of the One and the gods, the original Word.
These sound like very elevated ideas, and one might ask how we get from this sublime oneness down to the rest of the mundane world. That question belongs in another book, but suffice it to say that the ONE expresses itself at each level of creation in very different ways. We see this principle at work in genetics. Hence the possibility of cloning and the re-creation of an entity from a single cell of the original whole, an idea which was exploited to such dramatic effect in the film Jurassic Park. Every cell is an organism contains the instructions for making the whole organism. A blood cell and a skin cell and a hair cell contain identical genetic information, although their actual manifest functions are quite different. At the most basic level, they are each made ‘in the image of the one’, and yet each just gets on with its own job. The ‘wholeness’ of the body need each cell to do just that.
Likewise, in the life cycle of, for example, a butterfly, it is impossible to see any obvious resemblance between a butterfly’s egg, the caterpillar, the dried-up brown chrysalis, and the colourful new butterfly. Yet each phase leads on in an ordered, intelligent way to the next, and finally to the flowering of the whole organism; genetically each phase contains identical information.
By analogy, a galaxy and a solar system and a man or woman may look very different. But in real terms each is a different expression of the same basic ‘God Thought’. This is what is meant by such cryptic statements as ‘man is made in the image of God’, ‘man is a solar system in miniature’, ‘microcosm and macrocosm are identical in essence’, and what Origen (AD185-254) meant when he said ‘Thou art a second world in miniature, the Sun and Moon are within thee, and also the stars’.
This invisible bond between Above and Below is involved every day around the world in the words of the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Thy will be done on Earth as in Heaven.’ This is the key to astrology. By studying the orderly movements of the planetary ‘gods’ of the solar system, which contains Earth and all its life, the astrologer is studying the conditions of the Above, in order to understand what is going on Below in the individual ‘cells of consciousness’, such as you and me.
Mind and Matter
In the beginning was the Word. - The Gospel according to John, opening words
Astrology describes the ebb and flow of the primary, divine, creative ‘ideas’, the ‘mind stuff’ which shapes and informs all of life and consciousness. For everything in the cosmos is essentially ‘mind stuff’. All around us we see matter which is embodying particular ideas. Whether we are looking at a book or a flower, we are looking at the effects of ideas.
We can readily see this with human creativity. From making a dress to building a house, a railway or a computer game, each project starts with an idea in someone’s mind. This idea is then translate into some kind of raw material. The materials are always vitally important to the end product, but nevertheless they are secondary to the idea. It is always the idea that informs the material, and never the other way round. Destroy every last car in the world and the idea of a car is sufficient to create a new one. No amount of raw materials will ever create a car without the concept. And the creative, in-forming power of ideas equally applies in nature. A rose starts life as an idea written in genetic code. The DNA code then in-forms the raw materials of earth and water and sunshine and, voila! you have a rose bush.
The same is true in human lives; the thing w want to make, that finished creation visualised in the mind, is always the last thing to be manifested. Anyone who has done any creative cooking knows that the finest meal, whilst being prepared, generates a great deal of apparent chaos as raw materials are chosen, peeled, chopped, cooked, mixed with herbs, and so on. Creation is messy, and we have to keep our gaze – the mind’s eye focused – on that final creation, not to mention the recipe, if we are to believe that all the parts will come together in the right way.
Our personal lives can seem very chaotic, too, if we cannot see the underlying plot. This is what astrology provides – a sense of the plot. The birth chart, as John Addey suggested, is a kind of ‘contract with time and space’; and referring to the contract to remind ourselves of the overall game plan can help us to turn chaos into cosmos. Through studying the birth chart, we find out that what feels like chaos is really overemphasis or imbalance in certain areas – too much water (emotionality), too much earth (not enough practicality), an angular Mars (full-steam ahead all the time) – and we then are in a position to make more informed choices which further the plot intelligently. Another analogy is the picture on a packet of seeds; it helps to know ourselves from the horoscope’s view of wholeness – are we a delicate fritillary, or a ceanotha which doesn’t like too much sun, or a camellia that hates lime, or a hardy honeysuckle that is happy anywhere? By knowing what suits us we can better grow and flourish and actualise our potential.
Astrology is an algebra, a symbolic language which enables us to read the contract, understand the plot, and imaginatively view that unique picture on the packet of seeds which is our life. By engaging imaginatively with the gods within us – the miniature cosmos – we are better equipped to inform the ‘matter’ of our lives, to grow up and blossom in the way that is best for us. In an essay entitled ‘Civilisation’, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82) expressed a sentiment very close to the idea that astrology encourages. He wrote:
Now that is the wisdom of a man, in every instance of his labour, to hitch his wagon to a star, and see his chore done by the gods themselves. That is the way we are strong, by borrowing the might of the elements ... If we can thus ride in Olympian chariots by putting our works in the path of the celestial circuits, we can harness also evil agents, the powers of darkness, and force them to serve against their will the ends of wisdom and virtue.
Time and Eternity
Time is the flowing image of the Eternal. - Plato, Timaeus
Time and space define the field of our existence. They constitute the dual matrix of our astrological calculations. Astrology’s perennial questions are: when and where were you born? When and where did this happen? Paradoxically, the astrologer plots out a picture of the cosmos for a particular moment of space-time in order to study the pattern of the primary and eternal archetypes for the moment.
One image that conveys a sense of the relationship between the temporal and the eternal is the phenomenon of a video tape. The tape contains the whole picture, complete with soundtrack, special effects, the lot. It is all there. But in order to experience the video, we have to unfold it frame by frame at a particular speed. Time is the medium through which we experience the unfolding of what is already all there. The big difference is that the cosmic video (ie your life) is unfolding potentialities for each moment. It is for us to express and experience those potentialities. The more conscious and aware we become, the deeper and richer and wiser will be that expression. So yes, there is a strong element of predetermination about this model. But no, it is only the music that is predetermined. How we dance to it, in and through time, is up to us.
The birth chart has been described as ‘a map of the soul’, so a grasp of the concept of soul, or anima, is crucial to understanding the position of astrology. Soul is often used interchangeably with spirit; in fact, the two are quite different concepts. To put it simply, spirit is undifferentiated essence, that eternal ‘god-stuff’ which substands the whole world and everything in it. Opposite to spirit is matter, the temporal stuff which is ‘informed’ by spirit and which we see coming in and out of manifestation throughout our lives, eg bodies are born and die, forests grow and then burn down (but yes, as Einstein told us, matter is indestructible – it just changes form). But between spirit and matter there is soul, that mysterious principle that brings something to life and personally animates it. The soul is the guardian and channel of individuality. As already mentioned, the late astrologer John Addey referred to the horoscope as the ‘soul’s contract with time and space’, which emphasises the uniqueness of each individual life, and that uniqueness is bestowed through soul. The poet Keats spoke of our life on earth as ‘the vale of soul-making’, which illuminates and makes realisable the precious potential with which we are each born. The birth chart, for those who learn to read it, is an encoded image of every detail of that specific potential. And it is the soul that brings it to life.
The whole world is en-souled; that is, it is alive, growing, dying, and being reborn, all creatures within it being in relationship with and influencing each other. But man is en-souled in a quite unique way, for via the soul he is endowed with the powers and virtues of the whole cosmos. Through soul man forges an individual relationship with the gods and makes a journey through life discovering what he is. Through soul, man has choice and becomes the protagonist in his life drama.
The Planetary Gods
The planetary gods are the main actors in the great mythological stories and in our life dramas as well. They are the characters that keep the energy and plot moving along. Each god or planet has distinct attributes, needs and personality. Every chart contains all of them, although the particular way that they appear in each chart is what reveals our uniqueness. The planets of our solar system, with the Sun at the centre, are Mercury, Venus, our Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. Between Mars and Jupiter is the asteroid belt which includes hundreds of smaller bodies. In addition, there are various other bodies, such as Chiron between Saturn and Uranus, ad the Centaurs which circle out beyond Pluto. Some of the planets, such as Earth, also have Moons.
Down the ages the planetary principles (which in Plato’s view were ‘the first born thoughts of God’) have collected many different identities. They are:
- The gods of the different world mythologies;
- The Forms or Ideas of Plato which in-form matter and consciousness;
- The Archetypes of contemporary psychology, the primary templates that shape our psychological growth and relationship with the world;
- The chrono-crators (time-markers) of all historical, philosophical, religious and political movements which inspire, shape and dissolve cultures, nations and empires;
- The hopes and fears of business and economic cycles;
- The movers and changers of the ‘flavours of the month’ and what is ‘in vogue’ in the world of art, fashion and the media.
Whether we call them gods or archetypes, forms or ideas, these principles are the fundamental formal causes which weave the tapestry of living Creation out of the passive potentiality of matter. They are the diverse instruments which sound out the cosmic symphony of life in all its harmonic and dissonant subtleties. And they are in us. And the more we come to know the gods in ourselves through understanding our astrological make-up, the more can we make sense of the hopes, the fears, the themes and the events of or life story.
Astrology has no unique claim to our understanding these universal formative principles. The patterns of these same ideas are expressed and explored in all the mythologies and theogonies of the world, in fairy tales and dreams. Myth and astrology share the same early origin. Myths express the nature of these archetypal forces in story; astrology maps out their ordered cycles in time. Studying the mythologies of ancient cultures will enrich your understanding of the planetary gods.
Equally, these principles are the basis of all forms of divination by which the underlying processes and purposes of the Cosmos may be approached and glimpsed, such as in numerology, the I Ching, the kabbala and the tarot. Where astrology is unique, however, is in its identification of the way in which the movements of the bodies of the physical solar system mirror, or plot out as on a huge cosmic clock, the moment-to-moment processes of life. Armed with this fundamental insight, astrologers over the centuries have been able to develop a remarkable science and art for studying the creative potential of any moment of space-time, be it past, present or future.
Plato tells us in the Timaeus that the planets are ‘the instruments of Time’, the heavenly bodies whose circular journey around the solar system unfolds the workings of fate like ‘clockwork’. A cycle is defined as ‘a series that repeats itself’, indicating the sense of completeness, as in a circle, as well as a sense of infinity, for once completed the cycle repeats again and again. However, when a planetary cycle repeats, it will never be the same again in relation to the other planetary cycles. Hence, we have a continual unfoldment of cyclical patterns which together weave the loom of Creation.
Every cycle of the heavens and every process of manifestation unfolds itself through a number of distinct phases, each with its own characteristics. This archetypal process was encapsulated by early astrologers in the circle of the zodiac, or literally the ‘circle of the animals’, from the Greek zoon, as in a zoo.
This cycle describes twelve distinct phases on any cycle. Each phase is given a different ‘sign’, usually an evocative animal symbol (see Chapter 6) that encapsulates and acts as an aide memoire to the essential meaning of that phase. As such this zodiacal process was projected on to the pattern of the stars, the constellations, to mark out the phases of the primary cycle in ‘the Above’. This sequence of signs was probably first used to describe the cycle of the seasons, which followed the apparent annual movement of the Sun around the Earth. This cycle, measured from the Spring equinox of First Point of Aries, is still the primary circle used by astronomers.
So that when as astrologer is asked ‘what sign are you?’ she might answer ‘I have the Sun in Capricorn, the Moon, Midheaven, Venus and Jupiter all in Aquarius and Gemini rising’. This identifies the phases of this universal cycle that are being emphasised by each the different dimensions of the individual.
Apart from the zodiac which describes the basic cycle of seasonal manifestation, each fixed star has its own cycle of rising and culminating. The times in the annual cycle at which specific fixed stars, such as Sirius, rose and set just before or just after the Sun were considered very important. The nature and significance of each star was studied in great detail, though this is beyond the scope of this book.
The main focus of astrological study focused upon the wandering stars, the planetary gods. Each planet has its own specific cycle. Indeed all our normally used time frames are related to planetary cycles:
- A day is the time it takes for the Earth to rotate on its axis;
- A week is a quarter of a lunar cycle;
- A month is a Moonth, or the time from one New Moon to the next;
- A year is the time it takes for the Earth to go around the Sun.
Even if you are not aware of the association, you are already familiar with some of the principles of astrology. The seven days of the week, which are part of the very foundation of the way the whole world organises its time, are named after the seven planets known to the ancient world:
- Sun-day, the day of the Sun
- Mon-day, the day of the Moon
- Tuesday - in French Mar-di – they day of Mars
- Wednesday – in French Mercre-di – the day of Mercury
- Thursday – in French Jeu-di – the day of Jove or Jupiter
- Friday – in French Vendr-di – the day of Venus
- Saturday – the day of Saturn.
The English names are the Teutonic equivalents of the same gods.
The birth chart appears to be a static ‘thing’ that endures for a lifetime, but the cycles of the planets unfold the chart’s potential. A planet returns to its original position at birth when it completes a cycle, although the planets complete their journey around the zodiac in different periods of time. Jupiter’s cycle, which unfolds our search for meaning and expansion, is about 12 years long. Saturn’s cycle takes about 29 years to complete. The famous Saturn Return is a time of growing up, taking responsibility, and making commitments. The second Saturn return, which occurs at the age of 58, takes us into the last chapter of life when we must examine what our life has achieved and when we must face the inevitability of or death. The Uranus cycle is 84 years long. During the half-way point of this planet’s journey around the zodiac, at the age of about 40 (give of take a few years due to orbital eccentricity) people have their mid-life crisis when repressed desires erupts to bring either a chaotic or newly creative period. In a very dramatic way, life may never seem that same after the Uranus opposition.
In a sense, life is never the same after any of the planets complete their cycles, and this is because the chart has unfolded more of its potentialities, during which time choices have been made, directions have been taken, doors have been opened – and closed.
Levels of Expression
It is important to recognise that the planetary archetypes express themselves in different ways throughout all levels of cosmic and human life. To take an example, the planet Mars will express its assertive, potent, territorial, separative, propelling nature:
- In the physical world as heat, energy, fire, explosions;
- In the planet world as thorns, poisons, acids, stinging species such as nettles;
- In the animal kingdom as territoriality, predatory activity, the mating instinct;
- In the body as the immune system, and also in the occurrence of accidents, cuts, bruises, inflammation, and fever in the body which harm – and which activate the immune system;
- At an emotional level as anger, retaliation – saying ‘no’;
- At the level of will as self-assertion, competitiveness, the will to win, courage;
- At the level of intellect as singularity, cutting out superfluous thought, emphasising, and decisive communication;
- At the mystical level as the sword of truth.
These principles, gods, archetypes and myths show and express themselves at every level. In the physical world they can be detected at work in the every-changing climate and the occurrence of storms, floods, earthquakes, natural disasters. In the individual, they can be observed in life themes and in the output of one’s work. For example, Queen Elizabeth, with Saturn exactly conjunct the uppermost point of her chart (status, public responsibility), has stood for tradition and the supreme role of monarchy. The comedian Spike Milligan’s life, with Uranus exactly rising in Aquarius, has expressed the opposite: eccentricity, anarchic humour, poking fun at the class system, rules and bogus certainty. As you become more familiar with the planetary archetypes, you can begin to see the body of the cosmos and the body of man alive and expressing the interplay of all these energies, as in a great mythological drama.
The ancients spoke of the Creator as the Great Geometrician. This is because the greatest minds in all the ancient cultures observed that all living entities developed, or emerged from potential into manifestation, through an ordered, logical and numerical process. Pythagoras was the first to develop the science of number to a sophisticated level. He and his followers learned to think in numbers, to reflect upon realities in their progressive states. And to these progressive states they gave the names of numbers.
The Pythagoreans believed that the first 10 numbers contained the secret of all things, and that each of the first decade of numbers was a primary creative principle in the Cosmos, indeed a God.
Number in the deepest sense relates to the creative processes of the cosmos. With regards to the birth, flowering, and death of any entity, number describes the archetypal relationship between part and whole.
Archetypal number is at the heart of astrology. We come to understand ‘two-ness’ in the two-fold division of positive and negative signs, in the ascendant (self) – descendant (other) axis, which divides the chart into an upper horizon section (more extrovert) and lower horizon section (more introvert). We grapple with ‘three-ness’ in the three modes of expression – cardinal, fixed and mutable; and with ‘four-ness’ in the four elements – fire, earth, air, water – and also in the four angles of the chart, ascendant (east), descendant (west), midheaven (south), and immum coeli (north). The 12 signs of the zodiac are made up of the three modes and four elements. And the unfolding cycles of the planets express themselves through number in the aspects. The study of astrology is the study of the rhythms of the universe as they relate to the individual, and rhythm is number. From this point of view, astrology connects us to the inner reality of things, if we are sufficiently sensitive to perceive the mystery unfolding before our very eyes
Astrology has always had a reputation for encouraging a sense of determinism and predestination. People often express apprehension about looking into astrology, for they are frightened they will learn what fates await them. The I Ching tells us that the destinies of men are subject to immutable laws that must fulfil themselves, but that man has the power to shape his fate ‘according as his behaviour exposes him to the influence of benevolent or destructive forces’. But notice our emphasis of the word ‘behaviour’. We can use the knowledge of ourselves we gain from astrology, and simply from our experience of life, to act in accord with a more desirable outcome. To benefit from astrological insights, one must exert effort. That is where the real free will lies. (As Schopenhauer said, ‘We may have free will, but not the will to use it.’) A person having Saturn transit their Sun will know that it is not a time to take risks or to try to expand in adventurous directions but rather a time to consolidate one’s material and professional position, a time to carry current responsibilities successfully.
Certain parameters are fixed in life. That is the nature of reality, for man cannot live in a vacuum. The contract with time and space is signed and sealed at birth; the parents and family we were born to and the society and historical period in which we gain our identity cannot be changed; the life drama we have chosen is ready to be played. But within the matrix of our given life parameters, we have the freedom to make choices. It is the unique combination of fate and free will that provides the psychic soil out of which we grow and live our lives. That same psychic soil grows heroes and heroines. In fact, man is free only in his mind, his inner attitude. Changes in fate are made according to inner attitude – that is what determines the wisdom of our choices, and ultimately our fate.