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|Religious Dimensions within Contemporary Astrology 2/2
by Brad Kochunas
Ed. N.: The 3rd chapter of the Master's Thesis of Brad Kochunas, Cosmic symbolism in the era of modernity (Comparative Religions, Miami University, 1985). He can be contacted at: SoulPsych@aol.com .
1. Modernity and the Sacred
2. The Practice of Contemporary Astrology
3. Hierophanic Dimensions in Astrology
3. Hierophanic Dimensions in Astrology
While it may be difficult to study the contemporary phenomenon of astrology, since the observer and the observed share the same cultural milieu, it is not impossible. That modern astrological symbolism may in a sense be contaminated by its practitioner's familiarity with depth psychology and the history of religions is to say no more than religious facts are never pure but always and everywhere conditioned by their historical and cultural situation. This is part of the history of the symbol which allows the original hierophany to be extended into a myriad of appearances all striving to express their archetypal structure. Eliade (1961) writes:
Hence we are entitled to regard the multiple variants of the same complexes of symbols ... as endless successions of "forms" which, on different levels of dream, ritual, theology, mysticism, metaphysics, etc., are trying to "realise" the archetype. These "forms," it is true, are not all spontaneous; not all of them depend upon the ideal archetype; a great many of them are "historical" in the sense that they result from the evolution or the imitation of a previously existing form.... What seems more reliable is the tendency of every "historical form" to approximate as nearly as possible to its archetype, even when it has been realised at a secondary or insignificant level: this can be verified everywhere in the religious history of humanity. (p.120)
Eliade is suggesting that even in modernity, disclosed by profaneness, secularity, and linear time, remnants of the sacred continue to exist in disguised and camouflaged forms.
The dedication of astrologers to their craft, despite centuries of scientific discrediting is more easily understandable when one considers the fact that many like Rudhyar and those practitioners and believers indebted to him are not concerned with the scientific veracity of astrology, but with its religious utility. For them, astrology is a discipline through which the sacred can be recovered. The astrological symbols bespeak something more than a mere reflection of the solar system; they reveal a sacred order filled with cosmic meaning and purpose. As such, the symbolism is hierophanic in nature, extending or revealing modalities of the sacred. But before attending to an elaboration of astrological symbolism, it is first necessary to come to some understanding of the nature and functions of religious symbolism.
Eliade (1979) maintains that the first observation an historian of religion is forced to make is that "the World 'speaks' in symbols, 'reveals' itself through them" (p.201). A symbol is not simply a replica of objective reality. It is revelatory, pointing toward transcendence and effecting "a permanent solidarity between man and the sacred" (Eliade, 1959a, p.447). Symbolism carries on or reveals an hierophany and indicates man's need "to extend the hierophanization of the World ad infinitum, to keep finding duplicates, substitutes, and ways of sharing in a given hierophany...." (p.448). Eliade (1959c) enumerates several aspects of symbolism. He writes:
Religious symbols are capable of revealing a modality of the real or a structure of the World that is not evident on the level of immediate experience.... The religious symbols which point to the structures of life reveal a more profound, more mysterious life than that which is known through everyday experience. They unveil the miraculous, inexplicable side of life, and at the same time the sacramental dimensions of human existence. (p. 98)
By definition, a World which "speaks" and "reveals" itself cannot be understood as lifeless mechanism but must be viewed as an organism possessing life and being. For astrological practitioners and believers, the World "speaks" through the natal chart giving its celestial message of order, meaning, and purpose.
Another characteristic of symbolism is what Eliade terms its multivalence, "its capacity to express simultaneously a number of meanings whose continuity is not evident on the plane of immediate experience" (p.99). A symbol may express a multitude of meanings, yet all of these particular historical variants cohere in an essential structure if only by, as Eliade puts it, "the logic of symbols" (1959a, p.453). In light of a symbol's capacity to express a whole host of structurally coherent meanings, the symbol "allows man to discover a certain unity of the World and, at the same time, to become aware of his own destiny as an integral part of the World" (1979, p.204). The symbols can be articulated into a system by which people can understand and organize their World. For example, the symbolism of night, darkness, orgy, madness, can all be related to a precosmic chaos, a situation in which there are no forms, boundaries, limits, or distinctions, but is ripe as a medium for new birth.
Religious symbolism also possesses the capacity to express paradoxical situations or certain structures of ultimacy, otherwise quite inexpressible. This attribute has allowed humanity to reconcile certain antagonisms and oppositions by grasping as it were their underlying complimentarity and structural unity. In so doing, "the negative and sinister aspects of the cosmos and of the gods have not only found a justification, but have revealed themselves as an integral part of all reality or sacrality" (1959c, p.102).
Finally, for Eliade, part of a symbol's credentials is its existential value, "the fact that a symbol always aims at a reality or a situation in which human existence is engaged" (p.102). To move into a realm of symbols is to step into a larger world, a world where human existence is rife with meaning. Eliade (1979) writes:
This is why even symbols concerning ultimate reality also afford existential revelations to the man who deciphers their message. A religious symbol translates a human situation into cosmological terms, and vice versa; to be more precise, it reveals the unity between human existence and the structure of the Cosmos. Man does not feel himself "isolated" in the Cosmos, he is open to a World which, thanks to the symbol, becomes "familiar." On the other hand the cosmological significances of a symbolism allow him to escape from a subjective situation and recognize the objectivity of his personal experiences. (p.207)
The symbol explodes the immediate situation and the individual is taken out and beyond the particular to view his life in an archetypal manner. In short, religious symbolism functions in a cosmicizing fashion, moving the person from the personal to the universal. But what is it that allows one to claim that astrological symbolism is a specific genre of religious symbolism? To answer this, it is necessary to discover within the symbolism and practice of astrology, structures of the sacred which enable the astrological system (symbol and practice) to function in a cosmicizing manner.
The astrological symbolism used today has come down for the most part from the late medieval, early Renaissance period evolving from the Graeco-Roman tradition, and ultimately deriving from the Chaldeans, considered to be the progenitors of the Western astrological tradition. This is not the place, however, to explore the history of astrology, which would amount to several volumes in itself. Suffice it to say that the symbolism has a long history during which time it has been modified, enlarged, enriched, and revalorized, allowing it, as with all religious symbolism, to "identify, assimilate, and unify diverse realities that are to all appearances incompatible" (1959a, p.455). These symbols represent not only cosmic structures (sky, seasons, soli-lunar activity, earth, air, fire, and water), but also existential conditions (death, sexuality, transitions, relationships, for example). The whole of astrology is predicated upon the notion of the universe as a macrocosm and humanity as a microcosm, in other words, that there is a continuity between the structures of human existence and cosmic structures.
Within the phenomenology of religions, one finds two primary structures of the sacred, that of sacred space and sacred time, both dialectically engaged with their profane counterparts. Sacred space, in contrast to profane space, is not simply an infinite homogeneous expanse. Sacred time, in contrast to profane time, is not nonreversible linear duration.
Eliade (1959b) describes sacred space in this way:
For religious man, space is not homogeneous; he experiences interruptions, breaks in it; some parts of space are qualitatively different from others.... It must be said at once that the religious experience of the nonhomogeneity of space is a primordial experience, homologizable to a founding of the world.... For it is the break effected in space that allows the world to be constituted, because it reveals the fixed point, the central axis for all future orientation. (p.20-22)
Sacred space is "symbolized" space as it reveals a reality which is not evident in ordinary experience. Historian of religions, Winston King (1968), summarizes Eliade's conception of sacred space. "It is at once the center of the universe, a copy of the universe, a principle of order, and a channel of vital interconnection between the divine and human planes of existence" (p.39). Eliade (1961) suggests that humanity can only live in sacred space and that the sacred as an element in the structure of consciousness draws every human being, "even unconsciously, toward the Centre, and towards his own centre, where he can find integral reality--sacredness" (p.54). He argues that this deeply rooted desire to live in sacred space manifests as a nostalgia for paradise, a longing to dwell in a time before "history," in a time when creation was new and fresh, in the beginning.
The experience of sacred time allows a person "periodically to experience the cosmos as it was in principio, that is, at the mythical moment of Creation" (1959b, p.65). Sacred time, like sacred space, is value laden and is neither homogeneous nor continuous. It is an irruption into ordinary time, essentially different from the linear succession which precedes and will follow it. Sacred time "always remains equal to itself, it neither changes nor is exhausted" (p.69). Though sacred time covers a wide variety of things such as the time during which a ritual takes place, or mythical time reattained by the repetition of an archetype, the concern here is with the cyclic rhythms of the cosmos (like lunar hierophanies, for example), seen as manifestations of sacred order. Sacred time remains equal to itself because its structure never changes, it is indefinitely recoverable, indefinitely repeatable. This sense of periodic recurrence, repetition, and the making present of the time of the beginning is what demonstrates that hierophanic or sacred time is qualitatively different from profane time.
Guilford Dudley (1977), an observer of Eliade, comments that man "must cosmicize space in order to save himself from an existence in chaos, and he must cosmicize time in order to save himself from the illusory nature of history as non-repetitive time" (p.67). In the face of modernity, the practice of contemporary astrology appears to be just such a cosmicizing attempt. Sacred space and sacred time as elaborated by Eliade cast a revealing light upon the notions of space and time in the astrological system. For example, in one's everyday experience, the time and place of one's birth has no apparent significance or ultimate meaning, but in astrological thought, one finds that the where and when of one's birth is of fundamental importance, for these coordinates condition the essential structure of a person's existence. Time and space are heterogeneous; this space is different from that space, this time has different qualities from that time. This conception of time and space accounts for the individual differences and similarities in human beings. In other words, individuals are essentially and existentially different from each other specifically in relation to the where and when of their births. The where and when of birth is symbolized in astrology by the natal chart. Each natal chart is a different archetypal message waiting to be actualized in concrete existence.
The natal or birth chart is the basic structure in the practice of contemporary astrology. Visually it is a "two-dimensional graphic representation of a number of select factors in the solar system frozen in time for the exact moment of an individual's emergence into existence as an independent entity (his first breath)" (Meyer, 1974, p.21). Potentially, everyone possesses a natal chart which can be constructed for the time and place of his or her birth by using an ephemeris, a table of houses, and a series of mathematical calculations. An ephemeris is a daily listing of planetary positions (including the sun and moon) for noon or midnight as viewed from the Greenwich Observatory in England. A table of houses is a listing of mathematical tables which enable the practitioner to calculate which sign of the zodiac is rising on the eastern horizon and from there derive the remaining zodiacal positions of the houses. The chart is generally comprised of four symbol systems. These are the house symbolism, the zodiacal symbolism, the planetary symbolism (including lunar and solar), and the symbolism of planetary phase relations, commonly referred to as the aspect symbolism.
The natal chart appears as a circle divided into twelve sections, having symbols inscribed upon it denoting the positions of the planets in the sky as viewed from a particular time/space locus on earth. The twelve sections represent the twelve houses, the symbols on the outer edge, the signs of the zodiac, the planetary symbols are located in the houses, and the lines in the center of the chart are the aspect symbolism. To the uninitiated, the chart may simply appear as a somewhat stylized map of the solar system, but for practitioners and believers, it has the capacity to evoke meaning, value, and profound significance, for it is a function of astrological symbolism to reveal human depth in cosmic structures.
Rudhyar, one of the few who have attempted to provide a coherent philosophical basis for the astrological system, is the only author from the literature to have noticed and commented upon the hierophanic elements as such. In the bulk of the literature, the emphasis upon the sacred is either diminished in importance and presence, reduced to psychology, or totally lacking, but the validity of hierophanic structures does not depend upon their conscious awareness by practitioners and believers to be effective. Certainly astrological symbolism has suffered degradation and infantilization, the crass commercialization of zodiac items and newspaper horoscopes for example, but this does not diminish its power and importance for practitioners and believers. Eliade (1959a) remarks that the sublime and the gross is a "fact of the coexistence ... of a coherent symbolism alongside an infantilized one" (p.445), he continues:
Here we need only realize clearly that, whether coherent or degenerate, the symbol always has an important part to play in all societies... it is to transform a thing or an action into something other than that thing or action appears to be in the eyes of profane experience (p.445).
In so doing, the symbol extends the hierophanization of the World. The practitioners themselves are not unaware of the power of their astrological symbolism. Clearly stated, Rudhyar (1974) writes:
The significance of astrology is that it can transform the profane into the sacred, the facts of astronomy into the revelation of a cosmic order manifest in the cell and the human person as well as in the solar system and the galaxy.... Astrology deals with the mythos of the Sky. The elements it uses are archetypes. Therefore, to live one's life in terms of the revelatory message symbolically implied in one's birth chart is to live a life in terms of the "sacred" character of existence. (p.383-384)
The above vividly states the case, but is it sufficient? What are the hierophanic elements that allow such a claim to be made by astrologers? It is to this problem that attention is now given.
If one seeks a structure of the sacred in the astrological system, it appears that the natal chart is a symbol of sacred space, par excellence. The natal chart variously symbolizes the individual's "abstract archetypal identity" (Ruperti, 1978, p.10), "archetypal seed pattern" (Meyer, p.21), "Name given to him by the universal Whole, i.e., by God" (Rudhyar, 1972a, p.108). It is a "mandala of archetypal selfhood and destiny" (Rudhyar, 1977, p.169) and therefore it is what the Whole needs next at the moment of our birth. Rudhyar (1972b) contends:
The birth chart is seen as the formula structurally defining a man's "fundamental nature." It is a complex cosmic symbol--a word or logos revealing what the person is potentially. It is the individual person's "celestial name," and also a set of instructions on how a person can best actualize what at his birth was only pure potential-- "seed potentiality". (p. 20)
The chart for practitioners and believers represents an image of soul, the center of one's being, the true reality, and properly deciphered reveals the cosmic purpose for which one has been born.
Rudhyar envisions the chart as a mandala, "a means to achieve an all inclusive integration of personality" (p.20). The chart then is something to be actualized and fulfilled. To follow its "Way" is to live in resonance with the rhythms of the cosmos. What the astrological system amounts to is a kind of cosmic psychophysiology clearly intended to integrate humanity into the cosmos. There is an interesting paradox to the individual's actualization of his chart. As the individual is engaged in the ongoing process of discovering who he or she really is, i.e., actualizing the chart, he or she is realizing an archetype. The true individual in astrological thought is a collective or archetypal figure, a focused expression of the Cosmos. This matter will be touched upon again later in the presentation.
The notion that the chart can be viewed as a mandalic structure seems entirely appropriate and in accord with general mandalic principles, a circular element(s) with three or fourfold partitioning expressing a center, a periphery, and symmetry (Arguelles & Arguelles, 1972). A mandala is a cosmos in miniature and a pantheon, "the cosmic creation being, of course, the manifestation of divinity" (Eliade, 1969a, p.220). One of its functions being to aid the individual in finding his or her own center. In their traditional use, the disciple mentally enters the mandala, Eliade continues:
[The mandala] is an imago mundi, its center corresponds to the infinitesimal point perpendicularly traversed by the axis mundi; as he approaches its center, the disciple approaches the "center of the world." In fact, as soon as he has entered the mandala, he is in sacred space, outside of time... (p.225)
There is a structure similar to this in the astrological system. The construction and mental entering (i.e., interpreting) of the chart is performed directly by the person whose chart it is or more commonly, mediated through a practitioner. This ritual entering of the chart is referred to by practitioners as the moment of interpretation and symbolizes a move toward center. The chart, as with all mandalic structures, can be regarded as a symbol of paradise and as such, the moment of interpretation can be said to occur in sacred time. Though not explicit, one gets a sense of this idea when Rudhyar (1972a) writes:
This "moment of interpretation" may be repeated any number of times. Yet, however often it recurs it has a definite character.... A person . . . comes face to face with his relationship to the universe. He faces this relationship at two levels: the "archetypal" level of his first moment of individualized existence--what he potentially "is" and is meant to be ... and the "existential" level of development as an evolving personality.... [The] "moment of interpretation" ... [is] a confrontation between the growing, enquiring, curious or anxious individual and his fundamental "truth of being" (dharma)--his birth-chart (p.226-227, 232).
In light of the above, it does not appear far fetched to claim that the moment of interpretation occurs in sacred time, especially when one considers that the chart represents the moment of a person's origin, the time in which the person began to be. As with all mandalic structures, the process of constructing and interpreting (entering) the chart is a "return to beginnings," a reenactment of the cosmogony. This moment of interpretation holds the hope of rebirth for the person who may discover what the cosmos has intended him or her to be. The person whose chart it is, is generally in some sort of crisis or is seeking some sort of understanding regarding his or her life situation from a cosmic perspective. By ritually entering the chart, the time of creation is again present and by going back to the beginning of the World, the potential exists to cure the work of history, for the sacred is not only holy but healing (Eliade, 1963). This healing aspect is not only evident in the astrological system, but also prominent in the tradition of the mandala.
For Rudhyar (1971) and those indebted to him, the process of construction and interpretation is not a task to be lightly undertaken, he writes:
[The practitioner should] seek to contact in utmost sympathy and understanding the total being of whatever is being represented by the chart -- whether it be a living person or a particular situation.... Face the chart with full acceptation of personal responsibility -- and indeed in an attitude of "prayer," asking for inner guidance and the bestowal of wise understanding. (p.37)
Likewise, humanistic astrologer, Michael Meyer (1974) writes:
When the moment comes for the actual act of interpretation, the astrologer's mind should be free from prejudices and preconceptions regarding the birth-chart and the person to whom it refers. When interpreting a birth-chart, the astrologer is acting as a mediator, placing himself between the person and the universe. He should be as clear and distortion free as a finely ground lens. (p.135)
The above should not imply that all practitioners are necessarily conscious of the hierophanic dimensions of construction and entrance but this in no way invalidates the structures which are present and to these attention will now be directed.
The chart as a mandalic structure is a variant of the "Center of the World," the construction of which is homologizable to a founding of the World. It allows the world to be constituted by rendering a fixed point of reference and by extension, makes possible orientation. Art historian, Jose Arguelles (1972), in commenting upon the symbol of the Center, writes:
At the core, each man is the center of his own compass, and experiences his own cardinal points --North, South, East, and West. We are defined not only by our place on the physical level, but by our position in consciousness, and these are an interdependent Whole. (p.13)
The chart as mandala vividly recognizes this orientation. At the center of the chart stands the person; orientation is found in the house symbolism and its axes which serve as a fixed frame or referential matrix for the individual's life. The houses are represented as twelve sections of space which comprise the basis of the natal chart. The lines which form the horizontal and vertical axes are called the angles of the chart. Michael Meyer (1974) writes:
The axes of the horizon and the meridian define the basic structure of individual selfhood, the "dharma" of the individual and his orientation to his basic life experiences. These axes of individual selfhood provide the basic frame of reference that embraces all of the individual's experiences, the focus for his subjective-objective consciousness and his personal-social experiences.... The axes consist of four points called the angles: the ascendant, descendant, M.C., and I.C. (p.28)
These four angles then are points of orientation in the sense that they symbolize the founding of the individual and his World, as it is the person who stands at the center of the chart. The angles represent literally and symbolically the east, west, south, and north points respectively, demarcating the beginnings of the first, seventh, tenth, and fourth houses of life experience. In addition, since the chart is a compression of three dimensions into two, the M.C. (medium coeli) represents not only the south point, but also the point directly overhead, the zenith. At the opposite end of this vertical axis integrated with the I.C. (imum coeli) is the nadir point. These angles of orientation have qualitatively different meanings. Rudhyar (1972b) writes:
Selfhood refers to the East point of the birth chart, the dawning point of Light.... Relatedness belongs to the West point of the horizon-- the symbolic coming together of human beings for the purpose of reflecting upon shared experience. Power in terms of personal integration is represented by the Nadir of the chart, which in modern astrological charts is approximated by the cusp of the fourth house -- Imum Coeli. Power in terms of social and communal integration is represented by the Zenith, which in modern astrology is approximated by the Noon-point or Mid-heaven. (p.41)
These axes and the houses derived from them, function for the individual as a fixed point of orientation. They do this on the basis that every "human being is born at the center of his own space; and it is to that space to which the circle of houses refers (Rudhyar, 1970a, p.xiii). Rudhyar (1972b) writes:
Wherever this person goes, he remains the center of this space. Everything that moves in the Sky--stars, Sun, planets, comets, etc.--has its place within this space structure.... It is the three-dimensional space structure which every individual person carries around himself wherever he goes ... that should be considered his fixed frame of reference. (p.26)
This space about which Rudhyar writes is nothing more or less than the way in which a person organizes his world, his position in consciousness, as Arguelles terms it. This kind of personal cognitive space which is symbolized by the natal chart is defined and informed by the character of the moment and locale of one's birth. The person stands at the center of his life experience and for the practitioners and believers, to study the natal chart is to imagine one's life more deeply and grasp some of its meaning and purpose from a cosmic perspective. In other words, cosmic knowledge through the medium of astrological symbolism is self knowledge. The self knowledge implies a collective factor however, Rudhyar (1970a) continues:
This is the great paradox. The supremely individuated personality reveals the most perfectly in its outline of character, consciousness, and destiny the form of the generic Man. The most individual becomes the most universal, just because of being the most individual. (p.222)
And again with a slightly different emphasis (1975):
The form that stands at the center of this chart is symbolical, rather than a reference to astronomical facts. It suggests that the person whose birth-chart it is lives on the surface of the globe--yet in some manner has his roots at the very core of the earth where symbolically all men commune. The center of the mandala is in the region of a man's heart. It is there the horizontal and the vertical cross each other. It is for every person the center of his or her universe. (p.30)
The chart as a symbol for the Center is very intriguing as it expresses the body-cosmos homology found in a variety of religious traditions. The chart is not only one's own Center, but the "Center of the World." In the astrological system, every body part and organ is homologous to a cosmic structure. The twelve signs of the zodiac represent the various parts of the Heavenly Man. Aries, for example, representing the vernal equinox symbolizing the first emergence of new life in the spring is said to rule over the human head which typically emerges first at the time of birth. All this amounts to the fact that humanity cosmicizes itself, projecting the human figure into the heavens and introjecting the heavens within. "[In other words] he reproduces on the human scale, the system of rhythmic and reciprocal conditioning influences that characterizes and constitutes a world that, in short, defines any universe" (Eliade, 1959b, p.173). What this body-cosmos homology means in the astrological system is that the formative principles which structure the solar system are the self same principles which structure the person. It follows then that for the practitioners and believers, if one wishes to know something about the life structure of a person born at a particular place and time, to define the person and his world, one need only look at the structure of the cosmos from that particular place and time, i.e., the natal chart.
The chart as Center also carries with it two other elements of sacred space, that of imago mundi and axis mundi. As a world image, the chart with its planets in zodiacal locations as viewed from the fixed reference of the house symbolism is both profane and mythic geography. The cartographical elements are obvious as it represents not only a map of the solar system (macrocosm) but also the human system (microcosm). As with any imago mundi, it is organized and inhabited space revealing that in each individual the universe is reproduced.
The axis mundi is also natural to sacred space, Eliade (1959b) writes:
[Sacred space] constitutes a break in the homogeneity of space; (b) this break is symbolized by an opening by which passage from one cosmic region to another is made possible (from heaven to earth and vice versa; from earth to underworld); (c) communication is expressed by one or another of certain images, all of which refer to the axis mundi: pillar.... Ladder ... mountain, tree, vine, etc.; (d) around this cosmic axis lies the world (our world), hence the axis is located "in the middle," at the "navel of the earth"; it is the Center of the World. (p.37)
In viewing the chart, the vertical axis with the Zenith at the "top" end and the Nadir at the "bottom" of the chart allows for communication between the cosmic heights and the collective human depths. The person who is always at the center of his own horizon, represented by the horizontal axis of awareness, has always a zenith point directly overhead. Rudhyar (1972a) again:
As a man stands erect, his spinal column becomes a section of a line which through him links the center of the Earth and one particular star exactly above his head. This star is potentially a great symbol; it represents that man's spiritual identity, his place in the vast galaxy. (p.121-122)
What Rudhyar is saying here points to the astrological Zenith/Nadir axis as an axis mundi, a vertical line of open communication between the heavens and the earth running through the center of the chart while surrounded by the world. Rudhyar goes so far as to say that the zodiacal degree symbol found at the M.C. (Zenith) can imply the role I am supposed to play in the great drama of human existence. In other words, the interpreted symbol is a communication of great import from the heavens to the person whose chart it is. For practitioners and believers, the chart as a symbol for the Center does "speak" to them and comprises a "set of cosmic instructions" by which they may integrate themselves with cosmic purpose.
It should be evident at this point that the chart can indeed be regarded as a symbol of sacred space irrespective of the degree to which it is consciously acknowledged by practitioners and believers. It is perhaps prudent at this juncture to touch briefly upon the more practical and recognized functions of the symbol systems used in contemporary astrology. As previously mentioned, the chart is comprised of the house symbolism, the zodiacal symbolism, the planetary symbolism, and the aspect symbolism. These systems are generally regarded in the following manner. The planetary symbols represent "basic functions which can be seen operating in all organized systems of activity" (Rudhyar, !973, p.361). These shall be elaborated later. The symbols of the zodiac "refer to twelve basic modes of 'energy,' or archetypal qualities of being, which essentially color any functional activity (i.e., planet) operating in their fields" (p.14). The house symbolism refers to twelve archetypal fields of human experience (Rudhyar, 1972b). The aspect symbolism refers to "the type of relationship existing between two or more life functions (planets) working together (Meyer, 1974, p.136). In other words, the symbol systems describe what (planets) is operating, how (zodiac) that what is operating where, (house) it most naturally operates in the person's life, and to what degree there is consonance or dissonance (aspects) between the functional activities (planets). For example, the planet Mars symbolizes the person's capacity to mobilize his energies (what). If Mars is located in Aries in a person's chart, that person tends to take action in a very direct and impulsive manner (how), as this is part of Aries meaning. If Mars in Aries is tenanted in the tenth house of social integration, the suggestion is that the Martian function is most naturally and easily expressed in experiences that deal with the person's attempts to find their place in society (where); at one level, the experiences related to establishing a career. Depending upon the angular relationships (aspects) of the other planets to Mars, the Martian function can be enhanced or inhibited. This simple exposition should aid the reader's understanding of what interpreting the chart is all about, however, there are several levels of interpretation possible which are too lengthy to enter into in this presentation (Rudhyar, 1980; Landwehr, 1976).
One might reasonably ask why is the meaning of Mars characterized as an individual's capacity to take action. The basis of all the meanings of astrological symbolism derive primarily from the Graeco-Roman mythic tradition. Myth is the medium through which archetypes are communicated. The meanings of the various myths have been enhanced, modified, and elaborated to allow them to make sense to contemporary man. For instance, the contemporary meaning of Mars as the individual's capacity to take action is also associated with qualities of initiative, assertion, aggression, passion, force, courage, generativity, and a whole host of satellite meanings suggesting for the most part projective and centrifugal activities. These associations stem historically from Mars, the Roman god of war, warrior and aggressor. Recounting various martial myths (the hero cycles) can help cultivate imagination and amplify the deeper levels of archetypal imagery underlying Mars, giving the person a larger perspective from which to experience themselves, to see their lives perhaps as a theater of the gods. Another example would be the Roman Mercury, Hermes to the Greeks, messenger of the gods, persuasive and clever in speaking and writing. Mercury is said to rule over communication and commerce, all forms of interchange. The various exploits of Mercury/Hermes have been distilled down to the summary meanings above. In contemporary astrology, Mercury refers to the person's capacity for perception, conceptualization, and communication; basically information exchange with the environment. How the person thinks and what his or her style of communication is, is colored by the qualities of the zodiacal sign in which Mercury is posited in the natal chart.
As with all the symbolism, their meanings are not "new myth" but extended myth from an archaic tradition. With the interpretation of the chart the individual can see that his or her life has meaning in a larger context, his experience is not new and unique but can be assimilated into mythic models. In the astrological system, human experience is made meaningful when it has been assimilated into cosmic structures vis-a-vis the chart. Events have little meaning in history as history. They acquire meaning when they are homologized to transhistorical or archetypal situations, that is, coherent meaning is achieved when the historical events are capable of being fitted into a well-consolidated system in which the cosmos and humanity's existence had each its raison d'etre. When human experience is seen as a repetition of an archetype, it becomes transhistorized and meaning filled. For practitioners and believers, to see life experience as assimilatable to mythic models and the rhythms and positions of cosmic structures is revelatory of the sacred character of existence.
Having presented the hierophanic dimensions of space in the astrological system and the necessity of the mythic tradition for the elucidation of meaning, the analysis of time as sacred comes to the forefront. Sacred time is characterized by "periodic recurrence, repetition, and the eternal present" (Eliade, 1959a, p.394). Not only is sacred time present in the practice of astrology as previously described in the context of a "return to beginnings," a going back to the moment of creation, but the structure of time as cyclic pervades the astrological system and conditions the very meanings of the symbolism. The moment of a person's origin as represented by the natal chart is a mapped out creation myth for which the cosmogony is a model. The moment of interpretation is a "going back" for the individual. Traditionally in archaic societies "going back" is a collective phenomenon, ritually performed by and for the community. This is not without exception however, individuals in archaic societies can be reborn and rejuvenated through initiation rituals, healing rituals, Taoist alchemy, shamanism, and yoga techniques. The common thread connecting all these practices together with contemporary astrology is their behavior and attitude toward Time; to cure the work of History it is necessary for the individual to go back to the beginning of the World and to re-emerge into a new life. The astrological system engages the individual in their essence, in their moment of origin. The moment of interpretation is a time of renewal for the person whose chart it is. The interpretation of the chart parallels a rite of renewal and as such is linked with sacred time.
Sacred time can refer to the time during which a ritual takes place, time which is different than the profane time which preceded it. It can also refer to the time of myth during the repetition of an archetype, as when one realizes the mythic aspect of their experience and behavior. But what is of concern at this point is sacred time as indicated by the cyclic rhythms of the cosmos. Cyclic structures are at the root of astrological symbolism. The zodiac symbolism, the house symbolism, and the aspect symbolism depend for much of their meaning upon cyclicity. For practitioners and believers, human life is filled with greater and lesser developmental cycles homologizable to various cosmic cycles. There are times of renewal and regeneration, and times of dispersal and dissolution; a time to move forward and a time for restraint, in addition to many other qualities of time. These times are decipherable to practitioners by knowing the phase of the planetary or zodiacal cycle in which they occur. Practitioners speak of the approximately twenty-eight day lunation cycle, the twelve year Jupiter cycle, the twenty-eight year Saturn cycle, the eighty-four year Uranus cycle, and the nineteen year lunar nodal cycle to name just a few. These are astronomical cycles and refer to in the case of Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus, the length of time these planets take to make one revolution around the Sun and by extension, the length of time it takes for these planets to symbolically move through every house and zodiacal sign in the natal chart. For example, Saturn in the natal chart symbolizes the principle of contraction and limitation. It is associated with time, boundary situations, restrictions, definition, crystallization, discipline, concretion, rigidity, and the process of individualization. It takes approximately twenty-eight years for Saturn to transit through the chart and arrive again at the same zodiacal location it occupied at the time of birth. As Saturn cycles through the heavens, as symbolized in the chart, there are considered to be at least four critical turning points manifesting in the individual's life; when Saturn is in its first quarter position to its natal location at age seven approximately, when it is in its opposition to its natal place at age fourteen, when it is in its third quarter position approximately at age twenty-one, and upon its return to its natal position, the conjunction at age twenty-eight approximately. These are considered to be critical points in the human maturational process. Generally the crisis around age twenty-eight at Saturn's return to its natal location is described by the metaphor of a personal housecleaning. It is a time in the person's life when he or she has to come to terms with all that has gone before, relinquish that in one's life which is no longer of value or use, that which is restricting and limiting. The individual must come to terms at this time with the direction his or her life is taking, the way in which to fit into society, and the values which are held. The severity of the Saturn return crisis, its manifest content, and resolution are suggested by its position in terms of house and sign placement.
For Rudhyar and other transpersonal and humanistic practitioners, every individual cycle as a whole in time, has a generic structure. They all have a beginning, middle, and an end, and this is what gives meaning to the separate parts or phases of the whole cycle. It would be logical to assume that the structure of a cycle was originally abstracted from the seasons of the year and/or the phases of the Moon, and then elaborated. Whether the abstract derived from the concrete or vice versa is not at issue here. What is important is that the vegetative (seasons) and lunar hierophanies are similar and illustrative, exemplifying the sacrality of the cycle; birth, growth, maturation, decay, and death leading to rebirth. These processes highlight the structure of the cycle and it is from this that much of the meaning of the signs of the zodiac is derived.
The zodiac most often used in contemporary astrology is called the tropical zodiac. It has nothing to do with actual star groups. The tropical zodiac is the Earth's orbit partitioned into twelve sections of space representing twelve phases of angular relationship between the Earth and the Sun. From an earthly perspective, the zodiac is the ecliptic; the apparent path of the Sun in the sky in its yearly journey. The twelve phases of the cycle; Aries, the Ram; Taurus, the Bull, Gemini, the Twins; Cancer, the Crab; Leo, the Lion; Virgo, the Virgin; Libra, the Scales; Scorpio, the Scorpion; Sagittarius, the Centaur/Archer; Capricorn, the Sea-Goat; Aquarius, the Waterbearer; and Pisces, the Fishes, each possess their own meaning and each a different phase in the cycle of relationship between the Earth and the Sun. The origins of the mythological figures associated with each sign are lost to history, but the interesting thing is that the prescribed traditional meanings fit in very nicely with the contemporary reasoning of Rudhyar. Though a person with a Cancerian dominance in their chart may indeed be crab-like, express a self-protective tenacity, and employ an indirect approach to others, or a Leo dominance; the lionesque courage and vanity, Rudhyar contends that the meanings of the various signs have an internal structural consistency based on their position in the structure of the cycle. Rudhyar (1974) explains at length:
When we deal with any cyclic series of factors or phases, merely to consider the character, quality and value of the symbolic representation of any one of these factors as a separate entity without an essential (or structural) relationship to all the others makes no sense.... Every phase no doubt has a character of its own which can be described in one way or another, but this character should be given some kind of functional or "organic" meaning in terms of the cyclic process as a whole... the twelve signs of the tropical zodiac... likewise have meaning according to their position in the complete cycle of the year (p. 17).
What Rudhyar has done while respecting the traditional meanings of the signs of the zodiac is to have added a structural coherence and foundation otherwise unnoticed and based on the vegetative hierophany of the seasons, though it is doubtful that he would couch it in these terms. Combined with this he uses the cosmic structures of Day and Night in their seasonal variance to further draw meaning from the signs of the zodiac. He exemplifies this in writing:
[I stress] the fact that every zodiacal sign represents a specific combination of two interacting and interdependent forces, the Dayforce and the Night-force (Yang and Yin). It is the relative intensities of these two forces and their polarization which determines fundamentally or structurally the dynamic nature and function of each sign. (p.17)
The symbolism of Day and Night has a long history and one need not explore all of its meanings here. Suffice it to say that in astrological symbolism, Day has the connotation of differentiating, particularizing, and individualizing, while Night refers to a type of activity which is universalizing, collectivizing, and socializing. When these two types of activity alternately wax and wane throughout the duration of a cycle, of necessity, four critical and basic points are found. Meyer (1974) describes at some length:
The zodiac consists of four crucial points symbolized by the equinoxes (vernal and autumnal) and the solstices (summer and winter). The equinoxes are the points of the greatest momentum and repolarization, when the days and nights are equal. The solstices are the points of least momentum, when the days and nights are not equal.... From the vernal equinox to the autumnal equinox the day forces are dominant in nature; the days are longer than the nights and the emphasis is on organic growth and differentiation, the process of personalization. From the autumnal equinox to the vernal equinox the night forces are dominant; the nights are longer than the days and the emphasis is on the "ingathering," collectivizing, and universalizing processes of nature (p.48).
Thus Aries (vernal equinox), traditionally the first sign of the zodiac representing the initiation of any cycle and the time of greatest momentum toward Day manifestation has spontaneous, impulsive, forceful, subjective qualities attached to it. The mid-point of the zodiacal cycle, Libra (autumnal equinox), the time of the greatest momentum toward Night manifestation has reflective, harmonizing, social, objective qualities attached to it. The twelfth sign, Pisces, the last phase of any cycle of activity out of which a new Aries will emerge, symbolizes immersion into the unconscious on one level, chaos on another. Traditionally it is called a dual-bodied sign, being known as the sign of the Fishes swimming in opposite directions above and below each other. On one level, Pisces is a return to pre-cosmic darkness but it is also the realm of the Womb wherein the seed awaits new birth. Pisces is the last phase of the cycle wherein Night still holds supremacy over the Day. It is the final dissolution, necessary in order that the world may be born anew.
Rudhyar describes the entire zodiacal process as two hemi-cycles. Aries through Virgo being concerned with the "leaf condition" and Libra through Pisces focused upon the "seed condition" (1970a, p.236). His organization of the zodiacal process parallels the archaic mythos of the Chinese yin and yang, as Eliade (1969b) notes:
Thus, the world represents "a totality of a cyclical order ... constituted by the conjugation of two alternate and complementary manifestations".... This is clearly illustrated by the structure of the calendar. "Yang and Yin have been summoned to organize the calendar because their emblems evoked with a particular force the rhythmic conjugation of two concrete antithetic aspects"... during the winter the yang, overcome by yin, undergoes below the frozen soil a kind of an annual trial from which it emerges invigorated. The escapes from its prison at the beginning of the spring; then the ice melts and the sources reawaken. Thus the universe shows itself to be constituted by a series of antithetic forms alternating in a cyclical manner (p.171-172).
This cyclical manner constitutes the zodiac as the symbolization of the cycle of the year, which is homologizable to the Great Year, Eliade (1959a) comments:
Belief in a time that is cyclic, in an eternal returning... bear witness primarily to the desire and hope for a periodic regeneration of the time gone by, of history. Basically the cycle in question is a Great Year... which opens with a creation [Aries] and concludes with a Chaos [Pisces], that is, by a complete fusion of the elements. A cosmic cycle includes a "creation," an "existence" (or "history," wearing out, degeneration), and a "return to chaos..." (p.407)
Consequently, in the spring of each year, Aries, the world witnesses the upsurging emergence of new life regenerated from the chaos of Pisces, "an era of storms and of wholesale disintegration" (Rudhyar, 1970b, p.107). And though every spring may manifest different existential or actual content, the structure of the cycle maintains its archetypal form, changeless, inexhaustable, and eternally renewing the World.
The origin of the twelve-fold zodiac is unknown but each sign can be viewed as deriving its meaning from the biospheric activities which characterize the north temperate season in which it is located, that is, its position in the cycle of the year. One can easily see how vegetative hierophanies inform the meaning of the zodiacal symbolism. In addition, lunar hierophanies, to which vegetative symbolism can be assimilated, is the underlying basis for the aspect symbolism which will be described shortly.
The intention in the above has been to demonstrate that sacred time in its aspect of the cyclical rhythms of the cosmos inform the very meaning of astrological symbolism, that a person's life can be regarded as an overlapping series of developmental phases assimilatable to cosmic cycles, and that human existence can at any moment be seen in its mythic significance as one realizes his or her life as a repetition of archetypes.
Though it may be unnecessary to enumerate more examples of the hierophanic dimension found in astrological symbolism, it is prudent to touch upon aspect and planetary symbolism. Aspects in a chart describe the angular relationship between two or more planets as viewed from the perspective of an earth observer. Aspects are formed when the cycle of relationship between two or more planets reaches certain points of angular value. The type of relationship formed is dependent upon the angular value of the aspect involved. The chart as a circle has 360 degrees of celestial longitude through which the planets may travel. The traditional major aspects are the conjunction, when the planets are 0 degrees of longitude apart; the opposition, 180 degrees apart; the square, 90 degrees apart; the trine, 120 degrees apart; and the sextile, 60 degrees apart. There are also several minor aspects in use that need not be mentioned here. The aspects are meaningful when they are "interpreted as 'phases' of several cyclic processes which refer to the organic functions symbolized by the ten planets (Sun and Moon always included)" (Rudhyar, 1972a, p.131). These phases have the lunar hierophany as their referent of meaning. Astrologer Leyla Rael (Rael & Rudhyar, 1980) writes: "The lunation cycle--the cycle between the Sun and Moon producing for observers on earth the spectacle of the phases of the Moon--is the prototype or model for all cycles of aspects, which are phase relationships between moving celestial bodies" (p.23). The lunation cycle from its beginning at New Moon when the Sun and Moon are conjunct to its culmination at Full Moon when Sun and Moon are 180 degrees apart to its demise as the Moon's light wanes moving back toward the Sun describes existence as humanity perceives it; birth, growth, maturation, deterioration, and death opening to rebirth. As the basis for all meaning in aspect symbolism, it is important to note its hierophanic dimension. It is the measure of measures as Eliade argues with its "perpetual return to beginnings and this ever recurring cycle," the moon is the "heavenly body above all others concerned with the rhythms of life" (1959a, p.154). The phases of the Moon reveal life repeating itself rhythmically, and as such reveals the sacred in the inexhaustable life and reality that it manifests.
The conjunction or new phase between any two or more planets in the chart suggests the blending of whatever principles those planets refer to, for example, the conjunctive relationship of Mars and Saturn in a natal chart would be a blending of the principles of focalization (Saturn) and energy usage (Mars). The individual might be described, depending on house and sign placement, as best using their energy in a well prescribed and disciplined fashion, not being too overly controlled and rigid in his or her activities. If these two planets were in opposition to each other, the symbolic Full Moon, the individual would be charged with the task of the appropriate use of their energy and would likely have to work at a balanced integration between impulsivity and rigidity. As symbols are polysemous in nature, they are open to many levels of interpretation. Though the above interpretive example is a bit simplistic, the point to be made is that in some fashion the individual will have to come to terms with Mars, god of war and Saturn/Cronus, god of time in relationship within him or herself.
The planetary symbolism composed of the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, as previously stated, derive much of their meaning from Graeco-Roman mythology. Though each symbolizes a basic functional activity or root principle, they disclose unlimited layers of meaning depending upon the specific life situations of the person involved and the level of chart interpretation.
The Sun and Moon possess a special status being referred to as the "Lights." The Sun as the center of the solar system, vital, life-giving, and radiant represents, Rudhyar (1971) writes:
... the spiritual purpose which calls every living organism into being, and the original impulse... which is the fountainhead of all the energies which will animate this organism; while the Moon symbolizes those evolutionary forces which successively generate, illumine, and disintegrate the generic and racial form of the organism ... through which the solar potential can become actualized as biological-psychological activity. (p. 56)
In the above, the Sun and Moon are the Cosmic Pair, the Active and the Receptive, the bipolar life process operative in all existence. The Sun's pattern of meanings include masculine, will, autonomy, purpose, vitality; the Moon's being feminine, receptive, responsive, feeling, and nurturing.
The planetary symbolism as a whole is interesting at the level mentioned earlier, that of the continuity between the structures of human existence and cosmic structures. The practitioner's view as represented by Rael (1981) states:
The solar system is the greater whole within which we on earth "live, move, and have our being...." Each planet represents an aspect of wholeness, one category of necessary functional activities.... We can ... infer that whatever has ordered the wondrous hierarchy of systems, the placement and rhythms of the sun, moon, and planets, is also the ordering factor on earth and within us. We can see the planets as literally larger-than-life-size symbols of the same principles, the same qualities of activities, operating in us (and all around us) as in the solar system (n.p.).
Planetary symbolism, as with all astrological symbolism, has been modified, enriched, and revalorized according to the needs of the culture in which it is found. Many of the humanistic practitioners rely upon the constructs of depth psychology to make sense of the symbolism, to remythologize it for contemporary humanity. Though Jung emphasized the human origin of the symbolism regarding it as "archetypal images, involuntary creations of the 'knowing unconscious,' which primitive man projected on the stars" (Jaffe, 1971, p.30). Rudhyar (1974) suggests more of an autonomous sacred reality, in writing:
The experience of the night sky ... is just as basic and archetypal an experience as that of sunrise, full moon, and seasonal changes. Every people on this earth has developed the concept of constellations, probably because of a need to find order in existence and to personalize everything that could be given a personal form. Such personalizations can be called "psychic projections" but the projection concept should be worked out both ways. If man projects his basic human nature upon the star-filled night sky, is it not just as logical to say that the universe projects its own forever evolving patterns of order upon human nature? (p.135-36)
The above is a keystone statement for practitioners and believers in that they argue against the modern position that man is the sole maker of himself, simply the subject and agent of History, rejecting all appeals to transcendence. For them, the modern existential position that man is free when the last god is dead, is an empty illusion. Freedom is the capacity to be free from time, to periodically annul history and start over, to realize that one is not an independent agent but an instrumentality of the Whole, a focused expression of the Cosmos. The practitioners and believers conceive humanity to be a microcosm, an integral part of the Cosmos and as such, an individual "finds in himself the same sanctity that he recognizes in the cosmos. It follows that his life is homologized to cosmic life; as a divine work, the cosmos becomes the paradigmatic image of human existence" (Eliade, 1959b, p.165).
Astrology provides a framework for imagining a deep intimacy between humanity and the world, an intimacy of belonging, engagement, attachment, and connection. It fantasizes a life lived according to the divine wisdom of the heavens, an opus of soul making, a life realized as mythic enactment, where every activity is consecrated. At this time, in the last decade of the 20th century, amid rapid social and technological change, ambiguous values, and cultural decline, perhaps a renaissance is occurring. One can imagine the anima mundi disturbing the long spell of reason cast centuries ago over the Western mind by men like Bacon, Descartes, and Newton and waking humanity to a cosmicized life.
References of the 3rd Chapter
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- Dudley, G. (1977). Religion on trial: Mircea Eliade and his critics. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
- Eliade, M. (1979). The two and the one. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Eliade, M. (1969a). Yoga: Immortality, and freedom. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
- Eliade, M. (1969b). The quest. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Eliade, M. (1968). Myth and reality. NY: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1963; Harper Torchbooks
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- Rael, L. (1981). Astrological calendar for 1982. Berkeley, CA: Shambhala Publications.
- Rael, L. and Rudhyar, D. (1980). Astrological aspects: A process oriented approach. NY: ASI Publishers.
- Rudhyar, D. (1980). The astrology of transformation. Wheaton, IL: The Theosophical Publishing House.
- Rudhyar, D. (1977). Culture, crisis, and creativity. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House.
- Rudhyar, D. (1975). From humanistic to transpersonal astrology. Palo Alto, CA: The Seed Center.
- Rudhyar, D. (1974). An astrological mandala: The cycle of transformation and its 360 symbolic phases. NY: Random House, Inc., 1973, Vintage Books.
- Rudhyar, D. (1972a). Person Centered Astrology. Lakemont GA: CSA Press.
- Rudhyar, D. (1972b). The astrological houses: The spectrum of individual experience. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co.
- Rudhyar, D. (1971). The practice of astrology. Baltimore: Penguin Books, Inc.
- Rudhyar, D. (1970a). The astrology of personality. third edition. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company.
- Rudhyar, D. (1970b). The pulse of life. Berkeley, CA: Shambhala Publications.
- Ruperti, A. (1978). Cycles of becoming: The planetary pattern of growth. Davis, CA: CRCS Publications.
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