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Why is Venus green?: A morphological Approach to Astrology
by Graham Douglas

Ed. N.: Graham Douglas has written several articles concerning structural and anthropological research in astrology. Some of them have been published in Kosmos (Los Angeles), Correlation (London) and Semiotica (Berlin/New York). This article was first published in Correlation (vol 18. n. 1, 1999). Compare it with my "Planets, Colours and Metals".


Proposals for a physical explanation of astrological phenomena have recently begun to make progress based on the known influences of planetary cycles on solar activity, which may lead in turn to disturbances of the geomagnetic field, and the rate of cloud formation, (Seymour (1988), Landscheidt (1989, 1995), see also Calder (1997). The Gauquelins' work has also provided some evidence that the geomagnetic field enhances the inheritance of planetary placings in cadent houses, and more contentiously that these planetary placings are linked to personality traits. However, even supposing that CTH  [1]  and the geomagnetic influence on planetary heredity will somehow be sustained by the results of future research, this would still not explain why a particular planet should have one particular set of personality correspondences attributed to it, while others belong mainly to a different planet, nor why for instance, Jupiter is semantically opposed to Saturn, and the Moon (and Venus) to Mars (Douglas (1995), Müller (1992)).

I would like to suggest that a preliminary step towards an explanation might be to make a structural description of the various traditional correspondences of the planets, because in this way it is possible that we may learn something about them as a system of meanings. This view has been emphasized by the humanistic astrologers since Rhudyar, but has appeared to be in conflict with the understandable preference of researchers to work with isolated single factors, as the Gauquelins did.

When whole chart interpretations have been studied, using double-blind matching methods the results have not been encouraging for astrologers, (Dean (1977): 544-554, Nanninga (1997): 14-20, Van Rooij (1997): 21-25). Even in the much more ordered field of trait-word analysis the results obtained by the Gauquelins and John Addey have become the subject of protracted methodological dispute, (Ertel (1993,1996), Kurtz, Nienhuys and Sandhu (1997)). Besides the methodology of trait extraction from biographies, there are also issues related to trait attribution, which are not ususally discussed by astrological researchers, (Hampson (1984), see also Douglas (1997a)).

These are important problems which still need to be resolved, but they should not be allowed to obscure the possibility of answering other questions about the interpretation and inter-relation of astrological symbols. I believe that it is important to take seriously the belief that planetary and zodiacal symbols belong to a structured system, and may derive some of their meaning purely from being in that situation.

The Theory of Correspondences and Color Terms

One of the central characteristics of astrology across different cultures is its incorporation into larger systems of correspondences, including domains such as colours, musical tones, herbal properties, and seasons and the cardinal directions. A typical folk taxonomy , which in this case does not include the planets, is shown in Table 1.

Wild Cat

Table 1. The System of correspondences of the Zuni of N.America, (adapted from Lévi-Strauss (1966): 41)

In general it seems that a system of four or five Elements (such as Fire, Earth, Air, Water, Metal, or Wood) is more widespread than one of planets, and even where the planets are used they may be an incomplete set, such as just the Sun and Moon for the Bororo people of Brazil, (Lévi-Strauss (1963)), or Sun , Moon, and Venus for the Aztecs, (Brotherstone (1988)). Another problem is that associations of a given planet differ from one culture to another: in ancient China, Mars was considered to be related to Joy and Jupiter to Anger, quite the reverse of our Western tradition, and Venus was associated with the Color White, as shown in Fig.1. And within the European-Western Asian traditons variations exist (see below, and Baigent (1994): 186, Bouché-Leclerc (1899,1979): 313).




Fig.1. The Chinese System of Color and Planetary
Correspondencies, (adapted from Tierra,
see Granet (1975): 105-107, Stapleton (1953):22)

These cross-cultural variations seem to suggest that little can be learned about planetary symbolism through comparative studies. However Color is unique among the various fields of correspondences, because the laws of Color perception constrain the ways in which colours can be used as carriers of connotative meaning, (Sahlins (1976, 1977) and see below). [2]  I would like to suggest therefore that a study of Color symbolism offers a possibility of understanding how planetary meanings are held together as a system. Since it is clear that while Mars appears red, Venus is certainly not green, the importance of colour symbolism may be fundamental to the systematic understanding of the symbolic meanings which had later developed for the planets.

Opponent Colour Theory

Although the normal human eye has three different photopigments, which absorb maximally in the Red, Green and Blue areas of the visible spectrum respectively, these signals are combined into different channels by cells behind the retina, before being transmitted to the visual cortex. It is now accepted that the way in which these channels transmit information tells us more about colour perception than does the functioning of the retinal receptors (rods and cones), (Zollinger (1979), Ratliff (1976), De Valois and De Valois (1993)). This model is the so-called Opponent pair theory developed by Hering, in the 19th. century, but its roots can be traced to the work of Goethe on Color in the 18th.century (Matthaei (1971), Steiner (1970)). The term 'opponent' refers to the position of the colours as complementaries in the colour circle shown in Fig.2.

The Colour Circle

Fig.2 The Colour Circle showing the two pairs
of opponents as diagonally opposite

The three channels carry:

There is another important difference between the two colour channels and the achromatic one, which is that there is no possibility of perceiving a colour which is both Red and Green , unlike a Grey which is both Black and White in some degree. In these cases (assuming the light is a pure Blue for example) adding Yellow may produce a Green effect for the observer, but for the B/Y channel the signal switches abruptly according to whether the strongest colour component is Blue or Yellow, and only the stronger is transmitted.

These considerations do not however imply that all mandalas, maps of colours onto the seasons, and folk taxonomies in general must conform to the colour circle in Fig.1.There are many examples, in addition to those given above, of 4-colour arrangements which do not. Perhaps there is an astrological parallel in the fact that although Fire and Water have opposite Qualities the corresponding triplets of zodiac signs do not occupy positions diametrically opposite in the circle of the year  [3] . But neither does it mean that no pattern or constraint exists,. I will return to this question after the next section, where other considerations will be brought to bear on the problem.

Another feature of the Egyptian and Indo-European cosmologies is that the planets are further arranged in a diagram of concentric circles, which adds the idea of a developmental sequence of meanings to the seasons, houses, colours, planets and so on. This allows some conclusions to be drawn about planetary colours if it is considered in relation to the results of a second anthropological investigation.

The Stages of Colour-Term Evolution

In 1969 Berlin and Kay published the results of their extensive comparative research on Colour Terms in languages around the world (Berlin and Kay (1969). In this pioneering work they studied the number of colour terms in different languages, and arrived at a model for a universal order in which the terms emerge. It is important to describe what is meant by a colour term, as distinct from a colour ( Berlin and Kay (1969), MacLaury (1992)). A colour term is a word which does not derive solely from an object with that colour, such as Lemon or Burgundy, but instead is used to describe the hue only, examples include Red, Yellow, Green and Blue. When these colour terms alone were considered, Berlin and Kay's survey revealed that there are languages containing between 2 and 11 colour terms around the world, the number generally following the degree of technical development of the culture concerned. [4]  They also found that the terms observed depend on how many there are, according to a universal scheme. Thus any language with only 2 colour terms will have Black and White, or Light and Dark, while the third term to emerge is always Red, followed by Yellow and Green in either order, and then always by Blue. After that the remaining 5 terms emerge together. This pattern is shown in Fig.3.

The Emergence of Colour Terms
Fig.3 The Emergence of Colour Terms
(adapted from Kay and MacDaniel, 1978)

In Fig.3 the term Grue refers to a colour term whose focus is in the green or blue region of the spectrum and covers a region which later becomes named by the separate colour terms Green and Blue.

Sahlins has discussed the emotional associations of the first 4 colour terms in relation to their positions in the colour circle, (Sahlins (1976): 198-202, (1977)) and demonstrated that the associations exhibit the same formal structure as the colours according to the opponent pair theory. For example it is found that the connotations of Red in the field of character and emotion are most different from those of Green, while having some overlap with those of Blue and Yellow. The important point to note here is that this consistency of structure between emotional/personality connotations and colour perception is necessary. Firstly because the transmission of meaning always requires a structure of differences or oppositions, (Hawkes (1977): 19-28, Saussure (1974): 114-120). And in the present case this implies that the objective structure of colour perception (Fig.2) will determine the structure of any symbolic connotations that colours are able to carry, while excluding others. Colour is therefore well-adapted to represent the implicit semantic structure of emotion/personality through the explicit one of the colour circle to which it is homologous [5] . On the other hand, in the case of the cardinal compass directions, a formal structure already exists as a spatial diagram, so that various mappings can be made between two systems (colour and compass directions) which are already explicitly structured. Each mapping can then be viewed as equivalent to the choice of a hypothesis, (or an ideology), about the way they should relate. An example of the way such processes can make a social hierarchy seem to be necessary and natural is the correspondence of humours to social classes, (Lincoln (1991): 214).

Mandalas: further pointers to structural constraints in cosmological symbols

Following this theoretical semantic analysis it is interesting to return now and examine comparative empirical evidence on mandalas and calendrical colour maps from different cultures, since they are closely related to the zodiacal circle. As we have seen already, this does not reveal a consistent correspondence with the relations shown in Fig.2. Although it may appear, as mentioned above, that the colours are free to be placed arbitrarily in a mandala, or mapped onto the compass directions, without regard to the colour circle, the evidence suggests that some restrictions are operating.

In any mandala with only 4 colours the Berlin and Kay study tells us they will be: Black  [6] , White, Red and either Yellow or Grue, if we assume that in these symbols colours are also colour terms.

I would now like to suggest that their placing on the circle works as if by a series of divisions of the colour circle space. Thus we can suppose that first it splits into two semi-circles: so that in line with Berlin and Kay's findings, the initial White colour term actually contains the hues of final White, Red and Yellow colour terms, while the initial Black includes Black, Green and Blue, (Kay and MacDaniel (1978)). In the next stage this White splits so that Red emerges as a separate term containing the Red and Yellow regions of the spectrum, leaving a final White, and a Black which is still composed of the same 3 hues as before. Now if we consider the next stage, and suppose for example that Grue emerges next as the fourth colour term, we have seen that the mandalas do not always follow the colour circle, but neither do they seem to deviate too much from it, when mandalas from a wider range of cultures are compared.

It seems reasonable to imagine that it is permissible to switch around the members of either the light (R+Y+Wh) or dark (Gn+Bl+Bk) semi-circles among themselves, but not to move any colour across the circle and place it between the colours of the other semicircle. I have not found any examples in the literature where Green is between Red and White in order around the circle of a mandala or other similar map, (Douglas (1997c: 277), Griaule (1965):222-223, Foster and Little (1989):133-148, Tuan (1976): 94, Turner (1967): 84-91, Durkheim and Mauss (1963): 40-76, Needham (1979): 10-16, Rees and Rees (1961): 123-133, Fortes and Dieterlen (1965): 316, Rowe (1972) 327-364, Wertheim (1960): 47).

The colour circle can be arranged in two of its possible three permutations and still be consistent with this principle, while the only inconsistent arrangement would be the one in which such a diagonal shift occurred, placing Red opposite White, and Black opposite Green. An alternative interpretation of this finding might be that since 4 terms can be arranged with only 3 different diagonal pairings, the choice depends on what binary contrasts are thereby created across the axes of a diagram like Fig.2. The arrangement which would place Green between Red and White is the only one which would remove the original contrast between Bright and Dark : (R+WH) vs.(GN+BK). This seems to be the most important contrast, semantically and perceptually, (Osgood and Tzeng (1990): 215-234, 253-259), so it may be plausibly supposed to be the most resilient.

We thus arrive at the conjecture that a 4-term mandala is structured in such a way that while reproducing the colour circle is not essential, the universal emotional connotations of these colours are mapped onto the compass directions. This mapping shows some cultural specificity, but generally preserves the opposition of Light-Warm to Dark-Cold colours and the emotional connotations which they carry. When this hypothesis is considered in terms of the 4 Elements of the Greek tradition then we see that in order to retain this Warm vs. Cold opposition only two arrangements are permitted: one in which Fire is diametrically opposed to Water creating the familiar contrasts of the qualities Warm-Cold and Dry-Wet; and a second in which Fire is opposed to Earth, as in the usual map of Jung's functions onto the Elements, (Harding (1996): Fig.6, p.28).

In the case of the zodiacal circle Fire signs are opposed to Air signs, which would be equivalent to the forbidden mandala pattern just described  [3] . But it could be argued that the zodiac is a more complex system, in which for example most planets rule two signs belonging to different elements. It could also be argued that although the zodiac is a two-dimensional map the astrological chart has more than two semantic dimensions. Even in the traditional system each planet has to be considered as an independent variable, so the map of psychic space is at least 7-dimensional. In other words an astrological chart may be considered to hide a much greater degree of developmental complexity than the simple 2 x 2 diagram of 4 Elements in a circle.

This discussion of mandalas may seem to be a diversion from the main argument, but I believe it is important to look for clues in the relevant context of the question being discussed. It also suggests that arguments based on colour perception may lead to new perspectives on the relations between the 4 Elements in astrology.

Roman Astrology and Colours

Given these different limitations I would now like to consider what conclusions if any, can be drawn for a theory of planetary colours within the western tradition. In Fig. 4 the ancient Roman colour correspondences of the planets and seasons are shown, with the four social classes, (see Douglas (1997b)). In view of the fact that Berlin and Kay showed that colour term evolution can take two alternative paths after Red (either Yellow or Grue next, and then both, see Fig.3 above), it is particularly interesting that the Roman tradition has the fourth colour as Green while the Indian has Yellow, (Lyle (1990): 3, 8-12).

There is evidence that this 4-term system evolved from an earlier one with the three colours Black, White, Red, and the 3 gods Quirinus, Jupiter, Mars corresponding to the 3 classes which Dumézil identified in early Indo-European societies. Quirinus is probably related to Saturn (Rowe (1972): 38-39, Scubla (1997), Douglas (1997c): 275). Saturn used to govern the agricultural/fertility functions which later came to be associated with Venus. In Ancient Greece there is good evidence from Homeric poems and pre-Socratic philosophy that there were only three colour terms and the shift to four had occurred before the Roman era, (Rowe (1972): 28, 30, 47-49).

It is interesting also that a similar change may have occurred with the seasons, with Autumn emerging as a distinct season out of the Winter half-year, (Lyle (1990): 40). Dumézil's work on the tripartite structure of early Indo-European societies is relevant because traditional astrology (as distinguished from tabulated star-omens), developed mainly within these societies. As such it absorbed the mythology/ideology of the tripartite cosmogony [7]  , which later developed into a fourfold system. Balinese studies show that several different systems of division of the cosmos can co-exist in one culture, (Wertheim (1960): 37-51).

Colours and Colour Terms

Although the evolution of the ancient Greek colour terms followed the Berlin-Kay order (Rowe (1972)), Bellmer (1999)), and the 7 Babylonian colours in the star temples of Harran were the first 7 Berlin-Kay colours, (Baigent (1994):186), it is also true that the latter did not correspond to the planets in the same way. In the star-temples Saturn was Black and Mars Red, but Venus was Blue, Jupiter Green and Moon White, (Baigent (1994):186), while in Nineveh the correspondences put Saturn as Black and Mars as Purple, Venus White and Jupiter as Light Red, Bouché-Leclerc (1899,1979):313). There may be some questions of translation which need to be investigated here, because it is known that the ancient Mesopotamian languages, Sumerian and Akkadian, like ancient Egyptian (from 2500BC to 1000AD) only had 4 true colour terms.

The colours on the Ziggurats were described using modern European language colour terms when they were discovered in the nineteenth century. However, while only 4 colour terms may have evolved this does not mean that more colours could not have been distinguished visually, nor does it exclude the existence of narrowly defined terms applicable only to pigments, (Baines (1985): 283-289). In the whole ancient Egyptian period colour is used in blocks in painting without shading or perspective, and this non-realistic tradition is better adapted to colour symbolism, (Baines (1985):288). In painting and on monuments there are more symbolic colours, corresponding with B+K Stage VI or VII, while in the use of colour symbolism in written texts only the standard 4 colour terms are used, (Baines (1985): 283-284).

In the original description of the Ziggurat at Borsippa the 7 terraces had only six clearly distinguished colours and these are Black, Red-Brown, Red, Yellow, Blue and Grey, (Baigent (1994):154, Rawlinson (1861): 17), which parallel the Berlin-Kay order with the exception of Grey, and the absence of White. Given that the Grey too was not very distinct from the adjacent Blue, the fourth stage was an intermingling of Red and Yellow, and the Red-Brown was like a variant of Red it begins to seem as if the basis was close to the 4 colour terms in the order: Black, Red, White (=Yellow), Grue, (Baines (1985): 283). This may thus indicate that although the temple was undoubtedly dedicated to the seven planets (Rawlinson (1861):17), this many pigments were essentially gradations of the 4 colour terms.

It seems from mandalas as discussed above, that the colours used ceremonially tend to be those of the existing colour terms. A conjecture then may be made that the 7 planets as symbols or classifications emerged from an earlier set of 4 symbolic elements: SA, (JU+MA), (SU+VE), (MO+ME). Other variations occur in a cuneiform astronomical text, (Hunger and Pingree (1989): 149-150). The primary colours for the Chinese, and for Democritus were those already described, (Stapleton (1953): 41, note 79), suggesting a special status for the hues named by colour terms. This would make sense given their ideological function as part of a complex model of the social and political structure projected onto the cosmos: it would have been necessary to use only those hues which had generally accepted names for the symbols to seem natural and common-sensical.

Another interesting source of comparative material is the alchemical tradition, and it is generally agreed that the colours corresponding to the stages of the Work follow the sequence: Black, Grey, White, Yellow, Red, Purple, which correspond to the planets: Saturn, Jupiter, Moon, Sun, Mars, Venus, Burckhardt ((1967, 1986): 182-195), Silberer (1971): 368). Although the order of the planets is different from both the Chaldean and modern ones, the colour symbolism is again consistent only for SA and MA, but JU is the first stage of whitening (Burckhardt (1967, 1986): 187). Purple and Grey are late colours in the B+K sequence, and would not normally emerge before Green and Blue. However, the sequence of colours follows the B+K order except for yellow coming before red, and the absence of separate terms for green and blue. The 'purple' referred to was however also described as 'rust of copper', which is green like Venus in the Roman tradition, (Stapleton (1953):43, note 83), so there may be less variation than at first sight.

In early Chinese alchemy (see Fig.1 above), there is a clear correspondence between the planetary order and that of B+K Stage IV. Thus the planets ME, VE, MA, JU, SA follow exactly the order of emergence of colour terms, and in exactly the opposite order of correspondence with the Roman system described above  [8] . The relevance of colour-term theory to the present discussion is confirmed by the fact that in the Chinese five-term system Wood sometimes corresponds with Green sometimes with Azure, (Stapleton (1953): 19, note 33, quoting Dubs (1947). In a five-term system Grue (B+K Stage IV) one of the colours is Grue, which covers both green and blue hues, but may be focused in either,(MacLaury (1992): 145-146).

Silberer emphasizes the importance of 3 major stages in the alchemical work, which follow the colours Black, White and Red, and carry a symbolism of a splitting into Light and Dark followed by a synthesis represented by Red. This does seem to suggest that the early stages of the B+K sequence formed a framework for other mystical correspondences, (Silberer (1971): 368), and there is evidence for similar ceremonial uses of these three colours in an African tradition (Milicic (1989): 121-132). According to von Franz there were 4 stages in classical western alchemy, marked by the sequence Black (Nigredo), White (Albedo), Red (Rubedo), Yellow (Citrinas), (von Franz 1980:196) and these are exactly those of B+K Stage IIIB.

In the Tibetan yoga tradition the planets are not mentioned, and the sequence of stages varies depending on the process, but none of them follow a B+K order, (Govinda (1969): 184, 225-257).

In Western astrology the meanings of the houses have also been viewed as a result of progressive divisions of the diurnal circle, (Jones (1977): 21-32).


Fig.4. The Seasons with their colours and Planets,
(adapted from Lyle (1990): Figs.2.3-2.7, pp.9-11,
see also Rees and Rees (1961): 123-133, Lydus (1898): 3.8)

To construct the final link in the argument, I would like to use the esoteric astrological model based on the solar system, as illustrated for example by Dante's Divine Comedy. According to this, the soul descends through the spheres of the planetary orbits from Saturn inwards towards the Earth (then supposed to be central). We find the sequence of colours from Fig.4, matching the 4 planets to be Black (Saturn), White (Jupiter), Red (Mars), and Green/Yellow (Venus), which resembles the first four (or five) terms of Berlin-Kay sequence. Their model starts with an initial pair of colours whereas Saturn and Jupiter , although clearly opposed semantically, as mentioned above, (see Douglas (1995)), cannot be seen as paired in terms of their orbits. However it may be that they carry a residue of an original meaning according to which Jupiter was the ruler of heaven and the god of light, and Saturn was the god of earth ( later banished like the slave class to the underworld ), i.e. an original polarity of Sky/Earth, (Oswalt (1969): 162, 261) [9] . Saturn was also the ruler of the earth during a primeval golden age, which seems quite consistent with this idea of a primal unity disrupted by Jupiter. The initial phase like the biblical creation and the Unconscious were dark, like Saturn. It seems consistent with the B+K model to suggest that this binary view preceded a three- and then the four-term scheme and we have seen that there is evidence for a 3-season calendar existing in ancient Greece before the usual four seasons were established.

The four initial stages described above have a clear correspondence with the Zurich model of psycho-emotional development, (Bischof (1990)).

Inconsistent Colour Correspondences

It may be objected, after reading this discussion, that the most salient fact about ancient planetary colour associations is that every author has their own version, and therefore there is nothing useful to be discovered by selectively focusing on one or two well-known examples. This variety is well-documented by Pingree ((1978): 248-250). Such variations are less problematic for Element theories, as we have seen, but the planets also have a natural sequential order (bearing in mind the different geo- and helio-centric orders) which needs to be considered. It should also be noted that there is good evidence for the existence of more-or-less universal connotative meanings of colours, (see Nemcsics (1990):176-178 and references cited there).

Together these links impose much tighter constraints on the conjecture that planetary colour associations are determined by the B+K evolutionary sequence of colour terms. Finally, if the Gauquelin hypothesis that there are universal correspondences between the planets and professional eminence, possibly mediated by character is considered in this light it seems that the history of planetary colour associations can only tend to refute the theory. For this reason it is important to examine some of the correspondences collated by Pingree and see if there is any order at all among them.

First, we can note that the most consistent colours are Red or Fiery for Mars, and Bright, Yellow or Red for the Sun; which may be due to the fact that in these cases at least the symbolic and the real colours coincide. Saturn is most often Black, but also Brown, Yellow and even White; Jupiter is generally White but also Caerulea (Greenish-Blue = Grue); Venus is mostly White, but also Yellow, (Green is not mentioned in Pingree's list but is common elsewhere); the Moon is generally Green, but also Blue, Silver and even Red (once); Mercury is mostly Green, but also Blue, Yellow and variegated, (Pingree (1978): 248-250). In the Babylonian MUL.APIN Saturn is also White and Red, and Mercury is Black and Yellow, (Hunger and Pingree (1989): 149-150). Since the Sun and Mars are the central planets in a set of seven the impression created is one in which the two ends of the sequence change their colours most, and this might suggest that two symbolic systems came into competition, each mapping the planetary sequence onto the B+K colours in different directions.

Comparing the Roman and Chinese planetary correspondences with colours the first thing to note is that MA is Red in both, while VE and JU (White and Grue) are interchanged, and SA switches with ME (Yellow and Black),(and ME is absent from the Roman set). It is therefore interesting that there may have been some exchange of Chinese with Babylonian cosmological ideas, ( Stapleton (1953): 21-25), resulting in the confusion of mutually inverse schemes.

A further mechanism of exchange of colour associations is suggested by the relation between the 7 planets and the 4 classes of ancient Indian Society in the Yavanajãtaka (Pingree (1978): 247). Bearing in mind that the 4 castes have their symbolic colours it is interesting to observe the way in which the 7 planets are partitioned: The Slaves to Saturn and the colour Black; the Food Producers to Mercury (Green) and the Moon (Silver); the Warriors to Sun (Coppery) and Mars (Red); and the Priests to Venus (White) and Jupiter (Yellow). The colours of these 4 castes are Black, Yellow, Red and White (Lyle(1990): 8-9), which confirms the impression that some degree of inversion may have occurred in relation to Venus and Jupiter at least, and this is possible without disturbing the emotional connotations of the four basic colour terms.

In the circle of the seasons both systems show the same planet (but not the same element) for spring , summer, and autumn, while both summer and winter have the same colour associations, and fire and water (but not MA and VE) are opposites in both systems. Given the fact that SA and VE both have associations with agriculture and plant growth in the Indo-European tradition, (see Douglas (1997) and Oswald (1965): 261-297), the major difference between the two systems is the colour of JU.

A final point of interest relates to the linking of professions to the planets. We have seen that in Dumézil's theory of Indo-European society the three principal classes were the Priests, Soldiers and Farmers linked to JU, MA and VE respectively, with the slaves linked to SA in the Indian caste system. A variation of this is the ancient Irish system in which the fourth 'outcaste' class is travelling musicians (Rees and Rees (1961): 126-133, 376 notes 44,45). It is very interesting that on the other side of the world, the Zuni Indians recognise the four groups: Priests, Warriors, Farmers and Dancers/Medicine men, which have their symbolic colours and their corresponding compass direction, while in China the first three of these are again recognised.


We are therefore led to the following conclusion: that two possible known sets of colour associations for 4 of the planets can be deduced as a purely formal consequence of the colour-mapping itself. This mapping is based on the fact that the planets form a sequence in terms of their orbital parameters, and that the colours are the same as the colour terms of ancient Greece and Rome, and in China with the reverse order of the sequence. If this is accepted it has important consequences for research into astrology. Perhaps the first is that it establishes the systemic nature of the astrological symbols from a scientific point of view, something which until now has mainly been asserted by astrologers, and poorly understood by researchers.

It also establishes a different relationship between structure and content, since the Roman and Chinese correspondences are the reverse of each other, but both map coherently onto the B+K sequence, which is based on neuro-physiological structure, (see Sahlins (1976,1977), and also correlates to the universal psychological meanings of colour, (Nemcsics (1990): 176-178, and references cited there). Given this, as well as the Gauquelin claims, the question does arise of whether there are right and wrong assignments of the planetary character traits, and this is still open if the varieties of colour associations can be accounted for by the overlapping of two inverted colour mapping orders,the Chinese and the Greco-Roman. The principle reason for suggesting that there is more going on than arbitrary choices and historical confusions, is that colours are known to carry emotional and other connotations in every culture, and that these ancient cosmologies had a role of explaining and justifying social cohesion and hierarchy which is easier the more layers of meaning that can be put into correspondence. The reason that the correspondences themselves would not be arbitrary, is that the structure of colour terms and of their psychological associations would necessarily pattern the meanings projected onto them, as Sahlins has shown.

From a cultural-scientific point of view the difference of understanding which results is more profound than a simple debate about the appropriateness of using chart-matching techniques to assess the interpretive ability of astrologers. We can also identify a new approach to astrological research, based in anthropology, history and cultural studies, which cannot be easily assigned to either side of the divide between objective-physical-scientific research into natural astrology versus subjective interpretation of charts by astrologers, or judicial astrology.

Such a 'third way' is nothing new in the context of the social sciences, but it is new to astrological research for two reasons: researchers in astrology have until now neglected anthropological approaches , and conversely social scientists regard the claims of astrology with suspicion, as distinct from astrology's interest as a purely cultural phenomenon, (Kelly (1997), Coward (1989): 71, Aphek and Tobin (1989)). The relative statuses of empirical and theoretical investigations have been extensively debated in the social sciences since the semiotic and structural linguistic approach emerged, (see Giddens (1979): 9-28, Hughes (1990): 115-144).

It has recently been proposed that the 3-dimensional structure of human colour perception discussed above may have been an evolutionary adaptation of our eyes and brain to our terrestrial environment. Thus the Dark-Light or Black-White axis corresponds to Night and Day; the Yellow-Blue opponent pair represents the contrast between direct sunlight and the illumination of shade by scattered light arriving from the sky; the Red-Green contrast is created from dry versus wet atmosphere, since water vapour absorbs strongly in the red end of the spectrum shifting the spectral centre towards green (more so at dawn); and dusty air (at sunset) scatters all wavelengths except red, (Shephard (1992): 510-511). It is interesting both how the traditional elemental polarities of Light/Dark, Warm/Cold and Dry/Moist seem to figure here, and also the suggestion of contrasts between Zenith and Nadir, and between East and West are implicated. With mandalas and certain kinds of divination in mind, a suggestion seems to form of how human perception is deeply congruent to our state of being on the surface of a planet. It is interesting both how the traditional elemental polarities of Light/Dark, Warm/Cold and Dry/Moist seem to figure here, and also the suggestion of contrasts between Zenith and Nadir, and between East and West are implicated. With mandalas and certain kinds of divination in mind, a suggestion seems to form of how human perception is deeply congruent to our state of being on the surface of a planet.

The question of how these considerations might relate to a geophysical theory of astrology remains open. The discussion above has assumed that the colours were consciously mapped onto observations of the planets by the ancients, but a geophysical theory would presumably claim that human beings are innately and unconsciously sensitive to the planets, for instance via a sensitivity to geomagnetic fields. Such a sensitivity would need to confer an evolutionary advantage, and we might imagine that one could result if a magnetic sensitivity conferred the ability for early human populations to move away from impending climate catastrophes.

There is good evidence of a correlation between climate and the geomagnetic field (Landscheidt (1989,1995), and it has been suggested that humans survived early climate catastrophes by their ability to adapt to different environments.


[1]  In spite of different results for different time periods, the outcomes of the geomagnetic studies should not be seen as contradictory in the manner of two laboratory experiments, they simply show different outcomes depending on the period during which births occurred (F.Gauquelin (1992), M.Gauquelin (1984)). The Gauquelins' findings correlating professional eminence with certain placements of characteristic planets (plus zones) in the mundane circle, are also still apparently sustained in spite of much recent questioning, (Ertel (1998), Ertel and Irving (1996))

The extension of this empirical base into a correlation involving planetary position, profession and also personality, according to the famous Character Traits Hypothesis (CTH) has received much heavier criticism, although this may reflect inadequate methodology, rather than incorrect conclusions, (for discussion, see Douglas (1997a)).  « Text

[2]  The research on which this statement is based was carried out in psychophysics and cultural anthropology, and is a good illustration of a way in which the context of astrological research can be usefully broadened.  « Text

[3]  For an alternative view of this question see Harvey (1996): 28-29. There is an interesting diagram combining the two circles in Meadows (1986):12.  « Text

[4]  This and other claims of the original Berlin-Kay theory have been contested since, but these do not affect the present discussion, for details see MacLaury (1992).  « Text

[5]  I am referring to early societies which did not have an elaborate scientific specialisation involving separate disciplines of physics and psychology, but mapped the world through condensed symbols such as mandalas. I assume that the pattern of the colour circle was self-evident and was thus able to express the circle of personality/emotion for which no independent theory existed.  « Text

[6]  Although Blue may sometimes replace Black it is probably understood as Black, (Lyle (1990): 10, Rowe (1972): 38-39).  « Text

[7]  The 3 classes were Priests (Jupiter), Warriors (Mars), and Food Producers (Saturn/Venus). See Lincoln (1986), Stone (1997) Lyle (1990), for discussion.  « Text

[8]  In the Chinese theory the Sun and Moon are not classed with the planets but seen as playing a more foundational role, (Stapleton (1953): 21-22, Davis (1932): 217,220).  « Text

[9]  The continued use of the term 'underclass' in modern times hints at the power of astrological and mythical symbols like the planets to describe the field of ideological semantics. This will become clearer in part 2, where I will consider the abstract forms of Catastrophe theory, which have recently been employed in the study of semantic categories, and offer a modern interpretation of the number mysticism of Pythagoras and Kepler.  « Text

Acknowledgements: I am grateful to Alby Stone, and Drs. Frank McGillion, Jan Ruis, Theodor Landscheidt, Emily Lyle and Lucien Scubla for their diverse wisdoms, and to Nicholas Campion for some of the references to Babylonian astrology.


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