26 August 2010

Thirteenth Sign?

I received an email with some questions about the so-called "thirteenth sign" of the zodiac that often confounds moderns. There is a constellation that touches the ecliptic - the apparent path of the Sun around the earth - from the north side. It is called Ophiuchus, or Serpentarius, the Serpent-Handler.  The 12 zodiacal constellations straddle the ecliptic.

Here are parts of the email (most of it) and my responses to it.

I have been trying to ascertain from Astrologers all over the US their opinions as to why so many who follow the classical model do not recognize Ophiuchus ... a recently popular but ever-present 13th constellation found along the Solar ecliptic like all the houses of the
Zodiac, which sits between Scorpio and Sagittarius.

Ophiuchus was never part of astrology, so there it makes no sense to include it if one is interested in returning astrology to its roots.

During Ptolemy's time it was an included as part of the horoscope while Libra was excluded,

That's not correct. Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos refers to Chelae, the claws of the Scorpion. This falls between Virgo and Scorpio, but was not actually considered a part of Scorpio (as evidenced by the fact that it has a separate entry). (See Ashmand's translation, p. 26). Chelae was eventually renamed Libra, but is essentially the same star group. Ophiuchus is on the other side, as you state, between Scorpio and Sagittarius. It is listed on p. 29 of Ashmand as "Serpentarius" (an earlier Latin name for it) as one of the Constellations north of the Zodiac. So Ptolemy clearly did not include it as part of the Zodiac constellations, and as far as the evidence we have, no one else did.
but apparently at some point in history which no one can pinpoint the "serpent-bearer" was removed (perhaps because of the serpent reference being interpreted as satanic?).

As I say, no one removed it. It was simply never part of the 12 zodiacal signs. The satanic reference is dubious, since Serpentarius/Ophiuchus is actually the serpent handler, not the serpent. Perhaps the reason is that the constellation doesn't really cross the ecliptic, rather it just barely touches it to the north, but that's just a guess on my part.
This constellation has always been there in the sky. It isn't as if is mysteriously just appeared... it's huge in comparison to its neighbor Scorpio, but astrologers seem to still pretend it isn't there.

It's not that we pretend that it's not there. Those of us who work with Traditional astrology work not only with the 12 zodiacal signs, but also the fixed stars in the other constellations as well. However, if it doesn't actually cross the ecliptic line, then the planets do not actually move through the constellation, they move above or below it.

 With the return of interest in sideareal systems which emphasize ACTUAL observation (i.e. taking our noses out of dusty old books and looking up for a change) it seems common sense to re-introduce it... it's right there for everyone to see after all.

There is really nothing to "reintroduce", since as I've said, it never formed part of the zodiac.

But let me be clear, those of us who are practicing traditional Western astrology are not practicing sidereal astrology. From the beginning, two systems emerged: sidereal and tropical. The sidereal system is based upon the relationship of the earth to the stars, specifically to the alpha star in the constellation of Aries. However, the constellations are not all composed of neat, 30 degree figures, and even sidereal astrologers use a stylized "12 signs x 30 degrees each" system. The tropical zodiac is based on the relationship between the earth and the sun, and consequently on the seasons. It's about life in our very own solar system, not all the rest of them. So neither system is based upon what one "actually" sees in the sky. From the very beginning, as I indicate above, astrology was stylized. There is an intimate connection between sacred geometry and sacred number. The number 12 is divisible by 3 modes and 4 elements. It's divisible easily by 2 polarities (masculine/feminine, diurnal/nocturnal, positive/negative, etc.). The theory of astrological aspects is tied to this. The number 13 may be sacred for other reasons, but it does not serve the purposes of astrology.

Finally, astrology has never been about exact physical observation alone. It has always been combined with the idea that there is a magic about it, and that the Hermetic law of "as above, so below" is the ideal. Those who insist on a purely scientific approach to astrology misunderstand it, and whether consciously or not, buy into the modern atheistic mindset (yes, even if they themselves are astrologers). That is not to say that astrological methods can't be tested and repeatable, but not everything can be explained in terms of billiard balls knocking against one another.

09 August 2010

An Aquarius by any other name...

One of my problems with modern astrology texts, and by extension, most modern astrologers, is the lack of critical thinking involved in the practice. Most people today read the modern texts off the shelf of Barnes and Noble, or order them from Amazon, and assume that what's in them is correct. In my first six months of studying astrology, years ago, this was the process that was available to me too. And the few classes that I took were taught by astrologers who were working from these same texts. We often assume today that if it's in print, then it must be true, or at the very least, written by an expert on the subject. With the arrival of easy internet access, this approach is even more pervasive today; even the light-weight, poorly-written texts take on the weight of authority, simply because they have made it into print, and aren't merely virtual (online) texts.

One example of this is the sign of Aquarius. Modern astrology erroneously ascribes "rulership" of Aquarius to the planet Uranus, while classically, the ruler is Saturn. I won't go into the crazy (really, crazy) reasons for this rulership in this post, but let's look at some examples of the repercussions of this. 

Surfing on over to astrology.com, their website says the following of Aquarius: 
"...these folks can be quite fixed in their opinions, in keeping with the Fixed Quality assigned to this sign."
"... which is why they focus much of their energy on our social institutions and how they work."
"If it's new, radical and rebellious, Aquarians are all over it. "
"Some might call their behavior eccentric."
"They are truly the trailblazers of the zodiac."

Over at astrologyweekly.com, we find:
"Aquarius' planetary ruler is actually a combination of Saturn and Uranus. The two together form a curious duality: Saturn's influence can be seen in an Aquarian's cool level-headedness, while Uranus' pull is in the need to be unique, modern, and unconventional."

"As a sign of the people, you refuse to be placed on a higher level than your friends, even though you may deserve it. You distrust and dislike hierarchies—you're a true democrat—so inequities of class and race fuel your ardor all the more... Despite your social passions, you're actually very solitary and independent more than people realize."

What seems to escape people who read this is that the whole idea of being Fixed is contrary to the idea of being radical and rebellious.  I'm not sure why people don't see this more clearly.* What's going on here is the "blending" (a term used often in modern astrology) of the traditional keywords for Aquarius (fixed, stubborn, opinionated, socially-focused, new-structure oriented, democratic, refusing hierarchy) with the invented keywords for Uranus (rebelliousness, individuality, radical change, solitude, uniqueness, unexpected actions and reversals). These are contrary energies. But most modern astrology texts mix them together, and the reader often swallows it with no further reflection.

Now for those who eschew the use of the modern planets (Uranus, Neptune, Pluto), this confusion is even more problematic, since according to Traditional astrology, Uranus has no place in astrological delineation anyway. (The keywords used above and in general for Uranus were taken from their original associations with the Sun and Mars, despite Uranus' purported status as the "higher octave" of Mercury. See Lee Lehman's The Book of Rulerships for an excellent explanation of how this happened. See also Sue Ward's well-researched "Uranus, Neptune and Pluto: an investigation into the sources of their symbolism.")

Now here's the catch: Some Sun-sign Aquarians are independent, rebellious, and chaotic. However, this is not due to their Sun being in Aquarius. First of all, read my previous post, part of which is about how the Sun sign is not where one would look for personality, in traditional astrology. It's the Rising Sign that's more important here. So having the Sun in Aquarius, unless it is somehow accidentally configured to the personality and physical body/happiness, is completely irrelevant to whether a person is rebellious or not. In addition, as I've been arguing, it's not Aquarius that makes one rebellious anyway. If a person who has the Sun in Aquarius or Aquarius Rising is rebellious and independent, more than socially oriented, there is something else going on in their natal chart that is accounting for this. Every time I've had a Sun-Aquarius try to tell me how independent and brilliant they are, I have discovered that they have something like Mars conjunct or square the Ascendant, or the planet that rules the Ascendant. Of course, in many cases, these individuals are neither very independent nor brilliant, they just think that they are because they read it in an astrology book. What's amazing to me is that many of these people have themselves been professional, modern-style, astrologers. Overlooking Mars (or some other major factor) as the real indicator of their unique and chaos-loving selves. Hmm. If they couldn't even see that a planet like Mars was the culprit/reason, then it's no wonder that they haven't arrived at an accurate understanding of Aquarius. As my mother used to say, whenever we couldn't find something that was right in front of us, if this (Mars) had teeth, it would have bit them in the face.

Traditional (classical through medieval) authors don't give lists of "descriptions" of signs. Generally, they list the qualities, and then the things that the sign is associated with (professions, animals, places, stones, colors, etc.). For example, Aquarius is fixed, airy (therefore moist and warm), diurnal (as opposed to nocturnal), masculine, human (not bestial like Aries or Leo, etc.), vocal (it's not a mute animal like Pisces or Scorpio, etc.), the primary sign of Saturn, and so on. From these qualities, logical conclusions can be drawn, but they must all accord with these characteristics. So for example, Aquarius would be talkative (human and vocal), stubborn (fixed), intellectual (airy and human), structural (Saturn), and so on. While being a masculine, airy, human/intellectual sign will allow Aquarius to be more forward-looking than, say Capricorn (Saturn's other sign), this does not allow for a break from the Fixed, Saturnian nature of the sign, so it cannot be rebellious, independent, and prone to sudden and unexpected reversals.

One other example from personal experience. A friend has the Sun in Capricorn with Libra rising, and Saturn in Libra in the first house. This friend often refer's to his Capricorn nature (dark, strict, formal, etc). In reality, what he is experiencing is Saturn's influence in Libra. Saturn's exaltation in Libra allows him to be himself, but on his best behavior. Of course, having the ruler of the sun-sign (Saturn rules Capricorn) in the Ascendant (aka Rising Sign, aka First House) will associate Capricorn with the personality. But most of what my friend points to as Capricorn is really Libra, with Saturn helping. (More in a later post about misunderstandings of signs like Libra.)

As in my previous post, I am trying here to encourage people to go a little deeper into astrology, if they're going to be quoting it all over the place. To paraphrase myself: we all know that what we read about Sun signs is superficial, but we can't seem to stop perpetuating it. So before we say that we do such-and-such, or that we are a certain way because we're "an Aquarius" or any other one astrological factor, we should take a step back and remember that the natal chart, like the person it mirrors is a complex interaction of many factors, and we shouldn't sell ourselves short (or make excuses) by boxing ourselves into stereotypes.

* For the record, not everything in the description of Aquarius on this web page is wrong, and some of it is quite good, but the ignorant mixing of the accurate with the bogus makes delineating Aquarius, according to these descriptions, nearly impossible.

05 August 2010

"I'm an Aries." "I'm a Capricorn." - Well I'm a human.

I was recently at a meeting of about thirty-five people, where a few of the folks on the team didn't know each other very well. One of the leaders of the group suggested that while going around and introducing ourselves and which piece of the project we were working on this year, we all say what our Sun-sign was. So as we went around, everyone started with something like "I'm Charlie, and I'm an Aquarius..." I was the last person to introduce myself, and I said (trying to sound the least snobby I could) "I'm Chris, and I am not an astrological sign [a few weird looks]. When I was born, the Sun was in X sign and Y sign was Rising." I'm sure that a few people in the crowd thought that I was being pretentious, but since they all know me as a Traditional Astrologer (and they are all my friends), I'm hoping that they didn't just ignore the comment.

I realize that the purpose of the request to state the Sun sign was to get an overall idea of the "mix" of energies that were being brought to bear on the project. At the end of the intros, someone pronounced that there was a nice mix of all the elements. However, as I present in my talk Hey Baby, What's Your (Rising) Sign?, until recently, the Sun was not regularly considered as any sort of indication in one's personality or personal make up (and by extension, the "energy" that one might bring to a project).

In my talk, I present the probability that astrologers of the twentieth century in the USA started to disguise their work under the new, respectable heading of "psychology" to avoid prosecution on anti-fortune telling laws; to do this, they started to describe each of the zodiacal signs in terms of personality traits. (Sorry that I don't have a reference here; if I write more about this, I'll try to dig it out, but it's more work than I can do to find it for a simple blog post.) In addition, I present my theory that the reasons that people started associating these traits with the Sun are probably two: 1- It's quite easy to know what zodiacal sign the Sun is in on any given day of the year, and in fact most newspapers or online astrology columns list these dates. There are 360 degrees in the circle of the zodiac through which the Sun passes, and 365 days in a year, on average. So it's approximately one day per degree, which is quite easy to predict with almost no mathematical precision needed. 2- The post-Freudian association of the Sun (astrological) with the Ego. The Sun is the Hero in the hero's journey, and the "hero" of my natal chart is me. Therefore, the Sun must be a nice summary of me.

Another technique used in modern astrology is to take the elements and modalities of all of the planets in a person's chart (that is, the zodiacal signs in which they are all placed), and maybe their ascendant and midheaven as well, and boil them down to a "signature." So if a preponderance of your planets are in fixed signs (rather than cardinal or mutable), and you have a plurality of planets in air signs, your "signature" would be Aquarius (fixed air). But this is a mere shadow of the rich technique used for hundreds of years to determine an individual's temperament. Though there are some competing methodologies for arriving at a person's temperament (choleric, sanguine, melancholic, or phlegmatic), most agree on most issues in the process, and arrive at a much richer description of what qualities, if you will, make up a particular individual.

Prior to this Sun-sign craze, if one had to look at only one part of a person's natal chart to begin to get a fairly good description of their personality, that place would be the Rising Sign/Ascendant, not the Sun sign. The Rising Sign corresponds to a person's physical body, health, and happiness. Any planets in the Ascendant (first house) will play a predominant roll, then the sign on the cusp should be considered, then the planet that rules that sign (look at the chart to see where that planet is, how it is placed, etc.). 

Traditionally, the Sun is about honor, fame, glory, preferments. So the Sun really has nothing to do with the personality, unless it is configured "accidentally" to it. For example, the Sun is the body that rules Leo; if Leo is the Rising Sign, then the Sun, and the sign that it is in, will have some bearing on the personality, due to the Sun's rulership of Leo rising. Also, if the Sun is in the first house (the Ascendant or Rising Sign), then obviously, the Sun will be determined toward personality. If the Sun Sign and the Rising Sign are the same (this can happen if a person is born near dawn), then obviously there is a relationship there. And finally, if the Sun aspects (conjuncts, opposes, squares, trines, or sextiles) the Ascendant itself, or the planet that rules it, then it is determined toward first house affairs (body, health, happiness).

To divide people and archive them into one of twelve boxes (the signs of the zodiac) is to do what newspaper sun-sign columns do. And we all complain about that, so why do we perpetuate it? I propose the answer is that people don't know how to do otherwise. They know that Sun-sign astrology is superficial, but they don't know how to get beyond it. Modern astrological texts don't help, they simply perpetuate this. Despite their pleas to take the entire chart into consideration, they will still delineate people's personalities predominantly by the sign that the Sun was in when they were born.

But what struck me more than ever at this meeting was that in listening to people introduce themselves as "I am a Sagittarius," etc., not only are we reducing the personality to the incorrect correlation, but we are reducing the entire person to a sign of the zodiac. And not just to that sign, but to our imperfect (and often erroneous) understanding of it. Instead of dealing with people as individuals, who embody all sorts of different "energies," we are engaging in a calculus of stereotyping, and according to categories that most of us don't even understand. I'll point out here too that most of the astrologers or astrology buffs who engage in this kind of activity, as if it will tell them how everyone in the group will act, are also the ones who denigrate the idea that there is any such thing as fate in astrology. Note the internal contradiction here.

So I repeat: I am not an astrological sign. While there is some information, and even some wisdom to be gained by a familiarity with my birth chart, we should all resist the temptation to deal with people as if they were merely zodiacal signs, and attempt to see them as the unique individuals that they are.