Polar Opposites

January 15, 2009

Rubin's Vase


When I diagram a lunar cycle I tend to draw a circle and place the new moon at the bottom, the full moon at the top, the first quarter on the right, and the last quarter on the left. This habit was formed before I had any experience with astrology and I have no memory of where it came from, though I assume it was from some general science book in school. I have seen these phases drawn using any of the four cardinal points as the conjunction point. Just as there seems to be no universal method for numbering the 360 degrees of circle, there is no universal method of diagramming a cycle. My brother always places the conjunction point at the top of the circle and forty years ago we would argue which way was more correct. I don’t believe either one of us thought that one way was actually more correct than the other, but it was a point that made a difference to us. Actually, the difference may have been in our charts: all of his planets are in the west and all of my planets are in the east, so we were moving in different directions.


His primary argument was that the natural alignment between the zodiac and the houses, when zero Aries is on the ascendant, places Capricorn on the tenth cusp and Cancer on the fourth. Since Capricorn was the seed point of the year and Cancer was full bloom, it would make sense that the full moon is aligned with Cancer. I didn’t quarrel with that, it may be the reason the moon was said to rule Cancer, but some thought has to be given the fact that the seasons are reversed in the southern hemisphere. This was always an awkward thought for me, it didn’t interfere with me recognizing how well the zodiac worked, but I didn’t like to think is was based on a northerner’s bias. Another thought that puzzled me was the correspondence of the signs with the houses. My brother appeared content with the thought that the fourth house was the full moon position for the day, that the individual was the harvest, but that wasn’t how I saw it. For me, the equivalent of summertime in a day was noon.


As the zodiac charts the sun’s apparent journey through the year, I saw the houses as charting the sun’s apparent journey through the day. It began at midnight, when the self was hidden, it began to show some light at dawn, and it reached its peak at noon, when the self is revealed. For me, it was a diagram of my inner feelings, dreams, and thoughts and my struggle to make them real, to express them so that others can see them and, just as importantly, so that I can see them. I wasn’t creating a self, I was uncovering one.


But, looking at it this way, it meant that the full moon point of the zodiac was aligned with the new moon point of the houses, and vice versa. The reason of course was that that is the way it was in the skies. I could live with the fact that the houses were all numbered in the reverse order to the sun’s, or any planet’s, daily circuit around the earth, because that’s the way the signs were and, if you wanted to be technical, that’s the direction the earth was turning. But it still appeared, if only to me, that the polarity of the signs and houses were reversed.


On the earth, magnetic polarity is roughly aligned with geographic polarity so there’s some justification for thinking of them together as though they were the same problem. Geographical polarity provides it’s own problems, particularly with mathematics on a sphere, but I was concerned mainly with the axis, like a bar magnet with a pole on each end, and I was considering the number two.


As a child I was fascinated with optical illusions like the Rubin’s vase, which looked like a simple black and white illustration of a vase until suddenly it changed and became two faces in profile. I was fascinated and a little frustrated, since it seemed like it should be one or the other. It was the same frustration I had when I learned that in an electrical circuit the electrons are actually moving away from the positive pole and not towards it. I thought I had been told differently and it took some rereading to understand that the current was moving towards the positive pole. The current was the attraction, the space left by an electron that always moved to the positive pole. Again, I understood this as simply semantics, and I felt that as soon as they discovered that the electrons were going the other way they should have renamed the poles on a battery. It took me awhile to appreciate that it was this attraction that contained the potential, and it was as real, if not more real, than the electrons.


Often when thinking of a circuit or cycle I get so hypnotized by the image of a circle, that I lose the concept that that there is only one object, and it is simply changing states, cycling through its changes, and the changes are only perceptions. Like an optical illusion, it suddenly reverses on you and you find yourself looking at its opposite. But the picture never changes; at times you can see both images at the same time and then you are actually seeing the whole.

Astrology and the Brain

January 5, 2009


Sixty Minutes had a story tonight about the success they’ve had reading people’s thoughts by scanning brain activity. Neuroscience is an area that seems to be making huge gains over the last number of years and every few months there seems to be a new story about areas or the brain, or brain patterns that, they’ve learned to identify. I’ve always thought that the physical roots of astrology were more likely to be found in biology than physics, and in the brain particularly since that is literally the point where mind meets matter. 


I have spent a lot of time over the years, as I think most astrologers have, trying to reconcile the incompatibilities between my admiration for the methods of science and for the methods of astrology. I also found that, for myself, when I tried to approach astrology as a science it ceased to be as valuable to me. When I first read about Gauqelin’s study of birth times and professions, my reactions were divided. I liked the idea that something in astrology might be confirmed as a hard fact, but at the same time I found it limiting. If I saw Mars on the ascendant, I didn’t want to just say that that put it in a class shared by athletes and soldiers, I wanted to expound on the associations and symbolism that I had gathered about Mars from other experiences. It could be said that the one shouldn’t effect the other, but that didn’t seem to be true to me. It’s like buying a license, you have to agree to all the fine print as well. If I wanted to use the term scientific, I was obliged to use it in a scientific manner, and I knew what I was doing in my mind was not science. When I tried to be scientific, I excluded extraneous thoughts and when I was interpreting a chart I was trying to include as much as possible. I termed the difference as rational and irrational thinking, though those weren’t the best terms. In rational thinking, sequence and causation were everything, while irrational thinking was associative, like dreams or intuitions. I didn’t think one method was superior to another, but each definitely had their own place and it was not always easy to keep them separate. In fact, the time I spent trying to think of a scientific explanation for astrology was not so much an effort to prove astrology as it was an effort to resolve these two sides of my brain. Eventually, I decided that they didn’t have to be resolved, they only had to be balanced. If I spent too long of a time with one side dominating I usually paid the price in some sort of emotional anxiety. 


The brain is an incredible organ and it is really only recently, in my life time, that they’ve begun any real objective study of it. The brain may have developed to manage the nervous system, but it seems to have developed far beyond that, so it obviously proved to be of evolutionary use, most likely as an organ of self-defense. My understanding, which I think is the conventional thinking, is that it was originally designed for pattern-matching, so that the organism could collect the data from all the senses and compare it to stored memory patterns and be able to quickly identify situations of danger or situations that held promise of food or shelter. If this is true, then associative thinking is the senior though processing method and logical thinking evolved from that. Somewhere along the line self-consciousness would have developed, but when is hard to say without defining what consciousness is. The thoughts that flashed through the mind when an organism sticks it’s head out of a cave are not that different than when it must have been when it first turned it’s head up to the sky. Or what they are today when an astrologer looks at a chart. Mainly, it’s what’s happening? is it good or bad? 


If neuroscience can map similarities between the brain’s recognition of different situations, it would seem possible that these patterns, outside of direct stimuli, might appear in cyclical patterns. So many organisms seem to have internal biological clocks that it’s likely that they should be able to identify them. I don’t expect that little triangles will appear at good times and squares at bad times, and of course the scientific attitude will be that there is no reason to impose age-old concepts on them, but the patterns will be age-old. 


I like and admire the discoveries and explanations of science, but what really delights me are the irrational thoughts, the off-the-wall associations, the crazy things astrologers say that come just from the overall patterns and have no real reason to them. These are the impressions that energize poetry and music and give my life a sense of meaning. If neuroscience can discover new patterns in our life that we never suspected, I imagine that astrologers will find a way to link them to the symbols of the universe.



Saturn on Station

January 2, 2009
Saturn was stationary on New Year’s Eve and we began the new year with Saturn retrograde.
This was brought to my attention when an astrologer sent me a chart done in the morning and inquired why it didn’t show Saturn as retrograde, while the one he had just printed out did. The difference was that the station of Saturn occurred at 11:55 AM EST and the first chart was done before the station and the second was done after it. This seems obvious and with Mercury or Venus it would have been one of the first things to occur to him, but when looking at charts for Saturn’s position one tends to look only at the date and ignore the hour. Saturn doesn’t move that much in an hour or two, and in fact it doesn’t make a lot of sense to give the hour and minute of a Saturn station because we can’t calculate it that precisely. James Neely wrote an article for Matrix Journal some years ago on the problems of calculating and determining the accuracy of stationary  times. (It can be found on the Matrix Website at http://www.astrologysoftware.com/resources/articles/getarticle.asp?ID=116&orig)  In describing that article, Neely stated: “Roughly speaking, in order to pinpoint a station time to within 15 minutes, we’d have to compute a planet’s position to something like a one hundred millionth (1/100,000,000) of a degree. Considering that one second of arc is one thirty-six hundredth (1/3600) of a degree, you can see what we’re up against.” So it was possible this astrologer was looking at an entirely different time for the Saturn station, it could be different by hours and still be within any range of accuracy that is possible today.
But it was while looking at this Saturn station that I noticed that it’s forward motion was stopping just about 7 minutes shy of being conjunct my natal sun. This made it personal. Saturn stations aren’t rare, Saturn is retrograde for approximately five months out of every year during the time when the sun is opposite Saturn. In fact, a station of Saturn could be be considered more of an earth/sun phenomena than a Saturn phenomena since it is a result of the earth’s motion and not Saturn’s. But, still, when Saturn is stationary on a sensitive area of your chart it is often something to take notice of. Most astrologers would agree that the sun is a sensitive area.
Over the years, there have been a number of different things I have said when somebody asked what a station meant, I’m not sure all of them made sense. I have always reserved the right to change my mind about anything, so what I think now may not be consistent with things I’ve said in the past, but, at the moment, I don’t think a station by itself means anything. It only takes on meaning in context, in a stream of events. This is pretty much true of any astrological significator, or the symbolism in any oracle. Astrology offers the system, the solution, but it lacks meaning until it is applied to a situation, or a question. A question supplies the subject and all meaning is found in the subject. This principle is usually understood today as saying that all meaning is subjective, which is probably true, but it misses a point. Particularly, it misses that much of our lives are spent finding meanings that are shared with others, finding the subjective areas that are objective. But, whatever the nature of meaning, there are many traditions that point to the fact that it is the question, or the person asking the question, that determines the meaning, or answer, to the question. The concept that “the answer is in the question” has been around so long that I don’t believe anyone has suggested an origin for the phrase. Today this phrase is usually understood either in terms of logic or semantics, but I think it’s original meaning is simply found in nature or in occult traditions. Certainly most oracle systems place a lot of emphasis on the manner the question is posed and the way it is understood.
But what if there is no question? This is the case with omens and signs. Then you have pointers to answers but no question to help you understand the answer. This is often the case with astrologers whose practice is limited to themselves. In this case I had a sign, the Saturn station, pointing to myself but I hadn’t really asked a question. I was just going about my business and happened upon it. I still needed to put it in context, to define the subject. Since it was on my sun, the subject was certainly me but I needed to find the right area of my life. The only way I know to do that is to look at my recent history, which means looking at was happening with me during the last major Saturn to sun aspect.
I’ve done this before, so I’ve added features to both Win Star Express and the newer Matrix Time Search to make it easier. If I have Express opened to a biwheel with my chart and a current transit chart, I only need to open the aspect toolbox and press the chart 1 and chart 2 buttons to see the aspects that the transit chart makes to my natal chart. There it’s easy to find the Saturn conjunct sun aspect with the 7′ orb, if I select that and press the “Show Aspect History” button, I get a list of all the Saturn/Sun aspects since I was born. If I have the search program running and showing the Saturn/Sun aspect, I can right-click on that aspect and open a similar aspect history list. This will show me that the last major aspect was when Saturn squared my sun in the summer of 2002. The coming conjunction, which I can see will happen on August 23rd of next summer, will bring a culmination to what I’ve been struggling with for the last seven years.
This year hasn’t been a great year for me. Actually, the last seven years have been rather rough. Saturn may be backing off for a few months but it still intends to proceed and put an end to this phase so I can begin something new. I may be given a breather so I can repair the things I wish to hold onto before it all starts up again. I’ve never been able to decide if I’m a pessimist or an optimist, but sometimes there’s no percentage in expecting anything other than that things are getting better.

Astrology, Dreams, and Poetry

December 19, 2008


Last Sunday morning I awoke with a dream fragment in my mind. I tried to write down the image, which I’ve done intermittently for the last 40 years, and I ended up with this. You will have to excuse it being in verse, but it arrived as a pictorial image combined with words in rhyme, and I tried to fit the image with the words.  

The beach in the moonlight
with children at play
hauling water in buckets
to make sand into clay; 
they uncover a crayfish 
in a pool left by tides
that ebb into darkness
as small waves subside.
These castles will crumble,
wet sand isn’t clay, 
what they build is a memory
for some other day.
The image was familiar to me. A mixture of The Moon in the Tarot deck and the degree of my natal moon and mid-heaven, the 14th degree of Taurus. The Sabian Symbol for that degree is:  Several children are splashing with delight in a receding tide, and at their feet are shellfish groping for shelter. At the time of the dream, this degree was on the descendant, as if to indicate that area of life as the one most dominated by my emotions at the moment. 
I’ve noticed before that the current position of my moon has offered clues to the content of dreams I’ve had. Not often enough to offer it as a rule, but enough for me to keep looking, just as these discoveries keep me returning to astrology. I use astrology primarily as a way to sort out what is happening within me. Sometimes there isn’t much happening and I don’t need it much, but at other times there’s more than I can sort out by myself.
Forty-two years ago, in 1965 or 1966, I wanted to learn astrology. I had never met an astrologer, had never seen it practiced except in newspaper horoscopes, and I was mainly prompted by astrological references I found in literature. I lived in Ann Arbor, a town that took pride in it’s number of bookstores, and I searched every one of them for a book on astrology without success. Finally, in the smallest bookstore, I found a copy of Astrology by Louis Macneice on a stack of unsold books waiting to be returned to the publisher. I bought it and it became my introduction to astrology. 
Louis Macneice was a well-known poet, though I had not heard of him, and though this book was obviously a commercial work and contained enough gaudy history and ornate illustrations to attract the mass market, it was also rather sensitive in the way it presented astrological thoughts to an objective, rational audience. At the time, I saw this as the way poets approach a work of poetry; they may eventually criticize and analyze it, even deconstruct it, but first they always try to experience it, to see how much life they can find in it. That was the manner I used as I began learning astrology and it remains the attitude that I try to use today.
I went quickly on to other books on astrology, some were opaque and some were transparent, and bit by bit I picked up the pieces of astrological technique that actually worked for me. I spent a few years doing interpretations in our bookstore, but I was never comfortable as a counsellor. When asked a question, I enjoyed answering it, probably in more detail than was asked for, but I never cared to invite questions. I found out quickly that unless there was some curiosity, some question coming from the person I was talking with, that I didn’t have the energy needed to make the symbolism work for them. This is much the same problem I am having in trying to write a blog. Before saying anything, I tend to look to the person who I am speaking to and if there is no one there, or no interest, I don’t say much. That sounds like a reasonable attitude, but in practice it isn’t. There are many times that the need to speak comes from within me and not from outside. 

That is what I see in my dream and why it was on the descendant instead of any other angle. The need, for me, is on the point of the “other”, whether there is anyone there or not, whether anything is permanent or not. Even if everything I say or do is washed away by the next tide, I still am being drawn to that point by something inside me. There are other things I see in that position as well, but I don’t need to try to say everything I see. Of course, seeing what I need is one thing, remembering it is something else.