I’ve gotten some feedback on some of my talks and on the last blog post that has been very helpful. I’ve realized that as clear as I thought I was being, I was still making some assumptions that are not true. One of those assumptions is that I’ve explained enough about Astrology for everyone to follow my thinking. That isn’t so, as some folks have, thankfully, let me know that they don’t have the background to make the connections and leaps I was assuming they would. So, this posting is my attempt at a very brief introduction to Astrology, my beliefs and ideas about it, and why I think it’s a model of the world that can work for you.
Here’s what I need your help with. This is a hu-uge subject, and I did the best I could to just touch on the most important points. Just enough to give you a hook to hang my future topics on. So, #1, let me know if this was sufficient. But also, I want to be able to use this as an introduction to presentations at public speaking events. And I think this introduction might be a whole talk unto itself. So if you can see a way that I might use only some of it, or if you think all of it would work with, say, the first blog posting I did, let me know.
The What Is Astrology Anyway Question
I’m often asked why the positions of the planets have anything to do with people’s lives. Or if I truly believe that the stars/planets cause people to be certain ways or do certain things. What I truly believe goes something like this:
Millennia ago, early peoples looked at the huge sky, full of twinkling lights, and they told stories about the animals, people, and beings they saw patterned there. In time, people came to observe not only the sky, but themselves and each other as well. Certain universal themes kept coming up. All people have certain traits and behave in similar ways. These universal traits became personified as gods in the stories. There’s a hero god, a god of communication, one of love, of aggression, of largess, of contraction. All people have these elements to their being, and so the gods came to represent these universal facets of humanity. These gods were named and worshiped. And, at the same time, people noticed associations with the planets (those lights that didn’t flicker, and that wandered through the zodiac each year) and the gods.
During the formation of these associations, many, many observations were done and recorded. This happened in many cultures, and successive cultures based their astronomical and astrological beliefs on those that came before. And, as with all cultural assimilations, names changed, and ideas of the flavor or energy of a particular god, and a particular facet of the human experience, changed with them. The names of the planets we know today are primarily rooted in the ancient Greco-Roman mythic tradition.
So we have the Sun, Apollo, associated with the hero god. He rises up each day, rides through the sky on his chariot, and has a crisis that brings him down at night into the Underworld. From which he rises again each day, triumphant. Mercury, the swift god of communication and travel, became associated with the fastest moving planet. Venus, goddess of love, beauty, and values, was associated with the gorgeous blue planet that can appear in the morning or in the evening. Mars, the red hot angry god of war and virility, was the name given to the red planet that chases Venus through the zodiac each year. Jupiter, the largest planet, was of course named for the king of the gods, whose generosity and expansion were his main features. Saturn, the planet at the edge of the then-known universe, the last one visible by the naked eye, was named for the god of limits, structure, manifestation and discipline. So we have the first association of the planets with humanity, each one representing a facet of the human psyche.
During all this data gathering, it became clear that the planets move in regular cycles. There are levels to the cycles—you can see patterns in the movement of a planet over the course of a month, a year, multiple years, and centuries. The positions of the planets in the sky became predictable.
How are planetary positions important to people? Well, astronomers/astrologers in ancient civilizations noticed that if a person were born at the time of year when a particular constellation was high overhead, that person tended to have certain of the universal traits prominent in their lives. Someone born in the month when Capricorn is in the heavens was known for their ambition and hard working qualities. They might also be a bit cool on the emotional front. Since these qualities were associated with the planet Saturn, Capricorn became known as being “ruled by” the god Saturn. Other observations showed that each planet and its position at a person’s birth could fairly accurately be interpreted as the way in which the god, or human trait associated with that god, would appear in the person’s life. An entire system of recorded data and the possible interpretations of these data arose.
How the planets are positioned in relation to each other was also noted to have meaning. For instance, planets sometimes look as if they’re occupying the same point in the sky (this is called a conjunction). When the planets are conjunct, the energies they represent are melded together. Sometimes planets look as if they are directly across the sky from each other (an opposition). This came to mean that while the energies of the planets were completely opposite, those energies are more or less the ends of an axis. Other geometric relationships became clear: the 30º angle (sextile) is a gentle co-operation of the planetary energies, the 60º angle (trine) a much stronger bond between the planets, where the represented energies lead to ease and confidence. A 90º angle (square) between planets connotes a tense relationship between the psychological energies represented by those planets. With this level of meaning, the system of astrological associations became even more complex and deep. This, as I mentioned earlier, happened in many cultures.
The cultures of ancient Greece and Rome borrow heavily from earlier Egyptian, Babylonian, and Summerian beliefs about gods and human universal, or archetypal characteristics. As the Roman Empire spread, it absorbed and assimilated beliefs from all its new subjects. What we today know as Western Astrology is the current amalgamation of those systems, all based on many centuries of observation and recording.
In Western Astrology, we have a saying, that we think dates back to Babylonian times: As Above, So Below. That is to say, what happens in the heavens is reflected in our lives. The planets do not cause us to be or behave in any particular way. I don’t believe in that kind of deterministic Astrology. I believe that Western Astrology is a model of the world: of our internal world, and of our relating to each other and the outer world. I believe these associations have been shown for millennia to be fairly accurate.
Astrology is a science, but it’s also an art. It’s the interpretation of the associations that is the artistic part. One gets a feel for the different ways a particular planet/god’s energy is played out in a person’s life. There is a spectrum within each planet/god’s energy; some astrologers even call the ends of the spectrum the “higher” and “lower” vibrations of that energy. Every person is different, every chart is different, and so the combinations of the planetary energies and the circumstances and events in people’s lives make for an infinite number of ways in which a life can be lived.
Most people are familiar only with Sun Sign Astrology. This is where an astrologer speaks about what is happening to all people born under the sign of a particular constellation. Sun Sign Astrology is not completely worthless, but it isn’t what most astrologers do. Astrology is ever so much more complex than just where the Sun was when you were born. A natal, or birth chart, uses all of the planets in our solar system, and often some asteroids as well. This map of the skies when you were born, and the attendant associations with archetypal energies in your psyche, is a fairly accurate model of who you are—what strengths and talents you have, what challenges and fears you face, etc.
One of the fascinating things about Astrology is that it is both person-centered, and collective. Each one of us is an individual, with our own birth charts, our own meeting of the gods in the various areas of our lives. But we are also part of the collective, as we are all human, and the same planets float above us now. So when astrologers talk about the great Cardinal Cross that we have been experiencing in 2008-2010, or that Pluto is in Capricorn until 2023, this is something we all share. The planetary positions today are just as important as those when you were born. In fact, in the astrological model of the world, the current positions actually seem to trigger the energies of an individual’s birth chart. So while we are all experiencing Uranus in Aries together, we each feel it in our own unique way.
So, we have the associations of the gods and the planets with the archetypal traits of the human psyche. This is the basis of Psychological Astrology. This is why knowing where the planets were when you were born, and where they are now, has any relevance to your life. This is why understanding a bit about the world we all share, and knowing that we all experience it in our own, individual way, can help us all live together, on this lovely planet we call our home.