Sacred Order and Restless Saturn

“The problem with introspection is that it has no end.”
― Philip K. Dick

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Cosmos

Although we easily recognize that life on planet Earth, and perhaps elsewhere, is possible because of the regularity witnessed within the solar system and beyond, dare we call fate that which influences the individual by a similar ordering principle? If not, then why?

cos·mos1
/ˈkäzməs,ˈkäzˌmōs,ˈkäzˌmäs/
noun

It may be easy to intellectually separate the idea that life depends on order to sustain the planet and every living being, from the idea that our lives are also ordered, and therefore, to a certain extent, fated, but in what way does fate provide order?

We pride ourselves on the ability to make conscious choices as we become more aware and responsive to the constraints that bind us, and because the more we can make choices, the less fated and more free the act of choosing makes us feel. But, how do we distinguish between a free choice and a fated one? There must be something in which we measure and compare possible outcomes against in order to categorize our actions as free or fated.

Neoplatonic-Sun

In the study of astrology, these questions of power, forces of fate and will, naturally arise. And so they should if we are to afford ourselves an opportunity to wrestle with their distinctions and correspondence within our practice and understanding of astrology’s purpose.

Where the ancients found the ideas of fate and fortune usefully aligned to the constraints more naturally severe and apparent, and where choices that were contrary to the order of the state or tribe were often punished either by human or natural law, modernity, with its technological advances, allows us the luxury of seemingly going it alone through choices that may not always benefit the tribe. We are much less dependent on the tribe for our survival. We are also much more distanced from exactly what it is that we are dependent upon. To the ancients, many of our choices would seem frivolous, extravagant and self-destructive as we increasingly lose sight of the importance of our choices and the victims of their consequences.

Qualities of Time

Scholars of the myth contrast two kinds of time, secular and sacred, rational and mystical, forward-moving time and timeless circularity.

Hillman, James. The Force of Character: And the Lasting Life. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The idea of eternal time also carries with it the sense of infinitude, that reality, the cosmos, even with its orderliness, has no bounds, no separations, no limits, no beginning and no end. Does this idea of the eternal contradict the notion of a cosmic order? Are order and chaos then, secret allies? It’s fascinating to both imagine and come to a fuller acceptance that from the seemingly finite state of human existence, it’s only through the mind and the nature of our experiences that we can envision eternity and finite qualities of time.

Donato_Creti_-_Astronomical_Observations_-_07_-_Saturn

Perhaps it is the emphasis on secular time, the 9-5 habits where attention of the things of the world seduce and enslave us, that have left us with less and less capacity for the experience of eternal time. The more distant these time qualities become, the more the impulse to choose the fast-food of technology that keeps the clock-a-ticking, cutting us off from any experience of the eternal. Precious and few are those timeless states granted to us.

“The notion of a separate organism is clearly an abstraction, as is also its boundary. Underlying all this is unbroken wholeness even though our civilization has developed in such a way as to strongly emphasize the separation into parts.”
― David Bohm, The Undivided Universe: An Ontological Interpretation of Quantum Theory

Everyday experience is bound by the limits of our senses, language, thought, culture and the limits of our place within the cosmos, all of which do more to suggest a real separation of experience into discrete parts known as days, hours and moments. We can however, accept that this form of orderliness, through the constancy of the seasons, planetary and stellar motions, and observed through the delicacy of their finely tuned parameters are necessary to sustain life as we know it. Our linear observations about the cosmos, are perhaps, through the very suggestion of limits and boundaries, the very thing, that ironically, give way to the idea of the eternal.

“I’m so tired… I was up all night trying to round off infinity.”
― Steven Wright

How then, do we get at the idea of the eternal, let alone an experience of something both sacred and eternal?

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Within the seeming limits of human experience, there are for each of us, moments of discovery, insights, and understanding that bring coherence along with a sense of an expanding wholeness that we participate in; something transcendent, bigger and beyond the narrow confines of “me” and “you.” The more expansive one’s experience becomes, the less it seems to be only inside me, and the more it seems that we are all participants in something much, much grander than previously imagined.

My little ego, even if only now and then, may burst open, giving way to an expanded sense of self and other, transcending the time-bound constraints and acknowledge its smallness in comparison to a greater unbound whole. To the ancients, this feeling, or realization of a greater intelligence has been referred to by many names: One, Anima Mundi, Infinite, God, Cosmos, Eternal, Self, Divine. No matter how imagined, or expressed, this unbounded sensation is perhaps one of the most mysterious experiences of all, and yet impossible to share, and especially, to define. Language, we see, remains the map, not the territory.

How then, throughout the long trail of human existence, does this idea of the eternal persist, especially as it seems so fleeting?

“Cosmos” indicates a world formed by aesthetics. “Cosmetics,” derived from kosmos, gives the clue to the early meanings of the Greek word, when it was linked with the dress of women, with decoration and embellishment, with all things fitting, in order, furnished, and arranged, and with ethical implications of appropriateness, decency, honor. The aesthetic imagination is the primary mode of knowing the cosmos, and aesthetic language the most fitting way to formulate the world.

Hillman, James. The Force of Character: And the Lasting Life. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The aesthetic imagination, rather than seeking to quantify the cosmos, mapping it, saving it for later, for time, permits the immediacy of its ordering and thereby participates through a knowing of the senses that also permits the transcending of time and orderliness, all the while accepting the imposition of limits on all creation, human and otherwise. It is then, the persistence, the constancy of our experience that gives us faith that the sun will rise again, but also that I will one day cease to exist. The coming and going is indeed a fated participation of the cosmos; the ordering ways of the universe. Cosmic ordering itself provides the necessary ground of our being; as a place for transcendence into eternal time. 

(To be continued…)

Meditations on Astrology

“Here vigour failed the lofty fantasy:
But now was turning my desire and will,
even as a wheel that equally is moved,
The love which moves the sun and the other stars.”

Dante’s last line in Paradise

Last December, shortly after my mother passed away, I signed up for Adam Elenbaas’s Hellenistic Astrology course*. How little I understood then the timeliness of this course of study with its potential for reseeding and sustaining me through the subsequent changes in my personal life. The class is difficult, challenging me to discipline my study habits and to align them with the teacher’s plan and vision – for learning now, and eventually, for practicing astrology on my own.

Here goes a first attempt at articulating some thoughts I have about astrology, which like alchemy, I see primarily as a practice for deepening my understanding of the human experience, where the map can align with the territory, revealing a new depth perspective of the landscape. There are countless details yet to incorporate before this new language can begin to be more fully articulated. Astrology itself, is a big world, filled with many diverse voices and perspectives.

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Practice

Astrology, in the most basic sense, is a way to see and discover the vast array of correspondences between heaven and earth, between the ideal or archetypal realm, and the everyday world of our lives and the patterns revealed over time. The astrological chart then, is an image of the skies from the perspective of Earth. The “wheel” shows the positions of the planets from two distinct perspectives:

  • Primary or geocentric motion: the clockwise east to west motion that we observe from sunrise to sunset.
  • Secondary, or heliocentric motion: the counter-clockwise motion of the planets relative to the constellations or zodiac.

Cosmology

Astrology, like alchemy, can provide yet another form or structure for an initiation into a personal experience of the eternal mysteries, the Divine will of the gods, of which we each share a portion of both their glory and fall, or what the ancients referred to as fate.

Fate: late Middle English: from Italian fato or (later) from its source, Latin fatum ‘that which has been spoken’, from fari ‘speak’.

Throughout human history, and in a variety of cultures, astrologers have provided us with the tradition of tending to the “wandering stars” as signifiers of power for their ability to move contrary to the backdrop of the fixed stars. Perhaps the awareness of this secondary motion, sparked the idea that we too, could either harness their powers, or be harnessed, depending on our knowledge and alignment with the heavens. If fate itself is a power, perhaps, we too, could understand it, or least be present to its impact upon us.

That we are situated, a human body on this tiny planet, in such a largely unknown cosmos, when not taken for granted, is humbling. Perhaps through the recognition that astrology offers us a vision of alignment with the cycles of the planets, we might feel all the more that we too, must belong. We are after all stardust! In some ways, we have lost the sense of connection to the underlying powers of any unseen world, just as we no longer remember the stories of the ancient ones.

Viennese_zodiacI am grateful to have found an astrology teacher who suits me well. Adam is immersed in a variety of esoteric traditional studies (See his excellent series on the Hermetica), and views astrology as yet another practice that can mirror back to us the ways we are aligned, or misaligned as the case may be, to the cosmos. Through this embodied life, with all of its joys and sorrows, we are, all of us, offered an experience of something so much greater than what meets the eye.

Are we able to embrace the totality of our personal experience as necessary parts of the whole and so align ourselves into a radical acceptance of the need for cooperation with each other and the powers that be?

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Fear

Traditional, or Hellenistic astrology, unlike more modern forms, did not shy away from the idea that each of the planets held distinct qualities and influences, and with the exception of Mercury, were considered either benefic or malefic, depending on the qualities of their illumination. Jupiter, big and bright, is considered a benefic, and brings expansion and good fortune, Saturn, with its darker nature, and the farthest away of the seven known planets, was seen as malefic, associated with the time-bound, finite qualities of living beings and, until the more recent discoveries of Neptune, Uranus and Pluto, also served as the end of conceivable time and space.

The ancients, of course, were more vulnerable to the hardships of life, and hence, to a fear of the unknown with the need to seek and find meaningful tools for survival. The idea of fate, that the heavens could “speak” our predicament, was deeply embedded in day to day existence of many peoples and often related to” divine will” whose powers were transmitted through earthly conduits, such as demigods and royalty. To seek access to the divine gifts of the gods was a way to harness power for both mystical and political practices.

While some moderns might argue that rational thought replaced the superstitions of astrology, and that we are better off for it, one must not only ignore the technological context of objective reality in any given era, but might also reflect on the condition we now find ourselves in. If for us moderns, it is no longer true that we can directly experience the state of the world through feeling her mystery, awe, beauty, fear and joy, and if we have become incapable of seeing that the use of technology and political norms has brought us to the brink of destruction, then we are left with a meaningless “nothing but” world of bucket lists, calendar dates with a heap of destruction in their wake.

 

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The Natal Chart

As I am just beginning to learn the basics of reading a natal chart, useful patterns already begin to emerge. As I ponder the meanings of planetary positions, aspects, house placements and dignities, a story emerges that resonates deeply within me. 

Any form of an interior practice should, I think, take nothing on faith, but keep all questions front and center. As well, questioning need not deter one from engaging the practice. As with other forms of contemplative practices, trusting in the process as a potential for opening oneself deeper into reflection becomes another precious gift.

My prayer is for the humility to release me into current life changes; to stay with this new practice; to trust and accept in tending to the work, and that it may bear fruit worth sharing.

  • Along with the Nightlight Astrology class experience, I am also grateful to KoneKrusoKronos for his astrological reflections that can be found here:

https://konekrusoskronos.wordpress.com/2010/12/19/the-mother-of-all-sciences/

https://konekrusoskronos.wordpress.com/2010/01/29/astrology-spiritual-alchemy/

*The ideas presented here are strictly my own interpretations.

Divine

File:Vico La scienza nuova.gifTo divine something is to appeal to the gods for their power of knowing. To use that power to foretell the future is called “divination.” In Giambattista Vico’s classic book New Science, he associates the modern sense of God as divine, meaning “blessed” or “holy,” back to the pre-Christian or pagan sense of having supernatural powers of predicting and knowing.

“By contrast, the pagans embraced an imaginary providence, for they fancied the gods as physical bodies which foretold the future by signs apparent to the senses. But whether true or imaginary, this attribute of providence led the entire human race to call God’s nature ‘divinity’. They all derived this name from one and the same notion, which in Latin was called divinari, to foretell the future.”

Vico sees the similarities between pagan practices in the near east as a direct influence on the later worship and practices of the Abrahamic religions. Over time, each of the near eastern pantheons developed a hierarchy among the gods. Perhaps this shift of power accounts for the more recent consolidation of the many gods into one.

I sense too that the shift away from polytheism towards monotheism reflects a shift in consciousness to where our animal senses are no longer a unified experience within a tribe. The loss of the unifying power of a tribal consciousness creates a sense of ownership thereby shifting the source of power onto an individual. You might even say that this shift creates the very distinction between individuals and groups.

Portrayals of a bearded and long-haired Jesus began to emerge in the early 4th century, such as in this work from the Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter. Inspired by depictions of the gods of the Greek and Roman pantheon, the bearded version would become the most commonly recreated adult Jesus. http://ilfattostorico.com/2013/12/25/qual-era-laspetto-di-gesu/

Unlike tribal cultures, city-states are organized through the rites of family and a principle of ownership. Slowly over time, a sense of ownership has permeated every facet of human life, but more importantly, it now shapes our sense of identity. Where in tribal societies the stories came from the gods, our stories now come from a single source, i.e., God, and in the post-Christian west, from each individual subject.

“Long ago, Noah’s three sons renounced their father’s religion, which by its rite of marriage was the only thing that preserved the society of families in that state of nature. There followed a period of brutish wandering or migration, in which first Ham’s tribes, then Japheth’s, and finally Shem’s, were all scattered throughout the earth’s great forest.”

After generations of wandering in the “primeval forest” some of the scattered tribes began to settle and adopt several critical rites which led to the development of what we now call civil laws and civil society.

“These principles are (1) divine providence; (2) solemn matrimony; and (3) the universal belief in the immortality of the soul, which originated with burial rites.”

Vico then states “they were shaken and roused by a terrible fear of Uranus and Jupiter, the gods they had invented and embraced.”

“Through protracted settlement and the burial of their ancestors, they came to found and divide the first dominions of the earth. The lords of these domains were called giants, a Greek word which means ‘sons of the earth’, or descendants of the buried dead.These lords were considered patricians or nobles: for in this first stage of human civilization, nobility was justly ascribed to those who had been humanely engendered in fear of divinity.”

“Engendered in the fear of divinity” or in the gods’ power to know all that humans fervantly wish to know. To be all-knowing is, among other things, a survival skill that moved human civilization from small tribes of hunter-gatherers to agriculturally based nation-states. To cultivate the land requires the knowledge and study of time, including the cycles of weather. The practice of divination is the beginning of what we now call science which continues to influence all aspects of what it means to know something.

To map the heavens, as astrology does, seeks to understand and respect the correlation between the world as it is; time, her seasons and our needs. It’s no wonder that the deities were located in the vastness of the heavens. To look up and outward to a seemingly boundless expanse might itself account for the notion of infinity. To cultivate the people, along with the land, also requires the god’s help:

“These first fathers of the pagan nations possessed all four of the classical virtues: justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude. They were just in their supposed piety of observing the auspices, which they believed to be Jupiter’s divine commands. (From his Latin name Ious, Jove, derived the ancient word ious, law, which was later contracted to ius, justice. And in every nation, justice is taught together with piety.) They were prudent in making sacrifices in order to ‘procure’ omens, that is, to interpret them properly, and thus to take proper care to act according to Jupiter’s commands. They were temperate by virtue of their marriages. And, as noted here, they also possessed fortitude.”

Vico traces our Judeo-Christian cultural sensibilities directly to pagan antiquity. Although our modern definition of “divine” can mean anything from a brand of chocolate (yum!), to God as the Divine and Holy one, the association of divinity to the primal necessity of knowing, expresses both the value and power that all knowledge has held for us throughout the ages.

But, to lose a cosmology which at one time enabled us to directly experience a correspondence between each other, and the world we inhabit, is to suffer a great alienation and aloneness. We moderns, because our use (and abuse) of power comes through a pronounced sense of individuality, seem to think it’s a matter of our choosing which direction our lives and the future of the planet are headed. I am beginning to question just how true or not that notion is. If predicated on a faulty premise, maybe there’s more to the story. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

“Our present civilization quite obviously lacks any unifying principle. The degree of unity which the vague term ‘modern civilization’ implies is in many ways a ‘unity of disunity’, the peoples involved being given a superficial coherence by the spread of technology and by common acceptance of certain ways of thought whose very nature is to create further disintegration.”
Alan W. Watts, The Supreme Identity

Except as noted, all quotes from Vico, Giambattista (1999-04-29). New Science (Penguin Classics). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Say Yes Quickly

Below is one of my favorite poems by Mevlâna Jalâluddîn Rumi. This one is a translation by the American poet, Coleman Barks.There is an interview with Coleman here, in which he speaks to the idea, near and dear to my heart, that ecstatic states are not necessarily limited to transcendent, meditative states that one patiently works years to experience, but a profound joy experienced in the course of mundane, commonplace occurences.

“Barks gave a precise definition of ecstasy in that Moyers interview: “each moment [is] solid and actual, yet numinous, shot through with divine light and guidance.” He also gave a telling anecdotal definition of ecstasy when I asked him more recently to define it: “I was with my granddaughter, going around the yard lifting up stones to see what was there — there’s always something good, something interesting — and a woman walking by on the street just turned her head and said, ‘You’re going to spoil her.’ This universe is just so incredible that we’re all spoiled, and it’s okay. Rumi said, ‘The eye is meant to see things; the soul is here for its own joy.’ “

I first heard this poem read by Robert Bly at a conference I attended back in the 1990’s. Perhaps you’ve heard it? If not, or if so, enjoy!

Say Yes Quickly

Forget your life. Say God is Great. Get up.
You think you know what time it is. It’s time to pray.
You’ve carved so many little figurines, too many.
Don’t knock on any random door like a beggar.
Reach your long hands out to another door, beyond where
you go on the street, the street
where everyone says, “How are you?”
and no one says How aren’t you?

Tomorrow you’ll see what you’ve broken and torn tonight,
thrashing in the dark. Inside you
there’s an artist you don’t know about.
He’s not interested in how things look different in moonlight.

If you are here unfaithfully with us,
you’re causing terrible damage.
If you’ve opened your loving to God’s love,
you’re helping people you don’t know
and have never seen.

Is what I say true? Say yes quickly,
if you know, if you’ve known it
from before the beginning of the universe.