Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mechanics of the Chart

The chart has a fixed inner  wheel divided into twelve parts, called houses, and an outer wheel (bottom figure) which rotates clockwise around the houses every 24 hours.

The outer revolving circle is the zodiac.

.   The twelve signs of the zodiac cross the ascendent every 24 hours

Every time we see the bowl of sky rotate once from east to west, we see the sun step one degree in the opposing direction.  (There are 360° in the zodiac; twelve signs of 30°each.)   In the northern hemisphere we see the ecliptic in the southern sky, so, unlike road maps, east is on the left and west on the right:  the sun rises on the left side of the horizon, ascends through houses 12-10 to the midheaven at noon, and sets on the right side of the chart (west) in the evening.

Think of all the planets as being attached to the outer wheel as it rotates around the inner wheel of houses.  

In the hand drawn chart above, 4°45’ is coming up on the eastern horizon and the sun is at 25°58’ in the 8th house.  If I had made the post 4 hours later, the sun would have been about to set (followed by Neptune, the moon and venus). When I did publish the post at 1:44pm, Pluto was setting.  

Pluto has been in Capricorn since 2009 and will not cross into Aquarius until 2023; it's a very distant object that takes a long time to orbit the sun.

A 5:44 publishing time would have put 24°43’ rising, and mars, instead of being in the first house, would have been above the horizon in the last house.


In the four hours after I published my first post, Mars rose, Mercury set, the Sun advanced to two minutes behind Neptune, and the Moon went from 3°Pisces 09’ to 5°Pisces 07’ and overtook Venus.

Why Planets go through the Last House First

You might wonder why Sun and the other planets go backwards through the houses; in other words why is the 12th house the first place we see the Sun when it rises?  Shouldn’t it be called the first house?

Actually houses are a relatively modern addition to astrology charts.  Originally the planets were spaced out around a square page more or less in a circle with their zodiac signs and sometimes the degree of the sign indicated.  Houses come from the Greek ‘topoi’ which in old manuscripts could mean a couple of things.

In one usage, a planet was ‘located’ a certain number of signs from another planet, for instance the Sun in Aquarius is the 7th sign from Mars in Leo.  This is usually translated as the Sun being in Mar’s 7th mansion or 7th house.  The second way ‘topoi’ is seen used is where we get the modern concept of houses;  locating a planet a certain number of signs from the ascendant.  In the Birth of a Blog chart the Aquarian Sun is in the 8th sign from the Cancer Ascendent  (counting Cancer as the first).  Another way to think of it is that Aquarius will be the 8th sign to rise after Cancer.   We went from a sign being located 8th in line to ascend, in manuscripts before the Renaissance, to a sign covering the 8th house in the modern chart.

If you find this difficult to understand you are not alone.  All you have to do is go to the Astrodienst  Extended Chart Selection area for picking the kind of house division system you want to use- the 15 choices listed will give you an idea of just how unsettled the modern concept of houses is. 

The thing to remember is that houses indicate the order in which things appear above the ascendant.   As soon as a planet or sign rises it goes to the back of the line and must follow the rest of the wheel around before it can show itself again on the eastern horizon. 

For more on houses with a couple of example charts go to Houses

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Sun, Moon and Earth

Spirit, Soul and Existence

The circle, the crescent and the cross are the three basic symbols of the planets.  Spirit, soul and existence are the root words of astrology.  We each live in a physical body that has limits in time and space.  We each carry a flame originated from the sun.  We come from past generations and our lives are a result of countless events that led up to the present moment; so too, everything we do affects the world we inhabit-we are sentient drops in the river of life.  In astrology we call the consciousness that we are connected to all events past and present ‘the soul’. 

The circle has a dot in the middle.  When I draw simplified maps of the solar system with the sun at the center, I skip the dot and draw little rays, like blades of grass or a comic character’s hair.  A circle with a dot for the sun in the middle: circles with dots, x’s and o’s, who can resist the promise of objective accuracy offered by a coordinate system?

We are employing a language that has survived thousands of years, since before calculus, the coordinate system and algebra; it is the great- grandparent of math and geometry.  What a thrill.  Oh well, as a Taurus it makes me feel much better about living a very imperfect life; I see myself as a mini chaos bumping around in a big stirred up soup of chaos, we’re all stirred up, or sometimes we’re bubbling.

A lot of people get squirmy at the thought of fate, or that their lives might be governed by it.  They want to believe they choose when they relinquish responsibility and that they can always be consciously controlling their lives through their own will.  And I say “Girl, you’re so fast!”  I know that’s old fashioned; nowadays we say “You go Girl!”  But you know I think it’s great to strengthen the will and exercise consciousness as much as possible; I’m all for that.

But sometimes, we all have to face the fact of existence that we are basically corpuscles with consciousness; we find ourselves trapped in endless tunnels from which we find no escape.  Sometimes, life gets the better of each of us.  Why some and not others?  How do the circumstances differ? 

How circumstances differ is what astrology is all about.  To see things from a philosophical point of view we must employ a language that facilitates analyzing an event from all points of view; past, present and future.  Astrologers assigned each category of experience a mascot; so, for instance, what we know about lions or rams helps us imagine what philosophers over two thousand years ago were saying about the fifth (Leo) or first (Aries) sign of the zodiac.

We have a good idea of what they thought about the moon and how they, as a culture, viewed its cycles.  The same is true of the sun; and though some of this cultural treasury is celebrated in modern holidays, the stories that describe the rest of the planetary cycles have been left behind in the industrious scramble to reshape our environment. 

Time and space is how we physically get a hold on existence.  If you wonder about the idea behind time and space, how your ancestors thought about it, what they thought was the purpose of life; then you are wondering about astrology.  It is more about analyzing our own behavior in the context of events, than it is about reshaping existence to improve our lives.

When we turn to astrology we turn to the sun, the moon and earth’s horizon; we think of how the existence we have now is born of countless cycles of the earth circling the sun.  How many times has the cycle of leaning our head into the fire given way to leaning away and warming our feet as we make our watery rocky way around the sun?  How many times have people on earth passed from light to darkness without a candle and match, or a switch to flip?  How did the sun give birth to us?

How does the moon change our world from day to day?  How does the sun change the moon?  How are we all connected?  These are the questions astrology answers, this is the gift of our ancestors.

Follow the sun, follow the moon, look at the real horizon. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Containing Infinity: Neptune conjunct Pluto in 1398

We study astrology to understand the universe in its infinite permutations, to contain the universe within our minds.  Much of what we call science is really engineering, or an endeavor to manipulate parts of the universe.  Astrology is not about changing reality, but about observing it in the context of time and space.  We measure time by the lights that travel through the day and night sky.

As we follow the lights of the sun, moon and other planets we see that their patterns of movement are as complex as multiple traffic clovers at 5:00 in the evening.  Many people believe Newton figured out the defining equation for gravity when an apple fell on his head, because the fallen fruit and his equation for gravity are all that’s left of him in school books; but outside of government issued textbooks there is a Newton who spent a lifetime studying the time tables saved by generations of people who saw the sky as an extension of earth.  I’m talking about real time, like when the noon sun makes a line perpendicular to the horizon, or the moon is 180 ° from the sun on a circle of 360 parts. 

Astrology has been a victim of its own success; natural philosophers came up with such a teachable system, that powerful people with the will to conquer and lacking the motivation to learn, could charge others with creating simple devices to imitate it.  Calendars were so simple, yet so like the real thing, that any civil servant could administer the ruling government’s schedule in far flung conquered lands.  No need to observe the heavens from one night to the next and consult tables of where the planets should be seen, just mark off blocks on a calendar every time the sun comes up, collect tribute from the vanquished on the 30th block and that was that.  Villagers learned that they didn’t need an astrologer to read the heavens, the blocks on the calendar told them when the ruling government allowed celebrations, and that’s when time started coming down to earth. 

I’m making it sound so imperialist, and it was, and people did fight back, as documented in the Adventures of Asterix and Obelix; but ultimately natural philosophers gave way not just to calendars, but paved roads, aqueducts, indoor plumbing, homogenized milk, electric lights and trash compactors.  So much technology has come between us and the real heavens.  Somewhere along the way we got this story of a Jew murdered by the Roman government that sits at the right hand of his old man in heaven.  It sounds bizarre, but the same people that repeat this strange story every Sunday help build the roads and the internet, making it virtually possible to be in more than one place at the same time; so why shouldn’t they believe that a political prisoner assassinated by the Romans can come back to life and float up to the sky like a helium balloon escaped from Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?

In 1398 (calendar time) the planet Neptune was lined up in the solar system with Pluto, in a meeting that we witness once every 493 years.  Each successive meeting occurs only 6 degrees further along in the zodiac from the previous rendezvous, so it takes 5 of these nearly five hundred year cycles before a meeting takes place in a new sign (30 degrees in a sign), and 60 cycles before their point of conjunction returns to the same segment of the zodiac.  The 1398 meeting took place at 4 degrees Gemini; the first meeting in 2,500 years to occur in a sign associated with abstract reasoning.  The two meetings in the millennium previous to 1398 took place in Taurus, a primitive earth sign associated with the formation of roots.

The 1398 Neptune/Pluto conjunction in Gemini marked our first major historic period in 2.5 millennia when we poked our leaves out of the soil and learned to use the light of the sun; for over 10 years Neptune and Pluto could have been seen together (with the aid of a powerful telescope) progressing from the end of Taurus to the beginning of Gemini in the Renaissance night sky.  Oh!  But wait a minute; they didn’t have telescopes that could see Pluto back in the 14th century, much less Neptune

Do two hands clapping from a distant planet make a sound?  Were Neptune and Pluto reflecting the sun’s light before humans invented telescopes to magnify it? 

What did happen when the modest gas giant caught up with the way out little rock?

“Wow, 493 years!  Damn it’s good to see you WeeMan.”

“You’re lookin good yourself, Little Cloud.”

 “That meeting with Uranus looked like a blast!” *

“Almost as wild as your meeting over in Aquarius with Saturn.  Yes, some very exciting works that won’t be read till the printing press, but the pipes are primed."

“We did have too much fun.  No one can best Saturn when he makes that turn at the Tropic of Capricorn, and by the time we met in Aquarius, well, you were there in the middle of the action though!”

“Oh yes; physics, geometry, they had a ball with the concept of infinity, went at it like fire and the wheel.  Excommunications all round, but the candle’s lit.  You know how things get rolling with Uranus in the neighborhood.  Yes, that was quite an eventful pair of conjunctions, and meeting Uranus half way to the tropic of cancer, I felt like Cinderella at the ball.  But I thought you would never get here!”

“Me neither.  I wonder how Mercury does this so often.”

“Not to mention earth’s moon, it makes me dizzy to think of so many conjunctions!”

“Lonely out here, but a lot less traffic…”

“Yup.  Easier to concentrate.”

“Looks like Saturn and Uranus are throwin some bolts over in Sagittarius.”

“Harvesting heretics.”

“How I have missed your black humor.” 

*In 1344 Uranus was conjunct Pluto in Aries while Saturn was finishing a conjunction with Neptune in Aquarius.