If you are a fan of astrology, or if you make it your profession, sooner or later you are going to run into sceptics. They believe that astrologers are frauds and they ‘make it all up.’ Alternatively, they believe astrologers are well-meaning idiots, along with astrology believers. This is quite funny, because these sceptics are the same people who live their lives by the clock and the calendar. Both of which are also made up.
There are no lines or numbers in the sky telling you it’s 1:00 am on Tuesday or March 31st. In fact, if you tell me this is reality and I’m in Sydney, I can point to Los Angeles on the map and ‘prove’ there is nothing real about your notion of time and date at all. All I have to do is call a friend in a bar in downtown L.A. to argue with you!
Time is a strange business. Can you tell anyone nearby what the present is, as you are reading this article now? It’s impossible because even as you are clicking your fingers to demonstrate it, the present has already become the recent past.
Astrologers are very concerned with time because they use a book called an ephemeris which looks like some version of Doctor Who’s Tardis instruction manual. It spans all time, from 1900 to 2200. And in that book, astrologers can read the signs and symbols and see history repeating itself. That’s how we ‘see the future.’ We are just noting the repetitions.
To me, 2020 looks a lot like life 12 years ago. Why? Because I am tracking Jupiter in the ephemeris. It also looks like life, 12 years into the future – for the same reason.
There are many different models of time and the one I like best, is a Mobius Strip. That’s the peculiar figure-eight shape which proves that some things are non-orientable. Like time, perhaps! You can’t make the strip go backwards and forwards in any reasonable order – it is a weird 8 shape – so instead it appears to fold in on itself in an endless loop. Astrology suits this way of seeing time.
I believe that the intersection of the figure eight shape – the part where the Mobius Strip meets itself in the middle – is a synchronicity. It’s where two totally different parts of time (like 12 years ago, and 12 years forward) meet in the middle and connect. Why? Because they share similar qualities.
Basically, if you want one theory of astrology it might be this – history repeats and astrologers noticed. They realised that when the outer planets like Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto move through signs like Aries, Taurus, Gemini and so on – similar trends, ideas and cultural waves sweep through the world. Each sign means something. Each planet or asteroid means something. Put them together and you have a code. It’s rather like folk music in that it’s a shared information code which is passed on from one generation to another. It’s a language of time. I could walk into the home of William Lilly, the greatest astrologer of his generation, back in the 17th century and talk to him about Saturn and our ideas would intersect. Saturn is a lasting code word in astrology.
These are memes, if you like. Ideas spreading from person to person. The word meme was coined by Richard Dawkins, who loathes astrology, but nevertheless it’s a great model for what we do.
The theory of memes can be taken to explain why the North Node and South Node in any particular sign bring familiar themes. During the Global Financial Crisis recently these nodes circled Taurus and Scorpio, the signs ruling money.
At the start of the Second World War, when rationing came in, Taurus and Scorpio also ruled the heavens. And why does Taurus rule money? The bull. Cattle. Bulls and cows are an ancient trading property. And Scorpio? A scorpion can bring about your death. Scorpio thus rules your inheritance; the property you pass on when you are dead. The goods and chattels in an inheritance.
Songs, catchphrases, fashions, popular ideas are all memes. And memes are connected across time – linked through synchronicity, a phrase invented by Carl Jung. And synchronicity is about connections.
Nothing causes anything (any more than your astrology prediction ‘causes’ you to experience an outcome next month). Nevertheless, there are profound links across time and space, which affect us – and it’s all part of being human – in the eyes of astrologers. I will give you one example of this synchronicity (time synchronising) now.
In 1781, in Bath, England, a musician named William Herschel, helped by his sister Caroline, discovered the planet Uranus. At first this amazing new object had no name at all. Eventually, after many arguments, it was labelled after the Roman sky god who was the father of Saturn. In myth, he was also the father of two kinds of lightning. Sheet lightning and forked lightning, according to the tale. They were known as Steropes and Arges in the Greek version of the story, which the Romans made their own. (Read more about that here.)
Lightning is also known as an electrostatic discharge. In 1781, when Uranus was given its name, an Italian scientist named Luigi Galvani discovered the muscles of dead frogs’ legs twitch when struck by a spark. This was an early enquiry into bioelectricity – there is that word again – and it happened by accident in Galvani’s laboratory. The name that the planet Uranus ended up with, was one of many suggestions. It just ‘happened’ to be linked to a myth about lightning. Thus, in 1781, a meme – the idea of electricity and things coming to life – bounced back 2000 years to an ancient Roman story about the spark of creation. And a twitching amphibian!
The Romans did not cause Galvani’s dead frog to jump. They did not cause the new planet to be called Uranus. Yet. there is synchronicity there. And astrology runs on synchronicity.
In 1781, something else was going on miles away from Bath, where the Herschels were celebrating their discovery of Uranus, and Italy, where Galvani was making a frog twitch.
‘Come see my little cabinet experiments.’ the French scientist Jacques Bianchi wrote to Benjamin Franklin, one of the fathers of the American revolution, in a letter dated 1781. Bianchi specialised in electricity. So, in the year that a new planet was found and named Uranus, after the Roman father of lightning (and the creator of new life) we also find electricity becoming the favoured topic of American revolutionaries writing to French scientists. The French like the Americans would soon be swept up in a push for independence. So, there were, indeed, radically new lives to be had that year. And thanks partly to this there is an astrological symbol for this – Uranus.
In your horoscope, Uranus in Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces tells you where you invent and create new life. And where you are galvanised (the word comes from Luigi Galvani’s name and it describes that electrifying moment when you spring to life). Often, you will use new technology or new inventions (running on electricity) to enable the change. To bring about the new order. Computers and the internet are a good example of this.
Back to Ben Franklin and his French friend, writing letters about electricity to each other in 1781, the same year that Uranus, the planet, was named for the Roman father of lightning.
Uranus, of course, was himself the target of a revolution in the Roman myth. His own children, the Titans rebelled against him and Saturn, his son, castrated him. So, the meme is expanding. This is about revolution and rebellion, and yet it is dependent on electricity. What Galvani found in 1781 set the world on the road to the battery. Uranus is about industry and technology fuelling the very human need for new freedom; new life; new beginnings.
In 1781, the Americans symbolically castrated the British in the final battle of the revolution at Yorktown. The British were emasculated. Just as Uranus was castrated by his son Saturn. When there is new life, often the old (the past) is cut away, or cut off, or cut down.
When the Americans beat the British in 1781 and got their freedom, there was another astrological quirk. The band played a song called ‘And the World Turned Upside Down’ on retreat. In the Roman myth 2000 years before, Gaia (the world) was indeed turned upside down when Saturn castrated her husband Uranus in the middle of intercourse, throwing his mother off his father. Another meme. And all tied into astrological symbolism. And by the way, did you know that lightning strikes on Uranus are more powerful than those on earth?
Uranus does not just represent electricity and revolution – new life – because it was written in an astrology book from the 1970s. There is symbolic logic behind what a heavenly body means.
The clock and calendar are useless at measuring the repetition of time. They only show linear time – the rather sweet idea that time moves forward in a straight line. Thus, astrologers use symbols like Uranus which show clearly how history can repeat. So clearly, in fact, that casting a horoscope can help one to predict the so-called future, months or years before it comes to pass.
In astrology, you can focus on the signs if you wish – Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius or Pisces. They are as much a meme as anything else. Each sign describes a strong, potent idea which is still with us centuries after its original use as a symbol.
The heavenly bodies and points, ranging from the Sun through to the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Cupido, Psyche, Mars, Vulcanus, Jupiter, Juno and the rest – are also memes. Songs to sing. Painting to admire. Myths to pass on. These are archetypes. Archetypes which leap across the years. Nothing causes anything else, but there is a connection. A synchronicity.
Some of the astrological aspects themselves – the geometric patterns made between the heavenly bodies – are also cultural markers. The conjunction, semi-sextile, sextile, square, trine, quincunx and opposition – are archetypal. They show ease, flow and harmony – smoothness – as well as discord, sharpness, hardness. These are all ancient ideas, repeated across time. You can see them in art. You can see them in churches and temples. These are ancient notions about easy or hard and astrology preserves them.
The houses too, with all their inbuilt rules in relation to each other, describe ancient notions and passionate conflicts, which repeat in Shakespeare and also in Eastenders today. They are timeless time-markers.
The First House is always in opposition to the Seventh House. Self-interest always clashes with a marriage. The Second House is always in opposition to the Eighth House. One’s own income is often at odds with family finance, or the interests of the bank. The Third House opposes the Ninth House. Basic, day-to-day communication (the message) conflicts with big ideas like philosophy or religious belief (the concept). The Fourth House opposes the Tenth House. This is a very old meme or notion which you will find right through art and literature – family versus career. The Fifth House opposes the Eleventh House in astrology. Children versus friends. Parenthood versus parties. The Sixth House opposes the Twelfth House. The unconscious mind (the Twelfth House) often works against the body, as in the case of psychosomatic illness.
Did you know that the American astrologer Michael Lutin predicted America’s bulk collection of telephone records in 2006? Years before we had even heard of Edward Snowden or the N.S.A.? Michael Lutin in Vanity Fair on 6th December 2006:
“If you think that things are tough now, and that privacy and other personal liberties are being infringed upon, just wait. During the next 19 years, things are going to get much tighter. Controls and laws will become more stringent. Pluto in Capricorn will demand conformity, born out of fear that different is dangerous. The more resistance to government protection, the more protection the government will try to provide.”
NOTE: Michael is talking about Pluto in Capricorn here. This is a good example of an astrology symbol, or time-marker, to work with. Pluto was found in 1930 when Hitler began his climb to power and the race for atomic weapons took a leap forward. Pluto was the Roman god of the underworld who became involved in a battle for control of the planet with Ceres. Pluto is a symbol of the lust for absolute power and the necessary division of control that follows. What happened in 1930 began the process which would eventually make the United Nations necessary. A change in the balance of power across the planet. Power-sharing.
Capricorn is about the mountain which faces the goat (the goat being the Capricorn symbol). Any mountain shape is a pyramid, like Toblerone or Mount Everest. It is a symbol of hierarchy. Thus, it describes government and big business. A tiny number of people at the top and the masses down below.
Using Pluto ‘in’ Capricorn (this planet passing through the sign, according to the astrologer’s ephemeris) it is possible for an extremely good astrologer like Michael Lutin to cast his eye eight years into the future and see something that looks an awful lot like the American government’s power grab on the internet. Total control of your phone privacy.
Astrology itself is a meme. A popular notion or idea; a trend; a fashion. It has also survived, as all the fittest ideas do. Take Harry Potter – In Goblet of Fire, as the astrologer Neil Spencer notes, ‘warnings of danger’ come to Harry via astrology, which Trelawney teaches with the aid of a splendid magical astrolabe to illustrate such delights as ‘the fascinating angle Mars was making with Neptune.’ You can read more here.
For more on memes – the information which behaves like human genes – and replicates, mutates and evolves – see this piece in The Smithsonian.