November 22, 2014 TOLS

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Today is new Moon, which puts me in mind of astrology. As an occultist I should be expert in the topic, but I’ve always had an ambiguous friendship with the zodiac.

Crowley once remarked that he thought most of astrology was nonsense, but that there was (I’m recalling a quote I can’t locate today) about five percent of it that was gold. I tend to concur with that assessment.

There is, as I see it, technical astrology, whereby specific zodiacal and planetary events are traced and conclusions are drawn. In my experience, most astrologers of this stamp are wonderful at explaining things in retrospect, but rarely any more accurate than the average pundit or blogger when predicting something.

Then, there’s zodiacal romanticism, the world of people who just click with the symbolism or enjoy feeling related to the heavens through the symbolism of astrology. I put myself in this second category, which is obviously the more freewheeling group, yet I’m constantly drawn back to the technical side of which I’m temperamentally  suspicious. I think I’ll always ignore progressed charts, transits, eastpoints and nodes, and even the houses. A lot of it strikes me as an effort to quantify the ineffable that inflates the minuscule into excessive significance. It misses the sea for the waves.

But then there are times when it seems to hit a statistical improbable bullseye. I once asked on the Solunars website for an analysis of the factors affecting a spiritual crisis I went through at twenty ( and several things, such as the influence of Pluto and the Jupiter-Sun conjunction hit the bullseye. Other details people supplied seemed overworked. But re-reading the posts, I see a convincing prefiguring of an internal upheaval. The planets didn’t ’cause’ what I underwent, but they depicted or reflected the necessary conditions.

Thirdly, there’s birth charts. Whether we adjust our self-perception to fit what we see in them, or what we’re told is there, I don’t know, but for me personally, my natal chart has been the most convincing side to technical astrology. My Sun being in Libra has always made sense to me. I do try to maintain equilibrium and fairness, and the idea of Venus being this sign’s ruling planet clicks for me, as does grumpy old Saturn being the planet exalted here. Venus is sensitive, likes comfort, and dislikes head-butting. I dislike head-butting and aggressive competition like you wouldn’t believe. It brings out my Saturnine side, you might say. But Saturn also has a supernal side, a deep significance that connects with … well, deeply significant things, some of which I address in these letters.

My Moon is in Libra if you use the Fagan-Bradley sidereal system (in which I’ve been trained to a modest degree), and in Virgo if you’re a conventional tropical zodiac fan. I lean to the sidereal system primarily because it’s what I know best, and secondarily because its proponents insist that it’s one based directly on actual astronomical phenomena, and not on a historical leftover that no longer corresponds to the actual positions of the stars. If I’m going to plan a ritual astrologically, I like to think that (when I can figure out all the math) what I see in the night sky is the same as what I’ve worked out for myself beforehand.

I have Mercury and Neptune conjunct in Virgo, which explains a tendency to become worked up over small problems. And I have Pluto right on my ascendant, so that I forever disrupt my Libran equilibrium by doing seemingly extreme things. My mother always complained I was weird, and I agree with her.

But at this point I run up against the old objections. What thinking person doesn’t feel like a stranger in a strange land some or most of the time? Who doesn’t need some level of stability and balance, or at least areas of life that offer a refuge from the naturally complementary need to burst out? Who isn’t, in some manner, a seeker, a lover, a dreamer, a driven soul?

Still, astrology has always seemed to me to capture, more than modern systems of psychology, the multiplicity of human existence. We are not unified monads, but congregations or confederations of tendencies. (I’d love to use ‘constellations’ here but the word’s been taken). Some such groupings are better coordinated than others, and some learn to function better with time and experience. Others never do. But appreciating the depth of meaning in astrological symbols as stand-ins for psychological tendencies strikes me as being just as useful as working out how close a conjunction or square comes to geometrical exactness. It takes us beyond the personal, and gives a different perspective on our ‘issues’.

Beyond what, to human senses is an imperceptible measure of gravitational force, the only thing the stars and planets share with us is light. The visible patterns of the stars, while they shift a tiny bit over decades and generations, are as constant within the framework of human experience as mountains and rivers. We measure our own lifespans against those geographical fundamentals, and find them quasi-eternal. Still, floods and earthquakes, windstorms and forest fires change the face of nature. The stars, belonging as they do to a non-terrestrial realm, can seem beyond such external influences, even if there is very gradual drifting over centuries and millennia.

At one time, philosophers would enjoin us to look up at the heavens and not down at the ground. The same point could be made now about gazing at portable electronic devices. Whatever – the stars provide a primal template that no amount of astronomy or physics can profane; and I say that as an amateur enthusiast of both sciences.

So however much I oscillate in my intellectual orbit between my life-affirming Venus and my death-indicating Saturn, between romanticism and skepticism, between occasional thrills at the orange glare of Mars or the cool brilliance of Jupiter above me, and appreciation of familiar constellations on a clear night, I can come back always to the undeniable fact of the stars themselves. Wonder can lead us to the arithmetic and geometry of astrology, but movement in the reverse direction is much rarer.

Walt Whitman probably said it better than I have, so I’ll quote his brief poem The Learn’d Astronomer, to close:

When I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer,  where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

Love is the law, love under will,

Edward Mason


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