My View on the Modern Planets (and Human Nature, Too)

Last night on social media was kinda interesting.  Not too long ago, one of my favorite traditional/Hellenic astrologers Chris Brennan whom I follow on Twitter retweeted the following:

To which I replied publicly that simplicity is the highest form of elegance, with this simple diagram I made for my geomancy book:

Even if I made this specific image, the diagram itself is a traditional one that’s been in use for hundreds of years in Europe and the Middle East as a teaching aide to demonstrate the balance and symmetry of how the planets are assigned to the twelve signs of the Zodiac: the luminaries go to the brightest times of the year (in the Northern hemisphere), then the planets are assigned in their usual solar system order outwards, such that dark Saturn is given to the signs Capricorn and Aquarius, the darkest times of the year (again, in the Northern hemisphere).  All this diagram shows is exactly what @dahlia_anara posted in a graphical format.  Growing up, it was a mystery as to why the planets were given to the signs, but then, this sort of diagram seems to have been all but forgotten in modern texts; had I known about it in my early baby-ccultist days, this would have made everything make a lot more sense a lot earlier on.

For some reason, my sharing this image turned kinda viral, and some people were even put at peace by just seeing it; while it’s nothing more than a teaching diagram, it does reflect an underlying balance of the astrological cosmos, so I can get it.  Of course, with it being shared and favorited by so many, it did spark a few discussions and conversations, one of which was about why Saturn is the planet that gets that last position and not, you know, any of the planets that have since been discovered in modern times past Saturn.  This, of course, touches on an important, lively, and active debate (which doesn’t always remain good-hearted) on the approaches of modern astrology versus traditional astrology, and of course, I know you know that when I have Thoughts and Opinions, I let them be known.

Before I continue, let me preface this with the following disclaimer: what follows is my own personal view of astrology and its symbols that reflect my own practice and understanding of the cosmos, as informed by my studies, experiences, and works in astrology, geomancy, and other subjects.  Because I recognize that my practice is not your practice, and that my views are not necessarily representative of universal truths, you’re still free to hold any well-reasoned, well-researched, informed, and sound opinion, research methods, or approaches to astrology you want.  Understood?  We good?  Good.

Simply put, I don’t think the use of the outer planets (Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto) and asteroids (Ceres, Pallas, Chiron, etc.) are necessary to the practice of astrology, and while they may have some use, they’re by no means of large importance to me for several reasons.  The most physics-based of these is that many of these objects move so slowly through the Zodiac that they’re not of incredible importance for individual persons.  While the Moon changes her signs every two or three days, and Saturn just over every two-ish years, the trans-Saturnians shift their degrees and signs so much more slowly that two people born in the same seven- or twenty-year period will have identical or similar locations.  For mundane astrology, this is potentially useful, because these slow-moving planets are more helpful in defining whole generations of people or zeitgeists rather than how individual people form in their own individual lives; once the zeitgeist established by the slow-moving planets is understood, one can inspect the relationships that the planets from Saturn on down with the slow-moving ones to see how one relates to such a zeitgeist.  In both a phyiscal and spiritual sense, the slow-moving trans-Saturnian planets occupy a place between the planets proper and the fixed stars; yes, they still shift like planets do, but slowly enough to be imperceptible on a reasonable timeframe, much like the light of the fixed stars.

Of course, this is all on top of a more fundamental astrological reason why I don’t find the use of these modern planets particularly helpful: astrology was already complete before the formal discovery of Uranus in the late 17th century ce.  In the seven thousand or more years that astrology has been practiced since the earliest foundations of Egypt and Sumer were laid, we’ve had more than a little time to see, plot, experiment, test, and record our observations and theories with the stars, and though refinement and elaboration, astrology became as complete an art of science (in the old sense of “knowing things”) as anything ever could.  The methods of astrology that have been passed on down to us are elegant, balanced, and established on numerological and divine harmonies that together form a complete, interlocking system.  The system already works, so as the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

Writing this post also reminds me of a similar post I wrote from the very earliest days on this blog, back from when I was still in college.  The points in there are basically the ones I’m raising in the present post, but there’s one bit I wanted to highlight as well:

We’ve had 6,000 years to build up our knowledge of the intra-Saturnians, while we’ve had just over 200 for Uranus, 150 for Neptune, and not even a full century for Pluto. Finding the full meanings for these planets will take a lot more time than we’ve given it, and finding appropriate uses for them will take even longer. I’m not arguing for a static and legalistic school of astrology, but I don’t think that astrologers have been doing the right thing for their art for the past two centuries. We should be using traditional astrology as a stronger foundation than we are, but instead we’re assigning meanings to the planets “because it feels right” or “because it’s intuitive”. What happened the last time you tried to prove an answer on a test, or a fact to a judge, with “because it feels right”?

Bear in mind that these planets are only very recently discovered and, while we can tap into our millennia’s experience of astrology to more quickly divine and refine the significations of these outer planets or asteroids, what we do know about them pales in comparison to what we know of the older symbols we’ve been using from the start.  Again, from my older post:

However, even until the early 20thcentury astrologers had not reached a consensus; Alan Leo wrote in 1909 that “Uranus has been given no sign by astrologers, though Aquarius has often been suggested”. As for Raphael, there is evidence to believe that he may have been writing just to get published: he wasn’t a good astrologer by anybody’s measure, and was more of a magician selling charms than an astrologer. He often didn’t provide reasoning or logic for his claims, and what he argues against is often borne out instead in practice (like the use of terms).

So, even over a century after Uranus’ firm discovery that it was a planet, astrologers still hadn’t figured out what to do with it in its entirety.  Trying to incorporate new symbols into an ancient system is difficult and time-consuming, especially for the first few introductions when the process of incorporation is still poorly understood, but at the same time, it bears remembering that the occult community wanted to keep up-to-date and “scientific” by bringing in whatever theories and discoveries they could from modern science to make their own arts seem more respectable and well-grounded.  Trying to bring in Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, the asteroids, and everything else modern science says exists into the art of astrology was an attempt at doing just that, but they ended up shattering some of the symmetries and balances that kept the system in check and functional in the process.

Plus, like I said before, astrology was already a complete system long before what we know as “modern astrology” came onto the scene.  Consider: while modern astrologers often give Uranus the ownership of electricity, computers, astrology, and change, all these things already had ownerships in the old system: Mercury ruled all sciences and arts of the mind, including astrology and alchemy, as well as devices and means of communication, like computers; Mars would have ruled over power generally, and Jupiter (through his mythological connections with thunderbolt-throwing Zeus) would have been a natural fit for electricity generally, with Mercury (again) for circuitry and wiring; the Moon rules over changes in general, along with the flighty nature of Mercury.  To shuffle these things from the old planets to the new doesn’t really do much except introduce duplication into the system generally; at best, we can use the outer planets for very specific needs, like specifically giving Neptune to the seas and to seafaring specifically even if these would have been naturally ruled over by the Moon and Mercury, but at worst, this serves to bring confusion into the system of correspondences and obscures the logic of why certain planets have domains over the things they do.

This points to my last, and most fundamental, complaint about modern astrology, and especially the viewpoints of many who use it (badly).  Many often say that, as humanity has continued in its existence, we have undergone processes of spiritual evolution, and so need more and newer planets to reflect that, being such progressed, evolved beings now than we were.  The only evidence I can see that agrees with that is the development of what John Michael Greer calls the “civic religion of progress”, which is a very modern, very peculiar cultural notion that humanity can only change in one way: onwards, upwards, and strictly for the better, that all change is inherently better than what we had before.  As JMG points out, consider smartphones: they may get more complex and support more functionalities, but they get more costly and damaging to make, often more fragile, with more restrictions and burdens on them than what we had in the past.  This isn’t progress, even if it is change.  I look around at the world generally, and I see that a lot has changed: we have more and more accessible and cheaply-made clothing, more cars and means to move, more weapons and more explosive or damaging types of them, more means of communication, and so forth, but underlying all that?  I see the same humans underneath it all that have been around since the first human could be recognized as such.

Yes, we have developed elegant, complex, and abstract philosophies, governments, civilizations, technologies, but these are all window decorations to the real humans who, after all these countless myriads of years, still need to breathe, eat, sleep, shit, fuck, love, fight, kill, speak, learn, wonder, wander, live, and die.  I read ancient Greek, Chinese, and Mesoamerican philosophers, historians, and graffiti artists who bicker and complain about the same damn things that we bicker and complain about nowadays on the Internet about our fellow man.  The names and places we know, the media and languages we use, the projectiles we use to kill and hunt, the clothes we wear and rip and mend may have all changed over the years, but our underlying understanding of the human condition and what it means to experience humanity has been relatively unchanged the world over.  In short, humanity has remained more-or-less unchanged since we first came around, changing on the whole neither for the better nor worse.  That’s why, even in our modern and “evolved” time, we still turn time and again to the help and wisdom of our ancestors and to traditional, indigenous, and truly ancestral systems of knowledge, because not only have all those who have gone before us experienced everything we do now, they also had more time to process, understand, and correlate everything, and have since joined all the others who have done just that.

Spiritually evolved as a species my sedentary ass; individuals can certainly get to the point of spiritual development where they undergo such fundamental changes, but by that point, they’re no longer human and no longer bound to this mortal coil of humanity (cf. Buddha, Christ, spirit guides, orisha, etc.).  Plus, consider that, biologically speaking, sea sponges are just as evolved as humans are; trying to claim that humans as a whole are now “spiritually evolved” in a way we weren’t before is just forcing the notion of progress onto humanity simply because time has elapsed, ignoring what it is we are, what it is we do, and where it is we live.  But, yanno, if all you do is sit in a classroom all day without paying attention to the teacher or doing the classwork, you’re not going to get better grades by virtue of just sitting at your desk longer than anyone else.  It takes Work to get better, and not everyone does that Work, much less our entire species, and much less than that in an automatic process.

In that light, it makes even more sense how complete the system of astrology really is without having to bring in the modern planets and points in the sky.  If humanity hasn’t appreciably changed, as I claim and see that it hasn’t, then why should we need to change the models and systems of our realities to reflect some misguided sense of progress and evolution that hasn’t happened?  Astrologers have gotten along fine and have gotten accurate results in prediction and understanding people for thousands of years without incorporating them, so I see no reason to change the system, break its balances, and introduce needless confusion into the mix.  There’s plenty that can be innovated, discovered, or invented in the systems of traditional astrology without having to make it “modern”, just as how geomancy can be extended in its techniques and skills and understanding without bringing in new figures or elements into the mix.

Now.  All that said, do I think the modern planets and asteroids have no use at all?  No, I don’t.  I don’t think they’re necessary to practice astrology or magic, since everything they could represent is already represented by the main seven planets, but they can offer insights and specific details that can be helpful.  When I look at a horoscope, I treat the outer planets and the asteroids like I do fixed stars: I give them a very tight orb, and I don’t consider aspects unless they’re exact or approaching an exact degree.  When I interpret them, I first use the main seven planets to get an idea of what the chart as a whole is about, then I look at the outer planets and asteroids (when they matter!) to get a deeper idea of what the seven main planets are talking about.  I don’t look at an aspect between, say, Mars and Neptune and go off about this relationship willy-nilly; I first look at how Mars, Venus, and the Moon act, and see what such a relationship between Mars and Neptune clarifies amongst all that to see what specifically is meant.  That, I feel, is a more responsible way of using the modern planets, but again, the only benefit it affords is a specific insight to a specific detail to other factors already present and more clearly visible in the horoscope.  Helpful?  At times, sure.  Necessary?  By no means.

And, of course, don’t forget that “more evolved” or “newer” doesn’t necessarily mean “better”, and that the more things change, the more too do things stay the same.  Just as Ecclesiastes 1:9 says: “what has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

Days go by and still I think of blogging

So I thought I’d have been able to get a blog post or something out since the last one, but I guess not.  Between more offsite training to learn another programming language and finding a cute boy with whom I sense a good deal of potential, I haven’t had much time for chores, much less a conjuration or something.  I blame Mercury being retrograde as for my lack of updates, since it’s supposed to be a good time to review and remember.  In fact, I tried calling up Michael again today, you know, the archangelic king of fire, to talk to him about a few things.  No response.  Guess I should try to actually chat with him through his form as the King of Wands first before rushing things more; the ritual can wait, I suppose.

However, I haven’t been completely idle.  I ordered a natal chart reading from Christopher Warnock over at Renaissance Astrology, which was awesome.  Good information in all the various parts of my life (apparently I’ve got a problem with jilted lovers becoming secret enemies of mine, who knew?), but as far as magic and the occult goes, I’ve got a very strong connection with Saturn.  He’s dignified in Sagittarius in the 9th house conjunct Uranus; my friend over at The Unlikely Mage said that that sort of position is like bringing a torch down into ancient tunnels of knowledge, and it’s true: I like older styles and forms of ritual and the occult, and I’ve got a passion for Latin and classical culture.  Plus, with Uranus in the mix there, I’m also apt and able to update some methods and blend new styles into the old to create forms both awesome and, at its heart, traditional all at once.  Nifty!  Plus, I might be well-advantaged to take up more Saturnian arts such as necromancy and binding and other occult, hidden arts.  However, since I’ve got other things on my plate right now, I’ll hold off on chatting it up with Tzaphqiel until a little later.  I’ve always felt happy and pleasant about dealing with Saturn, but that doesn’t lessen its roughness to work with.

Shifting gears for a bit: while I don’t have a magical altar set up, I do have a devotional altar which I pray at and make offerings and stuff.  Since I had a chance to light a lot of candles, the altar looked awfully pretty, so I took a picture of it.

The center candle is the first one lit, and is (or should be) lit whenever I’m home; this candle represents the light of God and is like my own Lamp or Eternal Flame.  On the far left is a votary offering for the genius and other spirits of my home, with an offering of fresh water, wine, grapes, and a lit candle.  The inside left candle is an offering for my natal genius.  The candle on the right in the back with the spirit placard is an offering to the genius and spirits of the land around my apartment, along with an offering of wine and grapes.  The candle on the right in front is lit in honor and thanks for Saturn; I time my prayers to coincide with the planetary hour and day of the god I’m making these offerings to, and I dress the candle in the colors and symbols appropriate to that particular deity as well as light some incense appropriate to that god.  In this case, I had a candle painted black with the seals, sigils, and symbols related to Saturn and lit a stick of myrrh incense.  The whole getup is rather pretty, I think.  Eventually I’ll get other figurines and statues and things to put up, but this is what I have set up on a fancy day.  I only light candles to the genii of my apartment and land when I make offerings, but since I hadn’t given one in a while, I decided to go ahead with that today.

A Problem with Modern Astrology

Astrology’s always been an interest of mine, but I haven’t had enough time to study it as much as I’d like. Geomancy, my preferred method of divination, was much easier to pick up and practice. The heyday of geomancy was before the 18th century, and though it incorporated a lot of astrological symbolism and technique, it wasn’t around for the advent of modern astrology. I’ve thus had to learn some traditional astrology, and not only is it more complex than modern astrology, I find that it makes a lot more sense. Compared to traditional astrology, there’s a lot of confusion and corruption due to a number of things: the bias of the Theosophical Society, the rush of astrologers to keep up with scientists, the oversimplification of Alan Leo, the generations of astrologers who repeatedly reinvented the wheel, and so on. The biggest issue I have is with the use and meanings of the planets Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, collectively the trans-Saturnians. I’ll take Uranus as the focus for today’s post because of its associations with the Internet.

An astrologer by the pen name of Raphael, probably Robert Cross in the 1800s, first assigned Uranus to Aquarius. This goes back to at least 1883, but in earlier works he also managed to deny this or hold both positions at once. If it wasn’t him who came up with the idea, it was his astrologer friend John Varley. In 1828, Varley was trying to figure out what a malefic transit of Uranus (then still called Georgium Sidus or Herschel’s Star) was intimating. As the transit passed, he found himself to be surprisingly fine and well, when suddenly a house fire broke out and all of his property was destroyed. He thus associated it with unexpected happenings. One instance of anything is not enough to make a strong claim, much less the claim of a full rulership of a planet to occurrences or a sign, and especially only fifty years after its discovery in 1781. However, even until the early 20th century astrologers had not reached a consensus; Alan Leo wrote in 1909 that “Uranus has been given no sign by astrologers, though Aquarius has often been suggested”. As for Raphael, there is evidence to believe that he may have been writing just to get published: he wasn’t a good astrologer by anybody’s measure, and was more of a magician selling charms than an astrologer. He often didn’t provide reasoning or logic for his claims, and what he argues against is often borne out instead in practice (like the use of terms).

Astrology is said to come under Uranus’ rule today, when previously it was held by the planet Mercury. Mercury rules astrology because astrology is a system of knowledge, and Mercury rules all intellectual acts or endeavors. Uranus was given rule over astrology by Raphael because it is prominent in a number of astrologer’s charts, a weak claim to make. However, this position was taken up by the Theosophical Society, since they claimed that the trans-Saturnians were “higher octaves” of the intra-Saturnian planets, such that Uranus was a “higher expression” of Mercury. Thus, higher octaves denoted spiritual evolution and progress, and people who were “evolved” had the greater fortunes of Uranus and the other trans-Saturnians in their lives. Guess who the “evolved” people were.

Uranus rules electricity, as they say, because they were discovered around the same time, which simply isn’t true. Electricity as a force of nature has always existed, and is ruled by Mars as searing heat and a force of destruction. Electricity as power was first described in 1600, and the laws of electromagnetic induction, the dynamo, and the transformer were developed after 1830, closer to the discovery of Neptune. People thought that this “new source” of energy needed a new planet, but electricity is neither new nor a source of energy. Electricity provides light and heat, but so does fire; the essence of the different energies, and their use, is the same. Electricity is another form of energy produced or manufactured from other fuels, much how fire is a form of energy released by combusting carbon. Similar arguments go for air or space travel and the reapplication of old technologies for new purposes: these things that Uranus has come to rule are already ruled by other planets and with stronger logic. There has been no essential difference between “new” technologies and “old” ones; nothing new under the Sun, as they say.

Computing, like mathematics and science, is ruled by Mercury, but modern astrology also claims it for Uranus’ rule. Uranus rules computers, computing, and the Internet because they run on electricity, they’re new technologies, and they deal with large-scale communication. As shown above, the first two reasons don’t hold up: power is power regardless of form, and computing is still computing whether it’s done on an abacus or on a supercomputing grid. Communication remains mercurial whether it’s a letter delivered by horseback or by SMTP, whether it’s an encyclical or a post on a mailing list, or whether it’s destined for one person or for many. Thus, computing and computers are ruled by Mercury, not Uranus.

Am I against the use of the trans-Saturnians in astrology? No, but I am against using them like the intra-Saturnian planets. The trans-Saturnians move too slowly to make much of a difference between individuals as the intra-Saturnians do. I think they work best in generational, dynastic, or mundane astrology, methods that describe whole groups of people or periods of time, instead of natal astrology where their use should be more restricted. Further, there’s nothing new under the Sun: everything that needs a significator in a chart already has one among the intra-Saturnians. Use of the trans-Saturnians in these ways makes little sense, especially when another planet has ruled something for millennia, when they’re not in the system of essential dignities, and when other bodies of occult knowledge haven’t accepted their use in ways similar to those of the intra-Saturnians.

We’ve had 6,000 years to build up our knowledge of the intra-Saturnians, while we’ve had just over 200 for Uranus, 150 for Neptune, and not even a full century for Pluto. Finding the full meanings for these planets will take a lot more time than we’ve given it, and finding appropriate uses for them will take even longer. I’m not arguing for a static and legalistic school of astrology, but I don’t think that astrologers have been doing the right thing for their art for the past two centuries. We should be using traditional astrology as a stronger foundation than we are, but instead we’re assigning meanings to the planets “because it feels right” or “because it’s intuitive”. What happened the last time you tried to prove an answer on a test, or a fact to a judge, with “because it feels right”?