Astrology, Astronomy, and Exaltations

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Tonight, I was listening to Kenneth Bowser talk about Western Sidereal Astrology on Chris Brennan’s show, The Astrology Podcastin episode 117.

Near the end of the show, they’re talking about The Exaltation Solution: the work of Irish astrologer Cyril Fagan, who found that in the year 786 BC, the planets rose or set helically (that is, either just before or just after the sunset) in their degrees of exaltation, or entered or exited retrogrades at what we now know as their degrees of exaltation. Cyril Fagan explored this in a book titled Zodiacs Old and New published in 1950, part of his (Fagan’s) long-standing effort to get Western astrologers to switch over from a tropical zodiac to a sidereal zodiac.

Chris Brennan pushed back, as she should have, on the absence of textual support for why this particular year should be so important — all of the planets rising or setting not on the same day as a degree of exaltation, but over the course of a year.  Fagan thought that this year marked the completion and consecration of a temple to the Mesopotamian deity associated with the planet Mercury; Kenneth Bowser was arguing for astrologers to use the sidereal zodiac, and that the use of the sidereal zodiac makes the degrees of exaltation correct.

That’s fine, as far as it goes. But it doesn’t explain the idea of the Degree of Exaltation. Every visible planet in astrology — Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn — has one specific degree where it’s regarded as particularly strong. As they enter the specific Zodiac sign of their exaltation, they begin growing stronger and stronger until they reach their actual degree of exaltation. Then their power wanes from that particular height.  Those degrees are

  1. Moon: 3rd degree of Taurus
  2. Mercury: 15th degree of Virgo
  3. Venus: 27th degree of Pisces
  4. the Sun:  19th degree of Aries
  5. Mars: 28th degree of Capricorn
  6. Jupiter: 15th degree of Cancer
  7. Saturn: 21st degree of Libra

As I listened to the two of them debate, each of them missing the points the other was making, the hair on the back of my neck stood up, and a sudden wave of gnosis or of awen came over me.  I said aloud, in my car on the darkened road, “I know exactly why those are the degrees of exaltation. I can’t prove it, but I know.”  I nearly ran off the road, such was my certainty.

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Tool rolls

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I have a new sewing machine. Here it is, in all its glory.I’ve been using it to make tool rolls out of fat quarters of quilting fabric, with the intention of making about 10-20 of these for friends’ children who are going back to school. They’re small projects; they allow me to practice certain skills with my new sewing machine and get used to how this machine works; and they allow me to create things that I don’t then have to keep for myself — they’re easily given away. A Fat Quarter generally costs around $2.50, so these are around $5.50 in materials (including thread) and maybe $10-15 in my time… time that I’d have to spend anyway, practicing the skills I want to be practicing.

The idea is that many children are not able to manage the ‘bunched-up’ mess of a pencil case. Too many tools squeezed into too small of a bag results in a lot of broken pens and pencils without points or erasers.

The tool roll consists of two fat quarters of fabric cut and trimmed to match each other, sewn together and turned.  One end is folded over and seamed to create pockets or tubes for individual pens and pencils; the other end folds over to form a protective cover for the tools inside.

It’s better to introduce students to the idea of order and structure for tools, early. So in a tool roll, each tool has a place: this place for a pen, this one for a pencil, a ruler here, a compass here.  THere’s a ribbon or a band or a string on the outside, that allows one to close up the tools neatly inside, as well.  This is ribbon left over from a fancy men’s clothing store in New York, from whence I received several nice birthday shirts over the years.

I’ve saved all that ribbon, never knowing what to do with it.  Now I know: Tool Rolls.

There’s a second band inside each tool roll, as well: two strips of fabric left over from the cutting/trimming process, sewn together and turned. This is then sewn down to match the tubes/pockets on the lower half of the outer shell.  The result is that each pencil or pen has its place in the case/roll.

By teaching children to order their tools in some sort of careful way, we teach them to need fewer of them, to treat them responsibly as tools, and to know how to store tools effectively.

It helps them be organized, it helps them know exactly how much of each tool to carry, and it helps them know when a tool is worn out or broken and needs to be replaced.

Greco Roman

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I promised pictures of the garments that I made for people going to the Pennsic War. Here they are, minus some faces.

First up, though nearly last-made, is a fighter’s tunic, meant to go over armor and keep the more plastic bits of the armor from showing to the assembled crowd. Simply a large rectangular bloc of fabric, adorned with strips of trim, hemmed, and a neck T-hole cut through the middle. Should work fine over the armor, and only a few hours’ work. There was enough fabric left that we could probably make something small out of it, a few bags perhaps, possibly some other things. We’ll see.  The neck-hole is a T-shaped slot lined with more of this pale brown trim. I did the machine stitching with a paler purple-red color that the fighter can pass off as “the last thread from our house in Carthage before the sack of the city at the end of the Third Punic War.”

It’s good to have a story.

The second things I’m showing off, but the first made, was a Roman senatorial toga, two broad purple stripes of a different cloth than the main body of the white toga. This was for a different client.  Underneath the toga is a tunica cerulea, a sky-blue tunic.  AT the time of the fitting of the garment, I hadn’t yet hemmed the neckline.  Both garments are essentially linen.  Both should be very, very nice after a few washings.

The footwear needs some work, of course.  But that’s how these things usually go.

In essence, this toga is a sari.  It’s the width of the fabric, selvedge edge to selvedge edge, hemmed on all four sides, with the purple ends attached as a result of two folds in the fabric to make a broad double-seam in the middle.  Saris are woven completely from end to end, so this isn’t a sari. But in terms of length, it seems about the same.  In terms of width, it seems about the same.  And it’s a pretty plausible re-construction of a toga, as near as I can tell.  Which makes more sense than some of the other constructions I’ve seen, that appear to require looms dozens of yards wide.
I don’t know if the third garment is historical or not, but it’s basically a wraparound skirt or short kilt with a strip of trim on three sides.  Wrap it around you, left over right, belt at the waist, fold the upper part over the belt, voila! Working clothes on a hot day when you feel like being shirtless.  It seemed the best use for a broad strip of fabric left over from a chiton, at least for the guy whose fabric it was.

So… those are some of the projects I’ve worked on and finished this weekend and early week.  I wonder what’s next?

In the meantime, back to quilting.

“Greco-Roman” outfit 

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Be Hellenistic, not fatalistic. 


A friend of mine is going to the annual convention of the Society for Creative Anachronism, otherwise known as the Pennsic War. He needed some garb. The group he travels with are classicists, so a simple Roman-era tunic and a long rectangular himation or peplos — really a simplified toga — are all he needs. I figured out a way to cut two tunics, one sleeved and one sleeveless, from the fabric he brought me. This is the sleeved one. 

I’ll have to wait until his fitting this evening for photos of the pseudo/proto-toga. It’s simply impossible to photograph in a way that makes it look like something other than a long rectangle of cloth with stripes at the ends. Wrapped around a person it’ll look quite different, I believe. 

I have a new sewing machine. I did these projects with the old sewing machine because I’m at a critical stage in quilting two crib-sized quilts, and all my spare thread is wound onto bobbins of the old machine. But if I took down and store the old machine, I’d never finish those quilts. 

But… after this weekend, and this project for my friend, I got most of the quilting done. So I’m ready to store my old machine as of today. I have some time this afternoon, so I’m going to use the new machine to put some decorative stitching on the two tunics and the proto-toga. 

Tool roll

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I took a break from quilting — which can be tiring work, manipulating three layers of fabric in the heat — to make this.

It’s a tool roll.

Over the years, I’ve watched middle schoolers, high schoolers and others struggle with pencil cases. The pencil cases fill up with broken pens, pencils without points, and a variety of other broken tools. It’s dumb.  I’ve made other tool rolls, notably in leather, but I wanted to make one that I thought could be replicated in a school MakerLab pretty easily with just fabric and some simple supplies like ribbon and bias tape.   And I made this in a couple of hours, I’d say, making it up as I went.  Pretty easy, and a reasonably competent sewer could make a replica in short order, I’m sure.

The design is pretty simple but I’m going to have to refine it further before it’s ready for prime-time to teach others how to sew.  There is a pattern of sorts, in other words. But I’m going to have to refine it.

The essence of the design is two pieces of fabric, the same width but different lengths.  One is folded around the other in such a way as to form a top ‘flap’ to protect the tools inside and keep them from flopping out; and a bottom ‘pocket’ to hold the tools in place.  These two pieces of fabric are the red-with-yellow-stars fabric, and the solid blue.  (The purple is bias tape, the ribbon is from the box of a fancy men’s store in New York City that I saved for this purpose when I got a gift; and the black-and-white floral print is left over from one of last week’s quilts.  The result is a simple tool roll that holds just a few pens and pencils — enough to know that they work, that they’re good tools, and that they have a specific place to go.  Not so many that they get lost or broken.

Even unrolled, the tool roll conceals its tool kit until the last minute.  The blue fabric flips over the top in order to protect the equipment inside.  When this is flipped open or flipped back, the simple collection of tools inside becomes visible.   I think ultimately there should be room for 2-3 pencils, one of those blocky pencil-sharpeners with two shavers, a compass and a ruler, and 3-5 pens (black, blue, red, and maybe some other colors): enough to work with in an imaginative way, but not so much that it’s hard to keep track of.  And when something is broken or missing, you know — you know because you, the kid who made this pencil case, know exactly how many tools are in it, should be in it, and where they go.  That would be the idea.

So that’s the basics of the design: non-complicated, four pieces of fabric and a ribbon  And the design teaches four basic skills, too: hemming, inside-out-and-turn construction, top stitching, bias tape use, cutting on a rotary mat with a quilting ruler, and layering of stitches. It’s not fool proof by any means, but it’s a sophisticated project for being such a small thing.  I have to refine it, of course, but this is a great start.  Yay!

Triangle quilt

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This is the second quilt I’ve made that uses triangles. The first such quilt I made, I assembled hexagon shaped “blocks” and then sewed the blocks together. With this quilt, I assembled the triangles into rows, and then sewed the rows together. Something went wrong diring the assembly process though. If you look closely you can see the challenge: partway through, I seemed to run out of triangles. So I added more triangles to the pattern. And I wound up with an extra row. The first photo shows the quilt as planned: the second photo shows the quilt top as assembled. 
So this quilt has an extra or unneeded row. Now I have to decide if I’m going to even the work out by adding another row, or leave the thing unbalanced as it currently is.

Notes for an astrological lodge

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As recently as 100 years ago, most Americans belonged to at least one large organization —the Freemasons, the Grange, the Knights of Pythias, the Oddfellows, Toastmasters, Rotarians and so on. Maybe that age in American history has come and gone. Maybe it will never return again, but it always seems to me that we repeat certain structures from time to time. Maybe the time has come for this one.

I had reason to get out these sashes that I made while doing Rufus Opus-style planetary work A few weeks ago. But I didn’t get to put them away again until today. As I did so, it occurred to me that they were relevant to something I had read in Chris Brennan’s book, Hellenistic Astrology. It was also something I heard on his show, the astrology podcast.

The coral idea it was this: Humans are born as creatures of Fate. We are destined to certain ends and certain results, unless we make an effort to change that. Yet changing our fate is very difficult. 

There is a practice in some therapeutic circles, of gathering a group of people, and letting the patient arrange those people in a tableau, so that mother and father, significant siblings and other persons are placed in relationship to one another. This is similar to lodge practice, in which the positions of various officers during a ceremony are understood to affect the initiate in symbolic and aetherial ways. 

Members of an astrological lodge, would then perform this function for one another. In a first degree initiation, The officers would stand in the lodge around the candidate wearing plain black robes, with a sash indicating their planetary color.  The officers would be positioned according to the astrological chart of the candidate. In a 2nd° initiation, the candidate would be able to ask and receive certain gift of the planets.  In a third-degree initiation fee candidate would symbolically “be slain” by their birth chart, only to rise again and “slay” their birth chart in return, and so free themselves from the destiny laid out for them by fate.

In between initiations, a variety of materials will be provided to teach astrology to members. Basic training in reading a birth chart, basics of horny astrology, and similar material would comprise the 1st°. The 2nd° would be training in a more magical approach to the planets, using Thomas Taylor’s Orphic hymns, and other poetic materials. There would be more focus on symbolically awakening, or propitiating the planets. The 3rd° would involve conjuration of various kinds of the planetary angels, and learning to work with those powers.

In large would need eight members ideally. More would certainly be permitted, but some of them would be sitting on the sidelines. The moon officer would be the keeper of the calendar for the lodge. The mercury officer would be secretary-treasurer. The Venus officer would be responsible for seeing to the creation of the lodge’s equipment and feeding people after rituals. The Sun officer would be the president. The mars officer would be responsible for securing the physical space, and act as Sergeant at arms, and keeper of the lodges equipment. The Jupiter officer would be vice president of education, and responsible for  leading rehearsals of the working group. The Saturn officer would be the immediate past president, there could be a supplemental curriculum for officers, charging them with walking the gates associated with their particular planet.

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