Astrology and Celestial Poesis

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I listened today to an episode of Chris Brennan‘s The Astrology Podcast, in which he talks with astrologer Sam F. Reynolds about Sam’s appearance on a TV show called “Bill Nye Saves the World” from Netflix.

It was a pretty good episode. There was some strong, and useful and thought-provoking back-and-forth between host and guest, centering on the question of whether or not astrology is a science; whether or not there’s empirical evidence for it working (as a middle ground of rigor between anecdotal — “story-based evidence” on the more literary side; or scientific — “big-data-based evidence”); and whether or not any astrologer should get into debates with scientists (or science evangelists) on the subject of whether or not astrology has validity.

I’m really enjoying reading Chris Brennan’s book, Hellenistic Astrology, of course.  Chris’s points in the show were also well-taken: that it’s potentially problematic to ‘give ground and surrender’ right away (my summarization of his words, not a true quote) by agreeing that astrology is not a science.  If one finds oneself in debate with Bill Nye or any other scientist or science-apologist, maybe conceding that astrology isn’t a science right away isn’t wise.

But on the other hand, I found myself agreeing with a lot of what Sam Reynolds had to say.  One thing in particular resonated: the idea of astrology as a language, rather than a science.  Chris Brennan seemed to find this particularly objectionable, because he felt that this undermined the validity of astrology, especially in the eyes of scientists.  However, Sam argued that this helped astrology fit into the realms of literature and poetry more effectively. He called astrology celestial poetry — which I write.

And this brought to mind my regular fascination with the medieval seven: the Liberal Arts (plus philosophy), which I find myself returning to again and again:

  1. The Trivium, or three ways, of language:
    1. Rhetoric
    2. Grammar
    3. Logic
  2. The Quadrivium, or four ways, of mathematics:
    1. Geometry
    2. Arithmetic
    3. Music
    4. Astronomy

It occurred to me that Astrology is a bridge between 2.4 in the above list, and 1.1-3.  One takes the observable data about the sky — the geometry and arithmetic in motion — and use the various degree-coordinates as variables in an equation. These are the placements of planets, signs, and houses; and the resulting aspects between them.  The resulting numeric-coordinate variables are compared with a database of possible text-values, e.g., Mars means this, and Venus means that, and the relationship they both have with the Sun in Leo means this other thing.  The sky, in other words, yields first a set of abstracted number-values and variables… and then it yields a set of words.

Which brings us from the quadrivium, the four-way crossroads, to the trivium, the three-way crossroads.  It brings us from the realm of mathematics into the realm of story-telling, and unites the the two realms of language and mathematics.

When a poet tells a story about themselves, it’s autobiographical poetry.  When a rhetor, an epic reciter, tells the story of the Spear-Danes, they’re reciting history.  But when an astrologer reads the stars for a client, they’re creating a real-time story about time and space in which the client is the protagonist and principal character.  Each and every one of us is the hero of our own birth charts.  That’s who we are — the chief character in our own story.

And that’s why the idea of Celestial Poetry resonated so strongly with me. Because you can buy the celestial poetry I’ve already written:

But Sam Reynolds’ comments also provide me with a way of understanding what I think about astrology.  I don’t believe the stars rule our destiny, for example; Marsilio Ficino, the great Renaissance translator, mystic and magician thought that there were coincidences and correlations between human experience and the motions of the heavens because both were being moved and adjusted by the same invisible forces — and thus astrology is simply a matter noticing and reading the obvious but temporary signs left in place by the road-repair crews — you can see the traffic cones and the diamond-shaped orange signs, and you can see the lane changes plainly enough.  But it doesn’t mean you know who ordered them to put out the cones, or when the work is done.

But literature — poetry, storytelling, song, history — always carries with it some level of validity and meaning.  It’s a way of making sense of who we are as humans. It’s part of the reason I’ve written all those astrological poems, for example — because I’m interested in the idea of cycles of time and changes in the world as a result of changes of time.

So I feel as though I finally have a way to explain and explore astrology in other people’s charts beside my own that makes sense for me — I’m not trying to defraud people out of their money or their time; rather, they’re offering to let me tell them a story about themselves, and about the world they live in. They want to hear their own heroism, their own doubts and failures as a hero, and the moment when they stand and find the courage to do what must be done next.

This is, after all, the reason why so many people go to see astrologers — at moments of crisis or difficulty in their lives, they want to have a sense of how the next part of the story plays out.  They want some predictions that they made the right choices, that this part of the story resolves, and that life does in some fashion go on.  Maybe those are the answers they get; maybe they aren’t.  Either way, though, they’re looking for celestial poetry — for a way to connect the raw celestial mechanics of the heavens above, to their own story and their own meaning.

They are looking for the ways in which the apparently-uncaring Cosmos has written their story into the very movement of the stars.  And that feels like a worthy skill to develop — not just to be a writer of poetry, but a writer of poetry that joins the heights of the farthest heavens to the depths of a person’s soul. There’s no telling whether it will ever win prizes or collect fame or fortune — but maybe it will shine starlight and moonlight on a person’s heavy spirit, and give them a light in a dark and wild wood where the way is otherwise lost.

Yet Another New Book

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I have another, another new book on Amazon today:

The Sun’s Paces: 36 Hymns for the Decans of the Zodiac

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The Sun’s path across the sky is called the Ecliptic, and it passes through the twelve signs of the Zodiac.  As it does so, it passes through the thirty-six subdivisions of the Zodiac, called the Decans.  Famed in ancient Egyptian, Hellenistic, and Renaissance sources, they’ve become less important in recent centuries — and yet they’re far older.

In these thirty-six poems, Andrew Watt (that is, me, your blog author), explores these hidden meanings, and the hidden sacred stories in the Hellenistic-era deities that preside over the Decans.  In these pages you’ll encounter Tethys the Titanic queen of Ocean and Hekate the magical lady of the Crossroads, Serapis the syncretic tyrant and Dolus the trickster.  The traditional imagery of the Decans are briefly discussed, and suggestions are provided on how to incorporate the study of the Decans into your own life.  Most of all, these poems celebrate the diversity and range of thirty-six other ways of looking at the complexities of modern life through the lenses of ancient wisdom.

Other Writings

This brings to four the number of titles that you can find of my poetry on Amazon.com:

Thank you so much if you’ve already purchased one or more of these collections of poetry. Your support is very much appreciated.

New Book on Amazon!

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I have a new book on Amazon.com.

The Mansions of the Moon

screen-shot-2017-02-27-at-3-59-28-pmThe Mansions of the Moon, a collection of twenty-eight poems celebrating the angels of the Mansions of the Moon, and their images and lore, as described in Picatrix and other sources like Christopher Warnock’s book, The Mansions of the Moon, is available in Kindle format  here.

Current price is $4.99 for twenty-eight poems, greeting the twenty-eight angels of the Moon’s orbit as found in traditional astrological sources like Picatrix.

From the book blurb on Amazon…

In many ancient sources, the Moon is called “The Treasure House of Images” and this book helps explore that name. From at least the classical era, ancient Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Indian civilizations divided the sky into twenty-eight Mansions, noting that the Moon spent a day in each of these places in the course of a month. As with the night sky divided into constellations, ancient astronomers named these Mansions and gave them images, and celestial rulers. Thus, the Mansions of the Moon are a ‘Zodiac’ of sorts for the Moon — a sequence of twenty-eight positions that the Moon occupies on successive days through her month-long procession across the sky.

In this sequence of twenty-eight poems, Andrew Watt explores what the Mansions have meant for hundreds if not thousands of years — the spiritual rulers said to reign in those palaces, the forces they put to work in human and earthly affairs, and the imagery that is said to adorn these Mansions. Each Mansion, and each poem, is thus a door or a window into a magical way of seeing the world. By following the Moon through each of the Mansions on succeeding days, the reader gains insight into the way the Moon truly is a Treasure House of Images.

Would you also like it as a downloadable PDF available through my store on Etsy.com? Please let me know… In the meantime, you can get my Poetry for the Behenian Stars there, as well as on Amazon.com.

Special thanks to Christopher Warnock.  Without his book, The Mansions of the MoonI would never have become so excited about this subject, or written these poems.

 

Magic/Poetry: Light Into Darkness

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I read variants of this every year.  I’ve anonymized the origin, because I want to make clear that I’m not picking on a specific Original Poster (OP).

Taking Christ out of Christmas?
Christmas is a pagan holiday that the Christians decided to hijack like everything else they can get their hands on and the bible doesn’t say when when Jesus was born so sit down with all that goodbye…

We all read variants on this every year.

But.

“Christmas” is the nickname for the “Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”   Calling it a pagan holiday is akin to saying that pagans stole Yule from Christians…

Because of course, pagans did no such thing. The word ‘pagan’ comes from Latin, meaning ‘country-bumpkin’ or something similar, and it’s the word that Christians used to describe the people who hadn’t converted to Christianity yet.   And ‘Yule’ of course is a Germanic word, the name of the winter celebrations of the ‘barbarians’ beyond the edges of the Roman Empire.  Maybe Neo-Pagans stole Yule from Christians… but that’s a different claim, and still totally irrelevant.

So the pagans didn’t have Yule stolen from them, because they didn’t celebrate it.  And you can argue about Christians stealing Saturnalia from the pagans, but

… HOW ABOUT NO?  How about, Not This Year.

The Graeco-Egyptians divided the astrological year into ten-day periods which are called (by the era of classical and medieval astrology) Decans of the Zodiac. They’re 10-day windows of insight into the experiences of life.  And the ten-day window that includes Yule, that includes Christmas, that includes Saturnalia and other festivals, is the festival of the Headless One, the first decan of Capricorn. Yes, the Headless One of the Stele of Jeu.

In other words, there’s at least a six thousand year history of treating the solstice as a time for celebrating the entry of Spirit into Matter — of the birth of children who are beautiful and wonderful, but nonetheless unaware of their spiritual origins and subject to pain and death.  Christmas is part of this ongoing tradition; I suppose you could say it was ‘stolen’ but maybe you could say ‘infiltration’ too — a critical and essential piece of spiritual wisdom, that like a resurgent meme keeps reinserting itself into every religious tradition it encounters: be nice to people at midwinter, be generous, celebrate with good food and drink, make your hearts and souls happy with the knowledge that Spirit Becomes Flesh! (as I found in Austin Coppock’s book about the Decans).

Like everyone else: pagan, Jew, Christian, Greek, Hindu, Shinto, Muslim, what have you.  We are all subject to pain and death.

The whole point of the midwinter festivals — of Germania, of Italia, of Urbis et Orbis — is to help remind us that even in a season of pain and death, we are also subject to joy, and transcendence. And there is in that, a kind of forgiveness, and a kind of hope.

How about we recognize, in this season of (Northern Hemisphere) darkness and weirdness and terror and cold (that here, at least hasn’t quite arrived), that hope and joy and forgiveness and transcendence are things that everyone can give, and that everyone can receive?  Are generosity, kindness, celebration, joy, good will, and welcome in such short supply that we cannot share them widely without begrudging them to anyone?

Cannot a king and an outlaw lift a cup together and cheer the coming of light into darkness?

Hymn for The Headless One

First Decan of Capricorn

Come, thou Headless One, with sight in thy feet!
Falling down to earth to redeem and rule:
food, sex and jollity — your time is sweet,
when the Sun sits, your guest, at joyous Yule!
You goad to movement, material force;
you’re spirit wrapped in terrestrial flesh,
as kingfisher birds chart their homeward flight,
or runners crossing the end of their course,
or seeds that open to make their roots mesh —
you bring down healing, relief and delight.

Jove-like, with your head tucked under one arm,
your bestial feet pull you toward bounty —
happy home, good food, and sexual charm,
and riches received from town and county.
The goad and sword in your hands show your role,
to push, to prod, to command and to fight —
to revel in life and to roughhouse in bed;
to shoulder in darkness, a red-hot coal
that kindles new flame and brings back the light:
Asclepius who heals even the dead.

By Asafetida’s pungent stenches
that drive off spirits and join us to earth,
help me walk in terrestrial trenches—
as Word was made Flesh, may I know rebirth,
a spirit of Earth with eyes in my feet
and subject to all earthly desires,
and empowered to connect with the land.
Life on Earth can be both bitter and sweet,
graced by gravity, and one with the stars —
help me enjoy these presents from your hand.

— Sarasota, FL, 12/22/2014
(revised Dec 2015)

Poem: Hymn for Mars in Exaltation

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Monday, Wednesday, and next Monday (December 1) all see Mars moving into and then out of its degree of Exaltation in the sign of Capricorn (28th Degree).  In keeping with my regular custom to try to create poetry around such astrological moments, I offer this ode, for the use of people who pay attention to such matters.

Hail to thee, Mars, in exalted station
in the Sea-Goat’s belly — a burning stone
aflame with the force of God’s creation,
blood-red angel fated to fight alone.
You are pure fire now closed in a hearth,
energy harnessed and put to labor,
muscle and sinew bound to reach some goal.
And as the athanor proves the gold’s worth,
so may you prove a forceful crusader —
power and strength merged with perfect control.

You are the force of drive and completion—
by daring and vigor you get. Things. Done!
With force, and fury, and agitation,
you direct the fight so victory’s won.
Meticulously sexy, full of drive,
Mars in Capricorn, logistics’ fierce king,
bring discipline and order to the camp!
Bend backs to the work, and make the work thrive,
even as sweat falls! For your heart must sing
to hear men’s feet drumming a common stamp!

Warrior divine, great Heaven’s right arm,
endow my sinews with purpose and will:
Shield me with courage, and let no alarm
drive me backward — help me to drink my fill
of the victor’s cup! Help me love the fight
also, the challenge seen — and met — and beat —
the bone-weary glee from a foe struck down
by right of arms, due diligence, and might
well-applied; for I refuse all defeat
unless, Mars, it brings me greater renown.

Poem/Magic: 2nd Decan of Cancer

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This morning was a brief window for the Second Decan of Cancer.  Thanks to Christopher Warnock of Renaissance Astrology, and the fine folks on the Spiritus-Mundi email list, I’m learning about astrological magic in the 1600s and 1700s. This morning was an astrological window for the second face or decan of Cancer.  Associated with joy, mirth, riches, and gladness, this opportunity seemed too good to pass up.  Accordingly, it generated both some artwork (not very good, and strongly based on someone else’s art), and a poem:

O Somachalmais, Mercury’s sweet friend,
warden of Cancer’s second decan or face,
a full measure of your dignity lend
with the gentle radiance of your grace.
For riches, mirth, and gladness are your way,
and games of chance and skill provide your delight.
In you is the joy of the winning play,
and this virtue comes to earth with your light.
Let your pneuma focus upon this art,
and send your mirth: so riches rest on me
who speaks your praise in gladness from the heart,
mirroring your joyous divinity.
Somachalmais, let these words be a sign,
of a life enriched by your love divine!

It’s now 6:50 am, and this ‘window’ or opportunity has closed for I don’t know how long. As I understand it (and my understanding is not particularly well-developed at this point), the Second Decan of Cancer is the 10-degree portion of the sky which forms the middle part of the traditional zodiac sign of Cancer (which is 30 degrees wide, like all the other astrological Zodiac signs — so each Zodiac sign has three decans. Got that?).  Each Decan, of which there are thirty-six, has a planetary ruler, or one of the seven visible planets — Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and the Sun and Moon.  When the Sun is coming up over the horizon — in astrological language, on the ascendant — and the planetary ruler of the Decan is in that 10-degree window with which it’s associated — then that astrological window opens. For somewhere between four and twenty minutes, it seems.

And the goal is to create a piece of artwork — a poem, a piece of jewelry, a drawing, a diagram, a thing of some kind, preferably with some of the resonances or theoretical energies of that particular window of opportunity, between when the window opens and when it closes.

Today I did pretty well.  I got a poem that mentions the name of the being, the name of the window, the planetary ruler, the names of the resonances or theoretical energies, and some words of sucking up. I also managed to frame the poem in my notebook with some line art and some calligraphic work, and it came out looking OK.   I like that there’s this narrow window of time, that there’s some specific themes that the poetry or artwork (or both) have to touch upon,

The more complicated question, I suppose, is do I believe it?

This is harder.  I don’t disbelieve it. Rockefeller was famous for saying “Millionaires don’t use astrology; billionaires do.” Gordon had a great piece, a sort of terrifying piece, about this exact theme.  How does one decide what’s important and what isn’t important? How does one decide where to invest belief?  I’m a poet.  I can believe six impossible things before breakfast, and decide by lunch that I don’t believe any of them — but while in the midst of writing the poem, I have to believe it completely.  Right now, a degree of mild skepticism is returning, but in the process of quick-composition and line-drawing for about 25 minutes this morning, I believed that Somachalmais is going to help me with a few things.

And maybe belief doesn’t matter quite so much.  Maybe the opportunity to create art, and to write poetry, is much more important than what I think that I think, or what I believe I believe.

Poem: For the Rising of Venus

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Venus rises in the First Degree of Pisces this Sunday morning, quite early.  I’m part of an email list for people interested in traditional astrology, and I often use the astrological elections (or windows of opportunity to work with the energies of given planets) as occasions for making art of various kinds.  And I composed a poem for the occasion.  The last few times I did this, I got a lot of thank-you notes and kudos from people on the list, and elsewhere… but I also heard some criticism, too — not for the badness of the poem, but for the delay in releasing it so that it could be useful on the morning of the election.

So.  Here is the poem

Hymn for Venus Rising

At the Rising of Venus in the first degree of Pisces, 6 April 2014

Hymn for the Rising of Venus

composed for April 6, 2014 at the rising of Venus in the first degree of Pisces

Great Venus, Queen of amorous honors,
bird-headed and taloned, with comb in hand:
now we process with sistrums and banners
to sing your praises abroad in the land!
For benevolence and love both appear
in each heart where your eagle sight should gaze,
for there your favor turns with kindly eye.
Then cheer and good will both rise to draw near
whoever stands beneath your blessed rays —
and the shuttered heart shall presently fly

open to your light. Now at your rising,
we praise you, O Queen, perfumed with sweet rose,
adorned with jewels of rich devising,
gowned in silken wraps of pleated flows:
for you awaken heart-felt affection
arising, moistened, from the baths of grace,
and you rouse us to song and graceful dance.
Welcome us, Lady: give fair reception
to we who approach with suppliant face,
and grant us a dram of your elegance.

For well do you preside over leisure,
and call forth harmony from humming strings
when flutist and harper play for pleasure
or when a lover in his ardor sings
to his beloved under shining stars;
or when companions laugh and play in jest —
joyous friendship makes them tipsy like wine.
Queen Venus, heed this prayer with open ears,
favor us with your openness and trust,
even as we praise your glory divine!

So, there it is.  I hope it proves useful to you.  For reasons that I don’t understand, and may well be lost in the mists of history, the image of Venus as bird-headed with taloned bird feet is ancient; it appears in Picatrix, which is a medieval magical manuscript on the subject of astrological magic, for example.  It may also appear in Babylonian and Assyrian art, although it is difficult to connect the flow of that ancient, ancient artwork to the medieval tradition. Cornelius Agrippa repeats the description from Picatrix.

One of the things that I like about composing this sort of poetry is that there’s a push from an external tradition to include knowledge and imagery and ideas into the rhyme scheme and meter that are not internal to me.  The poem, while being my own work, is actually an extension of an existing (although in my not-very-knowledgeable eyes, apparently-much-fragmented) tradition.  And there’s a power in that which is difficult to convey, while also conveying a deeply satisfying sense of writing for a larger audience extending forward and backward into time and space.

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