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.

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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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.

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.

 

Headed in winter

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A few months ago, I wrote about the Headless One rite from Gordon’s book, The Chaos Protocols.

And, having experienced the moment of the Sun on the shoulders of Orion, it seemed appropriate to wait until the the opposite moment, when the Moon sat on the shoulders of Orion just before the Midwinter.

Alas. It’s cloudy here.  So you’ll have to make do with a screen capture from the app StarWalk2, showing the position of the Moon slightly above the horizon, and forming an alignment of sorts with the theoretical head the great hunter.  Ah, the wonders of modern technology.

Of course, I gushed about it on social media a little, because it feels important; those who seem to make Orion an important part of their experience of the night sky reported in that it felt a little more powerful, a little more changed tonight, than on other nights.  I’m not trying to re-start Neolithic religion here, Gordon, I promise — but wow.  It did feel like a different night than usual, for sure.

And some of that is on me. On us.  I mean, if we moderns invest our time and attention on things like this moment, then it becomes important. Not because it was important then, (though it may have been), but because it is important to us now.

My father was a navigator for the US Naval Air Service, back in the day.  I spoke with him tonight, and I mentioned that I was a little excited about this moment when Orion wore the Moon like a helmet, or a crown.  And I could almost hear his shrug over the phone.

“Sure,” he said. “The full Moon before the winter solstice, when Aldebaran is right there… we used to use that as a homing signal on flights over the Pacific.  It’s a stunning sight, isn’t it?”

And the wind died in my sails a bit. Because of course a Pacific navigator would know about such things.  My father and his squadron mates were flying by the island-hopping method from central California to Saigon and back, or from California to Alaska and back, all through the 1960s.  Flight or ocean-going, the winds and tides and placement of islands and placement of stars were always on their mind.  So has it ever been. So will it always be, for as long as the Pacific is navigable, I suspect — the navigators will always know more than the ordinary folks, and sometimes the ordinary folks know more than the magicians.
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The moon came out a little bit, and I was able to snap a quick photo of her through the branches of the trees.  She’s a stunning sight, wreathed in fog and crowned (or perhaps more than usual, bodied) with stars.

It was cold outside, of course.  The act of standing on my porch and breathing also seemed to awaken something in the dogs down the street, who were exceptionally interested in barking at something.  There’s a threat of snow tonight, and the outside walks are slippery with black ice.  I don’t wish to put down salt if I don’t have to, either — there’s a brook close by, and who wants to make things difficult for the land so soon after moving in?   And inside was so tempting, so very tempting.  The fire in the wood stove leapt to life mere moments after my candles were lit and I lifted my voice to say some old, old words of greeting.

I found some ways of celebrating, of course. Because sometimes it’s better to light some candles than curse the darkness.

The Headless One

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Last year, lots of people in the magical community got hugely excited about Gordon White’s book The Chaos Protocols and the hugely relevant and powerful Star.Ships (which I reviewed here).  Gordon is of course the author of the moderately-successful chaos magic blog, Rune Soup. So did I, but due to events in my life it was impossible for me to write about my experiences with the Headless Rite.

And I kind of made what feels like a relevant discovery. More

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