What does it mean to live an astrological life?
Astrology at its best connects to the larger environment, suggesting that by looking about us (the sky), we can tell something about what is going on within us.
In the late 15th century an immensely popular and influential book was published by Renaissance philosopher, priest, physician, astrologer, Marsilio Ficino, titled, "Three Books on Life." It is actually three books in one volume with the last title variously translated from the Latin as, “On Making Your Life Agree With the Heavens,” “On Obtaining Life From the Heavens,” or “How Life Should be Arranged According to the Heavens.”
What exactly does it mean to live our lives in accord with the heavens? Does it mean to religiously scan the media daily for our horoscopes and not make a move away from the house until we have ascertained what the day augurs for us? Does it mean to periodically consult with astrologers for advice on what the stars have in store for us? It may, but I believe the answer resides elsewhere.
In the broadest sense, living an astrological life is living an ecclesiastical life. Ecclesiastical not only in the sense of a churchly calendar of honorings and observances throughout the year but also in the biblical sense of Ecclesiastes 3:1, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” An astrological life provides a framework for living that takes us out of our small circle of concerns and attaches us to a larger life. It is a life in which there are structures that guide our activities in accord with environmental rhythms. Cutting across sectarian lines, it requires no allegiance to a tribal god, be it Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, though these traditions do acknowledge the wisdom of the world.
One example is from the Judeo-Christian tradition is Psalm 19 “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the end of the world.”
What is this if not a communication? The sky speaks. The cosmos is alive and declaring to those who have the ears to hear and the eyes to see that each moment has meaning, has divine intent.An astrological life is simply an adherence to the sacred patterns in the world. It should be obvious however that these sacred patterns are not culturally recognized because the thrust of modern life secularizes the world in which we live.
Secularization is a process defined by the increasing disappearance of the sacred from the life of a culture. We live in a time which has experienced the demise of the sacred from everyday life. Theologian, Albert Outler wrote, “The loss of the sacred... is a code phrase for the nearly total disappearance, in the collective consciousness of ‘modern’ man, of not only any vivid sensibility of that sacred presence in which we ‘live, move, and have our being’ but also of that sacred order by which we ought to live."
But we also live in a time of hunger, a desire for something more. Walk through any bookstore and witness the titles which speak to us of reawakening the sacred in daily living. We seem to thirst for a taste of the Holy, an engagement with something special, powerful, filled with being and meaning. This is the mark of our age. How can astrology help with this cultural emptiness?
An astrological life means living with a keen awareness of the differences within time and space. In our everyday mind, time and space are viewed as profane, homogenous, mundane, of no special merit. Typically they have little or no qualitative difference. Is it possible that the way we in the West consider space and time contributes to a sense of malaise and boredom which seems a permanent feature of American life? Each day is fairly much the same as the next. The once set apart holy day of Sunday now affords me the same ease as any other day of the week for shopping, purchasing alcohol, and even working. Holidays (holy days) such as Memorial Day can be celebrated anywhere from the 25th to the 31st of May. Martin Luther King Day, President’s Day, and Labor Day float on the convenience of Mondays. Thanksgiving is the 4th Thursday in November. These are not cosmically determined like the solstices, equinoxes, and cross quarter days. These cultural observances do not connect us to the living cosmos.
Astrological time however is very different. We can’t just move time around capriciously, changing holidays and birthdays willy-nilly to fit our daily schedules. Time is so important that depending on when a person is born is a fundamental key to understanding that life. Time is qualitative in that each moment is unique from any other, more propitious for certain kinds of activities and less so for others. Time is viewed liturgically, similar to the ritualized days and months of the church year. In other words, time captures meaning.
An astrological view confers an appreciation for the daily round. Time is imagined as overlapping, interpenetrating shorter and lengthier cycles of change. To recognize the repetitiveness of time is to accept endings, gain the capacity to start over, to be born again, to face living with trust in the eternal returning. I’m not speaking here of simply spinning your wheels or going in circles, though that may be necessary at times, but rather the possibility of ever widening spirals of experience weaving more inclusiveness into life as we spin the fabric of our destinies.
What about space, modern life holds space and place with the near same indifference as time. Now of course, we can speak of beautiful or decaying spaces in America but overall, space is generally viewed as homogenous. If I am eating at McDonalds in San Francisco or NYC my experience of eating there has little qualitative difference. My experience of Walmart in Denver is fairly identical to the one in Cleveland. It used to be that traveling held great surprises in place but now we seek the shelter of Ramada Inns, Hyatts, and Hiltons guaranteeing that our experience in new cities is familiar. For the majority of Americans, modern America has no sacred space. We esteem no sacred rivers or trees, pilgrimage to no sacred mountains, pray at no sacred wells. The astrological life however carries the fantasy that place matters, whether in relocational charts or in natal charts. My birth place reflects the nature of my inner being. Sacred space and sacred time add depth, difference, and color, enriching what it means to live this life. The astrological view sees the classical transcendence of divinity translated to the immanence of place and moment.
Living an astrological life allows us to conceive the sacred as expressed through mythical divinities imagined as Mercury, Venus, Mars, and the rest of the pantheon of the solar system. I refer to these ‘gods’ not in a theological sense but in a psychological one. As the late James Hillman noted, the gods are not to be believed in but rather imagined in the same manner as myth, symbol, story, and dream. This is an imaginal and creation centered polytheism. The planetary gods reflect styles of consciousness, ranges of feeling, and a variety of modes of behavior. Someone strongly engaged with Saturn thinks, feels, and behaves quite differently from a person honoring Mars as his patron. There is nothing inherently wrong with how we experience the world; each style of thinking, feeling, and behaving has its own legitimacy. As an expression of divinity, by definition it has value. What is considered pathological from a Martian perspective may not be so from a Venusian one and vice versa. Each god may have a claim upon us at various times in our lives.
What does it mean to have a sunny disposition, to behave as a lunatic, to be described as mercurial, jovial, or be in a saturnine mood?
It means to be in the grip of these divinities, not literally, but imaginally. This metaphorical way of describing our lives images an intimate relationship between us and the world we inhabit, between the gods and ourselves.
In Greek mythology, Zeus appeared as a swan to Leda. In Homer’s Odyssey, the goddess Athena appeared as the visitor, Mentes to Telemachus. Jung stated that the gods have become diseases visited upon us. What is an obstacle in my path but Saturn in disguise or perhaps he may appear to me in the guise of a critical boss or an overbearing father. I might meet Pluto as the local mortician or come face to face with him as a mugger. Mars might be the bully in the school yard, Aphrodite as my attractive neighbor or a bouquet of flowers on my table. The gods take many forms; they are the shape shifters, the powers and principles of being. We live within their being, the anima mundi, the Soul of the World.
If Mars was in the sign of the season of spring, Aries, when I was born, the time of the year when new life is thrusting, upsurging, and forcing its way into being, could my inner Mars symbolizing assertion, generativity, and initiative be mirrored in a bold and courageous aggressive drive? If at my birth the Sun was in Leo, the sign of bright summer, perhaps my inner Sun wishes to shine center stage with bright glory and express the same radiant display.
The symbols of the zodiac image the turning of the seasons denoting a living relationship between the Sun and the Earth. The pushy Aries, the stubborn Taurus, the proud Leo, the imaginative ways in which we describe what it means to be human all lend depth and character to our lives. All this may sound like gobbledygook to the astrologically insensitive ear, but to be aware of the signs of the zodiac is to possess a seasonal consciousness, one that is integrated into the larger world and in which, time has distinctive qualities and brings form to our activities. The astrological view recognizes an ensouled world, experiences its animation, bringing it alive for us, letting it speak to us through metaphor and symbol, omen and sign.
Some people fear that the astrological life carries an unhealthy determinism, but more realistically I believe it demonstrates an inherent faith in the way of the heavens hinting that our lives can at times be out of our control without being out of control. Our destiny is not imposed from without but is given birth from within, guided and shaped by the multitude of imaginal figures comprising our community of selves, who inhabit psyche.
As a culture we possess an optimistic, expansive, jupiterian attitude of ‘can do.’ We can’t abide limits or easily give up control. America wants to be #1, give us a challenge and we apply ourselves until the limitation is overcome. Certainly the aptly named Apollo program referenced this mind set in breaking the boundaries of Earth and visiting the Moon. We tend to dislike the more restrictive, Saturnian perspectives which oblige fate. We are so deeply enmeshed in the jupiterian fantasy that fateful Saturn appears as a moral outrage and a crime against our precious notion of growth and freedom. But fate is the given, the hard reality, the structure of our birth chart, the form of our life. It is not something foreign but familiar. It is us. How we choose to respond to this ‘given’ is the proper image of freedom. Freedom is our response-ability to the world and to ourselves.
How do we respond to deep inner pressures for change mirrored in transits? Do we act out to alleviate the strain or can we hold the tension for contemplation? Can we let the elements of distress provide the necessary ingredients for transformational change? The desire for a new location or the fantasy of an affair can teach us much without having to act them out. They certainly reflect a longing for new life, second chances, Eden, even youthfulness. If we entertain these fantasies contemplatively, we may engage an alchemical process distilling gold from the muck in which we find ourselves.
In this, as Jung noted, free will may be our capacity to gladly do that which we must of necessity do. Perhaps in the end, choice doesn’t matter if all roads lead home. Confucius remarked in the Doctrine of the Mean, “That which is called the Way of Heaven cannot be separated from for an instant.” In reality there may be no way to be out of accord with the heavens except through our own ignorance of not knowing.
In astrology, there are times to move forward and times to refrain. Some of its axioms include beginning projects when the moon is waxing, making no important decisions when the Moon is void-of-course. Exercising caution in communications when Mercury is retrograde, attending to relationships when Saturn is passing through your 7th house. Whether or not these axioms are literally true is to misread the question. We should not follow these occasions blindly but rather consider (a word meaning “with the stars”) how we shape our intentions.
The elegance of an astrological view is that it brings us into relation with an order and rhythm more encompassing than our own personal ones, enhancing a sense of belongingness and connection. It allows us to feel placed, at home in the world. In knowing our place in the scheme of things, we experience comfort and contentment, living is imbued with meaning. It is a means for viewing our lives with an imaginative eye, of seeing all life experience as infused with the sacred. What happens when we imagine a sky within as mysterious, fathomless, and vast as the star filled night sky which stops us in our tracks with its awesome beauty?
Origen, a 3rd. century Church father wrote, “Thou art a second world in miniature, the sun and moon are within thee, and also the stars.” It is a blessing to contemplate our own mystery in its relation to the larger mysteries of life.
To live an astrological life does not require that we scan the ephemeris daily to discern the shape of the day. It is sufficient to be aware of the cycle of the seasons, the phases of the Moon, the turnings of the sky. This awareness gives us pause to reflect, to cultivate imagination. Astrology as a marginal feature in the landscape of modern life originates in a premodern worldview and carries for us sacred myth, divine mandalas, the activities of the gods, and other elements of religious life and movement. There has been little value for this kind of thinking in modern life but as postmodern thinking arises on the horizon of culture perhaps astrology again will find a place of legitimacy in the cultural imagination.
Living an astrological life attunes us to the inner and outer rhythms at play in the world and sensitizes us to the ebb and flow in life. We see new beginnings in sunrise and spring and endings in sunset and autumn. There are times for moving forward and for holding back. Astrological living is rhythmic living, an intimate dancing with the ways of the world, a kind of Western Daoism. It is an affirmation of the necessity of infirmity, pathology, and discontent. We would no more wish to rid ourselves of sadness, illness, and failure than we would want to extinguish night, the clouds, and storm. These dark gifts bless our lives in ways rarely noted. What kind of hell would it be to endlessly endure constant day with the sun shining brightly in a cloudless sky?
An astrological life truly reclaims wholeness recognizing the necessity of day and night, sun and storm, joy and sorrow. This does not mean that we should actively seek out calamity; fate brings that to all of us in due time. It does mean however, that we can now embrace calamity, affirming its right to be present in our lives whether imagined as Saturn, Pluto, or other celestial figure. Reading the world astrologically, each god has a temple, each experience has a home, and each life, a place.
Care of the Soul author, Thomas Moore wrote, “Astrology is a form of imagination emerging from nature and having direct relevance for everyday life. It is an applied poetics, a vision of life on earth stimulated by movements in the heavens, which can take us into areas of self-reflection as no other system of symbols and images can.” We should honor this cosmicizing discipline, taking astrology seriously but not literally, recognizing its power to reconnect us to the world, to each other, and to ourselves.
Living an astrological life means finding your fit, feeling your rhythm, settling in to your niche, knowing your place. It means, to quote one of the great theologians of the 20th century, Paul Tillich, “You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you,… Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!” This life is where we belong, where we fit and for astrologers, we can be instrumental in helping ourselves and non-astrologers discover this.