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Astrology and the Archetypal Power

of Numbers, Part Two

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Preface to the Astropoetic Series

This book – along with both my previous books: Tracking the Soul With An Astrology of Consciousness and Astrology and the Archetypal Power of Numbers, Part One – is part of The Astropoetic Series, in which my goal is to develop an astrological language of soul.  In the precursor to this series – The Seven Gates of Soul: Reclaiming the Poetry of Everyday Life – I define soul as embodied Spirit, and Spirit as the omnipresent, immanent Intelligence that infuses Life on this planet with natural order.  It is the embodiment of Spirit that makes possible the experience of consciousness, which in turn makes possible a conscious life informed by Divine Intelligence, lived in harmony with natural order. 


Based on these assumptions, I view the soul’s journey as the lifelong effort of each individual to align herself with Divine Intelligence and natural order.  This journey necessarily entails addressing all impediments to this alignment – wounds, core issues and seemingly external obstacles to forward momentum, as well as the limitations of time and space, and conditions of gravity, entropy, and mortality that are unavoidable conditions of an embodied life.  In addition, the soul’s journey involves a process of gradual self-discovery, learning and growth as an individual reaches toward a more evolved depth of creativity that mimics the capacity of Spirit to order and transform the world.  In this way – through self-healing and self-actualization – the individual soul participates in and contributes to the collective evolution of the anima mundi at the heart of the embodied world.


The Seven Gates of Soul


In The Seven Gates of Soul, I suggest that astrology can become a powerful language of soul with which to describe and further explore the soul’s journey, provided it is first relieved of certain patterns of conditioning.  This conditioning is intrinsic not just to it, but to a world dominated by the reductionist thinking of monotheistic religion and Newtonian science.   Religion tends to confuse the mortal soul with the immortal Spirit and unnecessarily restrict the trial-and-error learning process of the soul with moral judgments.  Science disavows the notion of soul altogether, essentially replacing it with the more limiting concepts of mind or brain function, and dismissing or attempting to negate the subjective nature of human experience.  Furthermore, science insists that whatever does not fall under its purview – including most of the essential experiences of soul: the exercise of consciousness, creativity, love, healing, awareness of beauty, self-reflection, and self-transcendence – is either unworthy of investigation or must be distorted to fit the scientific paradigm before it can be considered real.  Psychology – which evolved as a science in the late nineteenth century – finds meaning only in the measurable aspects of human behavior, upon which it then casts quasi-religious judgment as “normal” or “abnormal.”


To be sure, religion, science and psychology are all slowly evolving in hopeful directions – although the key word here is “slowly.”  As former professor of philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology Thomas Kuhn pointed out half a century ago, paradigms shift at glacial speed against the entrenched inertia of old, previously accepted ideas (176).  The upside of this conservatism inherent within the scientific community is that paradigms shift only when sufficient evidence has accumulated to tip the scale toward the new worldview.  The downside is that institutionalized investment in the old paradigm – in terms of money, reputation, and established infrastructure – often elevates mere hypotheses to the level of absolute truths, and can then produce outright denial in the face of evidence that refutes them.


Thus nearly one hundred years after Werner Heisenberg postulated his Uncertainty Principle – casting doubt on the reliability of all scientific measurement – the prevailing scientific paradigm still insists that only measurable evidence is acceptable.  Nearly fifty years after Bell’s Theorem has shown “that, at a deep and fundamental level, the ‘separate parts’ of the universe are connected in an intimate and immediate way” (Zukav, The Dancing Wu Li Masters 282), most scientific researchers still proceed as though it were possible to study separate parts of reality as independent observers. More than fifty years after University of California psychologist Robert Rosenthal began documenting the effects of researcher bias in understanding human behavior, experimental design in the social sciences still pretends that only ‘objective’ truth – that in which all subjectivity has been negated – matters.  These entrenched attitudes not only fly in the face of the newly emerging scientific paradigm, but also continue to condition the way we think about ourselves and the way we practice both psychology – and astrology.


Although Kuhn was speaking about paradigm shifts in hard science, his ideas also apply to changes in soft sciences (such as psychology), religious attitudes, social mores and culturally conditioned belief systems.  Thus, more than one hundred years after women first received the right to vote – in 1893 in the then British colony of New Zealand – and more than 150 years into the feminist revolution, women still struggle in many parts of the world to achieve political and economic parity with men.  The ordination of women as priests or ministers is still considered controversial in most mainstream religious institutions, and Shar’iah law still relegates women to inferior status in Islamic culture. Rape, sexual exploitation and harassment, genital mutilation, forced sterility and marriage without consent all remain issues in various parts of the world.  Currently in the US, women’s reproductive rights are under radical unprecedented attack (Veazy).  For every step forward toward greater equality, there seems to be increased resistance from anti-feminist forces. 


Racism – though perhaps less overt than it was in the days of slavery – still abounds; genocide worldwide appears to be on the increase.  Despite great strides toward feminist goals, increased civil rights for minorities and multi-cultural tolerance of ethnic differences, fundamentalism of all stripes and persuasions still holds the dominant hand in many cultures around the world, including the United States, and presents a filter of distortion through which we view the human soul in all of its exquisite variety.  Such is the nature of paradigm shifts, which proceed slowly and incrementally against barriers of great inertia and resistance.


Similarly, despite the advances in humanistic and transpersonal psychologies over the course of the last generation – both of which assume a more tolerant attitude toward the quirks and inconsistencies of human authenticity – the Bible of the psychiatric profession (now in its 5th edition) the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), still documents in excruciating detail every possible aberration of the human psyche.  According to the editor of the current edition, David Kupfer, "One of the raps against psychiatry is that you and I are the only two people in the U.S. without a psychiatric diagnosis" (Grossman). 


Although Kupfer is ostensibly taking this criticism into account, editorial decisions affecting DSM V, published in May 2013) were made largely behind closed doors by a task force of twenty-seven research scientists from psychiatry and other disciplines, 70% of whom had ties to the pharmaceutical industry (Cosgrove and Bursztain). This does not bode well for a non-judgmental approach to the human soul, since there is money to be made where individuals are judged to be defective because of maladies amenable to chemical treatment. 


As suggested in The Seven Gates of Soul, the soul thrives in a nonjudgmental environment where it is encouraged to cultivate its idiosyncrasies as an integral part of its authenticity, and to explore the psychological and existential roots of its suffering as a pathway to cultivation of spiritual depth.  Meanwhile, increasingly informed by an insurance-driven, evidence-based approach, the psychological profession as a whole is leaning toward a medical model of intervention, aimed at chemical management of symptoms rather than the more creative care of the soul encouraged by Thomas Moore, James Hillman, Robert Sardello and other post-Jungian therapists.  Other non-Jungian psychiatrists such as R. D. Laing and Thomas Szasz have also taken issue with the institutionalized approach to mental health.  Certainly there are extreme psychological conditions that require some medical intervention, but one must remain suspicious when the $300 billion pharmaceutical industry dominates the discussion about what needs treatment and what doesn’t.


Hillman once described the persistent problem posed by the medical model of psychotherapy (The Soul’s Code 30-31):


So long as the statistics of normalizing developmental psychology determine the standards against which the extraordinary complexities of a life are judged, deviations become deviants.  Diagnosis coupled with statistics is the disease; yet diagnosis coupled with statistics is the very name – Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (or DSM) – of the universally accepted guide produced by the American Psychiatric Association and used by the profession, the health care providers, and the insurance payers.

Because the scientific, religious and psychological paradigms that govern how we think about ourselves change only very slowly – often only long after incontrovertible evidence overwhelms institutionalized resistance – culture as a whole tends to be rooted in outmoded truisms, many of which aim toward control or even suppression of soul rather than its cultivation.  On the one hand, the age of broadband Internet has made possible a virtual maelstrom of new ideas.  On the other hand, newly emerging pockets of willful ignorance – insisting that Biblical Creationism be taught alongside Darwinian theory as bona fide science; that climate change is political fabrication; that there exists a thirteenth sign in the zodiac that discredits an astrology based on a division of the ecliptic into equal segments having nothing to do with actual constellations – all gain equal footing in the popular imagination with more carefully constructed arguments.  Within such a world, a concept such as “soul” gets bandied about carelessly, and an astrology of soul develops with cultural bias deeply and uncritically embedded into it. 


It was to examine this impact of cultural bias – not just on astrology, but also on our collective understanding of what it means to be a soul, a human being, or an authentic individual (choose your own synonym) – that The Seven Gates of Soul was written.  This discussion, ranging back to Paleolithic times (50,000 BCE) and still in progress today serves as a working philosophical foundation for the ensuing discussion of astrology’s role as a language of soul that I am developing further in The Astropoetic Series.


Toward an Astrology of Soul


The idea that astrology can and does function as a language of soul is, of course, not a new thought.  Quite the contrary; many psychological astrologers, from a number of persuasions, discuss their work as a language of soul.  In the wake of pioneering astrologer Dane Rudhyar (1895 – 1985) – who integrated basic tenets of Jungian, humanistic and transpersonal psychology with Theosophical sensibilities in the 1960s – the birthchart is today routinely discussed as a map of the soul’s journey.  As I see it, however, astrology in general has become conditioned in theory and practice by the same cultural paradigm that has led to the disenchantment and alienation of post-modern humans. 


While there are many bright lights within the astrological community, those who push toward a more coherent language of soul must do so against a widespread undertow of cultural inertia informed by outmoded religious, scientific, and psychological biases many of which are antithetical to a true cultivation of soul: one marked by the subjective quest of authentic individuality, psychological complexity, spiritual identification with Divine Intelligence and a deep ecological sense of rootedness in natural order.  As a rule, our culture does not honor the soul or even discuss it outside of either the narrow confines of formalized religious thinking or the broad and vague hyperbole of New Age thought.  Both extremes, I feel, miss the point of the embodied soul, which is simultaneously limited by its embodiment and catapulted toward more evolved possibilities of conscious creativity by these same limitations. 


Astrologers of soul, who bring together the psychological, spiritual, mythological, and imaginal realms as a philosophical underpinning to the unique language of astrology are often caught between the two extremes.  On the one hand, we are conditioned – like everyone else – by the entrenched cultural biases of religion, science and psychology that make any discussion of soul, in general, an awkward affair.  On the other, we tend to gravitate with uncritical relief toward emerging ideas from cutting edge and controversial science, New Age thought and our own tradition, that ultimately do little to add to our credibility as a viable discipline in pursuit of greater understanding of what it means to be human.


Following in the footsteps of Rudhyar, most current astrologers of soul lean in the direction of New Age philosophies, speaking of soul in terms of reincarnation and past life theory [1] or in neo-Theosophical terms as an ascending entity subject to a series of esoteric initiations on the way to a more evolved being [2] or as a spiritual quest for enlightenment experiences [3].  Some speak of soul in psychological terms – in keeping with the original meaning of the word “psyche” – with greater [4] or lesser [5] reference to the spiritual dimension of psychology.   Some speak of soul in mythological terms [6] as a synonym for the human being subject to archetypal forces embodied as the gods and goddesses of antiquity to which many astrological references – particularly the planets – are correlated.  Many astrologers pick and choose eclectically from these diverse sources to fuse together their own hybrid approach to a discussion of soul.


All of these voices are important in a post-Rudhyarian world, where the possibilities for integrating astrology, spirituality, psychology, metaphysics and mythology are as intriguing as they are rampant.  Most, in some way, combine an understanding of the psychological descent into the heart of core issues, wounds, and the embodied experience in general with the understanding that the soul is also simultaneously ascending toward an ever-increasing capacity to embody the light of consciousness, the healing compassion of an open heart, and the living wisdom of lessons learned and integrated.  At best, all are blind men and women circling an elephant that critics of astrology (mostly scientific debunkers) either consider extinct or actively seek to exterminate.


At the same time, there is a growing contingent of astrologers within the astrological community itself who seem to take a scientific model as their point of departure, not seeming to realize that philosophically science is uncomfortable with the very idea of soul.  Indeed, science has been a primary catalyst in the de-souling of modern life.  Even those who suggest that the advent of quantum, chaos and other post-quantum theories are not incompatible with the astrological worldview fail to realize that that these theories – themselves largely beyond the reach of current scientific methodology – do not contribute to an astrology of soul unless they are extracted from the scientific mindset that produced them, then applied metaphorically in a way that science itself would not do.  These astrologers [7] mostly work from a statistical model and focus on astrology’s predictive capacity and the correlation of events, measurable behaviors or personality traits with astrological patterns. 


None of these objective measures are particularly useful to an understanding of soul that is subjective and often beyond the reach of quantitative measure in its emerging essence, for reasons I have documented in The Seven Gates of Soul.  Yet, it is not uncommon for such astrologers to refer to soul in their writings, as though it were something measurable by the rational tools of quantification that science has to offer, or is even prepared to consider.


A third stream of astrologers of soul harkens back to the glory days of the Hellenistic era (circa 200 BCE – 200 CE) when astrology and the mythopoetic zeitgeist that informed it were the bedrock of the Greek worldview [8].  This stream, informed largely by Stoic sensibilities, understands astrology to be primarily a signature of Fate, and is laden with judgments about “good” and “bad” placements, aspects and transits that mirror the limiting moral judgments rooted in religious conditioning mentioned earlier as being antithetical to unencumbered soul development.  Paralleling this Hellenistic focus in the West is the increasingly popular Vedic astrology of the East [9], in which similar judgments of “good” and “bad” are endemic to the system. 


The more enlightened proponents of these views do not necessarily understand “good” and “bad” in moralistic terms, but instead ascribe levels of difficulty to various astrological placements and configurations, subtly assuming that “bad” means “difficult” at best, and “bordering on impossible” at worst.  In my view, this still under-estimates the capacity of a conscious soul to use the energy of “bad” to transmute intransigent patterns with greater commitment, perseverance, and ferocity of spirit.


To distinguish my approach to an astrology of soul from these others, I started calling what I do “astropoetics [10]”.  Astropoetics is a hybrid word meant to describe a poetic approach to astrology, applied to the human quest for meaning, purpose, and a deeper sense of connection to all of life. 


Like poetry, and unlike science, astropoetics approaches the literal facts of existence as portals through which the imagination can explore interpenetrating layers of meaning.  These layers – derived from astronomy, mythology and, as we shall see in this book, number – are infused with sensory data, emotion, memory, fantasy, individual and collective longings that are at once universal and intimately personal in their archetypal potency.  Unlike poetry, these layers – which are in effect, layers of the human psyche – can be explored astro-logically: that is to say, in relation to various astrological cycles through which the meaning and purpose of both the ascending and descending dimensions of the soul’s journey reveal themselves through a consideration of coherent symbolic logic. 


Within such an approach, there are no good or bad placements, just a constellation of opportunities perfect for the evolving soul, despite their outward appearance.  The process of soul-making described by an astropoetic approach to the birthchart is not always rational or objective, but often irrational and subjective.  There is no separation between the external events and circumstances of life, the deeper psycho-spiritual lessons to be learned and the soul’s journey toward Wholeness and depth of authenticity.  The astropoetic birthchart is not meant to be interpreted, but to serve as the point of departure for a lifelong, open-ended, and multi-dimensional exploration. When the idiosyncrasies of the individual soul’s journey are viewed through the lens of coherent symbolic logic, meaning emerges and self-awareness deepens.


Tracking the Soul With An Astrology of Consciousness


The key to this exploration, and to the sense of meaning derived from it, is consciousness.  What the birthchart reveals depends upon who is looking at it, the consciousness – the belief systems, attitudes, worldviews and patterns of conditioning – the individual astrologer brings to the symbolism, as well as the level of psycho-spiritual development he has attained in his own life.  Training in one or more systems of astrological practice will color the astrologer’s work but not as much, in my opinion, as the consciousness with which he approaches his work.  Techniques are secondary; consciousness is primary, in the same way that consciousness is primary in the use of any language and will determine what is being said.  Two astrologers trained in the same approach to their art will not necessarily possess equal capacity to offer insight of value to their clients, nor will they necessarily “see” the same thing when looking at the same symbolism or communicate it in the same way.  Although hotly debated by astrologers, studies of this phenomenon have borne this out (S. Carlson; Vidmar; Phillipson chs 9 and 10).


As a corollary to this understanding is the realization that the same birthchart can mean different things when applied in different contexts.  The same chart, for example, can describe the birth of a child or of an orangutan in the zoo; the death of a loved one; the signing of a marriage certificate or the finalization of a divorce settlement; the beginning of a war or a baseball game, or a horary question posed to an astrologer about a set of lost keys.  Even where the same chart describes two individuals born side by side in the same hospital at the same time, it is not likely that their personalities or their lives will be identical, because the consciousness that each brings to life will be different.  As astrologer Steven Forrest has pointed out, Christ and a cockroach born under the manger at exactly the same time would have the same birthchart (Measuring the Night 2).  Yet obviously, we would not interpret these two identical charts in the same way.


Even within the experience of a single individual, the same natal birthchart will not mean the same thing at age 8 as it does at age 48, or at age 88; the life experiences, the choices made, and the lessons learned by the native over the course of a lifetime or a planetary cycle, shift the context in which that lifetime or cycle must be understood.  As we evolve in our capacity to embody Divine Intelligence and live in harmony with natural order, work toward the healing and transmutation of our core wounds and actualize our creative potential at increasing levels of complexity and sophistication, so too does the meaning to be derived from the symbolism of our birthchart.  This shift in meaning can only partially be ascribed to the successive movement of planets from birth by transit and progression.  Mostly, it will be a matter of evolving consciousness: a factor that transcends the birthchart itself, and dictates how the birthchart must be understood.


Lastly, in any given moment, the focus of our attention will determine the level of insight it becomes possible to derive from a birthchart.  The same symbolism will mean one thing when we are struggling to survive in intensive care in the wake of a car crash, another when we have newly fallen in love, yet another when we are intentionally reflecting on the lessons to be derived from a lifetime of experience.  To some extent current transits and progressions will account for these periodic shifts in focus.  But beyond whatever correlation between focus and symbolism we might recognize will be the consciousness brought to bear in the moment, the mindset that we bring to our astrological inquiry. 


If the glass is viewed as half empty, the birthchart will mean one thing.  If the glass is viewed as half full, it will mean another.  Ultimately, the chart can be understood as a multidimensional oracle and, to a large extent, the question that we bring to it, as well as the mindset in which we ask the question, will determine the kind of answer we get as we explore its symbolism.


Because of the primacy of consciousness in determining what a particular birthchart means the chart itself can be understood to be devoid of meaning until consciousness is brought to bear upon it.  Who looks at the chart, what the chart represents, where the subject of the chart (assuming it is a human being) is in his psycho-spiritual development, and what the current focus and mindset happen to be for approaching the chart in this moment all determine what the symbolism of the chart means.  


If the birthchart is interpreted for someone by an astrologer there are two sets of perceptual filters that must be taken into account.  Although many astrologers imply or state outright that astrology offers an objective point of view, the truth in practice is that the consciousness of the astrologer – her own belief systems, attitudes, worldviews, patterns of conditioning, state of psycho-spiritual development and mindset at the time of the reading – is not a neutral factor in the outcome of a reading.  Nor can the interpersonal chemistry between astrologer and client be ignored. 


The best astrologers are those who can, to some extent, suspend their perceptual biases in order to see the world through their client’s eyes and come to the reading in a steady state of meditative neutrality.  Better still is the astrologer who can use the learning she has derived from her own experience to shed light on the client’s predicament in a way that honors the client’s unique soul journey, the fundamental right to make their own decisions and the possibility for transcending, not just their own patterns, but any possible interpretation the astrologer could give their birthcharts.


Still, the necessity for doing all this is still one step removed from a direct experience of one’s own birthchart which, in the end, is the only experience that matters.  For this reason, the focus of my astrological work these past 20+ years (half my astrological career) has been to teach others to read the language of astrology for themselves, rather than to read it for them.  When one understands the language, and can think and feel one’s own way into the poetry at the heart of the language, the chart becomes an exquisite, multi-dimensional map of the soul’s journey, filtered only by the limits of one’s own perceptivity and imagination. 


Within the chart can be read both the interior landscape the psyche must negotiate on its journey toward wholeness and the time frame in which the journey will unfold.  Because consciousness is key to both the ability to read the chart at all and the evolutionary context in which the chart must be read, I made an exploration of the interplay between consciousness and astrological symbolism the subject of my second book: Tracking the Soul With An Astrology of Consciousness


The model I used for this exploration is the chakra system, derived from yogic philosophy, as a sophisticated way to assess the motivational filter that colors what can be seen through the chart in any given moment.  The natal chart predisposes us toward a default position, while subsequent transits and progressions provide the opportunity to shift beyond the default to encompass a wider range of responses to life’s challenges.  Knowing where we are in any given moment with regard to the various possibilities for interpretation of a chart also allows us to see where it is possible to go from that moment, transforming what would otherwise be a merely diagnostic tool into a strategic tool for intentional change.


Tracking the Soul Astropoetically


If I am conditioned by my natal chart – for example, through a square between my natal Sun and a Saturn/Mars conjunction – to approach life as a competitive arena in which I must fight for my place within the larger scheme of things (expressive of a 3rd chakra mindset), then I can see that part of my challenge in relation to this aspect might be to move into a more cooperative and synergistic frame of mind where I see others, not as rivals, but as colleagues and collaborators toward common goals (expressive of a 4th chakra mindset). 


At certain points in the various possible cycles between Sun, Saturn, and Mars (Sun-Saturn, Sun-Mars, Saturn-Sun, Saturn-Mars, Mars-Sun and Mars-Saturn) [11], I will have the opportunity to experiment with shifting my default pattern.  The more consciously I take advantage of these opportunities – and an understanding of my birthchart as a map of my soul’s journey will allow me to do this – the more I can begin to shift my relationship to this square from one that is potentially problematic to one that serves to bring more Divine Intelligence into my life experience.  My understanding of this opportunity for growth embedded in my birthchart becomes an astropoetic experience to the extent that I can correlate it with images, feelings, memories, events and processes from my experience that bring the symbolism to life. 


In May, 2000, when both transiting Sun and transiting Saturn were in position to trigger a 4th chakra experience of this 3rd chakra natal pattern, I found myself playing a game – invented by a friend – of 6-sided chess.  The game was so complex that the only way a player could win was through collaboration with other players to gradually eliminate the competition.  Thus, within the context of the game, ostensible rivals (in the arena of 3rd chakra) became temporary allies (in the arena of the 4th). 


At the time, this game became an astropoetic metaphor, mirroring a political campaign in which I was involved that brought together left-leaning environmental activists and right-leaning Libertarians – strange political bedfellows allied around an issue that provided common ground.  This experience taught me a great deal about assuming that the line between enemy and ally was cut and dried, and gradually allowed me to relax my rigid 3rd chakra boundaries around the exercise of this difficult square in my natal chart to encompass 4th chakra possibilities.


It was to explore the interface between consciousness and astrological symbolism that makes any birthchart a potential map for soul growth that I wrote Tracking the Soul as the first book in The Astropoetic Series.  It remains my goal throughout this series to expand the context in which astrology is understood, so that the full range of possibilities underlying the symbolism can be explored.  All of this gets lost when astrological configurations are simply assigned meaning. Assigning meaning to anything astrological is an exercise in consciousness – albeit most often an unconscious exercise – that adds as much to the symbolism as it derives from it. 


When consciousness is applied to the symbolism of astrology with a poetic imagination, then there is no limit to the range of possible expression through which the meaning of this immensely rich and protean mirror to the soul can reveal itself.  This is not to say that the symbolic logic of the symbolism itself must not be honored, but it is better honored as a poet than a cryptologist: that is to say, by opening to protean possibilities, rather than homing in on prescribed meanings.  This is the compelling wonder and focus of astropoetics.


Tracing Astrological Symbolism to Its Source in Astronomy


A second goal of The Astropoetic Series is to look more closely into the source of the symbolism itself.  Historically and, most obviously, astrology derives its symbolism from astronomy.  Astrology is aligned to astronomy in that it considers the same planetary movements and placements in space, albeit in an entirely different way.  Whereas astronomy considers the facts of celestial phenomena from a strictly scientific point of view, astrology considers these same facts as metaphors with essentially poetic implications. 


From an astronomical perspective, for example, Mars is a red planet whose distance from the Sun, eccentricity of orbit, surface temperature, atmospheric composition, geology and surface topography can all be measured.  What matters from the astronomical perspective is what these measurements can tell us literally about the physical planet Mars. 


From an astrological perspective, the red planet Mars – associated with the Roman god of war – becomes the symbol for conflict, anger, ulcers, dry heat, all things hot-blooded, hot-tempered, and hot-wired, fast cars, fast living, sexual desire, the heat of the moment, guns and machines, wolves and warriors, heroic journeys and the chaotic spilling of blood and gore.  What matters from the astrological perspective is how the literal facts – or even just our perception of the literal facts – can trigger and inform the poetic imagination.


This difference is spelled out clearly by Roger Freeman, astronomer from UC Santa Barbara, while discussing the famous canals on Mars in a popular textbook on astronomy (Kaufmann and Freedman, Universe 282):


Speculation about Mars grew more and more fanciful at the end of the nineteenth century.  Perhaps the red color of the planet meant that Mars was a desert world, and perhaps the Martian canals were an enormous planetwide irrigation network.  From these ideas, it was a small leap to envision Mars as a dying planet and the canals as carrying water from melting polar caps to farmlands near the equator.  The terrible plight of the Martian race formed the basis of inventive science fiction by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ray Bradbury, and many others.  It also led to the less comforting notion that the Martians might be a warlike race who schemed to invade Earth for its abundant resources.  (The planet, after all, was named for the Roman god of war).  Stories of this invasion, from H. G. Wells’ 1898 novel The War of the Worlds down to the present day, all owe their existence to the canali of Shiaparelli.


Freedman goes on to assure us that modern observations of the Martian surface, undertaken by the Hubble Space Telescope and Mariner probes of the 1960s, show no evidence for the actual existence of these canals, nor of any warlike people ready to invade the Earth.  Yet the reverberations of these ideas continue to inform the popular imagination in astropoetic ways that relate to the astro-logic of the planet Mars, and its mythological underpinnings. 


Furthermore, in what would surely be dismissed as coincidence by Freedman and other astronomers, all three of the men mentioned in this passage – Burroughs, Bradbury and Welles [12] – who brought Mars into the popular imagination, had Mars strongly placed by sign and/or house and in aspect to the Sun in their birthcharts.  It is this kind of “coincidence” that informs the astropoetic mindset and deepens its symbolic roots.


The Mythological Dimensions of Astrological Symbolism


A second source of astrological symbolism can be found in mythology as, for example, through the association of Mars with the Roman god for whom it is named and its Greek counterpart Ares, as well as warrior gods of mythological traditions around the world.  Again, this source of symbolism is a trigger to the poetic imagination in ways that inform and illuminate the appearance of Mars in both astrological scenarios and the life experiences to which they refer.  This association of astrological planet and myth often underscores our experience, even when we have no conscious awareness of it which, in and of itself, is a remarkable confirmation of its validity.


The last time that the planet Mars crossed my Midheaven (the highest point in my chart) I wrote a poem called “The Last Hurrah,” in which I described the heroic scaling of a wall: a feat that could be seen as one of many possible astropoetic depictions of Mars:


The last hurrah

            echoed against the stone wall of the courtyard

                        like cuckoo burros in a canyon.

                                    a touch of mocking laughter,

                                    a hint of malice,

                                    a cockeyed warble

                                                in the otherwise stoic stillness

                                                            of time




                                                            trying to take it all in


                                                            being born again


on a slow climb toward a distant horizon

            obscured by mental graffiti

                        on a wall begging to be scaled,

                        a wall familiar

                        a wall on the far shore of memory.


                        so up the wall and over

                                    into a field of cheering minions,

                                    the ancestors gathered round


craning their necks to see

            their grandsons and grand-daughters

            conquering heroes one and all,


                                    fall into the gaping bottomless mouth

                                                of the last hurrah.


Unbeknownst to me when I wrote it, this poem happened to describe very well the battle of Thebes, in which the Greek hero Capaneus, notorious for his arrogance, was the only one of the seven warriors storming Thebes that made it to the top of the wall.  As he stood on the wall, he boasted loudly that Zeus himself could not stop him from invading the city.  Zeus promptly struck and killed Capaneus with a thunderbolt.  At the time I wrote my poem Mars (represented by Capaneus in the myth) was 8° from an exact applying square to my natal Jupiter (the Roman counterpart to Zeus) – suggestive of this bond, born of conflict, between the two characters in the Greek story. 


In the story, Capaneus was one of a band of seven warriors storming Thebes, each with his own powers and strengths.  In the end, the attack failed because, except for Capaneus, the seven warriors wound up killing each other.  This was prophesied by Tiresias, who saw the battle as the vengeance of Ares for the death of his serpent – the guardian of the sacred well – by those who founded the City.  The ultimate salvation of the city and the defeat of the Seven of Thebes was the result of the self-sacrifice of Menoeceus, one of the descendants of the city founders.  Thus the entire story – documented by the Greek playwright Aeschylus in his tragedy Seven Against Thebes – is an astropoetic depiction of a Martian moment of both triumph and appeasement of anger, culminating in the scaling of a wall – an image that appeared in my poem as Mars was scaling the wall (the meridian) of my chart.


But the story does not end here.  About a month later, just as transiting Mars was squaring my natal Jupiter, I experienced an astropoetic depiction of this same mythological scaling of the wall of Thebes.  At an annual meeting of the land cooperative where I live – which could be understood as analogous to Thebes – two burly loggers, one especially arrogant and Capaneus-like, presented their case for logging in the wake of storm damage.  Although many members of the cooperative were opposed there was enough support within the community to give a confused go-ahead, and over the course of the next two years (a full Mars cycle), the forest in which we lived came under siege of our local version of the Seven (Martian chainsaw warriors).


Although I was aware of my transits, both when writing my poem and during the annual meeting of the land cooperative, I had no conscious knowledge of the existence of Capaneus or the Seven of Thebes before I considered this example to illustrate the role of mythology in underscoring astrological symbolism.  The fact that what happened in my life, reflected in the movement of planets with these mythological overtones, beyond the reach of my conscious mind, suggests that these mythological and the astronomical roots to which they are related, have archetypal origins that precede the symbolism.  It is to dive to the bottom of the well of these a priori archetypal sources that I am writing The Astropoetic Series.


I will discuss the astronomical roots of astrological symbolism in Volume Three of The Astropoetic Series and the mythological roots in Volume Four.  In Volume Two, Parts One and Two, my focus has a less obvious, but more fundamental basis, not only for astrological symbolism, but also for the astronomy and the mythology from which it is derived – the archetypal power of numbers.


[1] See, for example, Measuring the Night: Evolutionary Astrology and the Keys to the Soul, Volumes One and Two by Steven Forrest and Jeffrey Wolf Green (Chapel Hill, NC: Seven Paws Press, 2000, 2001)

[2] See Soul-Centered Astrology: A Key to Your Expanding Self by Alan Oken (Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press, 1990).

[3]  See Astrology and Spiritual Awakening (Berkeley, CA: Dawn Mountain Press, 1994) or Astrology and Meditation: The Fearless Contemplation of Change (London, England: The Wessex Astrologer Ltd., 2002) by Greg Bogart.

[4]  See Astrology, Karma & Transformation: The Inner Dimensions of the Birthchart by Steven Arroyo (Reno, NV: CRCS Publications, 1978) and An Astrological Guide to Self-Awareness (Sebastapol, CA: CRCS Publications, 1994) or Astrology and Spiritual Development (San Rafael, CA: Cassandra Press, 1988) by Donna Cunningham.

[5]  See Psychological Astrology: A Synthesis of Jungian Psychology and Astrology by Karen Hamaker-Zondag (York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, 1990), An Introduction to AstroPsychology by Glenn Perry (available through the author’s web site at, Alignments: How to Live in Harmony With the Universe by Laurence Hillman & Donna Spencer (New York, NY: Lantern Books, 2002) and The Astrological Imagination: Where Psyche and Cosmos Meet by Brad Kochunas (New York, NY: iUniverse, Inc., 2008).

[6]  See The Astrology of Fate by Liz Greene (York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, 1984), Mythic Astrology: Archetypal Players in the Horoscope by Ariel Guttman & Kenneth Johnson (St. Paul, MN: Llewelln Publications, 1993), and Asteroid Goddesses: The Mythology, Psychology and Astrology of the Reemerging Feminine by Demetra George (San Diego, CA: ACS Publications, 1986).

[7]  See The Scientific Basis of Astrology: Myth or Reality by Michel Gauquelin (New York, NY: Stein and Day, 1969), Harmonics in Astrology: An Introductory Textbook to the New Understanding of an Old Science by John Addey (Green Bay, WI: Cambridge Circle, 1976), The Combination of Stellar Influences by Reinhold Ebertin (Tempe, AZ: American Federation of Astrologers, 1972), and Astrology for the 21st Century by David Cochrane (Gainesville, FL: Cosmic Patterns Software, 2002).

[8]  See Astrology and the Authentic Self: Integrating Traditional and Modern Astrology to Uncover the Essence of the Birthchart by Demetra George (Lake Worth, FL: Ibis Press, 2008), the work of Robert Schmidt, Ellen Black and Project Hindsight at, and the work of Robert Hand and Arhat Publications at

[9]  See Light on Life: An Introduction to the Astrology of India by Hart Defouw and Robert Svoboda (New Delhi, India: Penguin Books, 1996), The Essentials of Vedic Astrology by Komilla Sutton (London, England: The Wessex Astrologer, 1999), and Astrology of the Seers: A Guide to Vedic/Hindu Astrology by David Frawley (Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press, 2000).


[10]  I first started using this term in 2001 – as I was writing The Seven Gates of Soul.  In 2014, as I was in the middle of writing this book, I learned that Michael Mayer had also used the word, and may have been the first to use it in his book, The Mystery of Personal Identity (San Diego, CA: ACS Publications, 1984).  His intent in writing this book (originally a Ph.D. dissertation) was to create “an astro-poetic language by using celestial metaphors to speak of personality . . . (as) a possible alternative to the current medical terminology” (xix).  We share this intent, although our approaches are necessarily somewhat different, since our usages of the term “astropoetics” were developed independently of each other, and without prior knowledge of each other’s work.  Having since read Michael’s book, I would recommend it as a complement to The Seven Gates of Soul.

[11]  The astro-logic that suggests this aspect has 3rd chakra implications revolves around the placement of my Sun in the 12th house conjunct the Ascendant square to Mars.  The presence of Saturn in this square suggests a 3rd chakra pattern of deficiency in which my challenge is to rise to the place of awareness where I have enough energy, self-esteem, and confidence to take my place within the world without struggle, or apology, or awkwardness. 

The difficulty inherent in the natal square is lessened when these same planets are in softer aspect to each other.  The possibility for making a shift from the 3rd chakra to the 4th exists when a soft aspect forms between two or more of these planets by transit from a succedent house.  The reasoning behind the astro-logic in these statements is spelled out in detail in Tracking the Soul and would be too lengthy to repeat here.


[12]  Burroughs’ Mars in Capricorn (its exaltation according to traditional astrology) forms a Grand Trine with Neptune, Venus and the Sun.  Bradbury’s Mars in Scorpio (its own sign by traditional rulership) conjunct his Midheaven (a strong placement by house) squares a Stellium of planets in fire sign Leo: Mercury, Neptune, Jupiter and Sun. Welles’ Mars in Aries (its own sign) forms a tight semi-sextile to his Sun and an intriguing semi-sextile-sextile-square pattern with Mercury/Sun, Venus, and Uranus/Moon.

Read the Introduction to Astrology and the Archetypal Power of Numbers, Part Two here.

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