An Astropoetic Approach
to Elemental Alchemy
unpublished / written August 2011
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In the preceding article, I discussed an intuitive approach to the four elements, demonstrating an exploratory, subjective, image-oriented perspective to astrology I call “astropoetics.” In this article, I will extend the astropoetic approach to the combination of elements, or what I call elemental alchemy. As Jung pointed out, the practice of alchemy is a matter of the skillful combination of all four elements (1). If the psycho-spiritual goal of alchemy is the gold of a fully integrated personality, then it is through our negotiation of these various elemental combinations that we reach toward this integration.
Elemental alchemy occurs whenever two or more elements come into juxtaposition with one another through natal planetary placements in signs or houses, aspects between two planets of different elemental disposition, or temporarily by transit or progressions. If each element can be understood to represent a nexus of sensory, emotional, psychological, and metaphorical correlates – as suggested in my last article – then elemental alchemy requires an integration of these various dimensions of two or more elements.
Each planet has a basic elemental nature determined through its sign rulership. The Sun – which rules fire sign Leo – is a fire planet. The Moon – which rules water sign Cancer – is a water planet. Uranus – which rules Aquarius – is an air planet. Neptune – which rules Pisces – is a water planet. Pluto – which rules Scorpio – is also a water planet. Planets of dual rulership – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – will exhibit one of two possible elemental natures depending on whether they are placed in a masculine or feminine sign. Mercury, Venus and Saturn will function as air planets in a masculine sign (through rulerships of Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius respectively), and earth planets in a feminine sign (through rulership of Virgo, Taurus, and Capricorn respectively). Mars and Jupiter will likewise function as fire planets in a masculine sign (through rulership of Aries and Sagittarius respectively), and water planets in a feminine sign (through rulership of Scorpio and Pisces respectively).
Elemental alchemy occurs as planet is placed in an element different than its own elemental nature – by sign or house placement, in natal aspect with another planet of a different elemental nature, or when triggered by a progressed or transiting planet of a different elemental nature.
When the natal Sun – a masculine fire planet – for example, is placed in feminine water sign Pisces, the fiery nature of the Sun is challenged to assimilate the more watery dimensions of its experience. Metaphorically speaking, this might involve facing the threat of having its fire “doused” by water; its heat “dampened;” its light “submerged;” or at a higher level of integration, learning to make “steam” from the combination of fire and water. However the Pisces Sun approaches the challenges associated with this placement, those challenges can be understood as the elemental alchemy of fire and water.
Similarly, when the Moon – a feminine water planet – is placed in masculine air sign of Gemini, the native will face an elemental alchemy of water and air. The Gemini Moon will both need to and find it difficult to “air” its feelings; tend to be “ungrounded” in the watery realm of emotional entanglements; and attempt to “rise above” its psychological issues.
A different kind of elemental alchemy occurs when planets are placed in houses of a different elemental persuasion. While the alchemy of sign placement plays itself out in terms of innate personality characteristics, the alchemy of house placement plays itself out in terms of life circumstances or basic orientation to a particular aspect of life experience.
The Sun in Capricorn, for example, may experience the earthy pull of “gravity” on its fiery spontaneity; be “weighted down” with seriousness of purpose; and naturally temper its fiery passions with “earthy” considerations. The Sun in the earthy 10th house will experience this same alchemy of fire and earth more specifically in terms of its career aspirations.
When Saturn in a feminine sign squares Uranus, the challenge will be to integrate earth and air. When transiting Neptune opposes natal Mercury in a masculine sign, it will trigger a range of experiences in which the sensory, emotional, and/or psychological dimensions of water and air will combine, clash, and/or work toward dynamic balance with each other.
Each elemental combination has its own challenges, but generally speaking, all elemental alchemy will take one of two possible forms. Elements that share a gender – i.e. masculine elements fire and air, or feminine elements earth and water – combine fairly easily through what I call complementary alchemy. The other combinations – fire and earth, fire and water, air and earth, and air and water – are more difficult to integrate. The latter four combinations I call disparate alchemy, noting here that it is generally disparate alchemy that produces the most incentive in any life toward spiritual growth, although complementary alchemy is not trouble-free.
The Alchemy of Complementary Elements
Whenever an element is emphasized in a chart, it can tend toward excess, creating problems related to too much fire, earth, air or water. Too much fire may be too hot, too wild, or too intense. Too much earth can be too dry, too dense, or too stiff. And so on. When elements of the same gender combine, the tendency toward excess is also present, albeit to a lesser degree. Air can fan flame into wildfire; fire can whip air into a firestorm. Earth can damn a river, burying a floodplain under a vast reservoir of accumulated water; water can turn the fixity of earth into an intractable quagmire of mud.
As the name implies, complementary alchemy also produces creative synergy between elements that are mutually supportive. Air feeds fire the oxygen necessary for it to burn; fire (in the form of heat) provides the convection currents necessary to keep air moving. Earth creates a channel through which water can move; water softens earth and allows it to be manipulated more easily. Often complementary alchemy will manifest as some combination of excess and creative synergy.
Fire and Air
The alchemy of fire and air is in play whenever a fire planet – the Sun, Mars or Jupiter – is placed in an air sign or house; in aspect to Uranus, or Mercury, Venus, or Saturn in a masculine sign; or is triggered by transiting Uranus, transiting Saturn in a masculine sign, or progressed Mercury or Venus in a masculine sign. Similarly, when an air planet – Uranus, Mercury, Venus or Saturn – is placed in a fire sign or house, or is triggered by progressed Sun or Mars in a masculine sign, or transiting Jupiter in a masculine sign, air and fire interact alchemically.
In the language of traditional astrology, fire and air are called masculine or yang elements, because together they infuse life with an outgoing animating spirit, initiate and pursue a conscious agenda, and seek worldly accomplishment. Masculine elements are those that require an extroverted, expressive response to life’s challenges; engage the mind or spirit; aim toward identifiable goals; and cultivate a clearer sense of individuality. To use the word “masculine” does not imply that these elements are the sole province of men, for obviously women also express this dynamic, outgoing, energized aspect of being.
The alchemy of fire and air is relatively easy to negotiate, since in many ways fire and air complement each other. Fire's vitality is fed by air's capacity for stimulation, variety, and involvement – a state in which we might say someone was “fired up.” Air's innate intelligence is quickened by fire's bright, enthusiastic willingness to participate whole-heartedly in life, its resourceful, imaginative nature, and its perceptivity, just as an air-fed fire “burns brightly” or “lights up the sky.” Fire's confidence is bolstered by air's social grace, and cultural acuity, blowing through the world like a “warm breeze.” Air's egalitarian idealism is sustained by fire's inspired capacity to embody an ideal in action, filling crusaders everywhere with the energy of “fire-breathing” dragons. And so on.
This is not to say that this combination will always generate a positive, productive handling of life circumstances. The fact that fire and air are of the same nature can, at times, create imbalance. Fire can make air too dry and harsh; too much air can blow fire out. If fire is operating in a shadow mode – being self-centered, impulsive, reckless, angry, irritable, overbearing, territorial, and/or combative; then air can make fire paranoid, sarcastic, or verbally abusive – “hot-headed,” capable of unleashing a “firestorm” of destruction or igniting a gas “explosion.” If air is operating in shadow mode – being ungrounded, impractical, over-stimulated, scattered, nervous, overly sensitive, anxious, and/or anarchistic – then fire can make air prone to poor judgments, excessive risks, and self-destructive accidents – leading to premature “burn-out,” an out-of-control “windswept wildfire” or the “smoking gun” that follows irreversible damage.
A constructive example of fire-air alchemy can be seen in the chart of the precocious Italian conductor, Arturo Toscanini – who had Sun conjunct Mercury in Aries in the 3rd house square to Uranus in the 7th house. Toscanini’s meteoric rise to fame began on the evening of June 30, 1886, in the middle of a fiery crisis (2). At the time, as a young cellist, Toscanini had joined an opera company that was touring South America. Tensions had been mounting between the orchestra and the local conductor, due to his poor command of the work being performed. The choir went on strike, and the company’s impresario was forced to seek a substitute. After the audience booed two additional conductors off-stage, it was suggested that Toscanini, who knew the opera by heart but had no previous conducting experience, be allowed to take up the baton. The young cellist stepped up to the podium, threw away the score, and led a “dazzling” performance of the 2 ½ hour opera completely from memory. In this instance, Toscanini’s fire-air alchemy redirected the angry energy in the room into a “mesmerizing whirlwind” of virtuosity that “blew the audience away” and “burned down the house.” This auspicious moment – which launched Toscanini’s stellar career as a conductor – occurred as transiting Uranus squared its natal position and opposed his natal Aries Sun, thus amplifying the fire-air alchemy already present in his natal chart.
Earth and Water
The alchemy of earth and water is in play whenever an earth planet – Mercury, Saturn or Venus (3) – is placed in a water sign or house, is in aspect to the Moon, Neptune, Pluto, or Mars or Jupiter in a feminine sign; is being triggered by a Neptune or Pluto transit; or a transit by Mars or Jupiter in a feminine sign; or progressed Moon or Mars. Similarly, when a water planet – Moon, Neptune, Pluto, Mars or Jupiter – is placed in an earth sign or house; or is triggered by transiting Saturn in a masculine sign, or progressed Mercury or Venus in a masculine sign, earth and water interact alchemically.
Earth and water are called feminine or yin elements, because they nurture life, and bring us down into the realm of soul. Together, at their best, they enfold us in a receptive, introspective, and healing embrace – an experience traditionally considered feminine, but neither the exclusive province of women or men. Like fire and air, earth and water entertain a synergistic effect, which at its best is conducive to a more fluid and adaptable sense of continuity and stability.
Earth's steady responsibility combines with water's capacity for caring and compassion to create a supportive atmosphere in which one can “calm the waters,” more easily “channel the flow,” or “soften the hard earth” after a “fertilizing rain.” Water's cooperative, family- and community- orientation combines with earth's conservative affinity for tradition to provide the “glue” that holds society together – allowing us to “pool our resources,” save for a “rainy day,” and feed the hungry with “loaves and fishes.”. Earth's honest, ethical, hardworking nature and capacity for commitment works hand-in-glove with water's devotion, loyalty, and intense involvement to hold any relationship together through hard times. Water's sensuality and earth's capacity for taking delight in the physical can lead to some pretty intense erotic or “salty” adventures, deeply satisfying to both elements. And so on.
As with fire and air, the combination of earth and water can lead to excess. If earth becomes petty, unyielding, narrow-minded, judgmental, dull, resistant to necessary change, insensitive, greedy, and lacking in vision; as water becomes self-absorbed, smothering, dependent, promiscuous, deluded, brooding, jealous, and manipulative, the worst of two compatible elements precipitate a downward spiral of sloth and torpor, low-life melodrama, and degradation – a “swamp-like” psychological cul-de-sac, the “stagnant water” of bad habits, addictions, and self-defeating behaviors.
The chart of the current Dalai Lama – characterized by a water kite with Saturn in Pisces opposed Moon/Neptune in Virgo at the apex of the pattern – epitomizes the best of earth-water alchemy. Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 – as a transiting Saturn/Neptune conjunction opposed his natal Sun in Cancer – the Dalai Lama is known for his immense compassion (water) in the face of great hardship (earth). At the same time, he has been a tireless activist for the cause of the Tibetan people, winning widespread international cooperation and support for his efforts, despite the reluctance of other nations to antagonize China. He has embraced Marxism – in contrast to communism and capitalism – because he believes it to be concerned about fate of the underprivileged and the victims of minority-imposed exploitation (4). He has also taken a stand on a number of environmental issues – including an alignment with anti-whaling factions; shown tolerance for homosexuality; and staunchly adhered to his non-violent principles, despite every reason not to, and pressure from others to fight the Chinese oppressors more aggressively. Though not above controversy, the Dalai Lama is by any standards a remarkable man bringing together the best of “solid, unyielding” principles of human decency and the living embodiment of positive watery attributes like compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, and a deep love and reverence for all living things.
The Alchemy of Disparate Elements
When two disparate elements come together, the overall dynamic will be one of conflict and/or compensation. In general, where disparate elements combine, it is the differences between them that are emphasized, and that become problematic. A planet placed in a sign or house of a disparate elemental persuasion will find it necessary to function in a way that is not always ideally conducive to the task at hand. Planets of disparate dispositions will vie for dominance, or enter into a compensatory relationship in which the stronger element may be in excess, while the weaker element harbors underlying issues that must be addressed. Transits or progressions of disparate elemental influences can draw such issues to the fore, and create opportunities to address them and crises that require them to be addressed.
Any astrological dynamic marked by elemental disparity will require a conscious attempt to find a working relationship between conscious and unconscious dimensions of the personality, a strengthening of the weaker element, and a gradual release of compensating mechanisms associated with the stronger element. When an alchemical integration is achieved, often through a lifetime struggle toward balance, a remarkable creative synthesis can result.
Fire and Earth
Fire and earth come together whenever the Sun is placed in an earth sign or house; Mars or Jupiter in a masculine sign is placed in an earth house; Sun, or Mars or Jupiter in a masculine sign is in aspect to an earth planet (Mercury, Venus, or Saturn in a feminine sign), or triggered by transiting Saturn in a feminine sign, or progressed Mercury or Venus in a feminine sign. Conversely, the same alchemy is in play when Mercury, Venus, or Saturn is simultaneously in a feminine sign and a fire house, or triggered by progressed Sun or Mars in a masculine sign, or transiting Mars or Jupiter in a masculine sign.
In general, fire initiates a journey toward individuation; earth reflects our capacity to negotiate the practical necessities of life. The challenge in the disparate alchemy of earth and fire is to find a place within the world that reflects who you are as an individuated soul, and that does not compromise your integrity. Together fire and earth are the elemental energies necessary to create a viable presence in the external world. The disparate alchemy of fire and earth arises from the fact that they are in many ways antithetical to each other.
Given that fire does not like to be limited, controlled or contained, and earth does not like to be disturbed, destroyed or transmuted, fire and earth sometimes engage in a difficult balancing act when they come into juxtaposition with each other. As fire attempts to “shine,” or find its place “in the Sun,” earth can tend to “smother” it or “hide its light under a bushel basket.” As earth tries to “settle” into a comfortable space, fire serves as a constant source of disruption by “flaring out of control.” Where fire is “illuminated” with vision and purpose, earth is adept at throwing up “roadblocks” to the realization of that purpose. Where earth struggles to set “concrete” goals, fire is forever “burning its bridges behind it,” trading its “stability” for “shiny” trinkets or magic beans, and betting the farm on a chimerical dream (5). Where fire is passionately “fired up,” earth tends to “plod” along, placing one foot in front of the other. While earth patiently plants corn, fire tears up the garden with its dirt bike. Often fire and earth fail to speak the same language, much less cooperate toward the same end.
This is not to say that it can't be done; only that it takes a lot of work. With fire's passion and earth's practical capacity to make something happen, fire and earth can potentially bring any “fiery ideal” “down to earth” and make it real. Fire can “light a fire” under earth’s inertia, empower it to “burn through” its fears; and “illuminate” possibilities to which it was previously blind. Earth can “contain” and “channel” fire, provide it with a “steady” supply of fuel with which to “sustain” its burning, and “ground” its “raging” enthusiasms in discipline and skill. This is a powerful chemistry, but it is not a chemistry that is easily harnessed. Often in the second half of life, the hard-won promise of this arduous combination is more easily realized.
A former student with Sun in an earth sign square Saturn in a fire sign was typical of this combination. An award-winning poet on a quest for something fiery glowing at the heart of an earthbound existence, was in her day job a teacher and an administrator in academia, often snowed under by work-related issues. Aside from her poetry, she was an avid skier, enthusiastic dancer, and in her spare time rode show horses. In one way or another, she was constantly pushing the envelope of her own limitations, and through largely physical activity learning to access an inner core of excitement, intensity, and joie de vivre. In one of her poems, she describes the alchemy of earth and fire in words only a poet tempered by it could conjure (6):
If I could spend just one day
in the past – the last day
of the Dark Ages, or the precise
middle of Napoleon’s reign – this bland
room that I am in, its walls drained
by a single bulb glaring overhead, might be
furnished at last and made liveable -
so I am drawn toward light
in its veiled forms: amber glass,
cranberry glaze, Beaujolais
in leaded crystal, a raw garnet the color
of cognac, a string of garnets like bits
of crushed grape, this cluster of gem-cut garnets
like no color I've even seen, deeper
than rubies, handed down from some nameless
cousin several times removed
and full of secrets, like fire
when fire was important.
Fire and Water
Fire and water come together in a birthchart whenever the Sun is placed in a water sign or house; Mars or Jupiter in a masculine sign is placed in a water house; Sun, or Mars or Jupiter in a masculine sign is in aspect to Moon, Neptune, or Pluto; Sun is in aspect to Mars or Jupiter in a feminine sign; or Sun, or Mars and Jupiter in a masculine sign is triggered by transiting Neptune or Pluto, or progressed Moon. Conversely, the same alchemy is in play when the Moon, Neptune or Pluto is in a fire sign or house; Mars or Jupiter in a feminine sign is in a fire house; or any of these planets are triggered by progressed Sun or Mars in a masculine sign, or transiting Mars or Jupiter in a masculine sign.
Water moves us inward “into the depths” to contemplate the deeper meaning of our experiences. Fire moves us in the opposite direction, outward into a “lighter, wilder, more spontaneous” expression within the world. Fire speaks to our sense of authenticity; water requires us to address everything that compromises that authenticity. The alchemy of fire and water tempers uncompromised soul essence with the depth that can only come through wrestling with the compromised areas of the psyche. The famous quote by Frederich Nietzsche, “You must carry a chaos inside you to give birth to a dancing star” is an expression of fire-water alchemy at its best. A balance between water and fire is also necessary before we can sustain satisfying relationships with other people, while being true to ourselves. Often relationships are the place where the chaos inside is triggered and brought to life.
As with other disparate combinations, this task is made more difficult by the inherent differences between fire and water. Fire is oriented toward the future, toward driven by “burning” desires on the road to bigger, better, and more; water is oriented toward the past, toward conserving our “pooled” heritage, guarding the “deep well” of remembrance, and returning to the “oceanic” Source of all being. Fire moves quickly, “burning down the road;” water lazily “floats downstream.” Fire seeks the breadth of vision necessary to “light up the sky;” water “dives to the depths” to explore hidden “underwater wonders.” Fire is goal-oriented, seeking the “light in the distance;” water process-oriented, ready to “immerse” itself in the matter at hand. Fire burns; water soothes. Fire is highly individualistic, fueled by “fire in the belly;” water is community and relationship-oriented, a “solvent” or “melting pot” in which individual differences are dissolved. Fire wants to conquer the world, to “burn it up;” water wants to care for it, “to bathe it in the waters of life.” Because of these differences, the disparate alchemy of fire and water is most intense and demanding.
When fire and water work together alchemically, they produce passion or “steam.” Fire “dries” water’s “tears” with the warmth of the perpetual sun. Water “soothes” fire’s “relentless burning”, while “lubricating” its passage. Fire-water people are often quite creative, not necessarily in a conventional sense, but in terms of bringing together seemingly disparate aspects of their being, or the world in which they live.
One friend with this alchemy at the heart of his chart has developed a workshop integrating western psychotherapy with Native American spiritual practices. Early in his career, another friend, an engineer, designed a propeller for a submarine that modeled the movement of a shark fin. A third friend restores old furniture by painting them intricately with a starkly dissonant palate of colors, somehow in the process producing an aesthetically pleasing art form uniquely her own.
The fiery actor Bruce Lee (Moon/Mars in Scorpio square Pluto in Leo), “considered by many as the most influential martial artist of the 20th century” (7) advised his students to be “formless... shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle; it becomes the bottle. You put it into a teapot; it becomes the teapot. Water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend...”
Earth and Air
The alchemy of earth and air exists wherever natal Saturn is in an air sign or house, in aspect to air planets Mercury or Uranus, or triggered by transiting Uranus or progressed Mercury. Alternately, this alchemy is triggered when an air planet – Mercury or Uranus – is placed in an earth sign or house, in aspect to Saturn or Venus in a feminine sign, or triggered by transiting Saturn or progressed Venus in a feminine sign.
Earth requires a downward movement of energy to deal with practical logistical and sometimes “weighty” concerns of everyday life; air offers an upward “aerial” perspective that transcends our earthly predicament, a perspective that is built upon idealism and imagination, enamored of potentials and possibilities that “kiss the sky”. Earth can suffer from the inability to see beyond its nose, or imagine anything other than what it thinks it already knows – a perspective that is often “mired” in “rigid” dogma or “written in stone.” Air often cannot understand why the real world constantly disappoints, corrupts and belies its ideals and beliefs – indulging a perspective that can sometimes be “ungrounded,” but also permits a creative “flight” of the imagination in ways that earth does not.
Earth can tend toward isolation (being “walled off”); air toward social gregariousness and community (functioning best in the “open air”). Earth is predictable and reliable (“steady as a rock”); air unpredictable and sometimes unreliable (“up in the air” or “lost in the ozone”). Earth thrives on routine (and can be “stuck in the mud”); air thrives on spontaneity, stimulation and formless pursuit of whims and dreams (“carried by the wind”). Earth is the element of choice for cultivating stamina, endurance, commitment, and perseverance – when we need to “dig in” for the long haul; air can often be restless, “flighty,” unstable, and “rootless”. Earth can be enamored of status, control and hierarchical power structures, concerned with “climbing the ladder” of worldly success, or seeking to be “king of the hill”; air demands equality, autonomy and to be “as free as the wind” from unnecessary restrictions or restraints. All of these differences can make the dance between earth and air awkward at best, and utterly disjointed at worst.
When earth and air work together, however, ideas take shape in the real world and influence the way that it functions – bringing “fresh air” to “stale” or “stagnant” conditions. Beliefs, paradigms and old patterns of cultural conditioning (the prevailing mind-“set”) slowly open to the “winds of change.” Realistic plans that are progressive and far-seeing come into play, and society as a whole moves toward a more enlightened and “inspired stability”. This disparate alchemy is not easy to negotiate, but when it happens, “heaven and earth” can literally come together in some tangible, but often unexpected way.
A unique example of the successful alchemy of earth and air is the eccentric surrealist, Salvador Dali – with Saturn in Aquarius square Mercury in Taurus (in the airy 11th house) in the midst of a Taurus stellium with Sun, Mars, and Venus. Dali was best known for his wild experiments in surrealism involving melted clocks – influenced by Einstein’s airy theory of the “relativity” of time; “solid” elephants with “spindly” legs; and amorphous figures that change as one changes perspective.
On one level, Dali’s art can be seen as being the antithesis of earthbound realism. On the other hand, when I visited the Dali museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, I was surprised to note the almost photographic realism of Dali’s earlier work, evidenced in pieces such as Basket of Bread (1926). Dali was expelled from art school in 1926, shortly before his final exams, when he flatly declared that no one on the faculty was competent enough to examine him – a stance that can be perceived as “taking on airs” – as transiting Uranus formed a quincunx to his natal Saturn and a sextile to Mercury, and transiting Saturn squared its natal position and opposed Mercury. From this point forward, he became increasingly iconoclastic and eccentric, producing the wildly imaginative and complex images for which he is famous. Yet, as Dali’s imagination took him far beyond the bounds of earthbound reality, it was tethered to a mission exposing the limitations and dangers of excess earth. In a catalog to an exhibition of his work at the Knoedler Gallery in New York in 1943, he said “Surrealism will at least have served to give experimental proof that total sterility and attempts at automatizations have gone too far and have led to a totalitarian system” (8).
Air and Water
The alchemy of air and water is evidenced in a chart where air planets – Mercury or Uranus – are in water signs, in aspect to water planets – Moon, Neptune, or Pluto – or triggered by transiting Neptune or Pluto, or progressed Moon. In addition, we might find such alchemy in a chart where water planets – Moon, Neptune, or Pluto are placed in air signs, or triggered by transiting Uranus or progressed Mercury.
Air thinks and water feels. Air functions primarily “up” in the head); water is associated with the deeper “undercurrents” of emotions and psychological vulnerability (“down” in the belly, and the heart). Water often has little capacity to analyze or critically evaluate; air can become enamored of “groundless” abstractions and theories that lack the depth that comes from testing in real life. Air can mistake knowledge or cleverness for wisdom, perhaps “putting on airs;” water often lacks the objectivity to tell the difference between its own experience and universal truth. Although it is not impossible for thinking and feeling to coexist in ways that reinforce a balanced worldview, it can also be challenging to bring the two together – to integrate mind and heart.
Air thrives on light and mobile social interaction (the stimulating “space” between us all); water craves intimacy – the place where the space between us collapses, and boundaries “dissolve”. As water takes its experience to heart, “basking in the waters of life”; air insists on constant movement or “riding the wind.” As water “pools” its memories, feels its place in history, and flows “like the river to the sea” into a richer sense of belonging, air remains “rootless” in the moment, unattached, and reaches toward its “pie in the sky.”
Although air and water speak different languages, and see the world very differently – as do all sets of disparate elements – when they do manage to work together synergistically, a transformation in human capacity becomes possible. Together air and water are the elemental energies necessary to reflect intelligently upon our lives, and extract a sense of meaning from them – allowing us to “aerate the depths” with understanding, and learn to “breathe underwater”. The power to persuade others is a fusion of water’s passionate beliefs and air’s consummate skill at communicating. Air’s mental abilities join with water’s emotional urgency to produce creative imagination and out-of-the-box thinking associated with pioneering genius. The symbolic realm, in general, where everything literal assumes metaphorical dimensions of meaning, is a creation of the synthesis of water and air – a realm of “fog” or “mist” for some, but an alchemical mix in which images capable of moving both head and heart are born. In a broader more collective sense, as air’s capacity to propagate ideas meets with water’s ability to produce mass identification, culture and the forces that shape culture are born.
In many ways, the art of astropoetics can be understood to be a product of the alchemy of air and water. Astrology is a rich language of symbolic logic that allows us to observe the correlations between earthly and celestial phenomena with a certain level of airy detachment. On the other hand, as we descend into the nuance of an individual birthchart and the subjective life that correlates with its temporal unfolding, we enter the watery realm of poetry, where truth must be understood through the emotions and imagination as well as the rational mind. When astrology is approached poetically – as a right brain contemplation of imagery and symbolism, rather than as an interpretative system for decoding symbols – it can potentially serve as the basis for a potent language of soul that allows for the possibility of deep and penetrating self-discovery. As the poet Muriel Rukeyser has suggested (9), “The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” Astropoetics allows us to feel our way into these stories with both head and heart.
In this article and the one preceding it, I have tried to demonstrate the intuitive nature of astropoetics, using the often self-evident nature of the elements as a point of departure. In practice, astropoetics goes beyond the elements to consider everything astrological in terms of the similes, metaphors, and allegorical allusions that can be derived from the astronomy, the mythology and other less obvious sources of symbolic logic behind astrology – essentially combining astrology’s air with the water of poetic and intuitive imagination (10).
An alchemy of air and water is suggested in my chart through a half-kite pattern with Neptune in Libra at its apex and an opposition between the Moon in Gemini and Mercury at its base. I began to conceptualize the astropoetic approach to astrology during the Uranus/Neptune conjunction of 1993 – itself a potent signature for air-water alchemy – when both planets were semi-sextile my Mercury and square my Neptune.
(1) Jung, Carl. Psychology and Alchemy. Ed. Herbert Read. The Collected Works, Volume 12. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1968, p. 450.
(2) Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia. “Arturo Toscanini.” 2 February 2011.
(3) As the dual ruler of Taurus and Libra, Venus can function either as an earth or an air planet. The Greek goddess Aphrodite was considered by the Greeks to exist in two distinct forms: Aphrodite Urania or Celestial Aphrodite (airy Venus), who sprang into existence from the sea foam around Uranus’ severed genitals; and Aphrodite Pandemos, Aphrodite of All the People or Common Aphrodite (earthy Venus), believed to be born from a union between Zeus and Dione. In the Symposium, Plato elaborates on the difference between the two, considering Aphrodite Urania to be stronger, more intelligent and spiritual in nature, while Aphrodite Pandemos was thought to be a baser manifestation of the goddess, devoted primarily to sensual and sexual gratification. My sense is that when Venus is placed in a feminine sign, it functions primarily as Aphrodite Pandemos (earthy Venus), and when it is placed in a masculine sign, it functions primarily as Aphrodite Urania (airy Venus).
(4) Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia. “14th Dalai Lama.” 2 February 2011.
(5) In Greek mythology, the Chimera was a fire-breathing monster usually represented as a composite of a lion, a goat and a serpent.
(6) Ullman, Leslie. “At the Estate Auction,” Slow Work Through Sand, Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press, 1998.
(7) Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia. “Bruce Lee.” 2 February 2011.
(8) Quoted in Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia. “Salvador Dali.” 2 February 2011.
(9) Rukeyser, Muriel. “The Speed of Darkness.” The Speed of Darkness. New York, NY: Vintage Press, 1971.
(10) A more complete outline of astropoetic principles can be found here.
Salvador Dali – 8:45 AM GMT, May 11, 1904, Figueras, Spain, Rodden Rating AA (BC/BR in hand)
Dali Lama XIV – 4:38 AM LMT, July 6, 1935, Tengster Village, China, Rodden Rating A (From memory)
Bruce Lee – 7:12 AM PST, November 27, 1940, San Francisco, California, Rodden Rating AA (Quoted BC/BR)
Arturo Toscanini – 1:10 AM GMT, March 25, 1867, Parma, Italy, Rodden Rating A (From memory)
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