Saturday, August 19, 2006
I must admit that I am in two minds about astrology. I’m in two minds about most things.
I remember a late night conversation a few years back, sitting round a bonfire at a party in someone’s back garden. Someone asked me what star sign I was. So I told her. “I’m a Sagittarian,” I said. Which led to an interesting analysis of my character as she proceeded to elaborate on my various qualities. It was uncanny. She had me down to a tee. It was only later that I revealed that I’d been lying.
It was a good game. After that she asked me again what my star sign was, and again I lied, and again she went through a detailed analysis of my personality based upon what I‘d told her, until again I revealed the truth, much to her consternation and to my pleasure.
The conversation went on for some time before I finally told her the real truth; except that by this time she no longer believed a word I was saying.
All of which illustrates the fact that while asking for someone’s star-sign might pass as a serviceable chat-up line at a party, refusing to give it can be even more helpful in maintaining the conversation over a much, much longer period of time.
When I say that I am in two minds, I mean that literally. I have what I call my eastern mind, and my western mind. My eastern mind (called that because I live and work on the East Kent coast) is generally practical and political, involved in campaigning and working around issues like asylum rights and the peace movement; while my western mind (usually most in evidence when I’m in the West Country) is generally poetical and speculative in nature, with a tendency to go off in flights of fancy about the nature of the universe and my place within it.
My western mind believes anything anybody tells me about everything. My eastern mind is sceptical and critical and reserves its judgement, preferring to let matters digest before it gets round to making utterances on the subject.
Having two minds is a very useful thing. It’s a bit like having two eyes, or two ears, or two legs or two hands. All the best things come in twos. Without two eyes you wouldn’t ever get a perspective on anything and you’d never see the into depths of things. You’d never be able to see the wood for the trees. Without two ears you’d hear everything in mono. Without two legs you’d have a tendency to fall over quite a lot while running, leaping or dancing. Without two hands you’d never be able to play the guitar or the violin or do any of the other interesting and valuable things that hands can get up to when working in tandem: like scratching your bum while picking your nose, for instance, or cutting up a nice, juicy steak using a knife and fork.
Having two minds is like being involved in a constantly evolving conversation with yourself, and it means you’ve always got someone to talk to, even when there’s no one else around. Having two minds means never being lonely. It means allowing all your enthusiasms while maintaining a degree of critical reserve. It means believing everything and disbelieving it at the same time. It means giving yourself more than one point of view. It’s like having bifocals on: you can see up close, and into the distance, though in this case not at the same time.
I think at this point all of you who are in the slightest bit au fait with the symbolism and interpretations of classical astrology might well be able to take a good guess at what star sign I actually am. I will neither confirm nor disagree. Further clues lie within the text, and if any astrologists are reading this I would be quite interested in hearing your opinions on the matter.
Anyway, what all of this amounts to is something of a prelude to the main point of my story. Here I am, writing a critical blog on the nature of astrology, while at the same time (having two minds) I can now reveal to you that I also have a personal astrologer, whose advice and predictions I take very seriously.
His name is B---, and, needless to say, I met him in Glastonbury in the West Country, when my enthusiastic and devil-may-care Western mind was in the ascendancy. Not that that stops me arguing with him, mind, or questioning the basis of the philosophy upon which he builds all of his elaborately detailed expositions of the heavens and their meaning. But it doesn’t stop me listening to him either.
Now B--- has a remarkable facility: that you can tell him the date, time and place of your birth, and he will know immediately what the heavens looked like on that occasion. Don’t ask me how he does it. He must have a million star-charts stored away in the filing cabinet of his brain. He doesn’t need a computer or a book or an astrological concordance to do this. It’s just there, like having a full-scale planetarium inside his skull, a working model of the sky.
I guess you can call him a sort of Cosmic Anorak really. He’s like a train-spotter of the stars. Only whereas most train spotters know the intricate details of the rail timetable off by heart, say, or who scored the winning goal in the 1956 cup-final, B---‘s genius is in knowing where the stars are at any time in history, and being able to give you detailed interpretations of their meaning and purpose.
Conversations with him tend go along the lines of: “Your MC is one and a half degrees of Gemini, but your ascendant is nine degrees of Virgo, so magically it is the twenty-second or twenty-third degree of the ninth house, which is Sagittarius, etc, etc.” Most of which I entirely fail to understand.
It’s like being in a foreign country. You need an interpreter to find your way around. B---’s brain is filled with all sorts of arcane and exotic phenomenon, such as nodes, trines and conjunctions; such as aspects, houses, ecliptics and ascendants. Even when it’s explained to you what they ARE, it’s still almost impossible to work out what they MEAN.
Of course, as everyone knows, astrology isn’t the same as astronomy. However dicoveries of the latter often inform the former. For instance, in classical astrology there were seven planets. Since then, due to technical and scientific innovation, more planets have been discovered which have become incorporated into the astrological framework. So Uranus was discovered by William Herschel in 1781, Neptune by Urbane le Verrier in 1846, and Pluto by Clyde W. Tombaugh in 1930. All of these planets have since acquired interpretations which have added to the original structures of astrological thought.
Now there’s a problem here. Planets are named by astronomers for entirely different purposes than those required by astrologers, and yet astrologers insist on providing interpretive models based upon the names given to them by the generally more sceptical astronomical community.
Meanwhile there are new objects being discovered all the time which means that our interpretation of the heavens is in a constantly unfinished state.
Here is an example: there was a Lunar Eclipse on the 9th of November 2003, an event which was described by members of the astrological fraternity at the time as an “Harmonic Concordance“.
So what is an "Harmonic Concordance" exactly? B--- took me along to a meeting to explain.
Well I was conned. I was under the impression that the meeting would be a pagan pub moot, and I was looking forward to a boozy night in some friendly hostelry with nicotine stained wood panelling in which astrological considerations were entirely secondary to the general atmosphere of merry dissipation. Instead of which I found myself in someone’s extensive white-painted conservatory, surrounded by chintzy white cushions and lacy white curtains, with crystal angels and floating candles, and fairy lights on the wall. No drink. Only cups of tea and plates of crisps.
I was in for a long night.
Anyway he described the phenomenon as a “Grand Sextile” and then proceeded with one of his vague and incomprehensible astrological explanations, which meant that I was no wiser after the event than I had been before..
Eventually I looked up the words in the dictionary. The word “harmonic” speaks for itself, of course, as something that has the quality of music, as in melody or song. “Concordance”, on the other hand, is one of two things. Either it is an agreement reached between two people, or it is a particular kind of literary tool: an alphabetical list of the most important words in an author’s work. So there is a Shakespeare concordance, say, or a Blake. There’s even a biblical concordance, containing most of the words in the Bible, which must be a very fat book indeed.
All of which brings to mind a strange picture: of two people who, having reached an agreement, suddenly launch into a song consisting entirely of lists of biblical words in alphabetical order.
Did anyone notice that at the time? Were there bursts of harmony from complete strangers in the supermarket check-out queue on the 9th of November 2003? Did anyone stop in the middle of the street and begin reciting long lists of biblical words in Gregorian Chant? Maybe not. But then, I am notoriously lacking in any kind of extrasensory perception, so it’s entirely possible that the whole world burst into song psychically on that day, and that I missed it completely.
I’m being facetious, of course. But there is a serious point here. All the way through B---’s address he kept referring to a planet called “Chiron”, which I’d never heard of.
Which brings me to my point. You may or may not know this, but Chiron, it seems, is an irregular lump of rock, about 150 to 200 km in diameter, which wobbles about uncertainly somewhere between the orbits of Jupiter and Uranus. In other words, to refer to this object as anything like a planet is like calling the Isle of Sheppey a continent, say, or Stow-in-the-Wold a conurbation. There’s a kind of categorical confusion at work here and, without its dubious presence in the chart, there would be no Grand Sextile, and no Harmonic Concordance either.
What was even more confusing was the interpretation being offered. The mythological Chiron was reputed as a wise teacher and a healer who, mortally wounded, wished himself dead. Unfortunately he was immortal. The symbolic implications are interesting. The wounded healer. Except that Chiron, the astronomical object, was only discovered in 1977, and was named by its discoverer, Charles Kowal, not for its psychological symbolism, but because he was uncertain whether it was an asteroid or a comet at first, the object sharing some of the qualities of both. The original Chiron was a centaur: half-man, half-horse. Duel-natured. Hence the choice of the name.
This is symbolism too, but for an entirely different purpose.
All of which is mildly puzzling. I mean, I don’t object to symbolism. It’s my mainstay as a writer. But whereas metaphor is a literary technique, ascribing the qualities of one thing to something else, in order to bring the object or the event to life, no writer ever makes the mistake of thinking that these qualities are actually inherent in the thing itself. Astrology, on the other hand, seems to imply that the object actually bears these qualities: that Chiron, the lump of rock, somehow imparts the quality of the “wounded healer” into the heavens, and therefore into someone’s life.
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t dismiss astrology. I just think it suffers from a tendency to over egg itself. To me it is a language, not a science. It is dependent on the mind and the intuition of the astrologer. The chart is a metaphor, and the subject is the person who is having the reading. Hence it is an exchange between two people, using the constructs of astrology as a means of communication. It is subjective, not objective. It is “a hook to hang your thoughts on”, a pleasant way to spend an hour or two with a friend chatting about that most important of subjects - yourself. No more.
A couple of points. First, that the word “Chiron” is pronounced “sheer-ron” not “kai-ron” as B--- consistently kept saying it (it’s Greek). Secondly that in my research around the subject I found the following words, attributed to Chiron, from a page about the Greek myths on the internet, which are worth quoting: "Secret, O Apollo are the keys of wise Persuasion, that unlock the shrine of love; and both gods and men blush to take the pleasure of a bed for the first time openly.”
Yes. What a fantastic thought. So I will allow this to astrology, at least, that it encourages you to look into the wisdom contained within the ancient myths. And I’ll add another thing too, that it encourages you to consider the power and the presence of the heavenly bodies, both in the universe, and in our lives. Spending time with B--- late at night is to have the various astronomical objects pointed out to you, which is very educational and interesting.
Mind you, I have another friend who will also point out the planets on late night jaunts in the open air. He isn’t an astrologer, he is an amateur astronomer, which is an entirely different take on the same basic phenomenon, and just as interesting.
So far so good.
What follows next serves two distinct purposes.
You can see it as a kind of experiment, and you can interpret it as a kind of warning.
Get your bifocals on: I’m asking you to hold two thoughts in your head at the same time.
I got this e-mail from a friend of mine about a possibly devastating attack on the west on the anniversary of 9-11 week this year, specifically around September 9th, as predicted by B---.
"The North Node, which is a point of 'karma', turns direct at 25 Pisces. According to Carelli's 360 Degrees of the Zodiac, this is a point of warfare, violence and acrimony. The symbol is David and Goliath, the desperate small guy taking on the large oppressor, and winning. Carelli says it's a 'resort to any kind of assault'.
"Same with Mars and Mercury, both entering Libra. Libra is generally a sign of peacefulness, balance, tolerance, but the first degree is the exception to this. 'Hypersensitivity' and 'headlong rush into danger' were Carelli's words for 01 Libra. Combine that with an eclipse on the 7th at 15 Pisces, and a Saturn Neptune opposition on the 31st August, Pluto turning direct on the 4th, at 24 Sagittarius, and you have a potential for some very nasty international shit going down.
"Carelli's thoughts on 15 Pisces:
"SYMBOL: Among the storm clouds in the heavens, an archangel appears, his sword drawn.
"(I do not know if the archangel is Michael. He may also be the wayfarer's protector, Raphael (= God has healed), whose weapon kills and recovers.)
"Rational intelligence is far from clear if not downright blurred. But there is a great power of feeling, a bright, keen, piercing insight, whose edge is as sharp as a sword's. Here the Seer Charubel's words:
"'Whosoever thou art, thou hast a mission to accomplish and thou wilt be armed with the necessary power and authority to execute that mission. Thou art a child of the Sun.'
"A gloomy spirit obsessed by the idea of death. The symbolic image may come true literally or metaphorically, or both together. Anyway, life will be short and dreary, death sudden and perhaps violent; but the native himself is responsible for- if not the author of- his own mishaps.
"The best advice I can give? Avoid suicide bombers.
"Get into the woods, and stay there. Stay away from populated areas, and unsafe situations. And don't fly. Don't come visiting the US then, or anywhere unsafe politically or a possible terrorist target. I hope I don't sound too panicky, but I really think this one has potential to be serious. It's just the more I look the worse it appears."
Put specifically, and in non-technical language, the whole week around September the 9th 2006 looks very dodgy indeed astrologically speaking. You can view this as the warning.
However, I have some serious questions to ask.
The problem with astrology is that it is so ludicrously vague. You can interpret the above passage in any one of a thousand different ways and it really isn't clear what any of it means.
I had a phone call from B--- in the week and he was interpreting the events as having already taken place, in the form of the recent terror alert at our major airports. If that’s the case, then we can all relax, since, actually, nothing happened.
Is intent in astrology an event then? Assuming the plotters were guilty, does their purpose in attempting to blow up those planes amount to a fulfilment of the prophecy? This is a bit like having your cake and eating it. If nothing else happens then you can always claim that the events were psychic rather than practical, in which case you can get away with almost anything.
It’s a variation of Cartesian logic. Not “I think therefore I am”, but “I thought it, therefore it happened”.
It also means that the dates are entirely wrong. When I quizzed B--- on this he said that astrological forces can manifest several weeks either side of the predicted date, which allows even more lee-way in interpretation.
Also it’s very clear that the prediction refers to an event in the west, which sort of implies that the planets are partisan in their message, offering due warning to the western states, but ignoring the plight of people in the middle east. More people die in Iraq every month than died in the attack upon the World Trade Centre, a point that is not often considered when we hear these kind of scare stories. What do the stars tell us about this I wonder?
Actually, that might be more to do with our biased interpretation of the symbols rather than with the symbols themselves. Personally I think the image of David and Goliath fits very well with what has just happened in Lebanon between Hizbollah and the Israeli state: “the desperate small guy taking on the large oppressor, and winning.” It could also apply to Tommy Sherridan taking on the News of the World. Maybe the images serve to describe several events all at the same time? Unfortunately, in both cases the dates are wrong.
So what are we to make of this?
As I say: what it amounts to is both an experiment and a warning. An experiment because we can understand it as a kind of test of astrological methods. Come September 9th (or thereabouts) we will know whether any of B---’s predictions have any validity. That's the test. The warning is just in case they do. Be a little bit cautious in that week, that's all.
As I always say, it's better to be a safe believer than a sorry sceptic.
Me: I'm in two minds. I'm a believer and a sceptic at the same time. After all, you never know.