So I’ve been thinking more about astrological Ceres, and one of the words I keep coming back to is appetite. Appetite incorporates both hunger, born of lack, as well as desire and gusto. Ceres can be said to incorporate aspects of astrological Jupiter and the Moon, and Jupiter-conjunct-Moon can confer very large appetites indeed (says the voice of experience). Ceres is also associated with qualities of Taurus, the sign of physical nourishment and security needs (also Scorpio and Virgo).
The discovery chart for the dwarf planet Ceres adds some interesting dimension to potential astrological interpretations. Here are a few points that stand out to me in the chart (this is not a comprehensive list by any means):
Ceres is in Taurus (the sign of nourishment, life support) and is squared by Saturn, which conjoins the Ascendant in the 1st house (I’m using whole sign houses). With Saturn we have themes of time, responsibility, commitment, separation, and death.
Mars in Taurus conjoins the MC and opposes Neptune on IC in Scorpio. This placement of Neptune is a perfect representation of inner mysteries. Mars on MC on the other hand represents outwardly-directed action and physicality (it’s often associated with athletes), while Taurus being the 10th house is a perfect fit for Ceres who is known (10th house) for nourishment (Taurus).
Venus is in Aquarius and the 7th house, conjunct the Descendant–again an altruistic if rather distant position. Venus in Aquarius is the sign of love for all, people-in-general, for community. Venus is widely opposite Saturn, so ease is opposed by restriction, lightness by heaviness, enjoyment by responsibility.
Saturn (Leo/1st) opposite the Descendant/Venus (Aquarius/7th), and Ceres (Taurus/10th) opposite Neptune (Scorpio/4th), form a fixed grand cross as shown in the chart above, but the orb is a bit wide for my taste. The square between Ceres and Saturn, though, is exact by degree. To me this seems to illustrate the tension between hunger and restriction and food and growth. Leadership and responsibility are integral to identity (Saturn in Leo/1st).
The Sun is in Capricorn in the 6th house of service and caregiving. It trines Mars, and so facilitates practical action in the outer world.
Most interesting to me is a yod from Jupiter in Leo/1st house and Uranus in Libra/3rd house to Pluto (Pisces/8th). A yod is an aspect pattern formed by two planets or points in sextile aspect, both quincunx (inconjunct) a third, apex, planet. Jupiter conjoins the Moon (big appetites, remember), though the Moon is in Cancer and the 12th house while Jupiter is in Leo/1st. This out-of-sign conjunction thus can be said to combine the regal, priestly, and beneficent energy of Jupiter in Leo with the strongly maternal energy of the Moon in Cancer (a queen mother or a high priestess if ever there was one) while the 12th house/1st house cusp represents birth. The sextile to Jupiter/Moon from Uranus in the 3rd adds innovative if not revolutionary communication, and an altruistic if rather distant focus on fairness and balance. While Jupiter/Moon and Uranus are in harmonious aspect, both are in a tense aspect to Pluto in his natural 8th house of soul transformation and the sign of sacrifice. The apex planet is said to represent a “mission” or “destiny” which can only be reached after a protracted period of struggle, as well as a sense of needing to give something up. I can’t help but see in this configuration a reflection of the Eleusinian triad of Kore (Uranus), Demeter (Jupiter/Moon), and Persephone as Queen of the Underworld (Pluto). Conventionally, Kore/Persephone and Demeter are different goddesses, but there is a line of thought that they represent different aspects of a single goddess. I don’t put any stock in the historicity of the maiden-mother-crone thing, but when we are talking about the mythic persona(e) and embodiment(s) of the seasonal and life cycles, it does kind of make sense.
I don’t really see the “pushy stage mother” from Darkstar Astrology, nor the “tough love,” or the Medea-like connotations from The Inner Wheel. At least, they don’t jump out to me as being the most salient features. However, I absolutely DO agree with Dawn Bodrogi (of The Inner Wheel) about the hunger and feeling of lack that drives us to greed and selfishness and which is bound up within Ceres just as feeding and nourishment is. I see Ceres as cyclical, and the fear/hunger as being part of the cycles that we go through as we learn her mysteries. Ceres reigns over the difficult passages of the cycle as well as the pleasant ones.
If you troll the internet for interpretations of the dwarf planet Ceres in astrology, you’ll mostly find the following themes represented:
Nourishment, food, by extension maybe agriculture, cooking, herbalism and so on;
Mothering and caretaking, unconditional love; and
Over-mothering, empty nest syndrome, the inability to let go of the adult child or inability to allow a child’s independence
Well, I’ve got a bone to pick with some of that.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to state for the record that a big part of my interest in astrology is its mythologyology. A natal chart interpretation is really our own personal mythology (so make sure you interpret yours well!). I often use mythology to circumscribe the potential interpretations of a planet. That is arguably rather arbitrary on my part. Astrological interpretation has changed a lot over the course of its history, as have the uses of astrology (e.g., from finding out what dates are unlucky to psychological/personality analysis), so of course the meanings ascribed to certain bodies are going to change too. We like to think those changes are based on actual results observed by astrologers, but if we’re honest it’s just as much due to cultural changes in semiotics. So it seems to me that myth, coupled with observation, is a good basis for interpretation.
In keeping with that, when it comes to interpreting these relatively recent additions to Western astrology, the dwarf planets and asteroids, which don’t have as much of a literature built up around them, I always look to the mythology. Below, I’m going to assume you already know the myth of Persephone’s abduction by Pluto/Hades and Demeter’s subsequent search for her.
Food and nourishment
I don’t have a quibble with this one–food (in particular, domesticated plant foods) were indeed the purview of Ceres. I think we can reasonably extend this into a more abstract symbolic domain and talk about nourishment generally, but we can’t overlook the element of husbandry here. Ceres is (mostly) not a goddess of wild plant life, but of the interdependent relationship between humans and plant foods. She’s also a goddess of staple foods–that is, in the civilizations of the Classical Mediterranean, cereals were a major, if not the major, component of the diet. So we’re not talking about something that’s just nice to have, but something that you’ll die without.
Mothering and caretaking
This gets into territory traditionally associated with the Moon in astrology, but it is certainly a big part of Ceres’ mythology. It speaks to that matter of husbandry I mentioned above and is of course part of the classic Mother Earth persona. Here is a rather good article on Ceres and what/how we cherish. The author suggests that Ceres has more to do with how we nourish (and cherish) than how we are nourished.
By combining the concept of Mother Earth with that of caretaking and food production, Ceres has also been associated with environmentalism. I’m not sure how well that pans out “in the field” (pun intended) in natal charts, but it seems like a reasonable elaboration at least for our times.
This is the point that I have the biggest problem with–the idea that Ceres is a smothering mother. This seems to have grown out of a revisionist version of the myth in which Persephone wanted to go off and have sexy times with Uncle Pluto in his basement dungeon, or at least decided while being raped that she was really into it. Well, that’s all very modern and whatnot, but it’s not, so far as I have been able to learn, part of the original myth. Nor is there any implication in the myth that the bond of affection between Demeter/Ceres and Persephone is abnormally codependent or excessively clingy. The original mythology is very clear that Persephone is forcibly abducted and raped by Pluto. Yes, she subsequently reigns as queen of the Underworld during her annual winter sojourns there–but for me this is less about a good girl who likes bad boys and discovers a taste for incest and BDSM than it is about the personal empowerment of a trauma survivor. Yes, that’s a modern interpretation too, but it is better supported by the mythology. I’ll come back to that.
Bear in mind that Pluto was wearing a helmet that rendered him invisible at the time. There are Ceres and her daughter happily going about their business when suddenly the earth opens up and Persephone is just sucked down into it. I can only assume if that happened to my daughter I’d be pretty motivated to try to rescue her. So I view Ceres’ behavior after the abduction as that of a courageous mother rather than a smothering one.
I think the other thing one has to bear in mind here is that this actually happens to women. Actual living and breathing young human women are abducted, held captive, and sexually assaulted on a not-infrequent basis when you look at the phenomenon through history and globally (it being an especially common tactic during wartime–consider the Korean “comfort women” of WWII for just one example) and I don’t think very many of them say to themselves, gee, I really like being locked in this box and raped all the time, I sure hope my mom doesn’t try to find me and rescue me… Here is an article that looks at Ceres in the charts of women/girls who were abducted (and in some cases, literally held underground).
Every planet arguably has a dark side, and since Ceres is so strongly associated with the Mother Goddess persona, I guess it’s predictable that when casting around for the dark side some astrologers would land on the idea of over-mothering. But there is a “dark” side to Ceres that is all too often overlooked, to wit:
Feast and famine, death and rebirth
First of all I have to say that I’m not the first to point this out. I highly recommend Dawn Bodrogi’s post Ceres: The Dark Harvest (the title says Part 1, but as far as I’m aware there’s no Part 2; possibly it moved behind a paywall, i.e., became part of a course). She writes:
“People often talk about Ceres simply in terms of feeding, nurturing, caring, mothering. But Ceres reigns over much more, and she has her dark side, too. Sure, she walks around waving those stalks of wheat. But, um…what’s that there? I see poppies…blood red poppies. And what’s moving around under that wheat…a snake? The lesser known symbols of Ceres hold the key to understanding her….
“She oversaw, amongst other things:
“The physical journey from birth to death, and all its major rituals.
The female passage into maturity.
The balance of nature.
The feeding, nurturing and sustaining of life.
The seasons and cycles of life–natural order and balance.
The pleasure and satisfaction of the senses and appreciation for the physical world.
The giving and receiving of unconditional love.
The interplay of darkness and light….”
If we’re looking for Ceres’ dark sides, well, the obvious dark side of food is famine. As I said, she is associated with plant foods that are so essential to the diet we would (at least in the old days) die without them. In her search for Persephone, Demeter/Ceres allowed the crops to wither and thereby caused famine.
I mentioned the interdependent relationship of humans with our food plants. We now know that this extends beyond just the plants themselves to the micronutrients in the soil and mycorrhizal networks–both we and the plants are bound up in the entire food web. So Ceres makes us look at relationships of nourishment beyond just those of parent and child, to a network of interdependencies that would be very familiar to Buddhists (cf. Indra’s Net). Interdependence is not in itself good or bad, but can be either depending on the value judgments placed on it in context.
And finally, lest we forget, the Eleusinian mysteries that revolved around Demeter and Persephone were all about the promise of rebirth and eternal life. Here we return to Persephone as queen of the underworld. She isn’t queen by virtue of some domestically-abusive marriage to Pluto; rather she stands apart from him, a sort of parallel ruler. In Pluto’s underworld, there’s seldom any return possible; but the underworld of the Mysteries is not a permanent destination. Indeed, Persephone’s ascent out of the underworld and her reunion with her mother (and thus life, growth, and fertility, the return of spring) was the most important part of the Eleusinian Mysteries. In a sense, Persephone’s story is another variation on the theme of the underworld journey, albeit one that is not undertaken willingly.
So there’s a very strong case for reinstating the birth-death-rebirth cycle to the semiotic field of astrological Ceres. Bodrogi again:
“Ceres reveals herself very strongly in a study of secondary progressions. Ceres is often on an angle when a major life passage is at stake, a birth, a marriage, a death. She’s often prominent in divorce, or when natural disasters sweep homes away. Ceres is often featured in progressions when we lose the very thing we believe we need to live–a partner, professional status, financial security….Ceres is also there when we lose things through neglect and lack of respect.”
But I think it’s important to understand that ultimately, Ceres was primarily associated with forces of life rather than death. Obviously life and death are inextricably entwined, but Ceres is the life part of that relationship.
In chart interpretation there is the risk of turning Ceres into a mini-Moon, but instead it needs to be approached almost as a mirror of Pluto. I’m not entirely sure what that means in practice–I suspect few astrologers do know, since Ceres is a relatively new addition to tropical astrology and many more traditional astrologers don’t look at it at all. Intuitively I have the sense that whereas Pluto is about insight into and transformation of what one might call the soul-deep level, Ceres relates more to the earthly body. Also Ceres lies between Mars and Jupiter and thus can be considered more “personal” and less “generational” in its scope. So where Pluto acts like (and is likely to be experienced as) an impersonal force that “happens to you” and sweeps you along, Ceres reflects dynamics that you can identify with and recognize as a part of your inner life. Keywords I would associate with Ceres would be resurrection, fertility, abundance, protection, sustenance (and sustainability), husbandry (or midwifery); or, life and how to support it, nourish it, maintain it, and regenerate it. I would hypothesize that a prominent Ceres in a natal chart could function as a sort of resurrection engine or life support giving the individual an ability to rise from their own ashes and/or to act as a sort of rebirth-midwife to people and projects. In synastry I would expect to see the dynamics of care, protection, and nurturing love come out more.
Basically, Gordon argues that, unless you are a king or super-elite, Jupiter is not your god, he’s the god of people who actively oppress you. You’re better off working with one of the many civilizing trickster figures who, in spite of their rather bizarre senses of humor, seem to generally like helping a brother or sister out (albeit for inscrutable reasons of their own).
Miller, on the other hand, says that the bad acts of human elites are not a reflection on the nature of the deity, or at most just one side of that deity. With deities we are working in the realm of myths and archetypes. Jupiter is the god of abstract principles of wealth, sovereignty, and lawful gain (though these can manifest materially), not of specific people, instances, or acts, and thus is the friend of anyone who wants to have these things in their life.
Now, I have not really worked with Jupiter magically so I have no experience on which to base an opinion, and the two sides of this argument both seem reasonable to me. (Never really been drawn to Jupiter that much. I just don’t like that much beard.) But pondering where I might tentatively stand on the issue is an interesting thought exercise.
I do know enough to understand that the Roman deities were/are not the same as the planets named for them, but the personae and planets are deeply intertwined astrologically and, I think, shed light on one another. Jupiter is both my chart ruler (ruler of my Ascendant) and solar dispositor (ruler of the sign my Sun is in), as well as the ruler of the house my Sun is in. Jupiter is also exalted in the sign of Cancer in my chart, disposes some other planets besides my Sun, rules another angle besides AC and conjoins a third, and is involved in a lot of other aspect patterns. So the point is the planet has a lot of juice in my horoscope and wins a lot of essential dignity points.
In contrast, Mercury conjoins my MC and opposes Jupiter. Now Mercury is in detriment in the two signs where Jupiter is in domain (Pisces and Sagittarius), which in mythic terms makes sense as Mercury’s antinomian trickster nature (though it is much less emphasized than that of the Greek Hermes) is at odds with Jupiter’s rulership of rulership. In Jupiter’s house, Mercury can’t Mercury. Or at least not as well. My natal Mercury is essentially weak, but gets a fair bit of accidental dignity by association with other planets, angles, and so on. He too rules two angles, for example. Jupiter and Mercury are even co-rulers of the decan my Sun resides in. The polarity between these two planets, particularly as they conjoin opposing angles and rule opposing angles, is an axis that seems to organize my whole chart, and my life activities and personal proclivities have followed suit. So Jason and Gordon’s debate almost seems to re-enact the dynamics that go on in my head all the time.
I am also reminded of when I was in grade school and my stepbrothers were big into Dungeons & Dragons. They were two-and-a-half years older than me which at that age is rather massive, and they’re identical twins. When they needed a third person to play D&D, I was drafted, mostly against my will. My characters were always killed off in short order so I finally refused to participate anymore. Anyway, I don’t remember a whole lot beyond that except that you would choose your character’s orientation toward law and order and good-vs.-evil, so you would be “lawful good”, for example, “or “neutral neutral” and so on. (Ever the goody-two-shoes, I liked to be lawful good.)
Astrological Jupiter is lawful good. One of the quintessential aspects of Astrojupiter that often seems to be missed is that his domain deals with society and social institutions. That’s why you get the otherwise rather motley assortment of things he rules: law, higher education, religion, general embiggening. If you look at these things from the perspective of ancient Roman culture, they’re all aspects of Romanitas. Religion (religio) for example was not about personal faith but about participation in public ritual. And in this case we’re not talking about law in the Saturnian sense, as a set of constraints, but as the sociopolitical organization of the state. They are things that defined “civilization”.
So it occurs to me that whether you view Jupiter as a friend or foe might have a lot to do with how much social legitimacy forms a part of your personal model of success and achievement. Jupiter is all about legitimacy because he basically decides what that is in the first place. Whereas to embrace a trickster-centric lifestyle, or magical practice, means you pretty much have to be the kind of person who likes to rebel, stick it to The Man, and take risks. Not everyone is up for that. I think left-hand-path/right-hand-path is an oversimplification, but perhaps this is a more complex and nuanced version of that dynamic. It’s not to say that you can’t achieve conventionally-recognized models of success working with a trickster, but you can’t do it while wearing the white hat. You have to be alright with a grey one. Of course if you’re doing magic, you’re already halfway there. (And I should probably note, I’m not trying to psychoanalyze Miller and his approach. Just speculating on general Jupiterness.)
Time for TMI (Tell More Information!). Growing up a disabled female, frequently isolated from society at large (due to being hospitalized so much), my mother clung to two convictions–an extremely romantic, Sir Walter Scott-esque notion of chivalry, heroism and gentility to which she aspired, and a firm conviction that to show any vulnerability is certain doom. Although she was an introvert my mom achieved great success in whatever social circle she found herself in–and they were many and varied over the course of her life, from coal miners to Spanish grandees–because she would go along to get along. She never inconvenienced anyone. She never took up space. She never showed fear or sadness or weakness or ugliness that might make other people feel uncomfortable. “Never make other people uncomfortable” and “never make work for other people” were a litany I heard countless times growing up.
That’s not a criticism, by the way. My mother did what she had to to survive in a world that is very hostile to people like her. She achieved her principal goal of having an interesting life, and was a kind, generous, and warm person. She was also undoubtedly the bravest person I have ever known, because she was one of the most fearful, and she still kept getting up every morning. Not only that, in spite of her disability and constant pain and being a single mother working, in one memorable period, two full-time jobs, she achieved things that plenty of less vulnerable people find too difficult. When the going got tough, my mom sucked it up and came out the other side without a hair out of place. (Remind me to tell you about the time she was offered a modeling career while saving the life of the call-girl her husband* had just abandoned her for.) I think she had an innate knack for glamour magic and would probably have really enjoyed and appreciated Deb Castellano’s work. What I’m saying is, no trickster-lovin’ feminist witch or magician could ask for a better role model; and yet the teachings that were impressed on me were to always color inside the lines and be scared. I was wrapped in a veritable cocoon of “ladies don’t…” My mom wanted to keep me safe and protect me from the kind of terrors she faced every day just going about her life, and to ensure that I wouldn’t have to work quite as hard as she did for a little social mobility.
My point with all this, is that you can probably understand how I am conflicted about where I stand on all this Jupiter business. I roll my own eyes at what a moralizing, people-pleasing goody-goody I can be. Yet I’ve always been too much of a weirdo and an idealist to ever get social approval and I am trying to embrace and grow into my inner Persephonic-Luciferian punk witch.
There is also a very real question here: In The Chaos Protocols and many times on his blog, Gordon has speculated that the planet’s super-elites not only have a different value system than we do, but probably even a different cosmology. If that is true, it stands to reason they would have different gods. Gods of things that are important to people with a vested interest in promoting inequality and hierarchy. That sounds more archonic than godly, I suppose, but we humans don’t really grok gods so why couldn’t such unpleasant ones exist? Why would we automatically trust the word of history about the nature of specific deities, knowing that history is always just one biased point of view?
I’m planning on exploring these questions a little more in my next post, from a different angle.
If you’ve got any projects you’ve been planning to begin, or changes to make, this is the time to (as Shia LeBeouf would say) DOOOO IT!!!
Specifically, now through Wednesday, 3 February. Here’s why:
Today (1 Feb) is the feast day of St. Brigid. Some people regard this as a holy day of the putative goddess Brighid (for whom there is no textual evidence but whatever) and celebrate Imbolc now. Whether you regard her as a saint or goddess, Brigid (meaning “eminence”, “high place”) seems to be a pretty good person to have on your side. According to Giraldus Cambrensis, the nuns at her abbey in Kildare (“Church of the Oak”), known as “daughters of fire,” guarded a sacred flame. Keep that in mind because you will see a pattern…
Tomorrow (2 Feb) is Candlemas, the feast of the Purification of Mary, when in Christian mythology, Jesus was first taken out of the home and presented at the temple. Socially this is significant in two ways: first, Mary was cleansed of her birthing impurity (it ain’t fair, but we’re talking about ancient Hebrew society here, so don’t look for a vag-positive worldview) and could return to regular public worship, and Jesus officially became a person and a member of society. The theme is coming forth into the light. And of course, Candlemas refers to the lighting of candles which is a celebration of the return of light.
Tomorrow is also Groundhog Day here in the US. For those of you not familiar with this silly ritual, it is sortilege by rodent. If the ceremonial groundhog, christened Punxsutawney Phil, sees his shadow when he comes out of his burrow (i.e., if it is sunny), there will be six more weeks of cold weather.
Wednesday, 3 February, is Imbolc proper. Imbolc is the “cross-quarter” day between the winter solstice and spring equinox, and thus the first day of spring according to the solar calendar. (It is usually ceremonially observed on the 1st or 2nd of February, but this year it is, in fact, the 3rd.) Beyond that we don’t really know anything about it historically, so you can get creative. Only-slightly-tangential sidebar: Have you noticed how the solstices are regarded as the middle of their respective seasons–Midsummer, Midwinter–but the equinoxes are treated as the beginning of their seasons? That makes no sense. The solstices and equinoxes evenly divide the year, so if a solstice is in the middle of a season then an equinox is also in the middle. That means that March 21/22 is NOT the beginning of spring but the middle of spring–which certainly corresponds better to what one can observe going on in nature and on the farm at that time. Ergo the cross-quarter days are more properly treated as the beginnings of the seasons. And indeed, according to folklore that is exactly what they were in the British Isles in the old days. So, Imbolc is the beginning of spring, huzzah! You don’t need the calendar to tell you that–there are buds on the trees, the days are getting noticeably longer, it’s very muddy, dog poop has re-emerged where snow is melting, the geese are returning, the sap has started running, and the ewes (they say) are beginning to lactate (March 21 the beginning of spring my ass…arglebargle)…though it’s not exactly getting warmer around here, as it never really got cold to begin with this winter.
Also on Wednesday, the space weather will be good: The Sun in Aquarius sextiles Saturn in Sagittarius, putting them in mutual reception, which is nice because they will be getting along well. That makes it a good day for implementing new structures, patterns, routines, and boundaries. (Doubly nice for me, Saturn is finally moving off my personal Neptune. Whew!) Wednesday is the planetary day of Mercury and sacred to Hermes, a god of magic, so arguably a great time for divination or magic. Things start to get astrologically hairy again on Friday, so get while the gettin’s good.
Also also on Wednesday is the Japanese festival of Setsubun or Risshun, the day before the official first day of spring (as they currently calculate it; formerly the last day of the old year/winter). It is another purification day. Traditionally, roasted soybeans were thrown out the door, making a tremendous rattle as they hit the wooden porches that surround old-style Japanese houses, and people yell, “Oni wa…soto! Fuku wa…uchi!” (“Demons out! Good luck in!”). People still throw beans, they probably just don’t make quite the same apotropaically-potent racket. (Here is someone after my own heart, a “British Shinto-Pagan”, writing about “Japan’s Imbolc”.)
Also there is a rare quintet of planets visible before dawn, the “spear-bearers” heralding the return of the sun (this also from the Coppock link above), making it an extra juicy and powerful sun. These are Mercury (finally out of his retrograde and returning from the underworld), Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. This is the first time all 5 planets have been visible at the same time since 2005.
Other things happening this month: February derives from the Latin meaning to purify. It refers to the purification rituals held at Lupercalia during the February full moon (that will be on the 22nd by our calendar). The 8th is the Chinese New Year, which is to say the traditional lunar new year in East Asia, beginning the year of the Fire Monkey (which sounds terrifying to me, but there’s a hint of light again). February 13 is the feast of St. Modomnoc, the patron saint of bees and beekeeping–they could use our help. I will be taking a beekeeping-for-beginners class that day–someone in our local beekeeper’s association has got their finger on the saintly pulse, I see. I guess some people are into the feast of St. Valentine, but that day has been so tarted up and divorced from real love that, following Gordon, I have chosen to celebrate St. Dwynwen instead (her day is 25 January).
Seriously guys, there is so much juju in the air right now, and it’s all ripe for clearing out the old and bringing in the new. It is also a time, as Austin Coppock mentions in his weekly forecast to which I linked above, when the sun seems to take on a very feminine energy. Those of us familiar with the Classical, reconstructed Celtic, and Egyptian pantheons are accustomed to thinking of the sun as a distinctly masculine presence, but it’s by no means universal and I for one really feel the feminine sun this year.
I’m taking this opportunity to resume in earnest the magical studies that dropped off around the time my mom was dying. My autumn and winter were consumed by that event and its fallout, so now I am rejoining the world of the living (at least to the extent that I ever do). Things are getting rolling here at Firefly Farm too, as I expect to be getting a few laying hens as soon as I can convert one of our outbuildings into a coop, starting a compost pile, and ordering seeds. It would help if I had a job to fund the necessary supplies, but hopefully this month will see a new beginning for my income too. Bees will likely have to wait till next year, but you never know.
I wrote my post on Mercury Rx and Hermes Khthonios before listening to Gordon’s interview with astrologer Austin Coppock on the Rune Soup podcast, which for various reasons I didn’t have a chance to listen to until today. Funnily enough, though, I actually wrote the post the same day the podcast aired, scheduling it to be punished a few days later. I guess great (or weird) minds think alike! Check out the whole interview, or if you are just interested in Mercury Rx and how it relates to Hermes’ underworld aspect, I’ve cued it up at the link below:
Discussion of Mercury Retrograde lasts until 1:07:45, and then moves on to other transits for this year–all very interesting.
Today Mercury goes direct again, leaving its first retrograde of 2016 (though the effects of the retrograde will still be felt as late as mid-February). This year, Mercury spends all or part of each retrograde in an earth sign–the first retrograde in Capricorn-Aquarius, the second in Taurus, and the third in Virgo and Libra–and this seemed like a good opportunity to delve into the chthonic aspects of the Messenger god.
Mercury is a big player in my horoscope, generally forming a team with Jupiter, so I think a lot about its astrological shenanigans, and sometimes feel them quite acutely. (It was classic Mercury Rx when my credit card company decided I was dead, for example.) Although the planets are not the same as the deities, my approach to astrology entails diving deep into myths. This often reveals nuances to the planets and houses that I wouldn’t see otherwise.
Hermes has always struck me as quite unusual among the Greek gods because he has a finger in every pie–there’s hardly an aspect of life that doesn’t seem to fall under his purview. As much as I rail against narrowly constraining what a deity is supposed to be a “god of“, in this case I admit it was hard to connect the dots in a way that would help me better understand the astrology of Mercury. Here is a list, not comprehensive mind you, of things governed by Hermes (also check out the three-part summary of a Hermes-themed conference on the Digital Ambler and see also this list of Hermes epithets):
livestock and shepherds
divination by sortilege
comic theater, particularly in iambic pentameter and the more low-brow the better
And there are what seem to me weird contradictions as well. For example, Hermes is associated with seduction, animal fertility, and was often represented simply as an erect phallus (or a head and a phallus), yet unlike other Greek deities he’s not depicted as shagging (or raping) every passing nymph or prince/ss. Furthermore, despite being so intimately connected with things humans love–and being beloved himself as a deity who was particularly friendly to humans and our interests–Hermes didn’t have any big temples or an organized cultus. I always thought it was weird that as a psychopomp, a speedy traveler, and a protector of livestock, Hermes is not associated with horses.
At first I thought maybe we were looking at the vestiges of a syncretic merging of multiple deities way back in prehistory, but I now think it’s more likely that Hermes’ mythos preserves his evolution**, perhaps better than with any other Classical deity. It’s said that Hermes was a late addition to the Olympic pantheon, but he seems to me one of the most “primitive” of the Olympians, or at least to preserve more archaic qualities.
I’m not the first to reach that conclusion. In his essay “Hermes and the Creation of Space”, Murray Stein quotes the Oxford Classical Dictionary, which states that Hermes
“…is probably one of the oldest [of the gods] and most nearly primitive in origin….and signifies the daemon who haunts or occupies a heap of stones, or perhaps a stone, set up by the roadside for some magical purpose.”
This image is vividly animist and reminds me of the stones that serve as god-bodies at Shinto shrines. In what I suspect are the earlier conceptions of Hermes, he is present in liminal places, interstices between the known and unknown, such as crossroads, the mountain slopes where shepherds grazed their flocks (shepherds are always liminal types, being of civilization but rarely in it), and most importantly the boundary between worlds. Through experience people came to know Hermes as a friend in need, and he thus became a guardian of travelers and outsiders; then, by extension, a granter of luck, and in turn a patron of risky pastimes like business and gambling. In modern times, digital communications, electronics, and the postal service were added to his bag of tricks.
While Hermes as we most often see him represented–a beautiful, lithe youth with winged sandals–seems airy and even whimsical, a look at his signature tool and symbol, the kerykeion or caduceus, reveals another side.
The kerykeion is a winged staff entwined by two serpents. It unites a symbol of the sky or heavens–wings–with a symbol of the earth and rebirth–snakes. It is thus a kind of axis mundi. With the kerykeion Hermes could put anyone to sleep or wake them (the space/time between sleep and wakefulness also being his territory of course). With the axis mundi for a staff, an antinomian patronage of all kinds of outsiders and boundary-crossers, the ability to instigate dreaming and to travel between worlds upper, middle, and lower, Hermes starts to look very shamanic* indeed. (And a lot like David Bowie, actually.) One can’t help but notice certain parallels with another antinomian deity represented by a phallus, and associated with the axis mundi: Shiva.
Returning to the vagaries of the planet Mercury, its astrological associations are traditionally more in line with what I think of as the elaborated, evolved form of Hermes the Messenger. The planet governs travel, study and teaching, information, and communications. When Mercury goes retrograde, all these areas can be turned topsy-turvy as Mercury shows his trickster persona. It is often recommended that during Mercury retrograde one should do some introspection, since outrospection (is that a word? It is now! Thanks, Mercury!) is likely to go awry anyway.
Now when it comes to the kinds of experiences we conventionally term “shamanic,” Pluto, Saturn, and Neptune have much greater claim to rule them. Moreover such experiences are more often associated with the 8th house and its associated sign, Scorpio, which belongs to the water element, not earth. However, since 2016’s Mercury Retrogrades will be in earth signs, it seems only appropriate to be inspired by chthonic Hermes***–his psychopomp role/epithet–and dig deep.
Taurus, which Mercury will be reversing through in late April-May, seems an appropriate sign for the god of livestock. Cattle were one of the principal forms of wealth in the ancient (and indeed not so ancient) world, and Taurus is very much concerned with value: determining what is of value and then stockpiling as much of it as possible. The accrual of wealth, in other words. Taurus likes to get (at least metaphorically) fat and sleek in lush green pastures, with everything it needs close to hand and in ample quantities. We can expect this Mercury Rx to call our values into question and perhaps force us to face the death–in Hermetic terms–of our Precious, whatever form it may take. Instead of being lucky for gamblers and businesspeople, this chthonic Mercury might take them on a journey to some shadowy places where they have to confront fears and experiences of scarcity. The more stubborn and bullheaded we are, the harder the lesson will be.
Mercury will enter Virgo in its third retrograde during September. Virgo is traditionally ruled by Mercury. Virgo is the sign of service and helpfulness, and Mercury/Hermes is the only Olympian in service to other deities–he serves his father Zeus as messenger. Even more than service, though, Virgo represents the separation of pure from impure, sacred from profane. That is, Virgo is concerned both with determining what is pure and sacred, and with taking the necessary actions to keep it that way. Contrary to popular astrological claims, I have yet to meet a Virgo who was tidy, and I have known, and lived with, many Virgos. Virgo is not about being neat, it’s about tending the eternal sacred flame of the inner temple–that is the service they give. A keen mind and even keener sight is needed to sort the wheat from the chaff, and Virgo is ever on the lookout for stray chaff that may have sneaked in or been missed by some lackadaisical sign like that awful Sagittarius****. Virgo likes nothing better than to draw boundaries and then police them; Hermes likes nothing better than to cross boundaries and play with them. Chthonic Hermes’ power is in his ability to move between worlds. If you try to contain him within one, he is nowhere. That kind of thing makes Virgo crazy. So when Mercury Rx goes into Virgo we can predict a dissolution of boundaries that causes confusion and unease, as if we suddenly fell through the looking glass or down the rabbit hole. Categories that have always seemed set in stone will suddenly be seen to be arbitrary and fragile. The only way to deal with it is to lean in, let go, and get right with neither-nor. If you’re not willing to meet what’s on the other side, why go to the crossroads in the first place?
*I know the term is problematic, but I don’t have time to go into it here, so let’s just use shaman in the conventionally-understood, generalized way.
**There is no implicit value judgment here. Evolved simply means changed over time.
***Hermes Khthonios, “Hermes of the Earth”–by extension, the underworld.
****Said the Sagittarius, speaking from experience.
I think about danger a lot lately. I suppose its only when you are stewarding a loved one into death, and you are getting lessons in destruction. Inevitably, I can’t help also thinking about how dumb and short-sighted most humans’ response to danger is. It has been said that we evolved to recognize and respond to immediate threats–the leopard slinking through the savanna grass–but not more abstract or distant threats. This, it is said, is why it’s so difficult to get people to take meaningful action to mitigate long-term, transpersonal threats like climate change or threats based far away like war or economic collapse in some country you don’t live in.
If that’s true, it bodes ill for us, insulated as we are in our air-conditioned civilization. Statistics show that the richer someone gets, the less empathetic they are, and that makes sense if you can only focus on your immediate environment. The neighborhoods you drive through with your doors locked would become increasingly irrelevant and ultimately unreal, and you would feel more worried about, say, a poorly performing stock than about the collapsing highways and bridges in your county, let alone whether someone else has enough to eat. Your behavior would be more motivated by the convenience of buying a bottle of water than by the fact that said bottle is being sold at a many-thousands-percent markup and was produced at the expense of the economy, environment, and health of literally your entire state. Wealth and centralization buffer one from natural selective pressures that less affluent people confront on a daily basis (e.g., famine, lack of access to health care) and consequently, the “threats” perceived by the wealthy person in their immediate environment are, not to put too fine a point on it, inane. Yet, unbeknownst to the comfortable, their (our) position is dangerously fragile.
Obviously some of us occupy, shall we say, a deeper, more diverse, and frankly frightening ecology. And what could be a better way of introducing the 8th and 9th houses of the zodiac?
Do you use astrology, lovely readers? I find I use it more as a map than for prediction or planetary magic. Experience tells me that it absolutely does work as a way of modeling the landscape (or really, the cosmiscape, to coin a word) of a person’s life and character. It’s not that I think the position of a particular planet or constellation determines a person’s fate–anyway, tropical astrology doesn’t use the actual positions of constellations anymore, it’s largely symbolic–but it can certainly tell you where to look out for high and low points, strengths and weaknesses. Beyond that, I have no explanation for why it works, except that the universe is magical and weird shit is weird.
A brief aside for those who may not have much familiarity with astrology, the houses are a 12-part division of the 360-degree circle of the zodiac. Each house represents a domain of activity or experience, and their condition by sign varies from person to person depending on your Ascendant. A lot of planets or an important transit in a given house puts emphasis on the matters it rules. I think a lot about the 7th, 8th, and 9th houses because they are the most populated in my birth chart, especially the latter two. And at the moment my progressed Moon is illuminating the 8th house, so I am seeing it very clearly…
You will usually see the 8th house oversimplified as the house of sex and death, but that’s only half right. It is the house of Death. Specifically, it represents a descent into the underworld, the encounter with its denizens, and the total personal transformation that results. It is the journey of Orpheus and of Persephone. An initiation into the mysteries. It can be interesting to dip your toe into the 8th house life, but it’s not a fun place to spend a lot of time. There is infinite wisdom to be gained there, but it carries high risk and a heavy price.
8th house experiences can’t really be put into words, for they can only be understood through gnosis and direct encounter. You either survive, stronger but much altered, or die. Sometimes, this happens through sex, though not all sex. Some sex is very much a matter of the 5th house (fun), or the 6th (service), or even the 10th (career). It only becomes an 8th house affair when it unravels you. Pluto rules the 8th house, and Pluto will break you to remake you.
Sometimes the 8th house is also associated with shared resources, but it really involves inherited resources. The distinction there, I would argue, is that inheritance always entails the death of an ancestor, which in turn forces us to confront mortality.
Needless to say, the 8th house is a “place” that magicians and occultists find ourselves visiting a lot. But as with all the houses, and as you can see from the example of sex above, any activity or life event can manifest through any house; and equally, any house can manifest itself in any area of life.
For me, for example, some of my most powerful 8th house experiences came through studying anthropology. Anthropology is subject to all the limitations inherent in 21st-century academia, but more than any other discipline except philosophy, it has radical implications. Ninety-nine percent of people who take anthropology classes or even go on to careers in anthropology will never realize these implications, but in its best form, the encounter with alternate ontologies yanks the rug out from under yours. At first, you as a student are just collecting trivia about how other cultures do things (a 3rd house activity), but it becomes an 8th house experience when it totally blows your worldview and self-conception to smithereens and there’s nothing to replace it with. You then have to assemble a new version of reality from the ground up, trying to, in the words of Terence McKenna, “triangulate a sufficiently large number of data points in your sets of experience so that you can make a model of the world that is not imprisoning.” Until, in time, that model too is exploded.
Typical of the 8th house, this isn’t something you can plan for or arrange or will to happen. You don’t get it until you get it.
Every zodiacal house bleeds into and informs its neighbors. So for example, the 7th house–the encounter with the Other–leads to the 8th house of initiation, which in turn is followed by the 9th–the hierophant. In the 9th house, the initiate, now transformed by direct experience of mortality and the chthonic forces of the underworld, returns to society and becomes a guide into the mysteries, one who brings others into the presence of the sacred.
If you look up a cookbook definition of the 9th house, you will see a rather disjointed collection of topics: foreign-language study, higher (post-secondary) learning, philosophy, law, religion, travel, experiencing other cultures, and broadening one’s horizons. I used to struggle to tease out the common theme. The fact that Jupiter rules the 9th did nothing to clarify things for me. And then finally it clicked–the 9th house doesn’t make sense except in the context of what was learned in the 8th. The common theme of the 9th–the sacred–has been lost in most modern astrological interpretation. The “higher learning” of the 9th house is not post-secondary education, but gnosis; philosophy and law are not academic disciplines, but the theory and practice of ethics, respectively; travel, foreign languages, meeting other cultures, and the broadening of one’s horizons are, metaphorically, the skills acquired by the sage. And religion, well, that’s self-explanatory.
The negative qualities of the Hierophant of the tarot (Card V of the Major Arcana) also apply to the 9th house: dogmatic, orthodox, pompous, holier-than-thou. Now the associations with Jupiter, king of the gods, should be clear! These are the pitfalls that surround every organized form of religion and magic, and the inevitable signal loss that comes with trying to put into words and share the ineffable mysteries of the 8th house. Yet a well-balanced 9th house embodies a truly generous and idealistic calling to bring justice, peace, dignity, and awe into the lives of all. In this consideration of the role of mystics in social revolution, the characterization of “social mysticism” applies equally well to the 9th house:
“Because it imbues human relationships with the power of the divine, social mysticism generates great potential for change and creativity. It supports the formation of new perspectives, builds communities that embody them, and nurtures a particular style of interaction that’s capable of doing something quite profound: redistributing emotional energy from those who have more resources to those who have less. In these ways, mysticism can play a crucial role in creating critiques and sustaining active resistance to the prevailing social order.”
It is through the 9th house that the wisdom of the 8th is put into action and integrated into the community and into an individual’s own daily life. It is impossible to live in the 8th house–it would grind us to dust or reduce us to gibbering madness, for one thing, but more importantly, one cannot stay forever in any one zodiacal house. The 8th house experiences have to be integrated into the individual psyche and find a way to survive re-entry into the social atmosphere. That is the work of the 9th.
8 + 9, the ambidextrous path
Understanding the natures of the 8th and 9th houses, I think, puts the lie to the false dichotomy of left- and right-hand paths. Superficially, the 8th house is decidedly left-hand, while the 9th is right-hand, but neither house exists in isolation. A given individual may feel more comfortable with the experiences of one or the other house, may find the experiences come more naturally or easily, but magic never lets us stay where we’re comfortable. Besides, if comfort is the goal, why bother with magic at all? You are barking up the wrong world-tree if you came here for an easy time. That way lies fragility.
Not only are the houses not isolated from one another, they are in fact inextricably intertwined, each flowing from the previous and into the next, each drawing meaning, purpose, and clarity from its neighbors. Similarly, if you abandon the dogma about path-handedness, you see right in the left and left in the right almost everywhere you look. Indeed it was arbitrary of me to section off the 8th and the 9th, but I can’t do the whole zodiac in one post. Hopefully in future there will be time to consider the other houses.