The special illustrations in this chapter are by Jan Billings.
Within the cycle of the year lies a cycle of archetypal energy-patterns or time-imprints which have a very dynamic effect on us all. The zodiac. Clueing in on the zodiac gives us a chance to perceive the inner time-energy-holofrequencies at work behind all life and form, giving us a subtle basis and sense of timing with which to work our way through the labyrinth of life.
There’s another dimension too: by getting a clear sense of the energy-weather we live in, we can to some extent see and be beyond it, increasingly centred in the timeless. The timeless is found through acknowledging fully that we live in time, and that there is no escape from the wheel until we can love it. The root archetypes in that wheel of time are the signs of the zodiac.
There’s a season for everything
Evolution (individuation) and integration (wholisation or socialisation): these are two main undercurrents behind the zodiacal year. Between the solstices we journey in a progression from one state to another. Neither individuation – the prevailing life-experience of the summer months, demarcated by the equinoxes – nor wholisation/socialisation – on the winter side of the equinoxes – is the ultimate experience. Both exist in relation to the other, and the story of life explores the paradoxes which both create.
We need to belong, to be involved in something larger than ourselves, and we need to do our own thing too, and we need to learn from the outcomes of both. We incarnated on this planetary school to experience paradox and extremes, to learn how to find a middle way which leads beyond. Interestingly, people born and living in places where the extremes of light and dark and seasonal behaviour are more emphasised, choose to experience these paradoxes more acutely.
Within everything lies its opposite: beyond the yang and the yin lies the essence, the source of the flow. If we have had a fullsome summer, we can enjoy winter as a contrast, and we need summer in order to loosen out from the gruelling side of winter. Spring implies autumn, and autumn is a prerequisite for spring. We appreciate things when they are not there, and tend habitually to behave as if changing situations were permanent. We tend to find difficulty in seeing things in terms of the part they play in the larger scheme of things, or in the context of posterity.
One fundamental illusion astrology has laboured under for long is that some signs are better than others – that, somehow, if you're a Scorpio or a Pisces, you'll have a more difficult life than other people. In this lies an ignoring of the way in which each sign invaluably and necessarily contributes to the whole.
In winter we learn commitment, focusing, involvement and how to fulfil the roles we have wittingly or unwittingly cut out for ourselves. In spring we learn how to take life in our hands, follow our aspirations, follow our chosen paths, move forward and open up new variants in ourselves. In summer we learn how to live our selfhood to the maximum, to regulate our own energy, create, harvest and carve out our own personal contribution to life. And in autumn, we become aware of our place in the world, of our need for interrelationship and togetherness, to face up to what is wanted of us, to get involved and carve out our role or niche, facing facts we might previously have overlooked.
Backward and forward, round and round: when looking back over the years retrospectively, we overlook this annual time-oscillation, but it's there. Retrospectively, we forget the constituent forwards-and-back motion of experience. The journey a bug on the rim of a wheel travels is different from that of a bug on the axle. Interlacing the beingness-in-the-state-we-are-in at summer and winter with the becoming-something-other-than-what-we-are at spring and autumn, we create our existence. Within the shorter-term perspective of one year, this movement of consciousness is very meaningful, yet seen over a period of years it is insignificant.
Modes or Qualities
Each season, or quarter of the year, contains three signs.
The first sign in each quarter, starting at either a solstice or equinox point, is a cardinal or initiating sign: in these signs we are moving into the new mode of being of that season, investing energy, establishing things and seeking to make things happen. The four cardinal signs are Capricorn, Aries, Cancer and Libra.
The second sign in each quarter, with a cross-quarter point sitting in the middle of it, is a fixing (or fixed) carrying-through sign: in these signs we make the meaning of the season work, and we do what is already set up to do, making things actually happen and wrestling with the reality presenting itself at the time. The four fixing signs are Aquarius, Taurus, Leo and Scorpio.
The third sign is a mutable or assimilating sign, preceding and ending at a solstice or equinox point: in these we complete, digest, understand and make sense of what is done, before the next step comes, laying the groundwork for the next development while completing the last. The four mutable signs are Pisces, Gemini, Virgo and Sagittarius.
These are called the three modes. Signs opposite and at right-angles to each other are always of the same mode.
Since the zodiac is a whole cycle, like a wheel, it has no start or ending, despite what traditional astrology says about Aries being the first sign and Pisces being the last sign. This is a somewhat chauvinistic notion, ideologically justifying the dominion of individualism. For some reason, astrologers have replicated this counterproductive idea for a long time. Yet a wheel has not end or beginning. However, we have a dilemma.
Since in a book we have to string out ideas along a line, we have to start somewhere, and in order to give boost to the sign Pisces, which has always landed up being the last and least understood sign, we shall generally start with Capricorn. In temperate climes such as Britain this makes some sense – even though, again, there is no beginning to a wheel. Since life-force has died back at winter-solstice, lying hidden under the ground and within our beings, and at its most 'dead' point, there is some reason to start with Capricorn, for want of any other place – as long as we don’t get stuck in this idea (or any other).
Winter is a solidifying, form-oriented season, started off by the sign Capricorn. Capricorn faces us with the fact that we live in a situation we must accept and work with, perseveringly and systematically – because if we don't we'll suffer cold and hunger. We must carry out our role, fulfil our niche in the human family, keep the wood-pile stacked and do the necessaries – and it's also a time for lying low. Winter solstice or Yule (now Christmas) is a time for family reunion and the following of tradition as a socially stabilising factor. Things are as they are, regardless of what individuals might want, and if we cannot accept this, then we risk being left out in the cold: receiving the approval or disapproval of others, and fulfilling our responsibility and what is reasonably expected of us dictate the tone of this time. We’re all in the same boat, and we sink or swim together – so we all have to do our bit. Social forms give continuity and resilience to collective life, so we get on with these, for in them we find a certain solidity and protection while the light is low. Capricorn is the soil in which the seed of an individual plant lies dormant, waiting.
Aquarius, however, experiences a tinge of boredom with things as they are, and wants to see things differently. There is a spark of promise and hope in the air, for the light is increasing: yet it is too early, and winter is still here. While our eyes are looking afar, our feet have hardly moved. Aquarius seeks to change convention with new ideas, shaking up the past-dominated present with a taste of future possibilities. A restlessness grows: Aquarius seeks to encourage everyone to do their own thing, together, for then it can do its own thing too, without being excluded. There's a collectivism with an individualistic twist – or, alternatively, a denial of the individual. A heady time, where collective values can override individual ones, Aquarius is a time for concerted action, aimed toward an ideal goal. It's a time of planning and working to plan and agreement – and infinite discussion about agreements! It has some difficulty accepting the is-nesses of life: they ought, after all, to be different! Things could be better!
New possibilities need indeed to await the right time: this is what Pisces says. Complicating and delaying factors can arise, obliging acceptance that there's more to life than meets the eye. Social mores and agreements restrict individual movement, and the season is not yet warmed up – it's not quite safe yet to sprout and grow. The bottom drops out of what is known, hoped for and agreed, and the void gulps a few of our illusions. Deeper preparation is needed: the thaw is here, but spring is not. We must prepare our ground through soul-searching, learning patiently to await our time, and getting on with what's before us. A selfless atmosphere prevails: we are but little atoms in a great universe. A renewed vision arises from this time of insight, with an expanded understanding of what's going on, for Pisces is a sign of power, of root-power, hidden power beneath the surface – it involves a revelation of the mystery of life, of the underlying tides and threads, if we have the strength to look and see. Pisces teaches us to accommodate conflicting realities – the potential and the actual, the spiritual and the mundane, the vision and the reality. Otherwise the alternative is frustration and confusion, helplessness and incapacity. Contrary to the perception of many, Pisces is a sign of activity and manifestation, of making vision happen in reality. Sometimes an unbridgeable gap must be crossed! Pisces works with paradox, to manifest the impossible – such as springtime.
Then comes spring equinox, and suddenly the Sun is out, and seeds are sprouting: the power of creation is unleashed, sometimes with a bang, sometimes creeping up from behind. We throw off inertia, shrug our shoulders and quit waiting for everyone and everything else, compromising and constraining ourselves to the parameters, rules and co-expectations winter brought. Doubt and hesitation have now run out of time, and it is now timely and right to head for what we want. If in Pisces we have not uncovered a vision and sense of perspective, life propels us forward anyway, and we are ripped away from our comfortable past. Aries is an energy sign, rampant and spilling out. Forethought and caution are restrictive to Aries, while self-determining action and forward progress are seen as auspicious. This is it, this is the time: we just have to do it, or we fear we’ll get left behind, lose the initiative or miss the moment, for everything is growing, pushing out above ground, and new things are being born. Evolutionary energy is breaking loose. It's a Darwinian time of year.
The decisions have already been made, and the springtime growth-process has started up: now Taurus must carry through the task during a thunderous momentum of growth, fertility and development. Flowers are coming out, nature is seething and humming, and springtime is really now happening. The past is gone, and breakthrough is here - it started earlier as winter was concluding, but here the great divide is crossed. It’s wonderful, it's delicious, fertile, and this is even more it than even Aries thought. This is living, doing, moving, the very stuff of life, and nothing will stop it. Everything has now to move on, for it is too late now to change course or to back down. Enjoy it while the going is good: follow your own path, make that step, for we are now free to act as we so wish, and the tide is flowing fast. It's a steamrollering power, yet it's creative, beautiful and aesthetic too. Purposeful, sustained and dogged motion are what Taurus teaches us: do it, and stay on the case. And it's also about enjoying the good things of life – the fun, the sensuality, the warmth and the cream buns.
Single-minded action and staying on-track is all very well, says Gemini, but look at what you’re missing! There’s a world of variety, fun, colour, alternatives, experiences and ten thousand things to play around with! Gemini can go anywhere and do anything, try things out, travel the world and act out every possibility that presents itself in the moment. Gemini is like a bee in a kaleidoscope of flowers, or a swallow in an open sky. Anyone who tries to constrain Gemini is just missing the point. Why get stuck? Gemini maximises on stimulus, situationality, babble, flutter and buzz, and everything is just fascinating. Sure, it’s complex, but who cares? Gemini drops all the heaviness and purposefulness of preceding signs, and plays dice with the world. Yet often, the extent of choice, and the contradictions life presents can present a hurdle that only the clear-thinking can cross. Nevertheless, summer solstice at the close of Gemini is a celebration of being alive, so let’s have fun! Evolutionary motion has reached its peak. Individualisation has reached its zenith, and here I stand.
Hold on, says Cancer, this is all a bit too much: so much is happening, I can’t deal with it. It's getting at me and I'm feeling rather overwhelmed. I need to hunker down and get things sorted. Amidst all this panegyration, I must find a safe space, a safe haven, a perch, a place of my own from which to operate, a standpoint where I know that I'm on my own territory and feeling okay about it. Infinite variegation cannot go on forever, and I might be caught unawares by events, without anything to hold on to. This creation business has to lead somewhere, and I must nurture what is most valuable and disregard the rest. Things stabilise out and mature in Cancer, for now summertime is an established fact, and it won’t last indefinitely. The fruit is growing. Something must be made of this peak time of summer. And besides, all this hyperactivity tramples on my personal sensitivities, and my own interests are at stake. Cancer teaches us to cherish what is valuable, and to look after ourselves, nurturing ourselves in the midst of all the summery goings-on.
And Leo teaches us to express where we've got to, to bring the growth-exploration process to fruition, to act out our own personal truths and be ourselves, fully. Even, unfortunately, to the extent of imposing it on others. We must make something of these ideal conditions. I know what's best: follow me, everyone, for this is our moment. Leo acts out the play of life, dances the dance for all to see, believes in itself, and does it, really does it. Welcome to my party, everyone! Either that, or it really wishes it could do it, and that life were its party. Underneath, though, there is a concern as to whether everyone else actually wants to come to the party, or is taking any notice – after all, they have their own lives too. Leo is begins to become aware that I myself need others to validate me – and that others thus themselves need validating. But while the sun is high and the summer is hot, there's no time: I just need to do my own thing. That’s what’s right for me, at least. Evolutionary tendencies have reached their peak of expression – yet meanwhile, integrative tendencies are setting in, just as evolutionary ones were doing in Aquarius, the opposite sign to Leo.
Then Virgo picks up the pieces. Virgo does the washing up when everyone has drunk their fill – even vomited up the results. Virgo, in late summer, is acutely aware that forethought, caring, meticulousness and consideration matter greatly if anything is to be practically achieved. Virgos believe things when they see them. The harvest must be brought in, stored and processed, the practicalities sorted out, and everything put in its proper place. I myself have little significance if I cannot make a contribution which is valued by others. Virgo is rather tired of being itself, and seeks a role, a way of making its mark, even if in the background of the big dramas – for it can be here that the real power quietly lies. To be valued, I should do the things others omit to do, for the purpose of my life is to serve the whole and fill the gaps. Yet this is done competently, reliably and without fuss. It’s all very practical and thought-out, carefully sorting through the consequences of past actions, of the summertime's jangle, and making something out of it all for the future, for posterity.
Everything’s alright, really, answers Libra – all these distinctions and details are all very well, but why don’t we just become friends? A lot can be done if we work together, and I’m sure we can smooth out our differences if we just trust – after all, it’s not all that bad. I don’t mind what we do: we could do this or that – what would you like? It’s nice to share our lives, and we can work it out, for something more than both of our added energies comes out of our coming together. Life is tough, but we can make it good, make everything really alright. Libra seeks to fit in and adjust to others and the world, hoping the world will appreciate its good-naturedness and that barriers will melt. But the paradox is that there is far more than meets the eye to relationship: it doesn't work unless energy reciprocates and balances over time. Through the unsettling experience of imbalance and extremity, Libra seeks to find a comfortable compromise, yet it can rarely itself specify what that compromise is – the views of others are often heard before Libra formulates its own position. Which of course is flexible, depending on how things go. Integrative forces are setting in.
Libra doesn’t really want to look at many of the more uncomfortable truths about life, even deliberately avoiding them, but Scorpio feels it deep down. Ouch! The world is killing me, and part of me hates it – but I should grin and bear it if I’m going to survive. I'll stick it out, soldier on through. In Scorpio, the social contract is truly forged, for you are me and I am you and we are all together, whether we like it or not – and we all sink or swim together. This is the crunch with reality, and it brings up a lot of naked feelings. Are we in this together or not? Darkness and cold abound, and I have only myself to rely on, so I must grit my teeth and face the music, with great resolve. There seems to be no alternative, and the wheels are already in motion. Yet it scares me, and I could equally pretend it's not there, spending my life fighting life off. There’s a beauty in this struggle, underneath, a hidden truth which gives access to the working dynamics of life. For in the end, we’re all in this cess-pit of life together. Even the rawest realities have their compensations, and the more we confront, the more we’ll uncover those payoffs. Or perhaps it will all be too much, and I'll kill or drown! Well, whatever the case, one must go through it, to see what is on the other side.
What!? Sagittarius loves life and the possibilities it reveals. The world is gratifying and enriching, and you shouldn’t be got down by a few hard times. They pass. Let’s celebrate and make the best of it, eat, drink and be merry, for it’s not all that bad. Crisp air, evening fires, new wintertime routines to develop: hey everyone, let’s get on with it and look at things another way! There are lots and lots of things to do, ideas to share, people to meet, places to go. If I give of my best to you, you can give of your best to someone else, and it’ll all return to me in the fullness of time – and we’ll all benefit together! Your wellbeing is mine, and mine yours, so what’s stopping us? Sagittarius explores the bounty in social life and the great wide world: why get locked up in ourselves when there is all this to enjoy? It's a time of belief in the larger scheme of things. The Sagittarian feast peaks at winter solstice, at which time, since the dawn of time, people have customarily come together to meet. It's time to find out what’s been going on with everyone else. The work of the year is over, and now it's time to rest, enjoy and reap benefits. Social energies are reintegrated at winter solstice. The full expression of this comes in Aquarius, just at the time when evolutionary forces are again picking up.
One cycle ends, another begins
Not quite, says Capricorn: we actually need to settle down and be practical. Yes, but let’s not get bogged down with routines, says Aquarius, let’s make things different. Not so fast, says Pisces, it’s not quite as simple as you think, and we need some perspective. But we mustn't waste time prevaricating, says Aries: it’s just a matter of doing it. And really carrying it through, to make sure it works, says Taurus. Not so one-tracked, says Gemini try out more alternatives too! No, says Cancer, I’m staying where I am and enjoying what I now have. What you lot need, says Leo, is a good dose of my magic recipe – look at this! Perhaps, says Virgo, but look what we land up with: we’re all overlooking the details, so it won't work unless we get it right. Why is everyone arguing? We could have such a good time together, says Libra. No one sees how raucous and superficial they are, says Scorpio: they’re all avoiding the brass tacks of the situation. C'mon, says Sagittarius, there’s a place at the table for everyone and plenty to be had! And the funny thing is that everyone is right and everyone is wrong, and these are all facets of a diamond.
Capricorn can get stuck in mindless drudgery, Aquarius in rebelliousness and refusal to face facts, Pisces in confused, powerless resignation, Aries in its desire to be on top of things, Taurus in self-indulgence and doggedness, Gemini in hyperactivity and dilettantism, Cancer in self-preoccupation and defensiveness, Leo in expecting everything to go its own way, Virgo in nitpicking puritanism and overconcern, Libra in avoidance of confrontation and in indecision, Scorpio in resistance and resentment, and Sagittarius in escapism and over-indulgence. It all depends on how we use our opportunities!
There are many ways of experiencing the different signs through out the year, and year to year you will find your responses to them change. The clues given above are useful stimuli and pointers, but they cannot substitute for your own experience: we could write long tomes on the art of bike-riding, but in the end, riding a bike is learned experientially. A direct feel for time and its modulations through the signs is what is needed if we are to live in accord with it, if we are to let it channel through us and make the best of each time-opportunity. So let a grasp of the cycle of the signs percolate into you by observation!
It is interesting to observe the energy-change when the Sun moves from one sign to another (called an ingress). This happens between 19th and 23rd of each month, mostly around the 21st – the exact timing of ingresses can be found in an ephemeris. In the 2-3 days at the end of a sign, things can get a bit stuck in the pattern and mode of that sign, and when a new sign comes, a new atmosphere dawns quite markedly. Things then settle into a rhythm such that, in the middle of a sign, it can feel as if the atmosphere of that sign were always the case. Yet, later in a sign, that sign's message comes through strongly, even becoming habitual or excessive, to the extent that, as the end of the sign approaches, things seem stuck in a groove. The atmosphere or energy-weather lifts and changes again, and the cycle moves on. It’s all a question of underlying atmospheres.
The cardinal signs tend to be at their strongest at their beginnings, the fixing signs in the middle of the sign and the mutable signs at their end. Which brings us back to the quarter-points and the cross-quarters, the ancient festivals in which manifest things show their stages of change. The twelve zodiac signs suggest underlying themes, pictures of possibility and archetype. The twelve and the eight intersect exactly at the quarter-points, and the cross-quarters, being mid-process manifestation-points, sit comfortably in the middle of the fixing signs.
We could go through the signs again and again, revealing different facets of their nature. The wonderful thing about them is that they truly cannot be contained in simple definitions, and every time we try to do so, they reveal a new quirk which hadn’t been specified earlier. Getting to speak the language of astrology has a fundamentally transformative effect on our way of seeing things. It is also a very efficient language with which to encapsulate the deep nuances of time, life and energy which mere words can only touch. Astrological symbolism presents us with dimensional onion-layers to peel off as we grow and progress: new meaning in astrology never ceases to reveal itself – unless our awareness stops growing.
Take a year to observe the ins and outs of the zodiac signs. Observing the Moon passing through the signs gives a clue – a much faster motion – to the undertones and strands of the signs, but they are best comprehended by following the motion of the Sun. The other planets move through the signs each at their own rate, and give backup to these observations. Within a few years of observation and marking the changing times, a new feel for the pattern and elegance of time emerges. This can give us a clearer gut-level knowing of how to deal with real life situations and the predicamentality of living in them.