Living in Time
1. The Astronomy of Astrology
This chapter is a basic run-
We live on a smallish but colourful planet we call Earth, third child of the Sun, our local star, which is eight light-
Our solar system represents a macrocosmic analogy of an individual human. A human is made up of a collection of different psychological components, which we can call
Earth is a being, just like humans except much bigger, with its energy-
Using Earth as our frame of reference, the cosmos rotates around us, but looking at Earth from an outer-
The Sun's position in our galaxy. The constellations on the plane of the galaxy, as seen from Earth, are named around the edge. A side view of the galaxy is on the left.
Sun is a being too, a parent to Earth, far bigger, made up of a hot gaseous/plasmic thermonuclear physical body. It is one of billions of suns in our galaxy, which takes a lenticular, spiral shape, with a vast centre, dense with suns and all sorts of activity. We live 15,000 light years from the centre of the galaxy (one light year is 60,000,000,000,000 miles). Even though this sounds like a ridiculously long distance, it is significant only within the context of our own galaxy. It is one of a cluster of galaxies, of which there are, in turn, many, and no one really knows whether these clusters of galaxies actually form parts of larger clusters and systems. The distances and time-
Back to the solar system. The planets are lit up by the Sun, and are a very different thing to the stars or the Sun. They orbit around the Sun at varying distances – Earth is quite close – on a more or less flat plane. This gives the impression from earth that Sun and planets move along a narrow belt of the sky, which we call the ecliptic. Most of the planets are in nearly-
Mild exceptions to this are the planets Mercury, Chiron and Pluto, whose orbits are eccentric and elliptical, inclined somewhat to the ecliptic, giving the impression that, in the course of their orbital cycles, they move above and below it.
All the planets orbit in the same direction, seen from Earth as west to east along the ecliptic (while the daily rotation of the Earth makes the whole lot go east to west, as a sphere, at a greatly faster rate).
The ecliptic is divided into twelve equal segments, or zodiac signs, each of which is subdivided, for measurement purposes, into 30 degrees (12x30° = 360°, a full circle). Thus, we can state the position of a planet at any moment by giving the degree and sign – for example, Mars at 12° Taurus or Jupiter at 27° Libra, which in astrologese is written '12', or '27'.
The signs are not constellations of stars, even though a series of constellations along the ecliptic confusingly share the same names. Over history, the signs and the constellations slowly shift in relation to one another (at a rate of 1° every 72 years, or one sign every 2,160 years, or the whole zodiac in 26,000 years), owing to the wobble created on the spinning motion of Earth by the combined effect of Sun and Moon. This cyclic shift is known as the Precession of the Equinoxes, describing a cycle lasting 25,000 years. This is subdivided into the great zodiacal ages, each lasting 2,160 years. When the constellations and zodiac signs picked up the names they possess today, in ancient Greek times, they were one and the same, but this precession has now moved the constellations approximately one sign apart.
The signs are rooted in earthly experience, in earthly time-
In temperate countries, the Sun moves higher and lower in the sky, seasonally, as a result. The orbit and the polar leaning are slightly out of synchronisation with each other by around one minute of time each year, which is what causes this precession: in other words, as history moves on, spring equinox takes place regularly each year at the same point in the Earth year, while the backdrop of stars slowly changes.
The inclination of the Earth's poles to the ecliptic and to the Sun brings about Earth's seasons, as it orbits around the Sun.
The main point is, though, that the zodiac signs are not the same as the constellations, and that we use the signs in astrology, for they are related to Earth experience, the real stuff of life as it matters to us and affects us. We consult astrologers because we feel affected by things!
[A note for Southern Hemisphere readers. Unfortunately for readers in Chile, Argentina, Southern Africa, Australia, New Zealand and other southern-
Rising points of the Sun at different times of the year, looking eastwards at the centre of the diagram. The ecliptic itself oscillates daily back and forth as successive signs rise – regardless of where the Sun is located in the zodiac at the time. This variation in rising points increases as one draws closer to the Earth's poles, until it goes bananas at the polar circle at 66.5°N or S.
In the northern hemisphere, the summer-
Put another way, if Sun, Moon or a planet is in a winter sign it will rise in the SE and set in the SW, and if it is in a summer sign, it will rise in the NE and set in the NW. If it is in one of the equinoctial signs (Pisces-
Astrology is all about cycles of time and solar, lunar and planetary motion. These cycles take on different durations and patterns.
* The diurnal cycle
The fastest cycle in use in astrology is the cycle of daily rotation of the Earth on her own axis. In a birth chart, the four angles (the Ascendant-
The Earth and Moon co-
* The lunar cycle
The second fastest cycle we use is the cycle of the Moon. Earth and Moon are a twin planet, co-
The light of the Moon is reflected sunlight which is continually changing in shape or phase because the Moon, moving round Earth, is continually changing her angular relationship with both the Sun, the source of light, and Earth, the place we are seeing her from. This cycle of lunar phases (a whole cycle being called a lunation) is longer than the cycle of motion of Moon around the zodiac because, in the course of 28 days, the Sun moves through one sign of the zodiac too: this is like the hands of a clock, where the minute hand has to move through about 1hr 5mins worth of movement to catch up with the hour hand and cross or conjunct it. Thus the cycle of phases, the lunation cycle, lasts 29 days 12 hours, over two days longer than the average cycle of lunar motion through the zodiac. The Sun has moved one sign, and the Moon needs two days to move through that extra sign to catch up with the Sun. More about this in the next chapter.
* The annual solar cycle
* Planetary cycles
Then we come to the planets, which have various lengths of cycle, ranging from one to 250 years.
Mercury () and Venus (), which both orbit the Sun inside Earth's orbit, appear from Earth's viewpoint always to hover around the Sun like yoyos as it moves through the zodiac. Sometimes they conjunct the Sun, passing in front of or behind it – during this time they are invisible to us. At other times they can move up to 28° and 47° respectively away from the Sun, moving either ahead of or behind it in the zodiac. When Mercury or Venus are ahead of the Sun in the zodiac, they are visible in the evening westwards after the Sun has set – because ahead in the zodiac, in the northern hemisphere, is leftwards in our sky. When they are behind in the zodiac, they are visible in the morning, eastwards before sunrise.
Mercury is rarely seen in the sky, because it moves close to the Sun as seen from us, and its light is usually overpowered by the light of dawn or dusk. But Venus can be very bright, sparkly and prominent at times, as a morning or evening 'star'. Sometimes each of them moves faster than the Sun through the zodiac, sometimes slower, and sometimes they appear to go backwards – although this backwards motion is an illusion created when they pass between us and the Sun, in which they appear to move temporarily in the opposite direction to the Sun. Imagine someone walking around you, swinging a ball on a string around their head – from your perspective the ball would move forwards and backwards.
This is what appears to happen when a planet outside the Earth's orbit goes retrograde. Follow the sequence of numbers. Actually, the planet is moving forward, but the Earth is overtaking on the inside.
The planets outside Earth's orbit move around the zodiac each in their own wise.
Mars (, red and at times quite bright) takes 1 year and 10 months, or 687 days to move round the zodiac.
Jupiter (, very bright, blue-
Chiron (, a newly-
Neptune () takes 165 years, and
Pluto () takes 248 years.
Again, each of these planets can appear to move retrograde (backwards) at various times, but for a different reason. This time we are on a moving observation platform which is overtaking them, making them appear to move backwards when Earth is on the same side of the Sun as they are or, seen from on Earth, the Sun and the planet concerned are opposite each other. Mars is retrograde for 60-
All this means that astrology is using a kind of clock or orrery (a mechanical model of the solar system) with eleven hands. Telling the time by this clock is not as easy as it is with a normal analog clock, since there are so many more permutations to assess, and thus the language of astrology has developed to help us in this. The basic language involves planets, signs, aspects (angles between planets at any time) and houses (related to earth's orientation to the planets and signs), and there is a family of astrological shorthand symbols to do astrological work with.
The interrelations between the various planetary cycles thus start becoming very interesting. These interrelations are especially noted by examining the zodiacal angles (aspects) between any pair or number of planets, and then the aspects, planets and signs are all taken into account and assessed into a big picture, from which is derived an understanding of the nature of the 'energy-
An astrological chart is a slice out of time, as if someone said "Cut!", and drew up a map to show how Earth, Sun, Moon and planets stood at the exact moment chosen for that map, as seen from the position on Earth of the observer. The place on Earth is important, in that two people born exactly simultaneously on opposite sides of the globe (for example in Britain and New Zealand or California and Afghanistan) will have exactly the same planetary positions and interrelations in their birth charts, but completely different house-
A useful term we shall use here is that of energy-
the positions of sun, moon and planets in the zodiac signs – for example, Sun in Aries or Mars in Leo;
their positions in relation to each other, measured by the aspects (angles) between them – for example, Venus trine Saturn (120º) or Mars sextile Pluto (60º);
the relationship between the zodiac and the particular place on Earth we are looking from (involving the rotation of Earth), mapped out in terms of the four angles and the houses – for example, Sagittarius rising (on the ascendant) and Libra at the zenith (high in the sky);
the relationship between the planets and the angles/houses (this is closely related to the last component) – for example Saturn in the second house and Jupiter at the nadir.
Confused or overloaded? It will come clear, and these things will be explained again.
Throwing together all of these factors, and sorting them into a synthesised whole – partially logically, partially intuitively – a skilled astrologer can 'tell the time' in terms of 'energy weather'. If that time concerns the time of birth of a person, then that astrologer can say things about the energy-
When you look at a seed, you can visualise the possible end-
In this book, we shall be largely passing over the question of houses in birth charts. The reason? Studying the houses involves giving attention time-
Now if all this has thoroughly lost you, don't worry, for you can come back to this chapter as the whole astrological picture starts forming more coherently. A vision of the motions of all these rotations and orbits comes of its own accord, and in due course, as your understanding of the parts of the ever-
The main point to note is that all things move perpetually, and they move in cycles. These cycles never repeat exactly: time is forever unique. This is the basis of astrology.
© Copyright Palden Jenkins 1987, 2000, 2012. This book may be downloaded, printed out in single copies for personal use and quoted in parts with proper attribution and a link to this site. All other uses require permission of the author, Palden Jenkins.