Sunday, 22 February 2009

Is this the dawning of the age of Aquarius? (or Herschel finds his mojo)

I have been getting back into astrology after a long time away. I think it might have something to do with Uranus passing over my descendent, although it could just be that I’m finding myself with more time on my hands (did I really just say that?) – the practice of astrology can be inordinately time-consuming once you get sucked in. Uranus is often the planet said to rule the practice of astrology – a maverick, eccentric, unpredictable star; the ruler of revolution, electricity and the unexpected. It’s the symbolism that attracts me about astrology – I love the glimpses of the ancient and the universal in the everyday; the creak of Pluto undermining the stability of the world financial system (Capricorn) or the discovery of electricity (Uranus) on one of Saturn’s moons just as the two planets meet one another in opposition across the heavens. Is it coincidence or synchronicity? Or just wishful thinking? Who’s to say? Not me, that’s for sure. I don’t want to be prescriptive with my astrology – for me, it’s simply a symbolic language; a metaphysical reflection – sometimes astonishing in its perspicacity – of what’s going on in the world.

There are different kinds of astrologers – some embrace chakra theory and various strands of Eastern mysticism or make links with native American mythology – each to his own; if it speaks to you, that’s all well and good. I’m all for people finding their own niche, but dreamy, West-Coast-type touchy-feely stuff, I’m afraid, is really not for me. Maybe it’s my repressed Virgoan side, but I find myself thinking it’s all a bit vague and Neptunian (Neptune being the ruler of Pisces and the polar opposite of Virgo). I’m frankly not nearly flexible enough – either literally or metaphorically – to get in touch with my chakras, and if I’m being brutally honest, I’m afraid I can’t help finding a lot of it rather flakey – heck, I don’t even accept the idea that Chiron is a proper planet - I wish I could manage to find a way to eradicate it from my astrology software. Traditional astrology is rather prosaic by contrast – there are set rules and strictures and everything relates back to first principles. The symbolism has a long tradition – it has been practiced for centuries by scholars, scientists and philosophers – it’s only really recently that the flakey people got on board, and I’m not even really sure some of them are on the same ship at all. There’s quite enough going on for me with traditional astrology; seven personal planets with three trans-Saturnians if you’re feeling a bit modern – you really don’t need any more. I certainly don’t want to confuse myself with things like Sabian symbols and Jungian theories of the collective unconscious – I’m easily enough confused as it is.

I love the way that astrology reflects our psychology, too. Everyone’s chart has all the planets in it, and the way we ‘do’ them is successful to a greater or lesser degree depending on how well they’re integrated and how easy we find it to connect with their energy – they’re all there, even the most mild-mannered bespectacled librarian will have their Mars (albeit, perhaps in Virgo or Capricorn) and even Pollyanna had a Saturn (although where she can have kept it, I can’t imagine – 12th house, possibly?). I, for example, don’t find Uranus at all easy to connect with – I let H do all the Uranian stuff in our house – the quirky, the humanitarian, the eccentric, while I take on all the practical Virgoan stuff – DIY, bill-paying, drawer tidying, etc. I take a slightly irrational pleasure in the fact that the glyph for Uranus is based on the letter H (for Herschel, the astronomer credited for originally discovering the planet back in 1781- not for my husband, though in another space-time continuum, perhaps it might have been), making it his, not mine, although I fully realise on some level I’m projecting my quirkiness on to him – it’s easier for me that way. But like anything, the more we repress it, the more restless and insistent it becomes, and there’s nothing quite like a repressed Uranus for erupting out and biting one on the bum (or perhaps not the bum, exactly – the mojo, perhaps? See the mythology further down the page).

* * *

Anyway, it was in just this kind of unexpected Uranian way that I stumbled upon details of a talk on the planet Uranus a couple of weeks ago, tied in with a visit to the Herschel Museum, conveniently in nearby Bath. It sounded really interesting, was conveniently on a Saturday afternoon which didn’t clash with anything else, and despite not having done anything astrological for the last four or five years, I thought I might as well go.

The discovery of Uranus back in 1781 – in the aptly named New King Street in Bath – coincided with a time of great change in the world; revolution was happening in the new world as well as at home in the form of the industrial revolution; civil unrest was brewing in France, huge scientific discoveries were being made which were to challenge the status quo and irrevocably alter our perception of the world, and the philosopher Immanuel Kant turned contemporary understanding on its head that very same year with his publication of The Critique of Pure Reason.

So far, so symbolic, with resonances of the ancient Greek myth which is all about rebellion, where the sky god Ouranus is pitted against (and ultimately castrated by) his own son, Cronus (the Roman god Saturn) possibly the ancient world's first teenager. Up until the discovery of Uranus, the ‘cosmos’ was thought to consist of the magic number of seven heavenly bodies – Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and the great material planet of boundaries, Saturn – encircled by the backdrop of the fixed stars of the zodiac. The discovery of Uranus as a planet, not a star or a comet as was first thought, turned this understanding on its head. The castration symbolism also has resonances in the association of Uranus with ideas of androgeny and ambiguous sexuality, which are also echoed in the story of the planet’s discovery – the astronomer William Herschel was working closely with his sister Caroline, also an accomplished astronomer, and it seems unclear whether it was actually William or Caroline who first spotted the planet.
Actually, I think it was probably both. (Bizarrely, when I google to see if I can find an online version of Caroline’s chart to save myself using my own software with the offending Chiron on it, I’m directed to a website called Astroqueer which claims her as a lesbian – she does look extremely masculine in her portrait and indeed, she may well be gay, with Venus and Mars in mutual reception in each other’s signs (Venus at 16 Aries; Mars at 13 Taurus) – so lots of ambiguous sexuality there – while Mercury, planet of communication, is keeping quiet about everything and letting her brother take all the glory, mute in an early degree of Pisces). And in another uncanny castration parallel, it is Herschel's own son, John Herschel, who ultimately demolishes the former's enormous 40-foot ground-breaking telescope when it is damaged by a gale some years later.

I find the Bath astrologers in the café where they are meeting without too much trouble – an unusually large proportion of hats, ‘interesting’ hairstyles and items of purple clothing help to give them away. I had a sudden feeling that this might turn out to be more of a Neptunian than a Uranian experience, but it transpires that most of the purple people are in fact artists, not astrologers at all, but somehow linked and at the same time not linked – boundaries are blurred in typical Neptunian fashion. As the astrologers break away to head off to the museum and do their astrology, the way out is temporarily blocked by one of the artists bidding what seemed to be an unduly fond farewell to one of the astrologers.

“But you seem to be saying goodbye in a way that suggests we may never see each other again,” complained the artist, plaintively hugging the astrologer close.
“But we probably never will see each other again,” reasoned the astrologer, breaking free. Whether the two had actually known one another before the meeting in the café was, in true Neptunian fashion, unclear, but the astrologers somehow managed to detach, Uranian style and head off to New King Street – a beautifully restored Georgian house in an unexpected corner of Bath. The theme of androgeny is echoed further, as I realise that Jodey, the astrologer billed to give the talk turns out to be, not a woman, as I'd initially assumed, but a man.

The museum is lovely in an understated, Farrow-and-Ball-type way, with reproduction Brussels weave carpets, meticulously restored and polished instruments and handsome pieces of Georgian furniture. I’m not sure the Herschels would have had it quite like that – as far as I could gather, when they lived there the house was full of half-finished home-made telescopes and books about astronomy. An introduction is given electronically by Patrick Moore, who is rather distractingly wearing a monacle attached to a piece of red string. I can’t help feeling my presence here is in some way fated, though – why this should be, I have no idea, but there are further bits of synchronicity when I realise that the Superintendent of the Royal Observatory in Herschel’s time – someone who would certainly have come into contact with Herschel – was later to become the rector at our village church, and one of the musical instruments in drawing room (Herschel was also a talented musician and teacher) was made by the firm of musical instrument makers owned by my own great-great grandfather. Perhaps these were just more coincidences.

Jodey, thankfully, turns out to be a traditional astrologer like me, and he knows and trained alongside some of astrologers I knew in London. He doesn’t have any truck with Chiron or Sabian Symbols either, I’m relieved to find out. He talks about the symbolism of the Uranus discovery chart in a way I can readily understand - it has some beautiful symbolism: Gaia, the Moon (yes, I know Gaia is the earth goddess, but please bear with me – the Moon is the universal mother symbol, and Gaia is in fact also the mother of her husband, Uranus) gives her son, Cronos (Saturn) the knife (Mars, disposed by the Scorpio Moon, conjuct Saturn) to castrate Uranus, who he confronts in the 8th house (house of death, sex and regeneration), directly opposite. Like the myth itself, it’s horribly violent, but its symbolism is somehow horribly perfect, too.

* * *

Which reminds me of a typically Uranian moment with my father in law at H’s fortieth birthday dinner – an eminent urologist, now retired, while not exactly involved in the business of castration I guess he was working in the same general area. We were in a very nice restaurant in London waiting to be served when the jazz band struck up with the famous Muddy Waters number, Got My Mojo Working.
“What’s a mojo, d’you suppose,” asked H’s mum, to no one in particular.
“I’m not sure,” replied FIL in his carrying consultant’s tone, much to the amusement of the table next to us. “I think it’s probably his penis.”

Bath, the city where Uranus was first discovered, is, of course, Aquae Sulis – the city of Aquarius, the water carrier.