from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

the music of the spheres

Warning: this one may be flaky and is certainly incomplete.

Geometry in the resonance of strings
Music in the spacing of the spheres

There was once a time when the arts and the sciences were bedfellows. More, maths, music and astronomy/astrology were seen as integrally connected ('the music of the spheres'), and these three/four disciplines have many connections. Everything, after all, is about relationship, and, in terms of each of these disciplines, it was easy to speak of harmonious and disharmonious relationship (thank you, Pythagoras).

A lot has to do with the proportions and the angles or intervals between digits, units, or notes; and planets in their orbits. Think about harmonious proportion in architecture, and how pleasing Georgian proportions are to the eye – because they partake of the golden ratio (also known as the golden mean, Fibonacci sequence, or phi), which is approximately a relationship of thirds. And the same ratios that are pleasing to the eye are also to the ear. Similarly, in astrology, there are comfortable degrees of relationship, and challenging ones.

Hmmm how to start to talk about this, in just a few words, when what I want to say requires at least a book's worth of explanation? I'll start obliquely.

In my first book (sorry to bang on about this) I spoke of the journey to consciousness. I depicted this as a circular journey, and one that we all make, from the relatively unconscious self-immersion of the young person through to the (ideal) understanding of the elder that our time here needs to include service – an awareness that what we bring adds to the collective sum of human love, endeavour and growth – or not.

In my view, archetypally speaking (I draw from myth and the thinking of such luminaries as Dr Jung, Joseph Campbell, Marie-Louise von Franz, Jung's colleague; and later my own teacher Joan Swallow, and the late Ian Gordon-Brown), the journey begins on a cusp and continues initially deeper into the unconscious. There are, of course, thresholds to cross, dragons/obstacles to face, people, things and attitudes to be lost or found, treasures to be gained.

There comes a point, the myths in which the archetypes are carried tell us, where one crosses the threshold back into the 'upper' world, where one becomes more conscious of the needs of others, of ethical behaviour, of taking responsibility, of contributing to the collective, of taking stock and turning to live a more fruitful, deeper and more authentic life. This is always a time of change, and within it the potential for transformation. In  our culture, we call it mid-life. Often it is accompanied by huge pressure, internal and external.

At the same time, roughly, as I began my training in Transpersonal Psychology (actually it was a bit before, around the age of 28 – as it happens, at my Saturn return, a time of upheaval, astrology tells us) I also did a training in Astrological Psychology. This uses the archetypal energies of the planets as carried in ancient mythology to explore constellations of energy in the psyche, and also draws heavily on Jungian thought. (The school I studied with is the Huber school, based in Zurich, though I did the course here in the UK.)

In this reading of the planets as psychological archetypes, the journey one makes through one's own birthchart, so to speak, is also circular. The theory is that the birthchart, or natal horoscope, plotting as it does the planets at one's moment and place of birth, can operate as a kind of map or blueprint, illustrating, by reflecting the relationships in the heavens, particular emphases in the individual born under those qualities of energy. In the Huber system, one's life is also seen as a movement around the wheel of the birthchart, so that one could be said to be meeting head-on particular qualities as one progresses round the wheel of one's birthmap by age.

In the Huber system, one traverses a 'house' (there are 12 houses in the zodiac, each ruled by a sign and with its own particular qualities and emphases) in approximately 7 years. This means that, in the wheel of the horoscope, the horizontal axis, starting as it were in the east at the moment of birth and extending to the west, is crossed downwards into the 'underworld' of the unconscious at birth, and one's crossing the threshold into the 'conscious' realm happens at approximately 42 (6 houses x 7 years). (You will have noticed that many changes tend to happen at around this time for many people: career change, housemove, marriage, divorce, children, lifestyle: a 'mid-life crisis' might call some or all of these things into question. Astrologically speaking, at 42 one is at the midpoint of two big planetary cycles: halfway through the first Uranus cycle, so in a relationship of opposition; and Uranus governs that energy associated with sudden, transpersonal, unpredictable and electric events; plus halfway through – in opposition to – second time around – the natal placement of Saturn, who represents in energetic terms almost the opposite of Uranus: preserving the status quo at all costs, making concrete, setting structures firmly in place, delineating and defending boundaries. No surprise that often an individual at around 42 feels torn in half by conflicting needs and impulses.)

As one travels this notional birthchart, so by 'age point' one arrives at places of harmonious or disharmonious connections. Add to this the orbits and transits of the planets of 'now', actually cycling in the heavens, and there is a complexity of energies meeting, dancing, fighting, breaking up, reforming.

There is a great deal to say on this, but to get to the point on a personal level, by 'age point', ie my journey around the wheel which in the Huber system is estimated as taking an average of 84 years, has brought me now into close conjunction with a very difficult angle or relationship with my birth placements of Mars and Pluto. This is an explosive and transformative time, after which nothing will look the same. Mars, the masculine principle personified, is the god of war and confrontation, amongst other things, and Pluto the god of the Underworld, transformation, depth and the realm of the dead. I have registered in passing for a very long time that this particular time in my life would be challenging (not hard of course to divine that, given that I'm at the age where children leave or have left home, one lifts one's head and looks around for how one wants to live for the rest of one's life, and parents die).

My mistake was in assuming that the relevant challenge would be, possibly, my dad dying – he who is so Martian, so Plutonic, in many ways (keynote qualities for Scorpio). Instead, it seems that my mum is on her final journey, and this is of course one of the hardest times in my life.

Sanity lies in being able to retain a balance of attention; to walk the Middle Way. Perhaps I spoke before of the Zen (and I think also Sufi) teaching story of the man who had fallen over the cliff? Above, a white lion is waiting to pounce if he manages to ascend the cliff. Below, a black tiger crouches with jaws open, in case he falls. The tree to which he is clinging is beginning to pull away from the cliff-face. But just in front of him, just in reach, is a wild strawberry. In this moment, the only moment he has/we have, he stretches to pluck it, to taste it with all of himself... aaaaahhhhh how sweet.

My wild strawberry: this casserole tonight, with exception of the barley, stock and smoked paprika, was grown in our garden: garlic, leek, potato, beans, sweetcorn, red cabbage, marjoram. Mmmm. Delicious, this moment, sandwiched as it is.

And delicious, too, this journey through the spheres with all its joys and despairs.


  1. Yes. Thank you for the very lucid, life-affirming explanation of this hard stuff.

    May you receive the comfort and wisdom you give so generously through your work.

  2. Jean, Veronica, I'm very moved by your comments. And Jean thank you so much for the affirmation you have just given - I looked this post over this morning before rushing out and AFTER having written it and posted it late last night (and I confess THAT was after an extremely stiff gin, things being as they are at the moment) and thought it was probably a confused and confusing mish-mash. So that was lovely to hear.


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