In its simple, pristine, and most eloquent form, astrology is the experience of the sky. Anyone can have this most marvelous and awesome experience by going out of the range of city lights on a clear night. The sight is a universal one, its quality the same around the globe and unchanged over the ages. The same kind of patterns and pinpoints of light, mysterious, unfathomable, appearing so close, yet so far, hang motionless on a deep blue curtain like so many diamonds strewn across a velvet drape.
We are here now; partaking of this wondrous panorama, basically the same viewed by every sighted human being who is living or has ever lived upon the planet since the dawn of man. Wonder, reverence, and awe well up from within. Questions, theories, and answers arise, fade, and sink, like stones too heavy to be borne on the surface of translucent mind-water. The feeling of the vastness of space and time is overwhelming.
Some of the dots can be seen to move slowly across the sky from night to night, appearing each evening in a slightly different position. And the large, silver-white disc, the moon, now waxing large and luminous, cutting across the night sky like an opaline scythe, then waning, emptying her light and disappearing altogether, never tires of her graceful, rhythmic dance among the stars.
The experience of the day sky is equally majestic. The sun blazes forth in brilliance so great as to threaten with blindness any eye daring to gaze directly upon it. All life and nature respond to the summoning call of the sun, birthing in spring, flowering in summer, yielding to autumn and the long, quiet slumber beneath wintry skies, patiently awaiting the warming, awakening kiss of the sun the following spring. Astrology, in any of its living forms, was born of such experiences.
As far as we can tell, this experience must have affected primitive peoples just as it can affect us today, if we are open to it. Of course, our response to the experience the meaning we give to it based on our view of life and the quality of our consciousness has changed. This is an important point. The ancients felt pervaded by forces they imagined as living presences in the sky. The lights that shone so brightly there were the bodies of great gods who, after the creation of the earth by cosmic powers, had been entrusted with the task of ruling and sustaining the operation of nature. In the beginning, in that sacred time, the gods had walked the earth among men, setting creation in motion and establishing the order of heaven and earth.
Ancient people's experience of the sky was direct and vital, as was their experience of life. They lived in life, as a fish in the sea. Life pervaded them, flowed through them, and they knew themselves, every thing, and every force around them to be inexorably intertwined, interlocked, all participating in the one dynamic life of the whole. The ceaseless dance of life and death, light and dark, heat and cold, heaven and Earth embraced and unified all. More often than not, it was fearsome, unpredictable, fraught with a myriad of dangers seen and unseen. But their experience of the sky was something they could rely upon to show them the greater order of the cosmos. The order of the heavens stood for them in contrast to the apparent chaos of life on earth. They sought to attune themselves to the order and rhythm in the waxing and waning of the moon, the rising and setting of certain stars that appeared to emerge each evening from behind the sacred mountain whence, their legends told them, came their ancestors. They sought to ingratiate themselves with the power and forces that maintained this order; they intuitively sought to capture and duplicate it, make it active in their own life.
Humanity has been about this same task since ancient times. We have sought for and hoped to find in our life on earth the order and purposefulness which the promising perfection of the heavens evokes in our minds. We have attempted in a multitude of ways to realize the earthly fulfillment of this promise, to discover it in material nature, and to work for it in our collective life. Thus we have developed languages, myths, cultures, customs, values, the capacity for conscious thought, and the ability to reflect upon our own consciousness. Countless generations of life experience, problem solving, and social adaptation have given rise to philosophies and religions. These in turn have conditioned our search and enabled us to produce monumental achievements. They have also led us into blind alleys whose twists and turns we have explored, experiencing, assimilating, and in turn discarding their revelations.
As modern men and women speaking and thinking in structured languages and living in cultures with highly complex customs and values, we experience our lives in a quite different way from ancient man. We live less in our direct experience of life, and more in our intellectual and symbolic knowledge of it. We live life perhaps less vitally, but surely more consciously than did ancient men and women. What they did intuitively and compulsively has become our task to do consciously and purposefully. The means have changed, but the task remains essentially the same: to discover and integrate into ourselves the order we perceive in the universe, find our place in that universe and be at peace with it and within ourselves.
Regardless of our knowledge, our technology and our theories, the essential mystery of the heavenly lights remains the same for us as it was for the ancients. In spite of all our scientific data and complex instruments, we should not be misled into thinking we have solved the riddle of existence.
The Sun rises and sets, the seasons come and go, each turn of the yearly wheel transfigures the Earth and the lives of all thereon. The Moon waxes and wanes, weaving in and out among the shining stars that twinkle brightly above the field of our follies and glories, our laboratories and libraries. Our curiosity and imagination have always been captured — even obsessed — by the celestial panorama. Never have we been able to ignore it. Never have we been able to banish its splendor, or the mystery it both hides and reveals, from our view. The ultimate questions remain: What is this beauty that is the Universe? What is its meaning? What is our place in it?
To explore astrology is to ask such questions; to experience astrology is to search for answers not only among the stars, but also in the depths of our being once we have experienced the vastness of space and the splendor of the heavens. For have we not been told that the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ is within us?
This experience of the sky, involving body, mind, feelings, and the deepest kind of spiritual response of which we are capable, forms the foundation for a total experience of astrology. Yet it is not enough to have a moving experience: what really matters is the meaning we consciously give to it. If the experience is not merely to confuse us by confronting us with something we cannot integrate into our daily lives, we must become able to formulate it in a coherent, significant way. We must begin to answer the questions that arise for us; we must begin to formulate our relationship to what we see and experience.
While ancient astrologer-philosophers formulated their experience of the sky in terms of semi-autonomous gods and forces, we today have a different attitude towards the sun, moon, planets, and stars. We have formulated a hierarchy of systems: the earth system within the solar system, the solar system within the galaxy, and so on. These are the greater wholes within which we live move and have our being.
On the one hand, it is easy for us to understand that each cell of our bodies is an operating whole in and of itself, and that it also participates in and is regulated by the life of the greater wholes in which it is contained — first an organ, then a larger system of organic activity, then the body and person as a whole. But it may be more difficult to envision ourselves as cells within the greater wholes of humanity, the earth, the solar system, and the galaxy. Yet these greater wholes, like the body in relation to the cell, are the ground of our existence, the prima materia from which we as individual persons have differentiated, for each of us may be considered a temporary organization of recycled stardust. These greater wholes contain us and, the astrologer infers after centuries of contemplation and observation, regulate the rhythms of our lives and development.
On the other hand, even if in the past we may have considered the planets and stars as immensely distant entities, can we not accept the fact that the solar system — and indeed the space of the galaxy — is here, surrounding us, interpenetrating us and the space in which we live? We need no spaceships to be connected with the stars: we are among them. We may need to look to the heavens to see the planets and stars, but we may just as well look within ourselves and the mirror of our lives to experience them. Even though “As above, so below” is an ancient saying in astrology, we need not interpret it to mean that celestial entities are merely external objects influencing us: we can instead infer that whatever has ordered the wondrous hierarchy of systems — the placements and rhythms of the sun, moon and planets — is also the ordering factor on earth and within us. We can see the sun, moon planets, and stars as literally larger-than-life-size symbols of the same principles, the same qualities of activities operating in us, and all around us, as in the sky.
When we do this, we transform the factual data of modern astronomy into the symbolic language of modern astrology. The sun, moon, planets, and stars, their motions, and the astrological categories their motions create become members of a celestial alphabet. When linked together, these letters form the meaningful words, phrases, and sentences in which the sky speaks to us on behalf of the greater whole.
Symbols are the most powerful factors determining the collective mentality of a people and therefore the activities of individual persons. All words are symbols; all religions and cultures are based on and animated by symbols. Far from being ‘unreal’ or ‘less the real,’ symbols are always based on some existential reality or on what human beings perceive to be reality. If the symbols of the loving, suffering Christ, or the enlightened, sitting Buddha have had meaning for millions of people, it is because the lives of these personages had a compelling existential reality: they presented to human beings in need of new directions the ultimate solution to the problem of human existence at the time. The fact that these images still hold great meaning for the majority of human beings now on the planet attests to the universal quality of what they represent.
To say that something is symbolic does not deny its existential or ‘real’ quality. On the contrary, it magnifies its ‘realness.’ If we are deeply moved by a symbol, it is because answering to a need deep within us; it takes on a larger-than-life quality powerful enough to effect our innermost selves and to motivate us. An effective symbol confronts us with an undeniable image that may induce us to transform our lives, perhaps by impelling us to imitate the image or to keep it in our minds as an inspiring presence.
The sun, moon, planets, and stars are for the modern astrologer a most moving set of symbols. Existentially, they are components of the greater whole — the solar system, the galaxy, the universe — in which we exist. Symbolically, they provide an image or model of universal wholeness in action. If we could only, the astrologer muses, attune ourselves and our lives to the majestic order and rhythms they represent, we could take a major step toward solving at least some of the problems of human life.
As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so the power and meaning of a symbol arises in the mind of the perceiver. As self-conscious organisms in the earth’s biosphere, we view the heavens and recognize their symbolic nature. This is an important clue regarding humanity’s function in cosmic ecology: to give meaning to what we experience as reality, to create symbols that make that facts of our experience significant. ‘To make significant’ is to reveal each of the smallest details of the world pattern, or in the largest happenings at the level of the solar system, the wholeness and order of the whole; to reveal in every situation the operation of all the basic forces constituting the warp and woof of life. By making moving, meaningful symbols of the planetary structure and rhythms of the solar system, we learn to see ourselves, in our own life patterns, and in the larger of historical and planetary developments, the order and meaning of the cosmic whole.
Astrology at its highest level is thus a kind of symbolic mirror - a projective technique by which a picture of the whole as perceived by the consciousness of the part is reflected. Because the perceptive and mental faculties of human beings have evolved over ages and differ from culture to culture, numerous approaches to astrology have developed, each reflecting the consciousness and serving the needs of its formulators. The astrology developed in the twentieth century projects our contemporary understanding of existence of the celestial order. Our astrological formulation is the reflection of our inner response to the cosmic order; it opens a way for us to become attuned to cosmic rhythms and purposes according to our level of evolution, and thus to fulfill our cosmo-ecological function.
"Experiencing Astrology" (c) 1980 by Leyla Raël, from an unpublished manuscript, "Teaching and Learning Astrology: The Humanistic Approach."
The Shambhala Astrological Calendar 1982 was written by Leyla Raël and designed by Antony Milner, with the assistance of Ricia Doren, Kathleen Fitzgerald, Sandra Maitri, and the inspiration of Dane Rudhyar.
Used with the kind permission of Leyla Rudhyar Hill.