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AN ASTROLOGICAL STUDY
of Psychological Complexes

by Dane Rudhyar
1966


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Chapter Eight
The Cycle of Mercury
and the Functioning of the Mind


In the usual kind of geocentric astrology no distinction is made between the two kinds of conjunction of Mercury and the Sun, except that at "inferior" conjunction Mercury is retrograde, while at "superior" conjunction Mercury is direct. In heliocentric astrology the situation is quite different, because an inferior geocentric conjunction of Mercury and the Sun means that the Earth is conjunct Mercury, while a superior geocentric conjunction indicates that the Earth is in opposition to Mercury. Thus when Mercury is retrograde geocentrically, Mercury is heliocentrically near the Earth; and at the heliocentric conjunction of Mercury and the earth, a line is formed by Sun, Mercury and Earth, with Mercury and Earth, with Mercury between the Sun and the Earth thus as near to the Earth as it can ever be.
      The situation at such a heliocentric conjunction of Mercury and the Earth (i.e. Mercury retrograde in inferior conjunction to the Sun, in geocentric astrology) is thus analogical to that met at the new Moon, when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun, thus is in geocentric conjunction with the Sun. Such a Sun-Moon conjunction is taken to be the beginning of the "lunation cycle." At that time, symbolically speaking, the lunar agencies, whose task it is to build life-organisms, are fecundated and given direction by the Sun; the will and purpose of the Sun is impressed upon them, and this impression is like the impact of a sound shaping loose sand into vibratory patterns, or like the effect of a magnet upon iron-filings.
      The heliocentric conjunction of Mercury and Earth means very much the same thing in the realm of mind. The Solar will (or energy-potential) flows outward to the Earth and human beings through the channel of Mercury; the latter differentiating it into that electrical power which is the occult essence of mind (considered as "creative power" and not as "associative memory"). This marks the beginning of a new cycle of relationship between Earth and Mercury a cycle thus measured by the distance between two successive inferior conjunctions of Mercury and Sun in geocentric astrology. This cyclic fecundation of the Mercury-mind by the Solar energy-potential and purpose occurs about every one hundred sixteen days or every four months, thus three times a year. It occurs when Mercury is retrograde; and this obviously throws a new and at first surprising light on the meaning of the retrograde phase of Mercury. Why does Mercury move, from the point of view of man on the Earth, against the direction of the Sun just when it is transmitting in a most focalized manner the Solar potential of energy to the Earth?
      This apparent paradox can be understood when one realizes that the emergence of strong and focalized mental activity in man means actually a more or less clear-cut rebellion against the dictates of life-instincts and the irrationality of bio-psychic images or idols. Prometheus is pictured as a rebel, and so are in Hindu mythology the cosmic Intelligences (Manasaputras) who gave to men the "fire of mind" and thus made them potential gods. To ordinary mankind at the geocentric and egocentric stage of evolution the Sun is "the great Autocrat of the Universe," the symbol of emotional and emotion-rousing compulsive power. Likewise Leo, the sign of the Sun's maximum intensity, is the sign of dictatorial and dramatic persons, whose generosity is only matched by their absolutism.
      Life gives abundantly, but commands ruthlessly. Its gifts are balanced by its compulsions. It exalts only those who obey unquestionably its rule. Only by rebelling against this rule and against the secondary rule of Jupiterian religious and cultural traditions which likewise bind while integrating the personality can mind impress its character upon Earth-conditioned and biologically or socially controlled man. Thus when man begins to realize what mind is and to transfer his focus of awareness from the realm of bio-psychic instincts to that of clear thinking and creative ideas, this new mental activity must inevitably at first appear to him as the enemy of instinctual life. At least the development of the mind must seem to run counter to the natural flow of vitality and even of what, under the Jupiterian rule of religion and the tribal spirit of unanimity, the would-be "free thinker" has been taught to consider God-like.
      The development of the mind and of the power to determine one's self and one's individual purpose through clear thinking is at the core of the development of individuality; and as man becomes more and more an "individual" he usually at first sees his vitality impaired. He experiences illness and the psychological curses attached to the Promethean gift. As Mercury-Prometheus bids man to be a thinker and an individual through the use of the Solar fire wrested from heaven, this fire burns and destroys. Though it be one in essence with the very source of all life, mind at first appears to operate against life; thus it is logical indeed to find that Mercury-Prometheus is at first a retrograde Mercury.
      Later, however, the originally experienced opposition between the direction of "mind" and that of "life" disappears gradually. Mercury becomes "stationary," then "direct"; and it moves not only in the same direction as the Sun, but toward the Sun, geocentrically speaking. It reaches this Sun at its "superior" conjunction, that is when heliocentrically speaking, Mercury is in opposition to the Earth, and the Sun stands between these two planets just as, at full Moon the Earth stands between the Moon and the Sun. Actually Mercury can be shown to have phases corresponding to those of the Moon. Mercury is "full" at superior conjunction with the Sun it is also at its greatest distance from the Earth, and it appears of minimum size.
      The Promethean character of Mercury begins at inferior conjunction, when Mercury is retrograde, and between the Earth and Sun; its Epimethean character is revealed at superior conjunction when Mercury direct is on the other side of the Sun. Mercury-Prometheus corresponds to the waxing half of the lunation cycle, which takes on its character from the New Moon. Mercury-Epimetheus corresponds to the waning half.
      The following table shows how the dualism of Promethean and Epimethean relates itself to that of retrograde and direct motions, from both the geocentric and the heliocentric points of view. It provides us with the basis for a four-fold classification of human mentality.

 Geocentric Heliocentric Prometheus-
Epimetheus
Retrograde-
Diect
"New" Mercury. Inferior conjunction. Mercury conjunct Earth Promethean phase begins, negative to the Sun. Mercury is retrograde.
Waxing Crescent phase some 11 days later. Mercury about 25 ahead of Earth Promethean phase continues, now positive to the Sun. Mercury turns direct.
"Full" Mercury. Superior conjunction. Mercury opposite Earth Epimethean phase begins, positive to the Sun. Mercury still direct.
Waxing Crescent phase some 11 days before inferior conjunction. Mercury approaching the Earth Epimethean phase continues, negative to the Sun. Mercury turns direct.


1. The Promethean-Retrograde mind is one which seeks its independence from the instinctual nature by opposing it more or less violently. It is a mind which has experienced a "mystery," an "initiation" into a new realm of being however limited or casual this initiation. As a result, the mind has lost its trust or interest in customary impulses, yet is struggling to get free from them. The mind is "eager," but often bound by the very things it wishes to forget, or blinded by what it has realized and is "prophesying" to the personality and perhaps to all men. However, out of this inner conflict great personal growth may come, and the personality may become subjectively identified with a great symbol or image for the actualization of which it is fighting. The Romantic composer Chopin, the official poet of British imperialism Kipling, the Czech leader Edward Benes, faced with the difficult task of keeping an ideal intact against powerful pressures, are illustrations of such a type of Mercury-mind.

2. The Promethean-Direc mind is essentially established in its own nature and at peace with the requirements of life. It eagerly reaches toward the future and seeks to convey the rhythm of tomorrow to the ego, which may or may not listen very attentively. A few days after the "direct" period begins, geocentric Mercury stands farthest from the Sun. It is likely to be the time when the Promethean mind is best able to project its vision in symbols or in significant patterns of behavior which will serve to make actual and concrete the Solar potential and purpose. It is about the time when the heliocentric Mercury is in its "waxing square" (First Quarter phase) to the Earth. Mental activity is very intense in a projective manner.
      The turning point occurs when Mercury's geocentric speed of motion becomes greater than that of the Sun. At such a time Richard Wagner was born; and he is a typical example of the Promethean-Direct mind in its most accentuated form intuitional, inspired, living in the future. The fact that he had his natal Sun and ascendant at the beginning of Gemini enhanced his power of formulation. His friend and sustainer, Liszt, had also the same type of natal Mercury, slightly past the point at which its speed is greater than that of the Sun. Napoleon I and the founder of modern Czechoslovakia, Masaryk, are examples of this type of mentality in the field of politics. Stalin was born at the very beginning of the Promethean-direct period, while Trotsky was an Epimethean type which throws a curious light on the mentality of the two rivals!
      As Mercury's geocentric speed increases, it races, as it were, to meet the Sun in superior conjunction ("full Mercury" phase), and the Epimethean trend of the mind gradually increases. Mercury's motion is fastest just before or around the time of this superior conjunction; then it begins to slow down. In other words, the Promethean phase of the mind is one in which Mercury's motion is constantly accelerating thus, its "eager" character and its "running ahead of itself." The Epimethean phase is one of deceleration, of constant slowing down, of putting brakes on mental exuberance.

3. The Epimethean-Direct mind is a "full" mind, by which I mean a mind which seeks to reflect objectively as much as it can of the meaning of life and events after these have occurred. It is the historical, objective mind, which reasons things out on the basis of precedents. It is often the most "successful," practically speaking not running ahead of the self, or life, but running things and people. When Mercury's motion equals that of the Sun during the "waning" phase of the Mercury cycle, the greatest possible stress on mental objectivity is likely to be made; this is approximately the "Last Quarter" phase of Mercury which leads to the Epimethean-retrograde period.
      Karl Marx is an instance of a Mercury coming close to the retrograde phase, and of a mentality overstressing objective facts and historical analysis, seeking to build the future in terms of historical patterns rather than according to an intuition of new relationships thus accentuating the factor of determinism. The Epimethean mind tends to be formalistic in its approach to life-relationships and behavior; which may mean "Olympian" at its best (as against the "Dionysian" character of the Promethean mind), or at its worst strictly materialistic and deterministic.
      Franklin D. Roosevelt is another instance of the Epimethean-Direct mind, with Mercury rising some 16 degrees behind the Sun; and this may seem surprising to some. Apparently his "progressive" tendency was due mostly to his rising Uranus, disposing as it were of his Aquarian Sun, Mercury and Venus and indirectly of all other planets (except the strong Cancer Moon). His New Deal was based on a clear evaluation of the historical necessity of meeting the far-reaching challenges of a new industrial-technological age. Even the supposedly starry-eyed and mystical Henry Wallace has an Epimethean-Direct type of mind, with Mercury at its greatest possible distance from the Sun. In his case the conjunction of Uranus and Sun, and the rising Neptune-Pluto conjunction are responsible for the "mystical" trend, while Mercury shows a very "deliberate" and untrammeled mind. On the other hand, in Cromwell we have the type of Epimethean mind represented by Mercury just past its "full" phase, trying to stamp upon society what it has seen and realized.

4. The Epimethean-Retrograde mind is represented by a Mercury coming to a stop in order to be once more fecundated by the Solar will and purpose. In cases like those of Pope Pius XI and of Abdul Baha (whose life was utterly consecrated to the service of his father Baha'u'llah, acclaimed as the "Manifestation of God") we see this type of mind developing along religious lines. In the cases of Benjamin Franklin and of the politician-scientist-philosopher General Smuts the mentality is found to be of a philosophical character. In both these categories the mind is seeking introspective union with an inner reality; returning to source, as it were. The sense of tradition may be very strong, but it is a means to an end. The mind is not contented with dead-letter worship of the past; there may be a poignant feeling of social discontent, a realization that one should dig underneath, and against the pressure of social patterns and orthodoxy, and thereby be renewed in spirit and in truth.

These four basic categories of mental activity (even more than mental "types") can only give to the astro-psychologist valid indications if they are related to and modified by numerous other factors to be found in the natal chart. To say that F. D. Roosevelt's mind was Epimethean-Direct may seem to be saying little about his overall character and destiny; or to call Queen Victoria's mentality (according to Marc Jones' classification) "deliberate and untrammeled" does not tell apparently very much concerning her temperament as a woman and a queen. Nevertheless, what it tells is very essential in any real psychological evaluation of individual character and of defects or tensions in the temperament. In the case of public personages many factors tend to confuse or to throw into exaggerated relief their mental traits; but the astrologer who seeks to understand more fully himself and his problems, as well as his clients, will find the study of the Mercury cycle a most important key to the mental life.
      This cycle does not serve only to analyze the character of the natal Mercury the basic mental temperament it can be used in tracing the development of the mind throughout the life of an individual. This is done by studying the progressions of Mercury in the ephemeris at the usual rate of one year per day following birth and also preceding birth in the case of converse progressions, less used but often quite revealing of "Karmic" compulsions. We saw already that the years when the progressed Mercury turns direct or retrograde are signposts of the greatest importance. The conjunction of progressed Mercury and progressed Sun are equally significant, as they show change from a Promethean to an Epimethean polarization, or vice versa.
      This writer, as a creative artist, had a revealing experience of what such a change may mean. Born when Mercury was direct and rising as morning star some 28 degrees ahead of the Sun (maximum distance), at the age of forty-three he faced a superior conjunction of his progressed Sun and his progressed Mercury on Taurus 15. Now, since the age of 16 he had been a composer of music, as well as a writer along philosophical and cultural lines. But as the time above-mentioned came near, the focusing of the creative attention along the line of music had to be dropped, for a number of reasons; and a few months after the progressed conjunction of Sun and Mercury, he started to work in an entirely new direction, as a painter.
      The significant point here is that music is an essentially subjective and dynamic art-expression, indeed the most Promethean of all arts. Painting, however, stresses objectivity, form and concreteness of meaning. Indeed the change from music to painting had a profound meaning; a sense of inner discovery, as if a new part of the brain and a new facet of personality had begun to operate, was experienced. Yet, because the mental foundation of the natal Mercury remains always a basic factor, the type of painting accomplished still expressed definitely Promethean elements; thus, it was an intuitional type of painting dealing with nonrepresentational, so-called "abstract" and broadly symbolical forms. And some critics insist that it has an inherent "musical" quality.
      This personal instance was mentioned only because the contrast between music and the plastic arts is quite expressive of the difference between the Promethean and the Epimethean minds. It might be added also that in this case there has been no change of direction in motion with regard to the normally progressed Mercury; but the changes from Mercury direct to retrograde and again to direct in converse progressions i.e. calculated backward in the ephemeris from birth) have been highly significant.
      These changes in the direction and polarization of the mental life can be made use of in mental readjustment and mental healing. Every psychologist facing a new client should know whether he or she is close to such a period of mental transformation, for it is only by working with the Mercury tide that the best and most permanent results can be accomplished. This is obviously not always possible, but then Mercury is never the only factor to be considered! In many cases the main disturbances in the mental life are related to the Moon, rather than to Mercury. What is then primarily stressed is a problem of bio-psychological adjustment to everyday life at the level of the feelings.
      The relationship between Mercury and the Moon has indeed been studied already in modern astrology; and Marc Jones has established psycho-mental differences in temperament by combining two factors: 1. Whether Mercury at birth is morning or evening star. 2. Whether the natal Moon is faster or slower than its average speed of 1310'. A fast Moon identifies an emotional temperament whose "feelings run high," one might say; or rather which rushes eagerly to meet life insofar as personal day-by-day adjustments are concerned. A slow Moon characterizes a personality which tends to hold itself back and to approach the contests of life with relative cautiousness and perhaps even with over-wariness. The four possible combinations of these two lunar types with the two basic Mercury types produce four fundamental types of overall adjustments to life adjustments which answer to both the need to meet experience in terms of practical give-and-take and feeling-responses (Moon), and the need for maintaining and expanding the substance of one's selfhood (Mercury) through the fulfillment of ever more inclusive social and universal relationships.
      Personality is at root the product of the unceasing relatedness of "life" and "mind" of the soli-lunar and the Mercury factors, or of parental and social-cultural influences. One may see in this the much advertised interplay of heredity and environment; yet personality is not an expression of heredity and environment, but instead an expression of the functional response of the self to heredity and environment. This expression of the self through the activities of the bio-psychic organism of a human person manifests in the third of the previously enumerated basic functions. This third function deals with self-reproduction and it refers to the planetary pair, Mars and Venus.






By permission of Leyla Rudhyar Hill
Copyright © 1966 and 1976 by Dane Rudhyar
All Rights Reserved.



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