THE FOURTH STEP - A Clear Understanding of the Meaning of Zodiacal Signs and Houses
The ordinary astrological text-book makes of the various celestial bodies, whose periodic motions constitute the basic material of astrological interpretation, very definite entities. Indeed we are not so very far in our understanding of the planets from the attitude of ancient astrologers and "star-worshippers." We give masculine or feminine gender to some of these planets. We talk glibly about "my Saturn doing terrible things to me" and the "beautiful Venus." In other words, celestial bodies are understood as yet very nearly as the bodies or "vehicles" of gods whose wills "influence" human affairs much as the will of a dictator or the religious authority of a pontiff influences the actions of their followers.
Likewise we still consider the zodiacal signs and the houses of the birth-chart as separate entities with absolute prerogatives and set characters, rather than as sections of complete cycles (or circles) having meaning only as parts of a whole. This is particularly so with regard to the signs of the zodiac, because the majority of the devotees (and of the critics) of astrology have not yet understood that the signs of the zodiac have nothing to do whatsoever with actual stars and constellations, but are simply twelve phases of the cyclic relationship between the earth and the sun.
However, to be aware of the essential distinction between constellations which are groups of actual stars, and signs of the zodiac which are twelve divisions of the ecliptic (apparent path of the sun, or circle of longitude) is not enough. The type of understanding and "astrological wisdom" which I am presenting requires that we realize clearly a more basic principle: the principle of the priority of the whole over the parts of this whole.
What this practically means is that the yearly path of the sun comes first, the twelve signs of the zodiac afterwards; that these signs have meaning only in terms of their place within the ecliptic as a whole. It means that each house of the chart is significant because it is a particular expression of the total space surrounding a man living on the surface of our globe a space inevitably divided into two halves (soil and sky) by the horizon. A house is a section of either the soil-space or the sky-space, and its significance can be determined by the fact that it precedes and follows other houses; that is to say, it has significance as one factor in a cyclic series of factors.
The meaning of the planets has, according to my astrological outlook, no different foundation. Each planet acquires its meaning because of the fact that it occupies a particular place in the sequence of planets which develops on either side of the earth's orbit. Mars represents what it does in astrology because it is the planet next to the earth outside of our orbit; Venus because it is the planet next to the earth inside our orbit. This is the one fundamental meaning of Mars and Venus and similarly of any other planet. What is first is the solar system as a whole. This whole has a typical structure defined by the relation of its parts to the whole, and of each part to every other part. And as we, earth-beings, are the ones who are studying and giving meaning to this solar-system whole, we have obviously to refer whatever meaning we attribute to any part of the whole to ourselves.* We therefore give meaning to the planets-series with reference to the earth as a point of departure just as we say that Aries has a particular character in the cyclic zodiacal series because it is the first sign after the vernal equinox; Taurus, because it is the second sign, etc.
But the qualifications "first," "second," "third," etc. are purely abstract; and we would present astrology, as a "technique of human understanding," in a wrong light if we were to think of it merely as a kind of numerology. Astrology, I repeat, is based upon the common experience of human beings and upon the most basic response of man to the one fundamental fact of human existence: the contrast between earth and sky between the chaos of earth experiences and the majestic order of the realm of moving celestial lights.
Primitive astrology stressed this basic response and built upon it in the only way possible to primitive mentality; that is, by making of everything celestial an entity a god, a place, a "house," a solid and personal thing. But with the advent of a new era of mental development in, or before, the sixth century B.C. (the time of Pythagoras) men began oh! very hesitantly to think in terms of series and cycles instead of "gods" and Powers; and a new astrology was born, but never grown to maturity.
It is this "new" astrology to which we should now at last give fuller mature expression, free from the old Ptolemaic compromises with archaic tradition. And the only way I know to establish this fully mature approach to astrology is to start from the realization that the whole is prior to the parts, in potentiality and in meaning. The tree and all its parts originate in the seed; all the wonderfully complex organs of the human body are specialized divisions of a primordial fecundated ovum. Likewise the signs of the zodiac are "specialized divisions" of the space surrounding any man on earth; and the planets are specialized "organs" of the solar-system-whole.
We are not adding up liver, stomach, heart, brain to make man. We likewise should not add up separate planetary entities to make up the solar system or the various factors found in a birth-chart in order to build up a composite judgment. We should seek to understand the whole on its plane of operative wholeness, and the parts will reveal their functional meaning to our mind through a natural process of progressive unfoldment and rhythmic accentuation. The knowledge thus gained will be functional knowledge, not abstractly intellectual and wisdom is to functional knowledge what flowers are to leaves. Within the flower the new seed comes to birth; likewise, out of wisdom meaning arises. And meaning, once formulated, becomes the creative power, the Word or Logos. The true astrologer is he who can "evoke" in his mind the meaning of a chart; and as he formulates this meaning through adequate words he releases creative power, the power to bring to his client a greater sense of life, personality, integration and happiness. A rarely reached goal, indeed yet the ultimate goal of all truly valid astrological interpretation.
The Zodiac and the Circle of Houses
The zodiac and the circle of the twelve houses are two basic frames of reference which have many things in common; nevertheless, they must be clearly differentiated in the mind of the student of astrology if his or her interpretation is not to lack sharpness and real validity. Zodiacal signs and houses have in common the fact that they are considered usually as spatial factors; that is, they are said to constitute compartments inside of which celestial bodies are located these bodies acquiring thereby special colorations or characteristic traits, and being strengthened or weakened in their action. There are moreover twelve signs and twelve houses, and the two series give rise to similar sequences of features and meanings. Thus Aries, being the first sign, has characteristics which parallel those of the first house of an astrological chart; Cancer, being the fourth sign parallels in meaning the fourth house, etc.
This is so evident in the usual astrological teaching that the signs of the zodiac have been called at times the "houses of the Sun," and also they are considered as the day or night "mansions" of the planets. Religiously minded astrologers, indeed, refer to the zodiacal signs as the "many mansions" in the Father's house, of which Jesus speaks in the Gospels. The zodiac as a whole has been interpreted as a kind of "aura," or electromagnetic spheroid, surrounding the earth, each sign representing a section of this aura. Also correspondences have been established traditionally between each sign and a part of the human body the whole zodiac being said to represent the body of the macrocosmos, or Heavenly Man.
This spatial interpretation of the zodiac is entirely justifiable, and I have developed some of its features in my book "The Pulse of Life." But if this point of view is taken, it must be made clear that space, in relation to the zodiac, is of an entirely different order from the space with which the houses deal. The zodiac is a "universal matrix" thus a place; yet a matrix is not an ordinary kind of space. It is an electromagnetic "field" upon which formative Powers are focused. It is living substance in the process of being built into an organism. It is not a "house" or a collection of neatly defined spaces, but the crucible of life.
The zodiac is the formative realm of life in which the astrological Sun operates as the fountain-head of all life-processes. It is the realm of birthing, growing, maturing, decaying and dying; where substance is made and unmade; where anabolic and catabolic forces (light and shadow, integration and disintegration) operate in intense, unceasing, dynamic being. We can think of a sign of the zodiac as a region in which one aspect of the solar force is concentrated in work; but if we picture this place in static terms we are greatly mistaken. The essence of the zodiac is dynamic activity at the level of the formation of substance, of polar electromagnetic energies, of life-processes. The Sun is the inexhaustible power which makes that activity possible; the planets differentiate it along functional lines in obedience to definite structural patterns. And the zodiac is the field in and through which all this activity operates as energy substance. It is the "astral world" of the earlier Theosophical books (for instance, of "Light on the Path") the world of forces, the active-generative aspect of Nature. And the ancients correlated each sign of the zodiac with a Celestial Hierarchy, a Host of cosmic Builders.
Thus to say that the sign Taurus corresponds to the neck in the human body is misleading. The sign "rules" the vital functions, the field of operation of which is the neck. Taurus energizes, solarizes, ensouls even, the neck and its organs (for instance the thyroid gland and the vocal cords). But Taurus is not the neck. Taurus represents a phase of solar activity. It is a form of power, an aspect of life. The activity or release of formative energy is the essential factor; the place at which this release of energy is focalized is of secondary importance.
This explains why a sign of the zodiac cannot be permanently associated with a group of stars (constellation); and it indicates the way in which the precession of the equinoxes and the series of the twelve great Ages (Arian, Piscean, Aquarian, etc.) operate. Everything in the universe acts under the principle of "permutation of functions." Every place can and must, in due time, become the focal fields for the operation of all conceivable life-functions or cosmic activities. The Aries function at one time is focused (symbolically or cosmically) upon the group of stars named the Ram, at another time upon the constellation of the Fishes, later on that of the Water-Bearer. The function the zodiacal sign is the basic thing; the purpose and the agencies through which it works are, in a sense, secondary they are symbolized by the actual star-groups or constellations.
To use another example: John F. Kennedy dies, Lyndon B. Johnson comes to the White House but the Executive function of the Presidency is the basic factor. This function, at one time, could best be worked out through a man of Kennedy's type (a particular star-group), at another through a man of Johnson's type (another star-group). And, as a result, we have a succession of precessional Ages, each lasting some 2100 years. The signs of the zodiac are "offices" of the government; the governing power is the Sun. The Presidency is an "office" but it should not be identified too closely with a structure or place, the White House. It is a function, not a place in space.
On the other hand when we come to the houses of the astrological chart we are dealing actually with sections of a most concrete types of space. The horizon circle (which becomes the lines linking the Ascendant and the Descendant in the two-dimensional astrological chart) divides the space surrounding the native (the person whose chart is being studied) into two halves or hemispheres. One half is sky; the other, solid earth. The division is factual, concrete, inescapable as the distinction between day and night. The difference between signs of the zodiac is a matter of plus and minus, of relative preponderance between two polar energies both of which are always present everywhere, at any time. But sky and earth are complete opposites; they are different places, which can merge only within a very narrow fringe this fringe being the surface of the earth, the birth-place of consciousness; and thus the line of Ascendant-Descendant represents consciousness, with its subjective and objective poles.
It is indeed essential to grasp the meaning of the difference between these two wholes, the zodiac and the circle of houses, for both are often quite misunderstood. I have discussed the meaning of houses in many magazine articles, and all that I shall say here is that the houses represent the twelve kinds of experiences which a particular human being meets as he moves about in space, and meeting which he becomes in fact an "individual."
Man moves about in space: this is his basic prerogative. The ability to displace oneself does not exist in the vegetable kingdom. It develops through the animal kingdom. It is perfected in the human kingdom; first, through muscles, then through machines, finally through the development of more specialized mental-spiritual powers. It is by displacing himself that man becomes truly individualized. He leaves his ancestral home, his birthplace, his country and at every step he becomes more of an "individual self." Self-development is based on the power constantly to reorient oneself in space literally, to find "a new orient." Reorientation, in this deeper sense, means to see the self (the Ascendant, or Eastern horizon) from a new point of view in space. Man moves thus from house to house, and as he does so he sees himself and the other world (Descendant) differently.
How does one move from house to house? Simply by shifting the main focus of one's attention from one department of human experience to another. Each house represents a basic department of experience, and thus the potentiality of a different type of consciousness. Indeed the circle of houses refers primarily to consciousness, and basic changes in consciousness; and it is essentially an expression of a changing horizon. The horizon travels around the heavens once every day. Likewise an individual can only find himself in the fullness of his power and humanity if he travels around himself and around his world. And potentially every single 24-hour period gives a man a chance to perform such a global journey. The alternation of day and night, and the regular series of daily activities, normally compel the fully alive individual to come in touch with all the basic facets of his being and to operate on all the levels of consciousness, from deepest sleep to most active wakefulness.
Every day the Sun moves through all twelve houses, giving to man the power to function through each and all. The astrologer marks on the cusps of the twelve houses of his chart a particular sign and degree of the zodiac. But what these zodiacal indications refer to, essentially, is the position of the Sun above or below the horizon. The sign and degree of the zodiac simply add more detail to this basic indication and it also reveals the particular latitude at which the person operates, which again affects his ability to receive the Sun's energy.
The zodiac is nothing but a multiple expression of solar activity a way of measuring the character of this activity at any time. But the position of the Sun in a house indicates the place upon which this solar power is focused and the position of the planets in the house enables us also to locate the main foci of planetary operations (which differentiate solar activity for the sake of more intricate and subtle functioning).
If this fundamental distinction between zodiac and circle of houses is well understood, there can be no difficulty in grasping the detailed meaning of each sign and each house. The parts display the essential characteristics of the whole; but no one can truly realize the significance of any part without being imbued with the meaning of the whole. Every house of a chart refers to a type of consciousness to be gained by orienting oneself through space while performing the everyday activities of personal and social living. And every zodiacal sign is an expression of the power to live and to experience, which has its source in the Sun.
* Even in so-called "heliocentric astrology" one is still referring the positions of the planets and of everything else to ourselves, earth-beings; but instead of dealing with the earth as a solid object, or with one's position on the earth, one deals (as I have explained elsewhere) with the orbit of the earth as a whole. The Sun is taken as the "center" of that orbit and thus serves as a projected center of measurement, but the real frame of reference is the orbit as a whole.
By permission of Leyla Rudhyar Hill
Copyright © 1969 by Dane Rudhyar
and Copyright © 2001 by Leyla Rudhyar Hill
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