by Dana Gerhardt
Most astrologers aren't much different from normal people. Perhaps we've got a few more dangly moons and stars in our jewelry collections, but for the most part, we live much like everyone else in the culture. Given the common notion that astrology is something offbeat and weird, we may even wear our normalcy as a badge of honor, a kind of proof that our approach is different and we should be taken more seriously. Yet, given the unusual window we have on cosmic patterns, revealing so many exquisite and mysterious synchronicities between the movements of sky and countless lives below, we might also say our normalcy is somewhat strange.
It's strange in the way new physicists are strange. It's been said that those not completely shattered by the new physics just don't understand it. Yet those who apparently do understand it, who daily work the trenches overturning our assumptions about reality, seem nonetheless quite comfortable with the old world their new physics has destroyed. They brush and floss, lace their shoes, and take their kids to Chuck E. Cheese much like the rest of us. As Alan Comfort has observed, "the revolution involved in quantum physics has had absolutely no impact on the day-to-day worldview even of people who work with it. Unlike the discoverers of the Copernican and Newtonian world these people experience no reordering of consciousness."
Why hasn't the new physics, or our new astrology for that matter, been more life-altering? If the popularity of psycho-spiritual self help books is any gauge, it's not like we're so happy with the way things are! Many of us have been surfing the new paradigm wave for decades now, but it might be fair to say our minds have absorbed the new views more readily than our lifestyles, which mostly flow with the collective momentum. That's understandable; it's hard to raise oneself against a cultural tide. But these aren't just personal ideas, so why hasn't the culture itself been transformed? When and how does our paradigm actually shift?
Comfort suggests the culture's slow absorption of the quantum revolution may be that it hasn't offered us a strong organizing image. One barrier the new physics and astrology seem to share is the sheer difficulty, even impossibility, of just visualizing the mechanisms at work. Against the elegant simplicity of Descartes' clockwork universe, there's nothing for the intuitive mind to grab onto. This mind doesn't organize well around concepts, but it loves a good image. And the clockwork universe is such a powerful one, that as much as science and astrology have seemed at odds, we've both actually been bewitched by it. As we watch the planets wheel around our computers, the sky flattens and the glyphs revolve like the hands of a celestial clock, triggering almost mechanistically, our various expectations of meaning. Like it or not, this work is much like scientific prediction (a future expectation based on prior observations), even though traditional science finds little to honor in our methods, and we like to claim a more mystical connection with the sacred.
In the new physics cause and effect and the entire mechanistic model of materialism break down, but what stands in their place? And while most of us new astrologers no longer expect ourselves to accurately predict events, what is it we're doing instead? I find it so much easier to tell someone what I don't do than to explain what I do. Without a vision of the whole, it's like groping for something behind a curtain. We may feel bits and pieces, and depending on the way it moves against the drapery, we may get a sense of shape. But if we could just pull back the curtain and see it in its entirety, then perhaps, we would not only know how to, we would have to live our lives a little differently.
But for now, when the full vision is yet unrevealed, what can we do? I think we must keep our eyes upon the curtain. We must become consummate watchers. With our ears alert to our fellow seekers in the sciences, we should ourselves go back to some grass roots watching. This is of course how our astrological relationship with the sky began. And maybe we should start with something simple and basic, like the moon.
Given what we know of ancient cultures, the moon was certainly one of the more fascinating objects in the early sky, studied long before the rest of the solar system was mapped out. The old lunar observations have filtered down through the centuries as bits of folk wisdom, kind of like pottery shards, stray facts about health and healing, and when it's right to do certain activities. We remember things like remove warts, extract teeth, cut your hair, or schedule blood letting on a waning moon. Or eat building foods on a waxing moon, start new ventures, lay the foundation for a home, or erect your tent. Make a wish when the moon is new.
These observations stand quite a distance from our current practice of astrology -- where with computers rather than our eyes, we explore abstractions of the sky -- midpoints, 90 degree dials, harmonics, secondary, even tertiary progressions. Strangely enough, you don't actually hear a lot about the moon cycle in contemporary astrology circles. There's not much lively debate or even interest. Yet at every astrology conference, you'll probably find one lecture on moon phases. And whoever teaches it will most likely be presenting material from Dane Rudhyar's approach.
Rudhyar outlined eight distinct phases of the moon cycle, and offered these as an archetypal paradigm for all planetary relationship. Critical, he felt, was recognizing the moon's changing appearance, and likewise, all planetary motion, as more than mere changes in position. More properly, they represent changes in relationship. Behind any zodiacal position actually lies a triad of relationships. There's the moving celestial body. Then there's that celestial space against which this body's motion is measured. And finally there's the observer, whose subjectivity, and whose need, brings them all together. So in the case of the lunar cycle, we start with the moon; we add the sun, whose light she reflects and against whom their angular relationship is defined; we complete the triad with earth, who watches their relationship unfold. On earth we receive the imagery of sun and moon in the moon's changing appearance and read, or perhaps enact, their meaning.
Rudhyar claimed even these three distinctions are illusory; in a spirit-centered astrology all are manifestations of the whole. Yet the seeming separateness of earth, sun and moon allows us to parse their interconnections in an instructive, even poetic, way. Thus the lunar cycle becomes an exquisite metaphor for the creative process, the gradual unfolding of spirit in matter. It's yet another rendition of the organic cycles of nature -- which leads to a convenient visual model for understanding Rudhyar's sometimes quite abstract elucidation of the phases.
More concretely, Rudhyar allows us to liken the moon's cycle to the unfolding growth of a plant. The new moon is ripe with potential, like a newly germinated seed. At the crescent period the potentials of the seed (or what the cycle is developing) need to release; they must break through the seed capsule (overcome the limits of the past), and find both anchor and nourishment by sending down roots. At the first quarter phase, it's time to take decisive action in the new direction, like a sprout breaking through the surface toward the sun's light. The gibbous phase brings adjustments and struggle, just as a young plant must contend with the realities of its environment. At the full moon comes the flowering, illumination time, revealing how the seed's potential was (or was not) fulfilled. Following this is the disseminating phase, where the vision (or awareness following a failure of vision) is consolidated and offered out, just as a plant releases its creativity by disseminating its pollen. At the last quarter the flower withers and the fruit forms, both a letting go of the old vision and an offering for the next cycle. At the final phase, the balsamic moon, the fruit falls and begins to rot, releasing its seed, and in death, composting for the future.
Rudhyar thus made the lunar cycle developmentally meaningful. He helped us organize the old folklore instructions (as in "plant on a waxing moon/prune on a waning") into a logical conceptual framework. Further, he presented the lunation cycle as a key to personality (one's birth lunation type) and offered the progressed lunation cycle as a lengthier model of creative unfoldment. Pioneers of thought like Rudhyar are often the initiators of an intellectual conversation that goes on for decades after their work, with their followers debating, subtracting from and adding to their original foundations. What followed Rudhyar's "person-centered astrology" was the dynamic flowering of our psychological astrology. What's odd, however, is that most of us who discuss the lunation cycle today, myself included, are still pretty much repeating what Rudhyar said, recycling some of the same keywords and phrases. I keep wondering, why haven't we added more to Rudhyar's observations about the moon?
I've puzzled about this a lot. Just as I've puzzled about the quirky popularity of women's moon calendars, and my own inadequacy at keeping up with them. As an astrologer I think I should do better, but frankly, it's much too easy not to watch the moon. Simply put, she's no longer a central feature in our lives. I don't have to worry whether it's night or day anymore, let alone what phase of the moon we're in. I can buy groceries any hour of the night. I can watch TV all night long. I can even call my bank at three in the morning. It's possible that the moon is actually irrelevant today -- for the technology that allowed us to literally step on the face of the moon has also distanced us from nature's rhythms.
So the organic metaphor at the heart of Rudhyar's lunation cycle may only whisper to us now. Our sense of process is different. We like things to happen quickly; we want instant gratification; . Instead of planting trees from seed, we graft them. Instead of mailing someone a letter, we e-mail or fax it. If we sincerely desire to know the moon and align with her phases, this technological dissonance is something we will have to come to terms with -- for in many cases, we'll find the techno-rhythm of modern life overrides her rhythms. Anyone watching moon phases with the old materialist mission -- expecting to find the secret key to all that happens in the world -- will surely be disappointed. Or try organizing a monthly new moon circle with a few like-minded friends. Despite your group's ingoing optimism, the tempo of the clock and calendar may eventually overwhelm your moon dates, as scheduling conflicts gradually erode your circle.
"Looking deeply" is a phrase I've often heard Buddhist meditation teachers use. What I think it means is that when we resolve to look at something deeply, we agree to slow down, calm our minds, dissolving preconceptions and expectations, so we can just be with whatever we're observing, in a quiet but curious way. This vision goes beyond the eyes. It requires patience, and a sincere heart, yet if we make the effort, whatever we so observe may reveal to us its deeper mysteries. Of course this looking is quite different from the complicated data scans we often call practicing astrology today. I think Rudhyar looked deeply at the moon. So we might take our cue from him and recall our role in astrological relationships -- as the observer raising our need up to the sky. When was the last time you stared intently at the moon? What were you looking for?
Looking deeply into the moon today probably won't bring anyone greater power or success, but it may bring about a healing. Those swept up in the technological rhythms are often sick and unhappy. Pulling oneself back into the lunar rhythm may draw us back into a more natural pace, and encourage a greater acceptance of life, however it unfolds. If we look deeply enough, we may even awaken an inner memory, recalling a time when the moon was more significant. We might open ourselves to an earlier cyclic mind.
Let's begin by considering how different the night sky looked to us humans thousands, even just hundreds of years ago. If you put yourself in such a world, without lights, without television, without cars -- it immediately becomes clear why the moon was so central, not just to all the poets who wrote about her for centuries, or the fringe element of sorcerers and witches who cast their spells by her, but to everyone living on the planet. The phases of the moon really affected your life. You wouldn't have to be a particularly clever individual to plan your life by it; it just made sense.
The full moon was a great time for communities to get together and have their dances, or lovers to meet and have secret rendezvous -- while the dark moon was the time to withdraw from public activity, to rest. And it's not surprising that after several nights of darkness, the appearance of a thin crescent of light a day or two after the new moon inspired hope, and became a time for making new plans.
Perhaps you can also see how, whether you were a night traveler, or merely a peasant looking skyward each night, the moon might become something potent and mysterious, like a deity, or something more personal and constant, like a friend. It also explains why farmers, sailors, doctors, and hunters developed such a body of lore about moon phases and what they might bring -- it was hard to ignore the moon. Basically, in the thousands of years before our technological dominance, she was the primary timepiece, against which life's ups and downs was measured.
But what if we didn't have a moon back when the earth was young? This is the question astronomer Neil Comins asks in a marvelous book, What If the Moon Didn't Exist? If there were no moon, Comins theorizes, only the sun's gravitational force would have acted on the oceans. This means the tides would have been lower and less turbulent, with less of a difference between high tide and low, nor would the waves have traveled as far inland. Less earth would therefore have been washed into the seas. The primordial soup would have been thinner. And there would have been significantly less miles of shoreline on which early life forms could safely breed. So without the moon, life on earth would have evolved so much more slowly, with incalculably less variety. Looking deeply at the moon this way tells us that moon as mother is more than mere metaphor. She was a literal maker of our ocean womb.
Our moon's presence is a genuine miracle of circumstance. A kind of gift. This gift not only frothed our tides, it slowed our planetary spin, reducing the force of the solar winds. Untamed by the moon's presence, these winds might otherwise have shaped earth's life forms accordingly, as flat and low to the ground, or reed-like, flexible and thin. By slowing the speed of earth's rotation, the moon also lengthened our day -- from about six hours to twenty four. So the moon's link with time is more than just poetic association; she literally gave us more hours. Instead of a year of a thousand quick days and short moonless nights, she gave us our year, filled with some thirteen moon seasons, from one new moon to the next.
This too is a remarkable and incalculably significant gift. With the lunar month, we gained an interval between the day and the year, an excellent measure of life activities. The cycling moon helped us gauge distance of travel, develop our agricultural skills, and more. Hers was a tremendous celestial gesture that encouraged our evolution.
Looking deeply at the moon reveals her presence everywhere on the planet. All forms have been touched by her grace. And our cells reprise her rhythms still. Life is a process. And the moon truly is a mother to that process. Mine. And yours.
But I confess I'm still bothered by the inability to acknowledge her more consciously. How do I bring the moon's rhythm into greater daily awareness? Do I go back to my ephemeris and study her cycle through the zodiac, like a restless traveler constantly checking his clock? Do I try to keep weaving the events occurring around me back to her phases? Do I seek out a group of like-minded others and circle together on new and full moons? Do I try to make a religion of her and market moon phase CD's? Or do I just dance alone in my backyard under her gaze? I really wish I knew. Experience tells me if you ask a question long enough and don't find the answer, you're either not listening, or it's the wrong question. In my case, it's probably both. But still I can't shake the thought that honoring the moon would mean living any way but normal.
©1998, Dana Gerhardt. Reprinted by permission.
Dana Gerhardt, M.A. is a practicing astrologer in Valencia, California. Dana offers "astrology centering sessions" and reports by mail that feature one of her special interests, the moon. Call or write for more information:
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