Archive for February, 2009

Precession, Skepticism, and the “Age of Aquarius”

Posted in Antiquity, Recommended Reading, Skepticism on 02/24/2009 by ananda silvermoon

One of the most common arguments skeptics make against astrology (this generally comes after the stages of shock, grief, and denial when i admit to one of my skeptic friends my interest – “belief” is the wrong word – in astrology) is the concept of precession. The signs aren’t what they really are, they argue; we all are actually one sign ahead of our “real” sign, and plus, it doesn’t matter anyway because ASTROLOGY ISNT REAL. Then, assuming they have won the debate, they generally fold their arms smugly and sip a drink, or loudly change the subject.

Precession of the equinoxes is a result of the Earth’s slight wobble on her axis. Every 26,000 years, the line drawn by the axis of the earth traces out a circle. Over the course of this cycle, on the dates in which the equinoxes and solstices fall, the sun’s position in the sky “precedes” through the constellations in the sky for which the zodiac signs are named. The equinoxes precede 30 degrees every 2160 years, or about one degree every 72 years. Slow, but not imperceptible. This means that on March 20, the day of the Spring Equinox, the sun is actually found entering the constellation of Pisces, not Aries, like the astrology zodiac says. It’s true: The day you were born, the sun was almost certainly not in the same sign as your “sun sign”.

So, HA, say the skeptics – Aries is really Pisces, Capricorn is really Sagittarius, and it’s all made up anyway so therefore it is all bullshit. Oh, you’re right, skeptics, no one has ever considered it before! You’re so clever.

In order to get the concept of precession, you have to recognize the difference between the astrological zodiac and the constellations of stars for which they are named. The astrological zodiac is a series of nice neat 30 degree divisions of the sky, starting at the Sun’s position at the vernal equinox. These divisions are named after the constellations in which they fell during the heyday of ancient astrology – starting with the first sign, Aries. The 30 degree sky slices relative to the earth-bound observer are what we are referring to in astrology – not the pictures the ancients drew in the fixed stars beyond them. We know now how much further away the stars are, compared to the planets – and there’s plenty of healthy debate in the astrological community over whether stars influence events on earth (many of us believe that the planets are much, much more influential) – and anyway, the time scale of precession is so much larger than that of any of our individual lives, and therefore can’t really be comprehended by any one person in a firsthand matter. What persists is our characterizations and stereotypes of spring babies vs. winter babies, and of the positions of planets relative to the sun, and the sun’s position at the solstices and equinoxes. Astrology doesn’t claim that the picture in the sky traced by the stars of your zodiacal sign is somehow controlling your mind. Astrology is an ancient body of knowledge that documents a persistent correlation between the time of year (and time of day, and phase in the cycles of the other planets) that a person is born and their identity as a human and role in society at large.

And I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a thousand times. Astrology is NOT science. It is an ancient belief system backed up by a body of written knowledge. It shares with science the principles of observation, correlation and hypothesis-building, but provides no means by which to perform controlled experiments, and will defy all but the most thorough statistical analysis. Since we are only observing a small fraction of a precessional cycle, and have written history from less than one-sixth of a cycle, our ability to understand its influence on the individual is very limited.

Short version: Yes, precession exists, yes, astrologers are aware of it, and no, it doesn’t change your birth sign in the way skeptics claim.

So, is this really, like, the dawning of the Age of Aquarius?

This current planet-storm* No. This is a clustering of a bunch of planets in a single sign, much as we saw toward the beginning of the year in Capricorn – and it will dissipate over the coming days, weeks, and years, but the Age of Aquarius – defined by the Sun’s presence in the actual constellation of Aquarius – will take centuries to unfold. We can get into this more at a later date because it’s late and I’m tired. What’s going on right now, with the planet-storm in Aquarius, is more likely a collective awakening (perhaps in the form of “oh SHIT”), a realization that the well-being of the many is essential for the well-being of the few, and a shift towards compassionate self-sacrifice. What’s happening right now, of course, is also inextricably linked to the face-off between Saturn and Uranus, the struggle for change in the face of rigid resistance by the status quo. By 2010, we’ll be on the way out of this quagmire, and the Aquarian cluster we’re experiencing right now will be a thing of the past – but we still won’t be more than a smidge closer to the “Age of Aquarius.”

*missing from Astrolabe’s widget are Chiron and Nessus, the centaur planets, as well as the asteroids Juno, Icarus, and Diana, all in Aquarius right now.

Sun in Pisces

Posted in Pisces, Sun on 02/18/2009 by ananda silvermoon

Early this morning, the sun slipped from intellectual Aquarius into emotional Pisces, shifting from fixed air to mutable water. There’s still a ton of energy in Aquarius, though (and will be for awhile), with Mars, Jupiter, Neptune, Chiron, and Mercury still in the sign of the water-bearer, and several upcoming conjunctions between these planets.

Venus is still sitting pretty in the evening sky (surely you’ve noticed her – what a showoff), though she’s getting ready to shift into reverse and descend into the underworld. Interesting to note that her retrograde station is very close to the Sun’s conjunction to Uranus (and thus opposition to Saturn). I’m curious to see what happens with the addition of Venus retrograde to the already-precarious situation right now – home foreclosures, evaporated bank accounts and un(der)employment can’t be easy on even the best of relationships.

Though with so much energy in Aquarius, you’d think we’d be able to think about it enough and come up with solutions.

Lupercalia

Posted in Antiquity, Festivals, Wheel of the Year on 02/13/2009 by nemain nyx

Merry Friday the Thirteenth/Lupercalia! The ancient Roman festival known as Lupercalia was celebrated in honor of Lupercus, the Roman equivalent of Pan. This was typically a three day festival in which a goat and a dog were sacrificed as a purification and fertility rite.

“The ritual involved the sacrifice of goats and a dog in the Lupercal by priests called Luperci, who smeared the foreheads of two noble young men with the blood of the sacrificed animals and then wiped it off.  At this point, the youths were required to laugh.  Then the luperci, clothed in loincloths, ran about the area, lashing everyone they met with strips of skin from the sacrificed goats.  Young wives were particularly eager to receive these blows, because it was believed that the ritual promoted fertility and easy childbirth.  These ceremonies were accompanied by much revelry and drinking.”

Quite a party…more on Lupercalia here.

The blood of a goat wasn’t only used for purification by the Romans. To the Jews, a goat was a pure animal and was sacrificed as an honored being. In Christianity however, goats were demonized because of their sacred status in Pagan rituals.

The dog is sacrificed because of the story that the gods Romulus and Remus suckled a giant she-wolf in the cave of Lupercal, and eventually went on to found Rome. I suppose the accusation of being “raised by wolves” wasn’t that much of an insult in ancient Rome then huh? So if you don’t have any bloody goatskins for your friday night party then at least pour one out for the bitches.

Saturn vs. Uranus

Posted in Current Events, Opposition, Saturn, Uranus on 02/12/2009 by ananda silvermoon

Jeff Jawer has a new blog up at tarot.com with his take on the current Saturn-Uranus opposition. I don’t really feel like I can add anything substantive to what he has said, having only been studying astrology for the past 2 years or so – no time at all in the context of the slow pace of the Saturn-Uranus cycle. However, I think that his advice regarding taking stock of Saturn and Uranus within your own life, rather than just within society as a whole, is good advice…

We’ve now passed the second of five direct oppositions between the two slow-moving giants, with three more to come, in September, April and July. lara owen has a great post from just before the Election describing the influence of this opposition on society as a whole, looking back to the last two times it happened, in 1918-20 and 1965-67. Short version: Big changes to the status quo, restructuring of power and wealth, and not just a few casualties. I’d say that it’s a pretty safe bet that we’re quite likely to see some dramatic differences in our own lives as well as worldwide by the time July 2010 comes around.

In Defense of Astrology

Posted in Current Events on 02/11/2009 by ananda silvermoon

Oh dear, the skeptics are at it again. Turns out someone got ahold of James Randi’s birth data and cast his chart, proclaiming him to be a great skeptic. OK, great. Well, it turns out they used the wrong birthdate, then recast the chart using the correct data again – and again found that he is a great skeptic. So now they’re all crowing about how Astrology is Officially Dead, because this one guy made a mistake and cast the wrong chart.

Their argument is that because the astrologer found that “Randi makes a great skeptic” both with the erroneous and correct birth dates, and because the astrologer knew of Randi beforehand, he’s just making up a bunch of B.S. to fit the chart to the person. It’s a pretty common line of skepticism toward astrology – that the practicioners are charlatans, out to make a buck – but really, it doesn’t hold up, because 1) who isn’t out to make a buck and 2) not everyone who studies astrology makes money off of it. Most of us never will. And yeah, casting the chart of a celebrity is a common practice, but not really useful for prediction – since yes, we do generally know a lot about celebrities. However, prediction isn’t really the goal of astrology. Astrology is the practice of paying attention to the rhythms of our solar system, for knowing which planets you see at night, when Venus is the Evening Star, and when Mercury is passing close to the Earth. There’s also a very interesting body of work on interpreting personality in the context of the planets’ places at birth – but it’s not science. Let me say that again. It’s not science. Repeat after me: Astrology is NOT sceince.

Got it? Awesome.

Every so often, some “scientists” publish a study that fails to find statistical predictive power by “astrological” methods, or an astrological study is mocked for claiming to be scientific – and it gets torn to shreds by the skeptical hordes. They take it as proof that Astrology is Dead, and that Reason Has Triumphed. Speaking as someone who comes from the skeptic community, though, I think they’re being hypocrites about what they accept as data – depending on what subject they’re talking about. When it’s a study that refutes astrology – and there have been many – they don’t bother to look at experimental methods, wonder what kinds of questions were asked, or statistical methods. True scientists read studies critically – they look for conflicts of interest in funding, for weird statistical methods, for proper controls. For sample sizes, and for biases. Turns out, the vast majority of studies that have “disproved” astrology have had problems with at least a few of these. And I’m sure this is a topic I’ll get into more at a later date.

Astrology defies scientific study because it exists outside our current model of science. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not a very real phenomenon! Unless you have a fully explanatory theory of quantum physics that completely rules out the possibility of perturbation by gravitational fields or sychronization of biological events by light cues… if you don’t “believe in” (read: understand even a little bit) astrology, don’t belittle those who are attempting to do so.

The Planets in 7 Movements

Posted in Astrology Links on 02/09/2009 by nemain nyx

Mental Floss has a brief article this morning that includes audio samples of  Gustav Holst’s composition The Planets.

Check it out here.

A February Lunar Return

Posted in Luna on 02/04/2009 by nemain nyx

Tomorrow I will experience my lunar return. A lunar return is when the moon makes it’s monthly cycle back to the exact position it was at when you were born. For me, that position is in the midst of Gemini.

A lunar return can provide a snapshot of the planetary influence over your emotions for this month’s moon cycle. This is well and good, but there are a lot of complex details to take into account.

Most of the outlying (personally exterior) planets won’t be moving much during the month following your lunar return. Where they are positioned will give you a good idea of how things will stay for the cycle, and it’s good to note which houses are hosting which planets. These houses and planets will set the stage of environmental impact you may be experience. What sort of emotional energy seems to surround you?

As for Mars, Mercury, Venus, and the Sun, their month-long transits will play a bigger role in your inner emotional energy. Although the moon is the strongest immediate influence at this juncture, it will be more or less affected by these planets who will either want to play along, or test the moon’s mettle.

For instance, a lunar return in Gemini this month has some interesting trine-action between Saturn and the big party that’s going on in Aquarius right now. A lot of major planets are hanging out in the breadth of this fixed air sign. The Sun is conjunct Neptune (the imagination planet – as I like to refer to it) to add to the creative influence of Aquarius. So the core ego-emotional responses are in a bit of a dreamy haze. Not to forget the extroverted energy of Gemini. (Maybe I should have tried out for a play this month)

Venus is venturing into more fiery territory in Aries, while Mercury is effectively void in Capricorn. This puts the emotional pleasure and communication centers in positions that will encourage impulsive emotional response without much thought to the long term plan. (see Ananda’s post on Venus in Aries)

That’s pretty much the story of my February lunar return (if you weren’t going to bring the moon into account!) But what about the moon? She has more than one cycle that affects me!

The Snow Moon is waxing at about 75% of full and will reach full moon (for us on the Pacific Coast) on Sunday night/early Monday morning. I like to think of the day before and the day after the full moon as a period of “full moonness” as well.

For women, it can be incredibly fulfilling to keep track of the moon phases and your menstrual cycle. When you find your rhythm, you may even notice periods of very vivid dreaming. If anything it can bring a sense of peace and a bit of bodily knowledge that can have a very positive psychological effect on the aches and pains of menses. When you have a lunar return, where has it landed in regards to your cycle? Food for thought!