At the Carter Memorial Lecture, given at the Astrological Association Conference and the Astrological Lodge of London, September 2009, John Frawley made the following comments.
“The idea that seeks perfection in the past – there was once perfection and we’ve fallen away since – is no more than the mirror image of the idea that there will be perfection in the future, if only we can piece together enough new stuff: discover enough new planets, for example. The story of the Tower of Babel should persuade us against this idea of a man-made perfection in the future. But when we see those who seek for authority in the past beating each other on the head with their weighty volumes, we see that reaching into the past brings us just as certainly to Babel.”
The address is concluded with the words “Truth is not back there somewhere, nor over there somewhere, but only, always, and ever, up there.” He evokes the painting of St. John the Baptist by Leonardo de Vinci, with his right hand held up to heaven as emblematic of the traditional astrologer.
Undoubtedly this “beating each other on the head” is one of the greatest and most recent curses in astrological circles and there is really no reason why we should assume that the older something is, the better it must be. Antiquities do of course have a grat deal of value of their own. They show us where we come from and where we might be going. But antiquity is not the guarantor of truth. We don’t believe that the newest ideas are inherently better, either.
The truth of the matter is that the longer we practise and study astrology and study the greatest sources, the better our chances are of using astrology as a divinatory method. One has to be careful about the sources we employ. The truth is that we would be very fortunate indeed to find a mere 20% of astrological theory to be of any useful purpose at all.
To put things in the simplest possible terms, modern astrologers subscribe to the theory that more is always better. Every new asteroid discovered might be just the thing the fill the void. If a handful of asteroids helps us, then surely scores of them will finally paint the full picture and we will finally realise why we are the way we are, And how can there be any question that three Liliths are better than one.
The great divorce between Traditional and Modern was perhaps most greatly felt in the ‘loss” or addition of Uranus. Neptune and Pluto. Indeed, for many contemporary astrologers, the outer planets are seen as the most significant and the significance of these was taken directly from the original seven sacred planets and luminaries.
Those who subscribe to Traditional or Classical Astrology face a rather different kind of dilemma: One soon finds out that Traditional Astrologers throughout history didn’t agree with each other. Of course, many of the differences are slight. But when we study horoscopic astrology from the Hellenistic period to the Seventeenth Century, we find that in some cases the differences are irreconcilable. They may negate one another altogether.
The process is an art. To be an excellent astrologer. one needs to read and understand to the best of one’s abilities what out forbearers wanted to pass on. We find that there are certain elements of the art that remain more of less constant – such as the association of Planets to Signs and the projection of mostly agreed upon specific archetypal constellations – although not necessarily universally understood. William Lilly very much admired Guidi Bonatti, but he didn’t follow him in every respect.
Further, sometimes famous astrologers break their own rules. Rather than accept these facts, there are some, like the ones Frawley mentions, who find the oldest and most arcane sources to beat their fellow astrologers over the head with. This is a form of snobbery that does little or nothing to further our art.
More puzzling are those traditional astrologers who have returned to using the outer planets in specialized forms of astrology, such as horary and the astrology of horse racing. Ironically these are mostly the followers of John Frawley, whose The Real Astrology seemed for a time to define Traditional Astrology as understood in the school of William Lilly.
The composer Gustav Mahler, is alleged to have said that “Tradition is not to preserve the ashes but to pass on the flame”
The fact is that neither uniformity or an insatiable appetite for the exotic for its own sake has ever been the cause of greatness, at any time in the history of the world. The one is born of fear and a lack of imagination and the second a sign of undisciplined self-indulgence.
This shouldn’t be the cause of undue anxiety or doubt in the process. We would neither expect nor desire that all painters throughout history used the same techniques or resorted to the same subject matter. No art worth seriously considering stands still. However, all great art is mindful of its place among the wider body of art.
To take tradition to a place of inspiration, we need to look closely at the idea of divination.
The Oxford English Dictionary defined divination as “The practice of seeking knowledge of the future or the unknown by supernatural means.” The core term is “divine” or “divining.”
The concept of the unknown is something scientists can easily embrace, bur the term “supernatural” is associated with a lack of rationality and superstition and is therefore highly problematic to them. It infers a higher level of consciousness when applied to the idea of divination.
Albert Einstein’s familiar quote that “”No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it” is germane to this discussion. The question becomes: how may we reveal something hitherto unknown to us by discerning its divine essence.
My favourite Gospel is that of John the Divine. It provides a succinct, et immeasurably deep way in which the divine is manifest or “takes flesh” John was probably a Hellenized Jew, which means he would be have been intimate with the works of Plato and the concept of the creative word or Logos. It is regarded by many as the most mystical Gospel. Some have said it is itself Neo-Platonic in expression.
The painting at the head of this article depicts John the Divine standing in front of a chalice. This is in part an allusion to the an event at the Marriage at Cana The serpent rising out of the chalice is a symbol of poison in this case and the blessing draws it out making the wine or water pure. The Logos is understood as a heightened sense of Wisdom. It is the essence and origin of the light. Like all mystical writers. as well as more prosaic ones. John uses metaphors to convey his ideas.
” 1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2The same was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4In him was life; and the life was the light of men. 5And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”
Marin V. Vincent does an admirable job of explaining the meaning of ‘Logos’ in the Prologue of John’s Gospel: “Λόγος is from the root λεγ, appearing in λεγω, the primitive meaning of which is to lay: then, to pick out, gather, pick up: hence to gather or put words together, and so, to speak. Hence λόγος is, first of all, a collecting or collection both of things in the mind, and of words by which they are expressed. It therefore signifies both the outward form by which the inward thought is expressed, and the inward thought itself, the Latin oratio and ratio: compare the Italian ragionare, “to think” and “to speak.” The Meaning of ‘Logos’ in the Prologue of John’s Gospel Marvin R. Vincent, vol. 2 (New York1887), p. 25
The metaphor is developed by reference to Moses .In John 3:13-15 we find ” 13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
The painting is executed by Piero di Cosimo (Piero_di_Lorenzo) in 1500 and the artist has portrayed John as a Renaissance Magus. The majority of his opus is decidedly Neo-Platonic The developed metaphor of the blessing of the serpent suggests a transformation by Divine blessing that brings forth wisdom out of venom.
di Cosimo he had a reputation for being highly eccentric and is perhaps best known for his “Portrait de Femme dit de Simonetta Vespucci” which features a benign looking serpent entwined in the the necklace. of a young lady, apparently a great beauty of Florence who also inspired Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus.”
If we apply this metaphor to divination, we already know that everything and every person comes to us from a divine source and the chart we use is like a mirror of the soul. It has the stamp of its origin, the Image of God. Interpretation comes as a heightened sense of consciousness or divine intuition. The master astrologers of the past usually prayed before reading a chart. There are many ways to do this and each must find their own way of opening the gate.
When we have drawn up a Nativity for example, we have the seed, or the particular vintage if you will, that can be read because it is Form.. in the Platonic sense – or the Logos in the more specific and mystical Hellenistic sense.
Once we know what we have to do, choosing a system that will best serve us is made much easier’ All the elements of our astrological palette may be selected, just as one choose the right brush, the wisdom of our ancestors and our own experience come together. There is no place for rote learning and fcertainly not for snobbery. Ours is a divine art.
I leave the Apostle James with the final words.
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” James. 1.17
The above artwork is from an unknown source. If anyone knows the identity of the artist, please drop me a line. It’s a great interpretation of a goddess who often looks more like a harpy in some of her traditional representations.
The attributes are all there, from the grain sheafs to the eight-pointed star, the horns of the Bull of Heaven, the lapis lazuli in her hair as well as the lunar symbols. Her gaze has something of a hypnotic quality and there is something disquieting about the whole thing, with her dark, hollow eyes, she has a decidedly nocturnal countenance. She is fierce as well as strangely beautiful. There is nothing ornamental about her in the Venusian sense. She is the primary Sumerian goddess and Queen of the Night and Queen of Heaven.
If you’ve followed this blog over the last two years or so, you have seen me return to the theme of the early Middle Eastern, Sumerian, Babylonian and Pre-Islamic Arabian archetypes of the powerful Feminine deities which are more fully developed origins of Aphrodite and Venus. The record is very clear that what we consider the Classical deities associated with the planets and luminaries are the result of a devolution of original archetypes and, to some extent, made far more superficial than most astrologers realize..
This kind of research is problematic. We find that what is Classically known as Aphrodite and the planet Venus is represented in Sumer by a goddess that might be associated as well with planets other than Venus, including Mars and the Moon. There is also a Moon god, so things get complicated very quickly.
The Classical Venus is not without nuance of course, but when we compare the understanding to Inanna, I think it safe to safe the archetype has been drained of much of its potency and the raw power of the Primal Feminine. Inanna , also known by the later Babylonian and Mesopotamian names of Ishtar and Astarte, is not primarily a goddess of love, but one who embodied war, wisdom, agriculture, sex, fertility, prostitution and lust, as well as a representative of the vegetative cycle itself and the traveler to the underworld. In Classical mythology, Mercury is the psychopomp, the guide to the Underworld.
Inanna is an active heroine. The recognition of the archetype immediately associated with Inanna goes as far back as far as 8,000 years.
Modern astrologers rarely, if ever, take into account whether Venus is the Morning or the Evening Star. We have a ‘one size fits all’ goddess who is prone to misunderstanding.
The Venus cycle is of crucial importance and to ignore that is to risk running amok in interpretations. The two primary phases of Evening and Morning star have very different qualities, but Inanna encompasses both in any case, making her a representative of the Feminine in all her guises.
Some Feminist astrologers have suggested that the goddess only took on the qualities of warrior much later when the Middle East had become more violent. There are two problems with this.
There never was a time of anything much more than fleeting peace. The dream of an ancient society permanently at peace under a matriarchy are just that. In any case, in the earliest written work, Inanna is already a fully developed warrior of Heaven, the Earth and the Underworld.
She also demonstrates that there is no hell like a woman scorned, probably more than any woman before or since. In Tablet VI, Inanna desires King Gilgamesh, but Gilamesh turns her down, citing the horrific fates of all her previous lovers. She goes into a blind rage and demands of her Father that she be allowed to release the Bull of Heaven t gore Gilgamesh to death. Her father refuses at first, pointing out that Gilgamesh might have a very good point. Her threats become ever more horrible and daddy eventually surrenders to her rage. In this, she can seem all too human, but she is in a trinity with the Sun and the Moon and she is of inestimable power.
It gets worse. The Bull is killed and Enkidu throws it back into the heavens to form a constellation, thus adding insult to injury.
It seems normal that her traits would display a degree of androgyny. She is courageous, quick-tempered, fertile and wrestles to create justice and balance in the most sublime, as well as the most savage.way. Her association with the scorpion and owls make her seem more like Lilith than Venus. In fact, Lilith is her adversary in the Sumerian creation myth. Lilith poisons the tree that Inanna had nurtured. More properly, we can say that Lilith is parasitic, as we shall see.
The poem begins: “when what was needful had first come forth,” when bread first started to be baked in ovens of shrines, and when the first separation occurred, that of sky and earth ” (Frayne 2001:130; Wolkstein & Kramer 1983: 4). A violent tempest uproots a huluppu tree, which Inanna rescues and plants in her own “sacred grove” at Uruk (Frayne 2001: 131).
Unfortunately, three beings settled in the tree: in its roots “a snake which fears no spell”; in its trunk a lilitu, a female spirit; and in its branches the Anzu bird.
Unable to rid herself of these intruders and parasites, Inanna is reduced to tears and calls upon her brother Utu, the sun god for help, but he refused, The hero Gilgamesh, Uruk’s warrior king, agreed to assist. Gilgamesh “smote” the snake, the others fled. Gilgamesh felled the tree, taking the branches for himself, The trunk was given to Inanna in a gesture that is difficult to fathom.
Presumably, it means that Inanna got the roots of the tree, In another version of the story, Gilgamesh uproots the tree, thus severing the connection of earth, heaven, and the underworld.
There are few passages in ancient literature that could out-do the erotic courtship of Dumuzi and Inanna and I’m certain there was never a better-crafted story of the descent to the Underworld on Tablet VI.. The imagery is stark., terse, vivid and terrifying. She is visiting her sister, Ereshkigal and makes elaborate preparation for the descent.
The following is from Table VI Descent Of Inanna Wolkstein – Kramer edition.
“Naked and bowed low, Inanna entered the throne room.
Ereshkigal rose from her throne.
Inanna started toward the throne.
The Annuna, the judges of the underworld, surrounded her.
They passed judgment against her.
Then Ereshkigal fastened on Inanna the eye of death.
She spoke against her the word of wrath.
She uttered against her the cry of guilt.
She struck her.
Inanna was turned into a corpse,
A piece of rotting meat,
And was hung from a hook on the wall….
Then, after three days and three nights, Inanna had not returned,
Ninshubur set up a lament for her by the ruins.
She beat the drum for her in the assembly places.”
She has become dead meat hanging on a wall. Her return to life by way of the intervention of Dumuzi is if course nothing short of a resurrection. With Venus in mind, we may well consider this as a metaphor for her stages of apparent and concealed visibility as part of her cycle The problem is first and foremost the specificity of three days from a culture well aware of the Venus cycle. In any case, the subject matter is quite unlike what we usually refer to as Venusian.
Quite simply, Inanna, Ishtar and Isis don’t have all that much in common with Venus at first blush. The Moon, Mars, Jupiter, Mercury and Saturn could all be described by her nature. In fact the only luminary / planet that doesn’t fit is the Sun. By comparison, the Greco-Roman Venus seems rather thin and limited.
In the ancient Near East, Ishtar was an important and widely worshiped mother goddess for many Semitic* peoples. The Sumerians* called her Inanna, and other groups of the Near East referred to her as Astarte.
Inanna is a highly complex deity, combining the characteristics, both good and evil,of many different gods and goddesses. As a benevolent mother figure, she was considered the mother of gods and humans, as well as the creator of all earthly blessings. In this role, she grieved over human sorrows and served as a protector of marriage and motherhood. People also worshiped Ishtar as the goddess of sexual love and fertility. The evil side of Ishtar’s nature emerged primarily in connection with war and storms, much of it born of jealousy and rage. As a warrior goddess, she could make even the gods tremble in fear. As a storm goddess, she could bring rain and thunder, these events are now connected primarily to the Moon and Jupiter.
In the story of Inanna she is the daughter of the male Moon god Sin and sister of the sun god Shamash. Others mention the sky god Anu, the Moon god Nanna, the water god Ea, or the god Enlil, lord of the earth and the air, as her father. Most myths link her to the planet Venus.
There are a few things one can do with this comparison. The simplest and probably least disruptive would be to take a closer look at what we mean by our mythical association of Venus with the planet that bears her name and also what we mean by the Feminine. Venus is a goddess with tremendous limitations. But perhaps the greatest of these is that is not a mother goddess. Whereas earlier depictions of the feminine, whether it be Ancient Near Eastern or Celtic represented her in three phases: the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone, Venus pretty much remains on the first stage, allowing the Moon to take the other attributes.
Of course, astrology uses the Greek and Roman Pantheon as metaphors for the planets. However. it’s all too easy to forget that and our understanding of the planet itself is likely to suffer. The price paid during the advancement of civilization can be significant and I think it’s quite fair to say that the Greek and Roman Pantheon has little of the depth and earthy honesty of earlier cultures.
I’m certainly not suggesting that we give up on Venus, but we do well to remember the vast heights and depths that are found in abundance in earlier sources when it comes to more complete representation of the Feminine. This article does little more than introduce some issues regarding Astrology and the Feminine. I hope it sparks some interest.