Towards a Living Tradition

arithThis is a purely editorial piece – my first and probably my last.  It’s meant to raise some issues I think need to be discussed in the astrological community. My remarks should not be construed as referring to any particular individual. It’s an open letter to the Astrological community and all interested readers.

The resurrection of several texts from the Hellenistic and Medieval period in particular have contributed to a Renaissance in astrology. Many of these sources were unavailable for one reason or another until the last three decades. This is a wonderful time to be an astrologer.

Unfortunately this new knowledge has helped to create an atmosphere of elitism,  expressed most strongly in those who know the least. We have cases of ‘famous’ teachers teaching predictive astrology who have never accurately predicted anything. When asked for the specifics of a given prediction they become vague and reluctant to connect it to a specific astrological event, sometimes even contradicting themselves in the process – granted that is the extreme.

Common English words are translated into Latin to add that special patina to an otherwise mostly empty vessel. Of course, the programs offered by these astrologers are very expensive, so the recipients of the diplomas, degrees and titles  naturally become  defensive if any of the techniques they learned are in any way held up to scrutiny or their brand name questioned. This is not conducive to astrology as a living tradition.

Try to imagine going for a reading with William Lilly or John Dee only to find certificates on their wall declaring them competent . It doesn’t work that way and it never did.  Mentorship is a necessary and wonderful thing, but the greatest astrologers we have even known didn’t have a brand name mentality and usually had many teachers. Putting letters after your name might be useful for lawyers and physicians, but has little or no meaning in astrological life. William Lilly consistently refered to himself as s student of astrology.  Of course, some students are more advanced and experienced than others, but students they remain.

The study necessary to be a great Traditional Astrologer is immense and takes decades. One doesn’t just take a course in Hermetic or Neo Platonic philosophy and then claim to be  a Classicist. .Obviously you are not going to get a full understanding of Neo Platonism without being thoroughly familiar with Plato.

If you embrace the Hermetic Philosophy you will need to know a great deal about the various forms of Hermes. You will need to have a full grasp of the cosmology that lies deep in the roots of Traditional astrology. In fact it can never be separated, otherwise you will never be anything more than a mechanic. Astrology without spirit and soul is nothing more than parroted dogma. It cannot ultimately work and it certainly cannot produce anything useful to the soul. There is a pervasive aversion to the idea of soul, perhaps as much as of psychology.  Many Traditional astrologers have somehow got the idea that astrology is purely utilitarian. This is an enormous overreaction to the excesses of New Age astrology, which in fact has no coherent foundation at all. – as psychology perhaps, but not astrology.

In India, the knowledge is often passed down from generation to generation. But this transmission, no matter in which culture it occurs, does not produce photocopies. Mimicry is anathema to any Art. What we need is emulation and a deep understanding that Astrology is a living Art. I have seen far too many so called Traditional astrologers cling to dogma and find themselves superior, thus negating the ability to learn anything.

As for myself, I have studied for over forty years. I’ve been blessed by many, many great teachers. I had  an extraordinary master of yoga as my teacher at the age of sixteen. I subsequently read the Upanishads, the Rig Veda and any Indian sacred texts I could find. Later on, I practiced Tibetan Buddhism. The wisdom and beauty of these traditions astounded me, but what amazed me even more was how much they paralleled the western tradition. It’s been said that Buddhism is the closest thing to Gnosticism in the West, a sentiment with which I heartily agree. I sought my Western roots and found many marvelous things. We have all but forgotten our sacred roots. Through all this, astrology was never far away from my focus.

I spent a decade in Academia studying Greek and Roman Classics, Ancient History, philosophy – particularly Hermetica and Platonica.  My Doctoral studies were on Marsilo Ficino and the School of Alexandria.  It was my great pleasure to go on and professs the sumjmation of these studies I’ve found that none of this has conflicted in essence with my Druidic roots to which I feel a powerful bond. I make no special claims other than those required of any astrologer who has mastered the Art to the extent that I have. That doesn’t mean I never err. We all do.

Not everyone would have the opportunities I’ve had and my studies have taken me beyond what is required of a great astrologer. We can measure a great astrologer in any number of way : first he or she will enjoy a high degree of accuracy and a strong spirituality complete with humility . It’s not our doing that we have great teachers or extraordinary opportunities for transference of wisdom.  Gratitude is an appropriate attitude, arrogance is not. He will be devoted to a lifetime of study.

Contact with our ancestors in one way or another is a great necessity. From them we receive knowledge wisdom and inspiration. This is probably the greatest forgotten gift of  Modernity.

It’s not my intent to offend anyone and I recognize many wonderful teachers of the Art. These things needed to be said and I hope they stimulate some fruitful discussion in the astrological community

Gemini: Sign, Myth & Meaning


We are fortunate to have such access to many Classical texts on astrology In the  The Anthology of Vettius Valens of Antioch, Book I. Concerning the Nature of the Stars  (Schmidt & Robert Hand p. 3). Valens introduces Mercury with these words:

“The star of Hermes (Mercury) is significant for the education of children, letters, disputation, speech, having brothers, interpretation, the herald’s office, number, counters, geometry, commerce, youth, playthings, theft, community, announcement, service, profit, discoveries, following, contest, wrestling, declamation, sealing, sending messages, setting up, being suspended, scrutinizing, hearing, versatility.”

L0068353 Monas hieroglyphica

John Dee – Modified Mercury Glyph from Monas Hieroglyphia . The Crescent of Soul is being drawn down to the centre of the Sun His glyph for the Monad adds the Horns of Aries at the Base and a Dot in the Circle of Spirit, signifying consciousness..

Hermes has two domiciles viz. Gemini and Virgo. Hermes is the most protean of all planets and is only masculine or feminine according to placement, that is to say Oriental or Occidental of the Sun. As the messenger of the gods you will find his glyph to be Solar and Lunar over the Cross of Matter; Mercury contains all three symbols, signifying the potential integration of spirit, soul and matter.

Hermes is the Primordial Hermaphrodite, adept at communicating with lightning speed. The price of speed however is lack of depth. This comes when he co joins other planets either by Aspect of Reception. It is important to note that Apollo is an ancient Greek name for Mercury as a morning star

Valens writes of the Sign Gemini:

“Gemini is male, bicorporeal, articulate, the house of Mercury, upward-trending, celestial, feminizing, a freedman, sterile, public. Under it are born scholars, those working in education and letters, poets, music-lovers, declaimers, stewards, those who receive trusts; also translators, merchants, judges of good and evil, sensible people, practicioners of the curious arts, and seekers after mystic lore.

Flora And Zephyr by William Bouguereau, 1875

Flora And Zephyr by William Bouguereau, 1875

In general, whatever the house ruler usually produces according to its own nature, whether good or bad, greater or lesser, this it produces in each of the signs according to the operative or inoperative configuration of the houseruler.”

I find this less satisfying than the description of Mercury itself.  It’s not that any of what he writes is false; but it has little meaning until the last sentence brings it all into focus. I dare say this is more true of Gemini than other signs, including Virgo.

Let’s turn now to the Gemini Myth. The tale of Castor and Polydeuces is complex. Other than the fact that they are called the twins (Gemini) it takes a bit of effort to find other elements of the myth that point to the sign.

They were the Dioscuri, twin sons of Zeus and Leda or Tydareus and Leda. When Tyndareus is called the father, Castor and Polydeuces — or Pollux, as he is known in Latin, are known as the Tyndaridae. Sometimes Castor is considered the son of Tyndareus and Polydeuces the son of Zeus, just as the Dioscuri’s sister Clytemnestra is the daughter of Tyndareus, while their sister Helen of Troy is the daughter of Zeus. Only Polydeuces  was divine.

Gemini finds its place in the Air triplicity, as the mutable (or common) expression of that element. The Air triplicity is concerned with the Intellectual faculties and the world of Mind. The sign is hot and moist, masculine, human and barren.


Hermes stirring up the Ether – Botticelli’s Primavera.

Like the element Mercury, Gemini likes to run over the surface of things, without ever penetrating the surface. This can manifest as the joy of intellectual play. Gemini is a dual sign and needs focus in order to resolve the apparent dual natures of their being, as illustrated in the myth of Castor and Pollux. It is only apparent: this is not like the situation with Pisces where the two fish are bound together and swimming in different directions. Although one is an equestrian and the other a pugilist, the Gemini twins are inseparable and move as one .

When Castor was slain in battle, and Polydeuces, inconsolable for the loss of his brother, besought Zeus to be permitted to give his own life as a ransom for him. Zeus so far consented as to allow the two brothers to enjoy life alternately, passing one day under the earth and the next in the heavenly abodes. According to another form of the story, Zeus rewarded the brothers by placing them among the stars as Gemini the Twins. They received divine honours under the name of  Dioscuri.

The key here is knowing what it is to be human and divine at the same time.  Hermes weds Earth to Heaven.  Using Alchemical language, Paracelsus tells us that “The world is as God created it. In the beginning He made it into a body, which consists of four elements. He founded this primordial body on the trinity of Mercury, Sulphur and Salt . These are the three substances of which the complete body consists.” (Paracelsus Ed. Jacobi . Trans Guterman p. 14) Salt is Base Matter, Sulphur is omnipresent Spirit of life and Mercury brings about the divine fusion of opposites.

Roman remains of Temple of Castor & Pollox

Roman ruins – Temple of Castor & Pollox

Hermes is given many attributes in Classical sources. One of the better known is the association with the West Wind or Zephyr, the subject of much art work, including Botticelli’s  Birth of Venus.

Element of Air

Ancient Symbol for the Element of Air

Alchemical Symbol for the Element of Air

The element of Air governs intellect and all forms of verbal or written communication.  It works with Fire, Water and Earth. Physically it consists of several gases : nitrogen, oxygen, argon, carbon dioxide, methane, helium, neon, krypton, hydrogen and many more. It’s invisible. We see it through what it does.

It bends the trees as wind, can carry massive volumes of water in hurricanes. It appears to self propel in tornadoes.

Fire needs air: but a strong wind on a minor fire can soon become a catastrophe. We see it most often when it works with water. The jet stream requires both elements plus heat from the Sun. Clouds are moved. Oceans stirred up into great storms.



The original meaning of Aquarius isn’t entirely clear. It is said that he got the name Water Carrier because he brought seasonal rains. But Aquarius is in the middle of winter and less *wet* than either Libra or Gemini because of it. He’s under the governance of Dry Saturn after all.Even if we take precession into account, it’s still a stretch; and the greatest rains of all are the monsoons that occur n the late Summer.

In my estimation the Water Carrier operates on a far grander scale and is not dependent on the seasons. Air quite literally carries water.Because Air is Intellect, this power can translate to the ability to move people’s thought in concert with the emotional element of Water.Air can stir things up with Earth or feed Fire. We use terms like a breath of fresh air to describe a welcome change, physical or mental.  We might say someone has a breezy or sanguine character Without air, macrocosmically or microcosmically we suffocate.

Air is represented by the sword because of its ability to cut through illusion or confusion. Manjushri is the Buddhist Archetype of Wisdom.  In his right hand he holds a flaming sword, a symbol of cutting through the roots of ignorance, including spiritual materialism. See also the Japanese Sword Dance video

03_TheArchetypeofWisdom_Manjushri_The element is associated with the origins of things and particularly ideas. In ritual, Air is in the East, the inspiration, the Rising Sun. All creative action begins with inspiration.

The Air Triplicity consists of Libra, Aquarius and Gemini, ruled by Venus, Saturn and Mercury respectively. We have discussed Aquarius and there is a fairly comprehensive article published here quite recently

Gemini is the Air Element in Mutable – once might even say Protean mode. Gemini spreads ideas with the speed of Quicksilver.  Ideas can consist of anything, but Mercury the Element and Gemini the Sign like to roll over the surface of things, rather than penetrating the depths. Libra is Cardinal Air.

Cardinal initiates. Libra is both Masculine and Venusian. Sun in Libra is in his Fall here, opposing the Sun’s exaltation in Aries. Libra seek balance before all things and all of the visual and musical arts are a primary form of persuasion through artistic seduction. We’re drawn to beauty and changed in its presence..