I have wanted to write a short piece on Pisces for some time. There have been a few reasons holding me back, not least the fact that I’m a solar Pisces and could be considered biased.
However, I have no interest in elevating Pisces beyond its station. That would serve no useful purpose. I also find my self at odds with one or two classical writers. In any case, my argument holds true for all signs to a greater or lesser degree.
My intent is constructive and corrective. I’m writing as a Traditional astrologer who knows that valuable elements of the Tradition have been lost I would like to make some small attempt to correct that.
It is “every astrologer’s duty to avail himself, with the utmost of understanding, of all knowledge that is applicable to the science, whereby to arrive at the true and correct explanations which alone can bring the improved technic that will enhance Astrology’s value to society.” (Nicholas DeVore: Encyclopaedia of Astrology)
The crux of the matter is an obvious problem with Traditional astrology. It tends to fall down and fail us when it comes to the spiritual and the emotional. I have chosen the Sign Pisces to demonstrate what I mean for fairly obvious reasons — a particular spirituality and emotionality are strong in Pisces.
This process is deeply ironic because Traditional astrology evolved in a highly spiritual tradition. It wasn’t materialistic but I see elements of the art that are becoming so. Much of Medieval astrology shows astonishing ignorance of true spirituality. I certainly wouldn’t say it’s universal, but it is pervasive. This is not actually part of the tradition. It’s something the tradition lost along the way and needs to be reclaimed. . Let’s take a look at what Vettius Valens has to say about the sign Pisces
Pisces is the celestial sign which is feminine, moist, quite wet, bicorporeal, with many offspring, mossy, scaley, sinewy, humpbacked, leprous, two-formed, mute, motile, with rough skin, in conflict with itself because one Fish is northern, the other southern. It is moist, downward-trending, servile, changeable, with many offspring, bicorporeal, sociable/lewd, with some limbs missing, the cause of wandering, varied. Men born under this sign are unsteady, unreliable, changing from bad fortune to good, sexy, theivish, shameless, prolific, popular.
As a whole, Pisces is cool and breezy. By parts it is as follows: the first parts are temperate, the middle moist, the last destructive and worthless…
If you didn’t know what Valens was describing, I’m not at all sure that *human being* would be the first thing to come to mind. Although there are one or two half truths in his description, he is spectacularly lacking in ability when he tries to describe a complete human., albeit a hypothetical one.. .
There is nothing in what he says that’s really of any use to us at all, unless of course we want a Pisces to jump from a tall building.. In any case, once someone has made the statement that Pisceans are “humpbacked, scaly” thieves who “have some limbs missing” and are “worthless” it’s very hard to take him seriously.
That is not to say that Valens was not the conduit for some Hellenistic thought and techniques that many find useful. It merely tells us he has no grasp of his subject matter in this case and many others. It has been suspected that Valens was not a practising astrologer and these sorts of things strengthen that hypothesis. Moreover, the same can be said for his description of all the signs. I have discussed Valens in relation to Aquarius already. It doesn’t sound like he’s describing authentic archetypes or human beings.
By way of comparison, let’s see what William Lilly has to say:
Pisces is of the Watry Triplicity, Northern, cold Sign, moyst, Flegmatick, feminine, ; nocturnal, the house of Jupiter, and exaltation of Venus, a Bycorporeal, common or double-bodied Sign, an idle, effeminate, sickly Sign, or representing a party of no action.
I find his description to be correct and believable in all respects. I have no difficulty believing the writer is actually an astrologer with useful information. However, I do not find it complete by any means. The core and essence of Pisces is its otherworldly spirituality that only *looks* like a party of no action. I suppose one could say the same of virtually any monk or poet No credible human being has ever accused Pisces of being shallow. There is nothing of the selflessness or finely tuned nervous system, but then Lily’s main work appears to have been Horary. . There is certainly nothing about self sacrifice, Avatars or Messiahs. This is part of the other side of Pisces missing from many traditional sources, but not all.
I just read an article by a fine astrologer who nevertheless claimed that Jupiter “struggles” in Pisces. I wonder if any traditional astrologer has made the same argument about any other planet in his or her domicile? How can it be that the Greater Benefic rules such a sign?
David Frawley cites a short hymn to Jupiter:” I worship Jupiter the teacher of the gods and the seers, who has the luster of gold endowed with wisdom, the ruler of the three worlds.” (Astrology of the Seers p. 26). Obviously there is no “struggle” for Jupiter here. This fits Pisces and Sagittarius very well. Frawley’s longer section on the Sign Pisces is a fair balance of positive and negative, weaknesses and strengths.
In Babylonian times and beyond, the constellation was known and named. In Babylon as well as China, the primary concern was calendrical and focused on the position and phases of the stars rather than constellations ( Glendow Origin of Zodiac p. 28).
Pisces is among the oldest recorded constellations. – and this in spite of the fact that the physical constellation is quite unremarkable and comparatively faint. It was first named the Tails or Shiny Tails. The association of the fish with Christianity is a much later attribution and has in many ways confused the original significance .
The Fishes is a symbol that appears to precede the constellation. They show up in myths that are very similar , even though from vastly different cultures. As such we can fairly call it an archetype. The theme of redemption in one form or another is at the heart of each on the stories.
Vishnu – Matsya
The Ikhthyes (or Ichthyes) were a pair of large Syrian river fish who rescued Aphrodite and Eros when they were fleeing from the monster Typhon. Another version of the myth says that the two gods disguised themselves as fish to escape the monster, or that the fish assisted in the birth of Aphrodite. In another version of this myth, the fish “Pisces” carry Aphrodite and her son out of danger. In all versions of the story, they were placed amongst the stars as the Constellation Pisces. It doesn’t mater in the end because one way or another two fish saved Aphrodite and Eros and then became the constellation of the Fishes.
Paul Klee – Around the Fish – Note the Various Symbols from Pentagrams, Cross and Vesica Pisces
Here’s a bit more on the ubiquitous Fish from the deep archetype. Salmon were sacred to the ancient Celts, sometimes referred to as the Salmon of knowledge or wisdom. If you caught one with your hands and held it up to your ear, it would whisper wise ranns to you.
Salmon leaping from a river were symbolic of self-transcendence. The Salmon at the bottom of a well is a well known image to anyone familiar with Celtic spirituality. Wells and springs had a special significance as a means to communicate with the waters of the earth. The natives of the Pacific Northwest where I live take the Salmon as on of their main totem animals
Pisces Symbol derived from Vesica Piscis
Indian, Greek and Persian astrologers had a great deal of contact during the greatest days of Alexandria.
According to Hindu belief, it is a Fish who is Matsyu that warns Manu of the impending flood, urging him to store all manner of grains in a boat. We learn that Matsyu is among the primary manifestations of Vishnu. Manu escapes with the “Seven Sages” and the Fish then pulls and protects the boat until the mariners are safe and the grain is planted on dry land. Matsya may be depicted as a giant fish, or with a human torso connected to the rear half of a fish.
Vishnu as Matsya Returning the Vedas to Brahma
In later versions of this story, the Sacred Vedas are hidden by a demon whom Matsya slays. Manu is again rescued and the holy scriptures recovered.
To find out what Indian astrologers think of the sign, I consulted Vedic astrologers. Apparently Indian astrologers remember what the Western tradition had forgotten or discarded.
Some of the themes for Pisces were: The veils-scales between Two Worlds and similarly the Bridge-Pathways to the world of the Ancestors and Private Guidance toward the development of personal, interior Wisdom and Compassion (Guru). Private, sentient guidance across the bridge from material, waking life to meditative, astral dream life. The contrast, particularly in relation to Valens, is enormous and substantial.
There is of course much of the standard Piscean traits listed such as: “emotional, expansive, intuitive, and imaginative…. they can be amorphous, hard to pin down … tend toward emotional disorders and have sensitive nervous and digestive systems.” (Frawley p. 125)
These insights are genuinely helpful because they embrace the whole person: body, mind and soul. This is what is lacking in much of Traditional Western Astrology as understood and practised in the third millenium.
Somewhere along the way the integral spirituality of Traditional astrology was discarded. It is not lost however. I was very much impressed with Ibn Arabi’s Mystical Astrology and we are amongst several cultures who do not have spiritual amnesia. Indian astrologers have maintained a high level of awareness in this regard. It’s important to know your roots.
If you take the living archetypes out of astrology all you have is dry method, capable of telling you where you lost your credit card, but doing precious little for the soul. Read Plato on the Forms and you may never see the archetypes n the same way.