Legends of the Fall & the Ascent of the Soul

Lucas Cranach -  Der Garten Eden

Lucas Cranach – Der Garten Eden

There was a comment left by one of my readers remarking on the fact that phenomena such as eclipses and comets are invariably seen as negative events or even evil ones. There is a reason for this, and for good or bad, it is something with which every traditional astrologer needs to make their peace. The topic could easily fill many volumes (and does) but it can also be told quite simply for our immediate purposes. This article is likely to pose as many questions as it answers, but I have tried to show various avenues of inquiry for further research.

Since Eve ate apples, the stars have been far less friendly.  John Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost provides us with more than one passage about how the stars were turned, but the followed encapsulates it all very well. The post lapsarian cosmology comes into being immediately after the apple incident:

While the Creator, calling forth by name
His mighty Angels, gave them several charge,
As sorted best with present things. The Sun
Had first his precept so to move, so shine,
As might affect the Earth with cold and heat
Scarce tolerable, and from the north to call
Decrepit winter, from the south to bring
Solstitial summer’s heat. To the blanc Moon
Her office they prescribed; to the other five
Their planetary motions and aspects,
In sextile, square, and trine, and opposite,
Of noxious efficacy, and when to join
In synod unbenign; and taught the fixed
Their influence malignant when to shower—
Which of them, rising with the Sun or falling,
Should prove tempestuous. To the winds they set
Their corners, when with bluster to confound
Sea, air, and shore; the thunder when to roll
With terror through the dark aerial hall.

(From Paradise Lost  Book 10.).

Uriel with Sword of Fire by Walter Huacac Santa Cruz

Uriel with Sword of Fire by Walter Huacac Santa Cruz

The Fall changed all of creation, not just humanity After Adam and Eve were forced out of Paradise, an angel with a flaming sword guards the east and the Tree of Life with a flaming sword. This of course mirrors the new celestial restrictions. Adam and Eve. cannot return to the Garden – they must move forward into the world. The stars can still guide them in more ways than one, but they are now, as it were, the flaming swords protecting access to the Empireum.

After the Fall, humanity is in the Sub lunary Sphere and the seven spheres are bounded by the greater malefic. It is no coincidence that Saturn is associated with obstacles and limitations. Beyond Saturn are the Fixed Stars. He will not allow an easy passage. Existence in the the Sub – lunary sphere is subject to corruption, generation and delusions of all kinds The sphere is comprised of the four classical elements.

Buddhists would refer to this state of consciousness as Avidyā, symbolized by a person who is blind or wearing a blindfold.  It is ignore – ance in its true senseIn this state, we are  unaware of our true nature. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave where the cave dwellers believe the shadow play before them to be the real thing and in fact all there is. The one who unchains himself to turn toward the light of the Sun, outside of the cave. Essentially, you will remain in a state of illusion until you cast off the mind forged manacles.

There are many traditions that seek to win the Celestial Garden, such as Cabala, Hermeticism, Neo-Platonism and of course the Christian and Jewish faiths themselves, At the risk of over simplifying, these paths all strive for enlightenment and the Buddha tells us that the Enlightened don’t need astrology because they are no longer subject to cause and effect. All major religions and a good many philosophies subscribe to the belief, either stated or employed. Plato’s Doctrine of the Forms is very illuminating and will perhaps make a good starting point in understanding the traditional cosmology.

Ptolemaic cosmology diagram, showing stars as 8th sphere, and transcendent prime mover as 9th

Ptolemaic cosmology diagram, showing stars as 8th sphere, and transcendent prime mover as 9th

Islam rejects the notion of a Fall in the sense of original sin, but a Celestial Garden is the reward of the pious amd Adam and Eve lived in the Garden if Eden; the departure from the other Abrahamic religions in that Islam inteprets Adam as a prophet.

Stars play more than one role in Islam. Allah is referred to  as “He Who is the Lord of Sirius, “(Qur’an, 53: 49) while the Kaaba is oriented with Canopus and has a meteorite that is the stuff of pilgrimage. Modern Muslims tend to think that the reading of stars is shirk (attributing a partner to God,) by considering that the planets and luminaries compel us to act.  Essentially the same complaint was made by many Christians and for the same reason.

The history of Islam and its impact on traditional Western astrology is immense and the art is supported by the Qu’ran according to Muslims with whom I have spoken. There are two surahs that come to mind, but there are many more: “It is He Who maketh the stars (as beacons) for you, that ye may guide yourselves, with their help, through the dark spaces of land and sea: We detail Our signs for people who know. (Surah Al-An‘am, 97) ” This can be read to mean guidance of many types, including astrological.

Four_Angels guardian

Four Guardian Angels -Islamic

The second is this one : “He has made subject to you the Night and the Day; the sun and the moon; and the stars are in subjection by His Command: verily in this are Signs for men who are wise. (Surah An-Nahl, 12)” It is important to note that not only did Islamic scholars serve as conduits of Greek thought, including Hellenistic, but Middle Eastern traditions as well, such as Pre-Islamic Arabian and Persian, Almost all the star names we use are either Arabic or Persian. It is almost certain that Islamic astrologers were also exposed to Indian astrology. Our astrological roots are very deep, various and rich.

Furthermore, in all of these traditions there is a strong sense of having lost, or not yet attained, Paradise. Spiritual progress requires work ever since the Fall however one sees that and  to whatever metaphorical degree of understanding. The core trope is ubiquitous.

Finally the Yusuf Ali translation of 67:5 in the Qu’ran. we read: “And we have, (from of old), adorned the lowest heaven with Lamps, and We have made such (Lamps) (as) missiles to drive away the Evil Ones, and have prepared for them the Penalty of the Blazing Fire.” The evil ones are usually referred to as Jinn or “shaytans” in the plural. The former can be good or evil and are spirits of smokeless fire.  They are invisible unless they chose to be and live thousands of years. The “missiles” are commonly regarded as meteorites or comets, but also associated with the stars themselves who serve as guides and guardians.

Whether we look to Platonic myth of the Creation and Fall, the Mythos of the ‘people of the Book,’ and all major religions and most minor ones as well, there is the same theme: Creation in an ideal state which (ironically) cannot be sustained, a ‘fall from grace’ which includes all of creation and the promise of something far better than Eden. But it is conditional. Even the stars protect the inner sanctum, as it were, as well as the corresponding celestial realms – the microcosm and the macrocosm.

Islamic Eden

Islamic Eden

We could well argue that the mythos described is not literally true at all – perhaps even childish – but it has endured cross culturally for thousands of years. This may say something about the human mind or the nature of reality. Perhaps they are the same thing.  After all, cosmologies are a way to make things make sense and they remain more or less intact even before  our experiences reinforce them,

Of all the Fixed Stars used in astrology, only a handful promise good fortune. Among these are Spica, Canopus and others, but discernment is required to fully realize the benefits. It also makes a great deal of difference whether the star is ascending, culminating, setting and other considerations.

The Royal Stars of Persia, the guardians of the directions,  are all powerful, but their great benefits can only be realized by meeting certain conditions. If these are not met, they can become harbingers of very bad tidings indeed. If one is going to enjoy the blessings of Regulus, for example, one must avoid revenge or any of the lower impulses. One’s character must be equal to the task of nobility.

The Royal Stars each have an angel assigned to them as protectors of the directions . Regulus is associated with the healing Archangel Raphael, the watcher of the North. Fomalhaut, is identified with the Archangel Gabriel, the watcher of the South. Aldebaran is assigned the Archangel Michael, the watcher of the East.; to Antares, the Archangel Oriel, the watcher of the West.

This merely an expansion or extrapolation of the archetypal myth of creation, its fall and the goal of realization after traversing the spheres. Just like the conditional nature of the Royal Stars, the ascent causes the malefic to lose their power thus elevation us to a much higher version of the Garden.

The simple point, easily missed, is that we cannot ignore the cosmology that lead to the astrology we practise. It is not crucial to understand it literally at all, but neither can we neglect such a powerful archetypal system.

The stars can be guides to us, but we must not lose sight of the ultimate goal. The Neo Pythagorean schema below provides a heightened knowledge of the spheres insofar as it offers ways in which we can actively participate in the harmonies of the spheres.

pythagsource.17THE MUSIC OF THE SPHERES. Shown in this engraving from Renaissance Italy are Apollo, the Muses, the planetary spheres and musical ratios.

The Music of the Spheres. Shown in this engraving from Renaissance Italy are Apollo, the Muses, the planetary spheres and musical ratios.

Reading Hippocrates

Rod of Asclepius

Rod of Asclepius

Classical Greek physicians tried to find natural explanations as to why someone got ill and died, what constituted health or illness and the nature and actions of contagion. To this extent they broke with many of their contemporaries working in other fields because they were not seeking supernatural causes .They were certainly synchronized with mathematics however.  This did not mean they lacked piety. It meant that the signs of nature were viewed as a sufficient source of knowledge, particularly when cataloged, documented and shared. In this respect we can see the roots of scientific methodology

At the same time, the Greek Pantheon included Asclepius the god of healing and his daughter, Hygieia from whose name we get the word hygiene. It’s fair to say that the Greek Pantheon was in fact a system of archetypes and so the attributes of the god of healing should be those of the enlightened physician.

Hippocrates was among the first to make the shift from making supplications to the god towards embodying the healing qualities represented by Aesculapius. We really have no way of knowing how conscious this change was, but it produced a very different and highly effective form of medicine which was practised beyond the Renaissance and still has relevance today.

Asclepius & Hygieia

Asclepius & Hygieia

Until Hippocrates, Epilepsy was known as the “sacred disease” with supernatural origins and therefore could not and should not be considered an illness in any physical sense of the word.

Hippocrates is first and foremost concerned with the applications of medicine when diseases are said to be of supernatural origin and that those origins are to blame if the patient dies or fails to recover. The physician can take all the credit if the patient does recover, allowed for a systemic practise of fraud which prevented physicians from learning about the condition as it really is.

He writes “It is my opinion that those who first called this disease ‘sacred’ were the sort of people we call witch-doctors, faith healers, quacks and charlatans. These are exactly the people who pretend to be very pious and to be particularly wise. By invoking a a divine element they were able to screen their own failure to give suitable treatment and so called this a ‘sacred’ malady to conceal the ignorance of its nature.” Medical Works. Trans. John Chadwick (Oxford) pp. 179 180

Hippocrates carries this line of thought to its absurd conclusions such as blaming Poseidon if the cry of the patient was high pitched

If we return to the archetype model, we can see that Hippocrates does not go against it at all. What he does do is bring his practice in line with reading the signs of nature which have a divinity of their own, but not a catch all excuse for bad medicine.

Those who have a familiarity with Plato will recognize the trope. In the Pheadrus, there is a passage that that lies at the centre of Platonism and Neo Platonism.  At first glance it might appear that this mystical vision is at odds with Hippocrates:

“Beauty it was ours to see in all its brightness in those days when, amidst that happy company, we beheld with our eyes that blessed vision, ourselves in the train of Zeus, others following some other god; then were we all initiated into that mystery which is rightly accounted blessed beyond all others; whole and unblemished were we that did celebrate it … steadfast and blissful were the spectacles on which we gazed in the moment of final revelation; pure was the light that shone around us, and pure were we, without taint of that prison house which now we are encompassed withal, and call a body, fast bound therein as an oyster in its shell ” Phaedrus 249d-250c.

They are however perfectly compatible. Hippocrates is not a ‘materialist’ and Plato has no interest in ‘super-naturalism.” In their own ways they are overwhelmingly concerned with the return of the body and soul to its natural state.

Plato, Aristotle and their students hold Hippocrates in the highest regard. His specific spiritual beliefs are unclear except that he clearly shunned a religious cosmology in the usual sense of the term was a fallacy. The fact that Plato specifically mentions him in the Phaedrus certainly indicates they were of a similar mind.

The Pheadrus is among other things an allegory of a charioteer of the same name. He is the Soul and the two horses represent Spirit and Mind. Succinctly, the quality of the Soul and horses and the Souls’ ability to command them affords us a trinity of  being.

The theme of the chariot in Hellenistic astrology is well known. Here, the first horse is obedient, capable and noble while the other is “a crooked lumbering animal, put together anyhow; he has a short thick neck; he is flat-faced and of a dark colour, with grey eyes and blood-red complexion; the mate of insolence and pride, shag-eared and deaf, hardly yielding to whip and spur.” (253 e.)

The Chariot of Apollo - Odilon Redon

The Chariot of Apollo – Odilon Redon

It’s very easy to understand this in the context of traditional astrology. The different elements of our being, their condition and relatedness,  determine what we begin with. The chart shows this clearly, but it takes a skilled astrologer to read it fully and to know where to begin. Traditional Astrology and Traditional Medicine are very similar insofar as they look to the signs of nature, catalog findings and point to ways the body, soul and intellect can best be nurtured to their optimal, *natural* state.

Hermes : Magician & Psychopomp

Hermes_mercurius_trismegistus_siena_cathedralHermes Trismegistus in the Cathedral of Siena

Hermes Mercurius Trismegistus – Cathedral of Siena

Among the many joys of practising traditional astrology, is the opportunity to fully explore the inner planets. When the going gets deep, the shallow resort to ‘higher octave” delusions. The formula seems to be if it’s deep, make sure it’s as far away from the Sun as possible which strikes me as perverse.

mercury (1)Being personal doesn’t mean it can’t also be universal. Let’s take Mercury for example. Mercury has the be the most skimmed over of all planets. This is really unfortunate because Mercury in his many manifestations has perhaps the richest set of attributes of all.

Everyone interested in astrology knows Mercury is about communication and short journeys and not much else. In fact, he is probably best known for the Mercury retrograde effect.

Let’s begin with the glyph. The Semi-Circle, Luna symbol  is Soul. The Solar circle is Spirit. They are above the Cross of Matter.

Although Mercury is usually referred to in the masculine, *he* is in fact the primal hermaphrodite that takes on the gender of it’s sign and position. However, it’s Mercury’s nature to communicate both the Solar and Lunar Self. As the Magician, he channels this energy to the world of Matter, symbolized by the Cross.

The image of Thoth (below) embodies the nature of Mercury. He has the Solar – Lunar disk above him. He is in the form of the Ibis. There has been much contention about why the Ibis was chosen as representative, but the most important issue is that it represents Spirits of the Air or intellect. No matter which form he takes, whether Mercury, Hermes or Thoth, he is a winged deity.images (7)

Thoth and Hermes were credited with the revelations of writing, mathematics, magic, astrology, astronomy, medicine, and  the almost completely forgotten role of Psychopomp, conductor of souls to the next world.

When we consider all of these, Hermes takes on a redemptive quality. Yet Modern astrologers have ascribed all of these qualities to the outer planets, mostly Uranus and Pluto. Now that he is virtually ignored, or written off in a sentence or two as the most boring planet,  we can see the extent of the loss.

As messenger to the two luminaries, he was held in very high regard. He is also credited with revealing the musical spell to bring Osiris back to life. In the earliest Egyptian sources he is a self created god.


Relief from a carved funerary lekythos at Athen – Hermes as Psychopomp Cconducts the Deceased Myrrhine to Hades C 430-420-BCE-National Archaeological Museum of Athens

There is great import in the seemingly simple sentence :

“Do You not know, Asclepius, that Egypt is an image of heaven, or, to speak more exactly, in Egypt all the operations of the powers which rule and work in heaven have been transferred to Earth below ?” (Asclepius III, 24b.)

These words of Hermes contain the essential dictum of “As Above, So below.” However the precise way that we comprehend this will depend on which model we are using to reference. For example, it is completely in keeping with Plato’s doctrine of the Forms, the idea that meterial, physical reality is not the ultimate one.

If we follow this essential teaching  through the Works of Plotinus, we have a complete system of thought that is mystical. A key image in the Enneads is the fountain of light, from which all originate and ultimately return.


Arabian Hermes

In the magical tradition of Hermes Trismegigstus, Pico dell Mirandola uses the image of Hermes wedding Earth to Heaven.

Mercury is a winged god, renowned for his speed. Sometimes refered to as Quicksilver, the protean shape shifter resembles the mind itself from the point of view of, say, Buddhism. Mercury is also the Triskster. I’m particularly interested in how Hermes was transmitted to Iranian and Arabian culture and the Abassid astrologers in particular

The early Abbāsid court astrologer Māšā allāh (fl . 762–ca 815) has been called the Prince of Astrology by Robert Zoller. He was “an associate of Umar ibn al-Farruxān aṭ -Ṭabarī, cites Hermes as an authority in his own Arabic works. He may well have known works of Hermes in the Middle Persian original; being a learned Iranian Jew, Māšā allāh could have had access toAramaic and Persian sources as well as Arabic’ (Pingee, Masa’ allah 1973. pp. 159 – 62). Several other Arabian astrologers including Al Biruni are discussed in Kevin van Bladel’s The Arabic Hermes: From Pagan Sage to Prophet of Science.

It’s fair to say that Masa’Allah was the most erudite of scholars at the Abbasid court as well as the finest astrologer. How he received Hermes therefore has resonance in European and Arabian astrology, particularly prior to the Renaissance. Their sources were Middle Iranian and not Arabian in origin. The Persians had taken and translated Hermes into their own language, and as is the case in all cross cultural receptions, Persian elements were attached. However, as can be seen by the photo of the “Arabian Hermes” he has all the same attributes, albeit in what contemporary Greeks might have thought an exotic fashion.

First, we see Mercury is winged, holding the Solar and Lunar elements. The downward triangle remains the symbol of descent into matter to this day. There is however nothing to suggest that he is merely ‘Earth bound.” The two heads certainly have a more Persian design, but it’s quite easy to see the reference to the caduceus, with the two ‘serpent’ heads (perhaps birds in this case.)

There is still plenty of room for cultural interpretation. The role of psychopomp will of course differ in understanding depending on belief in the afterlife. For one it might mean ascension and to another successfully crossing the River Styx. However, the role of spirit guide doesn’t have to change. In the words C.G. Jung:

“From the earliest times, Hermes was the mystagogue and psycho pomp of the alchemists, their friend and counselor, who leads them to the goal of their work. He is “like a teacher mediating between the stone and the disciple.” To others the friend appears in the shape of Christ or Khidr or a visible or invisible guru, or some other personal guide or leader figure.” Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious – CW 9i (1934–1954) (1981 2nd ed. Collected Works Vol.9 Part 1)

Alchemical art from the Buch der Heiligen Dreifaltigkeit

Alchemical art from the Buch der Heiligen Dreifaltigkeit

Hermes is much more than Magician and Psycopomp, but I believe these are the most ignored attributes in our time. Finally, we have the beautiful Alchemical illumination from the Buch der Heiligen Dreifaltigkeit on the left.

This has remained mysterious, although of course many scholars have had their theories. The image is very similar to the previous Arabian illustration, certainly not in style but in substance. Here the Mercurial figure is female. As mentioned, Mercury can be both genders, but is rarely portrayed as a woman. The caduceus- like form is there, with the Sun and Moon, but it’s reversed. She forms an ascending triangle. This image gives much to contemplate regarding the feminine attributes of Hermes.

Bright Sky : Thunderbolts & Tin

Jupiter and Semele - by Moreau

Jupiter and Semele – by Moreau

This is to discuss some of the etymological and ubiquitous symbolic qualities of the Sky God known by several names, but most famously as Zeus or Jupiter. He is perhaps best known as the Master of the Heavens.

He was identified by the Romans as Jupiter or Jove. Jupiter is known as the earth-shaker. At will, he could  summon rain, snow, hail, and all other meteorological phenomena.  He married his sister Hera.  Zeus was known for his countless love affairs. Neither chastity nor restraint are jovial attributes.

The son of Jupiter was Bacchus , synonymous with the Greek Dionysus. He shares some of his father’s traits, but in exaggerated form. He is typically depicted as the god of harvest, grapes, fertility and theater: other traits such as drunkenness, altered states including ecstasy makes him the opposite of Apollo.The “Apollonian and the Dionysian”  have been identified as archetypes in their own right.

Apollo, Dionysus & Hermes-Feasting. C. 450 BC

Apollo, Dionysus & Hermes-Feasting. C. 450 BC

Dionysus was very much his father’s son and was the subject of Mystery Cults, particularly in Greece.

Jupiter’s most feared and revered weapon was the lightning bolt, forged for him by the Cyclopes. Most cultures have a deity sharing enough similarities to associate it with Zeus.


Zeus’ name translates to “Bright Sky.” The letter zeta, is the Greek letter z for Zeus. Zeus is Jupiter’s namesake in Greek mythology. The same symbol represents tin, since it is one of the planetary metals in alchemy.   His Roman names are Jupiter and Jove. He is usually shown with his characteristic scepter and attendant eagles

I view the planets and luminaries as powerful archetypes, recognized cross culturally and for millenia. I prefer to think of these archetypes as Plato’s Forms.

This isn’t a modern idea as some misguided Traditional astrologers would say. It’s primordial.  

Indra, the Hindu king of the gods, is always shown with a vajra (thunderbolt) held aloft in his right hand. He too is an Earth shaker and bringer of all kinds of meteorological phenomena.

Images of Jupiter and Zeus were employed to portray Christ, particularly in the Eastern Orthodox Church, but there are plenty of examples to be found throughout Christendom. Justin Martyr is said to have converted a man to Christianity by assuring him that the Christian God was just like Zeus ! Read Plato’s On the Soul’s Recollecting True Being and Beauty from The Phaedrus for a the Platonic and Neo-Platonic conception of Zeus.

Also read William Lilly’s Of the Planet Jupiter & his Signification. for the the Medieval Astrological Jupiter.

Indra Holding Thunderbolt Vajra

Indra Holding Thunderbolt Vajra – Keshava Temple, Somnathpur

In astrology, Jupiter is a rich matrix of symbolism greater than the sum of its parts. He is power, excess, benevolence, jurisprudence. philosophy, joviality, exaggeration, generosity, and largesse. The thought of “the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom” comes to mind ( William Blake – The Marriage of Heaven & Hell)

It is  becoming increasingly apparent that Europeans , Central and South Asians migrated from a common region in and around what used to be called Aryana.  The term Indo European can be taken more literally than it has been.

The Celts  had deities which are almost perfect parallels to Greek and Indian gods.  There are perhaps thousands of words in English almost identical to Sanskrit: for example, such as naam and name. The Celts  had deities which are almost perfect parallels to Greek and Indian gods. See this article for a list of thunder gods

I stress this because our recovery and understanding of ancient astrology depends on having some deeper knowledge of anthropology as well as philology, history. philosophy and geography.