Nature is an economical goddess. Every single one of her innovations is first put to countless uses and, then, endlessly repackaged and recycled. Truly I wonder sometimes how we recklessly wasteful humans can possibly share her blood! But never mind. The point is that, given all this ceaseless repurposing, we live in an iterative world of repeating patterns. And what this constant repetition does it tell us useful things about the structure of the world. In old world terms, this gleaning of specific qualities and relationships from appearance (or smell or behaviour or whatever) is called the Doctrine of Signatures. The idea is that, during creation, God helpfully marked everything existent with instructions for use and, thus, the doctrine belongs to the belief that we live in a communicative and forthcoming world. All we have to do in order to understand the communicative efforts of all things is observe for similarities so that we understand through analogy what they’re telling us. Therefore, this observance of similarities is not only the root from which human language evolved but is also the basis for all divinatory methods: if you like, Language and Divination are identical twins while the worldview underlying the Doctrine of Signatures is their mother.
These twins can be understood in terms of the Divine Twin mytheme – another eternally recurring pattern – where one sibling is divine and the other human. What we won’t necessarily agree on is which is which: is Language divine because it’s The Word? Is Divination divine in being divinely-inspired? It’s hard to decide. Either way, it’s Language that tends to have the most to say for itself in terms of Gold Standard Communication when, honestly, it’s a minor player.
The fact is that, even vis-a-vis human-to-human communication, language forms barely a third of what flows between us. This is because most of what’s going on is non-verbal. And one means of non-verbal communication involves the use of proximity. In other words, we extrapolate meaning from the amount and quality of space that exists between one thing and another.
As newborns, we arrive in the world bereft of personal space but, over time, each develop an orb of influence. It is an orb with spatial qualities – i.e. it is horizontal and vertical – and simultaneously real-world and symbolic, and only breachable so long as certain conditions are met. For instance, horizontally-speaking, you may only enter my intimate space if you are my friend, my lover or my child. If you are none of these and wander in uninvited there may be consequences. If I invite you in, you’ll be received with warmth into my sunshiny heart! In this, I’m no different from anyone else. However, in other respects, orbs are culturally and individually personalised. This is an example of the vertical orb and demonstrated in the Chinese concept of Face where a personal sense of worth is derived from how well an individual maximises personal dignity within the bounds of their social position and sphere.
Now, given the economy of nature, you’ll be unsurprised to find that we humans are not alone in having personal orbs. For example, the sun and moon have them too – as do the astrological planets, at least insofar as we accept the Doctrine of Signatures. And these orbs are similar to our own inasmuch as they are simultaneously real-world and symbolic, and only breachable at some cost. Plus, the orbs describe the area over which the planets exert a certain quality or, if you like, influence.
Similarities do not end there because, just as the size of the human orb has been measured in sociology, so the orbs in modern western astrology have been awarded rule-of-thumb values too. These seem to result from the melding of two factors: the importance of the planet (the sun is the most important so is awarded the largest orb); and the type and strength of an aspect (numerical fraction of the circle) relevant to the moment. This means that an astrologer’s decision about what size orbs to use in order to determine a level of applied ‘influence’ has the appearance of an abstract mathematical equation much influenced by esoteric notions regarding number. And this confuses us into thinking things about astrology which are presently unsupportable like, for instance, that it is a science, or that it is gnostic wisdom. But, d’you know what? I think it possible that there’s a more Gaia-centric, grounded and experiential explanation of planetary orbs of ‘influence’. But if you want it, you’ll have to come out with me first, figuratively-speaking, into the astronomical twilight where we’ll salute the rising sun together. Afterwards, armed with what we’ve seen, we’ll consider what all this orb-talk might boil down to.
OK, so here we are. It’s about 4:30 (GMT) on the morning of 28th September 2016 and our location is nearly 53 degrees north and just over 3 degrees west. Morning astronomical twilight has just officially begun because the geometric centre of the Sun has reached 18° below the horizon. The old balsamic moon has already risen in parallel to Sirius and, just one sign distant from the sun, traces the finest curve in the south-easterly heavens. Plus Mercury is rising. And we can see all this because the sky is still fully dark enough for all points to be visible. Nevertheless, morning is coming because, from now on, the thick soupy darkness will become increasingly thin.
Now, soon after 5am, the sun is just 12° below the horizon and it is first light. Ghosts fade and phantoms retreat as outlines begin to resolve into landscape features and a gloom-smudged horizon reappears in the east. There is also a corresponding violet Earth shadow in the antisolar west, the height of which exactly opposes the degree of the rising sun, and it sets as the sun disc rises.
Time has moved on again and it’s now about 6:20am. The sun is just about 6° below the horizon. Like Cetus, as he rises, he swallows morning-star Mercury whole. Then he chases after Sirius and hunts the hunter, Orion, but, being close to the zenith, these fight him off a little longer and make it to about 6:30. We too will shortly leave the twilight zone as crimson rays bleed up into the morning sky and soak clouds into bloody rags. But, for now, it’s 7ish and a phantasm of the upper limb of the sun disc predicts its imminent rising even whilst the true solar-centre is still 50 arc-minutes below the horizon (thanks to the fact that the image is refracted by the atmosphere).
But now the sun is risen. And he is so beautiful in his heavens that, for once, Language has nothing to say: he and Divination can only stand and stare…
Still, we can notice things like, how, where we are, the sun doesn’t rise on the perpendicular but at an angle tracing to the right in order (at this time of year) to maintain the line of the celestial equator, although it’s already deviating south. And we can try to hold sight of the fading silver curve of the moon even though it keeps floating out of view amongst fronded cirrus and lumpy cumulo-maculi which are tangles of fish-scales and seaweed in a celestial fishing net. And we can notice the onset of unsettled weather as signed by lower-altitude lenticular clouds, stained rose-pink and spun by shearing winds which have been all shredded and cut to ribbons by rows of ragged Welsh mountains.
But, night and shadows finally banished with the sunrise, we’re now in a position to say something about the meaning of celestial ‘proxemics’, or orbs, because the astrological concept of combustion has come to mind.
Combustion is what happens to a planet when it strays too close to the sun and enters into ‘corporal conjunction’ with it within a 17° orb of influence. This, according to ancient wisdom, is the greatest misfortune for a planet because the sun’s rays are so very powerful that the planet is obscured and burned. However, there is a brief moment of glory for the planet in conjunction with the sun when it reaches Cazimi which is like the planet has become a phoenix rising from the ashes! A recent example came with the sunrise on Monday 26th September (GMT) when the sun rose with Jupiter at his heart and them both at 3°Libra 36’. But, either side of Cazimi (which is between zero and 17 minutes of arc) all astrological prognoses run along a continuum from miserable to dire.
The point is that there are degrees of combustion. When a planet is anywhere between eight and a half degrees and seventeen degrees from the sun, it is ‘under sunbeams’ or, in other words, feeling the heat and weakened. Remembering back to astronomical dawn, being under sunbeams correlates with the gradual fading of the stars and the reappearance of the horizon and, thus, the dying rule of nocturnal things as the sun reasserts his sovereignty. When a planet is anywhere between 17 minutes of arc and eight and a half degrees from the sun, it is combust and has something like a third-degree burn. In a decumbiture chart, it is a sick person overpowered and unto death. The outer boundary of this level of combustion is when Mercury disappeared into the predawn rays. As the sun came closer to the horizon, so the rest of the stars were outshone and only the palest, sickest moon survived sun up, although barely so. But the marvellous good fortune of Cazimi is illustrated in the moment that the sun breaks the horizon: to rise in the reflected glory of the solar disc is to achieve the divine status that Jupiter found on Monday.
So, then, the astrological orb of the sun and the rules relating to combustion are at least analogous with the real-world experience of the sunrise – and, in reverse, the sunset, when the sky illustrates how a planet might regain its strength following a period of combustion. And it all bears comparative analogies with human sickness and health, and human social organisation in matters of invitation and violation, social dominance and submission, outshining and being outshone.
But Hermes said it better in his Emerald Tablet. So (severely edited):
What is above is like what is below, and what is below is like that which is above. To make the miracle of the one thing…
Its father is the Sun, its mother is the Moon.
The wind carried it in its womb, the earth breast fed it.
It is the father of all ‘works of wonder’ in the world.