Subheading: All the thrills and spills.
To say having children has changed my life is probably up there with the greatest personal understatement of all time. As a first time father in my forties, I had no idea at the sheer labour intensiveness of raising a child in a loving environment.
Having lived a predominantly self-indulgent, single lifestyle for much of my twenties and thirties, with the focus on spiritual development and personal exploration, I reached a time when my life felt deeply unfulfilled and the desire to start a family began to intensify.
I remember thinking about time line parallels with my late father, whilst I was still single, childless and at that time unemployed he had been married for thirteen years and had four children, built a home and business – the contrasts were acute but I had never aspired to being like my father.
I thought about what my body would like to be doing, in the way that animals have a distinct biological clock that predetermines their phases of life, and felt the lack in my single male existence.I was also very bored by the social scene that I found myself in, the game playing of dating was wearing thin and sex in the city was as about exciting as television…
So, when I finally met the love of my life, I let nature take its course, and we were engaged and with child within about two weeks. All intellectual doubts were blown away like dust in a cyclone, and the excitement about what we had done was amazing – I suppose if you have spent so much time avoiding the fertility cycle then the moment when you surrender to it is pretty powerful. Impending parenthood is a hell of a lot easier than the actual thing, you are tapping into an incredibly well subscribed fantasy that families all over the world have celebrated since time began. Slaps on the back, wide smiles and memories of TV show scenes featuring dads and big cigars.
The births were all harrowing in their own way. My wife was so courageous throughout both labours, and the system probably let us down each time, but we, and the babies, survived. In retrospect, I now consider birth to be the most miraculous real thing that happens in the lives of humans, and I suspect most animals feel the same way.
Forget the virgin birth – it is the old fashioned sperm and egg number – when experienced in your own home, without the nurses and white sheets – that is truly amazing. The stretching of flesh, blood and sheer grit that my wife experienced over countless hours is so far beyond any male sporting achievement it begs belief. Yet, until you actually go through the experience with your partner, it does not really rate on your radar, and according to the male dominated media it is something like state of origin football, which is some sort of benchmark in the courage stakes. Maybe if they were physically pulling the footballs out of their arses before crossing over the line for a try I could agree.
When your partner finally gets that baby out it is a big moment. The build up toward this achievement is huge – nine months of expansion in all areas of both your lives. The focus shifts to the fat one; the one with the belly – and you need to quickly train yourself to become a support act, like a male ballet dancer, whose job is to lift the ballerina when required.
It can be a shock to the system because all balance goes out the door, along with the drinking and smoking – and listening to the litany of what she has to endure as this thing grows inside her is not always easy. The changes are so profound that nobody really speaks of them, and perhaps evolution includes a conspiracy of silence to ensure the survival of the species. When this miracle emerges alive smeared in blood and guts, and you have waited out the months, weeks, days, hours and minutes – it is intense, it is tears, hearts in your eyes and almost fainting stuff.
It has however only just begun for mum and dad. The fatherhood clock has only ticked a minute past midnight.
To be continued………..
Posted by sudhahamilton in Blog Posts, parenting.
Tags: attachment parenting, babies, breast feeding, children, fatherhood, fathers, growing up, man, men, motherhood, mothers, natural parenting, parenting, psychology of parenting, sex, sibling jealousy, sleep, sleep deprivation, transformative life cycles, woman, women, work/home balance
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Having one child changed my world forever, having two in quick succession broke the camel’s back. There was nowhere left to hide, no time for a quick puff on a cigar on the porch, always a baby or toddler to get to sleep. I was working more and more from home to be on hand as a parent, and as much as I embraced the role it never quite measures up to the expansive fit of the mother. Biologically speaking, I don’t think it will ever be thus, men will always be caught between worlds – brought up to be out in the world providing for the family and yet wanted on the home front to share the load. It is often an inner dichotomy as well, wanting to stay home with these new innocent beings and often having to leave the nest to bring home some bacon.
My wife embraced parenting and motherhood like a tsunami does an archipelago, it was fantastic to behold. No book unread, no Internet forum unbreached and a passion for it that made me smile inside. Natural parenting was the buzz word; Attachment Parenting the correct moniker and the forum interaction ran thick and fast. Any break from physical parenting was enjoined by the virtual parenting discussions – I thought it was great, that the shared wisdom of parents everywhere was now accessible on the web. Of course after awhile the sheer brutal demands of parenting tests every part of you. The broken sleep, with two little ones going off, is grindingly tough – one feeding on the breast all night and the other waking up exceedingly unhappy, because of the very existence of the other having supplanted its position with the mother. We tried many things to reduce the trauma of this situation but it is such a primal state of affairs, with a one year old’s blood curdling screams at 3am not conducive to much cognitive therapy.
Those cries and screams at the midnight hour can unhinge feelings inside, that have not seen the light of day for many a year. Sometimes for a brief moment you are not sure if you are awake or asleep and many times I began to discover my screaming child was in fact asleep or sleep screaming, as in sleep walking, and no amount of desperate soothing or reasoning could reach our poor child. It was like a Blitz, not of bombing but of blighted shadows emerging uninvited out of our baby girl.
Getting up and getting to work got later and later, and I suppose I was lucky that I had a job that did not watch the clock. Sometimes after a night like this I would drive hundreds of kilometres to meet a client and attempt to sell them something. My sales erected smile got limper by the day and often people would buy more out of empathy than any other motivating force. My drive for results was ebbing away and no amount of pep talking was bringing it back. It was like I had descended into another world, where things were more real than ever before, more raw and far more demanding than my day light reality had ever been.
Now when I hear that my favourite footballer has just had a baby I know what is in store for him and how it will affect his performance on the field. I know that he and his wife will experience the wonders and the challenges of parenthood, and that they have embarked on a journey both long and arduous. The simple fact is that parenthood gives life profound meaning and meaning can only come through a process, which tests us to the core. Having a baby is not about cute little booties and pink rattles – it is about complete care – wiping faeces and vomit off a multitude of surfaces; holding your baby skin to skin; worrying about unseen things like fevers and viruses; and loving that child until your end. It is the most life changing event on this planet and has been thus since the beginning.
It marks the changes from girl to woman and from boy to man. It heralds the transformation from caring about yourself to the nth degree to caring about another even more. I think that women make this move much more rapidly, propelled as they are through the physical stages of pregnancy and birth, and us men watch these unfolding events like some blood and guts spectacular in the theatres of our homes.
Slowly we are called upon to do more and more, and the sacrifice of selfish desires becomes the norm. Within this process we are transformed to care for another before we consider our selves – and yes this inclination can get out of hand and your sense of self and mojo can be crushed. You may join a dazed procession of zombie parents wandering and wondering who they actually are. You can see them in the supermarket aisles pondering the unit prices of disposable nappies and pushing prams in parks like disheveled gypsies, with endless pockets and pouches issuing streams of material and plastic containers. All of them asking themselves is this what it is really all about?
It seems to involve a lot of words beginning with the letter ‘S’ – like survival and surrender; sacrifice and sleep – please go to sleep darling! God I need some sleep! Sex is of course what got us here in the first place and it is the consequences of this act, which has changed our lives forever. Fatherhood is so much more than a seminal deposit.
So we continue on everyday and they change so much, so noticeably, growing and developing like nothing else on earth. There is nothing as fascinating as your own children. I have often though that evolution has made the children of all life’s species as appealing as possible, because with the amount of work involved well……… I always remind myself at the darkest times that this too will pass. The sun does invariably rise again and things are never as bad as you think or feel at the time. Life is not the fantasy that either my wife or I may have pictured but there is something else there in front of you and inside you. A shining light in the eyes of my children that illuminates even the darkest corner of my life.
To be continued……
The Curse of the Caravelle
Where to begin? What point in time to choose to tell an awful tale from? Was it begun at the decision to traverse the country to support my sister, whose long time partner had just succumbed to bowel cancer? To attend her expo and represent the magazine, despite the enormous distance and costs involved, well I suppose this is the real moment of departure.
How were we going to get there? My partner, our two kids and their au pair -would we fly? All those airfares to be paid, with a full fare charged even for a three year old – the price of the seat no matter the size of the bottom. Five hours of hell, trapped in a metal tube with two very small children and a docile to sulking nineteen year old nanny? What about seeing the country instead, driving across the length and breadth of Australia – from Sydney to Perth! See the dream, the expanding vision, why yes we will do it. But we need a bigger car.
Not only will we have our luggage, but also stock and magazines for the expo. Let’s camp along the way to save money and really see this wide brown land. So now we will have tents, sleeping bags and associated camping equipment to fit into our vehicle. What vehicle? A cursory search for hire cars reveals a limited range of people movers and larger off road vehicles at extraordinarily high rental rates and without the option of leaving the vehicle in Perth and flying back. We spend hours researching types of vehicles and find most of them still too small, with space for people but not for luggage. We look into trailers and roof racks and the costs mount and mount. My partner strongly intones that she will not be spending that much money on a hire car.
Well shall we buy a van?
“Oh yes,” says she, “I have always wanted to have a van and tour the country!”
So we begin to seek out a van or large vehicle from car yards and internet sites. But time is running out, we have now less than a week to go before we will need to leave if we are to make it across the country in time to get to Perth before the expo starts; and we have to mail out all our magazines to our subscribers and retail outlets when we arrive. A big job just got a whole lot bigger! Such is the chaotic nature of our lives and our crazy decisions to fill our lives with a national magazine, small children and the decision to support extended family.
So we see Land Cruisers, station wagons, vans and people movers but always there is something not quite right – too much money or not enough luggage room. The departure date looms over us like a storm cloud about to break. We find a van we like at a car yard just down the mountain and we test drive this bronze coloured behemoth. The laconic American salesman Kurt sits in the back and speaks German with my excited partner as we rollout of the car yard. It is like driving a bus and my partner has always envisioned herself driving around Oz in a bus. This Volkswagen Caravelle is big and it seats eight, with room underneath the seats for lots of luggage. As the sound of German pervades the interior of the van it seems like it is meant to be. We will buy this big van and embark on our journey.
Car loans, insurance and purchasing are pushed through by the car yard people with alacrity. Soon we are excitedly out on the street actually steering this bus home. We book her in for a quick trip to the local mechanic and then for some new tyres. The mechanic assures us that he could see where they had worked on the automatic transmission and everything looks pretty good for the trip.
With her new tyres on we begin the task of packing the stock, luggage and camping equipment. With three adults and two small children there is an enormous amount of stuff to fit in: three air beds; five sleeping bags; two tents; boxes of toys; a giant sausage shaped bag full of kids clothing; five bags of general luggage; an exercise stepper; computers; printer; boxes of books to sell at the expo; and numerous boxes of magazines squeezed into every nook and cranny. In addition we crammed beneath legs an esky, camping sink and stove, fold away tables and five chairs, and food. We even had a herb garden growing on our dash board. As we chugged away in our bronze chariot, up the Blue Mountains and over and down into Lithgow, we felt that we had all achieved an incredible amount to have pulled away from the dock, so to speak, and begun this journey.
Lina, our Austrian au pair, noticed an exhaust smell coming in her rear window, as we stopped for drive-through coffee in Lithgow. I closed her window and turned on the air conditioning and fretted momentarily about the road worthiness of our new van, mentally checking off possible causes for this. The engine seemed fine and we continued on our great adventure, my partner with map in lap plotting our course through inland NSW. Sitting up high at the wheel of this big van rolling along down the highway, with family safely ensconced in the back, I felt like the captain of a ship setting forth into the great unknown.
The kids were doing great, curled up and around their buxom nanny, and playing endless games. My partner kept checking in with Lina, to see if she was alright and not feeling too smothered by their affections, and we were assured that things were just fine. I kept up a reasonable running commentary or travelogue for the benefit of our foreign visitor and for my darling and the kids, who were new to this neck of the woods. Summer was almost upon us and the red dirt and dust of inland NSW was everywhere to be seen.
To be continued…….
A Taxing Time March 12, 2009
They say that only two things in life are certain, death and taxes, well I am yet to experience the former but have been hard at work at the latter once again. Yes the annual tax marathon has been in full swing for the last two weeks and at times it does feel like a long slow death, drowning in screwed up little pieces of paper, which were once receipts. Hey guys how about making it law that receipts are printed with indelible ink on indestructible paper – its only fair if you want me to keep this evidence for all these years.
Some people I know hand all this stuff over to accountants – people who are apparently paid to do this kind of work all year round – wow special people! I have experienced tax this way but I prefer to immerse myself in the process and do it myself. Tax time is a time of accounting, a personal period of facing up to what you have been doing for the last year or multiple years in my case a few times. It can be highly enlightening as to where all your money has gone to, particularly when you add up all the bank fees and credit card interest charges – those guys in the bank sure know how to fleece you good and proper.
Sitting down and going through all those scraps of paper and all those bills and bank statements – is like a review of your life. Where you get to remember all the good times, bad times and completely forgotten times – “was I really there and did I really spend that much money?”
Tax is also a time where you get to measure your life according to just one criteria – money! Like the game of Monopoly – everything you have done is tallied up and valued by the dollars and cents. It gives a simplistic glow or gloom to your life, without the multi-dimensional complexities of real life. There are no hard questions like, “should I have slept with my best friend’s girlfriend?” No, it is refreshingly clear in its reframing of life -”how much was that experience worth or how much did it cost me to sleep with my best friend’s girlfriend?” “Well we had dinner at Zacs and that was $200 and the taxi back to her place was $43 – so the value of this experience was $243.”
Tax is also a time where you really get to test your integrity, to find out whether you keep to the spirit of the law in your tax return. Do you stretch the truth? Well that receipt could refer to a business expense but deep down you know that it was really that time you took your best friend’s girlfriend out to dinner. Tax is a bit like applying the rules of golf during a game, when your ball moves at address and you are way over in the bushes and nobody can see you, let alone your golf ball. Are you going to write down that extra stroke and call that penalty shot upon yourself? Tax is all about self regulation and understanding what it is to be really honest.
Of course the tax return documents themselves are hideously complex and difficult to understand. How certain questions are phrased can render you completely flummoxed and staring blindly into those piles of statements and scribbled bits of paper, which make up your life according to the tax department. Do I put the total amount of deferred losses here, including previous years or just this year’s loss? I dont know, I just dont know! Then you get to the best question in the whole thing – how many hours did it take you to complete your tax return?
Retrenched After Two Days January 29, 2009
The global economic crisis just bit me on the bum. I was recently employed on contract as a senior journalist for the local newspaper in my town. My wife had just started as their editor three days before me and we were both over the moon to be working in the field we loved and locally. Every night we would sit up planning editorial content and creating new Google docs for the pagination. Meetings in the day at the office had that stimulating high, which only comes from a very new job – where you feel that you can do anything no matter how long the hours.
The owners were a small team of people, formerly employed by the town’s original local paper before it was bought up by a conglomerate and lost it’s soul. They had already brought out a dozen issues and we were replacing an earlier editorial team. We asked them at the interview if they had the money to run this business (as we have been running our own publications and know how tough it can be) and they assured us they had local bank funding. They loved us and kept telling both of us they were so happy that we were now on board.
Well I was out on the street doing vox pop interviews when I got the call from my wife and editor, that something weird was going on and that no one at the office was answering her calls. We are the parents of a two and four year old and the work/family life balance is always a challenge. Writing and publishing is one of the jobs we find that we can combine effectively. So we both soon discovered to our complete dismay that these same people who had interviewed and briefed both of us with confidence, were pulling the pin and going into voluntary insolvency.
I was gobsmacked, I was seriously pissed off, I could not believe it – my wife was crushed – she had worked tirelessly to pull their shambles of an editorial system into the twenty first century and now it was over. It was like a desert mirage or a bad acid halucination – we both felt bad. Yes we still have not been paid and I don’t like to say out loud what part of me already knows but it is more than just being ripped off.
That a group of people can question your committment over a series of interviews and ask for your full blooded service as an employee. You know the usual jumping over hoops that the interview process involves and then to have them be so naive that they were unaware of their very imminent demise. Talk about a one night stand.
Of course none of them bothered to let the dozens of editorial contributors know about the paper’s demise and it was left to us to tell everyone. We are in the invidious position of having to go on doing their work to maintain our own professional reputations. Still no pay. Of course we were promised that they would fix us up and that is why they were pulling the pin now so that they could leave gracefully without unpaid creditors.
Probably what stung the most in retrospect was the gutlessness of this group of people – you know running a small business challenges and changes you if you if you really run the course. My wife and I both know – it toughens you and demands that you put it all on the line – if you want to make your passion work in the real world.
We attempted to revive this group and in several meetings by phone, email and then in the flesh said we would join them and have a go at making this work. But their leader, the ad sales guy was happy to go gently into the night, rather than ruffle the feathers of all the advertisers who still had not paid their bills – because of course this was the root cause of the problem – a cash flow crisis born out of the fact that nobody paid on time and nobody signed a contract. It was all done on a handshake – well my hands been shaken but my pocket is still empty.
Heading: The History of Astrology
Subheading: From Babylonian stargazers to Liz Greene.
Looking back in time in search of the origins of astrology, we are faced with the question, what is astrology? Is it an advanced scientific hypothesis, based on the premise that the heavenly bodies give off an ‘influence,’ which affects individual events on earth, or is it primarily a universal language, as argued by Giovanni Pontano, the Italian Renaissance astrologer? Pontano’s treatise, On Celestial Things, published in 1512, stated that astrology is “a language of the stars and planets that formed the letters of a cosmic alphabet that conformed in all essential ways to the language of humans.” In my experience as an astrologer, it has been the latter definition, which has made most sense to me and encouraged me to take the journey of life guided by the stars above.
It is generally agreed that humankind’s look to the stars has been one that all the tribes of earth – indeed, every culture – has shared in. Evidence of this remains today on ancient cave and wall paintings, and on surviving archaeological tablets and texts in museums around the world. To look up at the night sky and witness the incredible changes of the celestial light show would have been profoundly awe-inspiring. It would also have stimulated the formation of a number of basic philosophical questions like: why are we here? What is nature of time? Who controls the movement of the stars across the heavens? When we ask, what is the history of astrology? We must consider that, incredibly, there once was a time when the inhabitants of this world did not know what time it was! Imagine how that would affect everything you did or wanted to do.
The quest to calibrate time is paramount to an understanding of humankind’s history of astrology. Which leads us to the twin sister, astronomy and astrology – one now the realm of science’s greatest achievements and the other, now considered a shabby con for the naïve and ignorant. It has not always been thus; in fact, both ‘girls’ started out from the same family, a Babylonian family. For it was in the latter stages of the Mesopotamian civilisation, around 1500 BC, that the emergence of mathematical astronomy made possible the journey towards the creation of the first ‘star chart.’ It would not be until the fifth century BC that Babylonian ‘star gazers’ would cast that first recognisable individual horoscope.
Within the Assyrian Empire there was a class of scholar-priests called the Ummanu, who served the Babylonian royal family. They would observe and correlate the patterns of the stars over scores of decades. It was their job to watch out for omens in nature and to advise how to ritualistically act to cleanse sin and thus avoid calamity. Eclipses, shooting stars, conjunctions and the like were, according to surviving Babylonian instructional texts in the British Museum, signs placed in the natural world by the gods to warn the king of impending dangers. This was, at the time, a divine science that was exclusively in service to the king, the god’s representative on earth, and not for the general use of the larger population.
The Mesopotamians had a written history, like the Greeks and Egyptians (see Hermes and Thoth), that tells of divine teachers from ancient times who passed on special knowledge of the sciences, philosophy, law and wisdom to the Ummanu. The work of the Ummanu is also confirmed in certain passages within the Christian Bible’s, Old Testament; for example, in the scornful words of Isaiah towards the Babylonian stargazers and soothsayers (Isaiah 47: 12-13) and in the Book of Daniel: “There is in your kingdom a man who has in him the spirit of the holy gods, a man who was known in your father’s time to have a clear understanding and a godlike wisdom. King Nebuchadnezzar, your father, appointed him chief of the magicians, exorcists, astrologers and diviners. This same Daniel is known to have a notable gift of interpreting dreams, explaining riddles and unbinding spells” (Daniel 5: 11-12).
Three Stars Each
Astrology, as we know it today, clearly had its birth in Babylon, although it was to be influenced substantially on its journey through Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome, Islam, India and then the Western world. It was injected with certain vital elements from each culture it spent time with and those strands have come together to make up what we know today as astrology. The mathematical astronomical foundation was developed in Mesopotamia, indelibly contributing to the technical ability to cast a horoscope.
Surviving tablets from around 1000 BC, known as the “Three Stars Each”, are circular diagrams divided into 12 equal parts representing the 12 months of the year. For each month, three stars are listed as rising and becoming visible just before dawn – the ‘helical rising’. The tablets are also split into three sections that show the northern sky (nearest the centre of the wheel), the sky directly overhead (in the middle) and the southern sky (the outer zone). The whole circular tablet is then a calendrical star-wheel that links each month to an astronomical event.
There is still the puzzling question, however, of whether the Babylonian astronomers thought of the heavens as a sphere itself and why they did not create a model or working paradigm of the heavens in motion. This would be left to the Greeks and their cosmic theory of the celestial sphere. The “Three Stars Each” tablets also show that at this time the yearly passage of the Sun through the constellations of the zodiac has not yet been recognised by the Babylonians, for if it had they would have surely been used to mark the months.
The Babylonians were primarily interested in the Sun, Moon and Venus and believed they were manifestations of their gods Shamesh, Sin and Ishtar. The Sun and Moon were important, of course, because of their affect on the measurement of time. In the Babylonian creation epic, “Enuma Elish”, the heavens are said to have been created in order to mark the passage of time and to give order to humanity’s cosmos. This learning through recorded observation of the initial three solar entities led them to expand their search to include the motion of the five planets of the classical cosmos.
Babylonian astronomy was cross-fertilised by the Babylonian’s astral religion and the planets all had shared identities with their gods:
Marduk – Jupiter – creator and ruler of the heavens and god of life and justice.
Nergal – Mars – god of war and the Underworld.
Nabu – Mercury – god of writing and intellectual pursuits.
Ninibe, or Ninurta – Saturn – god of the hunt.
The linking of the planets with these deities that affected everyday life was the primary motivator in the development of Babylonian astronomy. It was important to know the celestial positions of these gods/planets to aid in the prediction and understanding of their divine intentions. It can be posited that the development of mathematical astronomy would not have occurred without the astrological desire to know the will of the gods on earth.
Mesopotamians knew the planets as the gods of the night. By the seventh century BC, the extent of their astronomical knowledge was featured in a new series of tablets known as “Mul Apin”, meaning ‘the stars of Apin’. This is a complete compendium of their study of the stars, listing up to 70 individual stars with helical rising dates and tracing a lunar path through 18 constellations. It shows they used the movement of the Moon rather than the elliptic path of the Sun. Here are the constellations and their modern equivalents:
Mul (the Mane) – the Pleiades
Guanna (the Bull of Anu) – Taurus
Sibzianna (Anu’s Shepherd) – Orion
Sugi (the Old Man) – Perseus
Gam (the Sickle Sword) – Auriga
Mastabbagalgal (the Great Twins) – Gemini
Allul (meaning unknown) – Cancer and Procyon
Urgula (the Lion) – Leo
Absin (the Furrow) – Virgo
Zibantitum (the Scales) – Libra
Girtab (the Scorpion) – Scorpio
Pabislag (the Archer) – Sagittarius
Suhurmas (the Goatfish) – Capricorn
Gula (the Great Star or Giant) – Aquarius
Zibbati (the Tails) – Pisces
Sirmmah (the Great Swallow) – Pisces and part of Pegasus
Anunitum (Goddess Anunitum) – Pisces and part of Andromeda
Luhunga (the Hired Man) – Aries
The Babylonians shared with the Egyptians the belief that the Sun spent the hours of darkness in the Underworld, only to emerge from out of the earth at dawn. Likewise, the stars returned to this Underworld at the rising of the Sun. It was some time around the sixth century BC that the step was taken to subdivide the path of the Sun into 12 sections, each named after a constellation and corresponding to the passage of one month of the calendar year. Interestingly, however, there is no surviving evidence linking the figures of the zodiac with Mesopotamian myths or particular deities. The only obvious connection is that the ancient sages who handed down the sacred knowledge to the Ummanu were described as having the forms of animals, or as being half man, half animal (like the centaur). Now, with the zodiac circle divided into 360 degrees and with each section evenly covering 30 degrees, we have the referencing system that can locate any celestial body.
There has survived a small number of tablets from the fourth to the first century BC that list the positions of the stars in the zodiac for individuals other than the king, telling us that the influence of astrology had by this time expanded into the wider Babylonian community. A horoscope from 235 BC reads: “Year 77 (of the Seleucid era), the fourth day, in the last part of the night, Aristokrates was born. That day: Moon in Leo, Sun in 12 degrees 30 minutes of Gemini, Jupiter in 18 degrees Sagittarius. The place of Jupiter means his life will be regular, he will become rich, he will grow old, his days will be numerous. Venus in 4 degrees Taurus. The place of Venus means wherever he may go it will be favourable to him. He will have sons and daughters….” From this we can see a clearly recognisable, albeit brief, chart and interpretation. An immense journey had already been made in the formation of astrology, from basic observation of celestial omens to a vast and complex star chart – that had begun to calibrate time in space while simultaneously weaving religious meaning into the movements of the cosmos. This placed humankind at the very centre of the universe.
Astrology’s time in its Babylonian birthplace was, however, coming to an end. In 539 BC, King Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylon and for the next two centuries it formed part of the Achaemenid Empire. It was during this period that much of the meaning behind astrology’s symbolism was engendered through its exposure to the mysterious cults of Zoroastrianism and Mithraism. Indeed, it can be argued that these two mystery schools have profoundly influenced the spiritual nature of all the great Western religions of the world. Astrological knowledge had also by this time crossed into Egypt, where many wrongly thought it had originated. The historian Herodotus wrote of his visit to Egypt in 450 BC, “I pass to other inventions of the Egyptians. They assign each month and what disposition a man shall have according to the day of his birth.”
The Graeco-Roman world
Alexander the Great was the military ruler and political force who brought Babylon under the rule of Greece. By 330 BC the social landscape of the region had undergone enormous shifts through resettlement, opening the way for cultural and scientific exchanges. It was during the Hellenistic period that the science and mathematics of the Greeks merged with the esoteric religions of the East, and this was especially seen in astrology’s development.
The underpinning concept to emerge in Greek astronomy was the celestial sphere, which could be geometrically charted. Parmenides was first to put forward that the earth itself was spherical. To Pythagoras the sphere was the most perfect shape in nature, and both Plato and Aristotle taught that the universe was a system of interlocking spheres. The Greek mathematicians, Eudoxus and Hipparchus, postulated that the language of geometry could be used to describe the movements of the stars. It was the visual quality of this model that proved to be such an epiphany. One name, Ptolemy of Alexandria, stands out in Hellenistic astrological history as the crowning executor of this new geometric paradigm that could plot the position of any known star or planet in time.
Once again, astrology was imbued with the philosophies of the culture in which it flourished, this time with Stoicism. The Graeco-Roman world embraced the concept that fate or destiny was identified with divine reason. “Apatheia” was the Stoic ideal, a state of acceptance of the unfolding of a divine purpose in life, and astrology provided an individual map of that unfolding. Posidonius, who was teaching in Rhodes in the first century BC, was a leading figure in the spread of Stoicism throughout the Roman world. Seneca and Cicero were influenced by Posidonius and they shared in the belief that nature offered signs of future events to those who could read them. Astrology was becoming acknowledged as the science that gave that code-breaking ability.
In the cities of Antioch, Pergamum, Athens, Rome and, in particular, Alexandria, astrology was well established in a form that would be recognisable to today’s astrologer. There are surviving papyrus horoscopes, written in Greek and Demotic between the first and fourth centuries BC, that tell us astrologers were aware of exaltations, lots of fortunes decans. Marcus Manilius and Vettius Valens, in the first century AD under the rule of Emperor Tiberius, were the authors of the first two systematic treatises on astrology. Manilius’ Astronomicon is written in verse, of all things, as apparently it was part of the literary challenge of the time to versify scientific work.
An important consideration of horoscopes of this time is that when they speak of the native being born under a certain sign, they are not referring to the location of the Sun within the chart. Rather, they indicate the particular sign that is present at the rising or contains a stellium of planets, or some other important point in the horoscope. The focus on the Sun sign in astrology is entirely a twentieth century phenomenon. There is also at this time no clear interpretive connection between planets and signs, unlike today’s astrology. Aspects between the planets and points of interest were, however, of fundamental importance to the Graeco-Roman astrologer and expressed the Hellenistic mathematical ideals in the relationships of trines, squares and sextiles. The development of the astrological houses, or ‘loci’, originates here, following from the splitting of the heavens into quadrants. Two central axes cross the 360 degree circle of the chart, from the Ascendant to the Descendant and from the Midheaven to the Imum Coeli; these quadrants are then trisected into a total of 12 houses.
Astrology’s time in Rome was punctured by its use and abuse by emperors; it was debated in the senate by proponents and opponents and generally embraced by its citizens. Emperor Tiberius (14-37 AD) employed a ‘secret police’ of astrologers to identify possible political rivals. He also enjoyed testing astrologers by inviting them to predict the time of their own deaths, before proving them wrong by executing them on the spot. It was a time when astrologers needed to do a lot of quick thinking on their feet if they were to remain on them for long. The evidence of astrology’s popularity in Roman society can be seen in the naming of the seven day week after the planetary gods.
A thousand years in the darkness
With Emperor Constantine’s official endorsement of the Christian faith in 312 AD, astrology was plunged into “a thousand years of darkness”, and removed from Western consciousness. The new church state began a program of eradication, which included any pagan practices that were not prescribed by the theological authorities. Astrology became a crime punishable by death. Rome and the Church were divided into two distinct areas, the east and west, with the eastern Byzantine sector far more forgiving of its pagan past. Here astrological study managed to continue until around 549 AD, when the last pagan school of learning was closed in Athens.
Christian theological thinkers such as Tertullian (160-220 AD) and St Augustine (354-430 AD) were fiercely uncompromising in their condemnation of astrology and their attacks were characterised by the notion of Christian ‘free will’ versus the classical idea of ‘fate’. The real closure on astrology, along with many other ‘sciences’ in the Latin West, can be attributed to the decline of classical learning as the Christian Church ushered in the “Dark Ages”. Many of the classical texts were in Greek, and the Church’s control ensured they were not translated into Latin. Ptolemy’s treatise on spherical astronomy, Almagest, was not translated, nor were any tables of pre-calculated astronomical positions. Without these texts it was near impossible for aspiring astrologers.
As with many things in life, if something is suppressed in one region, it often moves to where it can still flourish; in this case, astrology moved to the Islamic world. From available evidence, astrological knowledge journeyed to India around the second century AD. The recorded sources are Hellenistic, although there are also signs of earlier Babylonian -influenced celestial omens. Persia was the cultural point where the classical Hellenistic world and India crossed, and the adaptation caused some interesting new ideas to bloom. Five elements instead of the usual four, plus the transmigration of souls, were added to the astrological mix. The lunar nodes became a more important focal point of the horoscope and new calibrations of the zodiac were made, dividing it by seven and nine into saptamas and navasamas. Astrology continued to flourish in India, unharmed by state or religious persecution, and is widely practised to this day.
The Islamic culture embraced astrology as much for its philosophical qualities as for its predictive usefulness, and it was here that many consider it reached its highest state. “As above, so below,” the old maxim tells of the oneness of existence, encapsulating astrology’s appeal to Islamic thinkers. It was here that the astrolabe and the “Zig”, two devices for calculating the time and the degree of the elliptic in the ascendant at any time from celestial positions, were perfected. Abu-Mashar (787-886 AD) is known as the founder of Islamic astrology and his theories on planetary conjunctions have been immensely influential. His work on the importance of the Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions throughout history has filtered down to us today.
Astrology returned to the Latin West from Islamic sources via Toledo in Spain when, during the Reconquista, Islamic cultural centres fell under Christian control in 1085 AD. Here scholars were able to translate the major works of Greek science that had never before been translated into Latin. A new font of learning was opened and this would feed down through the centuries. As Christianity became a little more magnanimous, now that it was long established and felt far less threatened, Church scholars absorbed the new learning and sought to integrate it with their religious principles. Leading thinkers such as Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon and Thomas Aquinas were all in agreement that the movements of the stars affected life on earth. Geoffrey Chaucer had a special interest in astrology and composed the first English treatise on the astrolabe. His poetry is full of references to the stars and a few of his stories are actually allegories for particular astrological star groupings.
Astrology still trod a dangerous path during the rule of Christian kings, and burning at the stake and astrologers being hung, drawn and quartered (still very mathematical) were not uncommon occurrences. Astrologers were often in service to kings as advisers for when was the best time to go into battle, and to ‘would be kings’ for advice on their chances of succession. It was, I imagine, a job fraught with danger when things did not work out according to the stars, or to the king’s desire. Shakespeare is a great source of historical evidence for the role astrology played in the Middle Ages. Astrological almanacs were published every year in most cities throughout Europe, proving popular with the general community and listing likely weather for the growing of crops, the phases of the Moon and fortuitous times of the year.
The Renaissance in the 15th century was the culmination of the rediscovery of the treasure trove of classical knowledge. The Medici rulers in Florence were the greatest political supporters of this unfettered exploration but it also flourished in many other European cities. Rome, Paris, London and the like all sported intellectuals and artists who once more began to stretch the limits of humankind’s knowledge. Astrology flowered here like it had not done so for an age, as great thinkers discovered the pearls of wisdom that had been hidden for hundreds of years in the obscurity of the East.
The Hermetic texts, then thought to be ancient writings purporting to be the words of the Egyptian deity, Thoth, to his disciples, were translated by Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499). These made a huge impact on the thinkers of the day, and it was experienced as a validation of the concept of a lineage of philosophers and teachers passing on wisdom down through the ages to the present time. (It was later suggested by Isaac Casaubon, in the 17th century, that the Hermetic writings, because of the language used, dated from the second century AD and not from antiquity, a view universally subscribed to today.) Also, the words of Plato and Aristotle were resonating through the halls of learning for the first time in nearly a thousand years.
Astrology was at this time being taught in universities all over Europe and, in particular, had great appeal to doctors for use in diagnosis. Paracelsus and Ficino both considered astrology the core of medical doctrine. The popular practice of bleeding patients (phlebotomy) was usually undertaken in conjunction with knowledge of astrological medicine. In fact, the various veins, along with parts of the human body, all fell under certain astrological signs. You would not, for example, bleed someone from the thighs if the Moon was in Sagittarius, as it was considered dangerous, even fatal. The Moon, ruling the tides in nature, was seen to be the major influence over the body’s internal fluids.
Of course, astrology’s uneasy relationship with the Church continued. Girolamo Cardano, the brilliant Italian mathematician, physician and astrologer, was but one of many who fell victim to the Inquisition. His crime, was having the audacity to publish the horoscope of Jesus Christ, in his treatise on Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos. Although the date of the chart 24 December 1 BC – is thought to be incorrect, that was not why he was eventually prosecuted. Rather, it was blasphemy to say that Christ’s body was subject to the will of the stars.
It was not the Church, however, that would this time play the decisive role in the fall of astrology from its lofty intellectual position, but the rise of the ‘new god on the block’ – science. Galileo’s revolutionary discovery that the earth and all the other planets in our solar system, rotated around the Sun , not around the earth as previously believed, was a fatal blow. So too was Copernicus’ idea that the universe might be infinite, making the closed concept of the zodiacal constellations obsolete. Prior to this, scholars had invoked the names of the great classical thinkers to add weight to their treatises; with these revelations, much of what came before was suddenly incorrect; it was suddenly ‘a new world’. All these revered ancient texts became wrong in their most basic assumptions. Of course, this did not happen overnight; it took many years for the dismantling. Indeed, it was not until the 17th century that the split between astronomy and astrology was clearly seen in academic circles. Astrology was on its way to that dirty ‘fairground’. The later discoveries of the planets Uranus and Neptune were also seen as further discrediting the astronomical ‘facts’ of the classical universe.
From the 1800′s onwards, astrology in the West entered the ‘underworld’ once more, existing on the streets in trashy books and in secret societies like the theosophists and other groups of spiritualists. It was from these groups that astrology reinvented itself as an adjunct to spiritual growth. The old, negative, classical interpretations were junked in favour of character building ones. Astrologers like Englishman Alan Leo (1860-1917) contributed to rebuilding interest in a new, positive astrology that used esoteric knowledge for growth. German astrology was another driving force in the rebirth of astrology.
It has been astrology as a psychological language, however, that has kept my interest. In particular, the work of Carl Jung (1875-1961) has mined a fertile vein of mythological information. Astrologer Liz Greene continues this exploration today and her books are a rich source of old knowledge seen through new eyes – discovering philosopher’s stones to alchemical equations.
The history of astrology is like the history of humankind itself- enormous. I have only been able to give you the broadest of outlines and a few bon mots. I would like to acknowledge Peter Whitfield’s History of Astrology (The British Library 2001) as my main source of information and encourage those who have enjoyed this introduction to pursue it further with Mr Whitfield.
Appeared in WellBeing Astrology Magazine.