Category Archives: Astrology

The Emerald Tablet of Hermes

newton
Isaac Newton is considered one of the greatest minds of the Enlightenment and the founder of modern physics. Along with Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, he set the foundations for calculus. He is best known for his observations on how gravity behaves, the so-called laws of gravity. As Professor Richard Wolfson of Middlebury College emphatically put it during a lecture on modern physics, Newton stated for the very first time that the laws on earth are the same for the rest of the universe.

I don’t want to diminish Newton’s standing as one of the greatest contributors to math and physics, but listening to this lecture I couldn’t help but think how wrong is the assumption that Newton was the first to run across this principle. This is a very old metaphysical concept, implicit in the literature of the Akkadians and found among the ancient Greeks as well. It is explicitly set out as a cornerstone of alchemical philosophy in “The Emerald Tablet of Hermes,” probably written in the eighth century and attributed to earlier Egyptian sources. This is the teaching that starts out That which is above is as that which is below, and that which is below is as that which is above, for performing the miracles of the one thing.

Listening to Professor Wolfson attribute to Newton not only the foundation of calculus and physics but the core of alchemy, I felt inspired to look up the Tablet of Hermes and read it again. So I went to Sacred Texts, where as expected I found several translations. Imagine my amusement at finding one of the earliest English translations to have been done by Newton! This translation is dated 1680, and Newton published his famous physics treatise in 1687. Obviously, Newton’s genius lies in formulating the ancient truths in a scientific and mathematical framework.

Here is Newton’s translation of the Hermes tablet:

Tis true without lying, certain & most true.
That wch is below is like that wch is above & that wch is above is like yt wch is below to do ye miracles of one only thing.
And as all things have been & arose from one by ye mediation of one: so all things have their birth from this one thing by adaptation.
The Sun is its father, the moon its mother,
the wind hath carried it in its belly, the earth its nourse.
The father of all perfection in ye whole world is here.
Its force or power is entire if it be converted into earth.
Seperate thou ye earth from ye fire, ye subtile from the gross sweetly wth great indoustry.
It ascends from ye earth to ye heaven & again it desends to ye earth and receives ye force of things superior & inferior.
By this means you shall have ye glory of ye whole world & thereby all obscurity shall fly from you.
Its force is above all force. ffor it vanquishes every subtile thing & penetrates every solid thing.
So was ye world created.
From this are & do come admirable adaptaions whereof ye means (Or process) is here in this.
Hence I am called Hermes Trismegist, having the three parts of ye philosophy of ye whole world.
That wch I have said of ye operation of ye Sun is accomplished & ended.


Footnote: Here’s another article I found while preparing this one, which talks about the scientific community’s uneasiness with the metaphysical influences on Newton’s work, observing “Newton’s alchemy is a bit of an embarrassment to modern scholars.”

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mERCURY retroGRADE

merc
About three times a year, the planet Mercury “goes retrograde,” which means from our perspective on Earth it looks like it is changing direction in the sky, moving east-to-west instead of west-to-east. This happens because Mercury and the Earth have different orbital patterns around the Sun, the Earth’s orbit being rounder while faster-moving Mercury’s orbit is more elliptical. Although in reality Mercury is moving steadily along its path, from our vantage point on Earth, Mercury seems to speed up, slow down, remain stationary, move backwards, remain stationary, then move counterclockwise across the sky once again.

Mercury is conventionally believed to be the planet ruler of money, commerce, travel, health, literature, music, math, media, communication, technology, and mechanical objects. You might be wondering, what else is there? Well, there’s love, power, conception, parenting, values, death, grandparents, the occult – lots of stuff. But in modern Western society day-to-day survival depends upon the things that Mercury “rules.” Thus when Mercury does something dramatic, like change direction, we would expect it to have immediate noticeable effects.

Astrologers disagree on what Mercury retrograde means, but all agree that its effects are significant. Conventional wisdom says that during Mercury retrograde it is more likely that cars will break down, mistakes in computation will occur, miscommunications will happen, health problems will become manifest, etc., etc. Often a period of meditation is prescribed while Mercury is retrograde, but I have found my meditation to be less focused and less productive during this time.

I believe that in a general way Mercury influences productivity, however productivity is defined by the individual or society, and that when Mercury changes direction there is a shift in focus. Usually that shifting focus is towards something that has been neglected. This is why mechanical breakdowns and health concerns command attention for some during this time. This does not necessarily mean that the individual has been doing something “wrong”: attention cannot be spread everywhere at all times.

The symbol for retrograde in astrology is Rx, which is also the symbol for a medical prescription. This is how I look at a retrograde, as a prescription for a problem, error, disease, or unknown need. In practical terms this can manifest in outward events that demand that we turn our attention to things we have deemed unimportant, like sleep or play, but often the effects are more subtle. We may naturally find ourselves catching up on reading, cleaning out a closet, or spending time in meditation.

Under this interpretation of Mercury and Mercury retrograde, the difficulties I have had with meditation at this time make sense. Since meditation was something I found time for under normal circumstances, my attention needed to shift temporarily to other matters.

Ultimately the seemingly unproductive downtime of Mercury retrograde keeps us moving toward our goals. Think of it as maintenance and accept the shift in focus, whether it comes from within or without.

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Solstice Moon

solsticemoon
This Friday, June 21st, at 12:04 AM Eastern Daylight Time (5:04 Universal Time) the sun reaches the northernmost point in her travels, marking the Summer Solstice. Of course, the sun isn’t really moving north; the northern hemisphere of the earth is tilting toward the sun and will begin a reciprocal tilt following the solstice. But from our perspective, the sun has come to the north. This is a high energy time, wonderful for spell work or for group ritual. Traditionally this is the time when covens that have “hived off” to form their own groups return to the mother coven for reunion. Interestingly, it is not the midday zenith of the sun that is considered the most auspicious but rather the short twilight night.

On Sunday morning at 7:32 AM Eastern Daylight Time on June 23rd, we have the full moon in June. The June full moon is always special. Women used to gather dew from the leaves of the trees just before sunrise at June’s full moon to use in their spells. This dew is potent for love charms or anything that the heart desires. This full moon arrives twenty-two minutes after the moon is at perigee, the nearest point in her orbit around the earth. At perigee the moon’s influence is obviously stronger, so a full moon at perigee is very powerful.

In the past I have expressed skepticism over certain dates that are promoted as unusually auspicious times for doing magic, but this weekend really is a big deal. The perigee full moon occurring so close to the Summer Solstice makes this an extremely powerful time for magic. Analyzing the various factors involved (waxing versus waning moon, astrological sign of the moon, moon void-of-course, and proximity to the solstice or full moon), I would say that the evenings of Friday June 21st, Saturday June 22nd, and Sunday June 23rd are about equally powerful for those living in North America, although I lean very slightly in favor of Saturday the 22nd. If you live on the West Coast, I would recommend a specific time for ritual: that would be during the very early morning hours of June 23rd between 1:10 AM and 1:30 AM Pacific Daylight Time. At this time the moon has entered Capricorn, the astrological sign of her fullness, and the sun will be at her nadir.

Since Mercury is getting ready to go retrograde, don’t expect the results of your spells to manifest immediately. Project your energy toward attaining goals that can come to fruition toward the end of the summer or later.

If you live in the southern hemisphere, this Winter Solstice weekend is also powerful for magic. The energies particularly favor the beginning of new projects and (metaphorically) the planting of new seeds.

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The Divine Woodpecker

Gilded Flicker

Gilded Flicker. Photo by Glenn Seplak.


One of the most startling experiences for people new to the Sonora Desert is the loud metallic rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat that rattles the early mornings. It sounds like a machine gun. It’s made by Mars, the god of war, in his woodpecker form.

When I first moved to the desert, the earliest thought that would enter my drowsy morning brain was, “Those stupid woodpeckers. They don’t know the difference between a tree and a heating vent.” But when you decide people or animals are doing something because they’re stupid, it’s usually because you yourself are ignorant. Desert Gilded Woodpeckers love those aluminium roof vents because they make a loud noise. Mars is also the god of metal. And they’re not looking for battle; they’re showing off for the girls. Woodpeckers make noises to signal that they’re looking for a mate. Or they’re defining territory. Or they’re drumming for some other reason, but at any rate the whole purpose is to make the biggest racket possible. They think that’s really cool. In time the rattling becomes like the coyote chorus: one of those familiar comforting sounds of the desert.

Mars was not, originally, the god of war. He was the father-god who brought bread to the divine Roman twins while their wolf-mother nursed them. Male woodpeckers do most of the work scraping out the family home, and they help incubate eggs and care for the young. A woodpecker god would naturally be the archetype for the nurturing male.

Robert Graves agrees that Mars was not originally a war god, calling him a “Spring-Dionysus” figure. During the Greco-Roman era, Mars became conflated with the Greek Ares, who according to Graves was originally a Thracian god given the hateful “war god” moniker as a reflection of Athenian attitudes toward the Thracians. Classical Greeks had a more ambivalent attitude toward war than Romans of the early Common Era, viewing war as a threat to prosperity rather than a means of sustaining it.

Properly speaking, no deity is a war deity, or else they all are. When people go to war, they invoke their protective deity to aid them in the battle, be it Athena or Mars or Andraste. I’ve seen pictures of rebels with the Virgin Mary painted on their rifle butts, and we certainly wouldn’t call her a warrior goddess. In glossaries a good three-quarters of the Celtic goddesses are identified as warrior goddesses, but this mostly reflects the understanding of the Romans, who focused their studies on the behavior of their Celtic adversaries in war.

After Mars became conflated with Ares, he gained a great deal of prominence as a war deity in a culture that was by this time centered (and dependent) on military prowess. Still, Mars was also invoked as father and civic leader, reflecting an importance among the Latin tribes that long preceded Rome’s ascendance as a military power. That he was not necessarily seen as a war deity is reflected in the other gods he became conflated with, such as Mars Nodens (for the Celtic healing god Nodens) or Mars Silvanus (for the Roman–possibly Etruscan–god of the countryside).

The modern strict association of Mars with war has affected how we view the planet Mars, the astrological sign of Aries (ruled by Mars), and even the beginning of spring. Michael Jordan says that March is named for the god Mars because of “its violent weather.” We do think of March as violent, but is it really, compared to say, November, when harsh weather begins, or February, when bitter cold can claim toes and noses? Was the March weather violent in Italy 3,000 years ago? When we think of Mars as woodpecker rather than warrior, the association with the first month of spring doesn’t take a lot of thought or empirical data. This is when woodpeckers are dating–and making a lot of racket in the process.

We think of Aries people as combative, but are they really? Do people view Aries, and do Aries view themselves, as combative due to the warrior reputation of Mars? Comparing Aries to woodpeckers, would aggression be interpreted as defense of territory and protection of vulnerable dependents?

We think of the planet Mars as bloody, because it’s red, but is Mars stained with bloodshed or red like the throat, head or wings of the various woodpecker species?

Mars is now retrograde, a phenomenon that only happens every couple of years. For me, retrogrades are times when we review, reflect and re-examine things. Perhaps this is a good time to be rethinking Mars.


Sources

Robert Graves. The Greek Myths. London: Penguin Books, 1960.
Michael Jordan. Encyclopedia of Gods. New York: Facts on File, 1993.


For another unconventional look at Aries, see my post from 2009 from Yellow Birch School.

Why would anyone provide acoustic support for woodpeckers? The folks at this site have a blueprint if you’re interested.

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