Astrology Secrets Revealed: Eric Francis Answers Your Questions
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Paris, Jan. 13, 2005
Dear and Glorious Readers:
As I write, me and my colleagues are in the final stages of Bridge to the Core, the Planet Waves 2005 annual horoscope. So I'm taking a week off from this column to keep the heat on that project, which looks like it'll be ready later today. This week, I've compiled a few of my favorite responses to your questions into a 'best of' feature, all of which are on the theme of how to learn astrology.
That's the theme of this whole column, the mission, my dearest desire: to put astrology into your hands, and to make getting into the process easy. Or course, once you're involved, there are different levels of depth and intensity you can study and practice, and actually mastering something is never easy. But getting started is often the hardest part; getting that sense that you have a grip. What I'm offering you here is intended as basic, tune in, catch the rhythm natural astrology.
It's good old stuff, already beating in your heart and pulsing in your brainwaves.
I really love these essays and I'm happy to give them a new chance to be read.
Meantime, Bridge to the Core has turned out to be a very nice web page: up to 1,400 words per sign in the annual forecast area; a number of articles addressing Chiron in Aquarius, Saturn in Leo, and sign changes by two other centaur planets (Pholus and Nessus); an astrological calendar for 2005; and a massive charts resource area for students of astrology or those who are just curious. I've done my most in-depth writing ever on 2012 and the astrology between now and then. There are dozens of magnificent bridge images sent in by our readers. There is writing by Planet Waves literary slugger Jeanne Treadway (who writes about walls, while I cover bridges) and a Mayan astrology report through July by daykeeper Carol Burkhart, of the Galactic Alchemy web site.
Thank you for checking in today, I hope you enjoy the 'How to Learn Astrology' series from October, and I'll see you on that bridge -- and here again next week.
Happy Year of the Phoenix. Rise up, rise up.
OCTOBER 8th 2004
Wondering in New Paltz
As humans established their way of life on the planet, she remained our companion, waxing and waning dependably through the months, seasons and centuries. She provided a source of mystery and inspiration, though most important, for many millennia, she was the only light available to illuminate the terrifying darkness of night. She remains with us today, as our guide and friend, lighting our inner world and reminding us of ancient consciousness. She remains as a counterbalance to all the nose, harsh contrasts, and sharp edges of the world. The Moon is where I believe the study of Western astrology is best begun, first as an experience, then as an idea.
There are really two things that we call astrology. One involves delving into charts, books and concepts. That's the astrology you use to find an explanation of your 9th house Mars in Gemini, when you're hungry for knowledge and definitive meaning. It is, strangely, where most study of astrology begins and where it ends -- as the attempt to find objective truth about our most personal and unique existence. This is in keeping with our modern notions of everything being subject to scientific study, reasons and reasoning. This method contains the idea that there can be an objective astrological fact or interpretation.
The other astrology is that which we feel and experience. It's the one that nobody has to tell us about or define for us, and which has no objective meaning. This astrology is the journey we all take through the phases and cycles of the Moon, through the seasons, and through the ages of our lives. It is the astrology of inspiration, of moonlight on the water, of black cats on shadowy nights, and of the stars in the sky. This is the astrology that came first. It is a subjective experience, one that is unique to each person having it, and which cannot be proven or disputed. It simply is. This astrology has a lot to do with myths, legends and folklore, and the way that we see our personal story told in the archetypes of humanity.
This side of the work is a bit of an odd thing for our technically-oriented world of passwords and college diplomas, and has no standing except maybe for mystics, poets and artists -- and people who know their inner truth is not in the dictionary. When you hear people criticize astrology as being unscientific or unproven, you can be sure that they are completely out of touch with this numinous aspect of the work. Yet they are likely to be equally out of touch with the astrology that measures fractions of a degree, studies the harmonics of math and looks diligently at the strange cycles of personal and world history.
Working with astrology as a tool, we ultimately make a path exactly between these two aspects of the work, drawing strength and wisdom from both equally. But the question is where to begin, and why. If we begin with memorization and facts, we approach the subject as something alien to us. If we begin with experience, then we're learning something through feeling and observation, and begin to build a relationship with it that's held in our bodies and senses. From there, it's always possible to branch out into ideas and concepts, in fact, it happens quite naturally, because quickly the study of nature quickly takes on symbolic value, and every question ultimately comes back to the question of self. Yet at least, beginning with one's personal experience and accepting that intuition is a vital part of life, the ideas and concepts that come later are grounded in something tangible.
Many people struggle a long time with the study of astrology, and work diligently for years. Then, you'll often hear them they say they cannot interpret a chart. My sense is that's because astrology is not yet real to them. It is an abstraction of the mind. Real means something we can feel, something we can inquire of directly, and something we can see for what it is, like an apple tree.
So start with the Moon. The nice thing about the Moon is that pretty often, you can actually see her. When you can't see her, you can discover her phase in the newspaper, or an ordinary datebook, calendar or tidal chart. And if you pay attention over time, she's pretty easy to tune into and feel. The Moon exerts enormous gravity on the Earth, its critters, plants and bodies of water. This affects every living thing and many 'inanimate' things.
If you learn something about the Moon's cycle by getting a feeling for it, you'll then know something about every planetary cycle, since they all have a lot in common. By the time you get into the technical details that come fairly early the study of astrology, your knowledge of the Moon's tendencies and behaviors, and the skills you learn in reading her, will come in handy every moment. Yet this goes beyond knowledge. Once you can feel something of the Moon's reality, it will be possible to feel something about any of the planetary cycles.
Mysteriously enough, most women experience a hormonal cycle that is closely synchronized with the Moon's cycle, which lasts about 27 days and 8 hours. That is, in just under 28 days, the Moon goes once around the Earth, visiting or passing through the backdrop of all 12 signs of the zodiac in that time, and returning to the point you began observing. In about the same number of days, women move through their fertility cycle of menstruation, ovulation and back to menstruation. For women, a good basic Moon experiment is to track your cycle over six months or so and see where your body and its quickly changing feelings mesh with the phases of the Moon.
The beginning of the lunar cycle is called New Moon. This is when the Moon and the Sun are in the same sign and the same degree. At the exact moment of the New Moon, the Earth, Moon and Sun align in a straight line with the Moon in the middle. Its technical name is Moon conjunct Sun. When stating an aspect between two moving planets, generally the name of the slower planet is stated before the faster one. It is the faster moving Moon that is making a conjunction to the Sun. The Moon is not visible at this time; it's too close to the Sun. The New Moon always occurs in the same sign of the zodiac where the Sun is at the time; for example, the Aries New Moon must happen with the Sun in Aries.
In the last days before the New Moon, we can see the thin slice of the Moon rise just before the Sun, early in the morning. After the New Moon, we can see the sliver of the Moon appear on the second or third night, in the evening, just after sunset. After the New Moon, the Moon is said to be waxing, or building in its light.
About seven days into the cycle is First Quarter phase. This is when you can see half of the visible disk of the Moon lit up in the sky (sometimes mistakenly called 'half Moon' but that's really an old term for 'Full Moon'). At this time, the Earth, Moon and Sun make a right angle, with the Sun at the point. The technical name for this aspect is Moon square Sun. It often feels like a turning point.
Then comes the Full Moon phase. This is the peak of the cycle, when the Sun and Moon are on either side of the Earth, at full polarity -- which people can feel. The Full Moon always takes place in the sign opposite that which the Sun is in at the time. Its technical name is Moon opposite Sun. In feeling, it is usually the most distinct of the cycles; just about any cop or diner waitress you ask will be able to tell you when it's the full phase because of how people act -- a little like lunatics, which word comes from 'Luna', one of the names of the Moon goddess. Many people do face challenges dealing with the enhanced emotions and hormones of this time.
The last major phase is Last Quarter. Like the First Quarter, this is also Moon square Sun, but it's the waning Moon. This aspect marks the last week before the New Moon. (We just happened to pass this phase earlier in the week, as the Moon heads toward the Sun for New Moon and solar eclipse.)
In many cultures, rituals are held at the times of the New Moon and Full Moon. Ritual takes another step toward making a planetary event real, and putting the memory of it into our bodies. Ritual marks the occasion with a gathering, be it for pleasure, for spiritual purposes, or for community.
There are other lunar phases, located between the ones I've described above, but these are the more obvious turning points in the journey. The Moon in its course makes every aspect to the Sun: trines on the waxing and waning side; quincunxes on both sides; quintiles; sextiles; and others. We will get to those aspects later. Any two planets you might consider will have a cycle that is comparable to the Sun-Moon cycle. The faster planet will play the role of the Moon and the slower planet the role of the Sun.
If you follow the Sun-Moon cycle for a while, you'll begin to pick up the basic heartbeat of the planet. It is like the rhythm of the bass drum. It pulses about 13 times each year. Consider that in a lifetime of 80 years, a person will experience about 1,040 lunar cycles.
Following these pulses, you also may make some basic observations about how the Moon feels and how she expresses herself in the world. There may seem to be things that feel more appropriate to do or say at one phase than at another. You may notice changes on either side of a Full or New Moon. Your relationships may seem to change and shift with the lunar phases. Some people will be more sensitive to these changes than others, and we're all affected by them despite all the best efforts of the world to drown them out and make them go away.
Get a sense of this cycle and you're well on the way to being an astrologer. More on this question next week.
OCTOBER 15th 2004
I suggest that people who want to learn astrology learn to read Tarot cards. There a lot of reasons for why it will make learning and practicing astrology easier. Here are a few.
1. The Tarot system is an abbreviated version of astrology. It contains all the basic components: the four elements (Earth, Air, Fire and Water) in the 52 cards in the lower arcana; the signs and planets in the 22 cards of the major arcana; and many expressions of aspects by the way that these energies combine in the different cards. Every combination is not represented, but enough are so that you can get a feel for what is going on. Many decks use astrological symbols.
2. The Tarot will teach you to trust divination. Astrology is a form of divination, that is, using a seemingly random method to get meaning and information from the cosmos or the unconscious mind (whichever you prefer!). To work a divination system, one must use a very light mixture of reason and intuition. Reading cards will help you open up this method. It will also help you combine the messages of elements and make a new message; that is, two or three cards combine to create an entirely new meaning.
3. You'll get excellent experience working with people, and listening to them. When you read, ask people questions based on the cards. It's easier to do a card reading than a chart reading, because the cards themselves are simpler, they're pictures instead of complex patterns, and they quickly reflect the contents of the unconscious. Working with people, you get to practice your communication skills, find out what techniques work and refine them, and get a feel for what it means to help someone using an esoteric art.
4. I believe that you can read cards for yourself. I suggest that you cast a spread but not interpret it: just leave it out and watch it work out over a month or so. If you find cards that portend things you don't like, really think over what you're up to, and reach into yourself and make a new decision. Astrology works a lot with those kinds of reinterpretations, or as the Course in Miracles puts it, taking the moment to 'choose once again'.
5. Tarot tip: work with three decks. When trying to learn a card, use three versions of that card and compare them side by side. Include the corresponding trump card (i.e., if you're studying the 5's, use the Hierophant). The meaning, main idea, feeling or use of that card will become obvious.
There are some great Tarot books. For easy ones focused on relationships, check out Gerd Zeigler. For a more difficult but truly brilliant one, check out the Book of Thoth by a dude named Crowley. Any esoteric book shop will be able to get it for you.
OCTOBER 22nd 2004
Studying Astrology Tip of the Week
Get yourself an astrology dictionary. It is essential to know the meanings of words if you want to work within a specialized field, such as astrology. Words are POWER. If you don't know what someone is talking or writing about, the best way to find out is to figure out what their words mean. That's a good start, anyway.
My favorite ones are the Arkana Dictionary of Astrology, published by Penguin/Arkana; and an old astrology dictionary written by Alan Leo. The Arkana Dictionary is much more new and modern yet has excellent references to classical terms. What Alan Leo's has going for it is that it's old and has a lot of obsolete concepts, strange definitions and formulas that can really come in handy these days (i.e., an eclipse in such and such a sign will come with locusts). It's always good to contrast two definitions of any term when you can. But if you're going to get just one, I strongly suggest the Arkana Dictinoary. There are several others out there; there are many esoteric dictionaries; I love them.
There is also something called the Astrology Encyclopedia by James R. Lewis. There is an old edition and a new one; you may be able to pick up the old one fairly cheap used, I checked Amazon and it's under five bucks in the U.S. I really like this book. The definitions are long, the articles are interesting, it has a lot about asteroids and profiles of astrologers, plus tons of classical stuff; and before I could afford books I spent a lot of time sitting on the floor of Esoterica Books in New Paltz reading the copy I now own.
As for these dictionaries, I suggest that people in the US and Canada get their books from Dave the Astrology Center of America. (Dave just wrote me and says that both dictionaries are out of print in the U.S., but I suggest you call for suggestions and also do a used book search.) And I suggest that people in the United Kingdom get their books from Barry at The Astrology Shop in Covent Garden. Please say I sent you. Both sell books online and have great selections -- they are specialists, they special order, and will be happy to make recommendations and encourage your astrological habits.
OCTOBER 29th 2004
Peace, Love and Joy to you, Christine
I know well about the chaos you describe surrounding eclipses, even when they are not visible. I'm not sure the chaos itself is the positive (or rather pleasant) part of the experience, though some people tend to thrive on it. Rather, going through an eclipse consciously can be rewarding because it frees us from the past, opens up a new region of the future, and presents us with challenges from which we learn a lot and hopefully take that knowledge to heart. Eclipses can feel like spiritual initiations -- intense phases of testing and concentrated experience that take us to new levels of reality.
It's possible to do a lot of speculation about why solar eclipses, or any eclipses, have such a profound effect on people, and I think that in the end, the reason will remain veiled in some mystery. It may be that physics will hand us information some day and give a tangible 'why'. But all lunar events (such as New Moons, Full Moons and even Quarter Moons) have a significant and noticeable effect on people; in the event of an eclipse, we get far more exact alignment. The degree of contact is greater. In the case of a solar eclipse, the shadow of the Moon actually makes a path across the Earth (whereas with a normal New Moon, that shadow is cast somewhere in space and nobody sees it).
But looking for astrological clues, there is with every eclipse the involvement of the lunar nodes. If you go back in the archives of this project you'll find a fairly long article on the nodes -- I think it was in the Sept. 10 edition. I have often pondered whether it is the nodes that give eclipses their power, or eclipses that give the nodes their power. The two however seem to work closely together. One clue is that the nodes are always influential, and become especially so when the Sun and Moon align around them (at eclipse time).
When working with them, I experience the nodes like a kind of a time tunnel, like a jet of rapidly moving air -- only it's a flood of space-time -- that blows through consciousness and experience. That is the sense of time being compressed, karma accelerating and general chaos. When the Sun and Moon line up with the nodes (which they must for an eclipse to occur), we get caught in the draft and the whole process of resolving karma, releasing the past, seeking purpose and finding our true direction accelerates; hence the intensity and the fuss. Also the break of continuity that eclipses represent is more than most people can handle. Eclipses represent phases of division where the past and the future become very different than one another -- if we let them, and sometimes, no matter how much we resist. It's best to work with the energy rather than fight it and use eclipses as times to make important changes.
It's really good to hear from you, and give your babes a hug from me (sitting writing this on a train in Roosendaal, Holland, the namesake of Rosendale, NY, where I had my first astrology office back in 1994, and right near where we saw that eclipse!). The train actually backed up and went to Roosendaal just as I was writing this paragraph -- or I never would have noticed that. Gawd, synchronicity is such a trip. Hello to everyone in the Hudson Valley who has found Jonathan's page through Chronogram magazine, where my column originates. http://chronogram.com/
OCTOBER 29th 2004
I think this takes place in the spring of 1995, in the first months of my astrological practice. I was living in Rosendale, about 75 miles north of New York City, which used to be a mining town. Out the door of my apartment/office was a hillside and along this hillside was a mile-long cliffside into which were dug hundreds of mine shafts.
So one day, right before the New Moon, I went hiking up there with my friend Nikki, one of many mysterious Virgo women in my life. We began wandering around the mine area looking for a place to hang out for the exact moment of the New Moon. We found one and descended a little way into this mining area, arriving about 15 minutes before the exact lunation. And we just sat there quietly.
Then something really interesting happened. There was a kind of dimensional opening as the New Moon passed. For one thing it felt like we were the only two people on Earth, which is not such a difficult feeling to have inside a mine. But there was a whole assortment of visual and psychic effects as well. It was almost as if we were looking at one another through a kind of watery light that seemed to make everything ripple a little (this was not an eclipse and it was pretty shadowy there, but light enough to see one another). I would describe the feeling as being in a psychic echo chamber, only it was subtle.
Neither of us were on any kind of drugs, or alcohol, by the way. We were just very close to the Earth during a lunar event.
We were both aware of what was happening, but didn't say anything. We just stayed with the feeling and then, as the lunation passed, the dimensional door seemed to close, gently but steadily. I had read about this kind of effect in Barbara Hand Clow's book on Chiron, but I didn't think it would be so palpable. But there it was. I am sure it had something to do with being in the Earth like that and with the chemistry I had with Nikki, but it happened.
So, next thing, I walked up the side of the mine, which felt more like a cave, and took a look around. And there, in the next mine over, was the most magnificent space, what looked like it was designed to be a temple and altar. It was kind of a perch or shelf about 30 feet into the Earth; it had a fire pit; and to the left and the right, there were openings leading to a vast underground chamber. For the next year, this became the place I would do the Earth-centered part of learning astrology, making fire, having ceremonies, drumming, camping out and exploring the ancient mines. I became very good at working with open fire down there, and, sitting in that space, could explore the feelings of the fire and earth elements, connect with their elemental spirits, and actually learn about nature from nature.
All these mine spaces are actually made of quarter-billion year fossilized old sea-floor. The fossil record is just looking right at you because the sea floor turned over and became the ceiling of the temple, which came down pretty low in some places so you could look at it and touch it. The rock is called dolomite. If you bake it, grind it up and mix it with water, it becomes cement so smooth and so hard you have to use dynamite to get rid of it. The stuff is still built into the foundations of the federal Capital Building's wings, where the House and Senate meet; into Kennedy Airport; the Brooklyn Bridge; and into thousands of buildings in the New York area and many other places. I was particularly fascinated by the connection of this land to the wings of the Capital, where congress meets to make laws. We did quite a lot of drumming good vibes into that mine, assuming there was a vibratory connection to everyplace that rock wound up.
All the while, I was fully aware that I was doing the Earth-grounded part of my training, that is, of tuning into the most dense layers of reality here and becoming closely aligned with the vibration of the Earth, its spirit, its smells and its feelings. The Chironian, as this space became known, was the scene of many New Moon, Full Moon, Solstice and Equinox celebrations, as well as a huge celebration and ritual the night of the Mars-Chiron conjunction in Virgo on July 7, 1995. It also served as a divination chamber, where a set of hand-made runes given to me by a client were kept (they are now kept elsewhere). We also had notable experiences with animals showing up there at highly symbolic moments, which in physical form and real life introduced me to the idea of a 'totem' with no prior book knowledge.
I have taken responsibility for maintaining the Chironian since finding it nearly nine years ago and will usually make a visit when I'm in the Hudson Valley. The stone fire pit, left by my predecessors at the site and which I loved to work on and repair, is a thing to behold.
I think you get the message. This ritual and experiential aspect of astrology is, I think, one of its most important dimensions. This part of the work does not involve mental interpretation, but rather direct experience of an event. We are rather accustomed to translating everything astrological into words, and I do plenty of it, for sure. Yet aspects are events in space and time, and they can be experienced and accessed directly. This puts the data directly into the body, where it belongs, and where it can be accessed when you're looking at symbols or interpreting a chart.
And it brings astrology back to the Earth, where it belongs. It recalls a time when astrologers provided a technical aspect of the priesthood, assisting in the timing of Earth-based rituals at certain times of year. Usually, speaking of Celtic times and places, these rituals were held in physical spaces where there was considerable symbolic energy integrated; Avebury Henge west of London comes to mind (a 5,000 year old stone circle which takes about an hour to get to from the city, and can be done in a day trip). These symbols can become friends, acquaintances and allies.
Building a direct relationship with the Earth and its elements, and living astrology through ritual and experience of aspects, makes it a lot easier to experience 'symbols' as intelligent entities who provide the actual source of information or, at least, grounding, when we are working on a chart or reading a spread. It takes astrology out of the abstract and helps us to live and breathe it as a natural and fully integrated part of life. This includes experiencing and marking in time the passage of the seasons, the high sabbats at the Cross Quarter days, and the phases of the Moon.
Especially for adults -- and especially for kids -- this is a fine place to begin the study of Earth worship that is the firm ground on which astrology stands, the fire that infuses it with passion, the air which it breathes, and the water that grants the compassion to make it a safe and sane way of life.
Regular questions and answers will resume next week.
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