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I was asked earlier, “Do you truly believe the astrological signs are meaningful?”, which sparked an interesting conversation – so I thought I would share my thoughts here as well.
The brief answer is yes, I do believe astrological signs are meaningful – but we are the ones who bring meaning to them.
The longer answer follows:
The zodiac in one sense seems an accumulation of thousands of generations of collective patterns.
The Enuma Elish, for example, which was discovered in the library at Ninevah, records how Ishtar – the planet we call Venus, the Morning and Evening Star – guides passion and love. This is a powerful mythic image.
Does that mean the planet (Ishtar/Venus) causes love?
Not necessarily – but there are times of the year when this planet appears in the evening sky: lovers have met and embraced beneath Her light since time immemorial – part of the collective human experience across countless generations – so it’s no anomaly that this planet, the target of thousands of years of archetypal projections, is associated with Love.
Similarly, people have for millennia been noting traits shared by those born at certain times of the year – and when we look at how the winter can effect the growth of a tree or the thickness of an egg’s shell, or how the menstrual cycle parallels the lunar cycle, it’s not a far stretch of the imagination to conceive an association between time of year and the development of a child born during that season.
I’m not stating a scientific fact, but am offering possibilities suggesting how certain traits and patterns may have been projected into the images of the zodiac.
Projection, here, is the key term.
It is projection – projection of my unconscious – that makes astrology, or any oracle, work for me.
Humans are pattern-seeking creatures. It’s part of our nature, easy enough to confirm through personal experience. Even stuck in the bathroom a bit long with no diversion, some people find themselves picking out patterns and images, mentally connecting the dots on the stucco wall … which provides a clue to how oracles like the Tarot, the I Ching, dream interpretation, or even the daily newspaper horoscope, work. They are intentionally vague – the more vague, the better – the better to receive our projections.
Imagination mediates our perception of reality.
Certainly life could be described as a series of largely random chance encounters and meaningless events. And yet, in the same way we connect the dots on a stucco wall, see a unicorn in the formless vapors of a cloud, or pick constellations out of the stars, so we create patterns out of the random events of our own lives.
What is the meaning of life?
“What’s the meaning of a flower?” asks Joseph Campbell.
It has no meaning; it just is – unless we give it meaning.
We bring the significance into our own life.
The pattern I see in these seemingly random occurrences I recognize as … Me! They form the fabric of my life – imagination spinning the yarn, weaving the strands together into the plush, colorfully embroidered tapestry that is my life story. The same imagination that thus structures life will discover in a tarot spread, an I Ching throw, or a natal chart motifs that echo that same structure, clarifying the larger patterns not immediately apparent to the waking ego.
“The seeker is supposed to look for some sort of correspondence between all this and his own case, the method of thought throughout being that of a broadly flung association of ideas. One has to feel, not think one’s way into these secrets, letting each symbol grow into a cosmos of associated themes …
“The Book of Changes , in a word, is a kind of geometry of mythology, referring particularly to the immediate present – the moment of the casting of the yarrow stalks. It tells of the readiness of time and the art of moving with its tides, rocking with the waves, and is the most important statement remaining to us of that aspect of ancient Chinese thought which relates the individual to the order of the outer world.” (Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God, Vol. II: Oriental Mythology, p. 413)
Though Campbell’s remarks are focused here on the I Ching, they nevertheless apply to all forms of divination.
Two people look at the same cloud, but see different images, depending on how their individual imaginations engage that cloud; you see a unicorn, I see a ship. Neither is more right than the other – underneath it’s still a cloud, after all. Similarly, in a Rorschach inkblot you may see a butterfly where I see a bat – again, no right or wrong answer, but the image one perceives offers clues as to how each might engage reality.
This especially holds for oracles. I can read the same horoscope as two other Geminis: I might interpret “difficulties in communication” as related to a snafu at work, while another could read the same line as referring to a romance in jeopardy, while a third might recognize a recurring personal pattern that blocks self-expression: one cloud, three different images. The circumstances of each life are different, so each brings his/her own experience and imagination to bear on the oracle, which serves as mirror to our inner worlds.
There is no independent, objective meaning to a horoscope, or a tarot spread, or an I Ching reading, apart from the individual. To borrow an insight from physicist Werner Heisenberg, “the act of observation determines what is observed.” Rather than supply a rigid, unyielding rule that applies equally across the board, oracles remain fluid, inviting self-reflection.
Most forms of divination practiced today – whether consulting the stars, the tarot, or the I Ching – offer a series of mythic images (e.g., Mars, the Moon, Mercury, the Water Bearer, the Twins, the Lovers, the Fool, Death, dualities of Heaven/Earth, Masculine/Feminine, etc.) in combinations that mirror the present moment and correspond to those patterns in the human psyche that Jung terms “archetypes of the collective unconscious.” These motifs are symbolic of experiences common to all humanity (Birth, Love, Death, etc.).
At their best, methods of divination provide a portal into the mythic imagination. In the words of Novalis, “The seat of the soul is there, where the outer and the inner worlds meet.” As with any mythological system, we are presented with metaphor – but remember, metaphor does not mean false: myth as metaphor is a set of living symbols that propel the individual beyond the confines of the personal ego into an experience of the transcendent.
In that sense of inviting self-reflection then, yes, I find the astrological signs – and all oracles and means of divination – meaningful.
tie-dyed teller of tales
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