Relationship Compatibility in Vedic Astrology (1)

Every practicing astrologer knows that it’s a very rare reading in which issues about romantic relationships are never raised. Questions such as: “Is this person the right one for me?”, or: “Why are my partner and I having trouble getting along?” often dominate an astrological session.

In contemporary Western astrology, entire books are devoted to the topic of using astrology to analyze human relationships. But for those who practice Jyotish or Vedic astrology here in the Western world, dealing with relationship issues can be a problem. Our ancient texts operate under a set of assumptions which may seem very foreign to us. In classical India, most marriages were arranged when the two partners were still children; as often as not, the prospective bride and groom had never met each other. It was often the parents rather than the partners who paid a visit to the astrologer, and one of their deepest concerns was: Will this union produce money and children?

In the ancient Hindu view, children were the primary reason for marriage; it was the duty of a married couple to produce children and thus bring the souls of the ancestors back into incarnation. The birth of children maintained karmic continuity between the past, the present, and the future. Factors such as material prosperity and fertility dominated the comparison between two horoscopes, with a mere nod given to whether or not the partners were likely to enjoy each other’s company. “Romance” in the sense that we understand it in the West had no place in the philosophy of ancient India; in fact, the intrinsically Western concept of romance has its origin in the songs and poems of the medieval troubadours. Given the basic outlook toward marriage in India, it is not surprising that the Western practitioner of Vedic astrology finds herself or himself in a shaky boat on a stormy sea when attempting to navigate the complexities of our Western relationships – unions based upon romance, upon sexual attraction, unions between independent individuals who have absolutely no interest in children, same-sex unions, and a host of other relationship styles which would simply never have occurred to the astrologers of classical India.

Much of Vedic compatibility or synastry is based on a system called the kutas. Here, at the very outset, we are opening a huge can of worms. The kutas are a group of factors, most of them involving the twenty-seven naskhatras or lunar mansions rather than the twelve signs of the zodiac. The lunar positions of each partner are compared in reference to these factors or kutas, with a numerical value attached to agreement or compatibility between each factor. The higher the total, the greater the over-all compatibility.

Some people say this system simply doesn’t work. Others say it is blatantly sexist. Still others criticize it as “love by the numbers.” Here are a few salient points.

First of all, each list of the kutas varies widely. The list given in (for example) the Muhurta Chintamani, written in Varanasi about 1600, is not the same as the list in the Prashna Marga, written in south India less than half a century later. The numerical scores attached to each factor also vary – if, for example, you were comparing the horoscopes of a woman born with the Moon in the nakshatra of Ashvini to a man born with the Moon in Punarvasu, the lists from two different classical texts might result in two very different scores. Beyond this, the numerical values attached to the various factors are sometimes arbitrary and strange. For example, a score of 8 – the highest possible score – is commonly attached to the so-called nadi kuta, which utilizes the three constitutions or doshas of Ayurvedic medicine as a factor of comparison. And yet the doshas or constitutions attributed to each nakshatra have no apparent basis in Ayurveda and simply don’t make sense. And are we truly to believe that something as complex as human relationships can be reduced to a mere numerical total? One cringes at the thought of an astrologer consulting his own favorite list of the kutas (perhaps a different list than the one used by the astrologer on the other side of town), then announcing: “You folks only get a 19, and that’s not good enough, so don’t get married,” or “You scored 25, so you might as well give it a try.” This is ridiculous, but it is a phenomenon which happens all too often in India.

Nevertheless, it is possible to work with the kutas in a useful way. In their book “Light on Relationships,” Hart de Fouw and Robert Svoboda assert that each kuta should be considered separately and analyzed on its own merits rather than numerically. They also point out that not all kutas are of equal value. Some are geared to particular factors, such as the couple’s ability to produce children. In the West there are many couples who do not desire children, so we may as well ignore the kutas which measure this factor.

There are other kutas which are universally applicable. Perhaps the most well known is the gana kuta, which is said to measure compatibility by “temperament.” In actuality, the Sanskrit word gana doesn’t mean “temperament,” but refers in the ancient literature to groups or “tribes” of lesser deities or spirits who follow in the wake of the great gods. The word “band” or “group” might be a fairly accurate rendering.

The twenty-seven nakshatras of the lunar zodiac are divided into three such groups: devas (the gods), manushyas (human beings) and rakshasas (demons), as follows.

Deva Nakshatras: Ashvini, Mrigashira, Punarvasu, Pushya, Hasta, Svati, Anuradha,Shravana, Revati.

Manushya Nakshatras: Bharani, Rohini, Ardra, Purva Phalguni, Uttara Phalguni, Purvashadha, Uttarashadha, Purvabhadra, Uttarabhadra.

Rakshasa Nakshatras: Krittika, Ashlesha, Magha, Chitra, Vishakha, Jyeshtha, Mula, Dhanishtha, Satabhishak.

As you can see, we already have a problem! No one wants to be a rakshasa! Let us take a closer look at this important compatibility factor.

De Fouw and Svoboda are among those who feel that the ganas should only be used in assessing compatibility. They assert that these categories don’t really have much influence on the temperament of the individual. More often, though, Hindu astrologers are likely to regard your lunar gana as a factor in your psychological make-up – and I agree. People born in a deva nakshatra often go through life with a cheerful and carefree disposition. They are naturally helpful and love to assist others. There are a few of these deva nakshatras that are prone to a certain restlessness, but in general there is an unshakable calm based upon the inner certainty that all is right with the world. Sometimes this inner calm may act as a drawback rather than an asset. Members of the Divine tribe are the ones who are most likely to be too complacent in their outlook. They don’t like to rock the boat. In fact, they don’t understand why the boat sometimes needs to be rocked.

Those born in the manushya or “human” nakshatras may sometimes aspire to the charitable, gentle nature of the deva nakshatras, but at other times they lean toward the willfulness and intensity of the rakshasas. In general, however, the human tribe is just as it always has been – walking the eternal tightrope between darkness and light, filled with inner contradiction and complexities.

And the rakshasas?

In Hindu mythology, a rakshasa is a demonic creature, living by no rules except its own, bent upon power, sex, and conquest. Such a portrait is manifestly unfair to the many fine individuals born under these Moon signs. However, if one studies the myths and legends of ancient India, it becomes clear that, on a certain level, the  rakshasas are those who live outside the boundaries of society and its values, who break all the rules and follow their own instincts. They prefer the depths of the forest to the settled peace of villages and cities. I have often used the terms Wild Men and Wild Women to define them because modern psychology has come to realize that there is something of value in our wildness, and that we lose some of our energy and our passion for life if there is no wildness in our souls. Natives of these nakshatras possess a kind of primal force which can feel like a steamroller to those with less motivation and passion.

It is said that, basically, you will be happier with someone from your own gana because you will share a similar temperament, and that will help you get along with each other. But if the two partners are members of different camps, a woman from the divine tribe of devas can work harmoniously with a man from the complex human nakshatras or even with a man from the wild man or rakshasa group, providing that they put some effort into accepting each other’s differences in temperament. But it doesn’t work out nearly as well when turned the other way around. A rakshasa woman simply will not be compatible with a man whose Moon is in one of the deva or manushya nakshatras.

Do we sense another problem on the horizon? Is there an implication here that a mellow, gentle woman can deal with a type-A guy who knows no boundaries in his hungry quest for power and money, while a peaceful house husband simply cannot abide the highly driven female realtor or stockbroker who never rests for a single moment in her wild ride on the roller coaster to success? In other words, do we find here, in the best known of all the kutas, the dark specter of sexism?

There are any number of justifications which have been given for this apparent inequity. The one I hear most often is that the woman ought to be from a more “elevated” gana than her male partner because she is the symbol of peace and harmony in the home, and it is her responsibility to exude tranquility, even though it’s okay for the man to come on like a steamroller from hell.

I can almost hear the paper of those good old Vedic astrology classics being shredded in the thoughts of women who aspire to political or business success. Oh yes! I will definitely be happy to sit around in the kitchen, grinning like a fool while my husband – the one with the muddled Mercury in his chart – makes a shambles of all our ambitions!

From our perspective in the Western world, the bottom line is: Different strokes for different folks. There really are a lot of men in the world, with peaceful deva Moons, who would gladly spend their day building a nice cabinet or kitchen table and picking the kids up from school while the rakshasa wife navigates Wall Street in a business suit.

It’s not a matter of this gana kuta being “right” or “wrong.” It’s a matter of people acknowledging and accepting their own temperament – a task in which the astrologer may play a helpful role – and then making an intelligent choice, based on self-knowledge, as to what sort of relationship they really want, and who wants to play a particular kind of role.

As we shall see in future installments, it is this idea of self-knowledge and choice which allows us to make good use of these classical compatibility factors from ancient India in such a way that they may prove valuable in assessing the complexities of our modern Western relationships.

In my next blog, I will examine another important kuta, one which deals with a topic which is an eternal fascination to many – sex!



Hellenistic Astrology in Practice: Herman Melville and the South Pacific Part 2

When Herman Melville reached the legendary paradise of Tahiti on Sep 20, 1842, he surely could not have been aware that he was about to land himself in “a spot of trouble.” As we have seen, the lord of the bounds by primary direction was Jupiter, with that same planet playing the role of secondary lord as well. He was in the Jupiterian “first third” of his life. Venus was among his time lords, whether counted from Tyche or the Daimon, and he was still basking in the glow of his Venusian sojourn with “Fayaway” in the Marquesas. How could things go wrong?

We have already mentioned his solar return of 1842, which took place in the Marquesas, and of the strong role that the time lord Venus played in that chart. In fact, solar returns were among the earliest astrological techniques and date back to Hellenistic times. But they cannot be seen or understood separately apart from the factor known as profection.

And therein lay many changes for young Mr. Melville.

Profection simply means that a year of one’s life is governed by each successive house, and therefore by the planet ruling that particular house. (As noted earlier, I am not attempting to enter the fray regarding the use of Whole Sign as opposed to Quadrant house systems, but it must be said that profection certainly makes more sense if we use Whole Sign houses, for this gives us an orderly succession of planetary rulers – which is not the case with Quadrant systems and their intercepted houses.) August 1, 1842, which passed while Melville was on Nuku Hiva, was his 23rd birthday. He landed in a 12th House year, and could be expected, therefore, to experience 12th House issues. But what kind of 12th House issues?

One of the most important of all possible time lords is the profected lord of the year. One of the earliest detailed texts on solar returns, authored by the influential Abu Ma’shar, places great emphasis on the way in which the profected lord of the year is positioned in the solar return chart. Melville’s natal 12th House was Aries; therefore his profected lord of the year was Mars. In his solar return chart of 1842, he may have had opportunity to dream his life away with Fayaway for a little while – but only for a while. Mars was to hold sway over the year, and Mars could scarcely have been in worse straits in Melville’s 1842 solar return. It was in Cancer, its sign of debilitation; this, from the very beginning, is one of the worst possible placements. But Mars was near the very end of that sign, and the last degrees of any sign were almost always unfavorable because the last degrees of any sign always constitute the bounds of either Mars or Saturn. In this case, Mars was in its sign of debilitation in the bounds of Saturn, and, as we have also noted in the first installment of this blog, Saturn was a time lord by virtue of its rulership over some of the cycles which derived from Tyche and the Daimon. And as we noted at that same time, it is the transits of the time lords which have the most clout. Saturn, who has special power in the 12th House because it is his house of “rejoicing,” was strong in its own sign of Capricorn during this 12th House year, and it was in opposition by transit to the year lord Mars. Saturn has some added clout here as the principal time lord from Tyche, as Fortune relates to the daily events of life. And a grim series of daily events it was to be.

One of the classical meanings of the 12th House is, of course, imprisonment or incarceration – and prison is where Herman Melville soon found himself, within a mere week after his arrival in Tahiti. While the vessel Lucy Ann still lingered in the port of Papeete, there was trouble on board. The captain, apparently a pleasant fellow, took ill, and command of the ship passed to his first mate. This individual was wildly unpopular among the crew members – probably because he seems to have spent most of his time in an alcoholic rage. Ten or eleven members of the crew (the number is not clear in the records) simply refused to obey his orders. Melville was among them; along with his cohorts, he was arrested for mutiny, taken to the local “British prison’ by colonial authorities, and locked up. In 19th century terms, that meant that he was frequently confined to “the stocks.” Welcome to your 12th House year, with Mars and Saturn playing starring roles!

Even so, there was a bit of surcease, and here again we see how the transits of the time lords are the ones with all the impact. While time lords Jupiter and Saturn remained locked firmly in place, Venus and Mars were moving on. Venus came into transiting conjunction with the Moon, Melville’s sect lord, around the same time that transiting Mars, released from the exile of its debilitation in Cancer, moved along far enough to trine his natal Ascendant. Released from jail, Melville crossed over to the blissful island of Moorea, where he lived for a month or so as a “beachcomber,” sleeping in the warm sand and gathering fresh fruit from the trees in an idyll which would delight the present day rainbow hippies who haunt Kauai’s Kalalau Valley.

In time, Melville took passage on another ship, this time to Hawaii, where he did something quintessentially Saturnian – he got a job. He served for four months as a clerk in a mercantile house before finally heading home to the U.S.A. He was still in the first “Jupiterian” phase of his life when he published his first two books; Typee chronicled his days on Nuku Hiva while Omoo detailed his life in Tahiti. Not surprisingly for a young man so thoroughly under Jupiter’s regime, he became a best-selling author. All seemed to be going well.

And then, as the wheels of time shifted, things began to go terribly wrong. Though we have finished with the principal topic of this astrological study – his sojourn in the South Pacific – we still need to take at least a brief look at some factors the Hellenistic astrologers might have used to determine why things crashed and burned – especially since it was at this time of his life that he authored Moby Dick, generally agreed to be one of the greatest novels ever written by anyone, anywhere, at any time. It was such a dreadful financial failure that Melville was forced to seek a “real job,” and spent the rest of his days working as a functionary at the customs department in New York harbor.

In 1848, of course, Melville would have passed his first Saturn return. No longer in the life period of Jupiter, he would be governed by the Sun for the next thirty years. But the solar influence here certainly does not portend such a dark change in fortune. On the contrary, his Sun is in its own sign of Leo, hence well dignified, and in an angular house (the 4th) as well. The ruler of the bounds had changed too, but Jupiter had in this case given way to Venus, a charming benefic.

The answer lies with our old friend the Daimon. We may remember, from the first installment of this article, that Valens names the time cycles that roll forth from the Lot of the Daimon as relating to “employment and rank,” and even as the very “cause of employment and progress.” During his dreamy years in the South Pacific, Melville had been in the major period of Libra, hence ruled by Venus. In March of 1847, even as he was basking in his new found fame as the author of popular South Sea adventure novels, he entered the major period of Scorpio, ruled by malefic Mars. In 1849, a he was preparing to begin his mythic tale of Moby Dick, he entered the minor period of Capricorn. Mars and Saturn – the two malefic – now acted as the overseers of his employment, rank, and progress. Seldom a joy ride in any event, the fact that Melville’s Saturn was retrograde, at the very first degree of Aries, its sign of deepest debilitation, and in the 12th House if we employ Whole Sign Houses… well, it was a grim picture indeed. And since his minor period of Capricorn was followed in 1851 by that of Aquarius, Saturn continued to rule his professional fortunes. Moby Dick was published in that year. No one read it. It was Melville’s financial ruin. By the time Saturn released its hold over him in 1854 and he entered the minor period of Pisces, yet another novel, entitled Pierre, had been published to scathing reviews. Fickle Tyche, the Queen of Fortune, was unprepared to help him either, having entered the major period of Aquarius in 1846 and keeping him under an even stronger influence from his debilitated Saturn until 1875, by which time he had already surrendered his literary aspirations and begun working for the customs department.

And here I shall stop. As I noted at the beginning, this little essay makes no pretense to provide a complete picture of the many predictive techniques used among Hellenistic astrologers. It is simply a demonstration of the many possibilities.

Hellenistic Astrology in Practice: Herman Melville and the South Pacific

The following article doesn’t even pretend to be complete. It doesn’t pretend to make use of all the astrological techniques known to us from Greek astrological texts translated thus far (and there are still many which await translation). For example, I haven’t used the time lord system known as decennials, or the predictive technique of ascensional times. I freely admit that I used the techniques which appealed to me the most. Nor do I claim that I am interpreting these factors in precisely the same way that a Hellenistic astrologer would have done; this is an exercise in possibilities rather than historical reconstruction. I picked several years in the life of one individual because it was a time span that allowed me to use some of these techniques in detail, and because Herman Melville’s youthful adventures in the South Seas were to have a powerful influence on world literature.

Herman Melville was born at 11:30 PM on August 1, 1819, in New York City. His Ascendant was 21.11 Taurus, and the MC was 0.14 Aquarius. Sun 8.59 Leo, Moon 16.25 Sagittarius, Mercury 4.51 Virgo, Venus 20.40 Cancer, Mars 7.53 Gemini, Jupiter 12.42 Aquarius retrograde, Saturn 0.25 Aries retrograde, Uranus 20.51 Sagittarius retrograde, Neptune 26.16 Sagittarius retrograde, Pluto 27.25 Pisces retrograde, and the North Node 13.32 Aries.

Melville’s chart is nocturnal, with the Moon as the ruler of sect (the “day or night” factor common to all ancient astrology). His natal Moon lies in Sagittarius, and therefore his planetary rulers by way of sect are those connected with the fire signs — Jupiter, the Sun, and Saturn respectively. Each of our “triplicity rulers” is said to govern a third of one’s life, and while ancient sources are not terribly clear about precisely what is meant by “a third,” the medieval astrologer Guido Bonatti suggests thirty years; I prefer to define the thirds in terms of Saturn returns. One way or another, Melville was still in the first third of his life, ruled by Jupiter, when, on January 3, 1841, he set sail from Fairhaven, Massachusetts, as a seaman on the whaler Acushnet. Though we may say that the first third of his life was ruled by Jupiter, this is a broad generalization; there are times when Jupiter comes to the forefront and expresses itself, and there are times when it does not. But at the beginning of 1841, Melville was just entering upon a phase of his life which was thoroughly under the influence of that planet.

There is something inherently cool in envisioning one’s life as a series of planetary cycles. Numerology recognizes such cycles, as does the system known as the Destiny Cards. But in astrology, where we would most logically expect to find them, they are conspicuous by their absence. More precisely, they are absent from Western astrology, for they still exist in Hindu astrology (Jyotish), and indeed they constitute the primary vehicle for prediction in that form of the art. Hellenistic astrology placed a strong emphasis on such planetary cycles; it is perhaps one of the greatest misfortunes of Western astrology that we somehow lost track of them during the course of our history. There were many systems of planetary cycles, but one of the most common was a technique called “circumambulation of the bounds.” Though that is a bit of a tongue twister, the logic behind it is really quite simple. First, let us take a look at the directed chart – and here the ancient astrologers would have used primary directions rather than the more modern solar arc directions, though there is often only a small amount of difference between the two. Using a rather common variety of primary direction (Naibod’s arc), we find that Melville’s directed Ascendant at the time of his departure was 12.18 Gemini. When we examine those divisions of the zodiac known variously as “bounds” or “terms,” we shall see that his Ascendant had just reached the beginning of one of Jupiter’s bounds at 12.00 Gemini. This means that he had just entered a cycle in which Jupiter would be the principal actor (the “time lord” or, in Greek, chronocrator) for a span of six years. When the directed time lord makes contact with a natal planet by aspect, that planet also plays a role as a secondary time lord. Melville’s natal Jupiter at 12.42 Aquarius was in trine to the directed Ascendant, which had just entered Jupiter’s bound. This young man was, at the time of his departure to the South Seas, thoroughly under Jupiter’s influence. And a powerful influence it was, too, for natal Jupiter was in the Tenth House, a place where a planet may freely exercise its power or (to use the precise Hellenistic phrase) “conduct business.” Note that Jupiter is also in sextile to Melville’s natal Moon, the sect lord, which lies at 16 degrees Sagittarius. Seldom was an enthusiastic young school teacher better suited to experience Jupiterian expansion of consciousness through philosophy and long distance travel on a truly grand level.

A year and a half later, on July 9, 1842, this scion of a conventional and remarkably unadventurous middle class New York family did something so bold as to seem almost unthinkable; along with a British sailor named Richard Tobias Greene, Herman Melville “jumped ship” and deserted the Acushnet on the remote island of Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas, a fly speck on the map even today, a place largely unknown to the 19th century world and known, if at all, only to a few experienced sailors for its notoriety as a dangerous “cannibal island.”

What made him do it?

As we have mentioned, there is something inherently cool about perceiving life in terms of planetary cycles, and the Greeks had more than a few such systems of cycles. One which has captured the imagination of modern astrologers more powerfully than others is described in the works of Vettius Valens (IV.4) and is often called “the Releasing from Fortune and Spirit.” As I noted in my most recent blog, the Lot of Fortune and the Lot of Spirit played a major role in Hellenistic astrology, and in one time lord system, these points serve as the beginning for a progression of cycles. The planetary periods as counted from the Lot of Fortune describe to us the various events of everyday, physical reality, for that is the realm of the Moon in Hellenistic astrology, and the Lot of Fortune is, essentially, the Lot of the Moon. The periods counted from the Lot of Spirit are briefly described by Valens as indicative of “employment and rank,” though elsewhere he tells us that the Lot of Spirit “arouses men’s souls to action through its own energy and love-inspiring nature, and it becomes the cause of employment and progress.”

We may reach an even more precise understanding of the role of the Lot of Spirit by remembering that in Greek this is the Lot of the Daimon, which we summarized in the previous blog as follows:   “We know about the Daimon primarily from Plato, who calls it a ‘guardian spirit’ that accompanies us into our current incarnation and serves as a kind of inner guide throughout our lives. Plato characterized the Daimon as a ‘fiery’ spirit, sometimes impelling us to do things that we would rather avoid doing, forcing us into particular (and at times peculiar) paths through its enormous power over our personality. But no matter how wild and crazy the Daimon’s dictates may seem to be, they are always in line with our destiny. At his trial Socrates gave answers that were true to his nature but which served only to incriminate him; his Daimon made him do it.”

Seen from the Lot of Fortune, Melville’s life was under the harsh regimen of Saturn, for he was in a Capricorn cycle. But there are always minor periods which serve to modify the longer cycles; during the voyage of the Acushnet, several months before reaching the Marquesas, he had entered the minor period of Venus. Interestingly enough, his Daimon was likewise responding to the siren call of Aphrodite, for Melville had been in the major period of Venus-ruled Libra since 1839, and had entered the minor period of Capricorn around the same time that his time lords counted from Fortune had brought him under the sway of Venus. So considered from the vantage point of his fiery guardian spirit as well as from the ups and downs of his worldly existence, the young man was caught between the stern dictates of Saturn and the seductive charms of “smiling Aphrodite.”   He had been aboard a sailing vessel, cooped up in the forecastle for more than a year, subjected to the stern discipline of shipboard duties in true Saturnian style.

The transits of Saturn are especially important here. Modern astrologers often wonder why some transits deliver powerfully and others seem to lack clout, but the Hellenistic astrologers were in no doubt about this issue; the transits of the time lords are the ones that have the clout. If we examine transits as our forebears would have done – from sign to sign rather than with orbs of aspect – Saturn by transit was in opposition to Melville’s natal Venus, two time lords in direct conflict. Transiting Jupiter, another time lord by virtue of its rulership over the circumambulation of the bounds, was conjunct transiting Saturn  and likewise opposite natal Venus.

When Melville reached Nuku Hiva, the ladies of the island gave the sailors a typical Polynesian welcome – they leapt into the water naked, and swam to the Acushnet, climbing aboard with laughter and smiles. “Shining Aphrodite” won out over Saturn. Melville jumped ship.

In addition to astrology, we also have the testimony of close friends and relatives; there is little question that it was the charm of the Marquesan women that bade Melville listen to his Daimon and follow the allure of Venus. Such actions were common in the South Pacific; almost fifty years earlier, the British admiralty courts had concluded that Captain Bligh of the Bounty was not by any means the Hollywood villain us moderns make him out to be; his sailors had mutinied because they simply could not bear to leave the ladies of Tahiti.

What strikes one about Melville is his nonchalant, almost lackadaisical attitude about his desertion. He does not seem to have been seized by fears of being lost forever on an island of cannibals. Instead, he gives every appearance of simply strolling off on a lark. He was still in the same cycle of the bounds of Jupiter as when he had departed from the U.S.; a jovial outlook still prevailed.

Much of his book about the island, entitled Typee, is devoted to his amorous escapades with a young woman whose name he spells as Fayaway. There is no doubt that she existed; the more prosaic memoirs of Melville’s companion Toby Greene attest to that much. But was his romance a mere literary affectation, as so many scholars have suspected? Or did it really happen? While I have no wish to enter the thorny debate over whether solar returns ought to be cast for one’s birthplace or for the place where they occur, it is worth noting that Venus is in partile conjunction with the Ascendant if his solar return – which actually took place on Nuku Hiva on August 1 – is cast for the latitude and longitude of the island. There may have been more than mere moonshine and dreamlight involved.

One way or the other, Melville and Greene left Nuku Hiva (and Fayaway) with the same laissez faire attitude that characterized their arrival there; when the vessel Lucy Ann stopped at the island, Melville and Greene hopped aboard and blithely sailed away, a month after their initial disappearance from the Acushnet. In Melville’s novel, however, one could easily assume that they had remained for years; and so it was often believed.

Herman Melville left Nuku Hiva behind him, and sailed off to new planetary cycles and new adventures. Bound for Tahiti, he must surely have assumed he was headed for another Jupiter-Venus paradise. But the planetary cycles were shifting once again, and he was headed into the heart of darkness, as we shall learn in the next installment of this blog.

The Ship of Destiny

While the argument as to whether astrology ought to be regarded as a science, an art, or a mere adjunct of psychology is not likely to be settled any time soon, it is worth remarking that the oldest astrological texts, from the Hellenistic world, typically mention astrologers in the same category as “diviners” and “interpreters of dreams.” In other words, they were magi – not scientists and certainly not psychologists. Maybe, just maybe, magic is what it’s all about.

Maybe we are neither scientists nor psychologists, but seers.

The late James Hillman once remarked that “destiny” has become a “bad word” in modern psychology. And as astrology becomes increasingly more of an adjunct to psychology, “destiny” has become a bad word among astrologers as well. If we enter the world as a blank slate upon which Mommy, Daddy, and society may write, then of course we need not put ourselves on the line by speculating about the nature of an individual’s destiny or walking the spooky tightrope of prediction. As in psychology, so in astrology – Mommy and Daddy are all to blame, and we may do as we damn well please about it.

And yet destiny – in the sense of an innate character or archetypal template which is exemplified in the horoscope and which impels us constantly to action – cannot be separated from the original vision of astrology as set forth in the Hellenistic world.

In one important aspect of the Hellenistic astrological world view, the horoscope is a ship – the ship of destiny, if you will, a vessel upon the ocean of life. The Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry (who may or may not be the same person as Porphyry the astrologer) asserts, in a metaphor that he claims was borrowed from the Egyptians, that the planets are sailors aboard such a vessel. The Ascendant or Rising Sign was envisioned as the helm, which on a typical Hellenistic merchant vessel, plying Homer’s “wine-dark sea,” lay at the stern or back of the ship. And thus the planet that rules the rising sign is the steersman of our fate who mans the helm.

The ship of destiny, therefore, is bound to the west, into the dark unknown, for the prow of the ship lies upon the Descendant or Seventh House cusp, the point where the sun has set. For so many cultures all over the globe who see the daily dying of the sun as a metaphor for human mortality, the unknown west has always symbolized our inevitable union with the world of the ancestors.

Apart from the planets, those cosmic sailors on the ship of destiny, the earliest astrologers recognized two important figures which have fallen by the wayside in modern astrology, Tyche and the Daimon, symbolized by the Lot (or Part) of Fortune and the Lot of Spirit or of the Daimon.

In ancient times, the goddess Tyche (the Latin Fortuna) was often depicted on coins and paintings as standing at the prow of such a vessel. Sometimes she holds a cornucopia and sometimes she wears a blindfold, for Fortune is a wondrous goddess but a fickle one; when she held the horn of plenty, she could bring us to safe harbor and the joys that lay waiting there. A willful and capricious navigator, when blinded she could crash our ship of destiny on the rocks. Our fortunes are blown about by the winds of chance. She may cast a ball upon the deck and watch it disinterestedly as it rolls here and there, a metaphor of the rising and falling motion of the cycles of our lives. Her houses in the horoscope were the 5th (Good Fortune) and the 6th (Bad Fortune). They lie just below the Descendant which is, as we have seen, the prow – precisely where sailors of a later era would carve her image in wood, the graceful figureheads that promised luck. Fortune is the Lot of the Moon; it is fitting that her houses lie below the chart’s horizon, for the horizon is where the horoscope naturally divides itself into a diurnal and nocturnal half.

If the Ascendant lies at the stern of the ship, along with the helm, and if the helmsman is the Ascendant’s ruling planet, then he too, the steersman of our fate, has his guide, and one just as capricious or at least just as arbitrary as Tyche. This was the Daimon; since the Lot of Spirit or Lot of the Daimon was the Lot of the Sun, we find him above the horizon, in the daylight portion of the world. We may imagine him as a blazing solar spirit whispering in the helmsman’s ear.

We know about the Daimon primarily from Plato, who calls it a “guardian spirit” that accompanies us into our current incarnation and serves as a kind of inner guide throughout our lives. Plato characterized the Daimon as a “fiery” spirit, sometimes impelling us to do things that we would rather avoid doing, forcing us into particular (and at times peculiar) paths through its enormous power over our personality. But no matter how wild and crazy the Daimon’s dictates may seem to be, they are always in line with our destiny. At his trial Socrates gave answers that were true to his nature but which served only to incriminate him; his Daimon made him do it.

When the Daimon was inclined to make life easy for us, he was the agathos daimon or “Good Spirit,” linked with the Eleventh House, but when he was making things difficult, his home was the Twelfth. The houses of the Daimon, associated with the Sun, are above the horizon in the diurnal half of the horoscope.

There is something noble about it – the vision of human life as a ship sailing through the pounding waves of a world-encircling ocean. To the ancients, there were no platitudes soaked in the pablum of positive thinking; the ancient astrological paradigm was too heroic to hide its eyes from the occasional vicissitudes of human existence. Brought to birth by the mystical Hermetics, astrology was adopted by the Stoic philosophers, whose sense of imperturbable grace and detachment in the face of life’s ups and downs sometimes seems almost reminiscent of Zen. Thus, in the Hellenistic astrological paradigm, there is always acceptance in the face of destiny’s uncertainties – but acceptance with equanimity, calm, and valor. And never, never with fear.

There is no question in my own mind that contemporary astrology is desperately in need of some radical new inspiration and re-vitalization, though this is not the time to deliver a critique of modern theory and practice. To return to Hillman, he once pointed out that Western civilization typically revives and revitalizes itself by returning to its Greek roots. The examples he gives are the obvious ones — the thinkers and artists of Renaissance Italy, the Romantic poets of the mid-19th century, and the pioneering psychologists of the early 20th. If astrology is a microcosm within the macrocosm of Western culture, I suspect the same thing applies here.

However, I do not believe that the re-emergence of Hellenistic astrology will be a pure classicism or an exercise in historical reconstruction. As Hillman notes, the Renaissance artists and Romantic poets were inspired by a Greece which existed largely within their own imaginations and had little to do with the realities of the ancient world. I think the re-vitalizing impact of Hellenistic astrology will manifest as an adaptation of ancient material to the modern world.

We live in a world where there is not just a single astrology – there are many. Of these various astrologies, I remember when Western astrologers first began to arrive at “Vedic” astrology (more properly, Jyotish) conferences. One of the difficulties I experienced with attempting to “translate” Jyotish for the modern Western client lay in the fact that it was clearly developed with warlords and maharajahs in mind as an audience. In much the same way, medieval astrology seems to have been oriented towards kings, nobles, aristocrats, etc. Their social world is distant and arcane to us, far removed from our contemporary sensibilities.

The world of Hellenistic astrology is socially much closer to the world that we live in. Hellenistic astrologers had a clientele as broadly based as our own – the texts abound with references to freed slaves, widows, merchants and bureaucrats. All these individuals were part of a multi-national world which historian Arnold Toynbee described as an oikoumene – a global society. There was a great deal of mobility. Vettius Valens was from Antioch, Dorotheus from Sidon, and Hephaistio from Thebes. They all lived and worked in cosmopolitan Alexandria. Firmicus Maternus was a political official in a province in Sicily.

While some writers have characterized the early Greek astrological corpus as a collection of technical manuals without any mythic or archetypal valence whatsoever, I believe that this can be disputed. Much attention has been drawn to the popularity of astrology among Stoic philosophers; this is a matter of historical record and therefore of some importance. But the first origins of horoscopic astrology clearly lie in Hermetic philosophy, and it was Hermetic philosophy that became the origin – the nourishing “underground stream” – that watered almost all of Western esoterica, giving birth to alchemy, contributing to Gnostic and possibly Kabbalistic ideas, and perhaps having some influence over the development of the Tarot as well. In returning to Western civilization’s Greek roots, we likewise return to the quintessential metaphysics of the Western world.

For all these reasons, I believe that Hellenistic astrology will continue to be a vital and inspiring force in the future development of Western astrology.



One of the most abiding sources of confusion I have encountered among students who approach Jyotish from a background in Western astrology is the concept of the Moon as symbolic of “the mind.”

“But wait a minute,” is the usual response. “I thought the Moon was supposed to be feelings and emotions. Isn’t Mercury supposed to be the mind?”

To make matters even more confusing, Mercury is also commonly described in Jyotish as pertaining to “the mind.”

In Sanskrit, we are dealing with two different words. Varaha Mihira, whose one-word definitions of planetary function are among the most important foundation stones of Jyotish, says that the Moon is manas whereas Mercury is buddhi.

And there is quite a difference between the two. Let’s take a look at the esoteric body. If the Moon is manas and corresponds to the mind, then we might imagine that the sphere of manas is to be found in the “causal” or “mental” body. And yet the manomayakosha, the sphere or “sheath” of manas, corresponds to the astral or subtle body instead, and the astral realm is one of dreams, feelings, moods, and images. In a similar vein, the Vedanta philosopher Shankara tells us that the esoteric body contains a subtle organ called the organ of manas. And yet this organ of manas is not located in the brain but close to the heart.

Manas, then, is the aggregate of “dreams, feelings, moods and images” which lies close to the heart and which CONDITIONS our STATE OF MIND or our FRAME OF MIND. This definition of “mind” should not be mistaken for “intellect,” which is something entirely different. The term buddhi, corresponding to Mercury, is more precisely equivalent to the English word “intellect.” (The Buddha is “he who possesses an awakened intellect.”) The Western astrologer may breathe a sigh of relief, as we are back on familiar footing with our friend the planet Mercury (who is now actively engaged with you in reading this blog).

If manas, then, is a frame of mind or state of mind created from the lunar materials of feelings, dreams, and emotions, then perhaps we ought to think of “consciousness” as something which is not specifically confined to our cranium, but which encompasses our entire being.

And in fact this view of consciousness as lying “close to the heart” was at one time a concept which prevailed in the Western world, not only in India. Some of the Greek poets, including Homer, locate the center of consciousness near the heart. Psychologist James Hillman once remarked, in his typically caustic way, that Western civilization began to perceive consciousness as centered in the head at about the same time that it invented the guillotine.

In the end, then, the Vedic perception of the Moon is not that different than the Moon as perceived in Western astrology. The concept of manas invites us to envision our moods and feelings, our emotional experience of life, the material stored in our astral bodies, as the authentic ground from which mind and intellect arise – in other words, our essential field of conscious awareness. Happy Moon = quiet emotions, quiet mind. Unhappy Moon = turbulent emotions, troubled mind.

May your conscious awareness be as tranquil as a full moon shining in a lake of calm water.

The Nakshtras: Ashvini

In my book “Mansions of the Moon,” I attempted an introduction to all the different features associated with the nakshatras. But in this series of essays I want to focus on one specific aspect of their meaning: the mythology. For those who want a basic introduction, a link to my book can be found below. For those who have a fascination with myth – read on!

The nakshatra Ashvini (0.00 to 13.20 Aries) is a cheerful corner of the sky. Those born under its influence are said to be bright spirited, friendly, and helpful. They move about with such speed that they can really dazzle you. At worst, they may move too fast for their own good. It is also said that many of them are to be found in the healing professions, and that quite a few of them have a passion for horses. If we are practicing muhurtha (electional astrology), Ashvini is numbered among the “swift” nakshatras, and it is said to be favorable to begin any medical or health treatment or routine while the Moon is there.

But wait a minute! Isn’t Ashvini ruled by Ketu? How would we describe someone who is strongly under the influence of Ketu? A dreamy sort of person, not of this world. She or he may be either a gifted mystic, an abuser of drugs and/or alcohol, and in some cases a bit of both. Logic is not a strong point, though intuition is often highly developed.

Does this sound like Ashvini? No, not really. This is puzzling to many astrologers, especially those who come from a Western astrology background, where we cannot really understand Capricorn folks unless we understand Saturn, or Taurus people unless we know who Venus is.

But the meanings and characteristics of the nakshatras are not derived from the planets that rule them, but rather from the Vedic deities who are associated with them.

This can be a bit confusing for the average student, since when we say “Vedic” in this case, we really mean it. All the ruling deities of the nakshatras can be found mentioned in the Rig Veda or Atharva Veda. In fact, some of them cannot be found mentioned anywhere else. This is a measure of the great antiquity of the nakshatras. While academics and devotees may have wildly differing beliefs about the age of these texts, even the most conservative university scholars place them no later than about 1000 BCE, making them the oldest known writings in any of the Indo-European family of languages.

And yet the Rig Veda is more often admired than read or studied – and with good reason, since a full translation in English is notoriously hard to come by. The purpose of these little essays, then, is to introduce you to some of the mythology of the Rig Veda and the nakshatra deities, so as to better understand these mansions of the moon as well as take a tour of these ancient mythic texts that have been of such vital importance to the world.

Ashvini is ruled by two twin gods called the Ashvins. They are the sons of the solar god Surya – that is one of the reasons we think of them as “bright.” Another reason is because they drive the chariot of the dawn, racing through the sky, following in the wake of Ushas, the Dawn Goddess. That is another reason they are “bright” – they literally glow with sunlight. And their chariot moves with great speed. This is why Ashvini is numbered among the “swift” nakshatras and why these people often move with such speed that they get way ahead of themselves. It is also the reason that those born under Ashvini are said to have a special love for horses.

As they ride through the sky, they cast their bright, sun-like gaze upon the earth below. And when they see someone in trouble, they rush to her or his rescue. They are friends to all mortal human beings, which is why those born under the influence of this nakshatra are said to be very friendly folk.

They are especially known as healers. When they find someone suffering from illness, they swoop down from the sky in their chariot and administer remedies. There is a famous story about how they restored an ancient, dying sage called Chyavan to youth. To this very day, one of the most popular Ayurvedic mixtures for general health is called Chyavanprash in reference to this incident. So now we know why those born under Ashvini are said to make excellent healers, as well as why the art of muhurtha tells us that the best time to begin a new health regime is when the Moon is in Ashvini.

I hope this brief essay gives you a bit of an idea as to how the meanings of the nakshatras are based upon the Vedic deities who rule them. In future parts of this little series, we shall explore the highways and byways of the ancient Vedic myths that relate to the lunar mansions. And next, we shall transfer our attention from the bright morning sky to the depths of the Underworld, for the next nakshatra, Bharani, is ruled by Yama, the King of the Dead.

See you down there!

For information about classes and readings, see:

New Podcast on Hellenistic and Indian Astrology

Hi folks, here is my new interview with Chris Brennan:

It all has to do with the issue of the transmission of Hellenistic astrology to India, as well as with the ways in which traditional Western astrologers and practitioners of Indian astrology can learn from each other in a practical way and build a bridge between two seemingly different disciplines.

And do visit Chris at For that matter, you can visit me too at

Book Sale

Spring Cleaning Sale:

Dear Friends,

My storage unit is getting crowded with inventory! It’s time to do some spring cleaning and declare a book sale at 25% off on most titles. And by the way, for certain titles there are only a few copies left. Go here:

Between Magic and Science

It is with something of a chuckle that I remember all those astrology books from days of yore – books with titles like “Science of the Stars” or “Science of the Ancients.” The operative word was “science.” Nothing in those days was of any value unless it was “scientific.” Big Science appeared to have overcome every other paradigm. Big Science would save us. Big Science was the goal of Western civilization, and one could neatly write a history of that society by giving good marks to all those whose life’s work led in the direction of science, and bad marks to all those whose life’s work led elsewhere. Does anyone remember Disneyland’s “House of Tomorrow,” or any of the other robotic utopian futures perpetrated upon the wide-eyed children of the 1950s? We would all grow up to be researchers in white coats, out to save the world through better chemistry, and we would all realize utopia in our lifetime.

But Hiroshima, the Love Canal, and napalm shattered our view of Big Science as “big salvation.” Utopia was displaced by dystopia – the gloom-laden post-apocalyptic futures of Blade Runner or The Matrix, in which science was perceived as a destructive rather than creative force.

And it has been quite some time now since I have seen any newly published astrology books touting the word “science” in big letters in the title.

Astrologers change their outlook upon their art according to the prevailing ideas of the society in which they live. Thus we are no longer the lab workers of the stars. Instead, we are psychologists.

Astrology seems sometimes to be an orphan child, hurrying to catch up with her new “daddy,” Big Psychology, but stumbling upon the smelly garment of folk magic that she still drags behind her.

But maybe, just maybe, magic is what it’s all about.

Maybe we are neither scientists nor psychologists, but seers.