Astrological Symbology


The Art Of Astrology

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Those students of astrology who find predictions based on planetary combinations and their disposition according to classical texts difficult to comprehend and mystifying would discover considerable material in astrological symbols which could be enlightening. They provide them enough scope for pondering over them in order to acquire basic insight into the various impulses generated by the planets, signs of the zodiac and the lunar mansions or Nakshatras. These symbols could even throw light on their underlying rationale. Properly understood, these symbols could establish an important link between the esoteric religions of the world, the hidden principles of the cosmic ideation and the evolution of human beings.

In approaching astrological symbols, it is necessary and important to recognise their limitations as well as their common origin. Many of these symbols have arisen in diverse societies and at different periods of history. Consequently, these symbols would not be identical in their representation, but having the same esoteric source of their knowledge all the adepts of the world would have the same knowledge to impart. So the outer expressions of a sign or differences in names should not make any vital difference in the real significance of the basic impulses described by them. Initiations in occult mystery schools have the uniform rules and all of them impart the same wisdom to deserving seekers. As the knowledge and comprehension of the seers of the subject depended upon their spiritual attainments and the levels of initiations in these mystery schools scattered in different parts of the world, there had been the minimal chances of any error though local and superficial variations could be found. These symbols, as well as the secrets made available to the seers at these initiations contained inbuilt defence against their vulnerability. These can be understood by any person according to his own individual spiritual understanding and attainments on which depends his insight. These symbols open vast possibilities for right type of earnest students but they have also inbuilt mechanism by which their accessibility is defended against the unwary. These symbols are therefore like mantras and tantras, objects of meditation and reverential use with a view to learning secret knowledge and acquiring power over nature.

There are many kinds of astrological symbols. Primarily they are geometrical figures, natural or man-made figures, and allegorical stories woven around them. Religious myths have played an important role in the determination and evolution of these symbols. Differences in cultural and religious milieu influenced the identification of any specific symbol for any astological planet, signs of the zodiac, or for the lunar mansions, but as the essential features of these had been imparted to ancient seers of all lands and all times from the common fount of esoteric wisdom, there could not be any real variation in the meaning of these symbols. Whatever the origin of the symbols, a careful study of the symbols could therefore reveal the basic characteristics of the astrological impulses radiating from the planets, zodiacs, Nakshatras or any other astrological determinants. Whatever could have been the aim for selecting these symbols, whether natural objects like lotus, or a pearl, insects like crab or scorpion, animals like bull, or a horse, or a loin, plants like Ashwatha tree, or man-made objects like a balance or a potter's wheel, the external appearance of these are superficial for meditative purposes in order to discover their real, inherent meanings; for unraveling the inner and deeper significance of these objects in life, sometimes one has to look for their synonyms, and even search for the several meanings of the word and the wordvalues of the letters used and so on. The guiding factor in the discovery of the keys to the meanings of symbolic expressions is the consistency in their applications. Once a particular key is used for interpreting the meaning of any symbol, it should be able to throw similar light on other symbols as well when so used. In this way, depending upon the level of understanding and the extent of the expansion of one's consciousness, it could be possible to get an insight into the hidden meanings of symbols directly. Approaching this way, the student could be able to intuit the meaning assigned to the symbols by the ancient seers depending upon their depth of understanding of the nature of the objects thus used. Their implications are tremendous in understanding alchemical works as well as Gnosis. In astrological studies of symbology, it is helpful to know the cosmogenetic philosophy as well as the evolution and constitution of man. Such studies when related to the symbols often reveal their hidden meanings and implications, which when applied in different contexts show the appropriateness of their selection. The depth of revelation depends upon the kind of keys one has used; profounder understanding of the occult wisdom and of the interplay of the finer forces of nature yields keys of more inner secrets provided the seeker has already attained corresponding level of spiritual understanding. Thus, the revelations, made at any level cannot be assumed to be final. That is very true in understanding occult subjects like astrology, alchemy, and mythological stories of various world religions.

There are many kinds of symbols, as indicated above, but here we propose to discuss a few geometrical symbols used in relation to astrological planets. In discussing the nature of planets, the geometrical symbols are useful for the reason that social and religious differences in the meaning of these symbols in different countries could be minimised considerably. But, because other symbols cannot always be overlooked, specially when the signs of the zodiac and the characteristics of the lunar mansions are examined, we shall be required to pay due attention to such symbols as well. Among the geometrical symbols, the cross, the circle and the arrow are very important. The circle appears in various ways in the symbols for Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars as well as in many others. Almost all the planets have some portion of the circle attached to them in some way or the other. Cross appears prominently in the case of Venus, Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn. Arrow is connected with Mars among the planets, but in the signs of the zodiac one finds it linked with Scorpio, Sagittarius, and among the Nakshatras arrow symbolises Aridra, and Purvasadha. An understanding of these geometrical figures and how they are useful in representing certain abstruse occult forces could enable us to apply them to astological predictions.

These three kinds of symbols primarily represent certain stages of cosmic ideation and the path of return to the source from which everything began. A cross which is primarily composed of two lines intersecting at their middle points is a very ancient symbol representing regeneration. Madame H.P. Blavatsky has stated that the form of the cross did not originate with the Christianity, rather it was known and used for mystical purposes thousands of years before the christian era. According to her, it formed part and parcel of the various rituals in Egypt and Greece, in Babylon and India, as well as in China, Mexico, and Peru. It formed a cosmic, as well as a physiological (or phallic) symbol. The form of the cross has varied considerably from one country to another and from one period to another, and its use has also been very much different. As Tau, it had been used even as a magic talisman. But essentially, the cross is considered as a symbol of eternal life, the four points representing succession of birth, life, death, and immortality. As a symbol of dual generative power, it was laid upon the breast of the Initiate after his 'new birth' was accomplished. It was variously considered as a magic sign signifying that the newly born adept has achieved his spiritual birth, has enabled union between his astral soul with his divine spirit and he has been ready to ascend in spirit to the blessed land of light and glory. It was a symbol of the revealed mystery of life and death. It is said that the Brahmatma, the chief of Hindu initiates carried on his head gear two keys arranged like a cross to remind him of this symbol. In some Buddhist worship places in Tartary and Mongolia, the entrances of a chamber, generally containing the staircase leading to inner shrines, w-;re ornamented with a cross formed with two fishes. In some monuments of Chaldea, Persia and even in India, there have been inscriptions of double or eight-pointed cross. There is a Masonic tradition that Solomon's temple was built on three foundations, forming the 'triple tau' or three crosses. A.F. Orchard has recorded the symbol of cross engraved on rocks in Egypt and Central Asia, while the ancient cave temples for example of Ellora, Elephanta, Varanasi and Mathura were cross shaped. Thus, the universality of the symbol of cross would suggest that the symbol of cross associated with various planets and other astrological signs cannot be overlooked and considered unconnected with the esoteric philosophy underlying this sign.

The widespread use of this symbol in astrology would make one feel that the several planets like Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, and Saturn, (besides several others about which we shall discuss later), must have been very intimately linked with the essential occult significance which this symbol in various religious and mystic traditions was expected to disclose. In order to discover the significance of this symbol for our purpose, it would be useful to shear its frills and study the central principle it aimed to describe. In its bare skeleton, the symbol consists of two lines, one horizontal and another vertical, both intersecting one another at the middle.

H.P. Blavatsky has stated that the union of Spirit and Matter symbolised as an emblem of Life Eternal in Spirit on its ascending arc and in Matter as the ever resurrecting element by procreation and reproduction as in a cross, in which the spiritual male line is vertical whilst the differentiated matter-line is horizontal. What the Sankhya philosophy denoted by Prakriti, the female counterpart of the cosmic creative energy, and Purusha, the masculine positive cosmic creative energy, are represented by the horizontal and the vertical lines of the cross thus expressing the fundamental cosmic ideational process in essence. The horizotal line thus standing for Hiranyagarbha, the Golden Egg, Mother Nature, Psyche in man, and so one, contains within itself all the elements and attributes, Tanmatras, Indriyas, Bhutas and Trigunas (namely Rajas, Sattwa and Tamas) which form the cosmic bricks for the creation and evolution of the cosmos and the man. It is the combination and permutation of these that the various levels of existence arise through which the consciousness or the Spirit operates to achieve its destiny (of divine immaterialisation or being veiled under Illusion—Maya, and the final release, Moksha or Nirvana).

The horizontal line consists of atoms each of which is impressed with its destiny once it is activised by the radiance of Divine Thought, the spirit in manifestation; it is like an ovum awaiting impregnation for the fruition of its inherent, latent potential though by itself it is not capable of fructification. The vertical line is considered as Purusha in Tapas, in penance, which does not mean 'isolation, but self-imposed restrictions in order to fulfil some cosmic purpose. In this process of self-imposed restrictions, the Absolute having differentiated itself in Mool, Prakriti, Primordial Matter, and Daivi Prakriti—Primodial Spirit, or consciusness begins immersing itself in different layers of material veils thus limiting its capabilities for functioning in complete freedom. Nonetheless, the Cosmic Male, the Vertical Line, remains positive, creative, without which matter is inert. The vertical line in this way represents the positive, creative potential, which can become actuality only in union with matter, the horizontal line. The Cross therefore is a symbol of manifestative process. It shows how the Unmanifest during the materialisation process known as procreation, generation, cosmic ideation, assuming motion becomes an emblem for cosmic evolution. It is for this reason that the Cross is said to be the Sign of Life, the Tree of Life, the hammer of creation, continual motion and revolution, the whirling of the Great Breath, the Invisible Cosmos of Forces. It is supposed to be the symbol of God as well as a symbol of man, a symbol of sacrifice and of creation, of generation and re-generation; of life and death; Rebirth and Immortality; union, separation, and re-union; past, present , and future and eternity; night, morning; sleep and waking; male and female, and all the pairs of opposites, and of the androgynous dualism of every manifestation of nature. It is a symbol of the descent of Spirit into Matter as well as the Fall of mankind ■ into generation. Having discussed the various implications and representations of the symbol, A.F. Orchard has very rightly stated :

"The Cross is the symbol of the Sun, Moon and Planets. It is at one and the same time Spiritual, physical, cosmogonical, anthropological and magical, with seven keys to its inner meaning. This compound key contains the seven great mysteries of cosmos. It is the Alpha and Omega of universal creation, the Force evolving from pure Spirit and ending in gross matter. It applies to measures, animal reproduction, geometry, numbers, astonomy.

When the symbol of Cross is studied under astrology, one will discover many possible keys in order to comprehend the essential nature and attributes of the astological forces represented by the various planets, signs of the zodiac and so on. These keys are bestowed to the students only at different degrees of Initiation in Mystery Schools which is hedged with rigorous conditions of pledges and probations. As long as these real keys are not available, one will have content with whatever is available intuitively. This preliminary precaution is applicable even in the case of other symbols, such as the circle and the arrow.

It is very difficult to establish the sequence between the evolution of cycle and cross symbols. In many ways, both can be studied as a simultaneous process in cosmic ideation. However, one may say that the cycle symbol is less sophisticated and is direct expression of some primeval process of the cosmic manifestation. Circularity in an observation is an indication of some order in the perceptive intelligence. In it, there is harmony, relationship and reference to the centre from which the curving contour seems to have arisen. Moreover, in nature there is no straight line which could be directly and naturally recognised by an individual. Only at a later stage of intelligent contemplation, when hypothetical relationships and thought processes were superimposed on various observations that one begins to think of straight lines (of which the Cross is made). In man's inner experiences, in expression of nature's movement such as the flight of birds and growth of trees or the flow of rivers, the movement of the Sun, Moon, stars and the galaxies, there is circularity rather than linear movement. Man from the earliest times has recognised nature and its operation as connected with circle while straight lines composing triangles, hexagrams and other tantric figures evolved later in order to establish control over nature's finer forces. These have been the expressions of man's conquest (and understanding) of Nature. Thus, whenever man realised the greatness of Nature, he began to think in terms of cycles; whenever man thought of his own supremacy, he used straight lines and their various combinations. For that very reason, probably, from the earliest dawn of history, the Absolute, Incognizable, the Supreme, the Divine Unity, the Cosmic Rhythm and such other phenomena were expressed by circles. In that sense, one could consider the circle as the primary symbol of cosmic ideation.

A circle consists of a central point and the circumference; both together form a unity. Even the circumscription of the outer ring only, by itself, could mathematically determine the location of the central point. So whenever the ring of the circle is described as a symbol, it assumes the •existence of a central source but the very fact that the central point is dropped signifies a purpose which for general purpose refers to the area covered rather than the unity prevailing between the centre and the circumference, that is, the creator and the creation. A circle is divine unity, from which all proceeds, whither all returns. H.P. Blavatsky has recorded these two symbols, namely the circle and the circle with its centre, as the two earliest representations of the cosmic indication. She said : "An Archaic Manuscript—a collection of palm leaves made impermeable to water, fire, and air, by some specific and unknown process—is before the writer's eye. On the first page is an immaculate white disc within a dull black background. On the following page, the same disc but with a central point. The first, the student knows, represents cosmos in Eternity, before the reawakening of still slumbering Energy, the Emanation of the world in later systems. The point in the hitherto immaculate disc, Space and Eternity in Pralaya, denotes the dawn of differentiation. It is the Point in the Mundane Egg, the Germ within which will become the Universe, the ALL, the boundless, periodical cosmos, a Germ which is latent and active, periodically and by turns. The one circle is divine Unity, from which all proceeds, whither all returns; its circumference indicates the abstract, ever incognizable Presence, and its plane, the Universal Soul, although the two are one." From this, it could be seen the appropriateness of the symbol for the Sun, which in its mysterious splendour is the Supreme as far as human beings and their world are concerned. It is said that the circle is the delimitation of the area for manifestation, which in fact should be the first thrill in the Unmanifest Absolute while entering into Tapas, penance, for manifesting the cosmos from within itself, and the Circle with the point in it, the first differentiation of the Absolute so that it becomes the prime source of visible existence ; "Aditi in THAT". The symbol of the Sun is not merely a physical representation of the visible planet, but it describes the esoteric evolutionary impulse that led to its manifestation. Otherwise, the point in the centre in the symbol of the Sun would have no meaning.

In considering the symbols like the cycle and the circle (that is, cycle with a central point), one has to recognise that the ideation of the absolute in its unmanifest state to the manifest state is a very complex process which transcends the intelligence of the highest adepts. A pondering over the Sun symbology that is, the circle with a central point, would give some understanding of this process. The objectification of the subjective potential expressed as the swelling of the Mother Nature in its multifarious forms, motion expressed as time and duration as well as involvement in different permutations and combinations of form and motion resulting form the basic qualities of attraction and repulsion, these three though dissimilar for our comprehension and in their results are basically three results of one and the same ideational change. Polarisation is an act which causes all these, but the act of polarisation itself is dual in nature. In the process of Unmanifest becoming manifest, the subjective becoming objective, the sexless becoming the masculine and the feminine, the act of polarisation, attraction and repulsion, as well as motion occur simultaneously. Thus the manifestation of the central point, or the act of centralisation of the attention of the Absolute arouses many of the complicated network of forces. The movement in the point exposed as a line—horizontal and vertical—begins to move as a line in a linear dimension but, as a plane, so to say, the blades of masculine and fermine forces begin to pervade without any hindrance in different directions. The cosmic particles constituting these blades or the planes are each surcharged with centripetal and centrifugal energy-particles which cause attraction between the positive (male) and the negative (female) forces, that is, between the vertical^and the horizontal energy-emanations which being drawn in love relations are simultaneously thrown in repulsion or in hate relations. Thus, a perennial war between the so called gods and no-gods and, a kind of balance or harmony, is established between the diverse forces. Only when the unrestricted motion of these forces is circumscribed by concentrating on any one point, on the extending or expanding blades of energy-particles that these forces begin whirling round the centre to make it finally a sphere rather than a circle. In fact, what the symbol shows as a circle is a sphere which for representational purpose is shown as a circle. This approach would show the aptness of the symbol of a circle for the Sun because the physical Sun has also a definite quality of keeping the various globes at a distance while keeping them within its zone of gravitational pull thus finally maintaining a beautiful harmony in the solar system.

But for astrological purpose, we have to penetrate deeper in the symbology in order to discover the attributes of the planets which have been assigned full cycle or a part of it. It is now not difficult to recognise that a point has two main properties; one, it is the swelling of the inner without thus that which is within, unmanifest, becomes external, manifest, pervasive and is expressed as the circumference. In actual life, the point represents the quality of generations : it enables the divine potential in man to flower which under favourable conditions expands in all directions. Second, it is the point which can sustain and provide the necessary impetus for every linear movement, whether horizontal or vertical. The existence of point together with the circumference shows the swelling of Spirit and of various other kinds of energies, positive as well as negative, but within the restricted field of activity. As a symbol of the Sun, this sign suggests intense activity, both physical as well as in the realm of thought and intelligence, the negative influence is felt by way of anger; destructive tendencies, frustration; there could also be grace and irresistible constructive impulses along with severe urge to destroy. The circumference is always a limitation to the urge of the point in the centre to grow. Key words of this symbol could be considered spontaneity that which is within is swelling without, that which is subjective is becoming objective, there is expansiveness, perfection, attracting and repelling simultaneously, frustration if personal expansion is obstructed.

While a cycle is an integral whole (here we are thinking only of the cycle, that is, the circle without the central point), it is represented even as a serpent swallowing its tail, or the Tibetan Mandal, of which Professor Carl Gustav Jung gave much prominence. It is also seen as rhythmic movement, periodicity, cyclic rise and fall, and the dimensions of activity extending from the highest realm of manifestation to the lowest depth of hell. It is the universal life. But, the different portions of the circumference have radically different characteristics, as the cycle that relates the heaven and the hell in one chain will have its different links touching different portions of this manifestation. The distinguishing features of the different sectors of the circular arc are important because in several planets which are quite different form one another different portions of the arc are associated. In Mercury, the arc moves from left to right in an upward direction, while in the case of Jupiter it is that portion of the arc which is moving from right-hand side of the cycle upwards ; in the case of Saturn two arcs of the cycle are joined in a very different manner. Unless we are able to get an idea of the special features of these arcs, the symbolism of these planets could not be very enlightening. For this reason, if we follow the cyclical movement of the circle carefully, we shall find that the upper arc is the movement of the spirit towards immaterialisation while the arc concaving left-ward is connected with the involutionary movement of the Spirit when it is increasingly embedded in matter. The lower sector of the circular arc shows the Spiritward urge after the immaterialisation process is getting saturated. The arc convexing righthand side represents the return movement of the arc, of the homeward journey of matter, or the release of Spirit from the shakles of gross layers of materialisation. These sector-wise divisions become very important when we examine their association with Mercury, Saturn, Jupiter and such other planets or with the signs of the zodiac.

So far we have seen the details of a cycle, a circle, a cross but the significance of an arrow, which appears only in the case of Mars among the planets but in several cases of the zodiac and Nakshatras we have not yet examined the significance of their symbols. In Munkakopanishad, the significance of arrow as one-pointed human effort has been spoken of. Almost in all parts of the ancient world, arrow was the symbol of ^ manly qualities whereby man could achieve something not ordinarily possible for ordinary individuals. In the Upanishad mentioned above, the disciple is urged to shoot his arrow pointedly and with attention and concentration to his ultimate progenitor, the Atman, and for this purpose detailed allegorical references have been made. Arrow is prinarily an instrument for achieving noble aims as well as for punishing the wicked, or for defending oneself. It is an instrument necessary to express one's prowess. Arrow is primarily a pointed effort towards an object which has to be hit, attained, brought under subjugation as a result of one's concentrated and controlled attention produced and power. These are the qualities when radical and important changes occur in the evolving entity.

Note : A detailed discussion on astrological symbols is given in our study on Myths and Symbols in Vedic Astrology (Passage Press, U.S.A.)

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