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I am going to claim in this talk that time has a qualitative as well as a quantitative dimension, and present astrology as the ancient art of determining and interpreting the quality of time.

First my distinction between astronomy and astrology:

  • Astronomy is left-brained, yang, uses reason and measurement, yields quantitative knowledge of the material world.

  • Astrology is right brained, yin, requires intuition and imagination, yields qualitative knowledge of the non-physical world.

Astronomy and astrology were one discipline in past cultures where intuition was valued equally with reason. Maths, as taught by Pythagoras, was about quality as well as quantity. Plato said to learn geometry was to learn about the gods and the ethics of the cosmos. And the principles of symmetry and equilibrium that appear in Nature on all levels of scale were morally meaningful to the Greeks.

But quality which goes together with meaning has been stripped away from our science and maths. Left-brained reason is over valued in our culture and right-brained imagination is devalued. However this is now changing. A paradigm shift is occurring. For example, the new biology, views evolution as an emergent process in which the organism’s perception of quality plays a key role. And the images of deep space delivered by the Hubble space telescope are leading to a revision of the way we see our place in the universe. Those awe-inspiring pictures of distant galaxies seem to prove Aristotle right when he described the universe as ‘adorned’ with order (notice his use of a quality word – adorned).

Order manifests in the natural world in the geometry of water crystals and flower petals. It determines the spiral shape based on the golden section structuring the nautilus’ shell as well as the great spiral galaxies. We find the same geometric patterns repeated on all levels of scale – an example of the very large being the hexagon that has appeared in the gas clouds surrounding Saturn’s north pole. Its straight lines and equal-lengthed are an example of random molecules self organising geometrically. And Alexander Lauterwasser has published some fascinating photos of the geometry that appears when water is oscillated at different rates – shapes emerging from randomness. As Aristotle said ‘Matter yearns for its own perfection’, and ‘yearns’ like ‘adorned’ is also a quality word, proving there was no split between perceptions of quality and quantity in the human mind in the 5th century BC.

From my understanding of the work of David Bohm, I have drawn this diagram of a model of reality that unites quantity and quality, reason and imagination, astronomy and astrology.

When we’re awake we live in two realities – A, an outer world of other people and material objects, and B, an inner world of thoughts, emotions and mental images. When we’re asleep Level A disappears, and we wander about in our imaginings on Level B. A is measurable by our scientific parameters; B is not, as the subjective is not available to scientific study.

Both A and B emerge from a common ground – C– which Bohm calls the ‘implicate order’. This is the subatomic level of the quantum flow in which patterns are contained in an ‘enfolded’ latent state. From here they ‘unfold’ and become ‘explicate’ as packets of particles that maintain their form over time. His concept of enfolded patterns reminds me of Plato’s Ideas – the forms of things dwelling in an ideal, transcendent realm from where they precondition all material manifestation.

The above diagram presents a universe in which forms unfold out of a ground (Level C) to become explicate on levels B or A. There they sustain themselves for longer or shorter lengths of time before dying back into C. On B they become ideas and images: on A they become material objects. C feeds into A and B, B also feeds into A

Wolfgang Pauli, another quantum physicist, saw the fluid way quantum wave patterns interpenetrate as similar to the way ideas associate and merge in the mind, which led him to conclude that the quantum level is more like mind than matter. So we need to distinguish here between different levels of mind. We could say B represents both our individual mind, and the collective human mind. Thinking in a Rupert Sheldrake way in terms of fields, we can see the collective human mind as a larger field containing the smaller fields of our personal minds within it. And then they are embedded in the all-encompassing field of the universal mind, which is level C, like Russian dolls within dolls. Pythagoras believed there is a universal mind present and active throughout the whole of creation in which our individual minds partake. So perhaps the universal mind, or mind of God, is what I have called Level C.

My diagram can also explain the phenomenon of synchronicity upon which astrology rests. Jung defined synchronicity as: ‘the coincidence in time of two or more causally unrelated events which have the same or similar meaning’. One event can occur on level B – you think about your sister - the other event on level A –the telephone rings at that moment and it’s her. Or two causally unconnected events that share a wider meaning can both occur on Level A –for example two members of your family have the same birthday – a phenomenon that occurs in many more families than non-astrologers realise!

Synchronicity happens when a pattern emerges from Level C in two places at once. The occurrence of the common birthday, for example, is a sign that an astrological family pattern is in the process of unfolding.

As an astrologer I encounter synchronicity on a daily basis when I interpret birth charts. I rely in my work on the synchronicity between the patterns made by the sun, moon and planets at the time of birth (Level A because material fact), and the psychological patterns of the person born at that moment (Level B). As above so below! And it functions because, as Jung wrote, “Our psyche is set up in accord with the structure of the universe and what happens in the macrocosm likewise happens in the most subjective reaches of the psyche.” which is what astrologers have always known!

So astrologers use level A, which is visible, to derive information about level B, which is invisible, and this works because Level A (outer life) and Level B (inner life) correspond. The mystic Jakob Boehme knew this too when he wrote, ‘If you want to know yourself, look at the world, and if you want to know the world, look within.’

Synchronicity is also at work between planetary movements and the unfolding of events on the world stage. Richard Tarnas in his book Cosmos and Psychetraces synchronicities between the cycles of the outer planets and historical events over many centuries. I feel he successfully proves that what happens in human affairs is not random but an expression of archetypal patterns unfolding.

For example Saturn and Pluto are now at a stage in their current cycle where they relate to each other at an angle of 90 degrees, known in astrology as a square. This is a measurable astronomical fact on level A, and astrologers, using their level B qualitative knowledge, interpret this aspect as a tense, discordant stage in the cycle of two planets’ relating.

Astrology also puts events into larger frameworks of meaning by making us aware of diachronic time patterning. Diachronic means we can look back to the time when Saturn and Pluto last formed a tense aspect and see what was happening then and what is happening now as a continuous narrative. It was their opposition whose first exactitude occurred in 2001 just weeks before 9/11. So it’s no coincidence that the perpetrators of the atrocity are now being brought to trial, which will bring up the pain and horror into public awareness again, contributing to the sombre mood of the present Saturn-Pluto aspect.

So how do astrologers know what meaning to give to planetary combinations? Well, according to my approach, it’s not about the planets themselves - Pluto’s not even a planet now - but about the archetypes behind them. To refer back to my diagram, the planets are on Level A and the archetypes on Level C. So the planets are the material representatives of the immaterial cosmic archetypes. Down the ages they’ve been personified and worshipped as gods and goddesses, and they still bear the names of Roman divinities. Gods and goddesses are on Level B.

So what are archetypes exactly? Jung had a lot to say about them. He saw them as the foundational principles of order in the cosmos, dwelling in the collective unconscious – which is his name for Level C – from where they precondition our perceptions, and affect our thoughts, feelings and actions. In his younger years Jung saw them as projections of the human mind, but later he claimed they were living presences out there in the cosmos, with an independent reality.

Astrologers work with twelve archetypes that carry the names of the signs of the zodiac and include the Jungian archetypes within them. We experience them as different qualities of time which we register on level B – the personal and collective human psyche. Each archetype has a field of probable expression. Here is a diagram of the fields of Saturn and Pluto, which are represented as overlapping because of the present square between them.

A planet’s field of meaning can be understood as a cluster of ideas, associations and emotional patterns on Level B which then can emerge – but must not – as events on Level A.

The present connection between the two fields explains why we’ve experienced an escalation of violence this autumn – massacres in the US, increased suicide bombings in the Middle East, daily army funerals in Wootton Bassett. Also the news at home has been full of murders, rapes and cases of cruel abuse. It’s because when Saturn and Pluto merge the heat is turned up, and emotions that have been repressed can erupt. People act out of desperation as it’s also about being in a dire situation where there seems no way out. Radical change is needed, but human nature being what it is the suffering must reach a critical point before that change can happen.

However, criminals are also being brought to justice. A Nazi war criminal, pursued for thirty years, is now going on trial, the south London rapist has finally been arrested and is in custody. It’s because the waning Saturn-Pluto square is a time when old crimes are exposed and retribution is demanded.

The twelve archetypal energies that astrologers work with manifest not only in human life but throughout the whole of creation. All realms of nature have Level C - the universal psyche - as their common ground. So we can see a thing or phenomenon as having a particular quality because it participates in a certain archetype. This is the received wisdom behind the medieval chain of being and its system of correspondences.

For example a sunflower in the realm of plants and a lion in the realm of animals both participate in the Leo archetype of which the sun is the planetary representative. So it’s no coincidence that both the sunflower and the lion are golden like the sun, and have a ruffle of petals and a mane respectively like the sun’s rays. They have an affinity (in the medieval sense of the word) with the sun and its metal, gold. Therefore the system of sympathies and affinities between the planets, metals and plants, which was used in ancient medicine and alchemy, can be explained by their archetype participation.

The archetypes are not static but in flux. However there is an order to their dance. They become explicate from within the stream of consciousness of the universal mind with a timing that is patterned geometrically. The ancients were aware of this; Plato used the expression ‘the choreography of the gods’ implying that meaning is not found in the positions of the stars and planets themselves, but in their patterns over time that is like a grand dance. Plotinus described how ‘the figures of the heavenly circuit’ move in harmony, ‘All serve the dance and help make it more perfect.’ And this patterning gives coherence to the system as a whole in the sense of a long-range order.

To take an example of geometric patterning creating time quality: there are four peaks in the cycles of the sun and moon, each having a different quality and field of interpretation. These peaks were celebrated in ancient cultures with ceremonies and rituals. People then were more sensitive to quality than we are today, and valued those moments when cosmic energy becomes available for empowerment and transformation.

New moon has the quality of seed time – it’s when we should begin new projects which will then culminate two weeks later at full moon which is the time of fulfilment. The waning moon is the time when we harvest what we have sown and face the consequences of our earlier decisions. So if we want to grow something (a business venture, for example) we should time this to the waxing moon, and if we want to diminish something (aches and pains for example) we should time their treatment to the waning moon.

The four directions also have their different qualities that correspond to the peaks in the sun and moon cycles, which is why the relationships of the stars and planets to the horizon and meridian are so important in a chart. The east-west line of the horizon is where the stars and planets rise and set. They are born in the east and die in the west, so east is associated with birth and new beginnings, and west with death and endings. North and south, or up and down, are related on Level B to incarnation and ascension. They represent the opposites of light and dark and heat and cold. Feng Shui practitioners in ancient China, laid out whole cities with an eye to the qualities of the directions in order to create a harmonious society.

Alignments to the four directions are found in ancient earthworks and monuments where the squared circle appears as a basic pattern. The squared circle is also a foundational element in mandalas, which use geometry for the spiritual purpose of ordering consciousness. On its qualitative level the square stands for the cross of earthly life creating the bounds of time and space within the circle of eternity.

The diagram above of the cycle of Saturn to Pluto depicts a cross being formed over a period of thirty-eight years by the series of conjunction, square, opposition, square and conjunction within the circle of the zodiac. So we can understand why, when two planets make a square aspect to each other, as they do at present, this is a loaded period of time, as they are temporarily positioned on the points where the corners of the square touch the circle.

Besides challenging squares, harmonious triangles also form in the sky, for example through the cycle of Jupiter to Saturn. Over a period of sixty years their conjunctions map out a great triangle, which is a harmonious geometric figure standing for progress and spiritual growth. If we include their three oppositions during the same period, then a giant hexagram is formed as in the diagram above. The hexagram also appears in the shri yantra mandala, which depicts upward pointing yang triangles in perfect equlibrium with downward pointing yin triangles - an image of the unio mystica, or the divine union of male and female energy.

If we could freeze time we would get the complex image of sky geometry in the next diagram, which shows how the twelve archetypes relate to each other geometrically within the zodiac. These relationships are absolute and eternal.

But in time we experience each geometrical figure forming and dissolving again.

The quality of any moment is determined by the dominant archetypal combination. Thus we can see the present moment as coloured by the qualities of the merging Capricorn and Scorpio archetypes – Saturn and Pluto being in a strong aspect to each other (Saturn is the representative or carrier of the Capricorn archetype, and Pluto of Scorpio). Also Pluto is presently in Saturn’s sign, Capricorn.

To conclude, to diagnose the quality of the times astrologers use both their knowledge of the planetary cycles (level A - astronomical knowledge) and their knowledge of the fields of significance of the archetypes (level B- intuitive, imaginative knowledge). Having taught astrology for nearly 30 years, I see it as basic for students to become acquainted in depth with the qualities and subject matter of the twelve archetypal fields. And it was in order to teach this in an entertaining way that I wrote my book ‘Virtual Lives: the Animated Zodiac’ which brings the signs of the zodiac to life as twelve characters who narrate their life stories from birth to death. The events in their lives and the issues they have to confront, as well as their personality patterns, are all typical of the archetypes they represent.

The student of astrology also needs knowledge of the qualities of the twelve phases of time cycles in order to determine what will emerge when in his life. My second book ‘Hercules Labours: the Evolutionary Path round the Zodiac’ was written to demonstrate the archetypal patterns emerging during a time cycle – in this case the 29-year cycle of Saturn. I use the myths of Hercules’ labours to describe the qualities of the twelve time phases, translating them into the kinds of challenges we meet in modern life.


  1. Astrology rests on the experienced fact of ‘as above so below’.

  2. It provides insights into the invisible patterning within the implicate order of existence that structures our personalities and influences our life choices.

  3. The way the archetypes emerge and relate to each other in time follows a geometric order.

  4. Astrologers work with twelve archetypal powers that are living presences within Level C. Around each there clusters a field of associations and meanings that determine its qualities and themes on Level B. Themes become explicate and take form on Levels B or A when triggered by planetary alignments.

  5. The universal mind is present and active throughout all creation, and our individual minds partake in it. Also our psyches participate in the megapsyche of the whole, which contains the patterns that determine the quality of emerging events. I see our individual minds as fractals of the universal mind, and therefore imprinted with its intrinsic archetypal patterns, and that for me explains how astrology works.

  6. Finally astrology gives us an experience of the sacred by revealing the divine order of the cosmos. So I will finish with two inspiring quotations from the ancients. First Heraclitus who said, ‘No matter how far you may travel in any direction, you will never come to the edge of the soul. There never was a time when this universe did not have a soul, or the body existed in the absence of soul.’ And Plotinus who said, ‘This one universe is all bound together in shared experience and is like one living creature. That which is far is really near, and nothing is so distant in space that it is not close enough to the nature of the one living thing’.

Phoebe Wyss November 2009

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