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The Tao of the Zodiac

The Tao of the Zodiac
the light and dark of cosmic cycles

Talented astrologer Gary P. Caton discusses the nature of astrology in the light and dark of cosmic cycles and the symbolism of the Tao, or the Way. He argues that the essential qualities of astrology have less to do with planets and signs than they do with the eternal, alternating patterns of light and dark. This encapsulates the symbolic phases that are based in the seasonal philosophy of the tropical zodiac.

When I first began to practice Astrology professionally, I developed a bit of a defense mechanism against the oft-heard knee-jerk skeptic's response of “I don't believe in Astrology”. I used to respond with “Oh, that's interesting. I guess you don't believe in Chinese either?” Any sort of quizzical expression from the skeptic meant they were had, because I would then follow with a discourse on how Astrology is really a language of symbol and much like Chinese, which is actually made up of much more complex characters, does not require belief. Incidentally, this is also why I always capitalize the word Astrology when I write – as with any other language. If I was allowed to go on I would also inquire if the skeptic also disbelieved in the four seasons and then build steam into my discourse on the origin of the zodiac from the natural cycles of the seasons – each with a beginning middle and end... And much like my old door to door vacuum cleaner sales days (hey, Aries will try anything once) I would occasionally win a convert.

Go to Top Cycles in Astrology

What I learned from listening to myself talk (those discourses began to take on a life of their own) was that at its most fundamental, Astrology has nothing to do with signs or planets. The cycle as a whole is the basic unit of Astrology. All the cycles of Astrology are based upon primal alternations of light and dark. The daily (ascendant), monthly (lunar), and yearly (solar) cycles can all be divided quarterly according to the naturally occurring empirical processes of lightness and darkness. Thus, if we correlate the Daily cycle with the lunar cycle's phases and the solar cycle's seasons we can begin to see how the fundamental symbol of Astrology, the primal cycle, operates at all levels. The darkest time of the year is the winter solstice, which correlates with the new moon and midnight. Dawn, being the triumph of light over darkness can be seen to correlate with spring equinox and first quarter, noon – summer solstice and full moon, dusk – autumn equinox and third quarter. The three cycles quite nicely follow one another – day, month, and year being divisible into four quarters by naturally occurring empirical processes of darkness and light. This is why progressions work. A day equals a year because symbolically they are the same cycle! Eventually it became obvious to me that if I had to reduce the wisdom of Astrology into one word or symbol it would have to be the yin-yang. This ancient Taoist symbol perfectly illustrates in graphic form the most basic energies of the Astrological cycles.

My interest in outer planet cycles is fueled by the fact that I was born under the Uranus-Pluto conjunction and I found Astrology through a dream I had during the Uranus-Neptune conjunctions. A thorough look at history and outer planet cycles harkens all the way back to 579-577 BC, when all three outer planets made a Grand Conjunction in the sign of Taurus1. This was in the Age of Aries2 when such Masters as Lao Tzu, Confucius, Buddha (in the East), and Pythagoras (in the West) walked the Earth. Actually, these Grand Conjunctions happen even more infrequently than the Ages of the Great Year3 which take a little more than 2 millennia to unfold. The next Grand Conjunction will be around the year 3370, so that is roughly 3940 years (almost twice the length of an Astrological Age) and represents the next step in a cycle that lasts nearly 50,000 years. This is the grand-daddy (or grand-mammy) of all Cycles! Clearly it is important to look carefully at the teachings of the Masters who incarnated at the last known Grand Conjunction, particularly because it was in an Earth sign. This is where the current preponderance of the outer-planet conjunctions fall (the latest Uranus-Neptune conjunctions were in the sign of Capricorn and the last Uranus-Pluto conjunctions were in Virgo).

Go to Top Lao Tzu and the Way to Clarity

While much has and can be learned by studying Pythagoras and his Western contemporaries Plato and Socrates, I believe the essence of the Earth wisdom that can balance our current excesses is to be found in the teachings of Lao Tzu and the Tao Teh Ching. Lao Tzu literally means “old master”. He was the keeper of the Imperial Library of China and very famous for his wisdom. Disgusted by the corruption of the government, he left for the countryside. Lao TzuOn his way out, the guard at the city gates asked him to write down his wisdom for future generations. He wrote the Tao Teh Ching and walked off into the sunset. The Tao is one of the most influential books in history and is the source of famous sayings such as “ a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.”4 In fact, Tao means “the path” and consists of two characters – one signifying “go forward” and one meaning “head”. This suggests that your head chooses a path to go forward on and thus denotes the path or way to clarity.5

Despite this clear reference to the mental realm of the Air element, one of the most enlightening facets of the Tao in terms of Astrology is its insistence on the superiority of the Feminine – the elements of Earth and Water. Water in particular is mentioned several times as the most powerful of forces. This follows from the ancient origins of the Astrological elements. The elements came from the yin/yang combinations of cold/hot and moist/dry.6 Fire comes from the combination of hot and dry (yang and yang). Water is the opposite coming from the combination of cold and moist (yin and yin). Actually, this makes Earth (cold and dry) and Air (hot and moist) somewhat androgynous, being combinations of both yin and yang forces. In this light, it is interesting and natural that the elements of Earth and Air are where the dual rulerships of Mercury and Venus fall.7 Evidently the principle of heat outweighs the principle of moisture, because Earth is considered a feminine element and Air masculine. Water being twice feminine is consistent with the emphasis placed upon it in the Tao:

  • The highest form of goodness is like water. Water knows how to benefit all things without striving with them.8
  • The Tao is to the World what a great river or an ocean is to the streams and brooks.9
  • Nothing in the World is softer and weaker than water;
    But, for attacking the hard and strong, there is nothing like it!10

The Earth wisdom is slightly more subtle, but remains clear to those who have studied Astrology. Virtues such as humility, frugality, and common sense are extolled.

  • Truly, humility is the root from which greatness springs, And the high must be built on the foundation of the low.11
  • In governing a people and in serving Heaven, there is nothing like frugality. To be frugal is to return before straying.12
  • Because I am frugal, therefore can I be generous.13
  • Difficult things of the world can only be tackled when they are easy. Big things of the world can only be achieved by attending to their small beginnings.14

The sum of this Earth/Water wisdom is repeated in a short phrase several times.

  • The soft and weak overcomes the hard and strong... the softest of all things overrides the hardest of all things...15

These obvious references to the Earth and Water elements are striking, yet there are much more important references or similarities to Astrology. The waxing and waning of the yin/yang forces of night/day, feminine/masculine are clearly referenced in several places, one of which sounds much like the often quoted reference to Astrology in the Bible (Ecclesiastes):

  • For all things there is a time for going ahead, and a time for following behind;
    A time for slow breathing and a time for fast breathing;
    A time to grow in strength and a time to decay;
    A time to be up and a time to be down.16
  • The movement of the Tao consists in Returning.17

These references suggest that there are some very fundamental similarities between Astrology and The Tao. The waxing and waning of the yin/yang symbol, each containing the seed of the other, is present in all the Astrological cycles. While the waxing and waning of the lunar cycle has been adequately explored by Astrologers, most forgo the investigation of the Sun's waxing and waning, even though it is the source of the four seasons!

Dane Rudhyar
Go to Top The Day Force and the Night Force

The most notable exception to this is the late Dane Rudhyar. Rudhyar divided the solar cycle, and therefore the Zodiacal signs, into two energies and phases. One he called the day force, which was the waxing solar cycle. The second he called the night force, which was the waning solar cycle. He then sat down to analyze the zodiac according to the relationship between the day force and night force in each sign.18 Rudhyar went on to delineate the waxing day force of Aries-Virgo as the “personality building” phase and the waning night force of Libra-Pisces as the “Society building” phase.19 The human organism works first to build a personality and then seeks to find ways to relate this personality to the greater social whole. As one function grows the other remains unconscious and becomes increasingly subjective, introverted and more transcendent.20

Thus, the holistic view of the zodiac that Rudhyar puts forward is far superior in that it recognizes the subtle interplay between yin and yang forces and is true to the basic nature of the Astrological cycles. In fact, Rudhyar came to the same conclusion stated earlier in this article:

The Zodiac which is used in our astrology has very little, if anything at all, to do with distant stars as entities in themselves... The essential thing about the Zodiac is not the hieroglyphs drawn on celestial maps... it is the human experience of change.21

The feminine, society-building night force is often ignored or rendered taboo in this post-modern era, particularly in patriarchal societies such as the U.S. Non-patriarchal systems of thought such as Taoism can shed light into this darkness and perhaps save us the pain of facing the results of our unconscious. For instance, with regard to war the Tao states:

It is in the nature of a military weapon to turn against its wielder... After a great war, bad years invariably follow... after you have attained your purpose... you must not feel proud... you must regret rather that you could not prevent the war. You must never think of conquering others by force. For to be over-developed is to hasten decay, and this is against the Tao, and what is against the Tao will soon cease to be.22

“To be over-developed is to hasten decay” is the same as saying: rushing the waxing cycle only brings the waning cycle more quickly. The Tao is also very explicit as to what happens to “stunningly indiscriminate consumer(s) of the planet's wealth.”23

To these the Tao states:

  • When one is out of Life, one is in Death. The companions of Life are thirteen; the companions of Death are thirteen; and, when a living person moves into the Realm of Death, his companions are also thirteen. How is this? Because he draws upon the resources of life too heavily.24
  • To hasten the growth of life is ominous... to be overgrown is to decay... In Tao these things are called unwanted food and extraneous growths – Which are loathed by all things... All this is against Tao, and whatever is against Tao soon ceases to be.25

We can only hope that the U.S. will come to its senses before the Pluto return in 2022 or we may indeed have hell to pay (Saturn conjuncts Pluto and later Jupiter near this degree in 2020). My sense is that the period between 2008-2010 will be key as Pluto in Capricorn shifts the elemental balance of the outer planets to the feminine elements of water and earth. My hope is that the 2008 election will find more sensible leadership. It is even possible that a woman president could be elected.26 Uranus' last sojourn through Pisces saw the women's suffrage movement and the first woman governor. With luck, whoever is elected will take the environment and peaceful relations more seriously, because if not the Jupiter-Uranus conjunction at the vernal point in 2010 could prove to be quite volatile and destructive.

Read More Here ends the article, but Gary has now posted some further thoughts on this topic on his website. Click for more at Mars Hill Astrology.

EDITOR'S NOTE: in southern latitudes, of course, the solstices are reversed, so that the dark mid-winter character of Christmas and the December Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere becomes a hot mid-summer celebration in Australia, South Africa, South America, New Zealand and other places south of the equator. Naturally enough, the bright mid-summer celebrations in June become dark mid-winter chills down south! This presents something of a problem for Christianity and for Astrology, or any other seasonal philosophy with claims to universality, a question which is partially addressed on this site in Ian Thurnwald's article on the Elemental Qualities, the building blocks of astrology. However, the tropical zodiac seems to delineate cultural forms (archetypes) within the Cosmic Mind. Our connection via the collective unconscious (see The Living Signs, by Steven Birchfield on this site) enables us to interpret these forms using astrology, even though the physical seasons may not actually comply with the symbolism.
  1. Palden Jenkins: Astrological Cycles in History. 2002
  2. Peter Lemesurier, Gospel of the Stars. 1977 The Compton Press Ltd. Great Britain.
    The “Age of Aries” corresponds to that time when the Constellation Aries was present at the vernal equinox. This was the time that Astrology coalesced as an art/discipline and the tropical zodiac became fixed in this form as a function of the Solar seasons. Because of a wobble in the Earth's orbit the “fixed stars” of the zodiac “precess” backward a slight amount each year the result of which is that over a period of roughly 2,100 years the precession of the equinox finds a new constellation at the vernal point. The current vernal point is roughly 5 degrees Pisces.
  3. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Jacob Anderson The Elements of Success: Living the Life of Your Choice 1995
  7. Gary Philipson, 2003 The Mountain Astrologer Issue # 109. In this issue Gary interviews Robert Hand who describes Uranus as hot and dry because it increases energy and makes separate. This makes Uranus a fiery rather than airy planet. Incidentally the glyph for Uranus contains that of Mars – the cross of matter above the circle of spirit. This tends to support the not uncommon view among some astrologers (including myself) that Uranus is the higher octave of Mars and co-ruler of Aries. This would leave Saturn dual rulership (Aquarius, Capricorn) over androgynous air and earth in addition to Mercury and Venus. The “modern rulership” of Pluto over Scorpio and Neptune over Pisces seem to be a better fit as they could both be described as cold and moist.
  8. Lao Tzu, Tao Teh Ching. Translated by C.H. Wu 1961 St. Johns University Press: New York
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Dane Rudhyar, The Pulse of Life: New Dynamics in Astrology. 1963. Llewellyn Publications: St. Paul Mn.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Dane Rudhyar, The Pulse of Life: New Dynamics in Astrology. 1963. Llewellyn Publications: St. Paul Mn. Pg.21-22.
  22. Lao Tzu, Tao Teh Ching. Translated by C.H. Wu 1961 St. Johns University Press: New York
  23. Jessica Murray, America's Crisis of Maturity. 2003 The Mountain Astrologer Issue # 109. In this case, she is referring to the U.S.
  24. Lao Tzu, Tao Teh Ching. Translated by C.H. Wu 1961 St. Johns University Press: New York
  25. Ibid.
  26. Gary P. Caton, Uranus in Pisces: Birthing the New Age. NCGR Memberletter August/September 2002. Saturn opposes Uranus (in Pisces) with Venus T-square on election day 2008.

Go to Top
Celtic Fire Festivals | The Zodiac | The Equinox | The Solstice

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This page was last modified on Thursday, 12 January 2017