Wednesday 28 October 2015

Mercury Retrograde - Waxing Quarter

So now we're at the point that hangs between the waning lunar and waxing solar hemispheres of Mercury's cycle. This is perhaps the deepest, most mysterious part of the process: a transition from a cold, lunar and somewhat Neptunian landscape to a fiery, solar, Uranian one. I've found several people who were born within a day or two of the conjunction, but very few that have had long lives. 

Jeff Buckley
I didn't find anyone who was born exactly on the conjunction, but I found one who was born later the same day. That was Jeff Buckley, the son of Tim Buckley who died from a heroin overdose at the age of 28. Jeff Buckley only met his father once, when he was eight years old; it was shortly before Tim's death. Both Buckleys trod their own musical paths and were known for their distinctive vocals. Jeff Buckley drowned when he jumped into a tributary of the Mississippi fully clothed one evening in late May to take a swim – something he'd done before. A tugboat went by and there was no sign of Buckley afterwards. His body was washed up some days later. He was 29 when he died. Some years ago I heard a programme called Soul Music on BBC Radio 4, in which people talked about what the aria Dido's Lament meant to them. One of the versions they played was of Jeff Buckley singing it. I can't remember anything else about the programme, but Buckley's rendition never left me. While I was putting together the presentation for the talk I gave at EAG, I had a hunt around online and found it! It includes the contribution from Philip Sheppard – who is now a professor at the Royal Academy of Music – in which he explains the effect one brief meeting with Jeff Buckley had on his life

Rudhyar describes the mind that emerges from the inferior conjunction as one that has experienced 'a mystery, an initiation into a new realm of being' ((1) p 150). At this stage, the mind's too young to have a strong idea about where it's going to direct its energy. That might explain why so many of those born around this conjunction die young. Others I've found include Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space who died seven years later while on a routine training flight, aged only 34. Gagarin embodies the solar aspect of the new Mercury cycle, reaching for the sky (and remember that Uranus is god of the heavens). People born at this point seem to have a mythic quality to their lives – Buckley following in his father's footsteps, both in terms of his musical career and his early death; Gagarin achieving glory by being the first person to orbit the earth, only to come crashing down several years later. And perhaps the most mythic tale of all is that of Robert Johnson, the blues player. Legend has it that he went down to the crossroads at midnight and sold his soul to the devil because he wanted to play a mean blues guitar. Whatever the truth of it, he came to an early end after being poisoned by a jealous husband at the age of 27.

Moving on to the retrograde phase, this differs from the earlier retrograde phase in that while in both cases it's about going against the flow, in the waxing quarter there's an inventiveness and (sometimes low) cunning associated with those born during here. As ever, it depends on how the person applies the Mercury energy. It can be used selfishly, or to re-evaluate the way things are done and suggest new ways that will be of benefit to all. Among those I found in this part of the cycle were a couple of killers (Sid Vicious, dead from an overdose at 21 before he was tried for the murder of his girlfriend, and Ian Brady, the Moors murderer), a Pope (Paul VI, who continued the reforms initiated by his predecessor), an escapologist (such a Mercurial occupation!) and a musician who managed to make it through to his seventies. Paul McCartney's story is interesting because he came from a humble background and went on to amass a fortune worth hundreds of million of pounds. His musical style has developed over the years, ranging from pop and rock in the early days through to more serious pieces of music in later life. If you look at his progressed Mercury, it went direct when he was six and is likely to be direct for the rest of his life, as he doesn't reach his progressed station retrograde until the age of 102. It's as if he set his mind to escape his environment from an early age and he never looked back. (By comparison, John Lennon was born eleven days before the evening elongation and his progressed Mercury went retrograde when he was 23, which is when the Beatles became famous. It remained retrograde for the rest of his life – he died three years before it turned direct again. Lennon trod a much more tortuous – and often tortured – path than McCartney). The escapologist was Harry Houdini, by the way. He embodies the trickster side of Mercury – was he genuine, was he faking it – but again he died relatively young, at 52, in circumstances which are not entirely clear. He died of peritonitis following a burst appendix, but it's not clear whether a punch to his abdomen a couple of days earlier was a contributing factor or it was simply that he failed to seek medical help for the appendicitis.

Mercury moves forward again at the station direct, so people born at this point can project into the world the new vision formed at the conjunction and in some cases embody it themselves. The people I found born at this part of the cycle achieved notoriety: Charles Manson for his Satan's Slaves in the 1960s; D H Lawrence for the Lady Chatterley's Lover obscenity trial of 1961 – one of a series of events that paved the way for the Swinging Sixties in post-war Britain; and Christine Keeler, who became notorious for her role in the Profumo Affair in 1963. Maybe notorious is not the right world to describe John F Kennedy but he, too, ushered in a new era. He was young and charismatic, and then of course there was his tragic (and controversial) assassination, the circumstances of which are disputed to this day … not to mention the fact that people can still remember where they were when they heard that Kennedy had been shot. While Manson and Keeler are still with us, both Kennedy and Lawrence died young: Kennedy aged 46 and Lawrence at 43, of tuberculosis.

Brian Jones
The next phase in Mercury's cycle is its period of greatest brilliance. Individuals born at this phase who burned brightly but briefly are Brian Jones, founder of the Rolling Stones and their first manager. He was a trendsetter, a multi-instrumentalist who experimented with exotic instruments. He was also an early fan of world music, bringing back tapes from his visit to Jajouka in the mountains of northern Morocco. Brian was also a fashion icon, and he and Anita Pallenberg were one of the first unisex couples. Another example is William Joyce, better known as Lord Haw-Haw – another Mercurial character in that he was too clever for his own good. Joyce was an Irish-American who for some reason best known to himself managed to blag a British passport so that he could travel to Germany, where he broadcast Nazi propaganda to the British. The fact that he was in possession of a British passport at the time of the broadcasts allowed the British to convict him of treason after the war, even though they knew he wasn't a British national and had no allegiance to the Crown. He was hanged for treason at the beginning of 1946, aged 39.

Finally we reach the end of Mercury's waxing quarter, finding ourselves at the days leading up to the morning elongation. I see this as the place of innovators and adventurers – it's the fresh-faced, eager young souls desperate to set out and make a name for themselves. And we have a veritable treasure trove here! Carl Jung, bringing back the riches he found in the Underworld as chronicled in the recently published Red Book, which we now know were the foundation of his psychotherapy; Dane Rudhyar, who modernised and transformed astrology in the twentieth century. Less fortunate was Paula Yates, a woman with a style that was all her own, but who succumbed to drugs and died aged 41. 

Bill Clinton
But I'll end as I began with another US President, Bill Clinton. Yes, he and George Bush are literally at opposite ends of the spectrum where their Mercuries are concerned. Once again, there's a mythic quality to Clinton – the poor kid from a small town called Hope who went on to become president. Whereas Clinton emerged from scandal smelling of roses, Bush has been unable to shake off the legacy of the Iraq invasion. Clinton has an easy manner and could charm the birds off the trees, whereas Bush was known for his clumsy use of language ('you misunderestimate me') and his somewhat bemused expression. And while Clinton is still active in politics, especially as his wife launches her bid for the presidency, Bush has largely dropped out of the public eye.

And so my exploration of Mercury's retrograde cycle has come to an end, but I hope that others might feel moved to study it. There are plenty more riches waiting to be brought to light.


(1) Rael, Leyla and Rudhyar, Dane (1980) Astrological Aspects: A Process-Oriented Approach Santa Fe: Aurora Press

Tuesday 27 October 2015

Mercury Retrograde - Waning Quarter

Before we begin our tour of the retrograde cycle, a word about orbs. I follow the guidance given by Bob Makransky in Thought Forms ((1) p 71), which is five days either side of the elongations and superior conjunction, and two days either side of the stations and inferior conjunction. His reasoning is that these equate to roughly five degree orbs.

One thing I'd like to mention is that, while mapping out numerous Mercury cycles I began to see tones of other planets as he moved through his phases. So while the undertone of the waning quarter is lunar, there are also shades of Jupiter at the elongation and greatest brilliance, which merge into Neptune for the rest of the quarter. At inferior conjunction, Neptune and Uranus fuse – which makes it a particularly powerful but also dangerous place, then at some point in what's now the solar retrograde phase Uranus gives way to Mars – a young, fresh-faced Mars, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, eager to explore the world around him. And at the morning elongation we find an adolescent Mars, eager to conquer the world with the force of his ideas. Applying these planets to how the retrograde cycle feels might be a useful shorthand for other astrologers. To me, they illustrate beautifully the cool, somewhat ethereal, otherworldly beginning to the cycle and how it contrasts with the hot, fiery, passionate energy that comes in at the start of the new cycle.

(Click to enlarge)

And so to the retrograde cycle. The waning quarter begins with the separating phase of the evening elongation, which isn't all that different from the applying one. There's a hint that some kind of reorientation is necessary as Mercury sets off on its journey towards Earth, but to all intents and purposes people born under this phase are still very much in this world. At elongation Mercury is at is furthest from the Sun and so the mentality tends to be somewhat impersonal, rational and aloof, as well as being more reflective. Such people would rather not have to make snap decisions, preferring instead to consider all the options – their perspective is broad rather than deep and takes into account the implications for others as well as themselves. It's a good position for politicians and diplomats. People born during this part of the cycle include George W Bush and Karl Marx – both of whom have left an indelible mark on the western world. Others whose connection is less obvious are Buddy Holly, one of the first superstars whose early death at 22 in a plane crash guaranteed his legendary status, and Kurt Cobain, who committed suicide at the age of 27.

John Keats
As Mercury moves closer to Earth, but before he turns retrograde, there's a brief period when he appears at his brightest in the evening sky. In fact, seen through a telescope Mercury's disk is only a crescent, but his proximity to Earth allows him to shine. In fact, this is Mercury's 'Goldilock's zone' – the part of his cycle when he's neither so far from the Sun that he's out on a limb and coldly rational, nor so close to the Sun that he's overwhelmed by the larger body and overly emotional. This where the true Mercury energy can shine through, where Mercury can speak from the heart, so perhaps it's not surprising to find two poets born in this phase. Like Mercury itself, this pair burned brightly but briefly – both were dead at age 25. One is John Keats, who died of tuberculosis and whose deathbed portrait – no doubt romanticised – has been described as just what everyone imagines the death of a poet to look like, and the war poet Wilfred Owen. An extremely sensitive young man and reluctant soldier, he was decorated for his bravery and, though hospitalised for shell shock, insisted on returning to the Front, where he died just one week – almost to the hour – before the First World War ended. He was helped through his dark night of the soul by therapy with a sympathetic doctor, and Owen was so grateful for being brought back from the Underworld he bought himself a small statue of Hermes (Mercury) to take back to the trenches with him. (An often overlooked attribute of Mercury is that he is a psychopomp – a bearer of souls from one world to another; and of course he was the only god able to travel freely between the worlds). Also of interest here is that after this experience Owen's poetry changed. He described the horrors of war and questioned the value of patriotism. In one of his best known poems he outlines in graphic detail the effects of a gas attack on his soldiers. The poem ends:

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

The Latin is taken from an Ode by Horace and means 'It is sweet and fitting to die for your country.' The reference to the 'old lie' refers to the fact that this phrase had been inscribed on the chapel wall of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in 1913. Another life that burned brightly but briefly was that of musician Gram Parsons, who in the late 1960s/early 1970s played with the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers and as a duo with Emmylou Harris. He met the all too common fate of many of that era, dying from an overdose at the age of 26.

There's a certain amount of doggedness and stubbornness to the next point we come to, which is the station retrograde. Mercury's digging his heels in here and can be unyielding to a point that stretches beyond reasonableness. Yet this can make people born at this point extremely self-disciplined and thorough, as well as being completely dedicated to whatever they've chosen to do. We find another poet here – Dylan Thomas, a man who dedicated himself to his art but who succumbed to his demons. He couldn't earn a living from poetry alone but wasn't the sort of person who could knuckle down to a boring nine-to-five job and just write poetry in his spare time. He dedicated his life to poetry at a young age but his relatively short life was plagued by financial worries, worsening health exacerbated by alcohol dependency and a tempestuous, mutually destructive marriage. He fell ill during a poetry reading tour in New York and died aged 39. Another person born on the retrograde and who interestingly did a complete about-turn (just as Mercury does here) is Patty Hearst, granddaughter of the American publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst. Kidnapped in 1974 by a left-wing terrorist group called the Symbionese Liberation Army, a couple of months later she announced she had joined the SLA and over the next eighteen months embarked on a crime spree. When she was arrested, she gave her occupation as 'Urban Guerilla.' She was jailed for seven years, of which she served 22 months (her sentence was commuted by President Carter and she was later pardoned by Bill Clinton). Opinion was divided as to whether she had been a willing participant in the crimes or a victim of brainwashing.

We move on to the retrograde phase, where the mind turns inward and away from the cultural norms and patterns of thinking of family and culture, which most people take for granted. Those born during this phase swim against the tide, like salmon swimming upstream on their way to their spawning ground, after which they die (just like Mercury at inferior conjunction). In both cases they're returning to the source, in Mercury's case so that a new outlook, or way of thinking, can be born. Births under this phase are more plentiful simply because it's longer than the others. A positive example is Jonas Salk, medical researcher and virologist who was born the day after Dylan Thomas but led a very different life. Despite coming from a poor background and experiencing discrimination against Jews in the American medical profession during the 1940s, he succeeded in his ambition to become a medical researcher. He spent many years working on the first polio vaccine (which became available in 1955), went on to conduct research into an AIDS vaccine in the 1980s and lived to the age of 80. 

Nick Drake
 Also born in this phase was Nick Drake, a contemporary folk singer in the late 1960s/early 1970s who abandoned his studies at Cambridge to pursue a career in music. He never received the recognition he craved (and deserved), and as a result spiralled into a depression which was exacerbated by drug misuse, though it was an overdose of a prescription drug which led to his early death at the age of 26. Janis Joplin was another casualty of the 1960s rock and drugs culture, dying at the age of 27. Two politicians currently in the news are Hillary Clinton and Jeremy Corbyn, both of whom are Mercury retrograde and swimming against the prevailing tide. Hillary is hoping to become the first female President of the United States and Jeremy Corbyn is hoping to bring in a new kind of politics (and a kinder one) in the United Kingdom.

The final part of the waning quarter is the two days leading up to the inferior conjunction. Mercury is facing annihilation here and so we'd expect to find a mental outlook which was fragile and on the edge, aware that life is short and you have to make an impact early on. The only example I could find for this part of the cycle was Amy Winehouse, who had a clear idea from a young age that she wanted to sing and made a big impact in the time she was around, but not only for her singing. She also made the headlines for her increasingly chaotic behaviour and drug and alcohol abuse. In the end, she succumbed to alcohol at the age of 27, like so many I came across in this retrograde cycle.

This brings us to the end of the first half of Mercury's cycle. I'll deal with the next quarter separately.


(1) Makransky, Bob (2014) Thought Forms Dear Brutus Press

Monday 26 October 2015

Mercury Retrograde - Overview

(NB:  I wrote about the other parts of the Mercury cycle and the progressed Mercury cycle back in May, if you want to read about the rest of the cycle)   

As promised, I'm completing my look at the Mercury cycle with the retrograde part of it. However, for me it encompasses more than just the period when Mercury is retrograde: it starts immediately after Mercury has reached greatest elongation in the evening sky and ends at the greatest elongation in the morning sky. There are several reasons for saying this. One is that the cycle is roughly four months long, or around 120 days (though remember it can be as short as 105 days and as long as 130). This divides into three roughly equal sections: (A) starting at the morning elongation and going up to superior conjunction, (B) from superior conjunction to the evening elongation and (C) from the evening elongation to the morning elongation. 

(Click to enlarge)

(A) is a solar energy, young, eager, enthusiastic and always direct in motion

(B) is a lunar energy, mature, careful, cautious and always direct in motion

(C) starts as (B), changes to (A) at the inferior conjunction and goes through a series of shifts and changes, both of mood and direction.

Another way to look at it is like the four quarters of the lunar cycle, although the phases are unequal in length. The inferior conjunction is equivalent to New Moon, the superior to full Moon; morning elongation to first quarter and the evening one to last quarter. First quarter is the stage when energy is building and pushing out into the world; last quarter when the energy is withdrawing and breaking down.

And finally, though we use the term 'elongation' to describe the maximum distance that Mercury can be from the Sun, it's a bit misleading. From our viewpoint on Earth, we experience Mercury moving up and down in the sky rather than – as it appears in a two-dimensional horoscope – like a child on reins, now pulling away, now being reined in again. Were we lucky enough to see Mercury regularly we would see him climbing higher and higher in the sky each morning or evening until he reached his greatest elongation, and then he'd descend again quickly until he disappeared below the horizon. (The same process happens with Venus and is easier to see because it happens over a longer period of time). 

(Click to enlarge)

An important difference between Mercury at the two conjunctions is that Mercury is at his furthest from us at superior conjunction, and on the other side of the Sun, whereas at inferior conjunction he's at his closest to Earth. Traditional astrology would see the latter as a corrupting influence, whereas I imagine being on the far side of the Sun would place him closer to the Angels. Another thing to bear in mind is that the young Mercury disappears behind the Sun willingly (direct motion) at superior conjunction and comes out a more mature, reflective Mercury – so follows the natural order of things. In contrast an old, dying Mercury is dragged kicking and screaming towards annihilation at inferior conjunction, and an uncertain rebirth. As well as being retrograde at that point in the cycle, the descent is swifter than when approaching superior conjunction and Mercury's light is extinguished shortly after his brief period of greatest brilliance in the sky.

For Mercury, this is a descent to the Underworld. Compare the straightforward, steady-state motion of Mercury in the other two thirds of the cycle. Mercury knows where he's going. In terms of the progressed cycle, someone born at the morning elongation follows the straight path, maturing around the time of the superior conjunction and reaching retirement age around the time of the evening elongation (until recently, anyway!). But the position's very different for a person born after the evening elongation. I reckon there are ten distinct points and/or phases between then and the morning elongation – quite a lot to fit in during the course of about forty days! And quite a bewildering series of changes: one moment burning brightly, then coming to a screeching halt and going back in the direction you've just come from, only now you've become invisible. And after being swallowed up by the Sun, you go through it all again, though in a different sequence. Is it any wonder that a lot of the people I found born during the retrograde cycle weren't around very long? This was especially true of those born in the first half of the retrograde cycle, which is equivalent to the last quarter of the lunar cycle. I found a number of people whose lives were over almost before they'd begun, especially in the period leading up to inferior conjunction. There seemed to be more early deaths from dabbling with drink and drugs in the waning quarter, whereas those in the waxing quarter seemed to have brought it on themselves through carelessness or recklessness.

There are two other points that are worth bearing in mind. There's a different process at work in the retrograde cycle of the inner planets from that of the outer ones (Mars onward). In both cases, the retrograde period occurs when the planet is at its closest point to Earth. With planets beyond Earth the retrograde phase occurs when the planet is in opposition to the Sun, from our point of view – at Full Moon phase rather than New Moon. According to Rudhyar (1), 'Earth is to the other planet a reminder of the original need the cycle was meant to fulfil' (p157). It gives the outer planet a chance to stop, draw back and ask if anything needs to be done before the cycle reaches completion, and then has the second half of the cycle in which to make adjustments. For the inner planets, the time of reflection is at the end of the cycle when our thoughts and feelings undergo 'deconditioning and reorientation at the most inward, subjective phase of their cycle with the Sun' because what's most needed here is 'inner renewal and redirection' (p158).

(Click to enlarge)

The other thing to bear in mind is that the entire period between evening and morning elongation is a kind of Shadowland. This is at its most obvious with someone born around the superior conjunction. In the example shown, a person born the day after the conjunction reaches 8 Leo 22, by progression, at the station retrograde and then spends the rest of their life retracing the path between 8 Leo 22 and 27 Cancer 30, the station direct. This means some people will cover far more ground in terms of degrees and signs of the zodiac than others – it ranges between 120o and 60o, depending on which Mercury phase you're born in. For some, life is ever onwards, for others it's a labyrinthine path.

So let's take a journey through the Mercury retrograde cycle, taking a look at some of the people I came across for each of the ten stages. It's going to be quite lengthy, so I've divided it between two further posts.

 (1) Rael, Leyla and Rudhyar, Dane (1980)  Astrological Aspects: A Process-Oriented Approach  Santa Fe: Aurora Press

Thursday 8 October 2015

Albohazen (or Halyian) House System

In Fred Gettings' Dictionary of Astrology (Penquin Arkana: 1990) he makes brief reference to the Halyian house system. This system also goes by the name of the Albohazen house system. Gettings writes: "The system is ascribed to the Arabian astrologer Albohazen Haly, who lived in the 11th century, and is sometimes called the Albohazen system." (p. 224)

This system is of some interest because Gettings' description of it suggests that it prefigures Carter's Poli-Equatorial system (see separate post on this site). Gettings' says that the Halyian system is "A method of house division...whereby the projected arc was defined by the passage of two hours of right ascension for each house, measured from the Ascendant." (p. 224)

This is exactly the procedure described by Carter to determine the cusps for the Poli-Equatorial system. Carter does not refer to this medieval system in his description of Poli-Equatorial houses. However, Gettings' reference to the Halyian, or Albohazen, system, does seem to suggest an historical precedent for Carter's modern, and unjustly neglected, method of house division.

Carter writes that for the poli equatorial method “...the houses are demarcated by circles passing through the celestial poles and dividing the equator into twelve equal arcs, the cusp of the 1sthouse passing through the ascendant. This system, therefore, agrees with the natural rotation of the heavens and also produces, as the Ptolemaic (equal) does not, distinctive cusps for each house....” 1

Calculation of the cusps is a relatively simple affair. The ascendant degree is converted to right ascension in degrees. Thirty degrees (or two hours) of right ascension is then added for each subsequent cusp. The right ascension so found is, for each cusp, then converted back to celestial longitude and expressed in zodiacal degrees. The tenth house cusp will not generally coincide with the MC degree. The second cusp is opposite the eighth cusp, the third opposite the ninth and so on.

A brief biographical reference to Albohazen Haly may be found in James Holden's Biographical Dictionary of Western Astrologers. Albohazen Haly is also likely to be called Haly Abenragel by some sources.

Gettings might have mis-described the derivation of Halyian houses. However it is impossible to check his source for the description as he does not identify it. It should be noted that the house system known as Abenragel is derived differently. 

The Abenragel house system finds its modern expression in the Dutch method called Ascendant-Parallel-Circle (APC), which creates twelve houses by six equal divisions of the parallel of declination traveled by the ascendant degree above the horizon and six equal divisions of the parallel of declination traveled by the same degree below the horizon.  The divisions of the parallel of declination are referred to the ecliptic through the north and south points of the horizon. The cusps of the first and seventh house are formed by the great circle of the rational horizon.


1. Charles Carter (1947, 2nd ed. 1978) Essays on the Foundations of Astrology. Theosophical Publishing House, London. p. 158-159.

The full blog post on Carter's Poli-Equatorial system can be found at  Charles Carter's Forgotten House System

For information on the A-P-C house system see