Monday, February 27, 2012

Getting an angle on the astrological angles

You're at a party when someone asks "what's your sign?" While this question is starting to sound a bit like an antiquated pick-up line, nearly everyone would at least be able to answer. Most of us know our "sign"- which is our sun sign, the location of our sun in the zodiac when we were born. The sun sign represents our identity and ego, so it's no coincidence that we've incorporated this meaning linguistically ("I am a Pisces").

As you may have read about in the Celebrity Moon Sign Series (check out the post on Grigori Rasputin here!), Some of us may also know our moon sign, the location of the moon in the zodiac when we were born. This represents our emotional, instinctual side, as well as our childhood.

Perhaps not quite as commonly known (but just as important) is the ascendant, or the sign of the zodiac belt that was just coming over the eastern horizon when we were born. While the sun and moon signs are based only on your birth day and time, the ascendant incorporates birth day, time, AND place (since where on earth you were born will affect your perspective of the sky, and therefore what degree of the zodiac belt was on the horizon- the ascendant). This distinction highlights the significance of the ascendant in astrology- it signifies your role, the impression others have of you, and the unique way in which you respond and adapt to your environment. The ascendant also represents your physical body and "colors" the manner in which your chart manifests outwardly.

The ascendant is the first of four chart angles, four points which make up a cross around which the rest of the chart is oriented. The ascendant, and its opposite point, the descendant, form the horizontal axis. The Midheaven and IC (Nadir) points form the vertical axis.

While the ascendant represents you, the descendant represents others. The role of relationships and other people are represented by this point. The midheaven is the zodiac point corresponding to the highest point in the sky the sun reaches as it travels across the heavens. As the highest point of the sun, the midheaven corresponds to our most public, career, or professional aspirations and inclinations. Meanwhile, the opposite IC point represents the more personal, private parts of our lives along with our roots and foundations. The zodiac ring, and the planets along it, are oriented according to these angles. The angles are also used to form the 12 houses of the chart (the ascendant is the beginning of the first house, the IC is the 4th, the descendant the 7th, and the midheaven the 10th).

Planets and zodiac signs on these angles are some of the strongest indicators in chart analysis. A planet can change meaning dramatically depending on how close it is to one of these angles, and which angle it might be. The sun, for example, can go from outspoken and physical vitality (ascendant) to deep foundations and a strong identity with home life (IC) to a strong orientation towards partnership and connection to others (descendant) and finally to a strong public, career-oriented expression (midheaven).

Not only is the axis of the astrological angles necessary for building a chart, but it is also an example of a recurring archetype in cultures around the world. The cross in different myriad religious traditions, the "cross of matter", the compass rose, and the traditional Native American medicine wheel all share this common symbolism. The angles of the chart connect the heavens to the earth, and simultaneously orient the significance of the planets in the zodiac to different parts of our individual lives.

The importance of the angles is also essential to relocation astrology and the corresponding study of Astrocartography (to be discussed more in future posts!). The use of angles in relocation highlights one of the most enduring lessons of the angles- the essential connection between time and space in using astrology. Maybe someday soon, people will be asking "What's your ascendant?" You never know...

Readers- do you know your ascendant? Are any of your planets on the angles? Leave a comment!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Virginia Pepperweed- a Gruit Herb Update

Typically, this is about the time of year when the only way to combat the chill is to consume massive amounts of beer while staring longingly at the calender, waiting for March. Here in the Midwest, however, we've had an unseasonably warm winter. Like many parts of the country, we've seen near record highs and very little winter weather.

Plenty of beer is still being consumed (don't worry). There just hasn't been that much of a chill to fight off. Neither has there been much snowfall, which unfortunately also means there hasn't been much snowmelt. While melting snow typically seems to serve no greater purpose than making a cold, muddy mess, it's actually very important to the gruit herb seeds from the solstice sowing back in December (check out that post here).

Like many seeds in cooler temperate zones, the gruit herb seeds have a protective shell that must be broken down before germination. In the fluctuating temperatures of winter, snowfall and subsequent snowmelt slowly wear down the protective layer on the seeds, preparing them for germination when spring arrives- a process known as stratification. Without proper weathering, the seeds' barriers may not be adequately broken down enough to germinate. In other words, our nice weather is actually putting this year's gruit harvest in jeopardy. Nice weather... no gruit ale?

Confounding though such a situation may be, this is not the only plot twist in the gruit herb saga. As I mentioned in the last gruit ale post, I found this familiar-looking little plant growing outside near a fence. I replanted it in a pot at home, thinking that it must certainly be mugwort.

After a few months of rapid growth, however, it seemed increasingly unlikely that this plant was mugwort. I researched several plant databases, and the mugwort look-alike turned out to be Virginia pepperweed, a common roadside plant. Though edible (and apparently rather nutritious), it's certainly not mugwort. The two plants, when young, are remarkably similar looking...

Virginia pepperweed vs. mugwort. Can you blame me?

After swiftly finding the mugwort seeds I purchased in December, I managed to mix up a planter and get them sown just in time for a surprise dusting of snow.

Mugwort likes a somewhat richer soil than the bog myrtle and marsh rosemary, something not quite as peaty and acidic. I made a potting mixture with a larger portion of humus before planting, and I used oak leaves as a protective layer instead of pine needles. Like the bog myrtle and marsh rosemary, mugwort requires a stratification period. As our mysteriously warm winter winds down, hopefully there will be just enough cold and snow to get the seeds ready for springtime.

Until then... anyone for Virginia pepperweed salad?

Readers: Has there been strange weather where you live? How has it affected you? Leave a comment!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Pluto, Saturn, and the Great No-Nonsense of 2012

Wikimedia Commons

Saturn in Scorpio cordially invites you to a gala evening of "cut the crap."

In my last post, we discussed the significance of Uranus and Neptune in the development of the the online world we've come to love and depend upon. One of the major aspects that strengthened Uranus and Neptune over the past few years was their mutual reception, or the presence of each planet in the sign ruled by the other planet. It's as if Neptune went to Uranus' downtown loft, and Uranus went to Neptune's windswept cottage on the beach, and they both agreed that it would be alright to drink each others' beer.

This same mutual reception is poised to take place in a few short months between Saturn and Pluto. Pluto, for several years, has been passing through Capricorn. Saturn has been passing through Libra for a couple of years now (read about where you may be feeling Saturn's hard lessons!) One of the defining characteristics of Saturn being in Libra is that it is exalted.

What is "exaltation", anyway? Exaltation refers to a system called dignities and debilities, developed by astrologers thousands of years ago to assess the strengths and weaknesses of planetary placement. There are four essential dignities still in common use amongst most modern astrologers. These essential dignities are conditions that the planets may find themselves in as they pass around the zodiac.

-Rulership is the zodiac sign ruled by the planet- Mars, for example, rules Aries.
is a supportive zodiac sign that helps the planet- Mars is in exaltation in the sign of Capricorn.
-Across from exaltation is the sign of a planet's fall- an uncomfortable position that lowers the planet's strength; Mars, in this case, is in fall in Cancer.
-The sign of detriment was traditionally considered the most difficult sign for the planet to visit, opposite its sign of rulership. Mars, therefore, is in detriment in Libra.

Saturn, exalted in Libra, has had a harmonious and strengthened journey the past two years. The harmony, balance and tact of Libra have provided the constructive support for Saturn to manifest itself with ease. The usual charm and idealism associated with the sign of Libra, however, are not enough for Saturn. Saturn in Libra requires hard work and compromise. Consider the political theater of the U.S. Congress in recent years. As political ideals meet tough financial realities, there is no choice but to painstakingly debate, battle, and ultimately compromise on every issue. While nothing new in politics, this process has nevertheless been excruciatingly difficult with Saturn in Libra.

This October, however, Saturn will complete its passage through Libra and move into the sign of Scorpio. The hard karmic lessons of compromise and impartial justice will downshift to the deeper emotional realm of Scorpio. Responsibility and challenges related to sexuality, death, debt, and subconscious power struggles will become Saturn's focus. No longer exalted, Saturn will not be as effectively show-stopping as it has been. We've all learned our lessons about compromise and justice (we promise!)

The most important shift as Saturn moves into Scorpio will be its mutual reception with Pluto. Pluto, ruler of Scorpio, continues to move through Capricorn, which is ruled by Saturn. Like Uranus and Neptune, Saturn and Pluto will give each other reinforcing energy and support. But unlike Uranus and Neptune, Saturn and Pluto will form a sextile aspect with each other in December, just two months after the beginning of their mutual reception. The sextile aspect is a separation of 60 degrees, or two zodiac signs, between planets. It is a supportive aspect that allows the planets the opportunity to work together. Already in mutual reception, Saturn and Pluto will truly be working hand-in-hand this December. Late Fall into Winter of 2012, we should see a definite shift from compromise to catharsis.

Pluto has already been slowly grinding through Capricorn, challenging the structure, hierarchy, and systems of power and government in our modern world. Saturn in Scorpio does not share the need for tact and compromise required by Saturn in Libra. Pluto and Saturn, working together, have a simple but painstaking mission- cut the crap. We might call their work together "The Great No-Nonsense of 2012." Both planets seek accountability, question power structures, open us to our deeper selves and the challenges we need to face. There's an opportunity here for tremendous change, for finding the inner strength to accomplish goals and cut through all manner of nonsense and frivolity to understand the true nature of ourselves and our society.

I'll be the first to admit, this does not sound particularly fun. But neither planet is concerned with fun, especially when they're working together on a difficult job such as the catharsis we need in our world today. With an aspect like this, I believe there's a strong potential for healing, both personally and in the world at large. The road to that healing might simply be a bit rough.

So, with the few months left of Saturn in Libra, let's do what we can to assimilate the lessons of compromise and fairness that we've had to learn over the past couple of years. Our ability to collaborate, knowing when to be impartial, and being aware of our relationships can go far in helping us work through whatever challenges we may face down the road.

What about you, readers? What hard lessons are you learning? What do you think Pluto and Saturn have in store for us? Leave a comment!