The passage of the imminent Full Moon is a blind passage. We gaze up at it as into a bright street light, seeing nothing. Its lame attempt to outshine the Sun diverts our attention from much more important things, signs which can nourish our quest for authenticity, which demonstrate the vast and timeless backdrop behind our pretences, and which confirm the vanity of life which ignores death. This is a story of the embrace of tradition: how a group of wage-slaves transcended the imperatives of economic reality and became artisans.
The story begins at lunch-time, when a group of tradesmen emerge from the Quarry Hotel to return to work up the street. They see a young man in the intersection outside drawing lines with yellow chalk, ducking in and out of traffic, and enquire into his apparently passionate project. Word passes around at their workplace and when they return to the Quarry after work, they are followed by the foreman and an engineer.
The traffic is now dense, but the young man is still at it as the workers install themselves at the bar. A desultory conversation about the weekend’s football is attempted, but nobody is really attending to anything but the single-minded effort of the young man outside. Suddenly, as one, safety being drilled into them as of paramount importance in the union industry, the drinkers pour out of the pub and set up barricades with tables from the hotel, and begin diverting the traffic.
Instantly, while the young man, in his early twenties and of middle-eastern appearance, carries on chalking the plan for a building in the middle of the street, there is uproar. The barricades are aggressively confronted by irate motorists and, very soon, two and then four tram drivers, not to mention the publican trying to reclaim his property. Some police arrive, and any pretence of restraint is abandoned. A melee ensues, until thirty police in riot gear arrive, and after dispersing the combatants with capsicum spray and restoring the flow of traffic, take the instigators, including the young man, into custody.
Under questioning through an interpreter, the young Iraqi immigrant confesses that his intention, without offending anyone or breaking any laws, is simply to create a two-dimensional representation of a mosque, facing the Quiba along Weston St, and featuring a street-wide arch in the style of the Islamic arches which gave inspiration to the architects of the Gothic cathedrals, aligned east and west like the magnificent celestial arch he saw for the first time upon arriving in Australia, and which has filled him with such joy as a Muslim student of architecture that he sees his design in the intersection as a fusion of north and south, ancient and modern, spiritual and physical, and celestial and temporal.
The Superintendent asks him, what celestial arch? The Milky Way, he responds, adding his conviction that it was the vault of heaven which first inspired the Muslim arches of medieval architecture. The workers are released to be charged on summons, and the senior policeman, intrigued, follows them back to the Quarry. Politely resisting invitations to have a beer, the Muslim spreads a number of blueprints on a table in the lounge. The first is of his Celestial Arch a few minutes before midnight, outside:
The second is of the transit of the not-quite-Full Moon one and a half minutes later:
The third is of the ever so slightly asymmetrical angles at midnight:
Nobody in the pub has seen the Milky Way more than once or twice in their lives, but there is no cynicism. Instead, laptops come out and people makes calls and consult smartphones.
Pretty soon the assemblage is joined by some influential people: the Moreland Mayor, an Imam, an Aboriginal Elder, a Catholic Priest, a Buddhist Lama, someone from the Comedy Festival, another from the Brunswick Festival, numerous architects, geographers, engineers, teachers, trade union officials, photographers and journalists, an astronomer and an assortment of drug dealers, poets, artists and astrologers from off the street.
The Imam challenges the Iraqi’s Arch by presenting a depiction of the moment as seen from ancient Babylon:
This is not the inspiration for the illustrious invention of the arch, he asserts, but the transit of the opposite pole:
He does admit that the Iraqi’s is more impressive, but the Lama disagrees, and presents a depiction of the Arch as the vault of heaven itself encircled by the 360° vision of the Buddha:
The astronomer wants everyone to know that the Full Moon will actually transit over Guatemala, and presents the evidence of an anonymous astrologer, complete with deference to the tropical sign of the Northern Hemisphere, and this gets quite a few at the bar talking:
The same sky over us will look like this, he adds:
Irrelevant, says a geographer from PNG, what matters is the Arch, and here on Bougainville is the place to build it:
This causes great consternation among the entourage of the Mayor, but faced with the Iraqi student’s increasing discomfort, the tradesmen rise to the challenge. “She’ll be right, mate,” says the foreman. “We’ll just make it work, won’t we boys?” A rousing cheer goes up throughout the pub. “Midnight it is!”
By eleven o’clock, despite the hubbub, everyone knows the disparate elements of the Iraqi’s dream and their feasibility, and believes that at midnight something real will happen. And believe it or not, there is a real chance that the Arch will be erected across the intersection:
However, that is not the highlight of this event. Rather, at the stroke of midnight, one hundred and fifty men, women and homeless children are standing in the intersection of Lygon and Weston Streets in Brunswick, facing south towards the city and craning their necks backwards in a ceremonial observation of the Full Moon. The Aboriginal Elder welcomes the Iraqi-born student to her country, and ‘the boys’ now know how to build.
Nothing is more certain than that the Quarry will become a temple of ecumenical faith, but in the same way that land is an interruption of the sea, ‘country’ is buffetted by forces which cannot be enclosed by architecture. Diplomacy may indeed farm many ‘countries’ in one place, and if it were true that it never rains at a Full Moon, then perhaps, were the Virgo Moon shining full over Melbourne instead of Guatemala, one hundred and fifty converts would not be feeling so cold, wet and foolish.
The Southern Cross and the Galactic North Pole transit around midnight in early April, and naturally the Virgo Full Moon–the first full moon after the Southern Hemisphere Autumn Equinox, and normally, but not always, the Easter Moon–also transits around midnight, so let us have a close look at this intriguing coincidence of the Southern sky, or one astrological representation of it anyway. I am truly sorry that our society has polluted the night sky so irresponsibly that some of the elements of this representation have been expunged from your view. You must use your imagination. That’s life.
If the navigators who charted Crux in the 16th Century had not been Christian, it might have come to me with another name, Possum (Boorong) or Stingray (Yolgnu), for example, but it is as the Southern Cross that it is prominent in the national flags and consciousness of vast numbers of Southern Hemisphere people. Consequently, the popular names for the asterisms featuring Miaplacidus and Aspidiske have followed the Crux convention: the Diamond Cross and False Cross respectively. (That featuring Canopus is my afterthought, putting in perspective the way of all human flesh.)
The temptations besetting the Child of Humanity on the cross of our finitude are the bright stars above left, centre and right of our head as we look down on our axis. The attributes of the stars in this representation are a meld of their physical characteristics, their resonance with each other and the significance of their position in constellation and asterism. As might be expected, I emphatically reject non-names like Acrux and Gacrux given by northerners who can’t even see this far south. It is anathema to me that we usurpers of Aboriginal country seldom have a personal relationship with the sky they lived in and we took from them. Go out and name your own stars. Create your own mythology, before you lose the night sky completely!
My symbolism admittedly reflects my Judaeo-Christian cultural heritage, but I believe it has universal significance. When I was a boy, the Easter rituals of resurrection and regeneration seemed to me to lack the symbolic force of Northern Hemisphere Spring, but the fortuitous configuration of the Southern Hemisphere Easter sky, to my knowledge amazingly unnoticed by my Christian teachers or previous generations, is nothing short of miraculous! Pause to reflect on these facts: the Northern Hemisphere Spring Equinox has been in Pisces for the entire Christian era, and the next Full Moon has appeared in the Virgin (as seen in the sky) for about half of that period, but the Southern Cross is not visible in ‘Asia Minor’, the birthplace of the Cross as symbol of resurrection, and the alignment of transiting Virgo with the high arc of the Milky Way bridging east and west is also not visible there. The symbolism is potent only in the South. It can be our Easter myth: the cosmic placement in our lifetime of an Easter cross–in ‘fact’ the several crosses of historical Golgotha–at the equinoxes linking North and South, law and life, structure and becoming, and as the primeval keystone of a bridge linking East and West, personal and social, the authentic rights and obligations of our own ‘country’.
The first temptation in the path of authentic humanity is to get ‘out of it’.
The second is to be someone else.
And the third is to be perfect.
In my vision, the Southern Cross stands at the confluence of two rivers of the Underworld, the River of Woe, Acheron, and the River of Forgetting, Lethe. The Southern Cross and the head of the Emu mark where the River of Hatred, Styx, flows from view, as his wife and child disappeared from the view of the crucified Spartacus in the 1960 movie by Stanley Kubrick. This is the river on whose bank Orpheus mourned the loss of his Eurydice, and whose waters bound the oaths of the gods and made Achilles immortal, except for his Achilles heel. In the contemplation of the invisible spirit of the physical world, our eternal absence in death, and the devastation created by unrestrained emotion, we have three Achilles heels.
I do not believe that the physical Moon will pass by these stars as through force-fields, any more than I believe the psycho-social effects of its gravity can be particularized and quantified, but as Easter approaches, I will be reflecting on the pitfalls of the authentic life they symbolize, and I suggest you do too. Integrity, not identity, is the way, and the serious business of being, the only meaningful task you will relinquish in death, consists of embodying the symmetry of apparent opposites. Your ‘country’ is the meaning you give your sky. As Robert Dies would say, “Happy lathering, customers!”
After a month of communing with our alienness and uprootedness, the month of clear-sightedness finds us acknowledging that connection and inclusion have an unfortunate implication: community excludes those who don’t abide by its conventions. This is not our intention, so it is time for some tidying up. What are our conventions, and how can we attend and respond to the reactions of outsiders to make a more inclusive community universally satisfying? It is time to look our culture in the face.
If only it were that simple. In fact, those we exclude have their own communities, and different conventions we don’t much care for, because they declare judgment of ours. Even if we were to jettison convention completely, the whole of our political correctness, for example, we would still be excluded by theirs. Looking our culture in the face feels like an enemy’s perspective. Ever loved someone so much, your difficult child perhaps, that you had to seriously question your own supreme values? You must have noticed, if you ever raise your eyes from your self-help books, that barbarians are claiming victimization by your victim status. Nobody said that perfectionism would be this hard!
Perhaps it is best to accept that our generosity and love have boundaries, and some misunderstanding and conflict are inevitable. Perhaps we can find and cherish our true selves and cope with an imperfect world the way we always have, in our sleep. The conjunction of Sun and Moon in Aquarius occurs in the middle of the night in eastern Australia, in the adaptive unconscious of the Underworld of the Northern Hemisphere meridian in Eastern South America. Perhaps the present will remember itself differently tomorrow.
What our somnolent beings are dealing with in their visceral reordering are two truths. In our waking lives we may be able to convince ourselves of an objective reality, and if we have a university education or religious affiliation, that reality might be universal and absolute, but in our heart of hearts, I think we know, recognizing the transience, relativity and ambiguity of all we experience, that we don’t know reality, beneath its conventions, at all. Perhaps our bodies and sleeping minds know as much as we need to know. Their function is simply to order memory at all levels in the simplest and most accessible way for painless and successful existence. We are not objects in this process, unless we so conceptualize ourselves, in order perhaps to assert egoic importance or control. Rocks are as good at it as we are.
There is a better way, of course. It is a convention of ours to regard the Agrarian Revolution as the wellspring of human civilization, but I would make the case for a different development, a discovery which predated leisure, specialization, science and technology by tens of thousands of years, which surpassed kinship as the foundation of community, and which indigenous peoples offer as their timeless wisdom to this day. I speak of ceremony.
Ceremony, like sleep, is a reordering of awareness, a housekeeping of anxiety and conflict, but it connects our consciousness to our deepest, most personal memory while we are awake. You can do it getting married or placing a sprig of rosemary on a casket. You can do it brewing tea, waxing your legs, or saying grace at the family meal. Conceivably, you can do it marching en masse in a protest. There is a wonderful video of ceremonial cricket here.
Astrology itself has ceremonial roots: it began not with mathematics, or observation of the dance of wandering stars, but with communal life at the hub of the wheeling sky at night. The rational perspective of the solar system we now embrace has turned our primordial experience of being at the centre into an historical convention, but I am at pains to restore it to supremacy, for years by focussing on the relationship of the night sky to the seasons, and now, like Australian Aboriginal ceremonial life, by locating us in the configuration of the Milky Way.
I have been initiating you into a ceremony for some time. Before you can share its transformative, centred power you must abandon many of the conventions, not only of astrology, but of your everyday consciousness. That reality is a linguistic and conceptual convention of posited essences, and that it is ultimately empty, since nothing we enunciate or conceive of has any independent existence in time or space, occurs to any enquiring mind, but immediate awareness of the emptiness of self-improvement and of emptiness itself seems a little more difficult to acquire.
What is the Milky Way? Is it just one of millions of large structures without essence which evolved from the uneven density of the early universe? Can its appearance mean anything to the prevailing convention of science that we observers are specks of dust in the cosmic microwave background? Can we empty ourselves of the laws of science, prevailing in sociology, economics and psychology, which have displaced us from the centre and dissolved us in a soup of empty knowledge mediated by better-qualified people elsewhere?
Of course we can, and meditations on the universe or anything else don’t have to be therapeutic or remedial. They’re allowed to be real, empty of emptiness, which is how I differentiate a ceremony from a ritual or habit. I have been gaming astrology for years, making it up as I go along, but always by inventing what I know, and now I think I’m ready to conduct a ceremony. I have tried to formulate what I actually experience by substituting equatorial coordinates for ecliptic ones, transposing the signs and the lunar nodes, using a reversed anti-clockwise house system, pondering the antipodean ramifications of the meridian, imagining the celestial location of the rivers of Hades, and teasing the equivalence of the unconscious and the Underworld. Now for the clockwork of the Milky Way.
All you have to do in this ceremony is stand in an open space, in day or night, face north and lift your arms towards east and west. Your personal identity is on your right, and your language and social dialogue is on the left. In front of and behind you are the sense you make of those, to the north the internalized rules and conventions which guide your individuality, and to the south your soul, the collective memory which informs your instinct, your attitude and your emotion. What holds everything together is where you stand.
If your night sky offers the faintest glimmer of nebulosity in the Milky Way, this moment, four minutes earlier each day, currently at 12:52:24 sidereal time, is available from an hour and a half before sunrise in early February until an hour and a half after sunset in late June. Bring out your anxieties and conflicts, your responsibilities and confusion, your intentions and your blame, and with your arms spread like a prophet’s, help the sky do its work on you. Just look to the north for the law, to the east along your right arm for your skin, to the west along your left arm for your language, above your head for your country, and craning your neck backwards, behind you, at the confluence of the rivers of Woe and Forgetting, for the Styx of your Covenant: “It Was Only Pain”.
Honestly, you don’t look empty, or as though you’re trying to pretend you have presence. You’re quite alone!
Representing Metatron as one of the archangels who transit at nightfall to shepherd our local seasons, expansive Arcturus is distributing blueprints for renewed growth. True Spring is the portfolio of Antares (Uriel) in a month.
I await clarification from the Victorian Government on the propriety of linking my observations with Aboriginal cultural heritage. My source of information on local seasons can be found here.
The identification of six seasons by the Wurundjeri people is sufficient reason to abandon the geometry of northern hemisphere astrology, and attach the signs in southern order to the constellations, not according to distance from the (northern hemisphere) Vernal Equinox. The appealing symmetry of quaternaries, elements and gender, magnetic or mathematical polarity cuts no ice down here, where we are belatedly learning to go outside, look up, and make up our own mind.
We have structured the observance of time to include a public holiday on January 26 commemorating Australia Day, but our nationalistic celebrations alienate many for their divisive connotations of invasion and exclusion.
There is a symbolic coincidence on and around January 26 whose affect may be disputed or unnoticed but is well worth considering as a unifying affirmation: as the stars disappear in the dawn twilight of that date, the Southern Cross, emblem of shared experience across South Pacific populations, stands at upper transit, upright on the Southern Meridian.
What about a Dawn Service to celebrate unity in diversity? Or just getting up early and letting it sink in?