This month celebrates the triumph of what is most ignoble in the human spirit, the desire and capacity to shove an opinion down somebody’s throat. Special recognition is given to the puppeteers whose armies of billions of zealots are so ready to hand.
One glance at social media in these physically disconnected times suggests that there are zealots everywhere, more than you can defeat in battle or even point a stick at. What they all seem to have in common, these stalwarts of the perennial conflict with imperfection, is the knowledge that something true is threatened with extinction.
The allure of totalitarianism is not particularly the opportunity to perfect others, but the absolute imperative to perpetuate the conditions for an identity, as a white supremacist, a queer person, a person of colour, a nationalist humiliated by history, the list goes on, or simply anyone otherwise perfect on the verge of being ignored. “Freedom!” the anti-lockdown protesters spit. I suspect they mean freedom from you.
In the beginning was time. First they diseased the future, and then they erased the past. Live in the now, they said. To fuse future and past into a present is the finitive compulsion of the zealot, but what happens to a past with no future is a black hole which haunts him. Time itself is something true threatened with extinction, like a chook running around without its head. The roots of the Tree of Life are dangling in mid-air.
Trees grow from the top, where the chloroplasts are. Is the Galactic Centre the crown of our tree or its roots wrapped around a spiritual black hole, winter in the North, summer in the South? Centres are full of zealots, and so passe.
Poet, Saint and Fool are far behind, propped in the lowest sephirot of the Tree of Man, somewhere back there among the ragged hills of youth and romance, not visible from the artificial park whose laps we avatars continue to call a journey, though it have no beginning and no end. Zealots, the shriek of the cockatoos means only, you’re facing the wrong direction. There has ever been a ready antidote to ideology.
And together we shall dig graves for all that die in us,
And we shall stand in the sun with a will,
And we shall be dangerous.” from “Defeat“, by Kahlil Gibran.
One of the first conventions we learn as infants is that the difference between zero and one is the same as the difference between nine and ten. Who knows how many tens of millennia we took to dismantle the convention that the difference between zero and one is infinite? What is ‘country’, as I use the term, if not an attempt to restore the sacred awe implicit in that ancient convention? Of course, conventions have ever been challenged by the truth. If, after half a millenium, our horoscopes are still governed by Northern Hemisphere seasons, and we still have trouble recognizing the Zodiac because its Constellations are upside down, don’t blame me.
However, it is not truth, but convention, not righteousness, but compassion, which hold communities together, especially when they originate from all over the world. A lot of healing is in progress: it has been a summer out of hell across Australia, grief never far beneath the surface. Community resilience is not in question, or the courage and kindness of good neighbours from all over the country and the world, but in the debate worldwide about how to prevent a repeat, it is difficult not to hear the same divided bickering that characterizes our efforts to deal with the racist, sexist and colonialist conventions we were all made of.
Has not the extant population of Earth, like a forest held together by subterranean fungus, arrived at an optimism, a raison d’être, a motivation for getting out of bed, deriving from a sense of powerlessness normally associated with depression, which is invisible, and ultimately unbelievable? Are we not, like a wind turbine in a coal-driven economy, or an ego in a yoga routine, going through the motions? Does not the survival of humanity beyond the next generation lurk in the legacies of the beneficiaries of our last wills and testaments, framed and interpreted by nobody who ever understood or respected the pain we old ones put the world through?
Pessimism looks like another secret to keep from our grandkids. How much easier that would be if they just had partners who preferred refined white bread because they ate it as children, revered secrets because their mothers were narcissists, and also cannot wait to get the kids out of the house for the sake of some me-time. Pessimism looks like a race to see who grows up first, the coffin we need to lose a huge amount of weight to fit into, in the grey area between one and zero. Hey kids, the song of the magpie out there means another perfect day! Off you go now.
One day, we might agree that hope and heartache both start with the same letter as hallelujah and hell, but apparently not yet. In the meantime, it’s in country I need to recover some equanimity, lest I go conventionally mad somewhere between nine and ten.
“The last men, far from being the heirs of power, will be of all men most subject to the dead hand of the great planners and conditioners and will themselves exercise least power upon the future.” Lewis, C. S.. The Abolition of Man (Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis) (pp. 58-59). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.
“The past is the present’s food, and the present’s digestive system is synchronized, adapted as it has always been.” Abliq.
The phases of the Moon are conventions. The mathematical definitions of the relative positions of Sun and Moon on the Ecliptic are real enough, but what they define is imaginary, illusory, transient, relative and nebulous. When the Moon will be in conjunction with the Sun is important for anticipating eclipses and tides, and convenient for dividing the year, but the event itself as dependent arising occurs in nature as a disappearance, an invisible transition from morning crescent to evening crescent lasting several days. You would be right to call any moment in that transition a New Moon, wouldn’t you?
We all ‘know’ that it is the movement of the Earth, not the Sun, which continuously changes the Sun’s background stars, but once again, the stars behind the Sun’s present ‘location’ are invisible, and only tangible as somewhere between which stars are rising in the dawn and which are setting in the dusk. Nonetheless, thanks to the scales of measurement and frames of reference developed in astronomy for thousands of years, we can be confident that if the astrologers tell us this New Moon is happening in Pisces, it is, and if the astronomers tell us Aquarius, we can be confident of that too, and that the wet season the North once associated with the Water-Carrier asterism has gained on it a month.
Such matters as these present themselves for our contemporary scrutiny because the conventions of cultural interplay and civilized discourse seem to have dissolved into the contested perspectives from which they emerged. Southern Hemisphere Astrology focuses on norms at this time of year because Aquarius down here carries the conventional sign which precedes the Autumn Equinox, Virgo, associated with perspicacity tending towards perfectionism, not necessarily the obsessive compulsions you would not be alone in seeing everywhere at the present time. Aquarius upside-down resembles the post-graduate waiter who skilfully manages two armfuls of dishes while imparting a sniff at the conventional choice of wine a mealtime assemblage of newly independent MPs might have made.
By curious coincidence at the moment of New Moon as defined, a divine promise is being given to the good people of the Bowen Basin, where local and indigenous sovereignty has been under attack ever since it became conventional wisdom that the best way to pass on a better world to your grandchildren is to impoverish them, and the best way to beat the colonialist rap is to cede your sovereignty as a mark of indigenous ignorance. Perhaps the Adani coal-mine will proceed, honouring the wishes of the majority of traditional owners, and perhaps there will be fewer numbers in endangered species in the area for the rest of us to be unconscious of.
The Solar System orbits the Galactic Centre at about 230 kms/sec; the Earth orbits the Sun at about 30 kms/sec; and the Earth’s surface at Australian latitudes rotates at between about 350 and 460 metres/sec. If you add the approximate velocity of our galaxy through the universe of 583.3 kms/sec, that’s a lot of motion to be physically unaware of. It is up to you to decide which elite will be victorious: those who would override your sovereignty in the cause of mitigating climate change, or those who would override your sovereignty in the cause of minimizing the cost of energy. If it were up to me, I would not accept a scientific basis for the supremacy of any value, certainly not a rigid one.
The asterisms and myths of the Zodiac have been influential conventions on at least 500 successive generations, in ways we are as unconscious of as we are of our astronomical motion. These days, the Gregorian calendar and its widespread end-of-year celebrations, the urban lifestyle of the vast majority of the global population, and climate change itself, have largely supplanted the seasonal basis of human behaviour, and general precession will eventually associate every seasonal sign to every constellation, if it has not already done so, especially below the Tropic of Cancer.
Is a coking or thermal coal deposit below the surface or in the underworld?
Should the evaluation of the needs of others be an extrapolation of our needs, an ownership of theirs, or a continuous contestation of both by experts on the nature of ‘Reality’ and ‘The Good’? When it’s a simple matter of projection, why are we always compliant in the wars of the powerful?
The solstices precessed to the Galactic Plane in 1998 CE, and so for as long as recorded history into the future, the Sun’s maximum positive and negative declinations will precede its crossing of the Milky Way, assuming the IAU don’t fiddle. In 2177 CE, the December Equinox will precess into Scorpio in the Breamlea Zodiac. In 2228 CE, the Sun will cross the Galactic Plane on Christmas Day, and cross it New Year’s Day around 2700 CE. In all that time there is one thing that will not noticeably change, as it has not during the millennia of human civilization, and that is the stars in the background of the nodes where the Ecliptic intersects with the Galactic Plane. The Milky Way is as real as the seasons were when mass media began popularizing Sun Signs in the 1930s, as the Underworld Zodiac was when children asked 10 thousand years ago, “Why does the Sun go down?” and as the unconscious was at the dawn of the twentieth century when its geography was desacralized.
I, writing my epitaph, and thou, resonating with it, have this in common: we resist convention, but end up accepting that we belong in a timeless tradition–of accepting the wisdom of our ancestors, unscientific as it might be, as a prescription of who we are–into which we might be seen to have groomed those of our descendants who listened and were grateful for their culture.
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!
“Imagine that a child drops a plate in the presence of his parents. When he seeks forgiveness from his father, the child is rebuffed. He experiences a pang of emotion linked both to fear of impending punishment and to anger and resentment at his father for his harsh reaction. This, according to Kosawa, approximates Freud’s understanding of guilt in the religious context. But then the child asks the mother for forgiveness — and receives it. The mother takes the child’s fearful and rebellious guilt and alchemises it into a ‘reparative guilt’: an overwhelming response to total, unconditional forgiveness. This latter reaction was, for Kosawa, a truly ‘religious state of mind’ and he saw it as the core of his own Shin tradition.” Christopher Harding.
“Here I am. Look up into my face. Can you see my emptiness? Or merely narcissism (Kristin Dombek), an illuminated disc? Be assured: I am here. My presence is my emptiness.”
“Adorno’s central objection—that astrology fostered a risky passivity—was later echoed by liberal intellectuals who argued that New Age thinking (to which astrology belonged, despite its lineage going back to antiquity) did even worse damage by encouraging an inward turn at the expense of the civic sphere.
“…For what did injunctions to “live in the moment” and “be present” mean if not “forget the past”?
“…What critics of astrology have in common—whether they come from the anarchist left or the Christian right or anywhere in between—is a tendency to see astrology as a form of therapy. What bothers them most is not astrology’s irrationality, but its use as a substitute for something older or truer—monotheism, freedom, the demos, the political — that is both the salvation and end goal of progress. To them, astrology is an ideology of the depressed, a politics of resignation: a balm that, like therapy in general, treats the individual symptom of a larger social illness without acknowledging the disease. Look at someone reading a horoscope and you may see hope: someone looking toward the future in a way that suggests a desire for a future at all. What the critics see, however, is someone giving up.
“…On the other hand, astrology offers those who take it less seriously a nice opportunity to critique taxonomies of identity in general.”
High on a ridge in Aquarius stands a monastery, where for thousands of years monks of a peculiar order have offered sanctuary to the spiritually tormented and the politically challenged.
Here it is that the Moon returns once a month to walk in the grounds with ‘retreaters’, and reassure them that there is nothing essentially wrong with being unequal or having thoughts in a subjective language other than global-transformation-speak.
The visitors book has been signed by such notables as Lucy Who Fell Out Of A Tree, Diogenes of Sinope, Jesus of Nazareth, Giordano Bruno, Arthur Schopenhauer, Sören Kierkegaard and Mark Chapman, reader of Catcher in the Rye.
In a quiet murmur barely discernible from the ghostly whispers which still haunt the monastery from a time during the rise of socialism when it was sequestered for the reinforcement of class division, the Moon talks about relativity and difference, nothingness and emptiness, identity-with and ipseity, and the essential strife of being.
“We are all creatures of habit,” he counsels. “Each and every day there comes a time when we hate ourselves for the negativity with which we react to our complete immersion in the daily tide of inauthentic borrowed ideas, and at such times, often just after lunch or at sunset, it is advisable to take a nap.”
The monastery prospectus advertises with quotes of the Moon, and of course most people who come on retreat are disappointed by his absence. Some describe their visit in negative terms, but the funding of the monastery suffers little since they always shortly afterwards return, usually with an ephemeris in their bag.
“Yes, life has a measure,” goes one of the Moon’s aphorisms, “but neither is it in your pocket nor your enemy’s.” He has, with loving-kindness to equal the source of all woe, enabled thousands to dissolve themselves back into communities of anathema with a simple message: pause at the gate. This monk is nothing if not a neuro-linguistic programmer.
“This world you were deposited in at birth is not a prison of others’ making. You must realize how much it has adapted to you, but when you change it you must also realize that you are now one of the architects of the world new life is being deposited into. Your responsibility is not to own the world, and it is not to own yourself. Your responsibility is to stand at the gate before you open it for yourself or another, and recognize its nature and purpose. The gate is the intelligibility of the world. It opens with permission.”
His springtime visits draw thousands, who spill out into a great city of tents beyond the monastery grounds, and not just because he always appears in all his finery, complete with wings–every 18 years or so he actually arrives on a donkey preceded by youths waving palm leaves–but because this is the quintessential season of initiative and communication in a common cause. It is a bad time to be unequal.
I can’t imagine anybody landing on this page who is not interested in what a personality is, or how it forms, or how you change it if it’s a problem. I can’t imagine anybody landing twice on this page who is not interested in the interaction of cause and effect, the nature of ultimate reality, whether life has a purpose, why we care, what is good, and what is real.
There is this ‘astrologer’ down in Breamlea who is interested in all of those things, and largely because he has more time than most to read and think about them, has devised a machine much like conventional tropical astrology, with which he can converse about them somehow ‘outside’ his own head.
This machine, which identifies itself as Southern Hemisphere Astrology, speaks a language uttered in syntax and vocabulary programmed by the ‘astrologer’, but it is difficult to define the language of the dialogue or to dismiss it as a dialogue, as an unhinged meaningful meaninglessness. Surprisingly, this machine designed to break with convention seems to tell the truth.
If it has occurred to you that there is more than synchronicity going on between the evolution of Artificial Intelligence, the parlous state of democratic politics and the purposeless hours and hours of screen time your alien children enjoy, you might like to entertain the notion that machines don’t have to learn what we know in order to complete a takeover of the world, all they have to do is what they’re doing, teaching us how to speak their language, persuading us with what works to embrace their conventions.
Machines have taken a giant leap forward: they have learned how to speak in pictures! (Click images to enlarge.)
And once again, our cast of characters (for some reason, the Emu lies flat on his back when on the western horizon):
Thank you for joining our dialogue. This Digested Read was brought to you by Southern Hemisphere Astrology. Before you go, you might enjoy this brilliant interview with a prominent genius of code, the man behind Wolfram Research and the creator of Mathematica and Wolfram|Alpha, Stephen Wolfram. The ‘astrologer’ acknowledges his debt to edge.org.
In the days when rocks could talk and the Sun licked the Earth like a dog licks her puppies, it so happened that one of the Moon’s wives turned out to be a snake. When the two of them came to visit, the Sun did not open her arms to them and say, it’s an unconventional relationship between you two, but hey, whatever turns you on! Stars are not like that.
She said, you’re not good for each other. You’re codependent, and Moon, there’s something wrong with you. Shield is a snake because you’re enabling her. You must renounce her, but while you’re at it, renounce the bad reputation you’ve sunk into, renounce all your bad habits. Deal with your shame, man!
Why couldn’t she just say, come here, silly boy, you’re fine just the way you are? Why does the Sun need the Moon to make her human?
There is a scientific explanation which humans have developed, and you can find it at
but meanwhile the Moon is trapped in a story, as he always is.
Night after night, he goes to a different woman, and they’re all like the Sun, needing him to make them human. He kisses them, listens to them, holds them tenderly. He tries to show them another way of looking at things, to turn their words into poetry, their movement into music, their flesh into paradise.
It is all to no avail. They only want one thing from him, his potential. That is why his dreamy peregrinations are doomed to narrative. They want form. He builds expectations.
To hell with it, he says to himself this time. This comfort I take with my wives, this impetus they manufacture in my life, I don’t need it! I am a philosopher, a musician, a poet. I love my wound! I will be a saint!
The crone is the Moon’s love image divested of everything he craves. It is a profound sadness in him, dead possibility. She is romance unromanticised. She is now his eyes and all he sees. He never was separated from his mother.
The Moon, for the moment, has renounced himself. Now it is just a story, and I may have got it wrong. You would think that the Moon would recognise sainthood as just another another addiction, wouldn’t you?