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A "fair wind and a following sea" is astrologically like a transiting stellium that you can ride on...

...the sky above, and the sea below...


By John Townley, November 2013

Considering that astrology (and everything else environmental) is about nothing but a surrounding set of natural phenomena, it’s surprising how few astrologers look at it that way. Way back in the 1970s I recall introducing the image that it’s less like finding the finger of fate and more like predicting the weather – you can’t change it, and the best forecasters don’t always get it right, but you certainly can take precautions, whether it be an umbrella or sunscreen. That metaphor has become quite popular since, but it’s usually dashed off as a light explanatory comment, when in fact it goes to the very heart of the matter.

We see that our immediate environment is tuned to a series of rhythms in air and water, transformed by the Sun’s heat and interacting with earth beneath our feet, driven by the strong, insistent beat of Sun and Moon, and the lesser pulses of the planets. And we, like ships on the sea, navigate the changing winds and waves which can vary from smooth ocean swells to angry, chaotic tumult. A strong, prevailing trade wind and its accompanying easy swell can take us far, in a long easy reach. Or, a tempest nearby can produce crazy, peaked seas that can capsize our vessel, even without an actual storm on top of us. And, a sailor with a good eye – and these days an accurate satellite weather report – will know exactly what to expect and can take steps to make the most of it.

The waves in our environment vary according to scale, whether earth, sky, or sea...

In astrology, the changing heavens do exactly the same thing, and they’re just as predictable. But the waves aren’t made of water, they’re gravitational and magnetic rhythms generated by the varying proximity of the Sun, Moon, and planets. And, unlike the sea lapping against your boat, they’re much lower frequency and rise and fall at the fastest once a day (the diurnal rhythm of each of the planets) and individually vary from once a month (Moon) to yearly (Sun and our periodic proximity to each planet) through the tropical cycles of every planet out to Pluto (245 years). These may seem very slow, indeed, but interestingly, they scale up to the very same proportions as music and light, and they’ve been around for a very long time, so we’re locked into them. Altogether, they generate the waves on the universal sea we plough, which can be smooth or rough, depending.

Depending upon what? Upon exactly where they’re coming from, and at what angle, just like ocean waves. If your ship is clipping along in an easy, following sea in the trade winds, it’s because miles of winds and multiple storms are all lined up behind you, driving a single, giant, combined pulse – kind of like a stellium of planets in a chart, all the energy coming from a single spot, generating a unidirectional wave. It’s a great environment, but favors only one direction. If you’re skimming along on top of it, it’s a heady, free ride, but if you’re plunging head-on into it, it’s a bear – and coming from the side or the quarter, it’s a roll that sailors enjoy but may make landlubbers seasick. So, in a transiting sky, think of a stellium that way – and consider where it’s hitting your chart, whether straight on, sideways, or from the rear.

Two opposing waves either double up (l), or cancel out (r) -- think transiting opposition...

But as at sea, there’s usually more than one wave generator sending action your way, and sometimes it can get really complicated. As, for instance, when you’re directly between two storm systems. There, you have waves coming at you from both directions, and waves like that either cancel each other out or combine into much bigger, vertical waves that just bump you up and down, without any useful forward motion – you have to keep headway and push it, or you’ll get rolled on your side. Think of that, astrologically, as a transiting opposition: things get pushed alternately this way or that way, or just cancel out into nothing – you have to push back to cope.

Waves from four separate directions make crazy peaks -- think transiting grand cross.

The worst kind of wave pattern you can get is when you’re right in the middle of multiple, right-angle wave generators, coming from all four directions. That produces a horrendously choppy set of chaotic peaks that are constantly upsetting your stability and can easily swamp your vessel, what you see in a typical maritime painting of a bad storm. Astrologically, that’s a grand cross, and no matter which way you turn, you’re getting an argument or resistance from one quarter or another.

Interestingly, when you get wave drivers coming from 60 or 120 degrees apart, fore or aft, it makes for a rather negotiable, rolling sea that’s equally easy to traverse to and from any direction, which is what you get when the sky is full of trines and sextiles. You still have to make the effort of setting and keeping your course, but the sea doesn’t go out of its way to interfere with you. But, of course, neither life nor the sea are usually that simple, and most of the time there are all sorts of variations introduced by the input from multiple patterns along with the rapid daily change of the tides (at sea) and the Moon (astrologically).

The famous ukiyo-e Japanese print actually portrays a unique convergence from multiple directions...

To make use of all this, the hapless mariner of old, before modern weather forecasting, really had to be expert at sensing the immediate situation and its implications, not knowing what storms were underway afar. But the astrologer knows where every planet is and will be well ahead of time, and so should be able to do much better. Of course, most don’t, as although the data is there, few have a working physical theory to follow, even reduced to just the simple but highly-correspondent metaphor here on these pages, and so astrology is generally not nearly as useful as it ought to be.

So, in the end, is an ocean voyage really an ideal metaphor for life’s journey? You bet it is, and it’s been a favorite simile in varying guises from classical authors, Renaissance astrology, and right up through recent evangelical hymnody. And that’s because whatever scale you choose, waves and waveforms make up the structure of all environments, at every size, with a relatively comparable story at every level. So when you see the tough stuff coming up next month in your ephemeris, all you have to do is thoughtfully and gently place yourself in just the right part of the picture where you can ride the waves and not fight them, and sail on…

For fun: for a take from Donald and Goofy on the venerable "A Life on the Ocean Wave", click here...!

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  Copyright © John Townley 2013. All rights reserved.
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