Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Not Just Good/Bad: The Nodes & Retrogradation

One of the trends that is very clear in traditional astrology and Western astrology, which incidentally is contrary to the myth of "progress" is the tendency towards loss of nuance and loss of technique beginning in the Middle Ages, accelerating into the Renaissance and reaching almost catastrophic proportions with modern astrology.

One way in which this loss of nuance expresses itself is in the tendency to use the simple classification of every astrological factor as simply "good" or "bad". One of the canards flung at traditional astrology by modern is that it calls certain planets, fixed stars, etc., malefic. Perish the thought! Yet despite this criticism modern astrology regards void of course Moon or retrograde Mercury in the starkest and wholly negative terms.

Even when it comes to the malefics, traditional astrology has a more nuanced view. As the Centiloquium, the 100 Aphorisms attributed to Ptolemy says,

"In election of days and hours, make use of the two malevolent planets Saturn and Mars; for even so doth the expert physician use poison moderately for cure of man."

Aphorism 10.

Thus even the malefics have their uses. Being too close to the Sun, known as combustion, for example, is considered in general to be a severe affliction. However, the medieval Italian astrologer Guido Bonatti says,

"And when [the Moon] is under the rays of the Sun she signified secrets and things that have been hidden, and also she signifies matters that must be hidden; wherefore, at that time it is good to manage things that must be hidden and do those things which we wish to conceal from people before the Moon should be separated from the the Sun, but to be sure, at the time after she is separated from the Sun, [we must do] those things which we want to be hidden before she goes out from the Sun's rays."

Liber Astronomiae, Book III (Arhat ed.) page 38.

So even dealing with malefic/benefic qualities, traditional astrology uses a nuanced approach. But this simple good/bad distinction is only one tool in the fully stocked traditional kit.

The Nodes of the Moon and retrogradation provide another interesting comparison using the increase/decrease comparison. The 10th century Arabic astrologer Al-Qabisi, known to Europeans as Alcabitius, writes in his Introduction to Astrology that the North Node of the Moon, known as the Head of the Dragon, is considered benefic, but that some say it has the nature of increase, so it increased the positive qualities of benefics and the negative qualities of malefics.

Similarly he says that the South Node or Tail of the Dragon is a malefic, but that some say it has the quality of decrease, decreasing the positive qualities of benefics, but also decreasing the negative qualities of malefics,

"Thus it is said that the Head is a benefic with the benefics and malefic with the malefics; the Tail is a malefic with the benefics and a benefic with the malefics."

Introduction to Astrology, (Warburg 2004) ch 2, sections 45-48, p 88-9.

Similarly with retrogradation, normally considered an affliction, but the astrological magic grimoire the Picatrix says,

"When [Saturn] is retrograde, however, he signifies misfortune, debilities or infirmities, prisons and evils suffered in all things, and if he enters into aspect with any other planet, he weakens it and damages all the qualities of the other planet. If he is retrograde and you ask him for something, what you seek will come about with delays and miseries and great labor. If he is retrograde in any of his dignities, his maledictions are augmented and increased; while if he rises in his powers and dignities, then he will be easier and gentler."

Picatrix, Bk III, ch. 7, quoted in Secrets of Planetary Ritual

So following the logic of Picatrix, being retrograde and afflicted would lessen the severity of the affliction. Interesting!

Traditional astrology ultimately is about synthesis, using all of the chart factors in relation to each other to see through the chart and find the unified pattern of the situation that the Heavens reveal. Just as reality is complex and nuanced, so too must be any system that attempts to make accurate and precise prediction.

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