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12 Theses on the Theory of Astrology
ARIES (March 21-April 20)
Things are looking better for you, Aries, but you’re not out of the woods yet. Saturn, the star of melancholy, paralysis, and ill health, is in transit across your ninth house, where it will remain until December 2017. While the long stretch of involuntary abstinence and familial disintegration that dominated the period from mid-June to late September is coming to a close, with this shift new problems may emerge. Now is a good time to start a new relationship, although it will quickly become tedious. Saturn rules your career sector; under this baleful alignment, places and positions that once felt comfortable may begin to close in around you. If you’re in work, the oppressiveness of your job will no longer be felt in brief, searing jolts of late-night misery, but as a constant suffocating hum. If you’re unemployed, ceilings will feel lower, walls closer, and you may find it entirely impossible to go outside. You’re likely to have an increasing desire to travel but pointless daily routine has come to dominate every area of your life, and escape will be impossible. Now is a time for self-reflection and self-discovery: tunnel deep down inside yourself, slam tight every door to the outside world, and wait out the storm. You’ll emerge wiser, calmer, and more self-assured. Speak to as few people as possible. Remember, everything happens for a reason.
The world is your playground right now, Taurus: with Venus out of retrograde and Jupiter in the fifth house, everything seems to be accelerating; life dissolves into a pulsing stream of fast and fleeting colours, and while it’s been great fun, sometimes it’s all happening too fast for you to really sit down and take stock of things. If you’re already in a relationship, it’s likely to be enlivened by a new sense of fun and excitement, whether through your partner or an intriguing new lover. If you’re single, a giddying array of romantic options will open up to you. It’s a season for flings, whirlwind romances, centrifugal motions of every kind. Creatures you once thought to be sentient and autonomous human beings will now reveal themselves as garish marionettes, puppetted by the long tendrils that churn from Jupiter’s boiling core, as it drags them whooshing across the surface of the Earth to collide with your crotch. But sometimes, afterwards, when you lie together panting on sweaty sheets, one hand raking through their hair or lazily tracing the line of their pelvis, you’ll see something: the faint tremor of an eyelid, the piston-movement of a gulp rippling below the skin of their throat, some tiny trait that makes them burst out in a fit of incalculable otherness. Who is this person? Look into their eyes and you might catch a glimpse. There, in the vast darkness, a tiny swirling orange dot, gleaming with madness and fury. Comets smash into its surface and hardly leave a ripple. Its storms rage for centuries. Jupiter, the jealous king, the all-consuming giant, has descended from the heavens to rule your world.
If you’re reading this, Gemini, chances are you don’t really believe in astrology – or, at least, true to your sign, you’re in two minds about it. Saturn opposes your Sun; you might find yourself locked in a strange space of indecision and indeterminacy. If you corner a believer, grab them by the lapels and really interrogate them, they’ll probably end up admitting in a desperate squeak that no, they don’t really think that moving lumps of rock in outer space determine everything that happens on Earth, but it works, it makes them feel better, it helps them makes sense of things. They understand the situation far better than people who firmly insist that it’s all bullshit. (There’s certainly a gendered division of labour when it comes to astrology: in modern times, at least, horoscopes appear mostly in women’s magazines, while men are subjected to a less sophisticated system of mythology – tales of barbarian heroes, legendary characters who drive expensive cars, bed attractive women, and always have the right length of stubble. Much of this has to do with old-fashioned sexism: women’s bodies, primal and unrestrained by higher reason, are susceptible to the wheeling rhythms of nature. But at the same time women are judged to be at least minimally capable of seeing their lives in context, while the fragile male ego hides from any influence beyond itself.) The astrological sign should be read as just that, a sign; astrology concerns the logos or wordliness of the night sky. In Saussurean linguistics, the signifier is always arbitrary. It’s only because there’s no organic connection between word and thing that anything like meaning can take place, otherwise you’d break your teeth trying to describe a rock. Astrology is a vast and complex system of signs, a symbolic realm in which things can be represented and understood. To complain that it’s all just made up is like angrily walking out in the middle of a play because nothing happening onstage is real, or yelling over a public speaker that they’re just making noises with their mouth. The point is to delve into this system, to see how it’s used, who holds what ground, and how it might be changed.
Neptune square to the Sun. Lunar eclipse. Planets vanish in the gaps between constellations; stars drift screaming into the void; the Milky Way runs in glittering rivulets down across the sky’s glassy dome, coming to rest, defeated, against the hard bed of the horizon. There’s no mistaking it. You are going to die.
Of course, dying is one of those things that never happen in horoscopes. The planets spin in their circles forever, and while they might help you out from time to time with dates and job interviews, they’re also entirely untroubled by your death. Astrological time is cyclical and repetitive. As Roland Barthes notes, ‘the stars never suggest that order could be overturned, but merely exert a little day-to-day influence, remaining respectful of social status and of the working week as defined by one’s employers.’ Barthes was in many ways a classic Scorpio: always piercing, always interpreting, clawing through the surface of things to find the buried truth inside, and only then discovering that it was always hollow. I’ve not been able to find a horoscope for the 25th of February, 1980, the day he was fatally hit by a laundry van on the streets of Paris, but with a roughly constructed natal chart and an ephemeris it’s possible to approximate. On that day the Sun was at seven degrees Pisces, in his eleventh house, suggesting that it would have been a good day to focus on friendships or close colleagues. Jupiter was in the fifth, indicating a particularly fertile period for literary and creative endeavours. Perhaps the stars had fated the new ideas buzzing ceaselessly in his head to find expression through a collaborative project, possibly with François Wahl or Julia Kristeva. But instead he died in hospital, and the stars kept on shining, heartlessly distant: they didn’t care.
We could repeat the exercise. Theodor Adorno, who called occultism the ‘metaphysic of dunces,’ who argued in The Stars Down To Earth that astrology forms an institutionalised, objectified ‘secondary superstition’ in which the irrationality of social domination is perversely rationalised as the expression of cosmic fate, was of course (like me) a Virgo. The horoscope that he read for The Stars Down To Earth urged him to ‘ignore the things or statements you don’t like, and take a constructive viewpoint of things.’ Not the best-calibrated advice; he sullenly refused. On the day he died of a heart attack, Jupiter transited the fourth and Mars the twelfth: a good time for solitary thought and reflection, but also bearing a strong chance of financial good fortune. No such luck. But it wasn’t always like this. In ancient times the movements of the heavenly bodies were thought to foretell wars and revolutions, the crumbling of empires, or the fiery end of the world. How did we get here? Modern astrology tends to not really predict anything; the stars just describe, in a strange and cryptic code, things that are happening here on Earth. Read enough horoscopes and you’ll end up with the uneasy impression that the stars and planets, with all their light and fury and strangeness, are really just ‘about’ the day-to-day world of offices and public transport, small monetary gains and small romantic misfortunes. Vast clouds of searing fire a million miles wide have been domesticated, so that they can no longer accommodate the death of even one person, let alone an entire mode of production. Against all this, it’s necessary to insist that the galaxy itself does not have any particular regard for capitalism. If astrology has been pressed into the service of mundane power, to represent a world that can never change, our task is not to do away with it, but to fight for its liberation. We must – to employ an ironic inversion of the type Adorno was so fond of – put the stars back in the sky.
According to scientific chauvinism, astrology is the dross left over by the slow transformation of superstition into astrophysics. But alienated astrology has another lineage, in which its cousins aren’t dinky space probes and radio telescopes, but the Fordist assembly line, the pitiless regime of benefits sanctions, and the algorithmic software that tracks our productivity and keeps workers in a constant state of terror. Human beings everywhere have been fixated by the grand and slow drama of the constellations, but wherever unified systems of astrology arose – in Mesoamerica, Mesopotamia, the valleys of the Indus and the Nile, and China – it was always along with a despotic, paranoid, agricultural State. Systematic astrology is a form of labour discipline. Before the clock – a familiar cycle of twelve equal, abstract, and mathematically determined signs, claiming their origin in outer space, to which human life has been forced to adjust itself – there was the zodiac. In a sublunar world ruled by chaos and disintegration, the orderly movement of the sun through the constellations told people when to sow and when to harvest, when to pay their taxes, when to make sacrifices, and when to go to war. The astrological calendar and its harmony were imposed at the point of a spear. Cyclical (as opposed to linear) time, the ‘natural’ time of bio-rhythms and seasonal progression, that for Debord was ‘consistent with the real labour of [ancient] societies,’ is still the object of a certain leftist nostalgia: even Walter Benjamin laments its transformation into ‘homogeneous and empty time.’ But these natural cycles did not arise spontaneously; they had to be imposed through extraordinary violence. The Aztec Empire had to tear out human hearts in their millions on stone altars, just to maintain the balance of nature and keep the sun rising each morning.
Early despotic states, trying to regiment a sullen population, found a model of order in the sky, but for the technology to work they had to immediately start imposing the same kind of division and immiseration that had been forced on the people on the stars themselves. Before it could serve as a model, an unruly sky had to be tamed. Astrology is based on the central doctrine of Hermes Trismegistus, the first philosopher, who lived in the darkest and most cloistered depths of humanity’s screaming infancy, and whose revelations underlie all Western magic. That basic law, received by Hermes at the foot of God’s throne and passed down to the Egyptian priests, the patriarch Abraham and the prophet Mohammed, is recorded in the Emerald Tablet as quod est inferius est sicut quod est superius – as above, so below. Those in power have taken this as a normative principle. What is below will have to conform to what is above, whether the ‘above’ is an ordered extraterrestrial universe or the perfect efficiency of an idealised free market, through force if necessary. But a liberated astrology, far from discarding this doctrine, should instead take it very seriously.
Modern cosmology has stumbled across a truth that the ancients have always known, but tried to repress: our world is essentially meaningless, and in constant decay. This is why healing magic requires a sacrifice: in an entropic universe, it’s not a restoration of harmonic balance, but something close to blasphemy. The cosmological principle states that the universe is homogeneous and isotropic: certain constants, the speed of light, or the permittivity of the vacuum, remain the same regardless of the position of the viewer. At a large enough scale, everything is the same. Scientists refer to this, in a rare moment of poetry, as the End of Greatness. The universe is made of enormous walls of galaxy clusters, each billions of light years across, containing millions of galaxies that themselves contain billions of stars, forming a fragile web between vast and empty voids. Its story is an epic. Clusters collide, stars are born and burn out, intelligent life stares out into the darkness and sees something of itself reflected back. But if you look at the universe on a slightly larger scale, the filaments and voids vanish. Viewed as a whole, the universe is a flat grey expanse, all matter and all energy distributed evenly across its infinity, with no structure and no hidden meaning. All things are slowly collapsing, but on the highest possible level, the heat death of the universe has already happened. The world we think we live in, with stars and planets and trees and daily horoscopes in the back pages of the newspaper – it’s a translation error, a glitch between the blankness of the large-scale universe and the blankness of subatomic chaos. If we’re honest about our Hermeticism, it doesn’t tell us that the reason for all our daily injustices is encoded in an astral infinity. It tells us that there’s no reason for anything at all.
An astrology that properly recognises its magical responsibilities is the only possible point of contact between human reason and the seething anarchy of outer space. There are twelve houses in the zodiac, and all of them are on fire.
Another horoscope is possible, but astrology can only help us if it proceeds from the fact that our galaxy is fundamentally ironic. Any meaning that can be gleaned from a universe whose map is a blank sheet of paper will always be fleeting, evanescent, puckish, and bleak. As critics of astrology are always keen to point out, the actual information contained in any daily horoscope is usually vague to the point of meaninglessness – in that respect, at least, it’s a perfectly accurate mirror of our world. For the reader of horoscopes, who finds some meaning and comfort in them, neither the arbitrariness of the positions of stars and planets nor the fudgery of the prediction make their truths any less valid. A linguistic signifier can have meaning only because it itself is meaningless, thrown together with a signified with which it has no positively articulated relation and which it can never quite touch; signification takes place somewhere in the void between the two. Similarly, astrological truth doesn’t happen in the stupid depths of our solar system, but slips through the sky at that moment near dusk, when the first point of light howls gloomily near the horizon. It’s the shiver you get looking up at something very cold and very distant, shining from across an endless void. Linda Hutcheon describes irony as the possibility of simultaneity of multiple signifieds with any signifier (in its most radical sense, it’s the simultaneity occasionally encountered by Derrida of meaning and nonmeaning). Astrology is an ironist’s playground: its lions sleek or mangy, its virgins coquettish or forbidding, its water-carriers upright and obedient or leering through a gummy grin and spitting blood-flecked gobs in the swill. Constellations are vast, and any number of meanings can tumble through their nets. If, as Bataille knew, ‘the world is parodic and lacks an interpretation,’ interpretation doesn’t then become pointless, but radically democratic. A proletarian astrology will hang all the court charlatans that crowded around Pharaoh and Reagan, guillotine the blue-rinsed flatterers of musicians and actors, and shoot every billionaire who really thinks the galaxy exists just to increase his stock yields. Our destiny might be written in the stars. But we must hold the pen.
We are living in the Age of Pisces; this is where the Earth has sat for thousands of years. You were born under the sign of a deep V of stars, its point turned accusingly against the Earth. The brightest star in the constellation, halfway down the eastern wing, is η Piscium. A giant nearly three hundred light years away, twenty-six times bigger than our Sun. Astronomers believe it has a companion star, a tiny, silent, sullen, nameless dwarf whose light is all but blocked out by the vastness of its neighbour. We can see the two stars moving in the same direction, and decide that they are orbiting and influencing one another, but without any way of seeing in three dimensions, any place from which to watch them aside from our own Earth, it’s impossible to say for sure. They might be much further apart than we thought, with no relation at all: the study of stars never really outgrew its astrological origin. η Piscium is also one of the few stars to have kept its old Babylonian name – Kullat Nūnu, or the cord of the fish. The Mesopotamians, looking at that vast arrow in the sky, saw two fish on the end of a line, and called them Zibbāt Sinūnūtu: the Tails, flapping and gasping, helpless in the vacuum, tied fast to the firmament. The ancient Egyptians and Indians also saw two fish on a line; in Chinese astrology, Pisces’ western arm is a pig-pen in which the celestial farmer keeps his herd. However people dramatised the current astral home of our planet, it was always in cords, fences, and chains. Various mystical groups have put their faith in a rising Age of Aquarius, but the stars don’t care, and they’re not here to help us. The point is not to pass through Piscean oppression, and hope it never rises again, but to abolish it altogether. Astrology can be predictive, not because it cleaves to a predictable order, but because the night sky has always been the terrain on which we make and unmake our own social reality. One day, when we crawl out from the wreckage, we might look up, and see very different stars in the sky.