Phenomenology of Astrology

This phenomenological exploration, originally written in December 2013, was published in the Fall 2016 issue of Immanence: The Journal of Applied Mythology, Legend, and Folktale.

Prologue: Cosmos in Ellipsis

As I climb higher up the gray switchback staircase of rickety wooden boards my body tenses with the increasing height, even as my mind knows I am safe, that the stairs beneath my feet will support me. Already present is that indescribable bodily sense, that physical intuition that seems only able to be captured wordlessly, by something as unarticulated as an ellipsis . . . I step out onto the gravel of the roof to be met by the sight of the flaming orb of the setting Sun. This closest of stars burns the clarity from the landscape, blurring the features of the horizon line being pulled toward it: hill, forest, and stretch of ocean I can only perceive in memory as the deepening gold of sunset shatters my sight into uncountable, undifferentiable monads of color.

Sitting on the wide ledge of the roof my body settles into an accustomed level of comfort at this new height. But if I lean closer to the edge, to glance below at the street, then this indescribable bodily sense flares up once again, a seeming leap of my heart into my throat that signifies danger or delight I cannot tell. Why is it that looking down four stories at unforgiving concrete gives the same bodily sensation as looking deeply into the eyes of one I love? Wherein lies the truth of this . . .

Looking away from the Sun I turn to my left to see the Moon seated aloft in a soft indigo sky. The reverberating green echo of the Sun’s shape slowly fades from my vision as the Moon’s gentler light fills my gaze instead. The relationship of these two celestial bodies feels familiar . . . and my body knows it before I do . . . Ah yes, I stood upon a mountain exactly a month ago today, positioned as a third body between these two heavenly beings, seeing them in this same triangular relationship once again. I feel this, sense this, intuit this, I . . . this, my body . . . this: this relationship, this interaction.

Whenever I behold a celestial body ablaze in the night sky it stops me in my tracks, without fail. My body is commanded to stop, to wonder, to worship these orbs. My breath catches. It feels not unlike falling in love . . . over and over and over, with each wandering star I witness. The same as looking down from some great height, but rather it is looking up . . . No it is looking out, a looking out into the depths of space. To behold the Sun, the Moon, a thousand stars is to look up, to look out, and to look down into the greatest depths all at once. No wonder we lose our balance, no wonder our bodies react, they catch us and remind us that gravity is real.

I have seen countless sunsets but no one is the same, no one is ever worth looking away from before it has made its perfected exit. I never say to myself, “Not this time, I have seen this before.” It now becomes impossible to look away as the ocean swallows the flaming disc of molten gold. In these final moments of a day I will never see again I feel my heart pulled, as though by an emotion-laden gravitational force, toward the Sun. My heart strains within my chest to follow the Sun beyond the crashing purple waves.

Wash over me, oh descending night . . . let me drown once more in your celestial waters.

Introduction: An Experiential Astrology

“The stars are like letters which inscribe themselves at every moment in the sky . . . . Everything in the world is full of signs. . . . All events are coordinated. . . . All things depend on each other; as has been said, ‘Everything breathes together.’” – Plotinus

Go outside on a clear night. Gaze up into the sky, let the points of light that have been traveling for minutes or millennia enter into you through your eyes. I ask not what do you see, but rather, what does it feel like? Your eyes are drawn to one particular body blazing like a white flame in the western sky. A wandering planet, visible at a different height above the horizon with each passing night—only to disappear into the overwhelming light of the Sun for an extended period of time, to once again be found shining in the indigo skies preceding dawn. Your body quivers in response to this gem-like orb, truly like a bright diamond set among a net of precious stones. Beauty. How can this not be an experience of Beauty, an archetypal vision burning forth in the physical realm? You watch Venus slowly sink beyond the blackened waves of the Earth’s greatest sea, a trail of Venus-shine tracing a path directly from the planet to where your feet stand on a grassy cliff’s edge. A geometrical relationship exists between your body and the body of Venus, but you also feel a psychic connection as well: beauty shines forth from this planet, a beauty which you cannot help but feel resonating internally as well. Distill all of this moment to its essence, to Beauty.

In the ancient world astronomy and astrology were a single science, to be practiced as a unified discipline of contemplating what Plato called the “moving image of eternity”[1] that is the night sky. With the rise of modernity, astronomy and astrology diverged, astronomy to become a science solely of mathematical physics and celestial mechanics, while astrology was relegated to the realm of superstition and pseudoscience. Contemporary research on astrology, however, has come to affirm “a highly significant––indeed a pervasive––correspondence between planetary movements and human affairs.”[2] This correspondence is perceptible in the position of the planets at the time of one’s birth, as well as in the transiting movement of the planets in relation to the birth chart throughout one’s life, and the continuously changing dynamics of the planets’ relational positions to each other. The correlated expression is of an archetypal nature: the character or energy of the planets is expressed in a multivalence of ways both by human individuals and in collective cultural and natural events.

An astrological chart is a two-dimensional representation of our three-dimensional solar system, shown from a geocentric perspective but using heliocentric calculations to predict the specific locations of the planets (Figure 1). Sometimes in the practice of astrology it can be easy to become absorbed in the planetary archetypes as symbols, as they are manifested in the human psyche. Just as astronomy has forgotten it was once completed by astrology, perhaps sometimes astrology too can forget to look back out into the starry sky to gain greater understanding, and not just to the multidimensional manifestations of the archetypes in human events. If phenomenology is meant to bring us, as Husserl said, “back to the things themselves,” perhaps a phenomenological approach to astrology may be in order, to experience at all levels the archetypal energies pulsating through all dimensions of the cosmos.

The Sun

Why is it we are so compelled to watch the sunset? On clear days the Sun is visible all through the daylight hours, yet it is usually only when the Sun is near the horizon at dusk and dawn that the desire to suspend whatever we might be doing simply to watch overcomes us. The Sun is most accessible to the naked eye at this time. The explosion of color—of rose, vermillion, gold, magenta, orange, crimson, indigo—as the sunlight passes through the greatest density of Earth’s atmosphere is like watching a cosmic painter improvise with an infinite watercolor set on living canvas. How could we look away?

The Sun in the birth chart represents the conscious self, what one identifies as, what we name ourselves, how we shine in the world, the will to be, to exist. The Sun illuminates, focuses, radiates, integrates. It is the autonomous self, the ego, the part of ourselves that says “I am.” When I gaze at the horizon illuminated by the setting Sun, the “I” that I call myself—the “I” whose personality is reflected in the position of the Sun in my birth chart, the location at which the actual Sun appeared to be from my situated position on a moving Earth—is gazing out at the Sun that contains all “I”s. Every birth chart contains a Sun, every person has a self whose personality is reflected in the planetary and zodiacal relationships to that Sun. Yet it is all the same Sun. Each one of us has a personal relationship to this celestial body that gives life to the Earth, gives movement to the solar system. When we look at the Sun, not only do we see our self reflected, we see all selves reflected back to us. No wonder it is so hard to look away.

Yet when the Sun sets the starry sky can begin to shine forth. When the self steps aside, all the other persons of our being are able to come forth and shine with their own archetypal colors.

The Moon

A few nights ago I was walking down a busy city street at night, cars passing back and forth, people hurrying in every direction, home from work, onto buses, into subway stations. Stepping around the corner of a tall building and looking up through the maze of power lines blocking a dark, almost star-less sky, I was struck by the sight of the Moon, barely a crescent of light showing on its face, yet in its darkness still visible all the way around. The dark orb appeared to be hanging so close to the Earth, a haunting reminder that not all the world is contained in the narrow field of our bustling urban lives. Yet I was amazed to see no one else stopped to stare at this fantastic apparition far more beautiful than any of the hurried activity occurring down at the street level.

The Moon astrologically represents our relational self, the emotions, feelings, the body. It is the mother-child relationship, that which cares and nurtures, and that which desires to be cared for and nurtured. The Moon is the matrix of being, the family, the home, the past, our most intimate selves. It is what our conscious self is unconscious of, sometimes invisible in its intimacy. We can become so accustomed to seeing the Moon night after night, or as a pale sphere in the daytime sky, that we forget its presence if we are too wrapped up in the overly focused narrowness of our ego-driven lives. It does not demand attention. Yet the Moon is always present, the closest celestial body to Earth, affecting the ebb and flow of the ocean tides, mirroring the ebb and flow of our changing emotions and bodily sensations.

From Earth we always see the same face of the Moon; the Moon’s rotation on its axis and its orbit about the Earth take the same amount of time. This physical characteristic gives the impression that the Moon does not rotate at all, which contributed to the long-held belief that the Earth was the stationary center of the cosmos. The maternal nature of the Lunar archetype seems to be symbolically expressed in this physical positioning; the Moon cradling the young human species in an Earth-centered universe for far longer than if the Moon had rotated on its axis.

Sun Trine Moon

I am standing on the precipice of a mountain gazing westward, into the molten fire of the setting Sun. One hundred and twenty degrees to my left, an angle my body can hold within itself as I gaze in both directions, the waxing Moon rises over the further arches of a vermillion and rose stained ridge. I can feel the relationship of Sun and Moon within my body, somehow feeling my heart as the third point in this harmonious triangle. “We grasp external space through our bodily situation,”[3] Maurice Merleau-Ponty writes. Standing between rising Moon and setting Sun I know their relationship because my body is in relationship to each of them. “We also find” Merleau-Ponty continues, “that spatial forms or distances are not so much relations between different points in objective space as they are relations between these points and a central perspective—our body.”[4]

I am a full participant in this moment. My body is in relationship with these two powerful celestial bodies that light up our world, that pull all of the existence I know forward along its spiraling path. “For us the body is much more than an instrument or a means; it is our expression in the world, the visible form of our intentions,” the phenomenologist says.[5] This seems to hold true not only for my own body, but each body I am able to witness: the flaming Sun, the pregnant Moon, blazing Venus as it becomes visible in the cooling hues of the sky, the point of light that is Saturn that appears not long after Venus makes her debut, and the solidity of the Earth beneath my feet. Each are bodies giving visible form to their intentions.

I turn to my companions standing next to me and say, “This is a transit. Can you feel it?


A couple years ago I was out walking through Golden Gate Park in the later evening. In the darkness of the park I saw through a gap in the trees the shining, soft orange light of Jupiter. It was the only light in the sky, dazzling between dappled purple clouds. I left the path to stand in the darkness of the trees, to focus all my attention upon this planetary body, this planetary being.

As I gazed with openness and curiosity upon Jupiter it appeared to grow brighter, and I almost felt as though a communion was arising between us. As dark clouds passed over the planet it still managed to shine through radiantly. I was suddenly reminded of the moment in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King when Sam looks up at the smog covering the desolation of Mordor:

There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach[6]

It suddenly dawned on me that part of the archetypal nature of Jupiter is Hope. I had the sense I was looking directly at the Divine and feeling Hope, an uplifting and elevation of spirit, a buoyancy and joy I could not explain. The Shadow of our times, the great devastation of our Earth, will also pass in the end. There is always Hope.

Encountering The Archetypes

Sometimes the planets want to speak to us. This is the only way I can describe what such a connection feels like. Once, in a meditative state, I closed my eyes and gazed upward towards the heavens and could feel that all the planets were so excited I finally was listening that they each were telling me who they are all at once. It was an overwhelming deluge of colors, emotions, images, sensations, processes; it was far too much to take in. I begged them, please come one at a time.

One by one, beginning with the Sun, each planet introduced itself, revealing how their multidimensional and multivalent appearances in the incarnated realm were really all unified into single archetypes in the transcendent realm. With each planet I encountered qualities I had learned of before, and yet other qualities which were new to me. The Sun, radiant presence, gold, singularity of vision, shone through me, through everything; nothing else existed in that light. The Moon, cradling and being cradled, softness, a silver sheen of lavender comfort, holding in warmth, fullness and settled contentment. Mercury, a quickening pace as my thoughts raced to catch up, a rapid quill spelling, articulating, word, glance, taste, touch, sound, senses singing. Venus, a verdant green of flowering beauty, vines growing in curls that turn into exquisite art, the silver sparkling of dew under leaves, mirroring a reciprocity of love and heart-warming presence, the shiver of pleasure and desire. Mars, a flaming red heat burning through me with energy, action, anger, force, violence, blood, rushing in a hiss of fiery passion. Jupiter, uplifting to a panoramic sweep of glory and triumph, images of great civilizations flourishing in their crowning moments, a spiraling climb to the grand arches of the Kingdom of Heaven, laughing, just laughing, releasing into giggles, soft joy, lips kissed by a smile.

The smile faded into a serious fixed gaze as Saturn entered my field, making me sit straighter, feeling the structural strength of my bones, my skeleton, holding me erect and steady, the stability of age-old institutions weathering through time, weathered away by time—Time who eats his children—feeling my body slowly decay in death, yet somehow feeling reassured by this, again and again in repetition, that all things must come to an end, and with that final acceptance at last can come wisdom.

Lightning quick Uranus burst through, not settling into a single color or image, always overturning, breaking out, breaking through, a pace impossible to follow as sparks of genius flew off of every new idea to explode in firecrackers opening up ever unexplored future horizons.

All dissolved, and no sense of myself remained as the oceanic azure oneness of Neptune washed over all that had come before, containing everything in its synchronous holism, a peaceful oblivion of floating in a flowing celestial realm of watery image, ethereal spirit, imaginal soul, transcending all boundaries.

And with a rendering tear the ocean ripped apart as a volcanic chasm, Pluto, gaped open swallowing all in titanic destruction, a violence so deep it was beyond fear, rather a pulsing of life impulse to survive or perish, pushed and pressured by the unbounded force of desire, teeth, torn flesh, corpses, pushing through the excrement, massive desolation laying waste, decomposing, turning over, evolving through pain, passing through the white hot burning fire and from the dead ashes reborn . . .

Then white light. All the colors melted together, every image unified. Only light.

Such an encounter with the archetypes I felt at every level of my being. It is like hearing the story of the entire world all at once. It is a distillation of everything into the passing of but a few breaths, a bracketing of everything, to be able to fully experience everything. An archetype is a phenomenological reduction of experience, a reduction that distills being down to its essence. Return to the things themselves. Look to the night sky, the planets want to tell you who they are—who you are.

When the starry night passes, so comes the dawn. The self is reborn from the multitudinous matrix of being. Yet as day shines forth, one can still feel the stars radiating behind the blue sky.

Works Cited

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. The Primacy of Perception. Edited by James M. Edie. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1964.

Plato. Plato: Complete Works. Edited by John M. Cooper. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1997.

Tarnas, Richard. Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View. New York, NY:             Viking Penguin, 2006.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings, New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1954.

[1] Plato, Timaeus, trans. Donald J. Zeyl, in Plato: Complete Works, ed. John M. Cooper (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1997), 1241, 37d.

[2] Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View, (New York, NY: Viking Penguin, 2006), 68-69.

[3] Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Primacy of Perception, ed. James M. Edie (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1964), 5.

[4] Merleau-Ponty, The Primacy of Perception, 5.

[5] Ibid.

[6] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1954), 901.

Setting Sun

6 Replies to “Phenomenology of Astrology”

  1. I googled, “[ phenomenology and astrology ],” and found this peice. Very nice…: )

    I can easily relate to the “elipsis” sensation/intuition. Having no previous experience of these things, at twenty, alone late at night, I saw what I now know to be Jupiter, thought it perhaps a star, and reached with a pointing finger as if to very carefully touch it…time stopped, the notion of distance seemed meaningless, non-existent…”Don’t worry, everything will be alright.” was the wordless ‘communication’…I was never the same again…awesome!…: )

    The rooftop/lover’s eye’s sensation…definitely comes from the amygdala, after experiencing Robert Sapolsky….: )


  2. Hi Becca, I’d like to read your essay but the Immanence journal appears to be defunct. Is there another way for me to access and read it?

  3. Hey Becca,

    I would love to read this piece but both links lead to a holding page saying: “Immanence Journal: Exploring Myth and Story in Consciousness and Culture” – Coming Soon”.

    Is there any other way to read it?


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