Tradition, Convention and Dogma

Tradition is difficult to define. It can be described as a body of knowledge that is considered so valuable that it must be bequeathed from one generation to the next. Quite often it has a divine source or is based on supra-sensible perception or lacking that is based on superior knowledge and experience. Traditions generally have a set of seminal ideas that are their essence. Out of this they enfold. Around these seminal ideas a whole body of knowledge and practice grows from generation to generation. But traditions, if access to their core is lost, can become encrusted with what can be called convention and dogma. Both convention and dogma can become the greatest enemies of a tradition and in the end undermine it. Convention endangers tradition because it accepts without question subtle changes in interpretation or practice that may occur over time due to changes in consciousness or understanding and at worst may be fueled by those who would use such subtle changes to their own advantage. Convention is acceptance without understanding. Convention encourages sluggish thinking. It is the comfortable approach as it accepts without question and answers uncomfortable questions with, ‘it has always been done so’ or ‘my teacher has said it is so’ or ‘it is written thus.’

Dogma is more insidious. It takes a conventional interpretation of a traditions core ideas and turns them into canon, declaring ‘it can only be so.’ Sluggishness is replaced with militancy and questioning outside of the canon is declared heresy which is usually punished in one fashion or other. Other traditions are rejected on principal.

A tradition is not a monolith that stands in a field unchanged and unchanging, to  be protected from the elements and erosion. It is the field itself in which the seed of the tradition, its essence, is sown, nurtured and cultivated; grows, flowers, is pollinated, comes to fruit and then regenerates. The monolith, which embodies the verbal and written aspects of tradition, merely marks where the tradition can be found. It is the minds and hearts of those who cultivate the tradition that plant the seeds of their understanding in the soil of the field. That understanding which is in accord with the tradition thrives and prospers and keeps the field fertile. Convention leaches the fertility out of the field around the marking monolith. There is still growth but it is meagre by comparison. Dogma roots out all that grows in the field so that only the monolith remains and the field is barren.

The next articles are devoted to a simple question: is use of a square or circular chart based on convention or tradition and what does it show? Some of my conclusions may not be acceptable to everyone. That does not mean that anyone who does not agree with me is conventional or dogmatic. What it does mean is that I and you, dear reader, will try to tap into the core of the tradition or traditions presented and to the best of our abilities try to plant a few viable seeds and bring them to growth.

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Ignore the Mayan Apocalypse: the Sensation and the Task

Way back in May 2010 I posted an article called,

2012: Time of Change, but in which Direction?

Because of all of the hype in the media and because some find themselves worried (albeit without cause) I would like to balance out some of the nonsense. Here is the core sentence:

2012 is the year that Regulus, the heart of the Lion, one of the royal stars, moves into Virgo after a 2149 year sojourn in Leo. That is an end of a cycle. More profoundly so, as it will join the other royal stars, Aldebaran, Antares and Fomalhaut who have been in mutable signs for a while now.

I would recommend reading the whole article because there the task of a “Virgoan” Heart of the Lion is explained.

Mayan time-keeping was extremely cyclic. There were tiny cycles within larger cycles within yet larger cycles, not unlike the time cycles we find in the Vedic tradition where even larger cycles then those of the Mayans are described. (see Manvantara at wikipedia).

The fourmilab Calendar Converter site has this to say:

The Mayans believed at at the conclusion of each pictun cycle of about 7,885 years the universe is destroyed and re-created. Those with apocalyptic inclinations will be relieved to observe that the present cycle will not end until Columbus Day, October 12, 4772 in the Gregorian calendar. Speaking of apocalyptic events, it’s amusing to observe that the longest of the cycles in the Mayan calendar, alautun, about 63 million years, is comparable to the 65 million years since the impact which brought down the curtain on the dinosaurs—an impact which occurred near the Yucatan peninsula where, almost an alautun later, the Mayan civilisation flourished. If the universe is going to be destroyed and the end of the currentpictun, there’s no point in writing dates using the longer cycles, so we dispense with them here.

For more useful information about the Mayan calendar please visit their site.

Dear reader, I wish you a good solstice and after that a happy Christmas season and when our calendar ends on December thirty-first and the next official yearly cycle begins a happy New Year, preferably with family and friends…

The Terms or Bounds and the D-30 Divisional Chart

In my article on the Terms and Bounds I went into detail about all of the three ‘systems’ available to the western astrologer. Ptolemy’s mystery manuscript somehow has captured my curiosity. Where did it come from? What did it contain other than the table of terms he listed? Where is the origin of the uneven number of degrees for the terms that all of the systems share? Of the three the Chaldean system has the most regular divisions (8 – 7 – 6 – 5 – 4 for all signs) while the Egyptian and the Ptolemaic are completely irregular, each sign having different divisions.

We know that in the ancient world there was some transfer of astrological knowledge. So I would like to postulate, and this is highly speculative, I have absolutely no proof, that the manuscript that Ptolemy saw might have been from a somewhat garbled treatise dealing with divisional charts, most particularly what is called the Trimishamsha Chakra, the 30th division of a chart. We find in Parasara’s treatise (I don’t think Ptolemy saw this) a passage on the 30th division:

Trimshamsa: In odd signs the lords of Trimshamsha are Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, Mercury and Venus each of them in order rules 5, 5, 8, 7 and 5 degrees. The same should be considered … in even signed, though in reverse order’ (BPHS, Sharma ed. p. 115)

Let’s compare:

Now of course the D-30 table would not be interpreted in the same way as the terms. It is not the planet that is looked at, it is the sign owned by the Lord of the Division that is important. Jupiter at 10 Pisces would in a western chart be in his own terms and so have additional dignity. With a position of 10 Pisces Jupiter would be placed in Virgo (Mercury’s even sign rulership) in the trimshamsha chart. There Jupiter would not be so well placed as he would be in the house of a planet that he considers an enemy. A significant difference. Now if Mercury were at 18 deg 12 Sagittarius he would be in his own terms and his detriment would be mollified to some extent. In the trimshamsha he would be placed in his own odd sign, Gemini and thus be strong and not cause much damage.

Now, you might think there is a catch, as in the first case we are dealing with the tropical position and in the second the sidereal. This would be no problem, you would say, if we were living in the 3rd century AD as then both the tropical and the sidereal positions would be coincident but in a modern chart we would have to compensate for the 23+ difference in degrees (ayanamsa). Saturn at a sidereal position of 20deg20 Capricorn would have a tropical position of about 13deg20+ Aquarius. He would remain in Capricorn in the trimshamsha and in the tropical chart be in the terms of Venus. But then that is something I wouldn’t recommend. Don’t try converting the western terms to a modern ayanyamsa just because Ptolemy lived a good 1900 years ago!

By the way the trimshamsha is used to focus on the potential for illness. In the western tradition terms are quite often used to describe the physical body. It might be worthwhile to look into the medical aspects, without getting crossed-eyed by trying to recalculate from the trimshamsha. Keep them separate! I am not at all suggesting mixing jyotish techniques with western techniques. What I am suggesting is that both make use of the 5 planets without the lights and both use systems of irregular division. It is the idea of dividing or using a 5-fold division to describe the physical body and the ills that can befall it that I want to draw your attention to. And then of course there is still the historical question if some sort of cross-over occurred when Ptolemy adopted his terms from the mysterious manuscript. Who knows, maybe some renegade Chaldean astrologer used a divisional system that he reinterpreted from a neighbor to his far east… 🙂

Rahu and Ketu: What do the Phenomena tell Us?

Many ephemeris’ list solar and lunar eclipses. So it is easy to see that there are at least 2 a year, dependent on where the nodes are located. Each pair is at one of the nodes, so we can’t say that solar eclipses only occur where Ketu is placed and lunar eclipses where Rahu is placed. This reinforces looking at them as a split entity, in the singular mind you. They can’t be separated.

In the vedic tradition they are looked at as polar aspects of incarnation/excarnation. The sanskrit words used are moha; meaning such things as hallucination, infatuation, distraction, delusion, confusion, and moksha; meaning liberation, release from rebirth, redemption, deliverance. Moha has the root, muh (be crazed, stupefied, bewildered). Moksha has the root muc (to set free, release, deliver, draw off). You might ask yourself how the connection is made between Rahu/Ketu and moha/moksha and how the phenomena observed during solar and lunar eclipses fit into this. I’m going to attempt to fill in the gaps. We need a few more concepts and I think this will be easiest to present them in a table:

Sun atma spirit light-giver
Moon manas mind/gemüt light-reflector
Rahu moha delusion shadow-giver
Ketu moksha release shadow-reflector

Without the Sun and Moon we can’t understand Rahu and Ketu and that is not only at the astronomical level. We need to contrast what the Sun and Moon represent and so need to introduce the concepts of atma (the spirit) and manas (the mind). Atma experienced as a quality not unlike light, intangible and illuminating and manas experienced as a quality of reflection, multiplying, manifoldness.

During the solar eclipse the Moon obscures the light of the Sun as seen from the earth. During the lunar eclipse the light reflected by the Moon is obscured by the earth. This is only possible during a new moon or a full moon taking place when Rahu and Ketu are present. They are associated with the shadow (they are after all called shadow planets). If we want to speak mythologically then we could say that Rahu is the shadow-giver and Ketu his counterpart reflects his shadow. According to the vedic tradition the only reason why we as human beings incarnate is because we desire the material world, we are under the influence of Rahu who gives us the delusion that the material world is the ‘real’ world, that the body that clothes us is the ‘real’ us. Ketu on the other hand forces us out of the body and as such releases us.

Now let’s look at the hushed mood of the solar eclipse described in the last post. If the eclipse were to last over weeks it would be like a drought of light, the strange twilight mood would be like dying so in a sense Ketu can be associated with the in-between time just as Rahu can be associated with the act of swallowing the Sun. Rahu gives the shadow and Ketu in a sense reflects his shadow. Rahu enacts the act of incarnation in that intangible light is swallowed, incorporated. Atma becomes ensheathed by the body, is swallowed. Ketu enacts the moment of dying, the hush, the loss of color, the loss of sense-perception.

A lunar eclipse shows another aspect of the pair. The dull orange color of the Moon can be seen as either the crazed sheen of Rahu’s eyes, lusting for the light of the Moon, but it can also be seen as his reflection, that is, Ketu trying to attach himself to the Moon. Ketu, being headless, would appropriate the reflective quality of the Moon, which is in a sense light in a more tangible form focused on its source, very much like incarnated atma exploring the manifoldness and multiplicity of light as manas. Ketu would envelop it in smokiness, liberate it from its focus, blur it.

You can see that by exploring the phenomena, with a little background philosophy, we can begin to approach some of the significations of Rahu/Ketu and see how they particularly apply to what can be termed the disruptive experience of incarnation/excarnation both from the physical standpoint (grasping for life/death of body) and psychological standpoint (delusion/death of mind).

I am sure there are Sanskrit scholars who could give a much deeper analysis of the root words used in atma, manas, moha and moksha and their interaction with one another, not to mention all of the related words that would expand on the very limited discussion presented above.

Visions of Rahu and Ketu

Before looking at the mythological descriptions of Rahu and Ketu, we should first look at how the phenomena of the solar and the lunar eclipse present themselves. If we do, we will find that the mythological images give a striking visual equivalent. Somehow direct experience of the phenomena makes it easier to appreciate the mythological image as well as enabling one to understand the accompanying ‘mood’. The difference is like reading Shakespeare’s Hamlet and seeing it performed on stage by good actors. If you have seen an excellent performance of Hamlet, then it is so much easier to grasp the depth of the play when reading it.

IN 1999 I  had the good fortune, in spite of very poor weather, to have a good view of the solar eclipse whose path passed over central Europe. The first phase, where the Moon slowly obscured the Sun did not have any notable shift in light, even up to the thinnest sliver. That changed dramatically once the eclipse was complete. A shadow passed over the countryside. It was suddenly very still, not even the birds in the area made a noise. A pensive, brooding twilight settled. It wasn’t quite night but neither was it day.

A lunar eclipse is not as dramatic as there is no strong shift in light. It is already night and the eclipse itself has the effect of a New Moon. The phenomenon seems to focus more on the Moon itself. There comes a point where the Moon becomes a pallid sickly orange. Some like to dramatize and speak of a ‘blood Moon’ but I think the blood colour is a bit anemic, more like a reflection of red rather than red itself. There are some videos on the net that show a strong red, but I wonder if a red filter was used. 🙂 Here is a video link of the lunar eclipse on 15 June 2011.

Let’s compile descriptions of Rahu-Ketu freely taken from the literature. I have elaborated a little. Quotations of the slokas may be found all over the web. You might even recognize them. 🙂

Rahu is a smoky shifting blue-black tall, red-eyed gestalt, horrible to look at. He lives in the dark forest of the sky. The remembrance of his body trails behind him in a cloud of haze, shifting now and then into sight are glimpses of the multicolored clothes he can no longer wear. Trailing far behind him on the far side of the horizon surrounded in a wraithlike haze of smoky shadowy blood, clothed in the rags of a one-time splendor is his headless serpentine body, Ketu.

Now back to the eclipses. Rahu looks at the Sun and Moon with insatiable hunger. His lust for the Sun cannot be directly seen, but when he lusts after the Moon the red of his hunger is reflected by the Moon before being swallowed. Because Rahu-Ketu has no body they cannot but live in the in-between spaces of the sky. They aren’t substantial, just points, mere shadows, echoes of the splendor of the Sun and Moon. Their clothes are an echo of that splendor. The blue-black haze is that of the twilight engendered by the solar eclipse and the darkness of the lunar.

In the next post I would like to look at some of the significations of Rahu and Ketu.