Living Symbols

This past week, two people in my life turned to me for help in interpreting symbols that had invaded their conscious worlds.  A close friend is sending her first child off to college this autumn. The stress of the college application process and the anticipation of the upcoming gap in her life triggered dreams whose images lingered uncomfortably through the day.  She was unsettled by the dream symbols, stones tossed from the psyche that had sunk quickly and muddied her previously clear pond.  Another friend was visited by a butterfly that wouldn’t leave him alone, for him, a recurrent symbol of a relationship lost.  Why another butterfly, and why now?

I was more helpful with the first than the second.  I could clearly and objectively interpret the symbols in my friend’s dreams.  They came directly from the handbook of Jung—blood as life, water as the unconscious, stone steps that led to the heavens, wild beasts unleashed. They spoke of recapturing aspects of herself that she had left behind during years of putting others first.  Brought into the light and interpreted, these images showed her the way forward, and she began to appreciate the possibilities ahead.  Try as I might, I was unsuccessful in unearthing an astrologically sound pattern for the butterfly.  Astrology can only do so much.

Grappling life through symbol is a complicated process whether we seek help or not, none more so than attempting to consciously live the potential in an astrological chart.  Astrology, the art of the circle, shows that growth is not straightforward, but processed through symbol in cyclical curves, repeating smaller, easier-to-grasp cycles within the greater cycles of our lives.  It is not so much circular as it is a spiral reaching forward and back.  Anyone who has had a contemplative thought on a birthday knows that feeling of being at the brink, caught between the inherent loss of the past and the uncertainty and exhilaration of the future.  This is, in fact, what we experience in each living moment, and in each moment, we choose.  As astrologers, because of the unique language of our art, we are continually at a crossroads—do we go the conscious way, with full awareness of the symbols that present themselves to us, or the messy way, where feeling and instinct win out over knowledge?  With our clients and others we advise, we use the conscious path, but in our ‘regular’ lives, most of us see-saw back and forth between the two.

In fact, neither way is the ‘right’ way.  There are times when the knowledge of cycle and symbol can overwhelm us.  It freezes us with information, and prevents us from acting when action is the only solution.  And there are times when the instinctive path plunges us deeper into the darkness and confusion that always seems to be waiting for us just outside the door. We are told we need balance.  Balance is one of those words that falls too easily from an astrologer’s lips.  We advise folks to balance oppositions, we look to polarity points, we try to fill in the ‘empty’ house of a T-square.  We flip back and forth between extremes, eventually resulting in the quieting of the scales.  But has anything been resolved?

The life force itself, as exemplified by Leo and the Sun, follows the instinctive path, the path of the heart.  We create in each moment—but creating is a messy, often heart-breaking business.  It is also a humbling business.  What we desire can only be brought to manifestation at the proper time, in the proper place.  There is no forcing it.  And this greater cycle of readiness belongs to Leo’s opposite, Aquarius.  Aquarius never lets us forget that there is always something larger than our own little desire at stake.  There is a higher mind at work, a greater plan.

That astrology is Aquarian is no arbitrary assumption.  Our glyphs, the basic principles and archetypes we use, even the very numbers our art is based on, are bridges between our ordinary consciousness and the higher mind that governs all.   At best, its symbols should be understood not intellectually, but through heart and mind at once, both known and felt—not balance, but fusion. The outer and the inner knowing become one. When we experience this fusion, we have a sense of inner rightness.  When we feel this rightness, we learn trust. When we trust in our own process, and in life itself, both the heart path and the mind path fall by the wayside.  The symbolic realm becomes a sacred way through which the individual and the universal become one. Helping others find this way is astrology’s greatest purpose.  In true Aquarian spirit, we can help ourselves and those we advise and love to become living symbols of the divine at work in the world.

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