ORIGINS OF THE TWELVE SIGNS
In antiquity many attempts were made, via Astrology and other systems of philosophy and cosmogony, to give an account of creation, an explanation of ‘reality’. Symbols were used to convey discoveries and meaning, as it happens in dreams, vision and art.
Let’s try to follow the ancient astrologers and sages’ line of thought on the coming about and meaning of the universe. This is however a personal view of astro-cosmogony, at least in the words employed, though in principle shared by many old and modern astrologers.
In the beginning, the astrologer says, was only Spirit, the non manifested state of wholeness and bliss. Spirit is here and now, always, beyond our conscious awareness, as we participate in the play of life.
How, from the non manifested Spirit, came about the ‘created’ universe remains a Mystery, meaning that it cannot be explained rationally.
From the One, mysteriously, is said to have ‘emanated’, first, the elemental essence or Element known as Aether (Vedic Akasha), in the form of sound or vibration. It made room for itself and therefore created Space, and, modulating itself into three different rates of vibration, also created Time or duration. Subtlest of the five Elements Aether resounded like a gong in the void of space, announcing the beginning of creation. The Aether’s number is naught.
First Light is said to have appeared, and, because of Light, Darkness also came into being. One could not be conceived without the other, each owing its very existence to the other. Day and night, space and time, essence and form, to be and to have, Animus and Anima, the psychic male and female archetypes. Two rivers of life, originating all polarities, the masculine seed and the feminine vessel, creators of the visible and invisible universes (conscious and unconscious). These are the Yang and Yin, Shakta and Shakti energies of eastern traditions, each containing the germ of the other within itself [.
In our world this polarity is represented by the Sun and Moon, from time immemorial thought to be the appointed rulers of day and night, conscious and unconscious, mind and feeling: the duality of being.
The Solar energy (Solar Prana) is said to be masculine, dry, assertive. According to some very old Indian scriptures, this energy enters the subtle human body through the right nostril (Pingala Nadi), but, crossing over, it goes to energize the left side of the physical body, and thus presides over the left half of the brain, seat of reason and logic.
The Lunar energy (Lunar Prana) is said to be feminine, moist, receptive. It enters the subtle human body through the left nostril (Ida Nadi), but, crossing over, it goes to energize the right side of the physical body, and thus presides over the right half of the brain, seat of emotion and imagination.
Through Sun and Moon’s interaction we experience our human brand of ‘reality’. To attain to a state of wholeness and bliss these two energies have to be firstly integrated and then transcended. The Sun and Moon, King and Queen of the alchemists of old, have to first marry, thus uniting their energies, and then die or be sacrificed. Or, according to a very poetical Indian tradition, the two rivers of life, Ida and Pingala, have to merge into a secret, subterranean river, the river of eternal life, Sushumna. This is the royal road through which will arise the Kundalini, dormant Spirit energy, coiled at the base of the spine in the subtle body, when the individual attains to a state of trance, bliss, rapture, perceiving and becoming the source of the Light (Samadhi).
The Aether Element is a direct emanation of Spirit, the first, while the other four Elements are secondary emanations.
Fire and Air are emanations of the Solar Energy.
Water and Earth are emanations of the Lunar Energy.
Each of the five Elements corresponds to a sense perception, one key to our sense of reality:
Aether corresponds to our sense of Hearing.
Fire corresponds to our sense of Seeing.
Air corresponds to our sense of Touch.
Water corresponds to our sense of Taste.
Earth corresponds to our sense of Smell.
Everything comes from the Elements, everything returns to the Elements. They are the fabric upon which is woven our physical, mental emotional and spiritual life.
The Aether Element is too metaphysical to be analyzed, while the other four Elements form the basis of our study of Natal Astrology.
Here are some examples of the fourfold divisions in the universe all around us: the four seasons; the four points of the compass; the four ages (childhood, youth, adult and old age; five, if we consider infancy as a separate stage). Many more examples can be found in all cultures’ symbolical heritage: like the four Cosmic Ages; the four armed Christian Cross; the Cross of material incarnation; the four Evangelists; the four stages of the alchemical transformation; the four Greek and medieval doctors’ Humors (temperaments); the four Casts (many cultures); the four suits of cards; the four Yogas (paths to knowledge) of the Vedic tradition, etc.
But how, from just four Elements, we arrive at twelve Signs?
Motion and change are part of the Elements’ very existence. The three rates of vibration of the celestial sound, described above, are also reflected in each Elements. These cosmic rhythms are known in Astrology as Modes or Qualities. At a visual level of perception they are also the three Primary Colours which form the basis or essence of all possible colours, Red, Blue and Yellow.
The Active or Cardinal Mode (Raja Guna), Red.
The Non Active or Fixed Mode (Tamas Guna), Blue.
The Equilibrium or Mutable Mode (Satva Guna), Yellow.
4 Elements x 3 Modes = 12 Signs
The three Modes, like the Solar and Lunar polarity, can be transcended, in order to attain to the fourth, spiritual dimension. So the number 4, when referred to the Modes, acquires a metaphysical meaning, while, when referred to the Elements, is the number of physical manifestation.
1 is essence, 2 is form, 3 is the number of mysteries, the third, creative, dynamic, hidden factor, present in every duality of relationship. 4 represents completeness and incarnation, the four planes of existence, intuition, intellect, emotion, sensation. 12 contains 1 and 2 (Sun and Moon), which originated everything; but also adds up to 3.
Naturally, apart from these symbolical meanings, the Signs correspond also to particular times of season in the solar year (Time dimension) and to the traditional 30° divisions of the Earth’s Ecliptic (Space dimension). The Cardinal Signs begin the seasons. The Fixed Signs mark the middle of the season. The Mutable Signs end the seasons.