Why not rise early, when it is still dark, to read a few lines of something that cradles, calms, delights, or even perturbs you? Why not write a few lines of your own, and regale yourself with contemplative musings, the beginnings of tales that flicker like firelight in the dark cold potential of the day unbirthed, a potential that seethes unseen, like magma, a day waiting to be born under the waning light of a sun in Scorpio?
These are the questions I ask myself when I want to stay in bed a few more minutes, but know that it will be ultimately more fulfilling to begin the day with some form of movement, contemplation, shifting things around in the shadows.
Scorpio is the purveyor of things hidden, and secret, and clandestine. The wielder of latent powers that churn the depths of the earth and generate new life out of the husks of old.
Here are some recent reflections on how this theme has expressed itself to me of late.
Astrology’s Scorpionic Renaissance
Despite my record of astrologically themed blog posts, my interest in astrology is something I’ve been ambivalent about sharing since I first began to study it when I was about ten years old, around the same time as I discovered Greco-Roman mythology, my great love and medicine. Astrology was one of those pursuits to study in the pre-sunrise, late night, hidden hours, because I received early messages that it was at worst creepy and demonic, and at best silly and small-minded.
My friends’ mothers, my teachers’ wives, those were the ones whom I was often told were interested in astrology when I was young; all the women about whom I could say, “I know of her, but I do not know her”. Those whose names rang like reference points in my mind well before I met them, after such a long time of mutual friends ensuring that our shared, secret interests would result in an enviable intimacy.
I did meet some of these rare, astrologically-inclined people in passing. Many of them had other primary, but still complementary pursuits: tarot, metalworking, psychoanalysis, painting. And similarly for me, astrology was a longstanding interest I kept close at hand wherever I went. I studied psychological astrology in California, then moved to the UK for graduate school and took a foundational course at the London School of Astrology, a course that combined the more popular techniques of birth chart reading and forecasting with branches as old and esoteric as horary astrology (the one that allows you to find that pair of keys you lost under the floorboards of your ex-wife’s house) and as nascent as astrocartography, which casts a new birth chart for you wherever you find yourself in the world. I have studied, I have read charts for others, and very recently I published my first astrological article, a piece on the astrological evolution of MTV as a network and a cultural entity in a volume, The Book of Music Horoscopes, edited by Frank Clifford, a great mentor of mine.
And now things have evolved, and among young people especially there seems to be a certain expectation of a base level of astrological literacy that stretches from personality profiling to behavioral adaptation on the basis of New Moons and Mercury retrogrades. Popular attitudes toward these two elements in particular expose the very human vacillation between the belief in the capacity of the individual to harness the power of the cosmos and “find the flow” with mere intentionality (expressed by making a vision board, journaling, or shouting into the void “It will be so!”), and the belief that there is nothing to do but surrender to cosmic forces which are more powerful than we are.
A recent New York Times article acknowledged the shift toward astrology, and other pursuits in self-awareness, self-development, and self-actualization (such as various practices associated with the psychedelic renaissance) used as language to communicate human experience, and modes of self-healing. The article centers on the pressures therapists are currently encountering to become fluent in this parlance in order to witness their clients’ experiences, rather than to voice encouragement or discouragement.
The shop where I bought my first astrology books, which used to be minded by older women dressed in voluminous earth-toned draperies is now run by young people, with no apparent predominance of gender expression, whose wardrobe does not clearly read “New-Age”.
So perhaps I am getting ahead of myself, but it seems, at least in mainstream Californian culture, astrology no longer inhabits the dubious realm of the “occult”, and voicing one’s impressions of astrological phenomena is not perceived as a sinister deed, or, at its most benign, a wishy-washy practice for gullible and inconsequential minds.
Astrology seems to be doing the true Scorpionic thing of emerging, refortified and reformed out of the shadows.
Astrology is like folklore, an old, non-linear language for understanding humanness that goes in and out of fashion, but always manages to survive social pressures to go into hiding. The archetypal metaphors astrology uses offer (like folklore again) interpretations and aetiologies, points of origin for those goading questions of why, when each subsequent generation is just a bit more knowledgeable of compassion, moral behavior, environmentalism, diversity appreciation, kindness, hospitality, ingenuity, grace, and the arts of living honorably, generously, and conscientiously, we individually and collectively struggle to enact these lessons, and still manage to do ourselves and others harm sometimes.
Scorpio is in the sign of katabasis, the journey to the Underworld for a meeting with a departed mentor, a requisite part of the heroic journey. Scorpio reminds us that the greatest stories bury wisdom in the shadow realms, which for us might look like the painful recognition of shame and guilt and anger and limb-slackening grief and self-betrayal and irrationality and fear of our own irrationality.
But these aspects also help us to contextualize the gifts, the triumphs, the strengths, the redemptive potential that lies beyond the mistakes we are bound to make. The bond into which we entered when our consciousness took human form.
Adventures in Scorpionic healing with (what else?) crystal singing bowls
I went to a yoga class on the night of the New Moon in Scorpio. The class featured a sound bath of crystal singing bowls played by a teacher who invited meditations on death, grief, and regeneration of the decayed in new forms. I do not know whether it was this conceptual set-up that resulted in the following experience, or if it was the singing bowls themselves.
Prior to the sound bath our teacher led us through a slow movement practice. She spoke with a measure of conviction and spiritedness that I somehow found reminiscent of a sea captain leading an exploratory voyage. Yet, for me, there was something disturbingly opaque about where we were headed, the lessons I was supposed to be learning. The greying twilight pressing in on the windows and the rapidly cooling air had me feeling as if we were sailing through a thick fog, with only our breath and our teacher’s clear, bright voice to signal any forward movement.
Near the end of the class, after the light had faded completely, she wound her mallet around the rims of the crystal bowls, and their dull ringing struck eerie, creeping waves in the air that sought my organs and plied them with searching sonic fingers. People in the class started coughing. I could hear doors slamming in the neighboring businesses as the proprietors left. All of the sounds rang violent, far too loud and sudden, a dissonant, erratic jarring against the consistent thrumming of the bowls, whose wavelike intonations I did not quite trust.
Until my teacher sang along, in a low, rich, humming. And then my throat rapidly swelled and threatened to burst and tears filled my eyes. Suddenly I envisioned a lonely, sinuous throbbing thing, a conscious entity without eyes or nose or ears, but keenly sensate, encased in weblike, glistening strands and suspended in the dark, and it might have been my heart. It might have been my life, unseen by anyone but me. Life, simply felt, so intimately and in such solitude that it seems ugly, grotesque, and shameful, but unapologetically so.
She sang, and the beauty of her voice, blended with her crystalline companions in that preternatural harmony, struck me deeply. I found myself clinging to life, to the splendour of hearing, and feeling the sound waves seep into the subdermal parts of myself that felt as distant and as essential as the core of the earth.
I thought crystal bowl sound baths were supposed to be relaxing. But in the foggy, uncharted currents of consciousness which we sailed, our captain had asked us (in words other than the following, by which I am taxing this metaphor beyond its reasonable limits) to scatter to the grey waves the burned-out aspects of ourselves and our external circumstances we could acknowledge had died for us this year, signalling our readiness to release them into the hands of Nature, Venus Genetrix, the resourceful mistress of reformulating the dead into the living.
Crystal bowls are apparently taking the place of Tibetan metal singing bowls in yoga classes. I found a recent Yoga Journal article, wherein makers of crystal bowls claim that these bowls more effectively facilitate the penetration (a word used more than once in this article) of our bodies with sound waves because our bones have a crystalline, as opposed to a metallic structure. Thus, crystal bowls made in Colorado are more healing, more attuned to the human body, than Tibetan prayer bowls. I suspect a case of cultural supersessionism. But maybe this is merely because I could not handle the penetrative healing of the crystal bowls.
Scorpio season: Learning the art of living
Indeed, Scorpio season is a good time to pause in our onward striving, all our work toward future manifestation, to acknowledge the opacity of loss, in terms of the unknown changes it will bring, and the questions, grief, and anxieties it conjures and will never satisfy. The uncanny ways in which loss points to life, goads us with a kind of urgency to live, to attend the wake after the burial.
A year ago I went to a women’s ceremony in celebration of Samhain, the new year in the Celtic tradition, also the time when (as in many other traditions) the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest, when we pause to consider the fragility, but the insistent vigor of life as we light candles in the darkness for Samhain, for Día de los Muertos, for Diwali. In a meditation exercise in this ceremony we were invited to consider how we would live if we knew we only has six months. One month. One week.
When the dead leaves seek the earth, it is natural, I suppose, to contemplate these things, to find a space to sit with them in community, to honor their weight without bearing it alone, to find compassion for the uncomfortable, inconsolable depths within us all, to tell stories in the dark that can be cauldrons for all the stewing passions, griefs, and wiles that are big and timeless, and paradoxically, can reside in one body, in one heart.
And to speak in the language of astrology, which continues to rise out of the depths of the “occult”…
At this time of year, I have been rising early, when it is still dark, to move, to feel my muscles stretch and strive and ache, to feel my lungs expand, my toes flatten themselves against the floor, in honor of those who cannot rise in their bodies anymore. To read and to write a little, to delight in my ability to experience thought, mere consciousness, abilities that we have for such precious time as we live.
But in the interest of emotional equilibrium maybe I’ll give the crystal bowls a decent berth…
Good questions for Scorpio season:
- What inner processes of transformation am I undergoing?
- This year, what has come to a natural, or an unnatural close? Can I bear compassionate witness to my experience of this loss, in my body, and in my heart?
- What sources of wisdom have I encountered in the midst of the toughest challenges I have faced in the past year?
- Where does my way feel constricted, my view occluded? Can I wait out the uncertainty until the shadows start to shift and some truth, previously unnoticed, is revealed?
- How can I honor my ancestors? What qualities do I see in them, and in their stories that inspire me deeply?
- How might I conduct myself differently when I envision myself as an ancestor, a forerunner of future lives?
And on a slightly lighter level…
What are my favorite folktales, myths, or scary stories to tell in the autumnal season? What aspects of them speak to my experience?
One of my favorites was always The Ghost-Eye Tree, by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault, a children’s book whose premise involves a brother and a sister traveling on a last-minute errand to fetch milk for their mother. They must walk to the dairy farmer after dark, and halfway along the road they must pass an old, said-to-be-haunted oak tree, called the Ghost-Eye Tree. The boy narrator of the book tells his reader,
“One dark and windy autumn night when the sun had long gone down, Mama asked my sister and me to take the road to the end of the town to get a bucket of milk. Oooo . . . I dreaded to go . . . I dreaded the tree . . . Why does Mama always choose me when the night is so dark and the mind runs free?”
I love the story because the tree must be suffered, halfway along the path to light and safety, on the way there and back. The boy has a talisman, a hat, which he wears to make him look tough (to himself, really), until the wind takes it and his sister has to run back to find it on the “haunted ground” at the foot of the Ghost Eye Tree. She survives the solo trip for the hat, and chastises her brother for his fearfulness.
When the night is so dark and the mind runs free…
Reminds me of when I was a kid and feared the darkness. I would fall asleep listening to the radio, my talisman of sorts, because I felt comforted by the live broadcast, the knowledge that a DJ was awake and at work, and whose presence over the radio waves could somehow ward off the absorption of the darkness that scared me so much.
I love tales that draw attention to the fearsome stories our minds fashion, stories that illuminate the fragility of the monsters as well as the talismans that ward them off.
Lots to harvest and to steep in contemplative silence this time of year.
Thanks for reading, witnessing, and thinking.