Why Sidereal Astrology?

I suppose the easiest way to start this is simply by saying that I’m doing sidereal astrology now.

Starting on the first of this year, I transitioned to using the sidereal zodiac exclusively for my work with natal charts and revolutions. (My teacher, if he’s reading this, can rest assured that I’m still using tropical for horary—and I think that there’s a solid rationale behind the apparent dichotomy, but that’s for a different article). The truth is that I initially started drafting this article in February of 2021, and I’m only now, in October, getting around to posting it.

Well, there it is. It feels a little bit like coming out; it’s certainly got the psychic feeling of “taking a stand,” even though I’m actively not taking a stand or identifying with the technique here.

Please note that I have not said, “I am now a sidereal astrologer.” There’s much to be said about the use of “I am” statements when describing our techniques of choice in the greater astrological project of deriving meaning from celestial data. I also want to be completely up front that a huge inspiration for me in following this path has been the work of Dayna Lynn Nuckols, a brilliant colleague and friend who has been bootstrapping sidereal astrology in a Western context through her unique, intersectional, liberation-oriented lens, and I am grateful for the work she’s done. Please go check out her work here.

So what am I trying to do here? Perhaps a better question to start with is what am I not trying to do here: I am not trying to prove anything. Nor am I at all interested in a debate over which zodiac is “right.” My only purpose is to share my reasoning and explore some of the lines of thought on which I ferried myself to this shore. I think telling the story is more interesting than proving a point, anyway. I’m simply choosing to use a different lens. And that’s really the point of this article, as a public update to my readers, and to my clients, that this is what you can expect when working with me now.

(Oh, by the way, I still do horary from a tropical, quadrant house perspective, since that is the lineage I was trained in.)

Tropical and Sidereal, Together at Last

For those who aren’t familiar with the tropical-sidereal distinction, many astrologers have treated that topic in sufficient measure such that to rehash the whole thing here will be a waste of everyone’s time. It would also be a waste of everyone’s time, I think, to go through all the reasons for why one is better than the other. We humans are pretty skilled at finding data that supports our biases, whatever they may be.

But, for the sake of context, the tropical zodiac sets 0° Aries as being the point where the ecliptic intersects the celestial equator as it is increasing in longitude, viz., the vernal equinox. The sidereal zodiac sets 0° Aries differently based on the fixed stars, at the beginning of the constellation of Aries (and there are a number of ways to determine this, too).

The difference between the vernal equinox and the beginning of Aries in the sidereal reference frame is called the “ayanamsa,” a compound word in Sanskrit roughly translated as “equinoctial difference.” This difference is generated by the earth’s slow wobble on its axis, a motion that is only perceptible over generations, such that every 72 years or so, the difference between the vernal equinox and the beginning of Aries increases by one degree of longitude.

The difference these days is about 24° degrees, and that “about” is important because there are different astronomical means of identifying the starting point for Aries.

Aries itself is much more than just a “constellation,” of course; the Sanskrit word rāśi, meaning “pile” or “heap” of something, describes not just the vanilla “sign” of Aries but everything it contains—individual degrees, Nakshatras (though that’s not quite accurate, as the nakshatras are properly a lunar zodiac, but… they get tossed in the pile with the others), harmonic divisions (which give us “divisional charts” in jyotisha, as well as the dodecatemoria of Hellenistic practice), particular fixed stars, even on down to individual degrees with different qualities like “bright,” “smoky,” “pitted,” and so on.

The problem with having begun my learning of astrology with a tropical framework is this: the fixed stars and the sky-as-it-is-observed have always been my primary muses, ever since the days of my youth. I learned constellations first, as a child; I knew where to find Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio in the late twilight of spring and summer, as well as the constellations wheeling around the pole star. Those images and myths took root in my imagination. Even though I learned to work within the tropical framework as a dutiful student (and that framework is still immediately valid and descriptive of reality), the older way of simply seeing continued to exert a gravitational pull on my reasoning. My nascent training in astrology, at least from a contemporary Western perspective, had created a tendency in me to smooth out all the delicate intricacies and splendid variations to be found in each of the constellations into a kind of generic “sign.” But that wasn’t working for me; the “signs” had ceased to come alive for me in my imagination as I prepared charts.

And so I asked, and meditated, and journeyed, on questions that emerged out of this tension: for instance, why is the very heart of the Lion no longer tied to the imaginal gestalt that generated the mythos of Leo in the first place? For nowadays, the Lion’s Heart, Regulus, is within the sign of Mercury’s exaltation, not the Sun’s domicile. That’s just an example of the particular kinds of questions that this tension generates. I don’t believe the solution is necessarily to try to shoehorn one reality into the other, either.

Several things occurred in 2020 to move this further down the road, and the rest of this series of posts will speak to each of these experiences. Among them include my newfound love of Jyotisha, the tradition of astrology as a limb of Vedic knowledge, which I have been studying in the Sri Acyutanānda Parāmparā (lineage) since autumn of 2020 with Freedom Cole. I also spent time learning primary directions from Martin Gansten‘s work, adopting his framework as my own for the sake of learning and finding, to my chagrin, that primary directions of the hylegiacal points through the terms, using the sidereal zodiac (Lahiri ayanāṁśa), described moments of transition, turmoil, and transformation in my own life and the lives of my clients with a remarkable degree of precision and fidelity.

But what really sealed the deal was a series of mystical experiences that occurred to me while observing the fixed stars in an altered state of consciousness under the skies of rural Kentucky and on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean over a period of several years, each one calling me deeper to this expression. There is a gnosis, Wisdom, that can only be distilled from the crucible of direct encounter with a Living Presence making itself known to the Heart, that seat of spiritual perception, which is staggeringly difficult to put into linear arguments. But I will say it like this: when thinking sidereally and approaching the chart from a tuned-in, open-hearted posture, the rāśis and the planets come alive for me on the imaginal level of consciousness in a way that they never have in the tropical perspective, following these experiences. It is on this level of my being that these experiences have ground-truthed the “rightness for me” of a sidereal perspective.

On Living Images

I’d like to go a little more into some of the thought process that I’m working with as I navigate this sea change. The late Hellenistic astrologer Alan White, in his flip-chart lecture which Chris Brennan shared on his podcast last year, made a point of articulating something that I feel is lost when we’re discussing this today: the zoidia themselves, the living images themselves, are the ones who grant domicile to the planets—including the Sun, who is granted domicile by the living image of the Lion.

I do not actually believe that there is a great Lion out there that has given the Sun domicile. I mean, maybe there is, but if there is, it is not within the realm of physical manifestation; it is an imaginal process, even a causal one, that was part and parcel of the arising of consciousness here on this planet. Our ancestors looked to the stars themselves and saw there a beast, a bird, a hero, a harp, what have you; and it is those imaginal realities that take on a life of their own. Those images come to life, and specifically those images, for it is within them that the Sun, the seat of consciousness and the spark of life itself, spins his golden thread. They become zoidia. They become “living images.”

When I say “stellar images,” I literally mean the stars themselves as viewed and mythologized within human awareness. You cannot see tropical Scorpio. But, the gift of apophenia—a feature, not a bug, at least as far as the eye of the heart is concerned!—readily gives us a Scorpion, a Lion, and so forth.

The very word “zodiac” derives from the Greek term zodiakos kyklos, “the wheel of living images.” And the word “image” here is a rich one—it can certainly speak to the imaginal reality of, for instance, the tropical sign of Sagittarius, associated as it is with pre-Christmas prodigality. Yes, there is something there that is key to the psycho-social experience of embodied humans, something which I believe is tied directly to the Sun itself—archetypal image of consciousness though it may be—defining the beginning of this frame of reference.

So I keep returning to the idea of these images themselves. The great Lion. The Scorpion. The Bull. These stellar images seem to have an archetypal Realness within the human psyche that one cannot necessarily be separate from entirely no matter how far the vernal equinox has precessed. Stellar images such as these exist within the inherited ancestral and cultural stories of a great deal of the world. These same living stellar images have shaped not only Western culture but Eastern cultures as well as they have been carried along the Silk Road and inculturated in various forms throughout central and south Asia on through the Mediterranean basin.

These living stellar images that have taken on a life of their own within the human consciousness. (I happen to believe that conscious observation and interpretation of celestial phenomena is actually the mechanism through which astrology works, but that’s another article). When we remember that, in the cultures which gave us horoscopic astrology, the Sun is not just emblematic of life itself, but is also symbolically entangled with the concept of nous, with mind, with conscious awareness, the conversation really gets gravel under the tires.

I believe that the gestalt of these images have their own kind of archetypal force that functions differently from the divisions of that same golden line of sunlight when the Sun himself becomes their author and finisher. In other words, one might say that Pisces, for example, is oceanic, watery, benefic, sattvic, all of these things, in either zodiac, but the locus or dimension of reality in which those qualities take form might be different depending on the subtle lens through which the interpreter is viewing this one Reality.

My way of looking at it is like this: the frame-of-reference articulated by the Sun itself (0° Aries at the vernal equinox) will readily give us insight into localized issues of psychology and will, which gives the tropical framework remarkable utility in exploring the human person, especially the human person as understood through the cultural consciousness that has developed as the West has moved into the perspectival and mental structure of consciousness—a structure of consciousness which is now in the crisis of giving birth to aperspectival consciousness. (For more on this, please see Cynthia Bourgeault’s wonderful blog series accompanying a reading of Jeremy Johnson’s Seeing Through the World: Jean Gebser and Integral Consciousness.)

But the stars are the Sun’s peers—and, in many cases, his superiors, if we’re to mythologize the Sun’s exceeding ordinariness among all the stars of our local neighborhood—and I think that those Living Images themselves, which burst forth in the fecund ocean of human consciousness, after thousands of years of our species’ observing them and weaving our narrative experience around them over millennia of our common life, are part of the package when it comes to analyzing reality.

If you need me to say it this way, here you go: I believe the tropical and sidereal zodiacs function as two lenses upon the same reality, two lenses with which one may answer different questions. My opinion (and it’s exactly that!) is that the sidereal zodiac describes reality on the causal level of consciousness, and the tropical zodiac describes the realities we create for ourselves in our mind on the subtle level of consciousness—teasing those levels out is beyond the scope of this article, but I am working with a version of the gross-subtle-causal-nondual cosmologies of the Eastern traditions as articulated in large part by the work of G. I. Gurdjieff and described for the average reader in Cynthia Bourgeault’s wonderful book on the imaginal realm, The Eye of the Heart. 

Anyway! I’ve always wanted to use the fixed stars as my principal reference frame for astrological reasoning. And now I finally am.

But I don’t believe that’s actually the endgame of this process of developing aperspectival consciousness through astrological practice: ideally, the practitioner should be able to see through the world, through all perspectives. And when aperspectival consciousness has fully saturated the ordinary waking state of our awareness, the question of “which zodiac is the right one!?” (or the question of which house system is right, or any of these other dialectical entanglements we clothesline ourselves with) takes on a dimension of freedom and joy that our hungry ghosts of Western culture’s need to find the One True Perspective™ over the last 600 years continually threaten to take from us.

But that, my friends, is for another article.

By the way: I am in the final stages of completing my first year training with Freedom Cole in jyotisha, and I would like to do practice readings for you at a significantly discounted rate from my usual fee. If you’re interested in a jyotisha reading, you may schedule one here!

Featured image by Manouchehr Hejazi via Unsplash

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