Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Planets and Archetypes 8

Uranus: For millennia, the Sun and Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn formed what the ancients considered to be an absolute cosmic structure of moving celestial bodies reflecting the primordial forces that governed human affairs. In 1781, however, an astronomer and musician named William Herschel, while conducting an exhaustive telescopic survey of the heavens, suddenly observed an object that was not an ordinary star. The object turned out to be the first planet to be discovered since antiquity. Herschel's stunning discovery immediately transformed the dimensions of the known solar system, the new planet being twice as far from the Sun as Saturn. It also presented an unprecedented challenge to the astrological tradition. The ancient seven-planet hierarchy circumscribed by Saturn had been irrevocably disrupted, with no established archetypal meaning for the new planet. Contemporary skeptics viewed its discovery as having placed the last nail in the coffin of a discredited astrology whose demise had been caused by the Scientific Revolution and proclaimed by the Enlightenment.

Astronomers considered several names for the new planet. Herschel first proposed the name Georgium Sidus in honor of his sovereign patron, George III of England. The French, no doubt unenthusiastic about the planetary deification of an English monarch, used the name Herschel . In the end, in keeping with the planets known to the ancients, the pantheon of classical mythology was called upon. The German astronomer Johann Elert Bode had suggested the name Uranus in the year of its discovery, and it was this name that eventually received international acceptance. The logic for naming the new planet Uranus seems to have been straightforward: The mythological Ouranos was the father of Kronos (Saturn), corresponding to the fact that the new planet was located beyond Saturn in the heavens ”just as Saturn was the father of Jupiter in mythology and the next planet beyond Jupiter in the heavens. Ouranos was also the god of the starry sky, as Hesiod called him, thus providing what seemed to be an especially apt name for the new planet. Astrologers adopted the name Uranus as well, but the meaning they eventually came to attribute to the new planet was generally different in character from that of the mythological Ouranos.

Since at least the turn of the twentieth century, the unanimous consensus among contemporary astrologers has held the planet Uranus to be empirically associated with the principle of change, rebellion, freedom, liberation, reform and revolution, and the unexpected breakup of structures; with sudden surprises, revelations and awakenings, lightning-like flashes of insight, the acceleration of thoughts and events; and with intellectual brilliance, cultural innovation, technological invention, experiment, creativity, and originality. In addition to the occurrence of sudden breakthroughs and liberating events, Uranus transits are linked to unpredictable and disruptive changes, hence the planet is often referred to as the cosmic trickster. Another set of themes associated with Uranus is a concern with the celestial and the cosmic, with astronomy and astrology, with science and esoteric knowledge, and with space travel and aviation. In terms of personal character, Uranus is regarded as signifying the rebel and the innovator, the awakener, the individualist, the dissident, the eccentric, the restless and wayward. These various qualities are considered to be so pronounced in persons born with a prominent Uranus, and expressed so conspicuously in a person's life during Uranus transits, that there seems to have been essentially no disagreement among astrological authorities for at least the past century that these characteristics reflect the archetypal nature of the planet Uranus.

Only a few of these observed qualities, however, are directly relevant to the Greek mythic figure of Ouranos. There is nothing in the mythological Ouranos's character suggestive of the capacity or impulse for change, rebellion, liberation, awakening, or inventiveness. The tenor of the myth is entirely different: Ouranos is the primordial god of the heavens, found in many mythologies, whose relationship to the Earth goddess Gaia forms part of the Greek creation myth. Ouranos's role in that myth is not to initiate rebellion and change, but rather to resist it. Whereas the mythological Ouranos encounters a revolt by his progeny and is overthrown, the astrological Uranus is regarded as quite the opposite ”that which rebels and overthrows. Most of the other qualities believed by astrologers to be associated with the planet Uranus ”freedom, unpredictability, suddenness, speed, excitement, stimulation, restlessness, experiment, brilliance, originality, individualism, and so forth ”have no plausible counterparts in the myth of Ouranos. The important exception among the qualities and themes attributed to Uranus is the concern with the cosmic and celestial, with space and space travel, and with astronomy and astrology, all of which well fit Ouranos's nature as the god of the starry sky. Aside from this crucial parallel, however, unlike the planets known to the ancients, the planet Uranus does not closely correspond in its mythological name with the larger range of its observed astrological meanings. In most respects, the naming would appear to have arisen from the conventional logic of late eighteenth-century astronomers, not from the intuitive archetypal insight that is traditionally assumed to have played a role in the naming of the ancient planets.


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