A Donkey, a Rope and the Nature of Solar Eclipses

March 19, 2006 by  

Solar eclipses are extremely important in traditional astrology, increasing exponentially in importance as we ascend from horary through natal to electional and finally mundane techniques. But why is this? The scientists would say that it is because that legendary creature, Primitive Man, looked with awe and fear upon the shadow hiding the sun even as the sun stood high in the sky, and ascribed it magical powers. This is clearly nonsense, since if anyone understood the true nature of an eclipse, it was that nonlegendary creature, Traditional Man. Luckily for us, there exist fragments of myths so old they were ancient millennia ago, that indicate the true nature of astronomical phenomena, so that we, the moderns, may begin to understand eclipses like our ancestors did.


“Ocnus the rope-maker is a symbolic character, represented as being in Hades weaving a rope that a female donkey eats as fast as he can make it,” says Pierre Grimal’s phenomenal mythological compendium, The Dictionary of Classical Mythology. Grimal goes on to say that the meaning of the myth is unclear.

The symbolism here is strongly astronomical, since in the Tradition, whenever we have two of something, we are looking at a description of the Solar-Lunar relationship. Here, we have a man (Sun) and a female donkey (Moon), one which creates and gives, and the other which receives and devours. In the normal state of things, during the day, the Sun far outshines the Moon. But during a solar eclipse, the Moon interposes itself between the Earth and the Sun, and hides the Sun from our view. Many ancient cultures referred to the Sun being consumed by a dragon, a demon, or another being. Going back to Ocnus and the donkey, there is a crucial third element to the Soli-Lunar relationship; the rope made by Ocnus that is constantly eaten by the donkey.

The Rope

“All this is threaded upon Me, as rows of pearls on a string,” says the Bhagavad Gita.

In the tradition, threads, chains, and ropes all symbolize the omnipresent divine nature connecting all worlds. Our visible, three-dimensional world is but one of innumerable beads on a string, or as René Guénon more accurately puts it, “an indefinite series of horizontal discs strung on a vertical axis,” since the universe is ordered hierarchically.

The axis of the thread running through each disc or bead is itself a Solar (i.e. divine) symbol, indicative of the way the Sun’s rays intersect with the world. Ibn ‘Arabi writes that the Sun (Ocnus) carries its influence to the receptive Moon (the donkey), which in turn, transmits that influence to our world. Normally, the Moon passes over or under the Sun, therefore not eclipsing it, and we do not receive the full impact of Solar energy because the Moon and the Sun are not perfectly aligned. During an eclipse, however, they are aligned, and for just an instant, we get a glimpse of the thread connecting us to the world above, and through the thread, a hint of the upper world itself.

This is why eclipses have the greatest impact in the localities where the eclipse is total, and more generally, the areas where the eclipse is visible. The beads are perfectly aligned from the perspective of those locales and the thread is dead-on straight. For an instant, we see the string of beads, not just the bead we happen to inhabit. Of course, given that the effects of solar eclipses are generally disruptive to our bodily existence, we are obviously less than adept at handling such infusions of raw power. So much for the idea that we have somehow evolved.

Gryphon Is Back!

March 11, 2006 by  

Hello everyone, I am very excited to be back after a longish pause of almost four months. During this time, much has happened, but I have certainly not given up on traditional astrology! On the less-momentous scale, I got a much-needed update of my AstroDatabank software (which I heartily recommend to anyone with an interest in natal astrology. They have now added a few features especially nice for a traditional astrologer).

Past and Future Astro-Adventures of the Fearless NG

A more thrilling escapade (more thrilling than updating my astro software, even) lay in store a few weeks ago, when I went to a fantastic workshop with John Frawley in San Francisco. The workshop was two days. The first day consisted of discussions of natal astrology, while the second day focused on fixed stars. It was a wonderful experience, both because it was super educational (where else can you get a traditional perspective on the astrological links between George W. Bush’s chart and that for Baghdad?), but also because the caliber of the attendees was simply top-notch. Many of the attendees came from outside the Bay Area, the farthest being a strange land known as New Jersey. I was impressed with everyone and my only regret was that I didn’t get to spend a few hours talking with each person there.

My next astro-adventure is John Frawley’s conference in Fulda, Germany in early May (you can read about it on his website), which promises to be great fun. The two lecturers are John himself, and Branka Stamenkovic, a traditional astrologer from Belgrade. My understanding is that Fulda has at least one Internet café, so I plan to blog the conference from there with some pictures of the proceedings (watch in amazement as John and Branka fearlessly tame a stable of wild and dangerous antiscia!). I really look forward to meeting the European contingent of traditional astrologers as well. Not to mention the shopping in Germany (insert Homer Simpson drooling noise here). Needless to say, if you’re going to Fulda for the conference, send me an email and introduce yourself.

Future Blog Articles

So, what’s ahead for us here on the Gryphon Astrology blog? Last time we ended with some talk about the Fixed Stars. I have since gotten deeper into this topic, and have acquired a few books on mythology to better help me understand the underlying myths. I have even begun reading a few of the said books. I will talk more about a few major Fixed Stars from a mythological perspective, to better clarify the relationship between the myths and the stars’ use in a chart. Since last November, I have accumulated a few horaries I would like to share with you as well, so I will bring those out as time permits. Finally, I have been doing a lot of reading of the ancient Greek philosophers, courtesy of that prolific and incredibly gifted 18th-century translator, Thomas Taylor. The Greeks spent a great deal of time thinking about spiritual matters, as well as the unseen world in general. One of the things I found fascinating, especially within an astrological context, is the existence of what the Greeks called “Guardian Daemon,” which was co-opted into Christianity as Guardian Angel. Finding the nature of this entity in a chart poses an interesting challenge, and I look forward to addressing it in an upcoming article. In the meantime, stay tuned and once again, it’s good to be back.