Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Sun

By Dana Gerhart

You know those little Sun sign scrolls sold in vending machines and grocery stores? Years ago I met the founder of one such company. I'll never forget his enthusiasm. "Where else," he beamed, "can you buy a publication that's entirely about you?" Every line on every page is your story!" We can forgive his overestimating the depth and accuracy of supermarket horoscopes; nonetheless, he put his finger on astrology's fundamental appeal. It promotes a pleasant narcissistic fiction. It makes the grand movement of the solar system all about us. It makes each of us a star.

We're mad for stars. Our obsession with celebrity culture reflects a deep and universal longing: everyone wants to be someone. We want to be more than nature's anonymous display, blooming and fading by the side of the road. Everyone burns (or desires to burn) with a unique and special purpose. We're on a journey-a hero's journey! And happily, Sun sign astrology understands our heroic mission. It democratically upgrades the ancient solar myth: where once astrology was exclusively for kings, now everyone can have a horoscope.

Yet something is amiss in the kingdom. Even as horoscope columns affirm our ambitions and celebrate our radiance, cheering us on our way, there's something awkward in their tone. Sun sign astrologers often mince and prance like servants who must repeatedly assure the king. "Yes, you will have a wonderful day! You'll win your true love, collect plenty of gold, enjoy excellent health, and find victory in battle!" Are such platitudes really the stuff for heroes? For little Suns? Can we imagine the bright center of our solar system quivering as it consults the papers for news of the day's influences?"("What are Mars and Pluto doing to me today?") Maybe this is why some people feel compelled to bolster their spirits with astrological insignias on necklaces and coffee mugs, banding together with other Suns to proclaim "Aries/Taurus/Gemini/etc. rules!"

All this would have had ancient astrologers scratching their heads. For it wasn't until the last hundred years that Sun signs became so popular. Sun sign astrology was invented-by a Sun-ruled Leo, of course. Born in August 1860, William Frederick Allan, who later renamed himself Alan Leo, is considered one of the first modern astrologers. Leo strengthened the notion of character as destiny, steering horoscopes away from predictable fates into psychological profiles laced with spiritual themes. But as a businessman, he was particularly astute. With offices in London, Paris, and New York, and a staff of nearly a dozen people, he produced thousands of horoscopes every year. Like any smart CEO manufacturing a product, he recognized the need to simplify his production line. He trimmed the birth chart to just one factor: the Sun sign. With this master stroke, he created a way to divide people into simple zodiac clusters. Everyone knows their birth date. Without any knowledge of astrology's true complexity, people could easily fit themselves into one of twelve astro-groups. And that's how Sun sign columns were born.

Sun sign astrology is a profitable but ultimately flawed business. Much like fast food, it adds weight without real nourishment, increasing one's craving more than giving true satisfaction. People now wonder endlessly about their identities. Having lost an appreciation for their journey's mystery, they instead keep acquiring more mass. ("On the Enneagram I'm '4,' in Vedic astrology I'm actually a Cancer, in the Chinese system I'm a Rat, and my personal destiny number is a.") Astrologers get calls from people who have jobs, families, mortgages, and driver licenses-yet are hoping the chart can tell them who they are. Our culture is as off-center as the celebrities we like to see crash and burn on our tabloid news.

Losing center is an ironic twist on the Sun's traditional meaning-which is apparent in the glyph itself. The Sun is depicted as a circle with a dot in the middle. A unity with a center as its focal point. There are possibly a trillion galaxies in the universe, each with a hundred billion Suns. Our universe is designed for many centers. Yet we lose this revelation when we worry over much about our personal identities. Our natural radiance dims when we solidify ourselves into conditioned objects, beginning our sentences with "I'm the kind of person who." Pinned by the gravity of taking ourselves too seriously, like a star gone supernova and become a black hole, being at center yields to merely being self-centered.

Alan Leo would be mortified. So to correct our Sun sign narcissism, I propose something even simpler than Leo's master stroke. Instead of reading daily horoscopes, people could start each day by reading their hearts, for the heart offers the most vivid experience of the centering Sun. Try this right now. Simply tune into your beating heart. Stay with the sensation for a few minutes. Feel the life force pulsing through you. Notice how your attention makes the heart grow warmer. After awhile you may feel a pleasant glow. Now shift your thoughts to those activities or people who energize and inspire you. Notice how enthusiasm fires up your radiance. When you come from your heart, you light up. Others are energized by your presence. Just as the Sun is the source of all creative events on Earth, so your creativity can inspire others to express their light-like a flame that is not diminished but builds each time it's passed along. This will be true whatever your Sun sign-Leo, Scorpio, or anything in between.

Returning to Sun Worship

In the center of the Aztec calendar is the Sun god Tonatiuh, "He Who Goes Forth Shining." The Aztecs understood that all good things come from the Sun, but Tonatiuh was no Santa Claus. He had a long and menacing tongue ready to lap up the human blood he required in exchange for his life-granting gifts. Aztec priests routinely sacrificed human hearts to keep the Sun god strong, thus ensuring the survival of their people. Without their blood sacrifice, Aztecs feared the Sun would stop in its tracks and time would stand still. The world would either plunge into perpetual darkness or burn to a cinder.

Of course we know the Sun doesn't revolve around us. Sunrises and sunsets appear as Earth rotates on its axis. Earth circles the Sun and that defines our year. The laws of physics will keep the whole show going, until a few billion years from now when the Sun goes supernova. In the meantime, technology has freed us from worrying about Sun gods. For heat and light we've got electricity, light bulbs, and central heating-that's our immediate experience, that's what our children learn. If it's too cold, turn up the heat. If it's too dark, turn on a light.

So in a way, the Sun has disappeared from our lives, which is exactly what the Aztecs feared. And what's happened? Our sense of time has gone haywire. Life has sped up. Exhausted people with too much to do and not enough time are everywhere. Along with bi-polar disorder, ADD, autism, insomnia and penile dysfunction, two great maladies of our culture are depression and burn-out. Depression is a sign we've lost our fire, our inner Sun no longer rising with the day. Burn-out means there's too much fire, a constant inner Sun frying our circuits. Even though the sky above is hunkey dorey, physically, psychologically, and spiritually, we below are not. Is it because we no longer worship the Sun? Might Tonatiuh be angry? If so, how can we come back to center? Maybe we should propitiate the solar god again.

Blood sacrifice just won't do. Among the Aztecs, blood was the proper currency of exchange between gods and men. Gods gave their blood to create the world and humans were honored to return the favor. Human sacrifice wasn't barbaric; it was a gesture of divine reciprocity. In our culture a more appropriate currency might be light. Light is a metaphor for consciousness. The Sun lights our world and we can return the favor by bringing our consciousness back to the Sun. We can hold the Sun in reverent awareness. Happily, astrology gives us two exquisite means for doing just that.

Get out a copy of your birth chart. More than personality and purpose, the Sun indicates time, and this is embedded in your chart's design. That outer circle with all twelve signs? It represents a year, the time it takes for Earth to make a complete revolution around the Sun, or for the Sun to rise through all twelve constellations. The transiting Sun takes one year to circuit all twelve houses of your chart, metaphorically lighting up each one for about a month. Now look at the cross in the center of your horoscope, indicating the four angles of the chart. These angles were originally devised by the Egyptians, who like the Aztecs, worshipped the Sun. They patterned the angles after the Sun's daily round.

The Ascendant carries the feel and meaning of sunrise; planets transiting this point bring new beginnings. The Midheaven evokes the Sun at noon, high in the sky at maximum glory; the MC indicates where people likewise shine in public strength. The Descendent evokes the setting sun, when the day's work is done; marking the house of partnership, it indicates where we surrender ourselves to another. The IC is the midnight point, when we are deep in sleep and the Sun is also resting from our world. It represents the private foundations of our life-our family, our home, our essential self.

Through houses and angles, birth charts offer a personalized imprint of the Sun's dual signatures, the year and the day. Though rarely discussed as such by astrologers, these two horoscope templates suggest a simple yet elegant way to carry the Sun's centering influence into our lives.

1 comment:

gregchaos said...

Alerting you to my book Sun of gOd, which explores the pre-Christian understanding of a living Sun in the light of science - making more sense than you would have ever thought. There's a webpage on it at

And speaking of Sun signs, there is a great 2 min endorsement from Britain favourite astrologer, Jonathan Cainer, at