When the first snowfall arrives, I make a big mug of coffee and add heavy whipping cream. It has become a tradition. That first snow also makes my back hurt a bit (a memory of early years in Wisconsin). It also makes me want to get back to Italy. The last time I went it was in January; 75 degrees, green grass and the very best coffee. It’s true, Italy has always gotten its priorities straight.
Recently, a few clients have asked questions on why astrology is so eerily accurate. It’s a hard question. Why should the planetary arrangement at birth reveal that a person likes cold showers, or will wear a pair of jeans until they become threadbare? What does the Moon have to do with me writing in the margins of books? Why? Jupiter can cause me to gain weight. Why is that? Mercury shows that I love libraries, but why? It reminds me of first-graders with that adorable phrase “I know, but why? I know, but why?”
It could be that astrology shows us the how, the when, the what, the who and sometimes the where, but it doesn’t show us the why. This is a question that plagues all of us in the practice.
Perhaps the best way to make progress on these questions is to revisit the fundamental meanings of the planets. A lot of conference presenters go into depth on obscure details and lost tidbits of info that can inspire us. I appreciate all their work, and I take notes as fervently as anyone. I love it. But in the end what really helps our understanding (and our search for accuracy) is to just explore what the planets and the signs truly represent. I’d love to see a conference solely devoted to the study of Saturn. Or Mercury. Or one sign, for three days, everyone discussing the meaning of Capricorn.
To refresh us on the subtle truths of the planets, I’ve listed some descriptions from Marsilio Ficino, taken from essays and from De Vita, written in Florence in the summer of 1489. It’s a great re-introduction to the basics. He uses the word Curiosissimus, which means to be attentive; attentive to seeing the symbolism of the planets in our daily lives.
From Marsilio Ficino:
“The Moon is Queen of the stars. She is the continuous movement of our mind and body. She restores the spirit and the natural humours when she rises. The Moon is pregnant with the stars [often visible first, and the stars show later on]. She is the Lady of generation. The Moon has a voice, but no song. Moon and Sun together are the authors of life. The more the Moon is full of the Sun’s light, the more health she brings to all things. The virtues of all heavenly things are brought down to the limbs from the Sun via the Moon, to be nurtured through medicines ritually prepared at that particular time.
“Mercury is master of eloquence and inventor of the lyre. Through the wonderful grace of intelligence and eloquence he turns us to himself (especially those who practice contemplation) and fires them with the love of divine beauty. He signals Mercurial things, which include: tin, silver, especially quicksilver, and people who are eloquent, sharp, and versatile, and who have oblong faces and hands which are not fat. Counsel, reason, knowledge and discernment are Mercury.
“Venus is human nature itself, harmony and integrity, honor and radiance. She is divine intelligence and the creative power of the universe. Each Venus [morning and evening] has the same companion: love. The first is drawn up by in-dwelling love, to contemplate the beauty of God. The second, by the same love, to recreate this beauty in material forms. She imparts flashes of glory to the body of the world. The power of Venus may be attracted by turtle-doves, pigeons, white water wag-tails, and all the rest that modesty forbids me to reveal. How wonderful is the dominion of Venus and of love. Venus is very good for a healthy and prosperous life. She makes us fruitful and happy, yet Venus dries up the green plants as soon as they have produced seed. One obtains things from Venus through her animals, and through lapis lazuli, brass, coral, and all pretty, multi-colored or green colors and flowers, musical harmony, and pleasant odors and tastes.
“The World-soul, which is active everywhere, unfolds in every place its power of universal life, principally through the Sun. The Sun is God. The eternal eye, seeing all things. The pre-eminent celestial light. The Sun bestows health and life on all, and drives away all disease. He regulates everything, restoring harmony to the soul, just as medicine restores harmony to the body. He purges all hearts with his flames. He is the source of justice, the model of generosity. He is truth, prophecy, wisdom and faith. Sun is both flower and fruit.
“Mars stands for courage and makes us more brave. Mars makes the voice fierce and menacing. A strong Mars at birth brings greatness of soul and a fiery nature. Venus can make Mars more gentle. Mars harms you rarely, and always face to face. Mars represents materials which are fiery or red, red brass, all sulphurous things, iron, and bloodstone. Mars is swiftness, while Saturn is tardiness.
“Jupiter is law divine and human. The Greeks call Jupiter life and the cause of life. The astrologers declare that he also has power over the animal spirit, saying that Jupiter is useful for philosophy and discovering truth, and for religion. So also Plato, when he says that philosophers spring from Jupiter. By Jupiter’s power, sage drives away paralysis and mint strengthens the mind. Jupiter is the beginning, middle and end of the universe. To restore your own Jovial nature, moisten hot bread with a little bit of golden, unmixed wine and rose water, and season with a little cinnamon and considerably more sugar. The latter two should frequently also be mixed with almond milk.
“Saturn harms slowly, and allows plenty of time for remedies. We attribute to Saturn voices that are slow, deep, harsh, or plaintive; to Mars, voices that are the opposite-quick, sharp, fierce, and menacing; the Moon has the voices in between. The music, however, of Jupiter is deep, earnest, sweet, and joyful with stability.
“You certainly should not neglect the power of Saturn. For the Arabic writers say he is the most powerful of all; that we know planets submit their powers to those [planets] whom they are approaching, but that all approach Saturn, rather than vice versa [because he is the slowest of the personal planets]; and that planets in conjunction with him act according to his nature. For he is of all planets the head of the widest sphere. Saturn is also neighbor to the innumerable [fixed] stars. He is the highest of planets; hence they call that man fortunate whom Saturn fortunately favors. To get something from Saturn we use any materials that are somewhat earthy, dusky and leaden; we use smoky jasper, lodestone, cameo [engraved gems] and chalcedony; gold and golden marcasite are partly useful for this.
“To sum up, if you prudently temper within yourself the heavenly signs and the heavenly gifts, you will flee far from all the menaces of the fates and without doubt will live a blessed life under divine auspices.”
There’s a lot to love in Marsilio Ficino and his books bring many unexpected gems of wisdom, like this quote on invisible ink:
“The heat of a fire brings to visibility letters previously hidden which were written with the juice of an onion; and as letters written with the fat of a goat on a stone, absolutely unseen, if the stone is submerged in vinegar, emerge and stick out as if they were sculptured.”
Astrologically, however, it’s especially interesting to dive into Ficino because he also tells us what other authors have said. He tells us what Plato said, what Pythagoras said, and Apollonius, Thomas Aquinas, Hermes Trismegistus and Galen and Ptolemy. Ficino makes for a must-have reference to help satisfy our curiosities.
You can still visit his academy just north of Florence, it’s called the Villa di Medici at Careggi. I hear it’s under restoration for the time being, but hopefully it will reopen soon. Maybe those of us who are fond of Ficino and share his curiosissimus can meet there for a cappuccino while we hide out during the next zombie apocalypse!
Special thanks to Eli Ness, and Dr. Justin Sledge, for inspiration.