Mother and Sun
"The Sun is the candle or light of Heaven, and that Spirit which clarifies and beautifies those signs he is in, destroying nature's enemies."
––William Lilly, Christian Astrology
The astrological Sun is not so much a physical center as a spiritual one, in keeping with the fact that it lights our world (and the worlds of the other planets), provides the dynamic vitality that energizes creation, exhumes unseen things from the darkness, and wakes us from the quiet of the night. As night owls can attest, sometimes its power is scorching, its centralizing force overbearing. But even for them, the Sun is the organizing principle that allows us to divide light from darkness and call night 'night', day 'day'. The night owl is merely a member of an anti-solar cult; the Sun still stands tall as an orb to be reckoned with. "Let there be light"––the Sun is the idea that the light switch of the universe got flipped to the on position, that there is a one that alternates places with a zero, that presence flickers in a womb of absence.
The Sun is therefore astrology's primary 'yang' symbol, and as a result one of its most obvious 'masculine' symbolic factors. "For these reasons," Robert Hand writes in Horoscope Symbols[i], "the Sun has traditionally been said to 'rule' persons in authority, like employers, important government officials, the government itself, and, of course, kings and nobles. But keep in mind that planets do not symbolize actual persons or things. The relationship exists only insofar as an actual person manifests the energies of the Sun." This last point is crucial for the series of observations I will make below. I agree with it and completely disagree with it at the same time. Here's why:
In my astrology the Sun is my mother. Traditionally speaking ('tradition' being a tricky word in contemporary astrology, for reasons I hope to address elsewhere), and according to Hand again, a "classic male function that is associated with the Sun is fatherhood. The Sun shares this function with Saturn,"[ii] a situation borne out so strangely and strongly in my own nativity I could spend the rest of my life wondering about it, and probably will.
In Lee Lehman's The Book of Rulerships––a good reference for navigating one's way through the notion that, contrary to Hand's (admittedly outdated) position in Horoscope Symbols [iii], planets very much can symbolize actual persons or things, an idea that becomes indispensable when practicing something like horary astrology, in which planets seem to 'dress up' as the players acting out the drama at stake in a specific question posed to the stars––we find that seven traditional sources give Saturn as the ruler of fathers, while two list the Sun. So Saturn seems to get most of the fatherly emphasis, but the Sun plays a role too. By way of contrast, none of the sources list the Sun as a ruler of mothers, who are generally symbolized in the tradition by the Moon and Venus.[iv] When it comes to fathers and mothers, then, associating the Sun with the mother goes against the grain.
But in my life and my astrology, my mother both "manifests the energy of the Sun" and is the Sun. Forgive the punning, but I am the Sun too, as well as her son. To the right is an image of the eastern part of my nativity. I was born at dawn, so the Sun has just risen over the horizon. For whatever reason, my mother drilled my birth time into me over the years, reminding me whenever we speak on my birthday that she was "awake at 6:53am" to celebrate my coming into the world. She professes no special love for astrology, so I find it amusing that she turned the recitation of my precise birth time into an annual refrain.
I am the Sun because the Sun is on the Ascendant, the 'me' part of the chart par excellence. I'll leave it to my friends and colleagues to determine how strong the solar signature runs in me. When it comes to my mother though, the signature is definitely there. She isn't regal, exactly, but hers is a bright, exceedingly amiable countenance, quite literally 'sunny' for good and for ill, as she can sometimes slip into a Pollyanna-like faith in overwhelming goodness. Before I was born she painted a huge image of the Sun on my bedroom wall. She is a first-grade teacher, and her 'emblem' is the bright yellow orb of the smiley face, beaming. Her students bring her smiley face stuff; smiley faces stare back at the students, somewhat ominously, from every corner of the classroom. All of this is not to say that she doesn't have her darker moods; hers is one of the most profound melancholies I've ever known, molded by family trauma and the usual host of inner disappointments that cloud us all. But she is always one to make do, to try and see, in however strained a fashion, the brighter side of things. Paradoxically, this sometimes prevents her from making the changes that would actually make things brighter. She remains forever wedded to her idealism, even when this occasionally reveals her to be "endowed with no gravity in words, or soberness in Actions," as the master Renaissance astrologer William Lilly laments in his description of the Sun "ill dignified"[v], faults of which I am also certainly often guilty.
But what makes my mother's solar presence even more striking is the way it appears in the astrology itself. My birthday is February 16. In my part of the world, on February 16 the Sun is in the 28th degree of Aquarius, as you can see in the fragment of my chart reproduced above. My mother's birthday is February 17––the 29th degree of Aquarius. This places the Sun in my mother's nativity within one degree of both the Sun and the Ascendant in mine. In other words, as if our birthdays falling one day apart weren't enough, she pushed me out into the world at the moment when the Sun was rising up over the horizon, emphasizing the placement of her own Sun in the birth of her son two times over. In light of this, the fact that she emblazoned my birth time into my brain seems no mere fancy; in pure solar fashion, she has made it impossible for me to forget her own illuminating presence in the event of my birth, nor her willfulness, nor that I am a product of her own creative powers. By her own proud admission I would become the very center of her life, as all children must somehow be for their parents, though her centering of me was particularly determined. Throughout my childhood I heard her say that all she wanted to do was raise me.
Here we find the dignities, for good and ill, of the astrological Sun (the Sun is traditionally considered to be in its 'detriment' in Aquarius, meaning that at the very least it must somehow play against type, or act solar while wearing a non-solar costume, perhaps an explanation for why Aquarians are assumed to be eccentric in the modern astrological literature). My birth was the life-defining creative spark for my mother, a trained painter. She never lets me forget this. As a result, my own life is charged with that spark. This is beautiful. But it is also a recipe for self-centeredness, for favoring my own perspective (or my mother favoring her own perspective) when a more global vision is sometimes required to see one's will achieved in the world. My will bursts forth like a torrent of light––I love to shine my presence upon those I love, those with whom I work; when it isn't reflected back at me I become easily depressed, and I haven't been particularly ambitious when it comes to implementing my will or my creative force. I am content to improvise, to let it burn brightly whenever and wherever it can, and at best have become better at readying myself for those situations when that can happen. In my nativity, the Saturnine fathering principle, the drive for lasting structure, could not be more directly opposed to the Sun:
My father, unfortunately for both of us, stands across from me in the guise of Saturn, hemming in the Sun's vitality. Of course he has given me another set of complex and necessary gifts (Saturn rules Aquarius in the traditional rulership schema, and the Sun rules Leo, where Saturn is in his detriment––my father and I are therefore in mutual detriment when it comes to one another, neither of us able to act from a place of strength), and there are other symbols in the chart that present a more nuanced picture of him.
What fascinates me is the way that astrological symbolism can both confirm and upset out associations with it. In my own case the Sun is very solar, and then not solar at all. I am born at sunrise, I demonstrate certain solar characteristics, I share those characteristics with my mother, and her nativity is powerfully connected to my own through the Sun; my father is not solar and if anything represents a check on my solar-ness, the Sun is placed in Aquarius where it is in its traditional detriment, and my solar impulses are as defined by what keeps them in hard check as they are by what makes them glow with possibility. It as if astrology leads us forward, enticing us with clues that our experiences of life can easily confirm, only to present us with mysteries and conundrums that bolster awareness by way of surprise, contradiction, and head-scratching moments of doubt. Its symbols, after all, point to vast (if delimited) terrains; they are ways of organizing the boundless vitality of life into a series of streams or modes of expression. The names we give these terrains, which correspond to those of the planets, are, if not arbitrary, then at least dependent on each other to generate meaning. The Sun relies not only upon the Moon but on the other planets, as well as the signs of the zodiac, the nuances of synodic cycles, the mapping function of the houses, and the innumerable splendors of the entire astrological model, even if it is the "Spirit which clarifies and beautifies" that model, kindling it in a constant act of illumination.
It always makes me smile in wonder to think that what we first learn of our own astrology is the sign in which the Sun was placed when we were born. This initial identification with astrological symbolism is like a gateway. Posted around the portal are signs that seem to tell us little tidbits about ourselves, but as we begin to cross the threshold what we find is a web of interconnected details and propositions, colors and characters, movements and relationships, that tell us not so much about ourselves as discrete entities, but rather as functions of the vital, ever-changing force that is life, giving birth to itself in new forms a million times every moment.
[i] Robert Hand, Horoscope Symbols, Whitford Press, Altgen, PA, 1981, p. 48.
[ii] ibid., p, 50.
[iii] It must be stressed that Hand's position has shifted considerably since Horoscope Symbols was written more than 35 years ago, and that he has adopted––and been one of the most leading advocates for––the revival of classical traditional astrological techniques and philosophy. It is a testament to the clarity and comprehensive nature of this earlier text that it still stands as one of the clearest introductions to basic astrological principles.
[iv] Lee Lehman, The Book of Rulerships: Keywords from Classical Astrology, Whitford Press, West Chester, PA, 1992, p. 91 and p. 150.
[v] William Lilly, Christian Astrology, Astrology Classics, Bel Air, MD, 2004, p. 285.