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Toward the Centaur!...

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Toward the Centaur!

By Rev Pam Crane (as Pam Bennett, DFAstrolS, DMSAstrol)

Published in The Astrological Journal Autumn 1978


The fourth of July is not normally celebrated in our household, but this year it was notable for two occurrences in the morning: at 08h18 BST I opened a long envelope from New York, and at 10h00 am received a client. The envelope, from the Congress of Astrological Organisations, contained the first part of an ephemeris of the newly-discovered planet Chiron, covering the years from August 1937 through January 1950.

Small this planet may be, but its impact - at least on this life - has been quite dramatic. A reconnoitre of the ephemeris pages established that Chiron's position in January 1943 placed it securely in the end of Leo, less than 2° from my Moon’s N. Node, semi-square Moon, and quincunx Sun, while 3° from trine Mars in 25 Sagittarius. As these revelations were taking place, 4° Taurus rode the Midheaven with Chiron in conjunction to supervise the proceedings - rather like a celebrity present at the opening of his own fan club!

Charles Kowal, who discovered the planet in October, 1977, while it was in the first degrees of Taurus, turns out to have Chiron on the MC of a speculative chart drawn for him by Joelle Mahoney some time ago. The planet's orbit - extremely eccentric, and steeply inclined to our own orbital plane - lies between Saturn and Uranus, and one wonders whether Kowal's choice of the name was conditioned by Chiron being known as 'the son of Chronos'. From that October onwards a number of skilled astronomers searched meticulously for the planet's position in files of earlier photographs, aided by Kowal's preliminary estimate of the orbit. This ephemeris has been computed by the astronomer Brian Marsden on the basis of their findings, and prepared for astrological use by Zane B. Stein, Al H. Morrison, Joelle Mahoney and Maria Bianco. A symbol for Chiron will be chosen in San Diego this August at the CAO General Convention; one of those suggested is the circle surmounted by the cross and crowned by a half-circle, while another presents a long-stemmed K on top of an oval ... a neat visual pun on the discoverer's name that also embodies the idea of eccentricity and the cross, resembling a key (to unlock or imprison what . . . ?!) and being quite distinctive. Being an addict of puns and analogies I like this one. (So did everyone else! Pam, 2010.)

It has been observed over centuries that the apparently arbitrary naming of planets nevertheless runs in accordance with the meaning embodied in the myth; to understand the human archetypes and universal principles manifesting in Sun, Moon and planets, acquaint yourselves with the eventful lives of the Greek and Roman Pantheon, stir your soul with the heavenly and harrowing goings-on at Phaeton Place . . .! For the moment though we are tuning in to The Archers, as we are concerned here with the history of the galactic centaur.

The Myth of the Centaur

The dictionary definition of a centaur is “a fabulous monster, half man, half horse.” Robert Graves, in his scholarly work, 'The White Goddess', suggests that the Centaurs were in fact a tribe of people inhabiting Magnesia in ancient Greece, who “worshipped the horse, probably not the Asiatic horse brought from the Caspian at the beginning of the second millenium BC, but an earlier, and inferior, European variety, a sort of Dartmoor pony.” Among the totems of the clan were the mountain lion and the wryneck, and the very name 'centaur' may be associated with 'centron', a goat. Graves actually wrote an essay entitled 'What Food The Centaurs Ate' (!), proposing “that they intoxicated themselves by eating "fly-cap" (amanita muscaria), and the hundred-clawed toad, an example of which appears, carved on an Etruscan mirror, at the feet of their ancestor Ixion”. Their mother-goddess was Leucothea, ‘the White Goddess’, known to them as Ino, or Plastene.

The wryneck was the bird sacred to Philyra, whose union with Cronos resulted in the birth of the Centaur King, Chiron, or Cheiron. The Centaurs were a pretty rough-and-ready lot, fairly thick-witted, given to carousing and rowdy behaviour when denied the pleasure of pitched battle with their favourite enemies the Lapiths of North Thessaly; however, Chiron was one of a few exceptional members of the race gifted with high intelligence, wisdom, deep and broad knowledge and the personal qualities necessary to teach others all he knew. On Mount Pelion, therefore, he kept a school, which became famed throughout ancient Greece for the quality of its education and the brilliance of its pupils. It was into the firm and generous hands of the master teacher Chiron that most of the young Greek heroes were entrusted; Jason, Achilles and Hercules were among those who learned from him all the skills and wisdom necessary to bring them to a full flowering of manhood, and all of Aesculapius' unparalleled medical genius was founded on his early years of tuition with Chiron.

Not only did Chiron teach; he was constantly besought for his sound advice. Many a hero's crisis was resolved with his discreet aid. He even undertook to change the name of one of his proteges - the boy’s name was Liguron, which means ‘wailing’ (not the most morale-boosting label for a budding hero!) and this was exchanged by the venerable tutor for the now celebrated name of Achilles.

Misfortune befell the great and immortal Chiron when Hercules accidentally struck him with a poisoned arrow; wounds to immortal persons are immortal wounds, and the Centaur was in permanent great pain. As it happened, the mortal Prometheus came to the end of his own suffering when Zeus pardoned him at last for his audacity in stealing the gods' fire, and made the best of the situation by promoting him to Olympian status. He had been miserably chained to a rock, an eagle pecking at his liver, until he was rescued by none other than the ubiquitous Hercules. Now this elevation to immortal rank necessitated swapping places with a deity with a death-wish; Chiron, finding his unhealed injury by now intolerable, offered to replace him among mortals - in other words gave his life for him, as in his condition mortality meant death and the descent to Hades. In the fullness of time his services were recognised by Zeus, who raised him among the stars to become the Archer in the constellation of Sagittarius.

The Search for Meaning
What can we understand about the possible meaning of our tiny new planet from the fore-going? Fundamental ideas that suggest themselves are the processes of teaching and learning, also the concept of drastic action taken when life is unbearable. If I may quote from the commentary accompanying the CAO Ephemeris: “We found that it does indeed have something to do with learning - lessons hard learned, hard experience, major events of career change - memorable incidents which remain in the background of one's education/ acculturation/ conditioning, contributing to personal orientation.”

Chiron haunted me all night after the initial perusal; I was trying to pin down an elusive association the name had for me. Eventually it came, as something of a surprise: what my subconscious was nudging into my mind was Chi-Rho, the monogram of the first two Greek letters of Christos. The idea seemed important, so I bore the relationship in mind as I browsed for information on the Centaur. Now, I am in no way identifying the two teachers; there are fundamental dissimilarities which are too obvious to reiterate. But each in his own way expressed the idea of the great teacher who sent disciples into the world (discipulus - Latin - ‘pupil’) to fight for the principles most sacred to them, to heal and help, and seek their personal Grail; each embodies the idea of the immortal addressing itself and its wisdom to the mortal; each made the sacrifice of a life in mortal form to redeem suffering, sinning mortality. The major, and significant distinction here is that Christ's supreme sacrifice was made out of His profound, unassailable love for the world of muddled mankind; the Centaur sought the descent into Hades primarily in the desperation of unending pain, without which he would probably have remained among the immortals and continued his work, and Prometheus - poor, ravaged, arrogant man - would be unshriven and unresurrected. Chiron belongs to the Arian Age; he is concerned with the development, assertion and confirmation of the personal identity. He taught the arts of war to the Hero; Christ, heraldic Light of the Piscean Age, as a wanderer spread the gospel of peace and loving-kindness to men and women, privileged and deprived alike.

Nevertheless,  the process of comparison of the two apparently irreconcilable teachers served to underline the emerging principles; and the discovery of Chiron's presence in the peculiar limbo beyond the familiar bounds of Saturn comes at a time when humanity as a whole is approaching fast a state of affairs so insupportable that major sacrifices must be made in order that our chaotic world may redeem itself. This point was made by Jane Stopford in the Medway tuition group during a discussion of the new planet; she also suggested that the then impending opposition between Chiron in Taurus and Uranus in Scorpio might be indicative of the first waves of drastic reassessment in the fields of educational and welfare policy, where priorities have gone sadly wrong over many years.(As I transcribe this in 2010, Chiron is still in its long conjunction with Neptune, and at least in the UK educational policy is again in melt-down.) It will be interesting to see how the Chiron principles manifest in the world's cultures from now on, as the previously-discovered outer planets made themselves felt very strongly through changing attitudes and new technologies.

Teaching and Learning
The orbit of Chiron is much disturbed during passage close to any of the major planets (that is, close in terms of the Solar System), and one might say that he is always subordinate to a higher authority. He is king of his own race, master of his own knowledge and yet at the disposal of Zeus, dependent on his august patronage, and at the mercy of Fate - mythically in the form of Hercules’ arrow. We may then be looking to see if Chiron embodies the idea of accident, of blind chance (if such can be said to exist, though it may seem real to the victim of its obscure chains of cause-and-effect), the degree to which it is possible or desirable to endure almost irresolvable vicissitudes, and the capacity for making the kind of decision which can finally end them, requiring courage, vision, and maturity of judgment. The landmarks in life, of pain or joy, are often our clearest lessons, and exercise our growing judgement to the uttermost; and when we teach others, it can only be the sharing of what we have already learned. Chiron, in order to teach, first had to learn; and his judgment was finally tested to the uttermost in that last life-and-death decision. Divination, as well as healing, formed part of his teaching; perhaps an inevitable consequence of buffeting by forces seemingly beyond oneself is to seek its aid or to learn its skills. More and more of us are now employed this way, regarding life increasingly as a school in which we learn and grow, with curriculum and teachers, companions, games and examinations, set books and free resources - our choices limited by capacity and inclination, our sole true freedom that of the flowering spirit.

The Adventure Begins.
There is a flower for Chiron: it is the Centaury, which he is said to have used in the healing of a wound and can be taken as a herbal tonic. It takes several forms, the best-known being the glowing blue Cornflower, as well as the familiar Giant Knapweed and a number of well-armed Thistles, all with deep purple heads - and all their colours are right for Sagittarius, where the Centaur was given his celestial home. The principles we have discussed also suggest that Chiron may be co-ruler with Jupiter (Zeus) of the 9th Sign and is coming now into his own when we most need him, to bring the 20th-century class to order, to instruct our Heroes, to direct our vision to the galactic centre. The adventure has begun, we have begun our new myth-making; Ben Kenobi, the wise Jeddi Knight, has already sent Luke Skywalker to destroy the Death-Star, and left his body to whisper in heroes' ears for an eternity.

Chiron therefore co-rules my 4th house, if all this is correct; it lies close to the Dragon’s Head, and for some time now I have been conscious of ‘going where I am put’. On Monday July 10th1978, Saturn exactly conjoined natal Chiron, together with transiting Venus. As the multiple conjunction culminated at 15h40 BST the phone rang: it was my solicitor informing me that at long last contracts had been exchanged and our move to Cornwall could now go ahead. That evening was the painful time when the impending separation from dear friends hit home; and it was also the evening when the class asked for a talk about Chiron, mentioned more briefly at a previous meeting. It is interesting that out of 18 Medway students so far able to map Chiron, no less than 11 have the planet in strong aspect to Uranus, including myself with a square to both Chiron and the Nodes. (I have long been aware of my tendency to ‘collect’ electrical, electronic, unorthodox and new-age people; now I know where all the teachers, healers, diviners and welfare workers come in! ) . . . My client, by the way, had Chiron exactly rising ...

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