The Shape of Time

Dear Friend and Reader:

IN HIS COLUMN last month in Chronogram, Jason Stern raised what he called “the question of destiny,” asking, “Are the stories of our lives already written in a book of time while we are left to helplessly fulfill a preset plot? And of course there’s the question of the larger world, and the unforeseen changes in economic, political and social conditions,” such as what happens to individuals when a government bombs an entire population.

The Prague Orloj is a medieval astronomical clock located in Prague, Czech Republic. Image, courtesy of Wikipedia.

“These questions have always prevented me from making long-term plans,” he wrote, due to his conviction that “the best approach to fulfilling possible futures is the discipline of keeping the attention rooted in the moment, with faith that the next step will become apparent if I am present here and now.”

He asked his readers to offer some ideas about this, and as Jason’s astrologer and that of Chronogram, I thought I would give it a try. These are very old issues, and many of our ideas about them are programmed with religious concepts. For example, the fate versus free will discussion has been used as a cudgel in theology to address dumb questions like: If there is predestiny, are we programmed in advance to be saints or sinners and, therefore, is it set whether we’re going to heaven or hell? If so, why does it matter what we do?

(The answer is: it does not matter, as long as you go to church just in case and leave a little something in the basket. But don’t put that on your philosophy midterm.)

First, two observations about time. One involves our conception of linear time. An individual’s perception of time is usually based on a cultural model that we are given in childhood and that is reinforced throughout life, and it’s always related to technology. Our model is linear; time proceeds from the past to the future. Using this model, we exist in the present like a pair of socks hung on a clothesline, anchored to a tree in the past and the back porch in the future. Without a concept of the past (usually attached to traumatic or romanticized experiences) and the future (usually anchored in anxiety or hope), we would have no concept of “the present.” One slight problem is that we are hurtling toward the future but we can’t see it. It’s like driving down a highway staring into the rear-view mirror.

As a result, our ideas about “the present” are derived from our mostly fictional ideas about the past and entirely fictional ideas about the future. Imagine if our concept of time was rooted in the present and extended out in all directions (this is how astrology works). They are also based on our limited ideas about what birth and death are. Under this model, the tree is birth and the back porch is death; we think we exist for a span of time between the two, with no idea of what is beyond either. Presumably, if there is something “beyond” birth and death, we should have access to it now, if we are paying attention.

As an aside, most of our clocks are now digital. I’ve never seen a comment anywhere about what it means that we switched from circular clocks a generation ago to nearly all digital clocks today. Time became faceless with this gesture; clocks used to have a face. An analogue clock at least presents a cyclical model of time; the hands go around and around in the context of a 12-hour cycle, in a way similar to how the Earth orbits the Sun. In a digital device, the sense of time as a line is emphasized; we move along the line like a tightrope walker and presumably we are always someplace new. A digital clock isolates the current time and takes time out of the larger cycles that really comprise it. Both analogue and digital clocks offer models of sequential time, but they present two different pictures. Pictures mean a lot because they are connected to, and often shape, our concepts. Personally, I much prefer analogue clocks and watches, and I use that option on my computers when I remember.

Introspect, a pasted paper artist, portrays the Mayan calendar on the corner of Houston and Essex St, NYC.

Second, our calendar system is poorly suited for measuring very long spans of time. Our system does not exactly fall apart when you go back 5,000 years, but it does not hold up well. If you say June 7, 3008 BCE, is that really meaningful? What happened that day?

The Mayans and other Mezzo-American cultures utilized a system of counting days (the Long Count) that was organized into cycles that could easily measure 26,000-year cycles. They were, we’re told, fond of the 5,125-year cycle (the baktun), and we are getting close to the end of one of those — I’ll get to this in a moment. The Mayans also used a 260-day cycle (the Short Count) that was like a floating island in time, moving through the centuries with day number 260 (and thus New Year) continuously falling in a different season. We have no convenient or conceptually coherent way to measure long spans of time. We can barely imagine 10 years in the future, and then one day a decade gets away from us. I think that our model of time is poorly suited for the effective use of it. It leaves us incredibly short sighted, something we cannot afford right now.

If we switch to an astrological (i.e, planetary) frame of reference, we can take advantage of a system that is based on the cycles of nature, not abstractions. This system has its problems too, but at least the model is elliptical. You get some context; you can relate time and space in a tangible way. You can see synchronicities, in the form of planets making aspects which come with key historical events that reveal the nature of the alignments. We may not know how or why this works, but I can tell you that if you look you can see it working; then you can try to figure out how, but this seems to matter less. (If this topic interests you, take a look at Cosmos and Psyche by Richard Tarnas.)

Until the discovery of Uranus, the longest cycle conveniently available was about 29 years — that of Saturn, which was traditionally considered the lord of time and also of death. When Uranus was discovered in the late 18th century, we were able to think in 84-year cycles. Pluto took us up to 250-year cycles in the early 20th century. Today we have Eris, which has a 557-year cycle; and we have Sedna, which has an approximately 12,000-year cycle. This is progress.

In 1977, Chiron was discovered with a 50-year orbit. This orbit is highly elliptical, so Chiron spends radically different lengths of time in different signs; this is one of its main uses. It reveals hidden patterns below the visible surface of reality that become plainly obvious when you study the patterns in someone’s biography.

Using these tools, it is possible to track the cycle of two planets — for example, the Uranus to Pluto cycle, which was very active in the 1960s as well as during many periods of revolution, and which will be active for the next seven years. This gives context: that is, it helps us find our location in the vast cycles of history and to assess the available energy of a particular time period. We can’t necessarily make exact predictions, but we can tell which of the big energies are working together, NOTE the context and respond accordingly.

There are other ways to measure. One is using rare events, such as when a planet makes an exact conjunction to the Sun, called a transit. (The word transit has two meanings; the more common one is when any planet contacts any other planet [such as the Saturn return] and the other is used by astronomy, to which I’m referring here.) You may recall the Venus transit to the Sun from June 2004. Here is a Wiki article that will confuse or clarify.

The 2004 Venus transit, taken by NASA’s TRACE satellite.

Conjunctions happen all the time, but it’s rare that they align in two different dimensions. In other words, during a typical conjunction between Venus and the Sun, Venus will pass a little above or below the Sun. During a transit, Venus will cross the disk of the Sun. This happens at precise intervals. According to the very cool Wikipedia page on the topic, “Transits of Venus are among the rarest of predictable astronomical phenomena and currently occur in a pattern that repeats every 243 years, with pairs of transits eight years apart separated by long gaps of 121.5 years and 105.5 years.”

The transits come in pairs, just like eclipses. Individual events in each pair are usually separated by eight years. The event corresponding to the June 2004 transit occurs in June 2012. This is interesting because the Mayan astronomer / astrologer / priests for whatever reason chose 2012 as the end date for the 13th baktun — and they loved the cycle of Venus. So this correspondence cannot be a “mere” coincidence — it is either a synchronicity or the result of careful planning.

We are approaching the exact midpoint of the 2004 and 2012 events. The events are separated by 2,920 days, and the midpoint between them is Saturday, June 7, 2008.

This event occurs with the Sun and Venus in Gemini, precisely in the midst of Mercury retrograde in Gemini. Note: it is not a transit of Venus, but with the Sun, Mercury and Venus clustered around the North Node of Venus (right where the 2004 and 2008 transits occur), this is a pretty special event. It seems to be a kind of tipping point on the way to whatever this elusive thing we’re calling 2012 represents, and whatever Venus represents.

Now, you may ask how being aware of an event like this helps shape our concept of time, or helps us make better use of time. I would remind you that such an effort is only meaningful if you step outside the context of your daily grind. It’s only meaningful if you seek meaning, and want to see your life as meaningful and part of some larger process. Unfortunately, for most people this is no more useful than going to a movie. If you want to access the subtler realms of psychic and temporal influence and really feel the contours of time, you need to think about it for a lot longer than it took you to read this article. Indeed, you need to involve yourself with the process every day in some way, and be willing to shake up your old constructs of time and space.

However, it can be truly helpful to use cycles that stand outside the normal week/month/year measurement pattern as part of a reflection process. One simple exercise could be to make a detailed assessment of where you were at in the spring of 2004 and where you are today. Use that to conjure some visions for where you want to be in 2012. One immediate benefit is that it’s possible to consider the four-year span of time between ’04 and now. We actually remember some of what happened that recently, and we have some sense of how we filled the time and what it felt like to live that long. Between the June 2004 transit and the midpoint, you lived 1,460 days.

The thing to remember is that these are not ordinary dates. June ’04, ’08 and ’12 are hot spots; they are nodal points where many paths in a complex model of time converge in something akin to a cluster of exit and entrance ramps along a freeway. You’re still driving down a highway and the wheels are still humming against the pavement. You don’t have to do that much. But you have options that don’t normally exist: there are unusual points of access and egress in the vicinity. And it happens in the midst of a very interesting, seemingly routine cosmic shuffle known as Mercury retrograde, which will add to the sense of intrigue and perhaps help you loosen your grip on tightrope time so-called reality.

Eric Francis




Weekly Horoscope for Friday, May 9, 2008, #713 – By ERIC FRANCIS

Aries (March 20-April 19)
You have spent plenty of time considering your insecurities; now is the time to burst through them. You have had enough stress in your home; now is the time to get outside. And since Saturn in Virgo has been turning you into the picture of hard work, ethics and making sure your efforts make at least some positive difference, you can surely use some time and space devoted to expressing yourself. I strongly suggest you go a little bit wild. I know I’m speaking to an Aries and that is supposed to be a dangerous statement, but I also know I’m speaking in 21st century America, where, for many people, going wild consists of slamming down a few Red Bulls and rearranging their iPod. When I say a little bit wild, the emphasis is on wild.

Taurus (April 19-May 20)
You are at a crucial tipping point. It’s not necessarily the tipping point, but it may be and you need to pay attention to that. You seem to be teetering on an edge between the past and the future, searching for the present everyplace but the moment. It’s as if you see the moment for what it is, and you feel the momentum of your life shift directions. Then, you may wonder whether it really happened. That’s how you will know it’s true. In fact, if you start to question whether you’re full of shit, or whether you really deserve any success or have a shred of creativity, you know you’re in the right place. Take a bath in those doubts: make it hot and sweat a lot. Drink a lot of water and flush them through your system. You spend too much time concealing your own insecurities from yourself. Let them hang out and you’ll know the true meaning of confidence.

Gemini (May 20-June 21)
At this stage, you seem to be working your way toward understanding the problem rather than the solution. They are the same thing, in truth. It seems that the way to unravel a complex puzzle will come to you all at once in a kind of orgasmic rush of connection with yourself. The more important process is what you learn, internally, on the way to getting there. I don’t mean this as a spiritual platitude about journeys and destinations. I mean that reconsidering your struggle about reconciling with yourself will reveal more than you can now imagine. That moment of contact will be beautiful, and real, but the understanding you gain of your self-alienation is something you have strived for over many years with far less meaningful results than you’re likely to have in the coming weeks.

Cancer (June 21-July 22)
A friend or partner may appear to be moving away; in reality, it seems they’re moving toward a breakthrough that will bring you both closer together. This person has their own process, and it is complicated — more complex than your relatively simple mode of “go with your feelings.” It is true that the world needs to learn how to move on its instincts, or better still, intuition. It’s also true that it takes some people longer than others to allow themselves to acknowledge what they are feeling, and to trust it enough to act on it. You live in a world of constant change, akin to the tides. They live in a world where movement seems to threaten structure, as inevitable as movement is. Eventually, it’s greeted as a friend, as are you.

Leo (July 22-Aug. 23)
A career matter is likely to be the focus of a personal relationship, and in some ways it’s a turning point there. Professionally and personally, you appear to be on a roll, and you seem to be taking new territory after a long phase of hesitation. You may feel that the issue involves your success feeling like a threat to someone close to you, but I don’t think this is true. What you’re seeing is likely to be a natural result of your putting out a lot of energy; that usually means change and change tends to give people a feeling of instability. Listen to what anyone close to you has to say and offer what support you can, but please focus on your mission. You’re in a rare moment when you can expand your horizons in a way that takes you past a tipping point that you’ve worked a very long time to reach.

Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22)
This time is a crucial test for your confidence. You are being summoned to a deeper level of responsibility, but the seeming paradox is that you’re being called upon to go past your previous ideas of what it means to be responsible in the first place. I am suggesting here that it doesn’t mean what it used to mean. In the past there was something about taking only very calculated risks. Now there is something in your charts about being a lot more bold, though lately you may be having your doubts. You can give your doubts a voice without throwing your life into reverse. You know that you must find a balance between being daring and being effective, but I doubt you’ll be able to do one without the other.

Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23)
You may be asking if old friends are really friends, but there may be one or two you’ve overlooked whose role in your life would better be suited by the term ‘best friend’. Do we really need an explanation of the idea “friend”? In the 21st century, we just might. A friend is someone who is loyal to you. This is not necessarily loyalty to the exclusion of others, but surely not someone who helps those who are hostile to you. Friendship is demonstrated with energy, generally actively and not passively. So look around for such an expression. Finally, a friend is someone whose presence in your life transcends the passage of time. You can skip a week or a decade and they are still fundamentally the same person to you. People who “change” usually are not changing; they’re revealing something that was always there.

Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22)
This is the time to fire up your ambition and make a few solid and successful moves in the professional world. One likely result is that you’ll be appearing on the radar of others as more attractive, influential and visible, but again I suggest you focus on your work life at the moment. Too often people get up each day and do what they are not interested in; now is the time to dare precisely what interests you the very most. Invest your time and energy into both building your reputation and capitalizing on the one you’ve already created for yourself. You have done an astonishing amount of behind-the-scenes work the past six months, so much you may not even realize how much. With Mars, the planet of action and achievement, moving in your favor, you are in an excellent position to bring that work to the forefront and claim some respect (and money) for what you’ve accomplished so well.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 22)
Recently you may have decided to keep something to yourself — such as an idea, a business arrangement, or a personal discovery. Suddenly the planets are aligning in a way that is influencing you to express that very thing. You may not feel ready and you may not want to dilute the idea. However, there may be one person who is appropriate to discuss this with, and at that, strictly in the context of setting the idea in motion sooner than you were planning. You have an opening this week that is like a temporary window into the future. If you miss this one, there will be another; but it may be a while. I suggest you move this plan from the back burner right to the front of the stove and lay a foundation this week, so that when you do come back to it in some weeks or months, you come back to something that is developed and has evolved a few steps rather than merely being a concept.

Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20)
The planets and your own instincts are calling on you to experiment with something, and I think that the experiment involves exploring what you feel. An experiment involves experience, not merely thought or planning, things from which we can usually turn back. You may be concerned that once you dare, you will not want to stop. This is a feeling I suggest you embrace — the loss of control where pleasure is concerned. You are a Capricorn, which is to say that at a certain point, the parachute of responsibility guides you back down to Earth gently no matter where you may have been flying. Therefore, I don’t suggest you worry about losing control and instead, if you’re going to bother yourself with anything, understand why you are so obsessed with self-control in the first place. It is starving you. In your release, nourishment awaits you.

Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19)
The need you feel is emotional, and it’s also erotic. There is no conflict unless you say so. If you feel a need to seek a new or deeper version of your identity through erotic play, I suggest you affirm this rather than deny it; explore rather than stuff; love rather than judge. Certainly in the current era we have more reasons and more occasions to say no than to say yes, or so we think. Then when need arises, we have few choices for what to do and feel good about it. Most of our sexual options are all-or-nothing. Whatever. The need you feel is real, not “casual.” I suggest you open your eyes and seek out those who are real as well, or where you suspect there is a good chance of this. Honor the nourishing power of Eros. And if, in some way, you feel your need is arising from pain, say yes to the pain and the healing that inevitably follows authentic honesty.

Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20)
You are beginning to take new territory; don’t stop. Ride the momentum you feel, let the seeds that have sprouted push their roots down into the Earth and stretch their stems and leaves toward the sky. Remember this image of roots and branches growing in their respective directions; you draw nourishment from above and from below. One is from the dark and one is from the light; one is from something old, and the other from something new. You are the bridge between these two seemingly different orders of reality. They are the same because you join them; they merge, blend and create new chemistry within you. Remember the concept of tropism: the indescribable, undeniable pull toward that which nourishes us. Feel it, move with it, don’t let your mind get in the way.

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