by Nancy Humphreys
Last time we looked at both ancient and modern systems for organizing knowledge. We found that some systems are “closed” and some are “open.” Examples of open systems are Runes, The Major Arcana of the Tarot, and the Library of Congress classification system for organizing books.
The important thing to remember about the difference between these two types of systems is that any item in an “open system” can be changed, moved or deleted without affecting other items in the system.
This isn’t the case with closed systems. Items within “closed systems,” such as the I Ching, The Minor Arcana of the Tarot, and the Dewey Decimal Library system for books cannot be changed, moved or deleted without affecting the entire system and all the other items in it.
Gail Fairfield, in her book, Choice Centered Tarot, explains how the cards in the Minor Arcana are each connected with the others. My forthcoming book, I Ching Circles, will explain the interconnections among hexagrams in the I Ching. And for the Dewey Decimal system of classification, please see the first article of this series in the November issue of Daykeeper.
The Tarot is unique among both the preliterate and literate systems we’ve covered because it contains two parts: one is closed and one is open. When we add the system of astrology, the Tarot is no longer unique. Astrology also has a number of parts. Some are closed and some are open. That’s what we’ll look at this month.
Astrology as a System of Parts
PLANETS and other HEAVENLY BODIES
First, there are the ten planets. The idea of astrology is that celestial bodies affect people and events on earth. Planets are changeable, and potentially can include more that might be discovered within our own universe. The debate over Pluto is an example of the ability of the planets to be added or deleted without major harm to astrological system.
In addition, other kinds of celestial bodies figure into astrological interpretations. Eris, Ceres, Chiron, Vesta and Pallas come to mind as ones Maya often mentioned. Alex, in his articles in Daykeeper Journal, even talks about the effects of celestial non-bodies, those he calls “black holes.”
Planets are usually named in order of their position from the sun outwards, but one doesn’t need to think of planets in that order. You could order them by size. Or by moons or rings. Or by personalities. Or any other way you like. Because of the changeability of one without affecting the meaning of others, planets are clearly an “open system.”
The planets and other heavenly bodies are like the Runes and the Major Arcana of the Tarot.
Second, we have the 12 astrological signs. These are based on the 365 days it takes for the earth to pass around the sun (or possibly to ancient peoples, the rotation of the sun around the earth). These signs are named for constellations of stars appearing in the heavens at various locations above earth as it moves around the sun. Each sign rules for around 30 days.
Signs start in early spring with Aries and follow through the seasons until the end of the year in Pisces. The first 6 signs are generally associated with personal growth while the second 6 signs are associated with how the individual moves into society. The signs are a closed system and they are interpreted as such. A Cancer is opposite a Capricorn, just as summer is opposite winter.
In being closed systems, the 12 signs of the zodiac are analogous to the I Ching and the Minor Arcana of the Tarot.
Corresponding to the astrological signs, the houses each have a planet as ruler:
1st House (Aries) Mars;
2nd House (Taurus) Venus;
3rd House (Gemini) Mercury;
4th House (Cancer) Moon;
5th House (Leo) Sun;
6th House (Virgo) Mercury;
7th House (Libra) Venus;
8th House (Scorpio) Pluto;
9th House (Sagittarius) Jupiter;
10th House (Capricorn) Saturn;
11th House (Aquarius) Uranus; and
12th House Pisces) Neptune.
(Source: Laurence Hillman, Planets in Play, 2007.)
The houses are also tied to or derived from a 360-degree circle. In an astrological reading, this circle represents not time, but space in its relation to the individual or place involved in an astrological reading. The houses are located by the “horizon” on earth where the individual was or is at the time for which the reading is being done. Half the houses are above the person (or place), half are below. The houses too are a closed system.
But are we sure about this? As you can see in the list of houses above, two planets, Venus and Mercury rule two houses instead of one house. In this month’s The Mountain Astrologer Cynthia L.C. Wood puts forth arguments that planet Earth is the ruler for Taurus and the 2nd House. I like this argument. I’ve often wondered how humans in the future will view astrology from spaceships or while living on other planets.
In passing, Wood also suggests Chiron might become the ruler for Virgo and the 6th House. Since many more celestial bodies might be found, who knows if there couldn’t be more houses for them to rule?
To me, as a librarian, houses in the abstract feel more like an open system. They are much like the Library of Congress classification system with its 22 letters signifying broad topics. Each house represents a “slice of life,” a very broad category of knowledge. These can be very roughly summarized as: (1) self, (2) things we value, (3) communications, (4) home and family, (5) pleasure, (6) health, (7) partnerships, (8) death and sex, (9) philosophy, (10) social status, (11) friendship, and (12) the unknown.
I think we could easily imagine an astrological system with 10 houses, 15 houses or even 30 or 100 houses. It isn’t immediately obvious why the circle is divided into 12 equal parts. Or why the topics of the houses are numbered one through twelve in the order that they are. But we have a clue in the fact that the 12 houses make for a nice symmetry with the 12 astrological signs. When we look further at the common structure that underlies the houses and signs, we'll see why there is a tradition of 12 houses in the particular order they are found.
In astrological chart readings, House (1) is at the individual’s right (the East) just below the horizon. The houses continue under the horizon then cross back over the horizon again at House (7). The houses occur in order above the horizon until the reading ends with House (12) on the individual’s left (the West). Houses can’t be deleted, added to or changed in position without affecting this system. For this reason, the 12 houses are a closed system.
The 12 houses, like the 12 signs, compare to the I Ching and the Minor Arcana of the Tarot.
INDIVIDUALS (persons, places, or social entities)
Last, but not least in astrology, there are individuals. Individuals occupy a totally unique place in astrology. To borrow a term from the field of economics, individuals are endogenous to the astrological system. This means the individual is both inside of and a part of the system. The human individual makes things happen from within the system. In astrology, for example, the birth chart starts with the individual and his/her place and time of birth. From that information, the person is located within the zodiac and a chart of the houses and planets is constructed around that person (or nation, industry, church, or other individual entity.)
In all other ancient and modern forms of organizing knowledge that I know of, the human individual is exogenous. That is, the reader is outside the system. The person must act on the system in some way (doing a Tarot, Rune, or I Ching reading, or wandering the library stacks, or perusing the library catalog on a computer). They act on the system from outside it in an effort to find what they seek. A person impacts a system (e.g., shuffles the cards, changes the computer screen by typing a search term, etc.) as they work their way into the system as a seeker of knowledge about themselves and/or the world.
Since individuals are truly unlimited (as long as there’s life somewhere in the universe) and can be ordered any way you like, individuals are an open system.
Individuals, like the 10 planets, are like Runes and the Major Arcana of the Tarot.
Astrology as Two Systems
There are two ways to look at astrology as a system. Astrology can have just three parts (signs, planets and houses.) Or astrology can have four parts: two parts that are closed (signs and houses) and two parts that are open (individuals and planets.)
As a librarian, I find it intriguing that astrology encompasses both broad and narrow categories of information about individuals. If we prefer to see astrology merely as a “closed” system of 12 personality types, we can use the 12 classes of individuals found in the zodiac signs, along with their associated planets and houses. Astrology as a three-part system of signs, houses and planets is popular. There are many books about Sun signs and at least one book I’ve seen on Moon signs.
But astrology can also describe a unique individual rather than viewing that individual as part of a category (their astrological sign) where they share common traits with all the other individuals in that category (or sign). In this more refined type of astrology, a precise natal chart is drawn up for analyzing a specific person (or other entity). Astrology that includes specific individuals has all four parts that I’ve discussed above (planets, signs, houses, and individuals). It’s a 4-part system of astrology.
In this sense astrology reminds me of the wave/particle “mystery” in physics. You can view astrology both ways, as either a (3-part) system which feels quite “closed” or as an 4-part system which feels more “open,” but not both ways at the same time.
However, when we talk about astrology, we usually mean the 4-part type of astrology. And most astrologers work with the chart system of astrology, so that is what we’ll mean when we discuss astrology as a system from now on.
Astrology as a Whole System
This is where astrology gets complicated and wonderful. It becomes a mathematical puzzle. The “open systems” of individuals and planets become interconnected within the “closed systems” of houses and signs by the degree around the horizon where they are found in the sky at a particular place at a particular moment in time in reference to the person (or other unique entity).
Thus, an open system of planets interacts against the background of space in the form of a closed system of houses and time in the form of a closed system of the zodiac signs. The individual becomes the primary intersection, or access point, into a particular space and time occupied by planets and other heavenly bodies where they have relationships with each other which affect that person. This is the birth chart of an individual.
An individual can also become part of a progressed reading that looks at the present time and place as well as the birth time and place for that person. “Individuals” too, like the planets, are an open system that can change over time and space. To see astrology as an open system, just do the chart for Jane’s birthday instead of Joe’s birthday or for Chicago instead of London. The number of individual readings that can be done aren’t infinite, but quite close to it.
This is why astrology as a whole system seems most like an open system of knowledge organization. Individual charts can be generated “ad infinitum.” But astrology does not have a completely open structure. It’s structure can’t be compared with “open” systems like the Major Arcana of the Tarot, the Nordic Runes, or the Library of Congress classification system.
Nor is astrology really comparable with the whole Tarot system. The Tarot consists of two separate “open” and “closed” parts: the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana. In contrast, the 2 “open” and 2 “closed” parts of astrology are closely integrated together to form an organic whole. As a result, we need to look at an additional system of knowledge organization to find a comparison with astrology.
Next month we’ll start with the third modern library system for organizing knowledge. This system, the first “faceted” system, is called the Colon classification. The idea of faceted classes was invented by the Indian mathematician, S.R. Ranganathan (1892-1972), the “father of library science.” We’ll see how closely Ranganathan’s modern library system relates to astrology and why.
With this comparison as a basis, we can finally discern what the commonalities and differences among these worldwide ancient and modern systems mean. And we’ll see what these systems for organizing knowledge can tell us about our past and our futures.
Copyright © 2008 by Nancy K. Humphreys