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The Hundred-Headed Dragon of Gemini

By Dana Gerhardt

illustration Years ago I took my first week-long meditation retreat. It was held in the high desert. I've long since forgotten the names and faces of my fellow dharma seekers. My teacher's wit and reprimands have faded too. Only one figure remains in memory: the wind. The desert wind was alive.

Moaning outside the zendo, flapping the blinds, it would suddenly open a door, then suddenly go silent. Mornings, when I watered the plants around the dormitory, the wind would grab handfuls of the precious water and toss them on the pavement where they could do no good. Once, when I was supposed to ring the bell announcing the afternoon sit, the wind ran ahead of me and stripped the sound from the air. Daily I swept the corridors outside the zendo. During a windstorm this might seem like a perfectly hopeless (or perfectly zenlike) task, but the wind never littered my walkways. Perhaps to confound expectations, it kept them completely clear. The same wasn't true of the desert. It roistered with the wind's cast-off playthings. Candy wrappers, plastic bags, and string were everywhere, pinned and waving from the stubbly plants. What the wind couldn't sail, it played like a virtuoso, clanging an old tin roof, drumming a loose board from an abandoned dog house, or strumming a thousand palo verde branches at once.

The wind was a trickster. It was quick, clever, playful; also restless, noisy, unpredictable, and infuriating. If the desert wind were a zodiac sign, there's only one it could be: versatile, elusive, inventive and scatter-brained Gemini.

This thought came to me during one of the meditation periods, when my mind was supposed to be stilled into silence. If you've ever kept a meditation practice, you'll understand. You'll know why sitting motionless on a zafu in a quiet room, with the support of a teacher and a dozen others likewise engaged, I was a prisoner of my racing mind. Constantly in motion, it leapt, chattered, and circled around itself, like the wind howling outside the zendo. Six hours after leaving my first retreat, the inner peace I'd struggled hard to achieve simply vanished. I only remembered the wind.

Through the wind we meet Gemini's spirit in the natural world. Through the mind we find Gemini inside ourselves. Consider the following observations about mind from Buddhist nun Ayya Khema. How closely they resemble astrology's descriptions of Gemini. "The mind is clever and manipulative. ... It has the ability to tell us anything. It can talk about any subject and see any side of a subject. ... We call it a magician, which is a good word for it. It can pull a rabbit out of any hat. It can rationalize to the point where we are always right and everybody else is wrong." This curious and agile mind of ours, just like Gemini, craves stimulation. "It wants to read a book, watch television, visit the neighbors, do some work, anything to be occupied and entertained. It cannot be happy and contented just on its own."[1]

We all have minds like this - which is why encountering Gemini means more than meeting the alternately delightful and exasperating traits of our Gemini friends. If your horoscope has Mercury (Gemini's ruler), a third house (Gemini's natural home), and Gemini somewhere on the wheel (everyone does), you too express its energy. It's just a matter of degree. More typically we use the zodiac to divide and classify, pretending that some signs are just about others. But all signs dance within us in some measure and it's the Gemini archetype that makes this possible. Gemini is the Great Connector. Aries initiates, Taurus stabilizes, and Gemini connects. It is through the action of this sign that information flows in our bodies, cell talking to cell. Through Gemini we register the cues in our environment. We learn from them. We reach out to others, communicate through language, and can understand multiple points of view. Through Gemini, we can shift with a roiling unity between the various sub-personalities of our chart. It's not just the Geminis who say one thing and do another, who pull answers out of thin air and later deny them, who can morph into a cutting evil twin. Just like our charming Gemini friends, we too have moments of ingenuity and dexterity. We juggle multiple enthusiasms and can be quite clever with our gossip and news.

zendoOne afternoon while sweeping outside the zendo, I looked up and discovered an amazing sight. Arcing beautifully through the air was a plastic grocery bag. Pearl white against a cloudless blue sky, this cheap little thing had been transformed by the wind into a marvel, a fantastic sailing globe. To make something out of nothing is a consummate Gemini skill. With its talented hands, Gemini can be an impressive mechanic or craftsperson, but what it most loves to play with is air, tinkering and toiling with ideas. "I think" is Gemini's key phrase. Through the agency of this sign and its ruler Mercury, we think, we read, we talk, we write. And now with Facebook and Twitter, we can live in a constant Tower of Babel. At internet cafes, there may be triple lattes in our cups, but we're all really drunk on Gemini.

But then how tiresome, contradictory, and insubstantial the mind's playthings can become. On Tuesday you're delighted with Marcia; on Thursday, your mind narrows in on her obvious flaws. You agree with today's editorial against finance reform; reading the opposite view just below it, you find that makes sense too. Maybe you should buy life insurance, no, save for your kids' tuition, no, you really need a new car. Shouldn't you wait for fuel technologies to improve? And oh! You forgot to update your blog. In the end, it's easy to agree with the Buddhists that all this precious content is empty, much like the baubles of the wind. How many thoughts have you had in the past hour? Can you remember any of them?

Thoughts move and the stronger Gemini is in your chart, the more quickly you'll move with them. Many of my Gemini clients have worried about their inability to focus or commit. Steve had bounced from one career to another. Once the job got old, usually about six months into it, he was ready to move onto something new. He had a horror of doing this for the rest of his life. I told him what a fine astrologer once told me: wherever Gemini appears, do two. It's the hidden message of its glyph. It's the advice in its symbol, the twins. Wherever this sign appears, find at least two things that please you. With Gemini on the Midheaven, keep two careers at once (I've been happiest when I do). With Gemini on the Ascendant, two wardrobes, two personas. Eleventh house Gemini? Two sets of friends. On the 3rd or 9th house? Read two books concurrently, have two majors in school.

Gemini is a nervous, high-energy sign. Planets here need two goalposts to dash between. When one direction gets tiresome, Gemini can keep up its spirits by running the other way. Likely there's a Gemini Moon or 4th house Gemini in the charts of those we sometimes hear about, with one family on the east coast and another kept quietly in a western state for years. Of course "doing two" isn't always easy. I've heard poignant complaints from Venuses in Gemini who were desperately in love with two people and just couldn't choose. Our culture prefers monogamy, but given the frequency of infidelity and divorce, perhaps Gemini is on to something.

How do we keep our lives interesting? That's the real Gemini question. We could be like the wind and just blow from one thing to another. Or we could be moscheherazadere like another Gemini icon, the Storyteller. Applying a storyteller's imagination to life can help us weave Gemini's myriad interests into a series of successful adventures. The secret is all in the plotting. Good storytellers hold our interest with smart pacing and suspense. Through patient and artful unfolding, they keep us interested, curious. And they know where they're going. Likewise, when Gemini has a goal that's seductive enough, it can carry itself through the alternately boring and daunting complications of any project. Gemini can learn from Scheherazade, one of the world's great storytellers. She saved her life and kept her king intrigued for a thousand and one nights-for if he'd ever grown bored with her, she'd have lost her head. Her trick? She wove beautiful stories, but stopped each tale at dawn with a cliff hanger that left the king wanting more. In the evening after that tale was done, she quickly started a new one.

A Taurus businessman with Gemini rising once explained to me how successful companies follow a similar strategy. They'll start something new just as their current projects are peaking. When its blue widgets are flying off the shelves, a good company will start developing its quad widget market. Thus, when the inevitable decline of blue widgets arrives ("The top," he explained, "means there's nowhere to go but down"), the revenue loss is offset by its growing quad-widget sales. Of course corporate innovators must have Gemini's ability to plug into the changing needs of the world they serve. Converting that into a series of well-paced goals can keep them successful for a long time. It's a good strategy for Gemini too.

Most people don't let themselves dream big enough, or true enough to their purpose. Some Geminis have the added problem of dreaming on air, dreams so disembodied or high-flying that on some level, even they don't believe they'll come true, so why bother yanking them into reality. After awhile this Gemini type is parked on the sidelines, repeating its cynical story ("Nothing will work...nothing is true"). It's a tired and wrinkled Peter Pan in sagging tights saying, "Sorry Wendy, I just can't believe anymore." You don't expect to find Gemini stuck, or even acting old. But it happens, especially when fear, restlessness, or boredom wins. That's when Gemini needs to rediscover its ignorance. It must search among its multiple personalities and locate the Gemini Fool, who knows absolutely nothing and of whom no one expects anything. He's the simpleton hero in all fairy tale quests involving three brothers. The youngest one, who doesn't know how to ride, hunt, or talk to a king, he somehow finds magical birds or golden apples or talking squirrels and achieves the treasure. Gemini's Fool lives in childlike curiosity and enthusiasm. If he must do the same thing everyday, he's so engaged, he doesn't even know that it's boring.

The key to Gemini's success

For years I worked at a market research firm. We were information brokers, testing public opinion on new products and advertising. We distinguished ourselves from competitors with our quick turnaround. Whatever our hesperidesclient's question, we'd get the answer sooner than anyone else. The building was a constant frenzy of activity. Walk by any desk and you'd find someone reading data with one eye, discussing another project on the phone, while writing a note to someone standing by their desk for yet another job. Who thrived in this environment? Geminis, of course! The company's founding chairman was a Gemini, and the ones most successful in it were usually Geminis too.

I began studying astrology while working there. It became amusing to watch new hires without Gemini planets (or without a strong 3rd house or Mercury), or even worse, with no air in their charts, eventually run screaming from the building. This could be how Hercules felt about his Gemini labor. His task was to retrieve three golden apples from the Garden of the Hesperides. The apple tree was Gaia's gift to Hera on her wedding day, and was guarded by Ladon, an immortal dragon with a hundred heads, all braying and yammering in different tongues. Beyond the dragon, encircling the tree were the Hesperides. Joyful daughters of Atlas in their garden of bliss, they were also death goddesses, who left their tree only to devour their prey.

Immortal foes cannot be killed. One can only outsmart them. Hercules stabbed at Ladon's heads with his sword and eventually saw this was futile. He threw rocks and fireballs. He punched and kicked. But the cacophonous heads never recoiled. Hercules tired himself out. He sat down and watched. After a few days he discovered an interesting fact: every day, just before the cock's crow, all two hundred eyes would shut for precisely one second. Hercules practiced running up hills to increase his speed and when he was ready, he raced past the sleeping dragon at just the right instant. Then he reached the death goddesses. They stopped their dancing and sneered at him. Politely he asked for three apples. They hissed and spat. So he studied them. He saw how beautiful were the ankles of one, the fingers of another, and the voice of the third. He wove these details into a clever rhyme which he recited one afternoon. Flattered, they asked to hear it again. "Only if you toss me the apples," he replied. Each was charmed enough to throw him one.

Listening is important in Gemini's labor. Ultimately, it's the key to this chatty sign's success. Hercules must be more like a student than a hero. To best his foes, he needs to learn how to be a Gemini, becoming observant, quick, clever, and charming. His foes are exaggerated versions of negative Gemini traits. Ladon's numerous wiggling heads suggest Gemini's penchant for talking through both sides of its mouth, constantly shifting direction, and just plain babbling. The Hesperides remind us of Gemini's duality, how quickly it can shift from joyful enthusiasm into a sneering point of view.

The apples represent the endless knowledge of the world that curious Gemini can't resist. Ladon and the Hesperides actually perform a service in guarding it, as do the Geminis with whom we sometimes argue. Their skepticism and inconsistencies may exasperate us, but they also test us. At their most contentious, Geminis make us pause and rethink our strategies, as the dragon/goddesses did for Hercules. Skeptical Gemini forces us to sharpen our minds. Publicity agents know that whenever public cynicism is high, the only story they can safely tell is an honest one. Likewise Gemini's cynicism can save us from getting mired in our own delusions. Gemini is an elastic sign, but periodically it gets exhausted from all this stretching. Then it turns against itself. Or it gets mired in its own falsehoods. That's another meaning for the golden apples: they're emblems for Gemini's need to keep nourishing itself.

I learned this from my own Gemini planet, Jupiter in the 10th house. Usually I feel quite blessed by this placement, but periodically I'm drained by its enthusiasms. What does my 10th house Jupiter in Gemini want? An easy way to understand any 10th house planet is to apply the word "professional" to whatever it symbolizes. With a 10th house Gemini Jupiter I could become a professional teacher, writer, or symbol reader (all of which I've been). In my twenties, I was in a Masters program at Columbia University, on my way to becoming a professional "literary academic," also Jupiter territory. But halfway through the program, I turned my back on Jupiter. My complaint? With this planet, I could make anything meaningful.

dragonThrough my Gemini Jupiter, I could read deep archetypal significance in the yellow pages, Hallmark cards, or patterns of leaves on a sidewalk. I could look at anything and identify its Shakespearan genius. My talent for reading symbolism seemed endless, indiscriminate and pointless. I dropped out of grad school. For the next ten years I smoked dope, watered houseplants, and watched soap operas. I wanted to be writing stories, but never managed to finish one. Like the dragon, I was just babbling.

What saved me was a local community college writing class. I think the teacher actually was a Gemini, though I can't trust my memory. Whatever his sun sign, Dr. Hertz retrieved the golden apples for me and reawakened my love of Jupiter's Gemini skills. Dr. Hertz read literature unlike anyone I'd met before. He did not interpret symbols and pronounce themes like an academician. Instead, he read authors more personally and aggressively, looking to each book for the answers to his own questions about life, confident he'd find the truths he was seeking. After a few weeks, I understood. It did not matter whether I read candy wrappers, Milton, or later, astrology symbols. What mattered was the authenticity of the questions I asked. If you ask stupid questions, you get stupid answers. But when you're charged with genuine curiosity about your work and your life, you'll find meaning everywhere. And that's not a curse. It's a gift.

Expressing Gemini properly

I've given you the short version of Hercules' Gemini labor. Of course it wouldn't be Gemini's story if there weren't at least two versions of the tale. The longer one, which is more often told, is full of action, brawls, honor, and trickery. It begins, as most Gemini adventures begin, with not-knowing. Hercules has no idea where the golden apple tree grows. Appropriately, he must go around the world seeking information. But first, near the river Echedorus, Cycnus challenges Hercules to a fight; their battling goes on all day until a thunderbolt breaks them up. At the next river, he charms two nymphs into showing him where the god Nereus lives. Nereus is a shape shifter. He turns himself into a rabbit, doe, nymph, stone and toad, hoping to escape, but Hercules catches him and holds fast until Nereus reveals the location of the Hesperides.

This sends Hercules through Libya, ruled at the time by Antaeus, who liked to kill strangers by forcing them to wrestle. Again Hercules must fight, but he makes quick work of Antaeus. Discovering his opponent gets his strength from touching the ground, Hercules hugs him, lifts him aloft, and breaks his back. In Egypt, our hero is delayed by Busiris. An oracle once advised Busiris that his crops would prosper if he sacrificed a stranger to the gods every year. Busiris began by sacrificing the seer and continued slaughtering all strangers who arrived. Hercules is seized and brought to the altar, but escapes and kills Busiris instead. Going through the Caucasus Mountains, Hercules discovers Prometheus, chained to a rock with an eagle devouring his liver. Hercules feels great compassion for the Titan who brought fire to mankind. He takes out his bow and shoots the eagle, which allows the bargain struck by Chiron (to change places with Prometheus) to proceed. A grateful Prometheus then sends Hercules to Atlas, holding the weight of the Earth on his shoulders. "Take the globe from him and he'll go get the apples for you," says Prometheus. Atlas does just that, but decides he likes being free of his burden. "I'll take the apples back to the King instead," he says. Hercules pretends that's okay, but asks Atlas to take the earth for just a minute so he can slip a pillow on his shoulders. When Atlas agrees, Hercules grabs the apples and runs.

geminiWhat an exhausting story! Here too we meet the best and worst of Gemini. The tale's odd plot indicates the variety of experiences Gemini must initiate and pursue. It's like an instruction manual for expressing Gemini properly. If we start near the story's end, we find Hercules has mastered commitment, as he can stand in one spot and takes the world on his shoulders. This contrasts with the flimsier Antaeus, who is weak when aloft, like the Gemini who flies from one thing to another without grounding himself. When Hercules shoots the eagle, he proves not only his capacity to focus, but his ability to play a useful role in someone else's story. Gemini seeks the apples of knowledge, but it's a social sign too, and must keep joining the world in meaningful ways. Our hero must also learn to avoid distractions, like his pointless fight with Cycnus. Seizing Nereus, Hercules develops persistence and the capacity to see the pattern of truth in changing shapes. Ending Busiris' charade, he takes a stand against gullibility and lies. Through his long adventure, Hercules learns how to think with clarity, flexibility and wit, which leads him to his final test, wriggling out of a burden that isn't his. Hercules must leave Atlas with the world on his shoulders, for like Gemini, he's got lots more adventures and learning to pursue. May you do the same with your Gemini planets!

  1. Ayya Khema, Being Nobody Going Nowhere, (Wisdom Publications, 1987), pp. 27, 29, 32.

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