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Riding the Bull

By Dana Gerhardt

illustrationImagine you didn't recite the names of the months in kindergarten; instead you learned about the year through the sky, watching the morning stars rise. When Aldeberan appeared - the brightest star in the Taurus constellation - you knew at six you would finally get your bicycle. When Rigel arrived one moon later, your mother would gather sweet berries and bake them into a pie. At summer's peak, you'd stay up late, watching the moon grow bigger, brightening all the rooftops in the neighborhood. You were sad to see the waning crescent. It meant Sirius would soon be rising and school would be starting again.

Imagine you still watch the sky, waiting each year for Aldebaran, the left eye of the Taurus Bull. You love how it ushers in an abundance of strawberries and watermelon at the supermarket. You watch the moon's cycle and make a promise to yourself. You'll fast on watermelon juice for the three days of the dark moon and be clear and strong by the time Rigel appears. Of course you wouldn't think of going a single morning or night without looking skyward.

Imagine: kinder than the clock and more reliable than your iPhone, the stars, honoring your life as you honor them. In every house in your neighborhood, there's a row of eastern-facing windows. And eastern-most window of your home, before dawn in your daughter's bedroom, Sirius will appear one late-summer morning, announcing it's time to shop for a new backpack and new-school-year clothes.

Of course that's not how we live today. Concentrated on small electronic devices in our palms, we look down more than up. I imagine explaining this to an ancestor, one who consulted the sky as regularly as I do my BlackBerry. "Oh ancestor, I need neither the seasons nor the moon. I vary neither my work nor my diet with the sun. I can travel in one day by car as far as you traveled in three moons by foot. I have a house big enough to shelter a small village, though there are only three of us. And we are as warm in winter as our energy bill is high."

"No sun, no moon, no stars?" There is a look of confusion on my ancestor's face, a sea of thoughts that churn until out comes a single question: "But then, who do you praise and pray to?"

The Taurus Touch

From 4000 BC until 1700 BC, the constellation of the Taurus Bull rose at the vernal equinox. Heralding spring's rebirth, sacred bulls and cows appear in mythologies throughout the ancient world, their images found in temples and cave paintings, on jewelry, bowls, and coins. Our ancestors followed the stars. They gathered food from the land and listened for messages from the gods. They could embrace three virtues in a single gesture, binding together what's practical, natural, and mystical. Today we separate these things and synchronize our lives to the efficient rhythms of machines. Though we are busy and fast, our streets show plenty of rage and sorrow. Clearly something in us remains unsatisfied, longing to weave spirit, earth and sky into our daily lives again. Such wholeness is the gift that Taurus can offer us. But how do we redeem to it? Maybe Hercules will show us how.

heracles sculptureFor his Taurus labor, Hercules must (not surprisingly) capture a bull. For reasons we'll later explore, Poseidon has driven the Cretan Bull mad. It's broken free from King Minos' herd and is now rampaging through the countryside. Following King Eurytheus' command, Hercules heads to Crete, locates the handsome animal, ropes it, then rides it back to Eurytheus, who orders it released again into the wild, where it wreaks havoc for a few more years until Theseus finally slays it.

What a strange story! Hercules typically goes to the ends of the earth for his labors, losing men and sometimes heart along the way. Summoning superhuman wit and strength, he faces formidable foes, finds magical objects, reshapes the land, and wrestles with gods. His Taurus mission has none of this drama. Crete is nearby. The Bull submits easily. The ride back is uneventful. And once the labor is done, the Bull goes back to doing what it did before, until another hero arrives to complete the tale.

If it's true there were originally only ten labors instead of twelve, C. Kerenyi suggests this is surely one of the later additions.[1] But investigating the story's legitimacy is not our purpose. In matching labors to zodiac signs, we follow a more recent tradition, taking our cue from Alice Bailey, one of several Theosophists who helped shape the way we practice astrology today. So we'll accept Baily's schema [2] and endeavor to understand this labor's message, possibly finding in its very ease an important Taurus teaching.

Although the plot is uneventful, we could say that Hercules does perform super-humanly in this tale, as he has no difficulties whatsoever! Real life is never this easy, but perhaps it's the goal of Taurus to make it so. Hercules finds his target without delay, subdues the beast without struggle, and patiently rides it home. We like our heroes to charge out, wield clubs, and dominate their opponents, but those are masculine values and Taurus is a feminine sign. Its goals are simplicity, security, and peace. Its virtues include receptivity and acceptance. Hercules is a follower in this labor. He follows the signs to reach the animal's location, senses the temperament of the beast, and after soothing its insanity, gently leads it on. Hercules doesn't even protest when the King says "Release the Bull," as though his laboring were all for nothing. Hercules simply steps aside so that Destiny (and another hero) can take over.

For his Taurus mission, Hercules renegotiates what's heroic to include more feminine values. Many moderns who've lost touch with earth and sky have also disconnected from the potency of the divine feminine. As Robert Hand suggests, our culture tends to revere the active masculine and denigrate the passive feminine, not fully understanding its role - and the role of Taurus - as matrices for creative manifestation.[3] Taurus is the container that allows energy to manifest on the physical plane; it draws the creative spark of Aries into form. Its actions are feminine: it submits instead of subdues, it would rather belong than fight, it favors nurturing over destruction. It harmonizes with the greater whole. It can also be fierce and protective when necessary. Just as the divine feminine can rage and pout, so can the Taurus Bull steam, stamp and charge to protect its peace. Bulls, of course, are masculine; but we shouldn't forget the Taurus Bull is ruled by Venus and so takes its orders from the feminine.

Each zodiac sign corrects the excesses of its preceding sign, and Taurus is no exception. Notes Robert Hand: "Taurus is the remedy for almost all of Aries's deficiencies."[4] Aries' energy is initiating and courageous, also excitable, erratic and scattered; it's fiery, harsh, and as gardeners know, the Moon in this sign is sterile. In contrast, Taurus is cool, soft, and fertile; it's stable, persistent, and can concentrate its energies toward growth. Without Aries there would be no seeds; without Taurus there would be no gardens.

Venus MalereiTaurus is most at home in the physical world. So perhaps the most appropriate way to enter this sign is through physical sensation. Imagine being Hercules touching the flank of the Cretan Bull. Can you experience Taurus' keywords as actual sensations? Feel the stability, loyalty, and patience of the Bull, its sensuality and grass-eating indulgence. Perhaps you can sense a temper too, the capacity to charge or dig hooves in the ground. Depending on the day, you might feel a distinctly lazy energy, habit-loving and slow, also beauty-loving and grateful for the natural world. Imagine climbing onto this beast and riding it just as Hercules did, going slowly and steadily towards your goal. Can you sense how to ride like this through the conditions of your Taurus house - among your friends if Taurus is in your 11th, at your daily workplace if Taurus is in your 6th, with your partner if Taurus rules your 7th? Does the bull's slow pace and sensual indulgence feel comfortable or irritating here? Are you at home in this house - like Ferdinand eating flowers in sweet pasture? Or do you feel like a bull in a china shop, knocking plates off shelves with your horns?

The Bull is a useful metaphor for Taurus, but few of us live around real ones today. Even so, there are plenty opportunities to sense and touch this sign. Take yourself to Taurus environs: into lush gardens, art galleries, banks and stock brokerages, around trees, on carpets, in cellars, surrounded by your possessions, near copper or cows. Sense what invisibly draws these places and objects into existence. Allow this field to permeate you. Whenever possible, touch Taurus objects with deep attention: rings, floors, precious stones, your checkbook, musical instruments, lilies, your wallet, moss. Make it a practice to listen for the sounds of Taurus: a chorus in song, the ring of a cash register, a grunting pig. Become aware of the Taurus-ruled parts of your body: the base of your skull, your bottom teeth, lower lip, chin, your jaw, ears, and throat. Soundlessly, connect to the source of your voice.

How do planets feel in Taurus? Imagine Mercury, Saturn, or Venus meeting its fixed, earthy, and receptive qualities. Imagine being in this sign as each archetype. It might feel like being held in the trunk of a tree, holding still as a tree, your arms warmed by the sun, your leaves stroked by the wind, the sky opened wide for your branches. You're anchored; you can hold so much-ants, birds, spiders, and squirrels. What does it feel like to be committed to one spot forever? Does swift-moving Mercury enjoy this? How about pleasure-loving Venus? What feeds you? Feel your roots sinking deep into the earth, drawing your nourishment from this dark, constant storehouse. Imagine your response if you were struck, if your bark were carved or peeled, if your branches were cut by loggers or ravaged by storms, if your trunk were split by lightening? How would Saturn in Taurus react?

Sensing Taurus this way might help us better understand why those with Taurus planets can be so immovable at times, resistant to change, endlessly acquiring, indulging, hanging on. It's also easy to see why the nourishing, sensitive Moon is exalted in Taurus. And why, itchy-for-action Mars is in its detriment in this sign.

Taurus craves security. Its stability and loyalty can deepen our pleasure in living on earth. Its weight can slow us down enough so that we can appreciate the sky again or listen to the wind or read messages in the clouds. Taurus is practical too, encouraging a methodical attention to any task. Although I don't have planets in Taurus, this sign brings an anchoring presence to my beliefs through its 9th house placement in my chart. With my Sagittarius Sun (and perhaps my California birth), I'm particularly receptive to the latest new ideas and modalities ("Wear a pyramid on my head? Sure!"). But each new discovery must pass my Taurus 9th house reality test. If I can't ground the new concept into my body, if I can't literally feel its truth, if it won't nourish and sustain me as the soil does a tree, my interest disappears.

Making Peace with the Bull

"You're not a Taurus, are you?" Whenever I'm in a group and someone discovers I'm an astrologer, a conversation about loved and hated zodiac signs generally ensues. This usually says more about people's propensity to love and hate things (especially other people) than it does anything meaningful about zodiac signs.

"I don't like Taurus," the man repeated. The strangest thing about this comment was him. He was short and stocky, with a strong, stubborn jaw. He seemed earthy and solid, the kind of person you wouldn't push but could lean on. He didn't talk much; when he spoke, the words came slowly, deliberately. From what he shared, he'd been loyal to friends and family, but was angry about the instability this had brought him. To help his family through a rough time, he'd sold his possessions and had to keep flying back and forth to his native country Peru. During breaks in the workshop we were both attending, he mostly stayed put, wrapped in his coat, motionless as a rock. If I were to "guess his sign" (a game I never actually play), Taurus would have been my first choice.

"I'm a Sagittarius," he said. "Me too," I replied. We looked at each other and instantly recognized that despite our common sun signs, we had no affinity. We turned to continue our conversations elsewhere. "My mother and brother-in-law are Taurus," I overheard him saying. Vaguely I tallied his move away from his homeland as something Sagittarian, but everything else about his style and current misery said Taurus.

Perhaps he was a Taurus rising or had a Taurus moon. Maybe we would have recognized our Sagittarian likeness in another context. Though I love astrology, typing people by signs has always been my least favorite use for it. I don't like the way it divides us into zodiac "visitor" and "home" teams, or within, into a kaleidoscope of various personality traits. With or without the man's chart in front of me, I could see that he desperately needed a new relationship with Taurus. Horoscopes hold all twelve signs and each is a part of us in some measure. As transiting planets cycle through our charts in overlapping rhythms, every sign will have its time.

"I have" is the key phrase for Taurus. And problems with possession can plague us in this sign. I don't know why the Peruvian man disliked his Taurus mother and brother-in-law, but a likely story is that someone took the desire-to-acquire in the wrong direction. At least that's what got the Cretan Bull in trouble. Before Hercules rode it, King Minos desired it. Minos was an early practitioner of the Law of Attraction and liked to brag about his special relationship with the gods. He claimed he could manifest whatever he wanted. To prove it he prayed to Poseidon, requesting a bull from the depths of the sea, which he promised to immediately sacrifice back. Poseidon sent a splendid bull, so good, in fact, that Minos couldn't bear to part with it. He concealed it among his herd and sacrificed another in its place. Furious, Poseidon drove the Bull crazy. Then he caused Queen Pasiphae to fall in love with it.

minotaurOthers say that Venus was to blame, that like her husband, Pasiphae lacked proper reverence and had neglected to honor Venus for so long, the goddess cursed her with a most unnatural desire. Whichever god caused it, poor Pasiphae kept visiting the cattle yard and suggestively dropping her robe, but the Bull paid no attention. Finally she asked the gifted maker Daedalus to build a wooden cow for her to hide in, and that's how the Bull made love to her. Pasiphae gave birth to a hideous monster, half/man, half/bull. Suitably shamed, King Minos arranged for Daedalus to build a labyrinth in which to hide the beast. Seven youths and seven maidens were regularly sacrificed to feed the Minotaur.

It's a cautionary tale for Taurus, not surprisingly about wealth and sex. Taurus is meant to love the world of form, but not too much. Compare Minos stealing the Bull with Hercules riding it. Hercules models an easy control of the animal, and symbolically, his own animal passions. He moves with ease, as we should in Taurus, respecting the natural flow. When we do, we move gracefully. We enjoy what we have when it's time to have it. And we release what the gods want back when it's time to let go. But violating natural law, King Minos hangs onto the Bull. He is possessed instead of possessing. His desire controls him. Soon he'll be stuck with a monstrosity.

The creativity of Taurus, represented by Daedalus, is bent to poor purposes in this story-constructing a wooden cow and a deadly labyrinth. Recently I visited a lovely Taurus Sun/Moon with Cancer rising. She lives alone but is helpless to control all the clutter in her house. Every cupboard and closet is crammed with family keepsakes that she claims loved ones insist she save for them. How did she lose her ability to say no? I think of another Taurus who's worked for years at a job he says is making him sick. And another who is stiff and heartbroken, refusing to forgive her adult children. These are the cows and labyrinths that real Tauruses can build for themselves-getting into unnatural holding places with rationalizations as worn and circular as the paths in a labyrinth, over time losing life force, just as the sacrificed youths lost theirs. In the myth, clever Theseus eventually slays both the Cretan Bull and the Minotaur. Surely he's a Gemini hero, hinting at how Taurus excess and stubbornness can be corrected with the next sign's virtues, its adaptability, quick wit, and lightness of being.

Wealth and Well-Being

Taurus is so readily associated with money that its wealth is an astrological cliché. But having Taurus planets doesn't necessarily make someone rich or even good at managing their funds. I have two friends with sun in Taurus. One has money; it runs through the others' fingers. A closer look at their chart provides some clues. The one with money has an 8th house sun and achieved her wealth through 8th house means: inheritance and investments. The other's sun is in the 6th house of employment; sure enough, she's always had to work for wages (low ones at that).

But to stop here misses a deeper point. Consider what astrologer Barbara Watters says about earth signs and financial management: "In my years of actual experience with clients ... continually telling earth people they were practical and had sound values about money simply didn't wash. In the first place, they knew it wasn't so, and the practical money-oriented jobs I suggested-always following the rules in the books-often didn't appeal to them."[5]

"Many painters and sculptors have a strong Taurus emphasis, and they're not money-oriented at all. I think the materialistic label comes from the fact that Taurus is preoccupied with the tangible and the physical. (...) All the fixed signs function primarily as organizers. Leo organizes power, Scorpio organizes knowledge, Aquarius organizes society, and Taurus organizes the physical resources of the individual or earth. (...) Taurus loves the process of organizing the physical assets of the earth, whether or not it makes him rich."[6]

This describes both of my Taurus friends: the one poring over her stock portfolio, the other sorting her beloved books, beads, paints, feathers and fabrics. Which resources we organize with Taurus is our choice. It could be money, sex, art or something else. But it's what and how we choose that defines our Taurus experience. May we choose with the steady honor of Hercules, not as greedy Minos or his goddess-neglecting wife, but with full reverence, knowing that what we touch and hold in Taurus is sacred. Let's appreciate what we receive. Let's create with care. And let us always be lovers here.

  1. C. Kerenyi, The Heroes of the Greeks (Thames and Hudson, 1959), p. 159
  2. Alice Bailey, The Labours of Hercules (Lucis Publishing, 1974)
  3. Robert Hand, Horoscope Symbols (Whitford Press, 1981), p. 213
  4. ibid., p. 213
  5. Barbara H. Watters, What's Wrong with Your Sun Sign? (Valhalla Paperbacks, 1970), p. 82.
  6. ibid., p. 81.

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