Apollon, Ocotber 1998
In this article, Liz Greene sets her gaze on the Sun and the solar god Apollo. She writes in her sparkling, lucid style about the main mythic functions of Apollo, namely cosmocrator, prophet, breaker of family curses, healer, and culture-bringer, and the relevance of these to understanding the astrological Sun.
"What is a poet? He is a man of religious experience whose creative gift enables him to communicate spiritual truths to men. His poetry can bring deliverance from spiritual death, bringing his hearers to a new knowledge of their divine Creator, who gave him this special power. In this way souls that have been disordered can be healed, and the human relation with God may be restored when it has been impaired...This is the fruit and indeed the purpose of music and poetry, direct gifts from God to mankind."
Myth and astrology have always been handmaidens, for both are symbolic expressions of the human perception of the cosmos. From Babylonian times onward, the planets, luminaries and fixed stars have represented not only forces or agents which influence or correspond with human affairs, but also characters in stories which express in imaginal form the archetypal patterns inherent in life and in the human psyche. The astrologer who is willing to explore the mythic background of the planets taps a rich resource of understanding and insight which can amplify and enhance our grasp of astrological symbolism; and this in turn makes us better astrologers because we can enter into the client's inner world and communicate our interpretations in language which touches the heart as well as the intellect. The importance of myth is nowhere more emphasised than in our interpretations of the astrological Sun, which is encrusted in myths from many ages and cultures. Keywords such as "self-expression" do not really help us; mythic images convey much more of the energy and intent of the Sun. And none of these mythic images is more relevant to the expression and meaning of the Sun in the individual horoscope than the nature and role of the Greek Sun-god Apollo (we have dropped the final "n" from the name in popular usage, but his correct Greek name is Apollon). This deity stands behind not only the foundations of Western culture, but also behind many of the attributes which Christianity later appropriated and associated with Christ.
Apollo has been called the "gentleman of Olympus", the most quintessentially Greek of all the Greek gods. In sculptures and frescoes he is invariably portrayed as beautiful and youthful; rarely clothed, his body is athletic and of those perfect proportions so idealised by the Greeks. But the origins of Apollo are far more ancient than classical Greece; archaeological evidence suggests that the beginning of his cult predates the Bronze Age. There are many mysteries surrounding the emergence of this god, not least his name, about which scholarly arguments still rage. We know of the origins of his Greek form as early as the 8th century BCE, and by the 5th century BCE he was associated not only with the Sun but also with prophecy, healing, the breaking of family curses, and the bringing of artistic inspiration (especially music and poetry) to human beings. These multiple attributes make him a difficult god to comprehend, for initially we may fail to see the connections between his many different faces. But the more we delve into Apollo's many functions, the greater is our understanding of what the Sun really means in the horoscope.
Apollo the light-bringer
Just as the Sun itself was perceived in the ancient world as the giver of light, Apollo as the representative of the Sun was perceived as the giver of inner light. "Know thyself" was the dictum carved in stone at his shrine at Delphi, and this emphasises the importance of Apollo as a symbol of consciousness. The god was not understood as the physical Sun in the heavens; he was the carrier of the Sun, bearing it from East to West each day in his golden chariot. The physical Sun was remote and untouchable; it was the One, the essence of life itself, impossible to approach or fully comprehend. Apollo's human form tells us he is a reflection of something within the human psyche - a vessel or carrier for the ineffable. It is not surprising that Pythagoras and Plato both favoured Apollo, for philosophy in its most profound sense - the love of wisdom - is related to this process of acquiring consciousness in order to reconnect with what Plato called the "eternal realities". Apollo's role as breaker of family curses and slayer of the darkness was pre-eminent, and it was to him that those tormented by guilt from the past turned. In myth, his conflicts with female chthonic underworld deities such as the giant serpent Python and the terrible Erinyes or "Furies" mark him as the champion of that which is free over that which is bound by the forces of fate and ancestral compulsion. Yet although he is the conqueror of these forces, he also incorporates them into his worship; the Python becomes one of his chief symbols, not only in its serpent form in Greco-Roman iconography, but also through the priestess called Pythoness who communicated the god's oracle. These chthonic mother-deities were also honoured at Delphi through the presence of the omphalos or navel-stone, the centre of the earth, where the light of the Sun incarnated on earth. On coins issued at Delphi we may see the image of the omphalos or navel-stone as a point at the centre of a circle; the circle was associated with Apollo because of the great round of the Sun through the heavens, and because the circle is without beginning and without end and therefore suggests divinity and eternity. While there is no direct documentary evidence to suggest that the use of this image - the point in the circle - later gave rise to our astrological glyph for the Sun, first used during the Renaissance, the connection is impossible to ignore.
What does this role of light-bringer imply in terms of how we interpret the Sun in the horoscope? First of all it suggests that the symbol of Apollo describes some fundamental centrality within us - a core identity or sense of personal destiny which arises from consciousness of ourselves as individuals, and which has the power to dispel the compulsions which arise from one's childhood and family background. The Greek "family curse" is a vivid description of unresolved unconscious conflicts which wend their way from generation to generation, eventually arriving on the psychic doorstep of the "identified patient" (as he or she is known in family therapy) who acts out the burden of this unconscious inheritance through physical or psychological illness. Anyone who has experienced the power of compulsions - whether for drugs, alcohol, food, or through destructive or self-destructive behaviour - will know how impossible it is to reason these away, and often it is only through a prolonged and honest exploration of trapped feelings from the past that any release can come. The therapeutic process is thus an Apollonian process, not because it is intellectual, but because it is aimed at increasing consciousness and bringing light into the darkness. That which is kept in the dark cannot change or grow. Non-verbal therapies can also achieve this goal; Apollo is not biased toward any special school of psychological thought, as long as the process serves the growing sense of an inner self. The Sun in the horoscope is thus an image of something within us which is capable of forming a central and indestructible identity around which the horoscope revolves - an ego which can contain and perhaps even transform the various conflicts and imbalances which every horoscope possesses. Such conflicts and imbalances, if exacerbated by early difficulties without any conscious light to illuminate their origins and nature, can result in great suffering.
Apollo the cosmocrator
Apollo is also the cosmocrator, the centre around whom the solar system revolves. In this role he is often portrayed in ancient art holding or wearing the zodiac wheel, for the zodiac is a representation of the ecliptic - the apparent path of the Sun around the earth - in imaginal form, reflecting a cycle of development which is embodied in the seasons and expressed also in the multi-levelled cycles of an individual life. (See images on inside front cover and overleaf.) It is worth noting that the zodiac is a Greek invention, and coincides in time with the growing power of the cult of Apollo in the 5th century BCE. Apollo and the astrology which we have inherited from the Greeks are deeply linked, and both reflect the same essential perception of an orderly cosmos. The orderly motion of the cosmos depends on Apollo as bearer of the purpose and intelligence of the divine light of the Sun, and it is his reasoning principle that keeps the planets in their courses. Here again we can gain a lot of insight into what function the Sun serves in the horoscope, for this centrality puts the individual at the centre of his or her life, and allows the other factors in birth chart to relate to each other in harmony. The orderly motion of the cosmos was understood as the Music of the Spheres, and here the god of music and the god as cosmocrator overlap and represent a fundamental pattern in life which is both orderly and beautiful. Every birth chart might be seen in this way, regardless of how many hard aspects or planets in detriment or fall one might find; and perhaps we might say that it is the ability to express the Sun which makes it possible to unlock harmonious possibilities, rather than the nature of planetary aspects themselves. In other words, a Mars-Saturn square or a Moon-Pluto opposition may generate conflict, but they are truly destructive only when there is no central core from which the individual can relate to and balance the needs of these planets. The Sun is the great reconciler of internal planetary conflicts, allowing them to work for rather than against life. Once again, a sense of self is the glue which binds the chart together and allows us to express and mediate it rather than be controlled by it.
Apollo the artist
Apollo is a culture-bringer who inspires human beings to creative expression through the agency of the Muses. This group of feminine figures each represents one of the arts - and it is interesting to see just what the Greeks considered an art. Chief among the Muses was Calliope, the Muse of music, which is also one of the gifts of Apollo himself; hence the lyre with which he is often shown in ancient sculptures and frescoes. Urania is the Muse of astrology, or, to be more precise, of astrologia, which was the combination of astrology and what we would now call astronomy. From the perspective of this mythic backdrop astrology was not perceived as a science in the sense we would now use the term, but rather, as an art; and inspiration by the Muse was deemed necessary in order to tap its wisdom. The Muses were variously considered Apollo's companions, lovers, or daughters; all three versions exist in myth. But it is clear that, whatever relationship they hold with him, they are expressions of his power to touch and inspire human beings through the creative imagination.
We should therefore not be surprised at the link between the astrological Sun and the field of human creative expression, represented by the 5th house of the horoscope. The god provides the inspiration, but his Muses embody him in accessible form and serve as bridges between the god and the human imagination. In Gustave Moreau's magnificent painting of Apollo and the Muses, the god is shown sending the Muses forth to educate and inspire humankind. (See opposite.) Apollo's role is thus as educator, a word which comes from a Greek root meaning "to lead forth". This is Plato's idea of education - eliciting a response from the soul which reminds us of the higher spheres from which we have come. Art as education is rather different from art as entertainment, or art as political message. The solar dimension of artistic expression is a highly individual business, springing from deep within oneself and reflecting one's own special connection with the source of life. It is not a collective thing, although inspirational creative work may touch the feelings of the collective if one is sufficiently open to the larger psyche. But its source is not the collective; it is the individual Sun, the individual essence. The art of the astrological Sun may not necessarily be in a form recognisable as art; it may be embodied in the way one lives one's life. As a reflection of the role of consciousness in a person's life, this solar link with inspiration suggests that, wherever the Sun is placed in the chart, this is where we may experience a sense of connection with the divine through finding some vehicle or medium through which we can express that which is most inspiring to our own souls. Here we can see the connection between the Sun and vocation, whether that vocation is financially remunerative or something with which we are preoccupied alone in our private hours. It also suggests that everyone has a "vocation" in the deepest sense - even if it is not viable as a money-earning occupation in the world. But a sense of vocation cannot occur unless the individual is open to that inner inspiration, and willing to give loyalty to his or her individual values and vision.
Apollo the prophet
Prophecy is not something we ordinarily associate with the Sun. We tend to think of prophecy in connection with psychism, although psychism is related to a blurring of individual boundaries and a capacity to enter into the larger life of the cosmos (or the life of another human being) and feel what is occurring there. Prophecy, as it was expressed through Apollo's oracles, is something quite different. Apollo's was called Double-Tongued because his oracles were so perplexing; but what they expressed was a basic scheme or design, which could be interpreted (and usually was) from a purely personal point of view. Then the oracle generally went wrong, and we have many myths describing situations where the hero or heroine tries to cheat the oracle, or interprets it wrongly with disastrous results.
In other words, the message of the oracle was not "psychic", but revealed in a flash the essential pattern underpinning the individual's life, or highlighted the bare bones of a chapter in that life. We are really looking at what we mean by destiny, rather than "fate" in the compulsive sense, and in this respect Apollo's prophecies are indeed related to the astrological Sun. When we glimpse an inner design or destiny, it gives our lives meaning and gives us something to live for; and we can get insight into that design if we look at the placement of the Sun in the birth chart by house, sign and aspect. Here is our future, the person we are potentially capable of becoming and deeply wish and need to become, if we are to feel our lives have some reason other than eating, reproducing, and dying. We may misinterpret the flash of meaning which the Sun gives, depending on our age, circumstances, and emotional needs and conflicts. But the core story of the individual's destiny is already known somewhere inside, and this is perhaps why the Sun is so closely connected with vocation, one's "calling", or, as Howard Sasportas put it, "a call from the inner Self". Prophecy as a glimpse of destiny, and destiny embodied in vocation, reflect one of Apollo's most profound links with the astrological Sun. It is relevant that the oracle was given by the Pythoness; this suggests that we cannot directly hear the wisdom the Sun contains except through our feelings, bodies, and imagination. Without this mouthpiece Apollo's knowledge is inaccessible. But unless we actively seek Apollo's wisdom, the Pythoness is left with nothing to say.
We can also see the relevance of astrology to Apollo, in the sense that as astrologers we seek to interpret the inherent pattern, the core story of the individual's life. The birth chart is a form of oracle, not in the fortune-telling sense - although this dimension of astrology has always been with us - but as a means of ascertaining the basic design which is our destiny. That this design is inner rather than outer is something which psychological astrology strives to emphasise, although life circumstances tend to reflect and embody the internal story. And like Apollo's oracle, the configurations of the birth chart may be misinterpreted, by the astrologer as well as the client, because one lacks the perspective to view the whole picture and is focused on a special or immediate concern.
Apollo the healer
Apollo's role as a physician-healer led to the rise of many Asclepions or healing centres throughout the ancient world. Asclepios was said to be the son of Apollo, a facet of the god incarnated in human flesh, and at all these healing shrines some monument or structure was always included linking Asclepios with his divine father. Although there are many mysteries surrounding just what kind of medicine was practised at these healing centres, we do know that music played an important part, as did the inspiration and guidance of dreams. The astrological Sun is therefore an inner healer, and it may be important for us as astrologers to understand just what this might mean psychologically.
Sickness in terms of Apollo really means being cut off from the light of the Sun. The Greeks understood sickness to be psychic as well as physical, and the means of re-establishing harmony within the soul lay in music and dream-work - in other words, a relationship to what we would now call the unconscious. Today many of us tend to forget how profoundly music affects us, and how it can generate not only harmony but also disharmony. Music has become a political as much as a cultural issue these days, and we are in danger of losing sight of its educational and inspirational function. But music is the chief instrument of Apollo the healer, and music was understood to reflect the Music of the Spheres - the cosmic harmony. Thus sickness is a disharmony of the soul, a break in the human connection to the order of the larger cosmos; and healing is a restoration of inner harmony and a reconnection to the source. The will to live is deeply connected with the Sun in the horoscope, and the will to live arises from a sense of meaning; and this in turn arises from a feeling of being connected with something greater than oneself. The Sun gives us a feeling of being a vessel for something larger, something higher, and if we can put ourselves in harmony with it, we can find a meaning in life even if we experience tragedy and loss. Every physician knows that without the will to live, the ill patient will die, regardless of the efficacy of physical cures. In the ancient world the Sun was hyleg, the life-giver, and a loss of connection with the Sun meant a loss of the will to live.
The harmony suggested by these ancient metaphors may not mean harmony in one's life in the ordinary sense; no birth chart is devoid of conflict and neither is any human life. But a sense of alignment is one of the gifts of expressing the Sun in the horoscope, and this alignment with a greater pattern - a feeling of individual destiny and purpose - may lie closer to what was understood as Apollo's healing. The process of psychotherapy is an obvious arena today where the individual can reconnect with a sense of being what he or she is meant to be, freed from the pressures and expectations of family background and collective unconsciousness. The arts are perhaps another arena where this sense of reconnection can occur, provided they are kept free of politicising and not subsumed entirely in the gratifications of banal entertainment. But such a perspective is perhaps politically incorrect these days, for the word "elitist" is forever on the lips of those who do not wish to make the effort to find the inner connection which the Sun requires of us. To be an individual is to be alone and elite, as is the Sun-god himself.
When the Sun doesn't shine
Depression, loss of the will to live, feeling dominated by inner compulsions, too great a dependency on others, identification with the collective resulting in a sense of not being real unless others are there to provide a mirror - all these experiences may result if we do not express the Sun in the horoscope. And expressing the Sun means making room in one's life for the values and needs of the Sun-sign, involving oneself actively in the sphere of life represented by its natal house, and honouring the needs of the planets which aspect it. When we are cut off from the functions symbolised by the mythic Apollo, we experience passivity, powerlessness, meaninglessness, and loss of confidence. We need others to constantly affirm who we are, and we are frightened of having any individual feeling or opinion which might isolate us from the collective around us. No single planet in the birth chart is itself whole, and the Sun too may be overemphasised at the expense of instinctual needs and at the expense of others; Apollo is not the only god. But it is perhaps more common to meet individuals who have too little, rather than too much, Sun. As astrologers we need to ask ourselves why any individual should not be able to relate to the Sun in the horoscope. Practising astrologers have all met the client who displays nothing of the Sun, and cannot recognise any of the Sun-sign attributes in his or her temperament. Why should this be?
A number of factors may contribute to the inability or unwillingness to form a strong enough ego. First of these is the effect of the early environment, which, regardless of internal chart strengths, may, if it is destructive enough, succeed - for a time - in blanketing the Sun with a suffocating darkness so that it cannot shine. Systematic erosion of the child's sense of self may be part of this; parents who themselves cannot connect with Apollo's light may resent seeing it in their children, and may do their best to convince the child that it is the family that matters, not the individual. Collective pressures may also contribute, especially in societies where individual expression is tantamount to a criminal act, as it was under the old Soviet Union regime. But it is questionable whether a destructive environment can wholly thwart the light of the Sun if the individual himself or herself is not somehow caught in an inner conflict. To understand this we need to look at the aspects to the Sun in the birth chart, and also at the way in which the Sun "sits" in the chart in relation to the balance of elements.
A chart lacking in the element of fire may suggest that the individual finds it hard to trust the inspiration of the Sun, and may see himself or herself as "uncreative" or destined to serve those who are more creative. This generates an inner conflict which may be helped by an honest look at over-dominant security needs or too great a dependency on what others think. A child with such a chart balance, born into a family which emphasises responsibility to others, may readily take on the role of caretaker, and may fear self-expression as an instrument of loneliness and alienation from the family. Hard aspects to the Sun from planets such as Saturn and Chiron may also reflect an inner conflict, a deep doubt in one's worth as an individual which makes it hard to trust solar light. The Sun may be blocked, or there may be a strenuous overcompensation which offers no real relief. Such aspects to the Sun may also reflect issues with the father, who may himself be wounded or unable to express an individual vision, or who may be too critical, indifferent or disinterested to provide encouragement for his child's developing sense of self. The Sun can indeed be expressed however difficult its aspects, but a compromise may be required between vision and the reality of one's personal limits. Hard aspects from the Sun to the outer planets may also suggest a deep conflict between one's openness to and allegiance to the collective, and one's need to shine as an individual. Such a conflict also requires a compromise - a vehicle through which one may express one's own values and identity and also serve the collective for which one is a kind of mouthpiece. Everything here depends on balance; or, as we are instructed by the inscription at Delphi, "Nothing in excess".
House placements may also reflect an inner conflict between individual self-expression and collective factors; the Sun in the 8th, 11th, or 12th may suggest, like the Sun aspecting the outer planets, a deep openness to the collective psyche and a need to find a medium through which individual vision can be expressed as a contribution to the collective. The Sun in the 4th or 10th may reflect a powerful bond to one of the parents, which makes it hard for the Sun to convey the light of one's own self; rather, it is a vessel for the unlived life of the parent. There are many other ways in which inner conflict may be expressed in the chart, perhaps exacerbated by the early environment, which results in a loss of the Sun's light. Then we have to work harder to find and express the light. It should not be thought that a well-aspected Sun in the sign of its dignity or exaltation means one has no difficulties in life; too much Sun may be too much of a good thing, and for those in whom Apollo is thriving, the loss of lunar contact may present a different but equally painful kind of disconnection. But if we remember the symbol of the Sun-god as cosmocrator, loss of the Sun's light is tantamount to loss of a sense of individual meaning, and no amount of lunar emotional fulfilment can compensate for this. We may find a reason to go on living even if we are alone. But if we have no reason to live, then we will try to live through others; and when they disappoint us or refuse to allow us to continue along this path, we may then have to cope with the loss of the will to live which, in ancient times, was healable only through the agency of Apollo.
The price to be paid
The mythology of Apollo also tells us the price to be paid if we are to develop the Sun and define ourselves as individuals. Apollo is a god who stands alone, unmarried and often rejected by lovers; and he has bad luck with his children, all of whom come to early violent ends. Orpheus is torn to pieces by Maenads; Asclepios is struck by Zeus' thunderbolt; Phaeton crashes the solar chariot and is consumed in flames. Although loved by gods and humans alike, Apollo has no family and establishes no dynasty. This imagery should not be taken literally, for expressing the Sun does not necessarily deny us a family or good relationships with other human beings. But if we choose to be individuals, we may have to sacrifice the luxury of living through other human beings, and especially living through our partners and children, who may strongly resist what they experience as domination. Thus Apollo is an image of something within us which is alone and self-contained, and which can shine only if we are willing to detach sufficiently from others to affirm an individual centre and meaning. The price of enjoying the Sun's light is a certain degree of aloneness, although this is rarely literal in the sense of having no actual companionship. But inwardly, one cannot ever entirely sink into that state of unconscious fusion which exists when the ego has never fully formed. Some conflict with family and collective may be inevitable. However, the ancient astrological association of the Sun with the heart and with love suggests that what we often call love may actually be a state of psychic fusion and dependency; and it may even be that we cannot truly love another individual as someone separate and worthy of respect if we are not separate individuals ourselves.
Apollo is of course only one of a family of gods, and the Sun is only one of a family of planets in the birth chart. We cannot be entirely alone, for we are part of a larger system and would be wise not to forget our antecedents and our participation in the collective in which we live and move and have our being. But it is not surprising that, even given the nature of the unhappiness which arises when the Sun does not shine, we still show reluctance to pay the price for its light. Fear of loneliness is the great enemy of solar light, and so is fear of envy, which is tantamount to the same thing; for others' envy hurts deeply because we need others' love and approval so much. If we are too unsure of ourselves to risk the disapproval of others, we cannot express the Sun sufficiently. If we are worried that others will resent us if we produce, or simply are, something "special", then we must always ensure that we are ordinary, and may then attack and attempt to destroy others who dare to express solar light because we are eaten up by envy ourselves. This archetypal dilemma may be observed not only in myth but also in history, and in the questionable position of the artist in society. The artist is recognised as special and is usually glamorised, but often also attacked and even destroyed by the very people for whom he or she is the mouthpiece. This is not a political issue, but rather, an archetypal one, although it has taken political forms throughout the centuries. One example was Plato, that great adherent of Apollonian light, who was driven from Syracuse and nearly murdered when he attempted to restrict theatrical performances to those which educated rather than those which merely entertained. History as well as myth provides us with examples of how threatening solar light can be, and not only when it is itself overly dominant and expressed in tyrannical forms. For each individual, this archetypal conflict is relevant, for when we talk about individual creativity, we are really talking about the definition of an individual essence, different from that of everyone else, which has its own destiny and contribution to make to life. And because astrology itself is under the governance of Apollo, through his role as cosmocrator and also through his Muse Urania, we as astrologers may be called upon to take the role of the Sun when we interpret the chart for the client, shedding light on how the client's inner light may be encouraged, as well as making clear the reasons why it is not already shining, and the price to be paid if it does.