Although we can learn something about the astrological meaning of the planets from their physical position in the solar system, the planetary symbols themselves are also extremely revealing. It is important to get to know these symbols, since they are part of the language of astrology, and practising drawing them - when you are on the bus or on the telephone - will help you to make them yours. As we develop our own relationship to the planets, we also develop our own particular writing style for the symbols.
The planetary symbols, or glyphs, are derived from a combination of the symbols for Spirit, Soul and Matter, from which all life is said to derive in varying proportions. Their essential meanings can be found by analysing their individual components:
Symbols are complicated things since, as Jung observed, they can never be fully interpreted - they can only be experienced. Symbols transcend the split between the rational and the irrational, the known and the unknown.Sun and Moon
The symbol for the Sun is pure Spirit with the dot of consciousness in the centre. The symbol for the Moon is pure Soul, with two - or sometimes three - arcs reaching 'backwards' towards the past. It is symbolically significant that in neither case is the cross of matter present.
The Earth is the planet on which our lives become manifest, and the cross of matter is placed in the centre, surrounded by the circle of Spirit, within which all life is contained.
Mercury contains all the symbols, signifying the potential integration of spirit, soul and matter and the synthesis of all the other planets, as well as the relationships between them. Soul - the mediating and connecting principle - is in the most elevated position, above the Spirit, with Matter at the base.
Venus and Mars
Venus and Mars symbolise the physical manifestations of the male/female polarity in the world. Originally, the symbol for Mars was the cross of matter above the circle of spirit, and the symbols therefore complement each other, with Venus elevating spirit over matter and Mars elevating matter over spirit. In neither case is the symbol for the soul present.
Jupiter and Saturn
The symbols for the next pair of planets, Jupiter and Saturn, concern the relationship between the soul and body. With Jupiter, the soul is elevated over the cross of matter, signifying the importance of finding a meaningful connection (soul), 'something to live for' in the manifest world. Jupiter frees the soul from the dominance of matter. With Saturn, the cross of matter is elevated over the soul, signifying that the soul's yearnings must be given shape and form within the limitations of existence in time and space.
Uranus, Neptune and Pluto
Uranus shows the cross of matter bracketed by two vertical lines of mind, over a small circle of spirit indicating the power of the mind to harness natural forces. An alternative symbol for Uranus replaces the two vertical lines of mind with two arcs of soul facing away from each other, one towards the past and one towards the future, harnessed by the cross of matter between them. Neptune is the crescent of soul impaled upon the cross of matter. Soul reaches upwards but is penetrated, or trapped, by matter. The symbol for Neptune, therefore, could be said to portray the soul's suffering while it is encased in matter, and its longing to return to its source - the spirit. Pluto is a composite of all three symbols - the crescent of the soul enclosing a small circle of spirit, with the cross of matter below. Spirit could be said to dominate matter through the medium of the soul. An alternative explanation is that this symbol is a combination of the letters P and L, the initials of Percival Lowell, its discoverer.
There are two possible explanations for this symbol. The first is to interpret the symbol above the circle simply as the letter K, after Charles Koval, the astronomer who first discovered Chiron's presence in the solar system. Alternatively, we could interpret this as the vertical line of mind, from which two diagonal lines emerge, one moving upwards and the other moving downwards. The diagonal lines could represent the combined, integrated horizontal-vertical body-mind, reaching upwards the heavens and downwards towards the earth.
Audience: I can understand that the combination of mind and body makes the cross of matter and describes manifestation, or something real and tangible in this world, but I am not so clear how Spirit and Soul come into the picture, or what the difference is between them.
Clare: This is a huge question and, of course, very relevant from the point of view of astrology's roots in the ancient mystery traditions. Although the birth chart describes our manifest lives in space and time, it always fascinates me that the great mysteries of the spirit and the soul always seem to hover in the background as we study and practice astrology, however pragmatic our approach. Jung observed that the spirit and the soul are present in all cultures, religions and languages but, being symbols of essence, they are almost impossible to define exactly. The Greek word anemos ('wind') refers to the 'breath of life' and from this root are derived the two Latin words animus ('spirit') and anima ('soul'). This tells us that spirit and soul share the same source but, as James Hillman point out, 'the ways of the soul and those of the spirit only sometimes coincide' . Rather, they reflect a fundamental tension in human life. Spirit and soul are symbols like yang and yin, representing two slants on life, two perspectives.
By analogy, spirit and soul are related to each other as the Sun is to the Moon and as masculine is to feminine, as Logos is to Eros, as Apollonian is to Dionysian, polarities which are reflected within every birth chart. The world of spirit, like the Sun, is 'transcendent, blazing with light and fire'.  Spirit is 'superior', masculine, conscious, rational, transcendent, clear. It is the "highest goal of all development and evolution, and the ground of all life, as present fully in the beginning as in the end".  The world of soul, or psyche, on the other hand, can be found in the diffuse impressions lying beneath the surface of everyday experience. Soul is vulnerable, it remembers and suffers. Soul is 'inferior', feminine, unconscious, dark, immanent. The soul is the mediating principle between the world of spirit and the realm of matter. Without soul there would be no connection between the spirit and the world.
Copyright ©2005 by Clare Martin.
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