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Chiron and the Centaurs

 

Sue Tompkins and Melanie Reinhart

Sue Tompkins is a very experienced consulting astrologer and teacher, a homeopath and winner of the Charles Harvey Award 2004. Here is the section on Chiron and the Centaurs from her new book 'The Contemporary Astrologer's Handbook - An in-depth guide to interpreting your horoscope'. Published by Flare Publications, Sept. 2004, U.K.

Sue: I was thrilled when Melanie agreed to contribute material on the Centaurs. Most of what follows is her work and that on Pholus and Nessus entirely so...

Melanie: Sue is a long-time friend and astrological colleague with whom I've had many fascinating conversations down the years, mostly on the subject of

healing in all its forms. It was a delight to collaborate with her and read what she'd created with the material I'd sent ...

Discovery and Astronomy:

Chiron was discovered by Charles T. Kowal on November 1st 1977 (1) at about 10am in Pasadena. When discovered it didn't fit into existing categories of celestial objects and for this reason has been re-classified several times having been defined variously as an asteroid, a comet, and a 'planetoid'. Indeed, it still holds 'dual classification' as comet 95P and Minor Planet 2060. Most of the time it is positioned between Saturn and Uranus but as a body that crosses the orbits of other bodies, it can at times be closer in than Saturn, and at others, further out than Uranus.

It has a cometary tail which can reach 300,000km in length and which appears to switch on and off - at times the tail can be seen, at others not. Once Chiron was discovered, its appearance was noted on photographic plates dating back as far as the late 1800s. It had been there all along, but not been noticed.

Likewise, in the horoscope, Chiron symbolises that which is 'hidden' by virtue of being so obvious we don't actually see it. Very small, only 180km in diameter, Chiron can also describe those things that, being so small, may seem insignificant, but in actuality are powerful. In keeping with it's continual re-classification as a celestial body, Chiron's meaning in the horoscope resists categorisation and defies description.

The Kuiper Belt:

The year 1992 saw the discovery of the Kuiper Belt, a large zone of matter surrounding the Solar System, comprising possibly billions of small celestial objects currently being discovered and classified. Named after the Dutch astronomer Gerald Kuiper (1905-1973) who predicted its existence, the Kuiper Belt has yielded several new astronomical categories including the 'Centaurs'. Some of the larger Kuiper belt objects (KBO's) or trans-Neptunians such as Quaoar, Sedna, Ixion and Xena may prove to be of more than passing astrological interest but so far, it is the Centaurs that have particularly caught the attention of astrologers'. More than twenty have been discovered, although only about twelve have been named.(2)

Centaurs are 'born' when objects are drawn in to the Solar System from the icy wastes of space in the region around Pluto, pulled in by the gravitational field of Neptune. In Greek mythology, the Centaurs were a tribe of unruly creatures who were half horse, half human; only a few have names and an individual story line.

Similarly, while there may be countless Centaurs awaiting discovery in the depths of the Kuiper Belt, only a few have been named, thus demonstrating a neat parallel with the mythology. Chiron will probably remain the most well known, the 'chief centaur' just as Ceres is the 'queen of the asteroids'(3) In mythology, it is mainly Chiron, Pholus and Nessus who have a substantial story line, and so far these are the three Centaurs proving to be the most useful in astrological terms.

Astrologers and astronomers co-operated in the naming process for several of the Centaurs and this is the first time in recorded history that this divide has been bridged. This rapprochement reflects Centaur themes: the bringing together of the scientific and the intuitive, the rational and inspirational, just as the half-horse, half-human image of the centaur brings together disparate opposites, and challenges us to integrate that which seems alien(4).

Orbital features:

The Centaurs then, are Minor Planets, which have some distinguishing features. They cross over the orbital paths of one or more other bodies between Jupiter and Pluto, and have very elliptical orbits. This means that they will seem to speed through some signs, astrologically, as they whiz round the narrower part of the ellipse while taking much longer to transit the signs on the long sides in-between these points. Thus Chiron spends about 8 years in Pisces and Aries and only about 2 in Virgo and Libra. To complete one complete orbit Chiron takes about 50 years, Pholus about 90 years, and Nessus 124 years.

These elliptical orbits will mean a big difference in the distance from the Sun at different parts of the orbit. For example, Chiron's mean distance from the Sun is 13.73 AU(5). At perihelion it is 8.453 AU, while at aphelion it is 18.899AU. Its period of axial rotation is 5.9 hours, and its orbital inclination to the ecliptic is a steep 7 degrees.

Symbolism of discovery:

Chiron's discovery at this pivotal time in our history reflects a process of innovation and change by 'quantum leap' - as well as technological changes - potentially changes of consciousness, belief, behaviour and life-style. In this sense Chiron bridges the realms of Uranus (radical change, revolution and the overturning of old collective structures) and Saturn (lord of manifestation and preserver of existing forms). By weaving both impulses into a higher synthesis, more uniquely personal than either planet, Chiron's process may help us individuate beyond the various pressures of the collective to which we are all subject. Commitment to the healing of self, others and our environment is the price this minor planet seems to be asking us to pay.

In the Greek myth, Chiron is accidentally hit by an arrow which had been dipped in the poisonous blood of the Hydra and the theme of poisoning is an interesting one around Chiron and the Centaurs. They have been discovered during a period of time when the true extent of the toxic devastation of the environment is coming to light. Nuclear waste, chemical waste and pollutants, industrial accidents and toxic spills of one kind or another are very often in the news. We are daily flooded with toxic material - in our water, in the air we breathe, in the dental materials most of us have in our mouths. Arguably, it is the rings of Saturn that symbolically protects the immune system and Chiron penetrating through Saturn's orbit may be a co-significator for some of the diseases of immune deficiency that have proliferated over the last few decades.

The Pluto Connection:

Chiron may have a role in enabling us to integrate the powerful experiences signified by the outer planets, Uranus, Neptune and especially Pluto, which is in fact the largest inhabitant of the Kuiper Disk, and formerly the only 'orbit-crossing' planet. Certainly, it seems to act as an emissary, agent or escapee of Pluto and can, to some extent, be interpreted similarly to a kind of smaller, bite sized version of that planet.

The Centaurs seem to preside over rites of passage and processes of purification that accompany spiritual development. Their discovery may enable consciousness and awareness to be brought into areas of the soul previously inaccessible except perhaps to hermits, mystics and shamans and others dedicated to the inner journey.

Mythology:

Chiron is often associated with the archetypal theme of the Wounded Healer. He was the son of Kronos or Chronus (Saturn) and a sea-nymph called Philyra. Because both parents were in their horse form when he was conceived, Chiron emerged as a centaur; half horse and half human. When she saw him, Philyra was so horrified that she prayed to be turned into anything other than what she was - the mother of a monster. Chiron was abandoned and then rescued by a shepherd who took him to the Sun god Apollo.

Chiron's mother Philyra demonstrates the primary state of mind that creates our suffering - the inability to accept things as they are, instead to react in a rejecting and negative way. The astronomy is reflected in the mythology, in that Chiron is taken to Apollo, and fostered by the Sun god. In their elliptical orbits, Chiron and the Centaurs appear to be tending inwards to the Sun like Chiron taken to Apollo. This detail also reminds us that our suffering and our compulsions need to be brought into the light of compassionate awareness, for Apollo was the god of healing, music and prophecy and other skills.

In the episode which earned Chiron the title of "Wounded Healer", Hercules, one of his students, accidentally wounded him. Because Chiron was a demi-god, he could not die, but neither could he heal himself, as the wound was poisoned. Chiron in astrology often represents that which we can do for others, but we cannot do for ourselves. After existing in agony for a long time, trying unsuccessfully to heal himself, Chiron changed places with Prometheus, who was chained to a rock as a punishment for tricking Zeus (Jupiter).

Thus both Chiron and Prometheus were released from their suffering. Chiron was finally able to die and was immortalised in the constellation of Centaurus, which flanks the Southern Cross. This is a powerful description of the process whereby our suffering is resolved - by full empathy and acceptance of it and/or empathy with the suffering of another.
.
Chiron and Exile:

In keeping with the mythology, a theme of 'exile' is often felt around Chiron. Where we find Chiron in the horoscope, we may feel different, not understood and outside of life in some way. In this respect, Chiron seems to operate like a weak version of Uranus. Whereas we can associate Uranus with rebellion and revolution and perhaps the awakening of rebellious feelings in others, with Chiron the experience is more that of sitting outside the herd.

Chiron, death and transition:

Matters pertaining to death in the horoscope are of course signified by Saturn, Pluto, the 8th house and Scorpio but Chiron undoubtedly joins this team of significators. Themes like voluntary euthanasia, assisted suicide, living Wills, and the rights of the dying seem to be specifically symbolised by Chiron, whose role seems to come under the umbrella of the conscious acceptance of death. Such acceptance can play an important part in the process of healing. By transit, Chiron can signify the deaths of significant others in our lives, although there will always also be other indicators pointing the same way. It is often active at times of illness too, when we may be forced to face the fact that we are mortal.

In the mythology, Chiron was accidently wounded by Hercules and Chiron often seems to be at work when people get caught up in some kind of larger crossfire. For instance, it is often prominent in the charts of major disasters, especially when in opposition to Saturn, for some reason.

Chiron and Disability:

The American astrologer Kim Gallagher Rogers has noted how similar the glyph for Chiron is to the symbol for wheelchair access(6). She points out that the wheelchair disability symbol was adopted in 1968 when Chiron was at 0 degrees of Aries, a potent point which often signifies the birth of something. Chiron, in common with Pluto, certainly seems to be a co-significator of at least some forms of disability and it's discovery 'coincided' with the time when disability was finally becoming something that could start be acknowledged and discussed. The Campaign for equal rights for people with disabilities was at a height in 1977 in the US, pre-emptied by Edward Roberts who was the first person with a severe disability to be a student living on campus.

In the same way that the whole subject of death was largely a matter of denial in the West until the 1970's, so were all matters pertaining to disability. The vast majority of the American public for instance, never knew that President Roosevelt, who was in power from 1933 to his death in 1945 was totally paralysed from the waist down (due either to polio or Guillain-Barre syndrome which he contracted in 1921). To this day, most pictures of him omit his wheelchair. In his own horoscope(7), Mercury, ruler of his chart in the 6th house exactly square Pluto is a potent signature of his disability but Chiron falling in the 8th house, describes the fact that, in terms of the general public at any rate, his disability was a secret; he 'suffered in silence'. Presumably, with a paralysed lower body, to some extent he would have been disabled sexually too; another wound to grin, bear and learn to accept.

Alongside Pluto, Chiron sometimes certainly does appear to be a significator of disabilities that warrant the use of wheelchairs or might require one in the future, especially if the individual is coy about the fact. For example, a client with Sun tightly conjunct Chiron in Sagittarius in her 7th house had a husband (Sun and 7th house) who suffered from multiple sclerosis. The sign Sagittarius and it's rulership over the hip area of the body is undoubtedly relevant here too. Along with being a significator of wounds in the psychological or spiritual sense, Chiron sometimes literally describes inherited physical weaknesses. Indeed, even though they may manifest themselves in different forms, according to the homeopathic world view, diseases are seldom eradicated, instead they are passed down through the generations, appearing like a new head on the body of the Hydra.


Chiron, medicine and music:

Eve Jackson(8) has noted that Chiropody, Chiropractice, Chiromancy (palmistry) all share with Chiron the Greek root 'cheir' meaning hand. In the context of Chiron, we might also think of word handicap. Since the discovery of Chiron, there have been significant advances in orthodox medical/surgical practises which require skill with hands (e.g. keyhole surgery) or hand/eye co-co-ordination, as well as a huge increase in the use of alternative therapies. In mythological terms, Chiron taught not only healing but warfare, hunting and music too. His mastery of warfare (teaching others how to kill) is reminiscent of assisted suicide, but Chiron may also be a significator of music or at least, recorded music. The key may be in the word 'recorded' in line with Chiron's tendency towards retracing over something.

Rites of Passage - the Chiron Return:

Because Chiron's orbit is so elliptical, its cycle is irregular and can only be tracked through the use of an ephemeris. For example, Chiron's first square to its own natal position may occur anytime from about age 5 to age 23, depending on the sign in which it is found. However, it returns to its natal place regularly in approximately 50 years, and this age is an important threshold crossing for both men and women.

For a few years after its return, Chiron retraces all the aspects by transit that occurred in the formative years of our life. Thus we have the opportunity to revisit and bring healing to those areas, and very likely life will provide experiences that open them up. Understanding this process can make a big difference, as it helps us move beyond what is happening in the present by understanding the elements of past experience which are being recapitulated.

Studying Chiron in your horoscope:

Do not expect that you can equate Chiron with healing/suffering or any other themes in the way that you can 'equate' Mercury with communication issues, for example. It is best not to try and 'interpret' Chiron as one might a traditional planet. Rather wait, look, listen, sense and feel, keeping a questioning and open mind. This will allow the contemplative space for the obvious to reveal itself, which will connect with Chiron's symbolism, by house, sign and aspect. Using the analogy of a radio, if you are not tuned to the right frequency, you cannot get the station to hear the music playing!

The best way to understand Chiron in your horoscope is to track its transits over time, particularly the main 'hard' aspects: conjunction, square and opposition.

Some 'classic' Chiron themes

In some horoscopes, putting Chiron in will have the effect of highlighting a pattern, creating a new emphasis or serving to explain something really prominent about a person not otherwise reflected in the chart. Studying it often makes for an 'aha' effect, where suddenly things click into place. People who cannot relate to Chiron fall into one of two categories: there are those who are so busy blocking out the deeper dimensions of their soul that they cannot resonate with Chiron, out of fear. Then there are those who are living so close to the archetype that they cannot see it!

There can be an obvious 'unhealable wound' depicted by Chiron's placement, a situation that we cannot escape from although we may try to and which provides grist to the mill of our 'soul-work' for many years. Just as in the myth, however, there is potential resolution and release. Very often this revolves around accepting the unacceptable, the unfair, the incomprehensible; it may mean stopping trying to figure things out and fix them, but instead to simply allow ourselves to be with the experience.

Chiron can also depict a brilliance, something which stands out and defines a person. It can show where we behave or feel like an outsider, a maverick or wanderer, where we resist being tied down, where the constraints of society weigh heavily. There is a wildness, a freshness, a volatility of energy, a certain instability where we can go to extremes. It can also be like 'blind spot' where something is obvious to everyone but ourselves. Psychologically, it could be said that Chiron symbolises part of us that has been split off. It has become dissociated because of trauma or suffering, or simply through a lack of understanding or language to process an experience. Transits act like the classic shamanic process of 'soul retrieval' where that which has been outcast, seeks to return.

Pholus - the lid comes off

Pholus was discovered in 1992 , and its process seems to be one where a small event sets off a chain reaction, either inwardly or externally, in terms of consequences. In the Greek mythology, Pholus was the keeper of the sacred jar of wine of Dionysus. Dionysus was the god of ecstasy; whose rites were often characterised by drunkenness and chaos, and sometimes they culminated in violence. Similarly Pholus events often involve things getting out of control. The way to deal with Pholus is to take only essential actions until the floods subside and things settle down. The jar of Pholus was not supposed to be opened for four generations, and so the astrological Pholus often highlights the releasing of ancestral processes, whether these are known or unknown to us. In some way, bearing witness to the past can be important as we are called upon to clarify our own ancestral lineage. Sometimes there are specific things to do, like forgiveness work, or putting flowers on a grave. But often it is simply to inwardly acknowledge the suffering of those who went before us, and to recognise the tragedy of it.

 

Nessus - the buck stops here.

The 3rd Centaur to be discovered is one that seems to address issues to do with the abuse of power, and it too has ancestral implications. It seems that Nessus brings opportunities to understand and release deep patterns of helplessness, being taken advantage of, and being oppressed. This is particularly relevant for people raised in a culture where they are in a minority group. Nessus processes really do seem to bring to an end the unfathomable ties that bind us to people, places, and situations. We can psychoanalyse our bonds, do 'tie cutting exercises', sweat and strain to be free of situations which burn with relentless continuity, but only when such endeavours are in harmony with the deeper timing of the soul will they result in deep release. And when they do, the healing is unmistakeable. Nessus activations correspond with times when things really do end, finish and transcend to another level, when release occurs and when the turning point is reached. This sometimes happens through an intensification of suffering. The end of falsely hopeful innocence is signalled by Nessus transits, and the opening of a deeper wisdom. Nessus sometimes correlates with itching and burning skin as occurs in instances of eczema, nettle rash and allergy for instance. This accords neatly with the Greek myth in which Nessus attempted to abduct and take advantage of Heracles wife, Deianira. Heracles saw the rape about to happen and shot Nessus. As he lay dying, Nessus gave Deianira a potion containing his heart's blood and semen, saying that the potion would ensure Heracles faithfulness to her. When she became unsure of Heracles fidelity she smeared the potion on his shirt but Nessus had lied; the mixture, impregnated with his toxic blood was poisonous and it burned Heracles terribly. To escape the pain Heracles threw himself onto a funeral pyre. Appalled by what had happened, Deianira committed suicide.

 

Endnotes

(1) Date of photographic plate showing Chiron: 18.10 1977; 9.08am UT, Palomar 33N19/116W53 Discovery date: 1.11.1977: 10.00am PST, Pasadena, 34N8/118W8.

(2) See the website http://cfa-www.harvard.edu/iau/lists/Centaurs.html (updated daily).

(3) This parallel was suggested by Robert von Heeren in his book, co-authored with Dieter Koch '. "Pholus - Wandler zwischen Saturn und Neptun", (German language only), Chiron Verlag, Tubingen, Germany, 1995.

(4) For further details see the following websites:

. www.robertvonheeren.de
. www.expreso.co.cr/centaurs
. www.zanestein.com/chiron

 

(5) One AU (astronomical unit) = 150 million kilometres/93 million miles = mean distance from the Earth to the Sun.

(6) Personal communication at the Lucerne conference in 1993.

(7) President Franklin D. Roosevelt was born on 30 January 1882 8.45pm LMT, in Hyde Park, New York, 41N47 73W56 according to the astrological program Kepler 7.0. A Democrat, he held office for four terms, the only President to serve for more than two. His Aquarian planets go some way to explaining his humanitarian bent but the Chiron in Taurus in the 8th conjunct Jupiter and Neptune augments the liberal, charitable impulse of that conjunction, describing the strenuous perhaps brilliant efforts he made during the Great Depression to make viable economic reforms and alleviate the suffering of the unemployed.

(8) York Conference 1983

[i] See 'Saturn, Chiron and the Centaurs' by Melanie Reinhart, CPA Press 1996/2000 for full exploration of their symbolism.

All website contents copyright © Melanie Reinhart 1989-2014. All rights reserved.

 

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