…and thus having opportunity to consider better of Astronomy, I found that this present Night there would happen such a conjunction of planets, the like to which was not otherwise suddenly to be observed…~Day Five, “The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz”
Every year there are culminating celestial rhythms that lend themselves to the mood of the year, as though they were a starry cloak or garment in which the Being of the Year adorns itself, and each year we are tasked with discerning that mood, in the waking and sleeping of the forces of the year.
But why discuss this now, well after the New Year has begun? In ancient systems of reckoning time, and until at least the rule of Julius Caesar during the ancient era of the Roman Republic, the New Year was celebrated as the return of the Sun at Vernal Equinox in March, when, as Claudius Ptolemy described it in his Tetrabiblos of the 1st century AD: “The point of the Vernal Equinox has been consequently designated by them (the ancient Egyptians) as the beginning of the year; because, from that time, the duration of the day begins to exceed that of the night, and because the season then produced partakes highly of moisture, which is always a predominant quality in all incipient generation and growth.”
In early Christian tradition, the Earth was created on March 25th, 5229 years before the Christ event. In the ancient world, the moment of Equinox would have occurred around that time in March, and in the later, Christianized calendar, that date became the observance of the Feast of the Annunciation, when Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary bearing the lily, symbol of divine communication, proclaiming the birth of the Christ Child. Should she choose to accept the annunciation, she would thereby inaugurate fulfillment of the sublime turn in human becoming that had been prepared for through the centuries (see Gospel of St. Luke, ch. 1 verse 38 Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it unto me according to thy word).
In the ancient era, the time prior to this season of the conception, or beginning of the New Year, was as though without form, until the Spring Moon appeared. This Moon’s month was named for Mars, originally an agricultural god, who was believed to have dominion over the first sign of the zodiac, Aries, the region where the sunlight begins to grow stronger, which makes this region of starry sky commensurate with that which comes first. It is interesting to note that January and February were not included as months in the ancient Roman calendar, the wintry season they later defined regarded as the time for purging and cleansing and preparation. It isn’t until 747 BC that these two months are included in the calendar round, and not until nearly the 4th century BC that they mark the first and second month of the New Year in the calendar.
In 2020, there are several strong rhythms culminating, including the once-every-20- years Great Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter at Winter Solstice December 21st. In the Middle Ages, these Great Conjunctions gave rise to conjunctionist astrology which fueled sensationalism in the public arena around fears concerning apocalyptic cataclysm and plague, so much so that the Church finally forbad the practice of prognosticating based on celestial phenomenon. Prior to this abolition by the Church, the 14th century poet Dante anticipated great revelation in the conjunctions of his era, which he believed would lead to a reformation of the Church. It is no coincidence that his Divine Comedy began on March 25.
Later, astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) sought to prove that it was just such a conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, occurring in 5 BC, that the wise men of the East regarded as the sign indicating that the birth of the Christ Child was at hand.
The Great Conjunctions recur every 20 years, 1/3 of the way through the zodiac from one another, so that after 60 years, they seem to form a triangle around the Earth. Every third sign of the zodiac shares the same element (fire, earth, air, water), and given the slow progression of the conjunctions through the degrees of the zodiac, they will occupy one element only for a period of about 200 years. Since there are four elements, it will take 800 years for the conjunctions to recur in each element, which means that the conjunctions of our era are the first recurrence since
the 1200s, when Dante was born (in 1265, the year of Dante’s birth, there was a Great Conjunction in the sign Gemini, an air sign. Rendered in the topical zodiac, this year’s Great Conjunction occurs at 0 degrees of Aquarius, also an air sign, thereby inaugurating the recurrence of air sign conjunctions that will continue for 200 years).
Just over six months prior to the Great Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, the planet Venus will come to inferior conjunction with the Sun (June 3, 2020), and in doing so, the planet of love and beauty completes its
circuit of five retrograde loops (a motion that takes eight years). The significance of Venus’ fulfilling her eight-year season of retrograde circuits this year in June is that it puts Venus very near to where it was in June 2012, when the planet made its rare Transit of the Sun, an event that takes place in eight-year pairs that only recur every 120 years. At Transit, Venus appears to move directly in front of the Sun, and can be imagined in her Promethean aspect, gathering a spark of flame from Helios for weaving around the Earth, inspiring the human being with civilizing forces.
Or as Byron said of Prometheus: Thy godlike crime was to be kind, to render with thy precepts less the sum of human wretchedness, and strengthen man with his own mind…
Further, the five retrograde loops that Venus makes during its eight-year cycle create the form of the pentagram, or five- pointed star, around the Earth, a dynamic form that is understood esoterically as one that sustains the human physical form (as witnessed in Leonardo da Vinci’s Vetruvian Man), and which also informs the platonic solid known as the dodecahedron, the 12-sided object where each flat surface is a pentagon. This is the form that was chosen by Rudolf Steiner for the Foundation Stone of the First Goetheanum, which also lives rhythmically in the structure of the Foundation Stone Meditation.
Another celestial rhythm that culminates this year, and which completes every 19 years, is the Metonic Cycle. Meton was an ancient Athenian astronomer living in the 5th century BC who was able to figure out that it takes 19 years for the Sun and Moon to come into the same relationship on the same day in the solar cycle. In other words, the Moon will not achieve the same phase on the same day of the year from one year to the next until 19 years have lapsed. This rhythm matters significantly in calendar making, especially when an attempt is made to predict the movable festival days into the future. For instance, knowing when the first Full Moon of the Spring occurs is prerequisite to knowing when to celebrate Easter Sunday, and while there are several other factors that contribute to the challenge of determining such a date, this 19-year rhythm between Sun and Moon is part of it.
Every year we are 19 years later from the time 19 years prior, but it is the unique rhythm of five 19 year rhythms that is significant this year. Five 19 year rhythms equals 95 years, which means that in 2020, the Sun and Moon are, for the fifth time, completing a relationship they had 95 years ago, beginning in 1925. In the history of the Anthroposphical movement, the year 1925 is significant as the year that Rudolf Steiner died, on March 30th of that year. At the time of Rudolf Steiner’s death, the Sun had already crossed the Vernal Equinox moving north, but the Moon had not yet come to Full Phase. The first Full Moon of the Spring is the first to occur below the Celestial Equator since the time of Michaelmas, and it serves as a witness to the return of the light, of the Sun, and serves to identify which is the correct Sunday for celebrating the sacred mystery of this return of light and life at Easter. One can hardly imagine the profound majesty the experience of this Mystery must have presented to Rudolf Steiner’s contemporaries that first Easter after his death, which was on April 12, 1925, following the Vernal Full Moon at 18 degrees Libra in the tropical zodiac.
Here in 2020, the Vernal Moon will again come to Full Phase at 18 degrees Libra in the tropical zodiac, followed by Easter sunrise on Sunday, April 12. In this we can imagine a sounding out through these degrees of the zodiac, instigated by the recurrence of Sun and Moon in the same positions as they occupied in 1925, calling us to bear witness, to hear, and to respond to the call to awaken spiritual consciousness in humanity that was the gesture of Rudolf Steiner’s life.
So here we have three culminating rhythms:
- The fifth 19-year Metonic Cycle since 1925, the year of Rudolf Steiner’s death
- The completion of the fifth Venus retrograde circuit since its rare Transit of theSun in 2012
- The Great Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter at Winter Solstice December 21,2020, which only occurs every 20 years
When Saturn and Jupiter come together in the star field, bearing Cosmic Memory and Cosmic Thought, it is as though the gods have gathered to take council with one another, in consort with the Earth, who bears with us our sacred memories while giving ground to our hopes and dreams for the future. Venus has brought the gift of fire, while Sun and Moon sound out a rhythm in accord with the spiritual deeds of the initiate.
To augment the picture, and to encourage our striving to engage with the Being of the Year as it expresses itself through current celestial gestures, it is good to take note of the sky at the end of March 2020. During the week of the Vernal Equinox (March 19 in 2020), the Moon will be a waning crescent, sweeping past the morning planets Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, respectively. Mars will appear spectacularly close to Jupiter on March 18, and will follow in the tracks of the Moon to appear with Saturn a few days later, on March 31st. Between the 18th and the 31st, the Moon will come to New Phase, on March 24, 2020 at 7:41 am eastern time. March 24 is the Feast of
the Archangel Gabriel, who announces
the New Year with this Spring Moon,
nine months ahead of the Great
Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter at
Winter Solstice in December. Also on
March 24, the planets Venus and Mercury will be at greatest elongation, which means they are each as far away from the Sun as they can get. In my imagination, it is as though these two are forming a chalice around the Sun and Moon, with Mercury in the morning sky and Venus in the evening sky, embracing the horizon (and our consciousness), and giving a form into which the Moon may carry the spiritual New Year intentions of the planets Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn into the cycle of time. Ours is to give witness, and, as Rudolf Steiner described, become aware of our role in these great cosmic mysteries, knowing the foundation has been laid.
The more abundantly the harmony of the cosmos fills the soul, the more peace and harmony there will be on the earth. ~Rudolf Steiner.
Mary Stewart Adams
While on retreat at Rudolf Steiner House,
“a scholar’s monastery” Ann Arbor, MI