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I talked with my son Chris about the symbols for the planets and how in their elaborate history they were pieced together from parts of another and very familiar symbol of Christianity. In fact, it's a very much older symbol. In the process, I mentioned something about the Hermetic Androgyne, a symbol of the Great Work in Alchemy. It has sometimes been represented by a particular grouping of the planetary symbols. While I won't be turning lead into gold in this post, though one never knows, I will be sharing the basic plan behind the symbols, as well as the androgynous symbol just mentioned. There's nothing new or original in this post. Most of it was learned from Titus Burckhardt's Alchemy, Element Books Ltd (1986), originally in German (1960), now sadly out of print.

I mentioned the planets in a previous post, Sunday, Moonday, Marsday…. On the phone with my son, it became suddenly clear that describing symbols rather than displaying them can be very confusing, so I put the following together, deciding that it might be of interest also to others. My friend Amie has spent many years on these things, so it can't be learned in a day.

World Here is the primary symbol, a circle with a cross inside, that is sometimes referred to as a solar cross or sun wheel. You've seen it many times before as the distinctive mark behind the head of Jesus. Its function is to equate him with the Sun, source of life and light. While it consists of a circle and a cross, symbologists might say that other forms are agglomerated in it. The circle, for example, holds the arc of a crescent, or many arcs of many crescents. The cross is made of, but also contains, a vertical and a horizontal bar. In addition, it conceals a small dot at the center, which is only visible once the cross is removed. All these things have evolved into an enormous network of meanings. The vertical line is the bond between heaven and earth. The horizontal line represents the expansive nature of creation. We could go on and on, and our time would be well spent. I hope you will take the time to pursue this on your own. But for now, our subject is the planets.

AlchemicalAndro

We saw before how the planets could be arranged in a circle according to their cyclic speed, and how the days of the week could be generated from that order. Here the order of the planets is completely different, though perhaps not completely. In their basic form, we see something that was less obvious before. The symbols are built entirely of circles, crosses and crescents — the contained parts of the solar wheel. In the bottom right, we recognize a somewhat simplified Saturn. It contains only two of the main elements, a cross and a crescent. We may also notice that the crescent is attached to the bottommost part of the cross. We notice that Jupiter, just above, consists of the same parts differently distributed. The crescent now attaches to the horizontal bar. Clearly, something is intended. Jupiter, by the way, looks a lot like the Arabic number four, symbolic of stability, and the symbol for Saturn looks remarkably like the sickle he used to castrate Caelus, his father, or Uranus, symbolic of the heavens. If you'll notice, the cross becomes a handle as the sickle evolves into a scythe. I'm lingering on these two in order to emphasize the depth of possible meaning in such basic symbols, and to emphasize their antiquity. The crescent moon as sickle is a truly ancient association.

In this order, we see that there are crescents on one side but not the other. There are four crosses in the bottom four symbols. On the right, the crescents go from below to above, but on the left side, the crosses themselves go from below to above the circles. One side is associated with the Sun, the other with the Moon. The goal, however, is not to become the Sun, but to become the Sun and Moon combined. The symbol for Mercury seems by its position and composition to make that almost clear. And that's as clear as Alchemy gets.

DoubleMarsPerhaps we can now drop the pretense that the symbol for Venus represents a woman holding a mirror. Mars, however, is less obvious. We're used to Mars holding a sword or thrusting a spear or penis. Here, he's a circle with a cross on top. If the cross is a symbol of materiality, as is often mentioned, then perhaps Mars is the material commander, next in line to the Sun himself. In fact, both symbols are ancient. They both repersent Mars. But the circle with a cross on top, more often an orb with a cross on top, has become the symbol of sovereignty. You've seen it in the hands of Kings, Queens, Emperors, and also Jesus. There's a reason for that, a reason I may try to explain in the near future, but for now it's enough to know that they both mean Mars.

Yes, I've skipped a great deal. In the old days, Amie would stop me about half-way through to demand that I skip the rest and just tell her what it all means. Why are they doing this? Of course, I can't do that. If I could, I would already have explained everything and we'd have nothing left to do. I'm not one of those cheerful people who think the meaning of life is looking for the meaning of life. I just think it's unlikely you'll find the answer unless you keep asking the question. Knowing the question is itself a great start. And the question is, with all deference to Amie, what on Earth does it all mean?
 
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