On the Seed Metaphor
by Juan Antonio Revilla, December 2002.
Metaphor is an essential property of language and thinking, and plays a key role in the analysis, interpretation and description of data. Metaphors are always present when we try to establish meaning, and they condition the elaboration of scientific hypotheses in such a way that the hypothesis itself becomes a metaphor. "Paradigms" are mental models or systems of reference that we use to elaborate metaphors, they are "metaphor universes".
In Astrology, a fundamental paradigm has been the centrality of the birth chart, what we can call "the birth chart paradigm", and the "metaphor of the seed" is used to illustrate what a birth chart represents. Everytime we speak of "the development of potentialities inherent at birth", or when a birth chart is conceived as containing all the possibilities of development, we are making use of the seed metaphor.
The seed metaphor normally dictates how we interpret the development of a life "from" the birth chart, how the chart's efficacy is inserted in our conception of it. Life is seen as the development of natal potentialities, and this way of interpreting life and birth charts is taken for granted, it becomes paradigmatic, and the metaphor of the seed that has given form to this interpretation remains in the background and becomes a habit.
The use of metaphor by the human mind is not the result of culture or of history, it is a property of our brain; but the use of a specific metaphor mirrors the epoch and the intellectual climate we live in. Metaphors in Science change often, but not so in Astrology: the seed metaphor has controlled how we see a birth chart since the time of the Greeks, and is the result of a mechanistic thinking that confuses temporal sequence and order with causation.
When a birth chart is conceived metaphorically as "the seed" from which everything else unfolds, people develop the feeling that the essential character or structure of a life, a person, a "destiny", has already been decreed at birth, and the result is a great confusion when trying to understand how astrology works. Reality is seen as a product of what is indicated as possibility in the chart, and we assume as fact what is only an interpretation based on a metaphor of questionable value.
To think that what happens to a person, or what a person is (as in Rudhyarism), is a function of his or her birth chart, is to confuse the model with the reality, to conceive reality as a derivation of the model. Instead of taking reality and "see it", filter it, model it through the categories of the chart in order to reduce the number of elements and be able to analyze its structure and interpret its possible meaning, we assume that reality "is given" by the chart and that everything else is a development of it.
In life everything is connected. One thing talks about the other. Astrology is a tool or code that allows us to discover and interpret many of these concordances that are very far away from simplistic explanations based on linear causality and logic. This is why it is not necessary to refer everything to the birth chart to be able to relate with the "entelechy" of things. I personally find absurd and spiritually starving those views that pretend to find the entelechy of a person or a life in a birth chart.
In our astrological work and the charting of human existence, we can use other metaphors instead of a seed, such as, for example: a dance, or a symphony, or a literary work. These metaphors resemble existence through their "time", sequential character. Although it is frequent to find an introduction with many of the themes that will be developed later, nobody thinks that the whole course of the narrative is determined by "a map of the frozen instant" at which everything apparently started.
We can chart very significant instants or critical "peak moments" in life that determine the course of things to come, and that give meaning to the past. A human life is made of moments like this. But we remain trapped in a way of thinking that we can call "the birth chart dogma", and distant ourselves from life preferring to rest in the confort of a belief in the superiority of the moment of birth, in detriment of other moments in a person's life that potentially could be more interesting or revealing.
There are always dramatic, magical or powerful moments besides birth. They are very few, but act like vortices in time from which an immense energy flows that feeds our life with meaning. To identify them, one needs a state of acute attention and observation, and the capacity to read the meaning of those vital moments from a perspective much wider than the linear and rigid perspective of traditional and "flat" astrology.
We all know that there are decisions, relationships, accidents, etc., that mark forever and with great clarity a person's life. These moments, these relationships, are outside of time and of history, but they are precisely those that make history, that produce crisis and change. They are moments of epiphany "when time stops", of immense power, that fertilize our lives and transform them profoundly.
Revelations of meaning usually come from points in a time sequence that are not the point of origin, and different points of time always interact with each other. The subject is never defined by its point of origin alone, it is defined in the course of time, so that other points located away from the origin, near the center or near the end, also define it.
When instead of imposing on people what the birth chart says about them, we listen to their life history, or when we study a biography, or when seeing a good movie or watching a play in the theater or reading a novel, when we meditate on our biography, we always find certain moments around which life or history can be made to gyrate, dividing it in before and after. These singularized moments, of which the supreme one is the moment of death, can be progressed and we can calculate transits to it.
A calendar is basically a graphic, a sheet of paper, a circle, a set of marks carved in stone, etc., where the flow of time is represented as spatial compartments. Each day is a "box" in the graphic, each month a different page. These boxes are abstract representations of time units where time is conceived as distances in the graphic. It is the same with a clock.
An astrological chart is based on the same principle: one whole life is drawn or approximated by means of coordinates in a graphic. Reality is represented in terms of spatial relationships (positions by sign and house, aspects...), and time is represented as an arc of the circumference or a sector in the graphic.
NOTE: the numerical character of digital calendars and clocks, in contrast to the geometric or spatial graphic based on "boxes" differ in the same way that the original Babylonian astrology differs from Greek astrology and astronomy.
It is not my intention to downgrade the importance or usefulness of this spatial perspective, but to show our tendency, when dealing with birth charts, to depend too much on it and to reduce time to space by means of abstract graphical representations. I believe that if we understand how much we abuse or depend on this perspective, we can open the door to other dimensions where birth charts don't have so much weight and we can work with other conceptions of human individuality, with other astrological ways of approaching an individual life.
Astrologers tend to be, in my opinion, strongly conservative and saturnian, seeking refuge in the authority of the charts they use and in a pontificating attitude that stems from the way this chart is conceived. In particular the deterministic views of Astrology are born of this necessity, which is consistently neglected and replaced by a false uranian self-image and a "spiritual" screen or unconscious disguise characteristic of a negative Neptune.
I believe that the constant reference to spatial relationships and the taken for granted metaphor of the seed, in detriment of time-dynamical relationships of organic development, have their origin in an inner insecurity, a fear of the limitless reality, paradoxical and contradictory, dialectic, flowing and liquid like time. This insecurity, this need of an "intellectual resting place" drives people to structure instead of process, to spatial relationships as they are shown in a calendar or a map, instead of to the flowing stream of time.
In astrological practice, we see this in the dogmatic visions or doctrines of a birth chart as a "blueprint", both the biological and the spiritual versions, that depend excessively on birth charts as models of a human being or individuality, in contrast to the constantly changing dynamical perspective offered by transits, progressions, returns, and synastric relationships.
We see it too in the use of spatial orbs in transits instead of temporal orbs, and in the weight given to interpretations based on zodiacal signs and houses, where particular temporal and contextual sequences are reduced to spatial and universal relationships.
Another area where this can be seen is in the excessive dependence on a-historical or archetypal models of the psyche and of symbol theory, in detriment (or in ignorance) of other theories that emphasize the historical and context-dependent nature of symbols.
We are afraid of movement and change, and constantly seek a point of rest, an authority. We often forget that the structures charted by astrology are liquid, dynamical, and in motion. We confuse abstract, spatial relationships with the reality of the flow of time. We tend to believe that the birth chart carries all the weight and refuse to acknowledge the contextual dependence of astrological meanings and the very subjective processes of astrological interpretation.
This is what I call "birth-chartism", or "birth-chartitis". When we base everything on the birth chart in detriment of other charts or chart-independent astrological techniques, we are driven by our psychological need to have something immutable on which we can stand safely, not by a compulsive lack of alternatives.
I think we must widen our way of understanding what a birth chart is. It is not realistic to reduce a person to a birth chart. Birth charts have relative value as models of an individuality or a life, and it is possible to find other charts or moments that can be equally or more significant to illuminate the meaning of things, of a personality, of a biography. If we use the metaphor of a symphony, for example, we can understand how those moments exist. There is no reason to limit ourselves to only one chart or map done for the instant when everything started in order to define what by nature belongs to time.
Every astrological chart reduces time to distances in space. We always play with time and space in astrology, from using a chart of a time long in the past (the birth chart) and calculating present transits to it, to complex systems such as "primary directions" which happen in totally "unreal" or symbolical time. Astrology is built on manipulations of time and space that violate the laws of physics, or that use them only as a paradigm for the flight of metaphors and analogies.
Knowing this, why then do we keep limiting ourselves to a linear conception of human life and the development of a biography? Why is it so hard to imagine the long-term presence of a human being over time and the explosions of transcendental meaning in ways that are complementary to or completely independent of a birth chart? Why do we have to reduce the integrative "I" or "Self" to the indications of only one chart? Through the same astrological techniques that we already know, we can try to approximate this Self from multiple directions in time. I think it is absurd to pretend to reduce it to the birth chart alone.
Instead of relying exclusively on birth or the origin as the universal point of reference, it is possible to identify certain moments in life that are their own reference and that relate to other points in time, including of course the origin. There are moments besides birth of great transcendental importance beyond the immediate circumstances, as if they were "outside of time", outside of history, becoming pivots of a person's life.
Identifying these moments is commonplace for psychoanalysts, art critics and biographers. It is not "given" or easy, it requires the capacity to listen and to let things speak for themselves, to let them pervade and impregnate us. But as a poet with his poem, an actor with his role, a house owner with the house decoration, we can always "see" the person behind. Relationships, accidents, circumstances, they are all connected to the person and speak about him or her.
The moment of birth is of course an important point of reference. It has the advantage of having an unquestionable value and is strengthened by the weight of tradition, so that we can rely on it and walk on safer ground. But it is only a point of departure, and not the end toward which we must carry or reduce everything. From the practical point of view, for example, the moment of death is the other more unquestionable moment of life.
There are certain things that, once they enter our lives, stay there forever, or for a very long time. Our marriage partner is an example (not always, of course); children is another. Their birth or death charts work as inceptional charts for me, they talk about different aspects of me, sometimes with more clarity than my birth chart, or with a different emphasis. Even though my children and my mate are separate persons, they are also part of me and of my life, and their charts can talk very directly about certain aspects of my life and Self, especially the occult aspects, the unconscious, the neglected ones.
Causality is multidirectional. The order of a life is not established by imagining a single line of causal development (the metaphor of the seed) but by concordance, by perceiving how certain moments speak to us about ourselves, how certain moments are like epiphanies in a concentrated and symbolical way.
The word "epiphany" refers to the manifestation of a god or divinity. It is when the god makes itself present in the flow of time or history, at a certain moment and place when "time seems to stop", power descends, meaning explodes, and our lives are changed forever and gyrate around that moment from then on. The moment of birth, for example, is epiphanical for the parents, not for the baby.
Some epiphanical moments of a life cannot be identified with precision. Their "fiat" or exact time of apparition is mysterious and seems to be extended for a period of several days or weeks, diffusing itself in time. In those cases we make use of the slow-moving planets. The position of slow planets changes very little, establishing a "zone of power", a sensitive point or small arc, that will be subject to transits and synastries with several charts that play a significant role in the analysis. Even though we do not know the exact moment, we have their representatives in the zodiacal that they activated.
We can still use the metaphor of a seed, but it is not only one seed and it does not come only from the past. There are seeds that have been developing from the future and approach our present, interacting with our past, and there also different seeds at certain moments in our lives. In the psyche, there is no place for linear time, the past constantly interacts with the present and the future, and they all interact among themselves and impact our consciousness in a constant construction and transformation of reality.
Because our modes of graphic representation are expression of our way of thinking and interpretation, we are talking of new ways of modelling astrologically the life of a human being, a new astrological conception of our presence in the world, a testimony of how historical transformations and the evolution of consciousness find expression in the emergence of new astrological paradigms.
I feel astrologers are --generally speaking-- stuck in archaic Greek ways of thinking, the birth-chartism, the seed metaphor.
Basically, what I mean is that growth belongs to time and birth charts belong to space, that there is no need to refer everything to the spatial relationships of a birth chart, that time and growth have their own autonomous references, that there are other more realistic ways of charting astrologically the life of a human being than referring everything to the birth chart.
The secret is in realizing that everything is process and dynamic, that the starting point of a cycle is not more important than other points of the cycle, that these other points interact between themselves, talk to each other, and together they give meaning to a human life. It is not realistic nor necessary to see everything in terms of the starting point only.
The river (the present point in the cycle) always carries with itself its birth in the mountains and its flowing to the sea or into another, larger river. Life is never static.
Meaning and life coming from many directions, not only from the past, not only from birth. Other metaphors instead of the seed metaphor.
Doors open when we realize how much we are controlled in Astrology by a simplistic, unrealistic conception of what the birth chart is. It is not that they are wrong, it is that we abuse them.
I hope the work I posted recently on Mahler and Sibelius can serve as at least a rough example of what I wrote. The time of death, the day a child died, the time of death and of birth of a long dead poet that impressed them and whom they didn't know in person, etc., all illuminate the composer's life and personality without the need to have the birth chart as universal referent and reducer of everything. There are always other powerful referents besides birth.
Copyright © Dec 2002, 2003 Juan Antonio Revilla. All Rights Reserved.