The foundation of this image was taken from an alchemical drawing created in 1650 by A. Kircher in Rome. I was first introduced to alchemical images through the work of Marie-Louise von Franz, a Swiss Jungian psychologist and scholar, renowned for her psychological interpretations of fairy tales and alchemical manuscripts. Through her work, and that of her mentor, Carl Gustav Jung, I learned the real work of the alchemist is human evolution. Later, I discovered Buddha’s Vipassana Meditation technique shared the same purpose, as do the Yogic traditions, and undoubtedly many more. That’s what is so fascinating about these drawings: people’s spiritual paths are being delineated in art form. How cool is that?
I’ve long admired and studied these art forms, and I’ve used them in my art a lot. For once I thought I’d approach them by writing! I’ll try to describe some thoughts behind the image we used for the astrological tee. The four elements used to compose this image are: seasons, elements, constellations/planets, and moons.
SEASONS1 Are Due to Earth’s Orbital Plane not Being Aligned with the Suns’ Equator
One of the most fascinating aspects of alchemists’ work are the esoteric symbols they used to convey meaning. Nowadays, it is a simple matter, with a bit of research, to discover the meaning of many of these symbols. After researching further, I came upon even more esoteric symbols such as these representing Earth’s four seasons.
Kircher’s alchemical drawing and discovering the cool symbols for the four seasons was the genesis of the astrological alignments image. I desired to express the world I live in in visual form, and who better to turn to for help than the good old ancient wisdom traditions.
The Great ELEMENTS in Play Every Moment in Our Minds and Bodies
Next, I wanted to include the classical four elements. Ancient cultures in Greece, Babylonia, Japan, Tibet, and India had lists of four or five elements. In Buddhism we find the mahabhuta (“great elements”) or catudhatu (“four elements”) are earth, water, fire, and air. In early Buddhism, the four elements are a basis for understanding suffering and for liberating oneself from suffering. In my first five meditation retreats, the evening dharma talks would sometimes delve into great detail about the elements within the body and how they can help or impede one’s progress on a spiritual path.
This was crazy talk for me—being a physics teacher at the time, I was grounded in chemistry. Yet after some initial painful retreats, I started realizing the attributes of these four elements were in fact in play every moment within my mind and body. I observed that energy within my body seemed to solidify at times into heavy, earthy masses—stuck energy. In another moment, my system resonance might allow energy to flow, or even crackle, much as air and fire naturally do. Through this understanding of the elements, I was able to discern subtle and very deep connections between actions in the mind and actions in the body. This insight has been very useful in my practice.
The five great elements of Hinduism, the pancha mahabhuta, found in the Vedas, and especially Ayurveda, are earth, water, fire, air, and ether, or void. I encountered the yogic interpretation of the elements during yoga teachers training, where the teachers would often explain what was happening in the body in terms of the elements. Again, it took a lot of time for me to integrate knowledge of the elements into deeper insight that actually enhanced my yoga practice. I still work on this; it’s a delicious challenge.
What is most fascinating to me is that merely sitting down in meditation, or transitioning into and holding contorting poses, presents an opportunity to become much more aware of our world. The interplay of the four elements is another vehicle we can use while engaged with either form of sadhana (i.e.. regular meditation or yoga practice) to dive deeper along our paths. In the base drawing, I used both Sanskrit and alchemical symbols to represent the elements. In the final version of the image, I went with only the Sanskrit words to simplify visual clutter.
CONSTELLATIONS Appear Only When You Are Watching From Near Our PLANETS
Okay, so the elements have to be placed somewhere, right? And the way to know where is in our only GPS for earth: the constellations. On the outer circumference of the circle, I used well-known symbols for all the constellations, and within the circle dispersed our neighbor planets. I won’t elaborate on that now. But there is another image I’d like to get into a little more detail about. I think it’s so cool that our constellations are made up of arrays of stars and galaxies, both close and far, far away, projected onto a 2-dimensional plane (our night sky!). The position of the Earth is precisely locked within the dance of the whole cosmos, such that in any other location these reliable geometric alignments of stars and galaxies that make up our constellations would totally fall apart. Viewed from any other solar system our constellations would not exist. So this navigational tool is only useful within our solar system, and that is why the sun is at the center of the image we created, lest we get lost.
There are Hundreds of MOONS in Our Solar System and We Hardly Know Anything about these Mysterious Beautiful Bodies
At this point the drawing was complete—yet something was missing. It felt oversimplified, this visualization of our world, but I wasn’t sure why. The drawing sat for weeks. Then, on a full-moon hike, it hit me with amazing clarity—the Moon’s cousins! There are 181 known moons in our solar system, many more as yet undiscovered. Some of the most intriguing places in our neighborhood are moons. The Cassini spacecraft discovered mind-blowing facts about several of Saturn’s moons, a topic for another blog (I spent five years working on Cassini, so these topics get me off on all sorts of tangents). I wondered that as much as the planetary positions amongst the constellations at the time of one’s birth determine our personality traits (as discerned by ancient wisdom traditions), do the positions of the moons in their orbits around their planets have any bearing on one’s path through this life? How can they not? So much is unknown about our own nameless Moon.
As I proceeded to insert all the names of the moons in the drawing (only our Moon has a symbol associated with it), my appreciation of these nine planetary systems we share the Sun with intensified. In time I realized two things: so many of the moons have such cool names, ha ha, and there is no way a small journal drawing can contain even a fraction of the moons in our solar system. So for the final drawing, I inserted but a few of the moons2. Also, in honor of the larger planetary systems, the gas giants with their large gathering of moons (which we know nothing about), I filled some outer circles with moons.
Final Astrological Alignments Drawing Spinning Buzz of Structured Motion
The journey of creating the original drawing took months. The original exists in a journal I carried along. Sweet moments come up to work on drawings with graphite, adding names, readjusting things, erasing, adding. Once the moons went on I was happy with the drawing and used Indian Ink to finalize it. I then erased all the graphic lines. The drawing was scanned and imported into photoshop. Using photoshop I tried various edits, and in the case of this drawing, I ended up with major edits. I created a rather pristine clean version, losing some of the hand drawn quality yet retaining the original concept of the drawing.
When I see this image I see a dynamic, spinning, whirling dizzying buzz of structured motion. For me the moons bring this sense more than the constellations. Yet within all this motion there is a grounding, a home. Within the elements, notable the earth element, and the very predictable four seasons, we are truly grounded here on the earth with our beloved water and air. Life sustaining fire. We have all that we need here, to be safe and survive, more importantly, to evolve and best of all, to observe our amazing cosmic show.
1. The earth only passes through the Suns’ equatorial plane twice ~ on the two equinox dates each year. Otherwise Earth is above or below the Sun’s equator. That is why these correspond to Winter and Summer in the North Hemisphere. It is opposite in the Southern Hemisphere. To discover more about the seasons we suggest you start by reading about the seasons, equinox and solstice. We also recommend you watch this clear video: seasons video. For a more realistic look at our complex motion through space checkout this cool video: earths vortex motion.
2. For a complete list, images and facts of the moons we have cataloged see this page: moons