Sleight of Hand


May 25, 2017 at 12:45pm PDT / 7:45pm UT

Sun and Moon conjoined at 4°46' Gemini

picEvery month the Sun and Moon meet and mark the beginning of a brand new lunar cycle. At the New Moon, we embark on a fresh round of growth, both outward (Sun) and inward (Moon) flavored by the sign in which the conjunction falls, the condition of its ruling planet, and further influenced by other planets that form important links to the New Moon degree.

This week's New Moon falls in versatile, cordial Gemini; and so we trade in the slow, deliberate, earthy-sensual vibe of Taurus, the sign of the lunar cycle just passing, for the breezy, quicksilver razzamatazz of nimble Gemini. Yet, this New Moon is not a complete transition, for Mercury, ruler of Gemini and planetary ruler of the New Moon, is traveling behind the Sun, recovering from a recent retrograde in the fixed earth sign of Taurus. And, Ceres, grounded, nurturing Mother Nature herself, is widely conjunct the Gemini New Moon.

So we have a New Moon in a mutable (flexible) air sign with tethers to practical, cautious earth. So while we may crave social contact and intellectual stimulation much more over this next month, we'll definitely be tacking towards practical connections and sensible pursuits. More willing now to leave our cozy little Taurean clover patch, but perhaps not so hastily — and only for a VERY GOOD REASON.

Nevertheless, when Gemini rules the lunar month, tethered to earth or not, we are definitely up for new adventures — adventures of a "cerebral" variety that is. With a fun-loving knack for wordplay and other kinds of tricky verbal gymnastics, Gemini prefers light-hearted exchanges with cheerful sorts, ideally conversant on a number of topics and possessing picof a sharp sense of humor. Whoever said, "Variety is the spice of life," must have had Gemini/Mercury prominent in the natal chart.

Every sign, however, has its deeper, perhaps more hidden, aspect, and with dualistic, often fickle, Gemini, sign of the cosmic twins, and ruled by that arch-trickster, all the more so. With this Gemini lunar month, blessed with a touch of practical, reasonable earth, it's a good time to get in touch with your own more solid mercurial side. A good time as well to take a closer look at this resilient, multifaceted Mercury/Gemini archetype: bateleur of the zodiac wheel.

In astrology, the planet Mercury represents the intellect: how our minds work, how we process experience. Mercury's main contributions are cognitive: reading, writing, speaking, teaching — the gathering and distribution of information we need in order to function well in life. But Mercury is also associated with movement, getting around and making meaningful, useful connections in the world around us. Mythological messenger of the gods, fact-gatherer and disseminator of information, Mercury's winged shoes (talaria) are representative of his function as a go-between from the world of human affairs and the transcendent realm. Mercury delivered messages from the gods to mortals, and that act represents his function as a bridge from the mundane to the sacred. Mercury's dualistic nature, as we see, is embedded in his mythology, and in the human brain itself, with its two, very different hemispheres.

Two souls, alas! within my bosom throne;
One from the other wildly longs to sever.
One, with a passionate love that never tires,
Cleaves as with clamps of steel to things of earth,
The other upwards through earth's mists aspires
To kindred regions of a loftier worth.

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I came across these lines from Goethe's Faust in astrologer Melanie Reinhart's book, Chiron and the Healing Journey, in the chapter on Chiron in Gemini. And what a good description of Gemini's intrinsic dual nature: one part celestial, one terrestrial. Looking at Goethe's natal chart (Rodden AA), we see strong Mercury and earth element motifs that echo the patterns in this week's New Moon: a Mercury-ruled Virgo Sun in mutual reception with, and widely conjoined, natal Mercury in Leo; natal Venus also in Virgo; Ceres in Taurus trine the Virgo Sun; and the Moon in that other sign strongly associated with duality, mutable Pisces.

World-Creating Spirit

Medieval alchemists described a figure, Mercurius, whom they considered both a "world-creating spirit" and the "spirit concealed or imprisoned in matter." Mercurius represented a paradox in that he was responsible for creating the world, yet was trapped in his creation. We can view this insight on a mundane level, trapped as we can be in our own mental attitudes, biases and assumptions, or in a broader sense as a description of the overall condition of life, all of us caught in the grand illusion.

The Native American "Man in the Maze" is a similar motif depicting a figure, Elder Brother or Se:he, trapped in a web-like labyrinth. It is a common weaving design employed by Tohono O'odham and the related Pima tribes of the American Southwest. picAccording to O'odham oral history, the maze depicts experiences and choices we make in our journey through life. At the heart of the maze lies our dreams and goals, and when we finally wind our way to the center after all the twists and turns of life, we are greeted by the Sun God. The very last turn in the design symbolizes one final opportunity to look back upon our choices and actions, and make any closing reparations before the Sun God guides us into the next world.

The Hindu concept of "maya" is also quite similar to the Man in the Maze, and alchemists' idea of consciousness trapped in its own incomplete creation. Maya is the principal deity that manifests, perpetuates and governs the illusion of duality here on this earthly plane of existence. Maya illusion refers to the notion that we do not experience life, but a projection of it, all of which is determined by us. The word maya is derived from the Sanskrit roots ma "not" and ya, generally translated as "that." Maya refers to the fundamental truth that our immense, infinite universe can never be reduced enough for the mind to grasp. Whatever term we come up with, however hard we try to explain the immensity of creation, it's NOT THAT. Anything we can dream up is part of maya — fragments of the greater whole. Enlightenment — is to know this, picto experience this ultimate truth: the separation between self and the the rest of the Universe, that infinite ocean, is a false dichotomy, illusion, maya.

Perhaps this is the basis for Mercury's reputation as a trickster and conjurer? The entire experience of life itself, a sleight of hand, smoke and mirrors.

The Master Key

So trickster Mercury is our connective agent from this infinite, incomprehensible realm to our ordinary earthly existence. A complex astrological symbol, and as astrologer Alice O. Howell put it, Mercury "represents an astrological master of ceremonies, the guide, the connector, the joker in the pack, the passe-partout" — or master key to it all. Mercury is in a category all his own.

"If you were to see the planets lined up in a great Virginia Reel, you would find a group of couples whose processes are balanced to one another. Mercury would be the caller, directing the exchange of partners. Or if you contemplate one of your sneakers, the eyelet holes would be the planets, and Mercury would be the shoelace criss-crossing and binding the shoe together."

— Alice O. Howell

THE TAROT MAGICIAN corresponds to both Gemini and Mercury. On the Rider-Waite card shown here, the Magician (Bateleur) stands behind a table laid out with the symbols of the four Tarot suits — a motif that survives in many modern playing cards with the corresponding Joker, often shown with the symbols of the four suites (which we see in the card above). Each symbol corresponds to one of the four elements: cups and hearts (water); wands and clubs (fire); pentacles and diamonds (earth); and swords and spades (air).

In his song, "Shape of My Heart," Sting refers to these same correspondences:

I know that the spades are the swords of a soldier
I know that the clubs are weapons of war
I know that diamonds mean money for this art
But that's not the shape of my heart

picThe Magician, like Mercury, is the glue, the connective tissue that brings all the elements together. The lemniscate floats like a halo over his head and his tunic belt is an ouroboros, the serpent swallowing its tail. Both are symbols for infinity and wholeness.

In Greek mythology, the equivalent for Mercury was Hermes, and the Magician clearly represents the well-known Hermetic maxim, "As above, so below" upon which astrology is based. In the Magician's right hand, he holds a divining rod to the heavens, while the left hand points to the ground. White lilies, symbol of the purity of the soul, are entwined with red roses that represent earthy passions and desires. The Magician, like Gemini and Mercury, tells us we are both human AND divine.

Hermeticism appeared early in the Common Era and was thought to contain the teachings of the ancient Egyptian priesthood. For many centuries, it was the dominant system of esoteric wisdom in Europe and the Middle East. According to scholars, the earliest verifiable version of the ancient Hermetic text, the Emerald Tablet dates from the eighth century and was found in an Arabic work from the Middle Ages by the Islamic alchemist, Jabir ibn Hayyan, whose works seem to have been deliberately written in highly esoteric code, so that only initiates could understand. The term "gibberish" is believed to have originally referred to Jabir's tricky, undecipherable writings.

I think it's a pretty safe bet Jabir had Gemini and/or Mercury prominent in his chart.



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The Bateleur (street performer) Tarot card at the beginning of this article is from the 1969 Elisabeth Haich edition of Tarot cards originally created by Oswald Wirth for his Le Tarot des Imagiers du Moyen-Age. Haich created 22 cards in the style of the Wirth deck to accompany her book on the Tarot.

The Magician Tarot card, shown above, is from the Rider-Waite deck. Authored by A. E. Waite and illustrated by Pamela Coleman, it was originally published in 1909 in England by Rider and Company.

Reinhart, Melanie. Chiron and the Healing Journey. New York: Penguin, 1989.

"Shape of My Heart" is from Sting's 1992 album Ten Summoner's Tales — Songwriters: Dominic Miller, Gordon Sumner, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

Sources consulted: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols (Thames and Hudson Ltd, London, 1978); A Dictionary of Symbols, ed. J. E. Cirlot (Vail-Ballou Press, New York, 1983)

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