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Archive for September, 2006

Erisian fields

Sunday, September 17th, 2006


Suggested glyph for Eris

A suggested glyph for Eris

“Quantum physicists at the best institutions agree that the tiniest particles making up matter itself have ceased to behave with the predictability of linear equations. Instead, they jump around in a discontinuous fashion, disappearing, reappearing, suddenly gaining and losing energy.”
Douglas Rushkoff

Finally 2003 UB313 has a name!

Eris, and her moon Dysnomia, were announced to the world by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) on September 13th after an unprecedented 13½ months of discordant deliberation. Eris is the Greek goddess of strife and discord (Roman equivalent Discordia) and Dysnomia (‘lawlessness’) is one of her many daughters, her name also referring to the condition of being unable to name things. Discoverers Mike Brown, Chad Trujillo and David Rabinowitz, who suggested the names to the IAU, can clearly see the joke! Eris, under her Roman name of Discordia, even appeared in an episode of Xena, Warrior Princess, the more irreverent codename given to the new planet by her discoverers in advance of her official recognition.

As might be expected, astrological circles have been buzzing. Disappointingly, much of the comment seems to be focussing on the apparently malefic aspect of Eris and her Golden Apple of Discord, who are generally blamed for the start of the Trojan War. Yet astrological archetypes are what they are, and of themselves are neither positive nor negative. Whether they manifest as a positive or negative influence has more to do with individual context and how the energies are handled. So it seems pertinent to look at Eris in a more balanced light. And given her place in the outer reaches of the solar system, we can already predict that she will be deep, chaotic, and have to do with far more fundamental aspects of the human psyche than the personal planets close to the Sun.


The following comments are notes of thoughts arising from a closer look at the mythical character of Eris, combined with a direct apprehension of her energies. It should be emphasised that what the dwarf planet signifies in charts has yet to be determined in practice.

The story goes that Eris, alone among the Olympians, was excluded from the forced wedding of Peleus and Thetis because of her troublemaking inclinations. She therefore tossed into the party the Apple of Discord, a golden apple inscribed Kallisti – “For the most beautiful one”, or “To the Prettiest One” – provoking Hera, Athena and Aphrodite to begin quarreling about the appropriate recipient. Paris, Prince of Troy, was appointed to select the most beautiful. Each of the three goddesses immediately attempted to bribe him to choose her. Hera offered political power; Athena promised skill in battle; and Aphrodite tempted him with the most beautiful woman in the world: Helen, wife of Menelaus of Sparta. While Greek culture placed a greater emphasis on prowess and power, Paris choose to award the apple to Aphrodite, thereby dooming his city, which was destroyed in the war that ensued when the Spartans demanded the return of their queen.

DIS-CORD (lit. hearts apart) is about breaking the ties of conditioning, the ties that bind us societally and culturally as well as individually. It’s about the challenge to think for ourselves and to real-ise our deeper “truer” natures (which are embedded in chaos to a far greater extent than we take them for). It’s about creating the dissonances in belief systems that shake them at their foundations and wake people up. No guru, no teacher, no method stuff, though kind of Zen in many ways.



Appropriate then, that Eris was not invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis. The right to self-determination is excluded in a forced marriage. This aspect of Eris also gives us a common theme with her previous incarnation of Xena, the latter now seeming much more of a two-dimensional character – a kind of female Mars/Ares, too ego-based (which Eris is not) in comparison to the vast depth and potential inherent in Eris.

Discord is also the discordant notes which are just so much more dynamic, so much more sublime, than the purest of regular harmonies (think Bruckner, Tavener, Bulgarian folk singers). They’re scrunchy – they rub you up in all sorts of interesting ways and send shivers down your spine – and this is more in the nature of Eris’s discord and strife than our purely dualistic unidimensional conception of man-pitted-against-man, though inevitably there are shades of that too.

Eris might have been instrumental in precipitating the Trojan War, but did she really cause it? What caused the immediate problem was the reaction of the participants to Eris’s apple, reactions for which they were responsible, not Eris. Were it not for the goddesses falling prey to greed, vanity and jealousy – arguably far greater vices than a bit of spoon-stirring – no trouble would have ensued. But ultimately the responsibility could be seen to lie with Zeus and Poseidon who forced the marriage of Peleus and Thetis, because they did not respect the right to self-determination, being interested only in the prophecy that Thetis’ son (Achilles) would become mightier than his father. In this context, Eris begins to look far more like a scapegoat than a prima facie principal cause.

Similarly, discord, differences of opinion, are not of themselves problematic. What creates the problem is the idea that only one person can be “right”, so Eris can be seen to be constantly challenging this perceived need for uniformity of outlook, the hegemony of the established order, and the tyranny and preciousness of the ego along with it. She invites us to go beyond such superficial concerns to a deeper, more fundamental, more authentic level of reality. She invites us into the darkly chaotic.

There is an enormous amount of fun in this energy. It’s very irreverent. Self-confident. Doesn’t give a toss for authority or rules (particularly in the company of Dysnomia). Anarchic. Chaotic. Rooted in paradox. Throws the spotlight on Borges’ “eternal intervals of illogicalness” (left). Loves to disturb people’s cosy illusions and throw them things from way left of field, challenging dogma and habit and undermining serious certitude. A more fundamental cousin of Trickster, with no mentalised clever-cleverness, reasoning or structure. Carpe Diem. Everything’s up for grabs. Messes with people’s fixed perceptions and pulls the rug out from under their feet. Throws a spanner in the works, or perhaps the odd golden apple. Stomps all over delicate sensibilities, particularly the more tyrannical ones, with glee. Shades of John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) “all confusion is confident …”

It’s significant that Eris is in Aries because this process is just beginning. Eris entered Aries on April 28 1923 and will leave it for the last time on March 10 2048. [All dates from Jonathan Dunn’s ephemeris.] In 2012, Eris will be moving to and fro between 21° and 22° degrees Aries. The Sabian symbols (Rudhyar keynotes) for those degrees are respectively “The gate to the garden of all fulfilled desires.” Keynote: Abundance made possible by human togetherness and cooperation, and “A pregnant woman in light summer dress.” Keynote: Fecundity (Fertility/Productive) inner fulfillment. However, the Sabian for 20° Aries, which is where the planet is backing into right now and will enter next Thursday – and will be backing into repeatedly between now and Feb 8 2010 when it finally leaves 20° behind – is “A pugilist enters the ring.” Keynote: The release and glorification of social aggressiveness. Eris’s proximity to 20° Aries on the day of its announcement is highly amusing in view of the predominantly pugilistic interpretation currently being made of its energies!

Eris was also at 20° Aries until August 30 2001, when it backed into 19° Aries, Sabian “A young girl feeding birds in winter.” Keynote: Overcoming crises through compassion. Note that the Sabian for 21° Aries – abundance through togetherness and cooperation – needs to be seen in the sense of a group of individuals all thinking for themselves and cooperating out of a sense of mutual respect and shared goals, NOT in the sense of sharing some dogma and being bound by its rules.

Eris’s number is 5. (An apple sliced crosswise has a 5-pointed star at its core.) She has a strong resonance with 5th house matters – creative self-expression, the senses, pleasure and entertainment, games and play, adventure, exploration, knowledge-seeking – and, in common with the Sun, the hitherto sole ruler of the 5th house, also has to do with self-determination. She is the flip side of the coin that is Geburah, severity, the 5th sephirah within the Qabbalistic Tree of Life. Yet she is also strength, another designation given to Geburah. Note that briga, the old Celtic word for strife, derives from brig, strength, and that brigands were bands of outlaws bringing chaos wherever they went. Eris gets us comfortable with chaos and introduces us to the sheer fun of it all.

A delightfully irreverent expression of Erisian energy is found in Discordianism, a religion founded in the late 1950s and dedicated to Eris. “It has been described as both an elaborate joke disguised as a religion, and as a religion disguised as an elaborate joke. Some of its followers make the claim that it is “a religion disguised as a joke disguised as a religion” (or “a joke disguised as a religion disguised as a joke disguised as…”). It can be viewed as a simple rejection of reductionism and dualism, even falsifiability – not in concept different from postmodernism or certain trends in the philosophy of mathematics. It has also been described as “Zen for roundeyes,” and converges with some of the more absurdist interpretations of the Rinzai school.”

“GREATER POOP: Is Eris true?
MALACLYPSE THE YOUNGER: Everything is true.
GP: Even false things?
M2: Even false things are true.
GP: How can that be?
M2: I don’t know man, I didn’t do it.”
Discordian koan, from Principia Discordia

Pluto no go

Thursday, September 7th, 2006

“Even as the finite encloses an infinite series, and in the unlimited limits appear, So the soul of immensity dwells in minutiae. And in the narrowest limits, no limits inhere. What joy to discern the minute in infinity! The vast to perceive in the small, what Divinity!.”
Jakob Bernoulli

It seems the controversy over Pluto’s demotion as a planet is not going to go away just yet awhile. Many astronomers (from Gr. astro-nomos, literally “naming, arranging, regulating of stars”) feel that a decision like this shouldn’t have be made by only 4% of the International Astronomical Union’s membership, and that given the cultural ownership of the word, perhaps even wider consultation is necessary. Dr. Tony Phillips is one. As NASA‘s website production editor and webmaster at Spaceweather.com, his views have a higher profile than most and he’s now running a poll on the subject which you can vote in and contribute your comments to.

Astronomers at the IAU’s General Assembly voted on August 24th to define a planet as:

“… a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit.” (full text)

Clause (c) in the IAU’s definition seems most unsatisfactory. While appreciating that it attempts to define in some vague way a gravitational threshold above which a large body is either able to attract matter into orbit or repel it (“clearing the neighbourhood”), it looks very shakey in the instance of Mercury who’s clear neighbourhood likely has far more to do with its proximity to the Sun than its own gravitational strength, which isn’t even sufficient to create an atmosphere. At only 4,880km diameter, compared to Pluto’s 2,296km and 2003 UB313’s 2,400km, Mercury looks much more comfortable amongst the dwarf planets than it does next to Earth (12,756km) and Venus (12,104km), let alone Saturn (120,034km) and Jupiter (142,740km). And even taking into account its considerably greater density, giving it a higher mass and proportionately much stronger gravitational pull than Pluto, the exclusion of Pluto still seems somewhat arbitrary and not wholly justified.

It seems absurd in any case to try to draw rigid group distinctions between a collection of heterogeneous bodies. While Pluto plainly is something of a maverick in the company of the larger outer planets, it’s still about drawing a notional line on a continual sliding scale of magnitude. The decision on whether something is a planet or not consequently has to be as much cultural as scientific. Possibly even psychological and philosophical into the bargain.

The discovery of new planets has proceeded in tandem with human progress and scientific exploration, and has come to be associated with it, so it feels instinctively “wrong” that the number of planets should become fixed. It’s tantamount to saying we can go no further. Trying to define “planet” scientifically purely to satisfy our desire to be “scientific” about something when it’s clearly not very appropriate to do so is poor reasoning and would seem to indicate a retrograde step in our progress. How pertinent that this should be reflected in the IAU shrinking our solar system from 9 to 8 planets! While Pluto was in retrograde motion relative to the Earth at that.

The IAU’s inital draft proposal didn’t, on the face of it, seem much better since this would have resulted in an increase in the number of planets from 9 to 13 (or 12 if Pluto-Charon is considered a unit). It felt like too great a step … increments of one seem to make far more sense.

IAU's proposed solar system before the vote

But it’s pertinent to consider (from L. con-siderare, literally “with the constellations”) all that Pluto represents symbolically, whether purely by association with the Roman deity it’s named for, or in astrological terms (from Gr. astro-logos, literally “the word, intelligence, reason of the stars”), in relation to the collective psyche. From the time of their first discovery, the planets have represented archetypes in the collective psyche (which indeed the Roman and Greek gods they are named for also did). The Plutonic is something that’s been emerging into the light of day out of the Jungian shadow of the collective mindset since its discovery in 1930. That year saw a sea-change in German politics with the rise of National Socialism, and all it precipitated, with its eventual revelation to the world of the depths of depravity humankind was capable of sinking to. Society’s greatest danger to itself and to the Earth lies in that shadow territory – what lies buried in the unconscious underworld – and we are still largely unconscious of what potential resides in all of us, and of all that’s going on behind the scenes in our name. (As it happens, Jung’s perceptions of the human psyche were also coming to prominence around the time of Pluto’s discovery.) This step by the IAU seems to symbolise a wider scale attempt by those in positions of “authority” to bury the Plutonic back down in the depths out of sight again. Highly pertinent in view of all the questions that are being asked of the events of 9/11 and beyond, but a backward step for the cause of ethical open government, even a disastrous (from L. dis-astrum, literally “against the stars”) one.

“I’m saying that we should trust our intuition. I believe that the principles of universal evolution are revealed to us through intuition. And I think that if we combine our intuition and our reason, we can respond in an evolutionary sound way to our problems.”
Jonas Salk

It’s not just Pluto we need to bring back into the light of consciousness either. 2003 UB313, codenamed “Xena” by her discoverers, has been waiting for her official name for an unprecedented amount of time now – over a year. To demote her from planetary status before she even received her official name (= conscious recognition) seems like the greatest of insults, not to mention having ominous implications for our future psychological wellbeing and the health of the planet. Is it any accident that the demotion of the giant asteroid Ceres (the Roman Earth Goddess) from planet to asteroid coincided with the Industrial Revolution and the consequent rape of the Earth? “Xena”‘s formal recognition and restoration to planetary status seems crucial. We really could do with the services of a warrior princess around the place right now.

In the light of this more symbolic interpretation of the IAU’s original proposal, it’s beginning to look as if the conference would have been better advised to accept that considerably more enlightened vision of our solar system. For it was also to have admitted Ceres, symbolically bringing back to consciousness a need to care for the Earth, and Charon (Greek for ‘fierce brightness’) who, as ferryman of the newly dead across the Acheron to Hades, is the link between Mercury/Hermes (= conscious wordly rational mind) and Pluto/Hades (= the primordial underworld of the collective unconscious).

So we’ve kept Mercury (how indeed could we let it go?) but denied Pluto and ourselves the opportunity for the fierce brightness of an enlightened and compassionate appraisal of our collective shadow and what it’s doing to ourselves and the planet. Perhaps it’s some deep unconscious recognition of this that’s bringing out so much mourning for this decision?
One of 2003 UB313’s discoverers Mike Brown also has some interesting comments on the controversy, and his thoughts about his discovery in the wake of the IAU’s decision.

“Everything you see has its roots in the unseen world. The forms may change, yet the essence remains the same. Every wonderful sight will vanish; every sweet word will fade, But do not be disheartened, The source they come from is eternal, growing, Branching out, giving new life and new joy. Why do you weep? The source is within you. And this whole world is springing up from it.”
Jalal al-din Muhammad Rumi

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smeddum.net - Blog: Confessions of a Serial Prover. Weblog on homeopathy, health and related subjects by homeopathic practitioner Wendy Howard