The constellations of the zodiac are traditionally rendered in pictographs called glyphs. In the ancient world the glyphs were carved into stone and the priests would run their fingers along the groove to enter into a trance state. In the trance they could tell the future and were able to tell the peasants when to plant and when to take the bull out to breed with the cows. In this way the priests could enter into the energetic dynamics of nature for the purpose of reading the signs in the heavens and how they were to play out on the earth.
Reading glyphs in this way is somewhat of a lost art today but it is possible to look at the glyphs with an eye towards their energetic signature. Seen from this perspective, glyphs of the constellations can give us pictures of the energies flowing in our gardens throughout what we could call the dynamic year. The dynamic year begins with what was known to the ancient Chinese as the setting of spring.
In western astrology the setting of spring would be when the sun is in the constellation of Aquarius, the water bearer. The glyph of Aquarius (February 16 – March 10) is composed of two horizontal wavy lines one set above the other below.
In this glyph we can see that heaven and earth are separated. We can imagine the wind above the water. This dynamic is the essence of the time of the year when the water resting within the earth during the winter suddenly is activated by the return of the light and warmth. Above and below flow in a distinct cadence with each other, they are linked and yet they are separate. The setting of spring tells of a time when the awakening, rising forces of nature are in dynamic accord but not yet fully formed.
The glyph for Pisces (March 11 – April 17) the next constellation of the zodiac, is a picture of a segment of three circles.
We see two circles placed horizontally and one above them placed so that they interact. This above and below motif is an echo of the glyph for Aquarius. The movement between Aquarius and Pisces can be pictured in the lines of Aquarius now becoming circles. This is a movement towards form. The forces of life are now rising of of the earth and coming into form. In Pisces we can think of the three elements active in the agricultural ritual of planting. The heavens above joined to the earth and the human being below. However, the circles are not complete but only segments. The forming has just begun but there is great potential.
In the glyph for Aries (April 18 – May 12) we see that one of the circles has gone up into the space above the other two and that the two lower parts have joined together on their outside surfaces.
This is a time in the dynamic year when the spring grasses and the new shoots of the greenwood on the trees are in full growth shooting out into space seeking the sun. The human is connected to the earth, digging, weeding, planting and tending to the endless gardening tasks of spring. The glyph shows the human and the earth wedded. This is the ancient image of the husbandman or steward of the land. The cosmic forces of growth have left the surface of the earth where the humans are toiling and they are hovering up in the realm of potential as the seeding processes begin to unfold in the winter grains now a few feet above the ground. The same picture is found in the fruits which have been fertilized earlier in spring and are now beginning to swell high up in the branches of the trees. Many annuals now begin the process of flowering while the early spring flowering plants are setting fruit. The bound feeling of Pisces has given way to a euphoric soaring of the forces of lushness and growth present in Aries.
In Taurus (May 13 – June 20) the growing processes which wereunfolding in Aries have now reached fruition. Even the annual plants which were flowering profusely start to slow down. The rush of spring is now over and a mellow feeling of completion comes into nature. What was only potential in Aquarius has come step by step into manifestation.
The Taurus glyph is a circle with a part of a circle on top of it to form the head of a bull. The upper circle which moved aloft in Aries has returned to sit on the two lower ones which have passed through each other and joined to form a complete circle. That which was separated and developing on its own has once more come together in a brief instant of harmony. All of the earlier processes where the forces of growth were leaving the surface of the earth are now brought into one place for refinement. Heaven and earth are once again in contact as spring is about to give way to summer.
In Gemini (June 21 – July 19) the rush to growth and the ardent will to escape the earth has been tempered. The upper circle in Taurus has once again become separated from the lower circle. The two are joined by two lines of light from the overhead sun streaming down to the earth from the cosmos. Heaven is above and the earth below with humanity in between.
The mood of Taurus, when all things came together into a synthesis, is once again opened up to mystery in Gemini. In nature the growth of early spring has dropped down to a condition almost like midwinter. The growth processes and fruiting suddenly ceases and a strangely inert hesitation seems to arise. It is no longer possible to increase growth now suddenly there is a standstill as the summer solstice brings once again the staying of the sun, this time in the northernmost position. The glyph depicts the time in the dynamic year when the turning of the season brings the ripening and decay processes to the fore.
Cancer (July 20 – August 9) is the time of the beginning of the harvest. The fruits are released from the earth and taken away. The rapid growth of the seedlings is now given over to steady, slower paced maturation. In the glyph of Cancer we can see that one circle and one line from Gemini have separated from the other circle and line from Gemini. The two are still united in the shape of a larger circle but now the unity has opened up to a new space. Now something which has not happened before can take place. The heavens once more must leap a gap in order to be linked with the earth. The space in between makes way for the new phase which cannot be predicted by what has developed out of the old way. We don’t know if the seed which lies within the ovary of the plant which is now ripening in the fruit will come true to type or something completely new will emerge from the seedling next spring. The inevitability of the rush of spring growth now has an air of mystery and freedom from inevitability. The die has been cast and now all we can do is wait and wonder about the magical place between the two forms and what happened there when we were too busy with chores to notice.
Leo (August 10 – September 15) is the time of the quickening of the new. We can see in the glyph that one of the sides of Cancer has burst free and the line has developed into a reflex curve of its own. For the first time in the dynamic year the reflex or compound curve is seen. A reflex curve has been there and back we could say that it knows both sides of the coin. The reflex curve becomes a motif for many of the glyphs on the descending side of the zodiac where the sun is moving to the south. There is a kind of swagger that the Leo glyph brings. It juts out its chest at us and from the tiny beginning circle there is a swelling reflex curve stretching into unforeseen dimensions. Up, down, right and left circles and parabolas. All of the possibilities are there. But, we could ask, “Just where is there?”
While Leo is like the call sung by the soloist, Virgo (September 16 – October 29) is the response sung back from the congregation. Come down to earth again high flying Leo, the complex and integrated glyph seems to be saying. Sit with us a spell and maybe tone yourself down a bit and we can multiply and incubate your energies into a new mystery. If we repeat the Leo glyph so that there are two and take the two circles and put them together on the end this repetition gives us the mystery “M” and the infinite figure eight of the lemniscate as a mood of the threshold going into winter. In the virgin all things are possible. All differences are brought together. Heaven is once again brought into the confines of the earth and nurtured there as the ripening processes of the fruit sugars are enhanced in the warm and active time around the fall equinox. There is what gardeners call “second spring” at this time. Some spring flowers like forsythia often bloom again for a short time in more moderate climates. Ripening takes the place of growth. Mystery dominates more than revelation as nature once again goes inside of herself and life returns to the womb of the great mother.
Like the climax of a Shakespeare play, Libra (October 30 – November 22)comes into the dynamic year speaking of harmony and future relationships. The glyph is composed of two lines horizontally oriented and parallel to each other, an echo of Aquarius. The circle motif is once again employed but this time the image is of a setting sun. The heavens are sinking below the earth the sun is running to the south. The insects are going under the bark and into the ground. The salmon are returning back into the small streams of their birth. The sandhill cranes are moving south. The leaves are falling to the ground. The gardener is spending more time around the hearth.
Just as we were basking in reverie, with a sudden flourish, Scorpio (November 23 – December 16) pulls out the proverbial dagger from the cloak of our dreams. The glyph calls to us to wake up again to the rotting and decay of all the things we left undone. Wake up to the sting of the first winter storm! Have you forgotten the feel of the teeth of the winter wind on your cheek? The glyph evokes once again the mystery “M” of Virgo but this is certainly the crone side of the virgin. The stinger on the tail of the “M” is an image of the necessary destruction of what started out so promising in the spring. Without the sting of death and decay there would be no promise of the future. Truly, the Scorpio glyph signifies perhaps the greatest mystery, but it is a mystery on the dark side of the zodiac.
As the year enters the darkest days the glyph of Sagittarius (17 December – 17 January) shows us the mood of nature during the winter solstice. The arrow of the Scorpion is now free from the mystery “M”. The mystery has been revealed and we can see that death is another sleeping with great potential for renewal. However there is no renewal in sight. The arrow points to what has already been revealed. Then there is a crossbar. This separates the arrow from the post on the other end. Death has been revealed and the sun is now in the earth and as yet there is no stirring. This is not an arrow flying through the air. This is an arrow which is a warning to not press too much and let things unfold in their own time. The sting of the glyph is a warning not an aggressive action. Wait and all will be revealed to you! Work and pray.
Coming out of the solstice time the glyph of Capricorn (18 January – 15 February) is an image of what is known as the sea goat. This is a mythological creature with the head of a goat and the tail of a fish. The goat in the ancient world was an animal with dark associations but it also was an animal with strong will and capacity to live easily in high and dangerous places. The sea goat has the head of the goat and the tail of a fish. The fish tail is an image of a mood of soddenness and depression. It points to a split between what is hidden below, contained in the loop of the tail and what is forward looking in the perky rams head. In nature this conflict is felt in the slow return of the light of the sun which has not yet manifest except for the slight shortening of the day. Nature is all potential and no motion. It is contained in the loop. And yet even in this most inward state the sea goat has an eye on future developments.
The whole year
The dynamic year is composed of growth energies moving from within the earth out into plants and animals and even beyond into the starry realms in the spring and summer and then returning again back through nature into the earth for the winter. In winter the growth forces are deep within the earth. In summer the earth breathes forces out again into plants and animals and back to the stars. The above and below motif is an energetic template for reading most of the zodiacal glyphs in the context of gaining insight into earth energies.