What images come to mind when you think about astrology? Chances are, the images of classic star charts are etched in your mind with their graceful, athletic figures like marble statues dotted with stars. So many of those stars and constellations were named (or renamed) by the Greeks, and these are the versions we’re familiar with. Modern astrology is heavily Hellenistic, but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find more ancient roots…
Pisces Season began on February 18th. It’s the last sign of the zodiac, a season of transition and acceptance before the renewal of the Spring Equinox. The constellation itself is seen as two fish, tied by a cord at the tail: it’s a sprawling, v-shaped cluster of stars, much dimmer than those that surround it, almost hidden beneath the vibrant body of Pegasus above. Our skies are full of heroes and legends — so how did two fish on a line find themselves installed in the heavens, let alone the symbol of a season of depth?
According to the Greek tradition, Pisces memorializes a daring escape during the Battle of Olympus when Typhon, the Beast of a Hundred Eyes and Arms, stole into the home of his godly brothers. While Zeus rained thunder on the intruder, Aphrodite and Eros dove from the mountain into the sea below, transforming themselves into fish to swim for safety. But when it comes to constellations, most figures we see were assumed bodily in the stars after death as a form of honor and remembrance: Aphrodite and Eros don’t end here. While it’s possible they shed their marine bodies like clothing and cast them into the stars, other historians say the fish were simply helpful creatures sympathetic to the plight of the gods. It’s important to remember that mythology is based on oral traditions and even the poets and historians that recorded these stories likely heard them from countless others before interpreting them in their own versions.
The idea of sympathetic savior fish is certainly quite Piscean, but it’s not my favourite origin story: there are a number of Greek myths adapted from earlier stories from other cultures and this may be the true starting point of Pisces. According to Richard Hinckley Allen, naturalist and stellar etymologist, Pisces may have originated as the Syrian goddess Deketo. Sometimes called Derke, she was a fertility goddess envisioned as a sort of proto-mermaid, potentially a feminine counterpart of Dagon, the half-man half-fish Canaanite god. It’s in the shadow of Deketo that Allen believes the Greeks found their Venusian link, confusing her with Astarte, another love and fertility goddess who has become inextricably linked with Aphrodite. It’s hard to tell where Aphrodite begins and Astarte ends as both were sensual, tempestuous goddesses born of the sea, and some historians believe the two fish of Pisces are Aphos and Bythos, mythical creatures who bore the Egg of the Goddess onto the shore and served as faithful attendants.
Personally, I think this is the best representation of Pisces: an amalgamation of ancient lore with indeterminate players and no real beginning or end. It illustrates cosmic purpose and unity, setting aside identity in service to something greater than one’s self.
Considering the mythological background of Pisces, it should be no surprise that it’s the sign of Venus’ exaltation. Venus doesn’t rule the sign — that title falls on Jupiter, a juicy mythological morsel to unwrap another day — but born of the rolling seas, she is her freest, most ideal self in its mists. Here, she indulges the dreamy romanticism and transcendent sensuality she cannot experience in her role as Ruler of her home signs, Taurus and Libra. In Pisces she can follow her wild mood swings, explore her affinity for love and war equally.
But the Divine Feminine is complicated. Venus embodies the feminine graces, the Anima expression, but even in detriment she can’t truly capture the feminine shadow.
In astrology, everything exists in dual expressions — the coin always has another side. On the other side of Pisces is Virgo, the site of the season’s full moon: if full moons are a chance to see where we’ve fallen out of alignment with the cosmic scheme, to shed our obstacles to unity and integration, this Full Moon becomes one of the biggest of the year.
At the time this Full Moon perfects, at 3:17AM Eastern Standard on February 27th, the Sun sits at 8 Degrees Pisces, a degree that speaks directly to the extremes of human expression and the fathomless darkness we ignore within. It falls between both astrological sea deities, with Venus to the East and Neptune, Pisces’ modern ruler, to the West. Directly across the horizon, the Moon is the sole occupant of the Northern hemisphere. In more ancient forms of astrology the moon was not necessarily embraced as it is now; certain phases and placements were considered cold, distant, ominous, isolating. If not for one particular aspect, this might be one of those lonely moons.
There’s an unlikely ally to be had: Uranus is a major player this year, not only as an embodiment of our 2021 archetype, the Hierophant, but also as a key planet in many of the year’s significant and unique aspects. Uranus might not be the most stabilizing force (even in slow and steady Taurus), but it reminds us of the transitional nature of this season. Uranus is the Holy Fool, a Houseless Wanderer bringing change to all he touches and we’ve already seen his influence in Taurus marked with countless innovations in the food industry, banking, cryptocurrency, and stock fluctuations. With this Full Moon, Uranus reminds us that nothing is static. Everything changes and in fact, everything must change. There’s a fine line between structure and obstacle, and the same four walls that shelter us can become a prison.
But there’s another inhabitant in Taurus right now and her presence may hold the key to this moon’s true power.
I’d like you to read a story. It begins one of the most influential tales of all time. It’s a blueprint for nearly every story we know and love, and it all begins with fertile soil and the winds of change:
[I]n the days when the fates were decreed,
When abundance overflowed in the land,
When the Sky God took the heavens and the Air God the earth,
When Ereshkigal was given the Great Below for her domain,
The God of Wisdom, Father Enki, set sail for the underworld,
And the underworld rose up and attacked him….
At that time, a tree, a single tree, a huluppu-tree
Was planted by the banks of the Euphrates.
The tree was nurtured by the waters of the Euphrates.
The whirling South Wind arose, pulling at its roots
And ripping at its branches
Until the waters of the Euphrates carried it away.
A woman who walked in fear of the word of the Sky God, An,
Who walked in fear of the Air God, Enlil,
Plucked the tree from the river and spoke:
“I shall bring this tree to Uruk.
I shall plant this tree in my holy garden.”
Inanna cared for the tree with her hand
She settled the earth around the tree with her foot
“How long will it be until I have a shining throne to sit upon?
How long will it be until I have a shining bed to lie upon?”
The years passed; five years, and then ten years.
The tree grew thick,
But its bark did not split.
Then the serpent who could not be charmed
Made it’s nest in the roots of the huluppu-tree.
The Imdugud-bird set its young in the branches of the tree.
And the dark maid Lilith built her home in the trunk.
This opens the Epic of Gilgamesh, a history of cities and kings told in poetry and myth. While historians debate whether this preface was added in later versions, it endures.
The story of the Huluppu Tree provides an interesting cosmological parallel for so many stories to come focussing on the divine and monstrous feminine.
Inanna, the Goddess of Love and War, Queen of Heaven, tends the tree, counting her work as an investment towards her future comfort and success. This willow, which grows both up towards heaven and down to meet the earth while its roots stretch towards the underworld, is to be the seat of her power. But when she’s ready for her throne, she finds it occupied — Venus must confront obstacles to her exaltation. These are beastly incarnations of the shadows within: the serpent is a pervasive symbol of cosmic origins, both masculine and feminine, an embodiment of the cyclical nature of reality. By the time the Epic was composed, mankind had already charmed countless cosmic serpents but the serpent of the Huluppu tree was not one. This passage actually repeats a number of times in a cycle of appeals from Inanna to her brothers, begging them to lend their brute strength and conquering drive to her cause.
The Imdugud-bird may be an early version of the Anzu, a mythological embodiment of storm energy, potentially related to Ziz, the sky-dwelling counterpart to Behemoth and Leviathan. Most stories of these birds focus on their destructive capacity but in the Huluppu tree, the Imdugud-bird nests quietly with its young, fostering crises yet to come, tending to the next generation of storm-bringers.
But it’s the third beast who prevents Inanna from taking her throne and it’s she who brings this Full Moon to light: the dark maid Lilith.
Since the 1970’s, Lilith has enjoyed a sort of dubious celebrity as the “first wife” of Adam, a feminist revolutionary and icon for freedom. But like everything that reaches pop phenomenon status, this story should be taken with a grain of salt. Lilith is much older than her current incarnation would have us believe and this is one of her earliest appearances. In ancient Mesopotamia, she was one of a particular race of wind spirits, the Lilu, from which she gets her name. There are historians and translators who question this of course: the word used in some forms of this story may translate to something like “owl,” an animal with which Lilith is thought to share a number of physical characteristics including her bird-like talons and far-reaching wings. But metaphorically, Lilith feels right in this story. She’s an embodiment of the wild feminine, the untameable, primal nature that is at once threatening, predatory, and unfathomably desirable.
Astrological Lilith, the Lunar Apogee, communicates all of these things: it represents all that we feel we do not deserve, the obstacles that prevent us from accepting our rightful place and universal purpose, and ultimately reveals that which we desire more than anything. Lilith is everything we envy and aspire to, yet do not see within ourselves. In this story she is the dark mirror of Inanna, inspiring her fury and disgust as she prevents the goddess from an easy ascent to her throne.
With Uranus still in the company of Lilith as it strengthens the Moon this weekend, we begin to see our obstacles in new ways. Those objects, roles, and people who restrict us, the prisons we’ve built for ourselves and others must be turned around, examined from new angles, questioned incessantly. Are you fighting to occupy the same space as another? Is it possible the creature that haunts you is a dark image of yourself? Even in daily life, we set so many limitations for ourselves. The labels we adopt and cling to can actually impede our growth. Sometimes, we need to rattle the branches and chase out our beasts to see how much room we really have.