Just watched the series Vikings on DVD. It’s drama, not documentary, about the semi-historical, legendary figure Ragnar Lothbrok. And at one point 9 men are sacrificed to Odin in the temple at Uppsala. They go willingly, and after their throats are cut they are hung upside down from an ash tree in the way that Odin was hung upside down from the world ash Ygdrassil in his search for wisdom:
“I hung from that windswept tree, hung there for nine long nights; I was pierced with a spear. I was an offering to Odin, myself to myself. No one came to comfort me with bread, no one revived me with drink from a horn…Then I began to thrive, my wisdom grew; I prospered and was fruitful…”
I never thought I’d find myself defending human sacrifice – it’s not exactly politically correct – but this event, at least the way it was portrayed, had archetypal power for all concerned. For the Vikings the afterlife was real. If you died as a warrior, for example, then Odin would take you to his hall where every day you would go out on to the plains to fight, you would be killed, and Odin would raise you up again for a night of feasting and drinking.
Well, Odin took half the battle slain, and the goddess Freya took the other half to her fields, and those who died a dishonourable death went to Hel. And as myth, there are plenty of loose ends.
Maybe it depends how you view death. But if death has this sort of myth behind it, who is to say that it is better to live than to die, why not be part of a religious sacrifice for the sake of your people?
Of course, the spectre of Islamic suicide bombers immediately raises its head, with the prospect of all those virgins waiting for them in paradise.
So human sacrifice is not a simple issue, and I think a major factor is the degree of brainwashing involved and the degree of narrow literalism behind the way the myth is taken, so that only your race or religion are saved.
All the same, the reason I am defending it was because I could feel the archetypal power behind the event, the sense of the forces of a greater reality being invoked. Maybe I’m just a sucker for Norse mythology.
And then I thought well which is better, having this sort of myth around death, or the nihilistic bleatings of the existential psychotherapist Irviv Yalom, that death is an extinction, and you’d better believe it, because any other view is a false comfort? And that there is no meaning in the universe apart from what we artificially add on? And he gets his poor patients to think like that as though these are ‘facts’ they need to come to terms with, rather than just his own prejudices.
No, it’s a puny way to live and die. Humans need great myths to live and die by, it is the way we are built. We are diminished as people without such myths, myths that are real without being hard ‘facts’, the curse of our Gemini Age, facts without meaning, lacking the the opposite sign of Sagittarius.
[We live in a Gemini Age because that is the sign in which the last conjunction of Neptune and Pluto took place around 1890; and the conjunction 500 years before that. The Spectre of Facticity, largely through the medium of science, has been pursuing us for a long time now.]
Ad Break: I offer skype astrology readings (£60 full reading, £40 for an update). Contact: BWGoddard1 (at)aol.co.uk
So what myths around death does astrology have? First of all, anything around astrology is myth, rather than fact. The planets as gods, influenced by starry constellations, telling us stories about our lives down here. How could that ever be ‘fact’? But to the degree to which that sort of cosmology has imaginative power for us, to that degree it will tell us things that are real, far more than mere facts ever could.
This is an important point. Truth is an imaginative act, and there can only be a small degree of truth in anything that does not have imaginative appeal, that does not infuse the universe with meaning. And when a collective has a common set of myths, such as those of the astrological community, then I think those myths gain power almost as entities in themselves. So in some sense your mythology is “what does it for you”, but it needs to be more than that if it is to have much power, it needs to come from a deeper, collective source that will therefore also appeal to others.
I don’t think astrology does have a set of explicit myths about what happens when you die, which is why it can be used as an ‘add-on’ to say Christianity or Buddhism. But I think there are implied myths through the fact that the planets are named after the Greek and Roman gods, and astrology derives its power from that, whether or not we have reduced the planets to a set of principles and keywords. They are there lurking in the background, and it is interesting that by transit ALL the planets from Jupiter outwards can be involved in death one way or another. Jupiter because he takes us up to the realm of the gods when we die; Saturn and Pluto because they ARE death; Uranus and Neptune because they can represent that life-changing disruption or dissolution respectively with which death can appear. The inner planets may be the trigger for death, but the outer planets ARE the death that the inner planets are triggering.
If you are an astrologer then you are living mythologically, so it would not make sense to have a non-mythological view of death. That said, I think there also needs to be room for the idea that actually we don’t know what happens after we die, there is an honesty to that if we live in modern times. And therefore a dishonesty to insist in a literal way on any particular mythology, including the materialist myth of extinction.
And let’s face it, some of us KNOW that life continues in some form after death, we have experiences of people after they die. They turn up, and it feels good, it feels right, even though we don’t probably know what happens to them next, but that doesn’t matter, it’s unknowable anyway because it’s happening outside of time and space and form, which are just temporary constructs that we use.
But back to the mythology of death and astrology, what we do have is Mercury taking dead souls to the Underworld where Pluto takes them in, once you’ve paid Charon’s fare across the river Styx. And that’s why I want to be buried with a coin in my mouth, in honour of that mythology, because Pluto turns up regularly for me and these sort of things continue after death. And I’m quite happy to have these 2 different things going on strongly: that I don’t know what will happen when I die, but I can trust it because life has taught me to trust whatever major stage comes next, and why should death be different?; and that I need a coin in my mouth to get to Pluto’s realm. I don’t need to add it all up logically, logic gets left far behind once you’re dead. Or thinking mythologically, something many people have forgotten how to do.
And when I say Pluto is mythological, I don’t mean any less real than ‘factual’ reality. Myth means a story about a divine being, and you can experience these beings, they really are there, and they are powerful.
So if you’re an astrologer, it’s worth thinking about how you feel about death in the light of Greek mythology, because you are plugged into that mythology, though not necessarily exclusively. And some parts of those mythologies are more primal, more archetypal then others, like descending to the Underworld and being taken there by Mercury; while other bits, like the description of the Underworld, with its different places such as Tartarus and the Elysian fields are more culture specific and less universally archetypal, and therefore I think we can put them to one side if we wish.