Background to the 9th House North Node: Walking the Path of the Centaur Chiron

Modernist rendering of Chiron with Achilles on his back. Chiron taught Achilles how to use a bow and arrow, and this is one of the reasons Sagittarius has become the archer of the Zodiac.
John Singer Sargent’s Modernist rendering of Chiron with Achilles on his back. Chiron taught Achilles how to use a bow and arrow as well as play the lyre.

Since we’re about to go into an in-depth look at the North Node in the 9th house, it’s “lucky” (a key word for the 9th house) that I had already written most of what I’m borrowing from an earlier post (from an earlier point of view, so it’s good to have a chance to rewrite and revise—a 9/3 house theme, appropriate since this is my nodal axis).

Over time, and through the various iterations of astrological practice, each house has taken on various meanings. The earliest meanings for the 9th house do not include most of what I talk about in this post, largely because the earliest use of the chart did not assign rulerships to each house. 

However, once rulerships were assigned to each house, the original meanings of the constellations that inspired astrological practice often became lost in the mists of time. Even so, we have inherited this collective ‘memory’, although we’ve largely forgotten much of what was once believed about the constellations.

There is a long history of mythology and meaning that lies behind the story of how Sagittarius, the 9th sign of the Zodiac, derives from ancient Babylon, Mesopotamia, and Greece, before the idea of the centaur-as-archer arrives on our postmodern doorstep. In the ability to transform from a man into an animal, the Greeks are following in the Indo-European tradition, where the motif of this kind of hybridization of humans with animals is well known.

Long ago, even before Ptolemy, one of the West’s earliest accepted sources on constellations and their relationship to astrology, a Centaur had been placed in the heavens as a constellation. Part-man/part-beast images were not exclusive to Hellenistic astronomy; various myths illustrated the metamorphosis of a god into a horse, for example, particularly in the Indo-European tradition, wherein the taming and use of wild horses made entire civilizations possible. Further, hybridization of other specific animals with the human form can also be seen in Egyptian worship.

Centaur from Lefkandi, approx. 1000 BCE, discovered in a dig near Euboea. Click on the image to discover more images and information about this archeological dig.
Centaur from Lefkandi, approx. 1000 BCE, discovered in a dig near Euboea. Click on the image to discover more images and information about this archeological dig.

 

The constellation now known as Sagittarius has long been associated with an archer and/or an arrow. The Hebrew and Syriac name of the sign is Kesith, the archer (as with the Greeks, whose word for archer and this constellation is Toxotes). In Arabic it is al Kaus, the ‘arrow’. Interestingly, in Coptic, it is Pimaere, the ‘graciousness or beauty of the coming forth’. This is also true in the ancient Zodiac of Denderah: “This is he who shall come forth like as an arrow from the bow, full of grace, but conquering” (cf. The Witness of the Stars, p. 47; Rev. Ethelbert  W. Bullinger, London, 1893).

Significantly, the archer’s arrows are aimed into the ‘heart’ of the constellation Scorpius; this is one way of saying that truth, honesty, and upright behavior conquers the underhanded nastiness Scorpio is capable of, but this kind of moralizing gets tedious after awhile, as can the negative expression of 9th house points or planets—in other words, not every 9th house person is a well-meaning boy scout.

Some are tedious Bible-thumpers, determined to rout out every glimmer of amorality in human nature. If you ever wonder if a “devout” believer in God is wandering around on this 9th house path, take a look and see if he or she has planets or points in this house, or has aspects to the ruler of their 9th house. It is very likely that their 9th house will be implicated in some way if they’re trying to save your soul.

Now, Arabic names of the stars found in the constellation Sagittarius focus on the idea of something wonderful or beautiful coming forth, but there is also a star named ‘the dart,’ as well as a star named ‘the riding of the bowman.’ So in general in this constellation you see a theme of movement, as well as the idea of something glorious ‘coming forth’, particularly related to an archer, a bowman, and also a centaur, a ‘being with two natures’ (cf. ibid, The Witness of the Stars, Rev. Ethelbert  W. Bullinger, London, 1893. [Note: I have found that there’s a treasure trove of information in older texts, but these are usually out-of-print and therefore hard to find. Contact me if you want to know more about these out-of-print books, because many are available in PDF]).

The ‘something glorious’ seems to indicate the “Prince of the Earth,” and of course, depending on the time in history when you’re looking at this constellation, that could mean a great many things to a great many people. For some, of course, this constellation came to represent Jesus the Christ, but Jesus is only one of the many aspirants to that ‘throne,’ so to speak, since many times and cultures have provided their version of a messiah, or have inspired messianic cults.

All of these ideas fall under the purview of the 9th house: religion, philosophy, social mores in relationship to how one is supposed to behave and what one is supposed to believe. At the same time, the 9th can be a spiritually pure house, in the sense that for some, there is nothing more beautiful and purposeful than that which they find in this house, long labeled the ‘house of God.’ 

It is with certain Medieval astrologers that you’ll begin to see the houses given detailed and specific meanings and assigned precise locations (earliest astrological charts tend to be much less specific). In this, I am including Arabian and Persian astrologers, as well as later astrologers of the Medieval period.

That the 9th becomes both the house of God and long distance travel at one and the same time makes sense when you consider that during the Middle Ages, the only practicable long distance travel the common person was likely to undertake—travel being an arduous and expensive enterprise at the best of times—was that of going on pilgrimage. 

Whereas royalty could usually afford to travel around the country, taking his or her entourage of nobles and courtiers in his retinue, most people, particularly the poor, had no expectation that they would ever leave their village during their entire lifetime unless they went on pilgrimage. This is still true to this day in some areas of the world; the poor in India or Italy, for example, the sick or dying, are only offered the opportunity to leave home and travel to a site of worship or healing.

A connection between travel and religion already existed in ancient times, of course. In The Facets of Fate: The Rationale Underlying the Hellenistic System of Houses, Robert Schmidt points out that the Greeks sent someone off to Delphi to consult the oracle, so the idea of travel was connected with religion even further back than the Middle Ages, and certainly there are many other examples from other times and cultures.

If you’ve ever read Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, which begins its story after the Ram has run half his course, some time in April, when ‘longen folk to goon on pilgrimages’, you’ll get a glimpse of why it was so important for common folk to have a meaningful excuse to travel. This was how you met others, heard gossip/news, engaged in finding a spouse, or traded your wares at a larger marketplace. Travel had long been a crucial method of connecting with the world outside your little provincial [3rd house] village, and so it makes perfect sense to see that social reality reflected in the astrological chart.

Not a man-horse, this time a man and a horse, riding off to pilgrimage. Click on the link to find out more about Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales."
Not a man-horse, this time a man and a horse, riding off to pilgrimage. Click on the link to find out more about Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” and the importance of pilgrimage.

It’s been my experience that the 9th house will come up in the charts of strong believers, particularly those whose North Node falls here; we’re rather desperately looking for something to believe in, it seems to me, and once we’ve found it, we’re not likely to abandon it, whatever it is—and we’re willing to travel a very long way to get it. 

Centaurus on the ceiling at the Farnese villa. If you click on the image, it will take you to a rather fascinating online resource explaining all the various rooms at the villa, including the one this image comes from, the Map of the World room.
Centaurus on the ceiling at the Farnese villa. If you click on the image, it will take you to a rather fascinating online resource explaining all the various rooms at the villa, including the one this image comes from, the Map of the World room.

It is with Ptolemy, and, therefore, the Greeks, that we become familiar with the idea of the Centaur as a constellation. Although he has become known as Sagittarius (from the Latin for ‘archer’), he was once called Chiron (Kheiron: Χείρων). Chiron is familiar to us nowadays not as a constellation, obviously, but as a flying piece of space rock.

Early Greek versions of the Centaur motif were reflected in a being known as ‘ipotanes’, Greek for a human with the hindquarters of a horse. These were forest creatures, similar to dryads and nyads, and were associated with the rough wilderness and the cult of Pan (see The Sacred Tree: Ancient and Medieval Manifestations, Carole M. Cusack, p. 47).

We’re going to see Pan again when we look at Capricorn’s association with the 10th house North Node, but for now, consider that Pan’s worship represents a culture’s devotion to the natural world, as well as the belief that the natural world exists as a force or facet of the human experience. Integrating the two disparate energies through the image of a man/beast is to express the connection between humanity and nature, and this is an important concept to consider when it comes to Sagittarius and the 9th house.  

In myth, Chiron was a noble, educated Centaur, associated by Homer with justice (Iliad 11.832) and that is why knowing the background of his myth is illuminating for the 9th house North Node, since you’re walking the path of the Centaur here—but not just any Centaur, for Chiron was also connected with initiation rites as well as being ‘part savage, part civilized.’ That these initiation rites, taking place in the caves also associated with Pan, might have included a pederastic theme is speculated on by not a few writers; the relationship between Achilles and Chiron is usually mentioned in this vein. 

In a myth “quietly omitted by Homer,” Kronos turns himself into a stallion to sire Chiron. According to Jan Bremmer, in a chapter from the collection Wilderness in Mythology and Religion, Homer tended to ‘minimise’ supernatural events (such as gods turning into animals) preferring to overlook these kinds of complicated cosmological explanations, particularly those involving the creation myths of the oldest, and therefore the most savage, earthy, or ‘natural’ gods. In other words, you have to look in many places to uncover the ‘truth’ about the Centaurs.

The Education of Achilles, a fresco from a villa at Herculaneum, near Pompeii.
The Education of Achilles, a fresco from a villa at Herculaneum, near Pompeii. In this image, Chiron has ears like Pan’s, rather than human ears. In earlier images, Chiron has only the rear legs of a horse, but the full human torso of a human, so his image changes over time.

 

The 9th house, ruled as it is by Sagittarius and Jupiter, is also influenced by Zeus. Therefore, the 9th house ‘oversees’ much to do with one’s luck—good and bad—since Zeus was a powerful god who could easily decide in an instant whether to promote your interests, leave you for one of his siblings to deal with—or just zap you with a bolt of lightning.

Zeus and Chiron had one particular thing in common, which links them through their ‘wildness’, an uncontrollable side of nature: they both lived, at one time, in caves. Zeus was rescued as a baby and raised in a cave. Therefore, they were therefore connected as part of the oldest pantheon of gods through their wild, seemingly untameable nature, which should give you a sense of how fearful Zeus’s uncontrollable moods or nature were, even to the other gods, who constantly sought to placate him. 

In Greek mythology, one wanted to stay on Zeus’ good side, but I’ve found that the best way to make luck work for you in our casual, disbelieving era is to walk up to opportunity and knock on its door with a portmanteau full of preparation. If you’re there at the right time, and it’s the right place, you’ll probably be ‘lucky.’ Other than that, luck does seem to behave like a stroke of fortune ‘out of the blue,’ behaving much like one of Zeus’ thunderbolts.

If you’re dealing with a strongly Zeus-like person, it’s likely he or she will be difficult at best, and you’ll see an overall Sagittarian and/or Jupiterian theme. It’s likely Jupiter will conjunct a personal planet and/or there will be other planets or points in Sagittarius (such as the Ascendent, Nodal axis, etc.).

These are people who will be known for their ability to hurl thunderbolts around the firmament, and it’s entirely possible they will seem a little rough around the edges, if not actually hard to tame and even harder to cope with for the bombast, ego, and perhaps even not a little sense of entitlement. Rages and fulminations go hand-in-hand with Zeus types, so beware their wrath. Unsurprisingly, I think, given the more civilized nature of the 9th house, I would not implicate the 9th house in the behavior you’ll find with savage Zeus-types.

Zeus and Thetis. Zeus is used to being placated and appealed to, and retains his rough ways, since he is one of the gods of nature, uncontrollable and often savage, willful and elemental.
Zeus and Thetis. Zeus is used to being placated and appealed to, and retains his rough ways, since he is one of the gods of nature, uncontrollable and often savage, willful and elemental.

 

Nowadays, of course, astrologers and astrology students rely more and more on interpretations of Chiron in the natal chart as an expression of the “wounded healer,” which now threatens to become a postmodern archetype personifying something I am concerned we’re becoming obsessed with: our collective “woundedness.”

In response to this, I believe Chiron should be known for two very important things: he seems to have been a caring and sensitive teacher, and he sacrificed his life so that humankind could use fire. These will be important characteristics/attributes of the 9th house North Node path as we go forward, because this is a highly ethical path, one that’s not easy to fulfill for good reason. 

I’ve started to believe that the focus on the wounded healer aspect of Chiron represents a desire to force a glass slipper onto the wrong foot, and that in fact, Chironic energy is more useful and positive when it symbolizes a teacher or mentor, especially when you consider the nobility of Chiron’s self-sacrifice for the sake of humanity, an act unheard of amongst the crude Centaurs.

A great healer, astrologer, and respected oracle, Chiron was said to be the first Centaur, and was highly revered as a teacher and tutor. Among his pupils were many cultural heroes, including Asclepius, Aristaeus, Ajax, Aeneas, Actaeon, Caeneus, Theseus, Achilles, Jason, sometimes Herakles, Oileus, Phoenix, and in some stories, Dionysus.

Here’s how one version of Chiron’s story goes:
It was left to Herakles to arrange a bargain with Zeus to exchange Chiron’s immortality for the life of Prometheus who had been chained to a rock and left to die for his transgressions. Chiron had been poisoned with an arrow belonging to Herakles that had been treated with the blood of the Hydra, or, in other versions, poison that Chiron had given to the hero when he had been under the honorable centaur’s tutelage.
This had taken place during the visit of Herakles to the cave of Pholus on Mount Pelion in Thessaly when he visited his friend during his fourth labour in defeating the Erymanthian Boar
According to Ptolemaeus Chennus, quoted in the Library of Photios of Constantinople, Dionysus learned chants and dances, the Bacchic rites and initiations from Chiron. His nobility is further reflected in the story of his death as Chiron sacrificed his life, allowing mankind to obtain the use of fire. Being the son of Kronos, a titan, he was immortal and so could not die. 
While they were at supper, Herakles asked for some wine to accompany his meal. Pholus, who ate his food raw, was taken aback. He had been given a vessel of sacred wine by Dionysus sometime earlier, to be kept in trust for the rest of the centaurs until the right time for its opening. At Herakles’ prompting, Pholus was forced to produce the vessel of sacred wine.
The hero, gasping for wine, grabbed it from him and forced it open. Thereupon the vapours of the sacred wine wafted out of the cave and intoxicated the wild centaurs, led by Nessus, who had gathered outside. They attacked the cave with stones and fir trees. Herakles was forced to shoot many arrows (poisoned, of course, with the blood of the Hydra) to drive them back. During this assault, Chiron was hit in the thigh by one of the poisoned arrows.

Ultimately, Chiron was an extremely noble and unusual Centaur, unlike any of the other Centaurs in terms of his education and gentility. This nobility and self-sacrifice isn’t exactly at odds with the image of the wounded healer, but it does add depth and dimension to a mythic figure that has somehow come to connote something much darker and more negative, when in fact, Chiron was thought of as an inspirational teacher, musician, and friend.

I am also starting to think that maybe we need to reintroduce Ophiuchus into the pantheon of constellations we consider valid within the zodiac, because this is, in fact, where so much of the projected need to heal and be healed finds a more appropriate focus, given its connection to Asklepios, an early Greek medicinal healer.

If you’ve learned to embrace Chiron as ‘healer’, ask yourself why. Before you started reading about Chiron, did you go around feeling the need to be healed? If you did, which is entirely understandable, you probably already know that Chiron’s wound never did heal, although he was known for helping others with their wounds or problems. Instead, he learned to live with the pain that had been inflicted on him, a fact of life that does seem to hit home after one’s Chiron return at approximately age 50 or so.

Chiron has become very popular amongst those who strive to walk a spiritual path, and I think there’s good reason for that, which needs to be explored as we go into the 9th house. However, people who strive to walk a spiritual path also think a lot about being healed, so Chiron is a poignant planetoid for those of us who come from dysfunctional families or otherwise difficult backgrounds. Let’s see if we can apply some of the Chironic myths to the North Node in the 9th story as we go.

 

 

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