Planetary Influences on the 5/11 axis: Helios and Ouranus

Helios, crowned with a wreath of fiery sunbeams, shown in his chariot pulled by winged horses as he makes his way across the firmament by day, only to sink into ‘Okeanos’ at night. No mere god, as one of the race of Titans, he served to bring order to the primordial cosmos. Helios is Ouranos’ grandchild, according to Homer’s ‘Hymn to Helios’. “Terrible is the glance of his eyes from under his golden helmet,” Homer tells us.

Before we discuss the 5th and 11th houses’ Nodal placements, I would like to provide background about the importance of the Sun in the natal chart. To set this up adequately, I must mention what’s known as ‘reasoning from analogy’, a philosophical and logical process used by the Classical Greeks, but ‘perfected,’ if you will, by medieval astrologers, who relied heavily on analogies to explain how the heavens influenced humankind.

Analogical thinking is at the center of the idea “as above, so below”; without the concept of analogies, we would have a much harder time understanding virtually any abstraction, including how astrology ‘works’.

An example of an early use of analogy relative to astrology is illustrated by the association between the seasons and the movement of time through the astrological chart: The agricultural year begins in the Spring, with Aries, the sign on the Vernal (Spring) equinox; therefore, Aries “should”, similarly, be on the first house cusp, or Ascendent, of the astrological chart (see Claudius Ptolemy’s 2nd century A.D. treatise on astrology, The Almagest, for more).

Subsequently, through the process of making these analogies over and over again, we inherited a conflated idea that the Sun, the 5th house, and Leo are all somehow connected, and although there is a definite relationship between these ideas, they are not identical.

The Sun’s dominance in the heavens, its inherently regal position of power and strength, reinforcing notions of hierarchy in the heavens and on earth, in the form of the King, leader, or ruler of a country, has traditionally been compared to Leo the Lion, king of the animal world (William T. Olcott’s two books discuss this in more detail, Sun Lore of All Ages [1914] and Star Lore of All Ages [1911]).

The Sun was compared to earthly rulers, kings and queens, so ‘reasoning by analogy’ worked well for astrologers of the Medieval period, but in our postmodern era raises the ire of those for whom these kinds of simplistic analogies are inadequate explanations.

Nowadays the Sun is widely considered the ‘natural’ ruler of the 5th house through its connection with its other ‘natural’ ruler, the zodiac sign of Leo, but it’s important to remember that those are three different ideas, all taking up residence in a ‘house’ that serves as a container for these energies. They are not simultaneously occurring ideas, and we’re wise not to conflate them, since they each have their own meaning, even though they’ve come to be associated with one another.

Conflating these ideas—that the Sun somehow ‘equals’ the 5th house and Leo—muddies the astrological waters, and it also irks astrologers who don’t like the loss of clarification, let alone the lack of respect paid to the history of astrology itself. There are important details reductionism leaves out, so just keep in mind, planets are not the same as signs, nor do they have the same meaning as a house.

However, planets influence signs and houses, and since planets were long ago assigned as rulers of signs, and planets can be said to rule or influence the sign on the cusp of a house, we can go from there, fairly secure in the knowledge that we’re not egregiously breaking any astrological rules.

Sol-Invictus at the center of the zodiacal band. Mosaic/tile floor, discovered in a villa in Rome. Sol Invictus looks a lot like Helios; no big surprise since the Romans 'borrowed' the pantheon of gods and goddesses from the Greeks.

Roman Sol-Invictus at the center of the zodiacal band. Mosaic/tile floor, discovered in a villa. Sol Invictus looks a lot like Helios; no big surprise, since the Romans ‘borrowed’ their pantheon of gods and goddesses from the Greeks. However, you wouldn’t have seen the inclusion of the zodiacal belt in art until the late Hellenistic-early Roman period, at the earliest, which tells us when the idea of the zodiac and what it represented began to be inscribed into the prevailing worldview.

 

Most importantly for the purpose of understanding identity, the Sun has come to take on a crucial role as explainer of the individual’s psyche in the modern period. If the Sun is the center of our solar system, so goes the logic, then it reasonably becomes the center of the astrological chart, which is, after all, a cosmic photograph of our moment of birth.

Due to astrologer Alan Leo’s influence, Sun symbology is crucial to understanding the “why” of personality-oriented astrology. Why do we pursue astrology at all? Usually, to understand someone’s behavior—sometimes our own, sometimes another person’s. We always come back to the idea that there is a core reality, a core personality, we can somehow make sense of, and we tend (rightly or wrongly) to attribute this ‘self’ to the astrological Sun.

And why not? It makes perfect sense to align solar energy with our sense of self, especially when we look at how the Sun has been thought of for hundreds, if not thousands, of years—first through the Sun’s association with solar deities, and later as the cosmic Sun, existing at the center of our solar system. If “as above, so below” is a rule we can live by, then the Sun makes a persuasive argument for representing the individual ‘I’, the center of our own personal solar system.

I do think, however, we run certain risks when we assign so much meaning to the astrological Sun that we forget we have other planets in our personal solar system. Having said that,  though, because the Sun has been accepted as so important a place to start to unravel the mystery of who we are, I believe that understanding a few of the links that have been made over the centuries, bringing together the Sun, the 5th house, and the constellation Leo, offers some illumination.

Not coincidentally, illumination—light, the difference between night and day—is where we should begin with the idea of what the Sun represents in the natal chart. Amongst almost all mythic religions and spiritual beliefs is the idea that the Sun, personified and anthropomorphized as a solar deity, represents life, physical strength, health/healing, and, not least of all, the gift of sight, as both a manifest reality and a spiritual principle.

Although there are many other personifications of solar energy found in all places and periods (Egyptian Ra; Mesopotamian sun god Shamash; Babylonian Marduk; Irish Lugh; Amaterasu in Japan, just to name a few) the history we’ve inherited in the West stems from the Ancient Greeks. Plus, when we’re talking about the gods and goddesses we find represented in the tropical (Western) chart, we’re mostly talking about the Greek gods (which, generally speaking, have been polished up and over-simplified by the Romans).

Now, before you get confused, which is easy to do when we start to discuss the Ancient Greeks and their massive, and massively influential, panoply of gods, you might be thinking, “Wait, isn’t Apollo the Ancient Greek sun god?” and now you’re worrying that I’m leading you down the primrose path once again.

So, let’s get this out of the way. No, Apollo is not actually “the” sun god, if by “sun god” you mean the earliest personification of solar energy who rode in a glorious golden chariot and didn’t really have a lot else to do except haul that gigantic yellow orb around the great bronze dome in the sky. Apollo became conflated with Helios somewhere between the 3rd century B.C. and A.D., becoming associated with light and healing, but also sickness and plague. So for the moment, let’s entirely forget about Apollo and just let him go be the god of oracular prophecy, healing, music, and archery.

Tiepolo captures all the symbolism associated with Apollo. Crowned by his halo of golden light, he holds a shaft of arrows and his famous lyre. His sister Diana, associated with the moon, is by his side.

The painter Tiepolo captures all the symbolism associated with Apollo. Crowned by his halo of golden light, he holds a shaft of arrows and his famous lyre. His sister Diana, associated with the moon, is by his side.

The thing to keep in mind with the things we think we know about gods, particularly those of Ancient and Classical Greece, is that each god underwent many changes over time, depending on who invaded the area when, and which cult beliefs they brought with them; not to mention the constant colonizing the Greeks did, appropriating the beliefs of each area, and then adding those traits on to the gods back at home.

When we speak of Apollo-as-sun-god, in other words, we’re actually talking about something like three different ‘Apollos’ at once. In other words, Apollo-the-sun-god is a syncretized entity, but I’m looking for a purer essence of what the Sun once represented, so we can trace its influence in the astrological chart.

Now, here’s something interesting about Helios, especially from the perspective of Western astrology as we practice it today: his relationship and similarities to Ouranos. Since the sign on the cusp of the ‘natural’ 11th house is Aquarius, its ruler Uranus, it’s my contention that if we take a closer look at the relationship and similarities between Helios and Ouranos, we might learn something about this pivotal axis.

 

What do these gods have in common, then? The easiest way to see the connections between the Sun and Uranus is to view them through a lens we’re familiar with, that of Ancient, Classical, and Hellenistic Greece (and we can trace the dissemination of these ideas as Alexander and his successors carried them via trade routes).

An example of a similarity between the Sun and Uranus is that they are both sky deities:

sky deity is a god, spirit or any other divine being that represents an aspect or an object associated with the sky itself, such as the sun, the moon or other celestial bodies or natural phenomena like storms.

That they are both masculine sky deities tells us a little something extra about the influences of supposed ‘oppositional’ energy in the axis of the astrological chart; if we were truly looking at opposites, we’d see a feminine, earth energy, such as Gaia, ruling or influencing the 5th house cusp in opposition to Uranus. Instead, we’re told, over and over, what the opposite signs and their respective planets have in common; I think this is very revealing, even if we do have to rethink astrology’s origins to find the connections.

This is not to say we should ignore the reality of astrological history and the ways in which the rulers of the houses evolved over time (after all, Saturn was originally Aquarius’ ruling planet). Nonetheless, ancient connections tell us something interesting that might provide another layer of information to our current beliefs, and are therefore worth considering, if only to see any patterns underneath the surface of information we’re used to seeing from one perspective.

Ouranos is particularly interesting, since he is one of the primaeval gods, or Protogenoi, of Greek mythology. Protogenoi were considered the basic components which existed at the moment of the universe’s creation, including earth, air, sea, sky, fresh water, the underworld; darkness, night, light, day, procreation and time.

For the Greeks, therefore, Ouranos was a primordial energy, a force representing the generative moment of creation itself. Like his grandson Helios, his was a masculine energy, the “literal sky”, existing in contrast to his consort Gaia, the earth goddess who rebels, violently, against her ‘husband’.

The Castration of Uranus: fresco by Vasari & Cristofano Gherardi (c. 1560, Sala di Cosimo I, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence).

Saturn/Kronos castrates his father. There are apparently no representations of either Gaia or Ouranos in Greek pottery, although the Greek gods became a popular subject during the Renaissance.

Think about that metaphor, because it informs all masculinist rhetoric and the feminist rhetoric that pushes back against this dominant trope of man above woman’s body, sky/air/male superior to the earth/body/woman below. The masculine sky god, Ouranos, lies “above” the feminine earth, ‘mating’ with Gaia each night, yet hating his progeny, whom he imprisons inside her. Ultimately, Gaia’s revenge upon these injustices is to compel her sons to castrate their ‘father’. As expected, oppression leads inevitably to the horrific responses of chthonic gods/goddesses, who demand justice, and not a little revenge.

Ouranos’ potentially violent energy is, interestingly, neutralized by Kronos’ act of castration (think about that idea for a moment—I would argue that astrology does everything it can to ‘spiritualize’ human beings, attempting to neutralize their negative urges, when in fact we should be dealing with real people more effectively, not wishing away their darker side, washing it clean with the “light” of a supposedly higher moral ground, which too often ends up sounding moralizing and puritanical).

The mythical themes of fathers and sons (Ouranos and Kronos) squelching each other’s spirit might be at fault here, but there’s also the myths of Helios and Apollo to consider. Not coincidentally, Ouranos and Kronos, in their Roman interpretation of Uranus and Saturn, are co-rulers of the 11th house, which will come up again later on. 

 

 But where does this leave us in our current understanding of Ouranos/Uranus, and the energy at work as co-ruler (let’s not forget the traditional ruler, Saturn) of Aquarius, on the 11th house cusp?

For the Greeks, most relationships of the Archaic period in which these concepts were formalized, such as the one between Gaia and Ouranos, relied on violent metaphors (as did the relationships between gods and goddesses in Babylon and Mesopotamia, which influenced Greek astronomy/astrology; see The Heavenly Writing: Divination, Horoscopy, and Astronomy in Mesopotamian Culture, Francesca Rochberg, Cambridge University Press, 2004).

However, over the years, what has survived of the Ouranos myth has been rather deliberately nullified, to suit a time in history when we prefer not to think about violence, revenge, and archaic ideas of justice, particularly in relationship to our astrological charts, which are “supposed” to be “about” spirituality.

In essence, what remains of Ouranos then is the element and nature of air itself, and everything that represents to us, but I am arguing that what we (also) haven’t lost are the age-old prejudices about the superiority of air over earth, masculine over feminine.

Those prejudices are still expressed whenever we accept, unthinkingly, that air signs are somehow “naturally” intellectually superior to any of the other elements, particularly earth, which we align not only with the feminine, but also with silence and passive acceptance, even though the Greeks most definitely did not.

Their gods and goddesses were allowed to contain both light and dark elements, at one and the same time; a more complicated psychological era, perhaps, but one that portrayed both humans and gods as multivalent and complex.

So Helios and Ouranos can tell us something about the active nature of the Sun and Uranus, it seems to me; as masculine energies, these gods were dynamic and potentially violent or involved in acts of violence; in Helios’ case, violence is implied, if one takes Homer’s characterization of Helios’ threatening glance into account.

What, precisely, can go wrong if you’re a Sun god? Although the Sun is usually seen as a positive force of pure creation in the natal chart (consider Helios’ primordial role in creating each new day, for example, simply by steering his chariot across the sky), in fact, if we explore ancient ideas (and modern realities) about solar energy, we can easily imagine what might go wrong if solar energy is expressed to excess. The ancients were right to fear the sun; its energy, unchecked, scorches the earth; it causes drought; it burns our skin. The uncontrolled sun threatens all life on Earth.

This tarot card, from the Wheel of Change deck, personifies all the simple  messages we've come to associate with the idea of the Sun. The Sun is usually considered a very straightforward energy, which is why

This tarot card, from the Wheel of Change deck, personifies all the simple messages we’ve come to associate with the idea of the Sun. The Sun is usually considered a very straightforward energy, but all of the simple associations this card makes, sunny and charming as they are, are an ideal to aspire to, rather than an outcome to expect, particularly when the Sun is misbehaving.

The other quality associated with solar energy stems from the idea of light versus darkness, ideally leading us out of darkness, into enlightenment. With the Sun comes awareness, omniscience, all-seeing oracular powers, knowledge, and, one hopes, wisdom.

The Sun’s association with spirituality stems from the idea that one’s path can be illuminated by the light; that Helios’ gift of ‘sight’, his inheritance from his father, Hyperion, god of light, and his mother, Theia, goddess of sight, would lead to foresightedness.

Qualities such as honesty, clarity, the ability to generate—to give birth to something, whether that something is an act of creativity or a child, stem from the life-giving qualities of the Sun.

Although the Greeks added the chariot and the winged steeds, they received inspiration for such ideas from the Mesopotamians, particularly the Assyrian and Babylonian cultures.

In general, however, the list of positive qualities is long, and includes everything good we’ve been taught to associate with the Sun or a lion: sunniness, openness, honesty, bravery, energy, ambition.

More difficult qualities or characteristics include all that accompanies the time of Leo in the sky, and have to do with lack, or perhaps we should say, too much of the fire that consumes the Sun.

Negative qualities include heat/anger, flames/rage, aridity/sterility, and I would throw in all the bad stuff associated with kings and regality, such as arrogance, excesses of pride, self-absorption (a given for any fire-dominated personality).

Seen most often in traditional decks, the motif of taming the instinctual side of our natures is depicted by a calm woman overpowering a lion with the force of her will alone. The spiritual ideal is to remain peaceful in response to any potentially violent or uncontrollable impulses, which the lion represents.

Seen most often in traditional decks, the motif of taming the instinctual side of our natures is depicted by a calm woman overpowering a lion with the force of her will alone. The spiritual ideal is to remain peaceful in response to any potentially violent or uncontrollable impulses, which the lion represents.

Lions and kings have been associated with the stars of Leo’s constellation since the Babylonians. Leo’s association with the sun is also old, as old as the Mesopotamians; five thousand years ago, the Sun’s passage at midday through this constellation coincided with the midsummer solstice. Leo was therefore the constellation of high summer.

As with Herakles' first labor of slaying the Nemean lion, which earned Leo his place in the heavens, it seems to me we tend to take on the behaviors of a sign by donning its characteristics. Is this a protective device, to cloak ourselves in the lion's skin, do you think? Are we trying to be a lion, or do we just want others to fear us?

As with Herakles’ first labor of slaying the Nemean lion, which earned Leo his place in the heavens, it seems to me we tend to take on the behaviors of a sign by donning its characteristics. Is this a protective device, to cloak ourselves in the lion’s skin, do you think? Are we trying to be a lion, or do we just want others to fear us?

When Herakles donned the Nemean lion’s skin, his intention was to gain its magical invulnerability, since the Nemean lion could not be killed by mortals, as its golden fur was impervious to attack.

Before the Greeks dealt with the indescribably powerful Nemean lion, killing it and throwing its carcass into the heavens to be immortalized forever, though, Mesopotamia had its own problems with roving bands of killer lions (not metaphorical ones, actual lions, killing people and threatening the king’s reign).

Ritual lion hunts were not mere sport in the ancient period; lions represented the violent, uncontrollable force of nature, and a king had to prove he was strong enough to protect his people.  In the 7th century BC in Assyria, a powerful nation-state of Mesopotamia, only the king was permitted to kill a lion; it was important to his legitimacy that he demonstrate this ability.

 

The above video illustrates the extraordinary lion hunt reliefs taken from the castle at Nineveh that are on display at the British Museum; it also discusses precisely why lion hunts were so crucial to Assyrian kings.

A classical view of Aquarius' constellation.

A classical view of Aquarius’ constellation.

Now, Aquarius, eventually associated with the planet Uranus, is, like Leo, one of the oldest constellations. He existed first for the Sumerians as the god Enki, associated with life-giving forces (such as semen) and water, since this constellation falls in a part of the sky surrounded by sea and ocean-related stars.

For the Babylonians, in his guise of Ea, Aquarius had negative connotations, since his rising in the sky coincided with destructive flooding (as it did for the Ancient Egyptians, who tied this constellation to inundations of the Nile river).

Michaelangelo's Ganymede. Ganymede,  a youth abducted by Zeus, ended up replacing Hebe as Olympus' cup bearer. He also became Zeus' lover, in the pederastic tradition, a Uranian love affair if ever there was one.

Michaelangelo’s Ganymede. Ganymede, a youth abducted by Zeus, ended up replacing Hebe as Olympus’ cup bearer. He also became Zeus’ lover, in the pederastic tradition, a Uranian love affair if ever there was one.

The Chinese made use of this constellation as well, including the jar of water (from whence an army flowed, rather than water). It’s surprising to me how many cultures relied on some version of a man pouring water, or, as in India’s Punjab, a man pulling water out of a well. 

I think it’s interesting that the constellation of Aquarius is so often associated with flooding and potential disaster, since Uranus is its modern (although I’d say it is more a postmodern) ruler. Uranus, after all, is renowned for it association with sudden, unexpected upheaval.

In fact, I almost invariably find that anything associated with Uranus in terms of transits functions as a ‘wild-card’ experience; in the natal chart, the Uranian personality, when Uranus is strongly associated with any of the angles or personal planets, often experiences or enacts the forces of upheaval, constant drama, unreliability, and chaos, making the lives of those around him or her challenging at best.

The constellation of Aquarius resides in the part of the heavens associated with water, probably because the ancients imagined it contained a celestial sea, according to "Star Lore of All Ages," W. T. Olcott (1911) .

The constellation of Aquarius resides in the part of the heavens associated with water, probably because the ancients imagined it contained a celestial sea, according to “Star Lore of All Ages,” W. T. Olcott (1911) .

There are positive forces at work here too, obviously, but I think most of those have become associated with Aquarius more recently; the spiritualism associated with Aquarius, for example, is a positive that bears further examination. Although it’s fairly easy to draw a straight line from how the ancients thought about Leo, its regality and kingliness, its association with rulers and nobility, through to today’s ideas, it’s more difficult with Aquarius.

Aquarius picked up noble characteristics along the way, but it certainly didn’t start out as a sign associated with “groups and friends.” That’s been added on over time, to both the sun sign and the house. These are themes that will become important when we look at the nodes in the 5th and 11th houses.

Constellations, including Aquarius (man drawing water from a well) possibly from the Punjab region of India, approximately 17th century.

Constellations, including Aquarius (man drawing water from a well) possibly from the Punjab region of India, approximately 17th century.

Working effectively with astrological polarities, such as those seen in any axis of houses means not trying to reduce complicated, dichotomous, subjects to their ‘lowest common denominator.’ Instead, acknowledge the reality of opposite energies, but also see their similarities, including the dark and light energies involved.

To obtain value out of these dichotomies, one must be comfortable with ambiguity, since you’re dealing with a “both/and” way of thinking rather than “either/or”. This is hard, particularly if the similarities evade you.

Abandoning much of the way we think about the nature of what an opposition “means” is the key to seeing the similarities, particularly because reductionist thinking never did anyone any good. In astrology, you gotta be willing to get your hands dirty with complications, otherwise the subtleties will leap away from you, just like little bunnies avoiding the stew pot.

The 5th and 11th houses rulers are masculine and therefore assumed to be positively-charged energies (like two ends of one big positively-charged battery +/+). The energies each house shares are not insignificant, particularly as pertains to both creativity and individuality. What this axis has in common helps you see the point of taking a creative leap, encouraging the ‘divine spark’ in your life.

As I have written prior to this, I see the energy and purpose of each house axis working together, in that they represent complementary issues, skills, or abilities, as well as strengths and weaknesses. In this, they are much more than mere opposites taking ostensibly simple oppositional stances across the chart. I think it’s fair to say that Uranus and the Sun have much in common, so I’d suggest starting from those similarities when interpreting these houses.