On the Problem of Accelerating Time in Our Time

November 23, 1999
updated Dec 28, 1999

How can we reconcile our modern experience of accelerating linear time with the traditional cyclical understanding of time? This is a more fundamental problem than ever for theoretical astrologers as it seems that just when we have finally come to a clear understanding of the correlation between the outer planets and the long term nodal cycles of history, we are now faced with an unmistakable phenomenon for which there is no apparent astrological explanation and with which there appears to be no meaningful astrological correlation in the near future. This phenomenon, the exponential temporal explosion of novelty along what feels like an ever accelerating logarithmic trajectory, is not new in our lifetimes but has now, at the cusp of the millennium, reached such a pace that it is for the first time unmistakably obvious to virtually the entire population. Not only the Gregorian calendar but also the Mayan calendar as well as prophesies and prophetic teachings from virtually every culture seem to converge on our era as being of some special order, an end time, or at the very least a time of some pivotal importance which is somehow set off and distinguished from others. If this is the case, one might expect astrology to be able to shed some light on the situation. Yet, if one looks at the longest planetary cycles within the solar system there is nothing to suggest this large scale pattern.

What is known about the astrology of long term history is this:

We are in the midst of the protracted period of Neptune sextile to Pluto which follows their conjunction every four hundred and ninety years. During this period, in the latter half of each century following their conjunction (or opposition), as Uranus either conjoins or opposes first Pluto and then Neptune there are nodal decades of pronounced intensity within a prolonged golden age. This was the case when Christ was born and was crucified, as it was the case at the height of the Italian Renaissance, and again in the 1960ís and now in the 1990ís. But this pattern, striking as it is, does nothing to explain the overall trend toward increasing novelty and the exponential acceleration of change which we have seen from the Renaissance, or at the very least from the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution, until now. The question is not one of causal explanation, as on that basis the phenomena in question are in some sense self explanatory, the question is rather one of coherent correlation at an archetypal level on a vast scale of time.

However, there is nothing in the long term cycles of the outer planets which correlates with the sudden asymptotic acceleration of change in our time and over the long term sweep of history in general. This problem becomes far more acute in the near future rather than in the recent past. For as has already been pointed out by Richard Tarnas and others the entire decade 1960ís did correspond to a period of unmistakable nodal intensity characterized by the conjunction of Uranus with Pluto, joined by Jupiter in 1968-69 when the whole decade came to a head. In the 1990ís we saw a less dramatic but no less potent conjunction of Uranus with Neptune which correlated with the fall of the Berlin Wall when Saturn joined them with Jupiter opposite in the fall of 1989. Thus we are in a sense riding into the new millennium on the tail of this outer planet energy. But what then? The intensity, or at least the acceleration of the time rate of change of everything hardly shows any sign of abating, at least in the near future. Perhaps the greatest, or more accurately most serious, measure of the uniqueness of our moment of incarnation is to be found in the extinction spasm humanity is visiting upon all other life forms on the planet. This phenomena is unprecedented, and unfortunately far from over as we pass through the threshold of a new millennium.

So where are we to look for an indicator of the very long term cycle?

The traditional answer has been the precession of the equinoxes ≠ the oft touted Dawning of the age of Aquarius. This is a reference to the fact that the Tropical Signs used in western astrology are pegged to our own solar system rather than to the "fixed stars" of the Sidereal Zodiac for which the signs are named. There has been a lot of astrological debate and recrimination this century as to which zodiac is better and without degenerating into that fight it might be useful to attempt to untangle what the two systems are based on and how they interrelate.

If one starts at the most basic experiential level on Earth, there are four seasons. These correlate with the orientation of the Earth, tipped at about 23 degrees on its axis with respect to the plane in which it orbits the Sun. On the Summer Solstice the northern hemisphere of the Earth is tipped toward the Sun, on the Winter Solstice it is tipped away, and on the Equinoxes it is passing through the exact half way point when day and night are the same length everywhere on Earth. Thus there are four phases to the Earth≠Sun relationship, somewhat analogous to the four phases of the Moon. This fact is as old as human awareness, and it is this fourfold seasonal reality to which the Tropical Zodiac is pegged. On the Solstices and Equinoxes the Sun changes Tropical Sign ≠ by definition. It also changes sign eight other times a year because there are not four but twelve different signs, but without going into the reasons for that at present it is enough to say that all of the tropical signs are but aspects to the seasons.

About 2000 years ago the background stars, or fixed stars as they were known at that time, were aligned with the Tropical Signs which now bear their names. In other words, each of the Tropical (seasonal) Signs was named for the background stars which corresponded to where the Sun was at that time of year. But, it turns out that the Earthís axis wobbles very slowly, like the precession of a top, which rotates backward very slowly in the opposite direction from the direction in which it is spinning. In the case of the Earth, the precessional counter rotation is so slow that it only completes one cycle every 26,000 years. This means that it will shift backwards one degree every 72 years, or one sign every 2000+ years. This movement is called the Precession of the Equinoxes and it gives rise to the question, if the spring equinox was at zero degrees Sidereal Aires when the system was codified, and it has moved steadily backwards through Sidereal Pisces over the last 2000+ years, when does it get to zero degrees Sidereal Pisces and cross back into the last degree of Sidereal Aquarius? When is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius?

The answer, unfortunately, is that nobody knows, and nobody can say with any certainty. The reason is that although we know exactly where the boundaries of the Tropical Signs are, because they are bound to the seasons defined by the relationship between the Earth and the Sun, there is no similar agreement on where the boundaries of Sidereal Signs should be, or were, in ancient times. Modern astronomy has simply picked one first magnitude star which is near the ecliptic, Spica, and defined it as 15 degrees Virgo. This is fine for scientific work, but has little to do with deeper mythic questions or the beliefs of the ancients. The early Greeks didnít understand that there was a problem at the time and thatís how the whole mess got started in the first place.

There are however, two first magnitude stars which are so perfectly opposite each other in the sky, and so close to the plane of the ecliptic, that they make a very good axis marker. These are Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus, and Antares the heart of Scorpius. What is interesting about the axis defined by these two bright stars, is that it is so obvious that anyone who did know about precession in the ancient world would have been expected to have placed great importance upon the time when the axis of the equinoxes aligned with it. The Egyptian dynastic system doesnít really start until the fourth dynasty around 2500BCE, but modern archeologists extrapolate the trend line backward in time to place the first dynasty at around 3100BCE. This was precisely when the axis of the equinoxes aligned with the Aldebaran - Antares axis. This is a correlation I found by working with astronomical software but have never seen in print. Whether it is pure synchronicity, or whether the founders of the Egyptian civilization knew about it and so consciously chose it as the time to found their dynastic system, or whether later Egyptians chose to arrange their dynastic numbering such that this would be the zero point I donít know, but I am convinced, for reasons I will not go into here, that throughout much of the span of the ancient Egyptian civilization the precession of the equinoxes was very well understood, at least by a select few.

However, none of this really sheds any light on the problem at hand.

How are we to think about the Sidereal Zodiac from first principles?

What are the fixed stars?

They are the stars of the Milky Way Galaxy, our local neighborhood in the Universe. So, what we are really doing when we talk about precession is talking about the orientation of our solar system within the larger context of our galaxy. Once we see it this way the problem is at once much larger and simpler (at least at first pass). Our little top, the Earthís axis, is wobbling around once every 26,000 years. But the four fold symmetry of the Earth ≠ Sun seasonal system means that every quarter cycle, or once every 6,500 years there is an alignment. What does it align with?

We are out near the edge of the Milky Way Galaxy, so the most obvious answer is with the central plane of the galaxy.

When does this happen?

The answer, as near as we can measure, is right now! Certainly within our lifetime. Some calculations say 1999, some say 2012. Even a fraction of a degree error in the precise orientation of the galactic equator could change the date by a few years. The point is that this is a nodal point in time in an extremely long term cycle. The last time something like this happened was when the axis of the Equinoxes aligned with the galactic center sometime around 4500BCE, arguably at the dawn of civilization. Indeed until recently it appeared before the dawn of civilization, but last year, just as I had first become aware of all this my friend Tom Bates came upstairs to tell me that they had just found an exceedingly ancient Egyptian "Stonehenge" in the desert in northern Sudan. He said it was 7000 years old. "Probably sixty five hundred," I said. And sure enough when we checked the website thatís what they were estimating.

This suggests to me that we are in this lifetime passing through a nodal point of previously unimaginable proportions. It is a point of inversion of everything we have believed as humans up until now. From 4500BCE until now the basic operating instructions for humans have been "make more people", and "cut down trees and burn them" to do it. Now in a single lifetime we have crossed over the point where nature has gone from something threatening with teeth and claws which might jump out of the dark and eat you, to something fragile and endangered which we must vigilantly protect lest we risk loosing it for all future generations. Let us hope we can adapt rapidly enough to this unprecedented challenge.

In summary

Only when one considers our position within the larger context of the galaxy then a pointer, an indicator, becomes clear. The vector to the center of the Milky Way Galaxy provides a frame of reference with which to orient ourselves. When we consider this line intersecting the Tropical Zodiac, which itself is nothing but a double six fold system expanded from the bipolar axis of the four seasons to yield the twelve signs, we can see that there are really only two perpendicular axes which define the four fundamental alignments. Two configurations are possible when the solstices align with the galactic center vector, and two when the equinoxes do. The solsticial alignments are arguably slightly more fundamental. In the year 2000 the winter solstice is as closely aligned with the galactic center as can be measured, as the margin of error in the calculation could be a decade or more due to our inability to precisely determine the location of, and therefore the direction to, the exact center of the galaxy.

More Esoterically

It would be appropriate, even expected, that this very indicator itself would only become known and available now at this time, at that very point in the cycle where the asymptote momentarily goes vertical, as we pass through the neck of the hourglass, at the choke point of the millennial inversion, as the time rate of change itself negotiates the point of inflection on the curve, now seeking a new horizontal plateau; one lost in the future, as our own origin is in the past. Our moment in history symmetrical between the future and the past, such that all else in the future will be returning to our end state in a head long rush home.