THE CONSTELLATIONS OF THE MILKY WAY
At a time when men, beholding in awe the magnificence of the starry night, imaged forth astrological cosmogonies to correlate the glory of the heavens with the vast process of genesis of the Earth and of man, it was thought that spheres after spheres surrounded the Earth. Each of these spheres was seen to be the abode of a planetary Spirit, and as these spheres revolved in harmonious and cyclic motion cosmic powers appeared to be released and brought to a focus in the Earth and in man, its creature. The farthest of these planetary spheres was that of Saturn. There the planetary Rulers who held under their sway all earthly and earth-conditioned natures found the limits of their kingdom. And the sphere that extended beyond this Saturnian realm belonged to another order of values. It was the sphere of the Fixed Stars — farther than which was conceived only the abode of the primordial, eternal and unperceivable Mystery, whose name was cryptically expressed as the Primum Mobile — the Source of Motion and the Beginning of all there was, is and ever shall be.
The Fixed Stars have been grouped for ages so as to form constellations, prominent among which were those that lay on the yearly path of the Sun: the constellations of the zodiac. Because they were "fixed" and not "wanderers" ("planet", etymologically, means a wanderer), it seemed evident to men, awed and bewildered by a world of constant change and uncertain happenings, that they must belong to a much higher level of being than the planets, whose behavior seemed often so puzzling in their forward and backward movements. The very fixity of the Stars' formal groupings vouched for their divinity; for only gods could remain eternally what they were, beyond all change, constant in their operations, neither waning nor waxing, established in their own universal potency.
Thus we know that the constellations became the symbols and the very centers of operation of these great Creative Hierarchies which, in all ancient cosmogonies, were considered the formative agencies of the higher universe. Essentially, the Creative Hierarchies were twelve, and they were a background of power to the Sun. It was the Sun which released their formative energies as, each month, his course made of him in turn the focal point for the operation of one of the Hierarchies. Yet behind and beyond that part of the Constellations power which was brought out into physical and earthly operation by the Sun, the Constellations, as universal and transcendent wholes, remained.
While it was only indirectly and through the Sun that certain of their vitalizing energies could operate on Earth, nevertheless man, because in him burnt a fire that made him more than a creature of the earth, could become correlated with the Constellations directly. In his lower nature man was under the sway of the planetary Rulers who had dominion over all earthly elements, and thus over the physiological essences of his body and psyche. This was the "astral" realm. But above it the "celestial" realm extended; the realm of pure form, of Archetypes and Ideas; the realm of the Constellations.
In that realm man, the Individual, could transcend earth-conditions. In that realm he could find the "fixity" of his being: his immortal Source, or Monad, or Star. He could find his true and eternal "place" in relation to his Companions, together with whom he constituted indeed a constellation of "solar beings", a slowly forming Host. And in time this Host was to become heir to the work of the earlier celestial Hierarchies, who would then move-on "beyond manifestation" to ever more transcendent realms of universal being, once they had formed and trained their successor, MAN.
The astrology of the Fixed Stars in this ancient cosmo-symbology was indeed a magnificent poetry of spiritual unfoldment through realms which modern theosophy but too often materializes. Perhaps a little more light may soon be thrown upon a process which today we somewhat divine under the scheme of progressive "Initiations". We may realize that Man-the-whole, rather than being related to or designated as one of the celestial Hierarchies, should be considered a whole new "sphere of the Fixed Stars" in the making. The totality of the Fixed Stars is the symbol of Man-the-whole slowly forming itself, through countless races and civilizations — slowly discovering its total world-wide pattern, its synthetic fulfillment in the state symbolically called the "Seed Manu". Every human Soul is a Fixed Star; and when every human Soul will have learnt to find its place in the total chord of Man-the-whole, and to function in creative freedom and co-operative intelligence illumined by the presence of Wholeness which men call "love" — then "New Heavens" will have been constituted. The Father-Hierarchies will have passed beyond to greater depths of light, and Man-the-whole, their "Son", will assume their creative, formative function in terms of some "new Earth".
In the realm of the Fixed Stars, however, a strange sight had been noticed by the Ancients. We know it today by a name widely accepted through the world: the Milky Way. The name itself is a symbol, and this symbol, whatever may have been the many mythological or literal interpretations, refers always to the principle of Motherhood. The Constellations and the Milky Way: the celestial Fathers and the great Womb of souls for as Plato wrote, repeating the age-old tradition, Souls are born in the Milky Way.
The most recent world-picture made possible by our telescopes and spectroscopes confirms the wisdom of the ancient symbolism. For the first time in several centuries the astronomer is beginning to deal with the universe as a Whole, with vast organizations of stars as wholes. He fashions through daring hypotheses a new universe of galaxies — millions of them, each an "island universe" whirling at terrific speed in spaces so inconceivably vast that the light takes several millions of years to link them. Each of them is a vast organization — may we not say organism? — of stars, star-clusters, bright and dark diffuse nebulae and, perhaps, planets.
Our Sun is but a medium-sized star in what appears to be one of the largest regular-shaped galaxies of the vast universe. And if we study all celestial objects which shine in our earthly skies we come to the conclusion that we must differentiate between the stars which we arc able to see individually as stars and the diffuse streamers of starry light which we call the Milky Way, and which are constituted of prodigiously numerous stars so distant that we can see them only as a crowd.
The Constellations were conceived as groupings of individually perceptible stars; and so they remain to this day, to the naked eye. All these stars are relatively near us. Together with them we may be said to constitute a "local system of stars" which has presumably an independent existence, as independent perhaps as that of countless other "star clusters" which border the galactic whole. But what we see as the Milky Way is the zone of greatest condensation — from our point of vantage quite off center — of those myriads of stars which are parts of our galaxy, yet not perceptible as individual points of light. They are, symbolically and in relation to us, non-individualized star-light.
Because they are especially condensed, we see them with the naked eye; but today the telescope pierces through what before was sky-darkness. It brings to our vision everywhere a "Milky Way". Thus the galaxy surrounds us completely. We are swimming in its tremendous ocean. We see a fragment of it as the Milky Way; but the Milky Way is all around us, far beyond
those Constellations of individually perceptible stars which may be said to constitute in their totality our own system of stars; those to, which we are individually related.
The Milky Way, our galaxy, is indeed the appropriate symbol of the Great Mother, who is — to us — the undifferentiated sea of universal Wholeness. She is the great cosmic Womb, whence all stars come and to which all shall return. She is, figuratively at least, the womb of all souls in that symbolism which sees in every individually perceptible star a Soul — an immortal Identity of consciousness, a Monad, a "Fiery Spark of the Universal Wheel" — as the ancient occult books say with "prophetic" literalness indeed! Prophetic, because the entire galaxy is now seen to be exactly that: a whirling Wheel of Fire with a bulging hub. Another simile would be about as exact: a disc-like gong with a large knob at the center — as is the case with most Javanese gongs. Wombs of Souls; womb of stars; womb of cosmic tones — for men who are suns and can hear the throb of the Great Mother's heart.
Constellations and Milky Way: an eternal dualism of the higher realms of thought and being. We might use other words which would have the same meaning: the group and society — while the entire solar system would refer to the individual personality in its final or perfected state of development. And by "groups" here must be understood any and all types of human associations of a relatively permanent character through which, and through which alone, the human person is being moulded. It may be the tribal group, or it may be the spiritual brotherhood. It may be a formative group on the physical, on the cultural, on the mental or on the spiritual planes. But formative group there must be; establishing a certain rhythm of being, a pattern of behavior, a structural order or framework of consciousness within the individual.
The Creative Hierarchies, in the ancient cosmogonies, constituted the universally formative group of Man-the-whole. Through the Sun and the Moon, as they passed from one sign of the zodiac to another, the Hierarchies poured those energies which were necessary to build the physical organism, born of the earthly father and mother. But their work was not limited to this. They were seen operating also on inner psychological planes. They moulded the cultures of men, laid down the pattern-ideas of civilizations, through geniuses, seers and adepts; we might say through Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. Farther still they remained, waiting for the daring Soul who had passed the awesome portals of the three trans-Saturnian planets, to accept him into the Company of the Immortals, into the Celestial Chord of Man-in-the-making, into the seed-tone that is also the Word, or Logos.
But even such a cosmic Group is only a point in the total magnitude of the galaxy. Through the father, through the teachers and through the companions, the individual personality is moulded into the pattern of his own solar being. But all the while another Presence, more diffuse, more encompassing, yet less individualized, hovers around. At the purely psychological level, it is the Moon, the physical mother. But beyond the obvious plane of physical motherhood can be seen the nearly invisible motherhood of Humanity. It is a subtle Presence which has no name, yet which gives foundation and solidity to the teachings of all the wise men, to the dreams and inspirations of seers and geniuses, to the realizations and powers of all adepts.
This Presence has been given many names, though it is essentially beyond all names and definitions. The Eastern occultist will understand what is meant by the mystic name, the Nirmanakaya. It is the "Sea of Bliss" and the "Ocean of Wholeness". It is the never ceasing resonance of the sounding board of the universe, from which all tones surge and into which they are reabsorbed. It is Tao as a cosmic reality, as infinite power in stillness and in light — before which all thinkers and teachers, all seers and adepts bow.
The beauty of the symbolism lies in this, that though the galaxy as a totality is indeed a thing of incredible magnitude, though the universal Wheel of Fire holds power beyond all imaginings, yet all that we, mortals of this Eaith, can see of it is a scarf-like streamer of pearl-white light in the clear skies! It is so remote, so mysterious, so evanescent. Yet it is the one and only Reality of this our "island universe". It is only through the use of our finest instruments — symbols of our deepest mental powers of concentration — that we may realize its ubiquitousness, its all-pervasiveness, its all-encompassing presence. And it is only then that we learn to know that that soft and flowing opalescence is a congeries of much more than a hundred billions of stars. The number of stars in our visible constellations pales to insignificance compared to such an inconceivable multitude.
Yet can we not imagine something close at hand of the same magnitude? Consider mankind today, and its approximate two billions of living men, women and children. But this is only the number of the living. Auguste Comte once said that "Mankind is composed of more dead than of living". Perhaps we believe in personal immortality for every living soul. If so what would be the number of discarnate souls, after a few millennia? The figures would be staggering; and even if we believe in some form of reincarnation and a limited number of human souls, there might still be many times more souls in humankind than stars in our galaxy.
Who knows? Perhaps the number is the same; and perhaps this same number would reveal how many atoms a human body contains — or is it rather that there are as many atoms in the human body as there are stars in all the galaxies of the total universal Whole? Such a number would be in the category of 10 followed by twenty-seven zeros, according to a modern physicist.
Oceans of souls! The skies show us galaxies at all stages of development, from that of a round ball of fire to that of a much flattened disc whirling at terrific speed. Through this development we may trace symbolically the process of growth of human souls, out of the undifferentiated condition of the primordial Group-soul to that of bright suns joining with others to form Constellations and pleromas of Constellations — the star-clusters of modern science. We may point out critical phases of Soul-evolution, danger-spaces like the dark nebula called the "Coal Sack" in the Milky Way, the yawning Pit or the dark "Horse's Head" in Orion (the Dragon of Intellect); and we may show the "Mystic Gates of Heaven" in the Northern Skies, whence souls may pass beyond the "Ring of Manifestation" — a fascinating symbolism which has never been written down consecutively.
Suffice it to say that in such a system we see, pictured in hieroglyphs of light, the super-rational or super-conscious realm of Intelligence and Being. Here it is no longer a question of linking together the paths of the planets, of filling in the interplanetary spaces with myriads of tiny reflectors, such as the Asteroids, or with cometary messengers shooting lines of fire across the set motions of the steady planets. These refer to the imperceptibly small. But the Galaxy tells tales of the unperceivably great. Man, the living and thinking person, stands between the two infinites — between the cells, of which his body contains billions, and the stars and galaxies, which also number billions in the Universal Whole.
The great mystery is that the imperceptibly small mirrors the unperceivably great; that even modem science finds keys to the secret doors of the atom while contemplating the fantastic recession of nebulae across the extra-galactic spaces through which light-rays flash yet seem to make no speed. Wholeness is active within any whole; and just as we see Saturn surrounded by rings of infinitesimal particles of substance which seem continuous, so the Milky Way, this multitude of stars, appears to us continuous. Such continuity is the omnipresent symbol of Wholeness.
Our faculty of perceiving continuous substance enables us to see our body as a solid whole, to feel a chair as solid substance — even though science today tells us that the apparently solid substance is an illusion, merely the effect of the whirling of widely separated atoms. Solidity is a symbol of solidarity and unanimity. Our body appears solid because of the relative solidarity of its constituent cells in terms of our total consciousness. Saturn's rings appear continuous, as a symbol of the self-containment of that principle of structural permanence which we call the ego, the "I am". The Milky Way appears as a continuous stream of light, because to us it stands as the limit of our unaided natural and earth-born perceptions of spiritual Being — as Nirvana.
On the other hand, Constellations of Fixed Stars represent groupings of divine Individuals who act, co-operatively and in groups, yet still in terms of individual attainment and brilliancy. They are the Creative gods. But beyond them is Light, apparently continuous, utterly homogeneous and solid, it seems, in its unanimity of being.
And yet, to the transcendent mind, the continuous must ever break into Hosts. The body is seen as a whirling of wheels within wheels, as a complex circulation of myriads of lives. The Saturnian ego breaks into "complexes", and the galaxy into multitudes of remote stars. Wholeness therefore must always admit parts. Unity — even homogeneity or unanimity — is a dream of consciousness yearning for the absolutely "totalitarian" state, never to be reached — even in that greatest of all dreams, nirvana.
From the mountain top all the sounds rising from fields, seas and cities merge into the vast throbbing resonance which has been called the tone of Nature; the middle F of our keyboard, the great tone Kong, around which the harmony of Chinese civilization was seen to revolve. The many sound as one.
Similarly, we may attune our hearing to the "Harmony of the Spheres"; we may listen to the great gong-tones of the planetary orbs as they fulfill their destinies in the service of the Sun. If our ears are keen, we may sense, between the booming voices of the planetary choir, the mysterious elusive hum of those myriads of lesser lives which are catalytics to the larger operations of cosmic being such as planets represent. And if our vision soars to the greater heavens, where stars of great glory, bound in comradely love, masterfully control the threads of destiny which are the very warp and woof of evolving souls, we may readily wonder where their magic powers, co-operative yet individual, shade into unanimous being — the mysterious borderland between stars and Milky Way, between Masters and Mastery.
Still beyond all these, there remains the yet greater abyss which hides the essence of Motion — the sphere of the Primum Mobile. Beyond all tones, be they separate or blended into galactic resonance, there is Sound. Beyond — yet at the very core of everything; for there is no stone and there is no cell that is not throbbing with Sound. And perhaps, in the last analysis, the most profound reality of astrology lies in this omnipresence and omnipotence of Sound. The whole universe is a Chord whose harmonies vibrate through realm within realm, through whole within whole. And destinies are built and destinies are shattered through the universal magic of Sound, the tone within our heart answering to the Tone within that star which is our glorious "place" within the Body of the universal God.