Astrological Cycles : Rhythms of the Universe

Astrology is known as the Science of Cycles. As astrologers we follow the rhythms of the planets as they move. We interpret the patterns, looking for meaning in the rhythms and cross rhythms of the universe, the fortunes of men and nations. Charting our course among the stars.


As if the universe were a piece of music… From the vibrations of subatomic particles, the pulse and breathing of our bodies, the daily rhythm of our planet, the turning of the seasons as the earth circles the sun, and the cycle of the moon from new to full and back again. These are the regularly repeating patterns that make for the rhythms of our lives and all that lives on earth.

But there are larger cycles that operate within and beyond our lives. The orbits of the planets of our solar system that astrologers use to make sense of our past, to predict events or to plot the evolution of our consciousness.

Then there are the longer, slower rhythms, longer than a human lifetime. These affect the lives of nations, the economic cycles, the shifting patterns of culture and technology. And slower yet, the even deeper pulses that resonate with the rise and fall of civilizations and the changes in man’s relationship with the divine and his survival as a species.

Some call astrology ‘The Science of Cycles’. As astrologers we follow the rhythms of the planets as they move. We interpret the patterns, looking for meaning in the rhythms and cross rhythms of the universe, the fortunes of men and nations. Charting our course among the stars.

Our science is ancient. You can find it written in monuments from the earliest days, back even further to the placement of stones on hillsides. Timing, measuring, making sense of it all.

Day, Month, Year

We begin this catalogue of rhythms with the cycle of day and night. The earth turns on its axis, the sun rises and sets. But you can’t really measure the length of a day from one sunrise to the next because the days get longer and shorter according to the season. Better measure from midday to midday. That’s the time when the sun appears directly overhead, and your shadow is at its shortest. That doesn’t change.

Our moon orbits the earth and there’s a new moon every 29 and a half days. Among other things, this affects the oceanic tides. But that half a day is a nuisance. So lunar calendars like the Chinese and the Islamic alternate months of 29 and 30 days which averages out at 29 and a half.

The earth orbits the sun every 365 days making a year. Actually, it’s a bit over 365 so we have to add an extra day to keep our calendar in synch with the seasons and the cycles of nature. But when does the cycle begin? Well, you can begin it anywhere you like and in fact different cultures have their new year at different times. The whole science of calendars is fascinating and there’s been plenty written about it, sparing me the job. But just to say, you can begin your year at one of the equinoxes when day and night are of equal length. Or you can begin at the shortest day or the longest day. Or you can add the moon into all this so that a new year starts at a particular new moon.

However, if you try to fit an exact number of lunar months into a solar year, you’ll find it’s impossible. Twelve lunar months of 29.5 add up to 354, a lunar year which is 11 days short of the solar year of 365 days. The Jewish and Chinese religious calendars get round this by adding an extra month every 2 or 3 years so that the calendar keeps in synch with the seasons. On the other hand, the Islamic calendar refuses to add an extra month and so slips back by 11 days each year, so that the fast of Ramadan for example will begin 11 days earlier every year. While the western Gregorian calendar ignores the moon totally, apart from keeping the number of months as 12.

This also means that some solar years will have 12 new moons, and some will have 13. Maybe this is why 13 became considered an unlucky number. Twelve is a nice, convenient number, divisible by 2,3,4 and 6 so that you can have half, a third, a fourth and a sixth of a year. While 13 is prime and is only divisible by 1 and itself, and is a lot more tricky to work with.

As this is only an introduction to cycles, I’m going to skip the business of eclipses but just to recommend a book which explains it all: “Sun, Moon and Earth” by Robin Heath, published by Wooden Books.

Mercury, Venus, Mars

So far, by using the motions of the Earth, Sun and Moon we can do most of the things we need to do to keep everyday life in order. But as astrologers, we go beyond this to look at longer cycles in order to find repeating patterns so that we can indulge in that most risky of businesses: prediction.

Moving out from our sun, the first planet we come to is Mercury which takes only 88 days to orbit the sun. Most of the time this planet is too close to the sun to be seen. But from the point of view of an observer on Earth, Mercury sometimes appears to move retrograde against the background of fixed stars. This it does 2 or three times a year and these periods are endowed by astrologers with the effect of disruption of communication.

Five pointed pattern made by Venus in relation to the sun and earthThe next planet out is Venus, which sometimes rises before the sun, appearing as a morning star and sometimes rises after the sun has set, being visible as an evening star. Venus orbits the sun every 225 days. This means that 8 Earth years equals 13 Venus years, but every 584 days Venus lines up with the earth and the sun, two fifths of the way further around the zodiac drawing a beautiful five-pointed star of motion. This was important in the ancient Mayan calendar with its complex interlocking of cycles and its pattern of lucky and unlucky days.  If you want to follow this further, have a look at “The Little Book of Coincidence” by John Martineau, again published by Wooden Books.

Moving out beyond the earth we come to the planet Mars, visible in the night sky as a reddish point. Its orbital period is 687 days bringing Mars back to the same position in the sky just under every 2 Earth years. When Mars comes back to its natal position it is in effect a Mars return, giving us a boost of physical energy.

Jupiter and Saturn

Then we come to the orbits of the slow-moving outer planets, the gas giants, Jupiter and Saturn, and the ice giants, Uranus and Neptune and we’re dealing with slower rhythms and much longer cycles.

Jupiter takes 12 years to orbit the sun so every 12 years we are in a time of growth, maybe physically, maybe of resources or maybe of understanding and awareness. But while growth is considered positive, it is not always easy as it can take us out of our comfort zone.

Then the next planet out, Saturn takes 29 and a half years to orbit the sun and to return to the same position in the sky when you were born. This is the often-discussed Saturn return. It’s also worth checking out the half-returns when Saturn is opposite its natal position, ages 14-16, 44-46 and so on.

Jupiter and Saturn are aligned with the Earth and the Sun every 20 years, and this is another cyclical pattern to be aware of. This Jupiter-Saturn synodic cycle is thought to be the basic cycle of economic activity, patterns of growth and recession, boom and bust. There are astrologers with knowledge of the financial markets who study these patterns.

Also to mention that studies by radio engineer, John Nelson on shortwave radio propagation showed that angular relationships between Mars, Jupiter and Saturn affect radio transmission. When these planets are in tough angles like opposition or at right angles, the electromagnetic disturbance is greater. But when they are in what for astrologers are easy angles like an equilateral triangle, the disturbance is minimal.

Uranus, Neptune, Pluto

After Saturn is Uranus, the first planet to be discovered with the aid of technology, namely the telescope. Uranus’ orbit is 84 years. Some of us might live to get to our Uranus return. But you might have a better chance of reaching your half Uranus return at the age of 42, the beginning of the so-called mid-life crisis. Also to mention that Uranus takes 7 years to cross each sign of the zodiac and some astrologers have noticed that this 7-year pattern is to do with allergic reactions. This is of course purely conjectural but worth keeping an eye on.

With Uranus’ 84-year cycle, we reach the end of the human lifespan. We do not live to experience any longer cycles. The cycle of Neptune is 163 years so we might get to live half of that. The Neptune cycle is said to be to do with spiritual development at the personal level. At the level of culture however it is involved with the influence of media, from the invention of photography to the development of movies and television and on to social media. I’ll try and write more about this when I have the mental bandwidth.

Then after Neptune come what are known as Trans-Neptunian Objects or TNO’s, the first being the rocky planet Pluto, recently demoted from planetary status to that of a dwarf planet. Dwarf in size perhaps but not in astrological significance! Pluto’s cycle is 248 years, so as the planet that deals with matters of power, its cyclical influence is seen in the fortunes of nations. You might have noticed the stresses and ructions going on in the United States as it goes through its first Pluto return.

Beyond Neptune

Beyond Neptune there are other Trans-Neptunian Objects that inhabit a zone of the solar system known as the Kuiper Belt. And as they are only recently discovered, as astrologers we are just beginning to get to know them. They delight in names taken from the gods and goddesses, not only of the Greeks and Romans but also of indigenous cultures.

Beyond this group and one of the strangest solar system bodies there’s Eris, named for the Greco-Roman goddess of strife and discord. Her 560-year orbit is not only extremely elliptical but also at a crazy angle of 44 degrees to the plane of the ecliptic!

Then, almost as far out as we can go in our solar system, there’s Sedna, named after the Inuit goddess of the sea creatures with an orbital period of over 11,000 years. That means that when Sedna was at the same place in her orbit as she is now, we were just coming out of the last ice-age. Given this timescale, Sedna’s influence is beyond nations, beyond even civilizations, taking us into the time of evolutionary processes and species survival.

The Great Year and the Precession of the Equinoxes

That’s it for the cycles of our solar system. As this is an introduction, I’ve had to leave out a lot of detail. There’s loads more to be said about other solar system bodies like the centaurs and about harmonic relationships between the planets.

But I can’t leave you without mentioning the Great Year and the Precession of the Equinoxes. This cycle of almost 26,000 years was discovered by the astronomer-astrologer Hipparchus who lived in the second century BC. He realized that the fixed stars were not in fact fixed but appeared to be slowly migrating eastwards. So that the point on the zodiac where the sun is at the spring equinox is no longer zero degrees Aries but has slipped back into Pisces where it has been for the last 2000 years, a period which is described as the Age of Pisces, and is soon to move into Aquarius taking us into the Age of Aquarius and so on round all of the 12 signs, taking 26,000 years.

A lot has been written, said (and sung) about The Age of Aquarius, most of it fanciful. But just to say that there are so many differing opinions on this topic with some astrologers saying that we’re already in the transition to the so-called New Age, while others claim that it doesn’t begin till 2062, while yet others calculate that we’ll have to wait till the year 2600 before we enter the Age of Aquarius.

And so back to our little lives with our profits and losses, our births, marriages and deaths. our lucky and unlucky days. Astrology gives us a view of the greater scheme of things and helps us understand the ways of the world and make sense of our experiences. Maybe it’s all an illusion. But I find it a useful illusion. Connecting the rhythms of our lives with the motions of the planets and the rhythms of the universe.

Ben Belinsky





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