Just what is Chiron? There is perhaps too little known about the Centaur planets. This is understandable, and there are various reasons– we need more independent research; we need to see how it operates throughout the course of the entire zodiac; not all astrologers are in favour of adding new planets to the chart (and so they get ignored). I believe that Chiron, however, is already an important new body to add to our practice of astrology. We are ready as a collective to embrace it. So what, then, is it all about?
Chiron is small planet with an erratic orbit, discovered in 1977 by Charles T. Kowal on November 1st, 1977 (about 10 a.m, Pasadena) from an earlier photograph. Its discovery was immediately controversial – just what was it? The unusual nature of Chiron was clear from the start as it refused to conform to standard astronomical categories. It was too large to be a conventional comet (a hundred times, in fact) but not quite as big as (the relatively small) Pluto. Hence its classification as either an asteroid, a comet, or a ‘planetoid’ ( comet 95P or Minor Planet 2060.) Its orbit is irregular too: placed between those of Saturn and Uranus it transcends the paths of both. This makes it occasionally closer to the sun than Saturn, or further away than Uranus. It has other peculiarities, such as the ‘cometary tail’ reaching a maximum of 300,000km, but which seems to disappear at certain times.
As for its status as an asteroid, it’s too far from the asteroid belt (between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter) for this to be convincing. Plus, its orbit around the ecliptic last for about 51 years, much longer than most asteroids take. In fact its path around the Sun lasts for 50.7 years and its odd, elongated path means its occupies Libra for about a year and a half, whilst in Aries it stays for nine years. Its occupancy of other signs can be anything from two years to seven. Clearly this is erratic. Odd. Eccentric. But it is deeply significant too, as we shall soon see. Following its discovery, the first Chiron ephemeris was produced by astronomer Dr. Brian Marsden (who had noted Chiron’s unusual characteristics). We’ll now see the implications for Dr. Marsden’s calling it a ‘maverick’.
Chiron (whose name means “skilled with hands”) was the king of the centaurs in Greek mythology. These strange beings, a hybrid of horse (body, legs) and man (head, arms) symbolise the struggle between one’s earthly, ‘animal’ nature, and the human spirit seeking to transcend it. It is of significance that Chiron straddles the border between the uncivilised domain of Saturn and the consciousness-raising sphere of Uranus. When we look at Chironian myth this gives us a big clue to his real nature:
Evidence from … Greek epics dating to the mid-eighth Century suggests that Chiron’s genealogy as the son of Cronus [or Saturn] most probably would have been known to Homer. The fragment describes Cronus shape shifting into a horse to ravage Philyra, who then fell pregnant and gave birth to Chiron, the horse-centaur … Fathered by a Titan, Chiron was an intermediary between the rational order of the Olympian gods and the chaos of the Titan’s dark past.1
The Centaurs generally were disliked in Greek myth, for their savage, uncouth barbarism, but this rawness and instinctuality may be one’s first encounter with the god. Here we will encounter his Saturnian aspect – like Saturn Chiron can be extremely disruptive by transit or progression. It can be a period when one comes up against one’s darker, less welcome (even embarrassing) characteristics – ones which the ego normally suppresses. Yet, Chiron (as Clark puts it) is a kind of intermediary between the world of the earthy Titans and the sky gods of Olympia. Between the needs of the body and the needs of the rational intellect – our more civilised aspects. Indeed, Chiron was different, quite unlike the other unruly centaurs and known instead for his wisdom, justness, benevolence and kindly disposition.
Chiron would later become mentor to the Greek heroes Achilles and Jason, imparting the skills of hunting and warcraft. Yet he also taught the god Asclepios the arts of healing and medicine. Here, then, we have a combination of masculinity and fighting spirit, tempered by something ‘higher’, more spiritual. As Brian Clark notes, ‘Euripides assigns the 5th Century values of rational thought and moderation to Chiron’s teaching. Achilles is now taught to ‘curb’ his feelings, ‘live by reason’ and to reflect.’2
Also, the element of water is strong in Chiron’s make-up, his mother a water nymph, his grandfather Oceanus, the ancient deity of all the earth’s fresh water. This at once connects him to healing powers, the soothing of pain and suffering. But he is best known as the lame god who acquired an accidental wound when one of Heracles’ poisoned arrows pierced his thigh. Due to his immortal lineage, he could not actually die. Thus he lived a life of perpetual suffering. His life did finally end, though, when he offered himself to die in the place of Prometheus (another suffering god, chained to a rock for stealing fire -wisdom – from the heavens as a gift to mortals). Chiron’s death, then, was humanity’s gain.
But just what does Chiron signify on the birth chart? Chiron’s tagline is that of the Wounded Healer and his placement shows an awareness of being ‘wounded’ in some way; often emotionally, psychologically. One might say it is Chiron’s purpose to show us where we need to be healed. Or put differently, where our pain is leading to greater consciousness. Of course, this rarely comes about without some sort of personal crisis, and a Chiron transit, for example, can prefigure just this. Certainly, we are likely to project this ‘wound’ on to an outer event – this thing which has plagued us all our lives. It seems that all we can do, rather like the Hanged Man in the Tarot deck, is relinquish our control.
But there is another way. And it comes through sacrifice. A genuine sacrifice. This sacrifice, this ‘giving up’ one’s mortality, is a metaphor for releasing the power of the Spirit – only then can healing (in the broadest sense) occur. So long as we are clinging to the ego, our material wants, or the desires of the body, there is the possibility of pain, of ‘wounding’. Plans often turn out badly; we suffer setbacks, illness, or emotional hurt. We have all been pierced by Heracles’ arrow in some way, and the advice from our spiritual teachers in such cases is always the same – let go, go with the flow, relinquish your claim on life. For this is the only way we can heal, But, the forces of nature do the work, not us, and we need the courage to trust in this process. The need for healing, to get back into the natural flow of life, is always an issue when there are powerful Chiron effects.
Chiron can be seen as the astrological symbol for what used to be called the New Age movement – though here embodying a more enlightened culture of ‘self help’, not goal-getting ‘positive thinking’, but one centred in healing, oriental therapies, meditation and the like. In other words, holistic practice, for this needs a fuller realisation of who and what we are, warts and all. (Perhaps I should say, ‘wounds and all’,) It’s significant that the 1970’s, when Chiron was discovered, saw the rise in popularity of Eastern based alternative medicine, like acupuncture or reflexology, tai-chi and yoga. This is because these holistic disciplines are concerned with treating the root causes of illness – not just symptoms; they are about the integrity of the whole mind-body system, an arrangement of interrelated energy patterns.
This is also how James Lovelock’s Gaia theory works – the Earth is an integrated self-regulating whole, a living being, like the ancient view of Mother Nature. Between the publication of Lovelock’s scholarly articles (1972/74/75) and his book, Gaia: A new look at Life on Earth, in 1979, Chiron was discovered, as we’ve noted, in 1977. One could say the world was ready for it. When we look at Chiron aspects in the sky, concurrent world news show a prevalence of reports on the environment. Why, you may ask, should this be so? Why should Chiron relate to ‘green’ issues and the natural world? Well, they’re connected with Holism or holistic thinking – biological or ecological issues are viewed here as whole systems in which all the parts are inter-dependent, just as our physical bodies depend on a healthy environment, like fresh air, and access to fresh water and food supplies. The self regulating eco-system of the entire planet is now called the biosphere, a modern name for Mother Earth. And, of course, what we do to her affects us all – if we pollute her rivers and destroy the environments in which food sources thrive, everyone loses. Chiron’s healing energy is thus Holism, for ‘to heal’ literally means to make whole – to restore the system to a complete, healthy-functioning organism.
In our personal lives, the moment of transformation can come at a time of ‘healing crisis’ (in the words of astrologer Eric Francis.) A healing crisis is when we’re able see what is making our lives unbearable – i.e. ultimately our own unconscious attitudes – and we struggle to break free of negative patterns, habits and so forth. It is not simply a matter of our outer circumstances needing a quick change – we must change. The unhealable wound can thus be a catalyst, realising that this unsolvable thorn in our side is not something to be overcome or fixed, but integrated, worked with, learned from.
Taking this approach is the holistic one – viewing the ‘wound’ (whether an ‘unsolvable’ problem, a sense of alienation or childhood trauma) as a part of the whole, to be treated as such. With care. Even as a necessary part of life. This view may be unacceptable to some, but when one stops railing at life, fate, or ‘bad luck’, a wounding of any kind tends to breed a sense of sympathy and compassion for others. It is how we become more human. Chiron’s father, Cronos was himself made to suffer by being banished to the underworld because he was an earth-god, i.e., imperfect and made of flesh. In other words, he was punished simply for being what he was. And the message with Chiron is that we must begin to love ourselves. Our human imperfections, too. When we accept our ‘wound’, we arrive at Chiron’s more positive meanings: healing, teaching, holism, guidance, transformation, and ultimately, psychological growth. And what we can do for others also garners spiritual rewards. This is also in the nature of Chiron (i.e. a kind of sacrifice) – where we benefit others without actually gaining ourselves. (Then again, it is said that there is a kind of satisfaction to be had from giving.) And so Chiron’s chart placement may signify what one can do well for others, but perhaps not for ourselves.
Chiron was born ‘different’, remember: a gentle, wise soul housed in a body that his own mother found repulsive. Chiron on the chart will quite often manifest as just feeling ‘different’, or alienated in some way. It can be something that one cannot deal with in conventional ways, and this will be reflected by its house position and aspects. Its status as a ‘maverick’ is seen in how the individual – perhaps despite themselves – is somehow forced to handle this situation in their own unique way. It can thus foster a real sense of self sufficiency. All in all, it is a force for change and innovation – just as it moves past the orbits of Saturn and Uranus, it ‘crosses the line’ into new territory and helps us find radical solutions.
Chiron’s unhealable wound also found its way into the medieval tale of the Fisher King. His groin injury (and the kingdom itself) could only be redeemed by a callow knight (Parzival) asking the right question about the Holy Grail (the supreme symbol of the Inner Self). In other words, the release from pain begins by looking to ourselves for the answer, not outer circumstance. We are on the road to being healed when we can first accept the ‘wound’ and know that we cannot change it. When we can integrate it into the larger self. This is the real meaning of wholeness, of healing. In the end Chiron is just us teaching ourselves about ourselves. With Chiron there is – like Saturn – no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Like Saturn, our Chiron area requires effort. There is at least, however, self acceptance, experience, understanding, wisdom and compassion. And perhaps just a little of the brilliant, unconventional maverick. That should be enough for anyone.
1. Heroic Healers: Chiron and the Thessalian Doctors by Brian Clark.
(Recommended reading – Chiron and the Healing Journey, by Melanie Reinhart, 1989, Penguin/Arkana.)