In the modern day, we have done away with the ancient gods, resplendent in their heavenly or subterranean abodes. We do, however, still experience their numinous (sometimes terrifying) power and, instead, refer to ‘complexes’ – or content belonging to the Unconscious mind. Truly, then, it can be said that the gods live within us. This is also the modern psychological attitude to Myth, where all of the figures in the story are saying something about eternally active forces within Man and Woman, however much they are unknown, recondite or even distasteful. The human psyche, or individual ‘soul’, is a dynamic (not a static) entity. Just as our bodies grow from babyhood, to adolescence, thence to adulthood, so does the psyche unfold, develop and seek to become whole. This doesn’t just mean an accretion of new experiences; rather, ‘something’ transcendent is trying to unfold and grow, something ‘other’, something spiritual. Our major joys, and life-changing events, even our pains and sorrows reflect the overall psyche’s attempt at knowledge of the Self.
The Hero’s Quest in Ancient Myth (always involving a young male, though it applies equally to women), is really this Quest for the Self. The uninitiated conscious mind, as it undertakes its trial through life, slowly learns about its own spiritual origins. Again, we are all of us – in this sense – the Hero. As Joseph Campbell put it:
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day [separation] into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are then encountered and a decisive victory is won [initiation]: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man [return]” 1
Hence there is often a summons from Fate, or what Campbell terms the ‘call to adventure’. Something is stirring within the depths of the psyche and ‘forces’ its way through. So what is it? It is the ‘boon’ Campbell mentions – the Treasure hard to Attain. This is the Maguffin, the reason for the mythical story in the first place, since – as we’ve noted – the hero is searching for something unimaginably precious or hitherto ‘lost’ on his Quest. In many stories, the precious spiritual goal – which will confer life-giving energy and power – can be symbolised by any number of expensive objects made from rare materials: gold, silver, crystal; perhaps the Celto-Christian Holy Grail, or mysterious Philosopher’s Stone. Or it is represented by a royal personage or beast (a King or Lion), or a beautiful god or cherished hero – Baldur, Taliesin, Apollo, say. But the most Universal symbol of all is the Sun.
The subject of a thousand and one myths from the civilisations of antiquity (especially old Egypt) the sun has always inspired massive awe and reverence in human consciousness. In Greek mythology he was imaged as a youthful god, Helios, bearing the gleaming aureole of the Sun, driving a golden chariot across the sky every day. As with much of Greek myth, there are competing stories (by different authors) and so we also have Phoebus Apollo, “Light Producer,” “Golden God of Light.” Well haired,” “Gold-haired,” “Gold-sworded.” He was the eternally youthful athlete and musician, often identified with Helios.
‘In contrasting the character of the Sun-Gods, Helios and Apollo, we note a striking similarity. Both are conspicuous for their brilliant appearance, both possess powers of producing and destroying life, and weapons that are invulnerable. They are endowed alike with inexhaustible powers of creating happiness or sorrow, pleasure or torment, health or sickness.’2
Apollo could also – like any other god – prove to be quite temperamental and petulant when not getting the respect he felt he deserved:
‘Apollo was far famed as a musician, and once had a quarrel with [nature deity] Pan who claimed that the flute was a sweeter instrument than the lyre, which was Apollo’s favourite instrument. They agreed to refer the matter to Midas, King of Lydia, who favoured Pan, and Apollo, in his displeasure at the verdict, punished Midas by causing his ears to lengthen till they resembled those of an ass. Apollo apparently brooked no rivalry in his musical accomplishments, for when Marsyas boasted that he excelled Apollo in flute playing, the latter had him flayed alive. 3
I mention all of this since there are resonances here with the astrological sun and the sign/house which it traditionally ‘rules’ (Leo and the fifth). Apollo is the good-looking Eternal Youth, a personification of the Spirit, since the spiritual essence of Man and Woman never ages. These are indeed ‘inexhaustible powers’, something of which the sun on the birth chart seems possessed of. A key to understanding the astrological sun is Apollo’s career as a musician – musical inspiration, or the power to create, was considered a divine gift in the ancient world and it is this same motif, creativity, which permeates both the fifth house of the chart and the astrological sun. The key to a person’s true uniqueness is what they are able to create for themselves – whether this means an individual lifestyle, artistic, literary or musical material, or indeed, the physical creation of another human being. All of these bear the ‘imprint’ of their authors, the power to produce ‘life’ where previously it did not exist. Its no wonder that the Lion (of Leo), the sun and the King all coalesce in Alchemical symbolism, since the Hermetic Quest is to understand the mystery of how the world, and life, truly manifests on the material plane. In other words, how things get created.
The Sun as the Self
On the birth chart the sun is basically your ‘will to be’, that which contains some ‘stamp’ of your true spiritual essence. Like the mythic Hero it is the thing we’re really looking for – our ‘true identity’, without which we would be nothing. Now, identity, is really quite a mystery: what does it mean to ‘be’? ‘Being’ (as a verb) has always been one of the central conundrums of Philosophy – what does it mean to exist? What is our ‘real’ authentic self? (It needn’t surprise anyone that there is no universal agreement among philosophers on this question.) Is it the contents of our mind, or that which merely looks at the contents of our mind? Are we the Thinker or the Thoughts we’re thinking? This reminds me of a witty and brilliant meme I recently found on Facebook that said: ‘if there are voices in my head, who is doing the listening?’
If we accept astrologer Robert Hand’s definition of the birth chart as a map of the psyche, then something else is at work, some self-identifying Consciousness ‘doing the listening’. This self-identifying essence is symbolised by the astrological Sun. The Self. Of course (as astrology shows) our ‘real selves’ are made up of many different items (some are even unconscious) and these aspects of personality will develop, grow and ‘alchemise’ as we get older. Coming to maturity is like a slow cooker full of various psychological ‘ingredients’, which is why one wise astrologer explained that the Sun on your chart represents what you are learning to be, over a lifetime.
In this, the sun on a birth chart is similar to Carl Jung’s concept of the Self in that it contains – in seed form – what will later emerge in the whole personality. The very glyph of the Sun used by astrologers indicates this dual purpose of representing both potential ‘seed’ and whole person – a dot in the centre of a circle. We start our self realisation with the ego, only to find there is a much large process of unfoldment going on. ‘The ego,’ wrote Jung, ‘stands to the Self as the moved to the mover…. The Self…is an a priori existent out of which the ego evolves. It is, so to speak, an unconscious prefiguration of the ego’4
Like the precious objects sought by the Mythic Hero – which secretly always ‘belong’ to him – the astrological sun is what we’ve been gifted by the gods. We’ve also pointed out that the sun is what you are learning to be – the qualities you must integrate, express, nurture – and like all gifts, this is something we need to treat with care and respect. If we do this, our ‘real self’ will develop and like the sun, will gleam forth to the rest of the world, illuminating and inspiring everything touched by it. People with strong suns (such as conjunct the Asc., MC or maybe Mars or Jupiter) are obviously good at this – they come across as highly energetic, vital and self confident, but other people feel energised by them, too. People with weak suns (with harsh angles from Saturn, say) always seem rather shy, even fatally lacking in initiative and will power. (That is, unless they learn to assert themselves.)
The sun is thus a powerful focal point for the rest of the chart and often shows simply the things that we’re good at – again – where we are gifted and creative. You are likely to be naturally talented (or with a certain aptitude) for, say, the issues pertaining to the house where your sun is placed. Good writers often have a third house sun; artists and actors sun in the fifth; diplomats a seventh house sun; doctors and psychiatrists sun in the eighth (and possibly the twelfth). When it comes to the transiting sun, these are times when you should be directing most of your energy, personality and need for creativity and ego fulfilment into the issues of that particular house. In short, towards the needs of the Self. All you really need to remember is that, wherever the sun is placed on your chart, it is where you will shine!
1. Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1968.
2. William Tyler Olcott, Sun Lore Of All Ages, New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1914
4. Jung, Collected Works 11, para. 391.