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The Luminaries

How do we keep an imaginal perspective on astrology alive in a culture whose attention has shifted to computer, smartphone, and TV screens, and no longer the screen of heaven? Sometimes it takes a voice from outside the system to remind us of the imaginative and infinite sky.

Eleanor Catton’s novel The Luminaries has won this year’s Man Booker prize, acknowledged by writers as the most luminous of the literary prizes. As the title suggests, astrological imagery is at the heart of her story. The twelve zodiac signs and seven traditional planets form the narrative’s architecture, while each successive chapter is in a number sequence and half the length of its predecessor. (Editor’s note: Scroll down for Eleanor Catton’s sunrise chart.)

Her beginning note to readers describes the precession difference in zodiacs and ends with the endorsement that astrological imagery “affirms our faith in the vast and knowing influence of the infinite sky.” The author’s dedication is:

“for Pop, who sees the stars
and Jude, who hears their music”

The music of the stars is a longstanding image of the poetry of the heavens. Plato once described astronomy and music as “twinned” studies because both required the understanding of numerical proportions and scales. Both studies were sensual: astronomy for the eyes; music for the ears. In this way astrology is as much a song of the soul as it is poetry of the heavens. It requires eyes and ears, but more so the third eye and third ear to imagine and hear its melodies.

We often get caught up in the literality of astrological signs rather than seeing through them into the imagery of their symbols. While astrological learning is filled with theories and techniques that help us find meaning in the horoscope, the weight of all this information risks suppressing the metaphors and images that the astrological symbols are revealing. Evocative images or heartfelt stories might be lost beneath prosaic sentences and literal explanations.

I was delighted to see that the imagination of astrology had inspired literature, as, to me, astrology is a creative art, a narrative, whether that is the story of the times, an account of an event, or an individual tale. It turns events into experiences by assigning meaning, context, and consideration to the facts of life.

Eleanor Catton’s creative tools were aroused by the right-brain hemisphere of the heavens. Its skyful of myths, images, and symbols helped her imagine the plot of her narrative, just as I feel astrologers do when reading the horoscope. The age-old adage of the music of the spheres could be a metaphor for how we might hear the muse in our astrological work; the tenor of celestial sounds being physically imperceptible to the human ear, but nonetheless there. What songs might you imagine the planets singing?

The music of the spheres describes the synchronous levels of vibration in the cosmos, not a literal sound. While synchronously we do often experience our astrological images literally, it is the metaphor that allows us to see through to other layers of meaning that lie beneath the factual.

It’s not necessarily an easy task to allow meaning to reveal itself through the animation of astrological images with symbols, stories, myths, metaphors, dreams, synchronies, moods, and reactions. It might seem more reliable when we have formulas and facts or an “expert’s opinion” to help us feel certain. An imaginative perspective is never certain, yet is essential for the creative act of soul-making at the heart of our lives.

Bio: Brian Clark is the co-founder of the Chiron Center, now located in WellBeing, a wing of the Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne, dedicated to alternative healing therapies. As a consultant astrologer for over 30 years, he is deeply interested in astrology’s resonance with the soul. Having taught a successful four-year program in astrology for over 25 years, Brian has redeveloped the syllabus as a distance learning program ( leading to the Diploma in Applied Astrology. He has his BA (Hons) and MA in Classics and Archaeology from University of Melbourne. As a Philhellene, he feels blessed to have led so many tours to the sanctuaries of ancient Greece with hopefully more to come. Brian has been honoured with a Life Membership from the Federation of Australian Astrologers (FAA).

Mary’s note:
I’ve added a few links about the author and her work for those who might be curious.
(1) A review of The Luminaries.
NY Times Book Reviews
(2) An interview with Eleanor Catton: “Money doesn’t transform you – only love can.” Eleanor Catton, the youngest ever winner of the Man Booker prize, talks about how her novel The Luminaries was plotted in the stars.
(3) Eleanor Catton’s sunrise chart; born Sept. 4, 1985; London, Ontario, Canada. (The Moon was in Aquarius all day.)
Source: Wikipedia


  1. Great piece and I especially agree with your sentence:
    “While astrological learning is filled with theories and techniques that help us find meaning in the horoscope, the weight of all this information risks suppressing the metaphors and images that the astrological symbols are revealing.”

    This is so relevant to our times. I’m reminded of A. T. Mann’s “The Round Art”. Thanks!

  2. Very interesting, and I appreciate seeing astrology getting some positive notice in a mainstream context. Hadn’t heard of the book or author–guess I spend too much time in nonfiction world. Don’t know if I could stick with it through 848 pages–such verbosity! Perhaps her actual chart (does the book not include it?) has Jupiter in the third house along with Moon (in her “joy” in the third, in traditional astrology). Evidently she derives great joy from setting down ideas in story form.

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