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Are our windows on reality simply reflections of ourselves, or is that just getting in the way of the larger, deeper landscape?

...Through a glass, darkly

By John  Townley

“For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
– I Corinthians 13

There is a common conceit among astrologers aching to fit in with the modern world that there is nothing factual here, only mythological –  nothing actual, simply shifting personal truths garbed in old symbolism looking for new clothing. Some would go so far as to say there is no truth at all in astrological correlations except what we project ourselves, our own reality. It’s the self-absorbed question if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears, does it make a sound – asked by someone living in a wooden house, made of fallen trees.…not to mention Schroedinger’s cat howling in the microwave…

This twentieth-century approach is sadly distant from anything that has previously passed for astrology since the discipline began. Astrology has always viewed itself as an approach to a real description of what actually goes on in the universe, not as mere fancy, and that its proponents should have given up in the face of a passing view of science born primarily out of the laboratory and not environmental observation is a sorry tale, indeed. One would think, from reading current astrological psycho-babblings, that modern psychology and the speculations of quantum theory somehow predated the planetary rhythms that have driven the formation of evolution and not the other way around. It’s as if had we not noticed it, like the tree in the forest, it wouldn’t have happened without us.

Fortunately, as scientific thought itself evolves and matures, we are beginning to notice the larger picture, the integration of multiple systems and supersystems, the scaling of organisms and superorganisms, that make up our ourselves and our environmental matrix – and the more it does, the more it looks like astrology. Not modern “psychological” astrology, either, but the good old kind of Pythagoras, Kepler, Fludd, and other universalist thinkers who so long ago were on the trail of a “theory of everything” despite lacking some of the observational tools that were to come later. When those tools first arrived (the technological array of devices that allow us to see the super-small, the super-large, various waves, fields, and all kinds of previously invisible worlds), they took over and were mistaken for answers in themselves. We began to think our new windows on the world were the world itself and that they only got there because of us. But that’s beginning to change as we stand back and peer through the mulitiply-scaled outer and inner windowpanes which both reveal and reflect back the universe we share.

The Pythagorean view sees all things large and small as an integrated set of proportional resonances, like a tuned instrument.

One of the consistent themes of astrology across the ages has been the reflection of one sizing of the world to the next – from heaven to earth, from the large to the small, and vice-versa – and recent discoveries about universal similitude (now we call it fractals, the self-similarity of scales) leads us back to the same “worlds within worlds” view. Here are some subsets:


The universe was once seen as a large, resonant musical entity right after Pythagoras discovered the fundamental relationships of temporal acoustic cycles, which determine musical pitch. As a general approach to sound and light it became a major part of astrological thinking, right through the Renaissance (as in Fludd’s diagram above left), which brought back the Classical ideas about it, many of which were explored and extended by Kepler in his Harmonices Mundi. A central key to the idea is that each time a vibration rate doubles (moving an octave higher) it becomes basically the same to the ear, a repeat performance on a different level. In music that principle works consistently, though approximately (different cultures hear the variations slightly differently). At different proportionate ratios of vibration, the basic intervals of the scale are produced, starting with the fifth, fourth, and major and minor thirds.


And, if you take it through higher cycles-per-second you find that you eventually reach the almost-octave-wide band of visible light. In between are a variety of now-useful frequencies (radio, microwave, lots more) that biological evolution didn’t need to give us receptors for, despite their fundamental importance, without our notice, in the rest of the universe. Basically, we’re not wired to know what we don’t need to know to survive, so far. On the other hand, we seem to be quite keyed in to the rhythms that match our height and size, revealed with much more to speculate about in this Wiki article.

The Basic Track:

In addition, on the lower and slower side, we have only recently discovered the importance of lower frequency waves that we don't notice but that elephants and whales can understand and use to communicate with. But more important, at much lower frequencies we are compelled and propelled by the beats that measure not in cycles per second but in cycles per day, month, year, century, and beyond, the pulsing cycle frequencies of the earth on its axis, the Moon, the Sun, and the other planets we are locked into mutual resonance with gravitationally – and whose frequencies sort themselves out into the very same octaves, fourths, and fifth relationships that we notice in music. These are the lower fundamentals, which are below the bottom line we generally recognize in our faster pace, but are the basic resonant frequencies which are beneath our normal range of considered perception. We know they are there, but we don’t often look at or accept them as participants in our own lives, part of our own basic ongoing structure, as did astrologers of yore who conceived of existence as an integrated whole, despite having fewer windows on it than we do. Yet, there they are, the bottom drivers, the real bass players in our cosmic band, beating out the rhythms of generations, of civilizations, the basic track of evolution itself.

Planetary Ratios and Resonances

For more fun, just dive in further to revel in the details. Recent measurements of distant objects in space suggest they are giving off various kinds of waves at very low frequencies corresponding to “cosmic music” according to some fanciful astronomers, including a black hole emanating the lowest B-flat in the universe.  Although there may be a big B-flat coming from afar, there may be a much more local reason for C being so central as the home tone here on earth. If you take the earth's yearly cycle, 365.2422 days, convert it to seconds and then start dividing it by two to reduce it to shorter octave cycles all the way to audible Hz, you eventually reach .003637097...or just 272 Hz, just between tempered C and C# if A=440.

True C2 is 264 Hz, or expressed in a decimal fraction of a second, .0037878787...just the tiniest bit flat of the earth's tuning.

Tempered C2 is 261.626 Hz, .003822500, the tiniest bit flatter still.

So, the earth's own frequency might appear to be somewhere between C and C# (and if you use A=444, it's closer still to true C)

After discovering the "pitch" of earth, a little above C, it’s worth calculating the rest of the planets. Quite curiously, Venus (most associated with music) is smack on A at just 442 Hz...

Of the rest, the inner and outermost  planets Mercury and Pluto are multiple octaves of each other at just above C#, and all put together the tones E, F, G, Bb, B, Eb are lacking. Here's the list, all compressed to the same octave, although some others (like Mars and Saturn) are actually also octaves or so apart: 

Earth = 272 = C a trifle sharp
Mercury = 282.5 = C# a trifle sharp
Venus = 221.22, or 442.44 = A
Mars = 289.44 = D a trifle flat
Jupiter = 367.15 = F#
Saturn = 295.69 = D
Uranus = 414.71 = G#
Neptune = 422.86 = G# a trifle sharp
Pluto = 281.34 = C# a trifle sharp

What’s mainly interesting is that the ratios of all the planet cycles are very Pythagorean, indeed, and seem to put them in distinct “musical” families, not surprising after eons of settling into their mutually resonant orbits. Here’s a fun recent musical attempt to turn them into audible sound, and on the astrological side, here’s a sign-house-planet linkup with the natural circle of fifths which is actually a practical songwriting tool. 

Transmissions and Reflections 

All of these different scalings of the structure of the universe exist without our ever noticing them, as trees that fall in the forest and make their own sounds, most of which we aren’t even privy to. But our own survival has necessitated our having evolved cognizance of some of them and the ability to connect them from scale to scale as their similarities strike us – in language and metaphor, in science, and in the arts. They are windows through which we see part of the structure beyond us but which are also self-reflections, and ofttimes it is hard to distinguish which is which – what is actually ahead and what is just an interior reflection of ourselves or in fact behind us. The crystal delineation of Uranus mixes with the elusiveness of Neptune, ever shifting from scale to scale, outward to inward, forward to backward, the dynamic balance that ensures our continuation but denies final certitude, since we don’t and cannot see the whole picture, only its shifting analogues and analogies. Still young on the vine, we just don’t have a ripe view yet, so perhaps St. Paul had it right in I Corinthians 13, which is about both mirrors and windows, the temporary and final pictures, and worth a look at the original Greek.  


So we determine who we are by what we see, and judge what we see by who we are, in a continuous round of rescaling and re-recognition, through a glass darkly, by definition not ever in individual existence face to face. In the mirror, all else changes except the fixed but illusory relation to our own image. But underneath, the planetary beat goes on, and we dance without completely knowing why…but then perhaps that’s not necessary…


Who are you? the thought comes to my mind
That I might know you by some other name
Than what you told me or that I might find
Some other person not at all the same
Were I to name you just by what you see
Within your mirror when you wonder who
Looks back at you, or looking back at me
You ask the very question I ask you
Like who are we when we are what we claim
To be, or should the vagrant thought arise,
Is seeing you the same as seeing me,
And who is left there when we close our eyes
To thoughts that mirrors so succinctly show
Us nothing that we don't already know.

For more astrological thoughts on how it’s all physically put together, something more astrologers should be attending to, check out our own Moon On Deck and David Roell’s recent take as well.

Update 9/23/09: Drum Notes...

Drum notes? Indeed.

It turns out, on reflection, that if your drummer winds up and plays fast enough he might be playing your alto line. If you take a 3 over 4 beat (like 60 beats per minute together with 80) and double them until you get up to the tonal range, you get a natural fifth, and so on with other syncopations, which actually produce melody and chords when speeded up. In other words, when you raise the rhythm track to the next recognizable higher scale, you get melody and harmony, and the reverse as well. So, the principle of proportionate scaling even applies twice within segments of the audible audio range itself. Not something the average instrumentalists considers, but you could probably compose with it with the right software.

And now, in a recent article in New Scientist magazine called Winners Wear Red, science has done another set of experiments to prove the obvious: that lower-spectrum colors (like red) are more noticeable, have more impact, and seem more threatening than higher-spectrum colors (like blue) which are associated with more delicate and intellectual feelings. The lower sets the pace and forces the demands, the higher shapes and filigrees the details of where it’s proceeding. That’s a principle that applies in music as well (bass track drives and structures the mid and treble melody and harmonies, and the rhythm track many octaves below (as we now have noticed) drives the entirety of the melody sections both bass and treble. So, too, the lower-frequency outer planets are the traditional drivers of social change, while the middle and inner planets paint what’s happening in the shorter-range details, particularly among individuals, who are in turn caught up and driven by the larger, lower-frequency picture.

It’s the same the whole world (or universe) over. That's on the macro and mesoscales. On the microscale (not to mention the nanoscale) one wonders what tunes the microbes are humming, and what relatively (to us) mini-beats are setting their tiny toes to tapping…

More on this same subject in follow-up article Many Rainbows...

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