“In nature’s infinite book of secrets, a little I can read…” says the seer in Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra, and that is as far as he’ll go. Perhaps it’s wise to hesitate, perhaps the how and the why are not conclusions to be rushed seeing as the relationship between earth and the heavens continues to puzzle the finest minds our species has produced.
That astrology works soon becomes apparent after even a cursory study of the subject. How it works and why are mysteries to which no one knows the answer, or at least if they do, no one in my acquaintance is admitting to it.
Have you ever been present at a degustation? A long meal where one carefully selected wine after another accompanies a sequence of elegant dishes for the gourmet palette.
For an intellectual equivalent look no further than the Faculty of Astrological Studies’s Summer School. Immersed for one week in the great mantic art of the West, astrology, we glanced at its relation to one of the great oracles of the East, the I Ching, we touched on some of the esoteric practices of yoga, on sacred geometry, on statistical correlations between anthropology and the fixed stars, and on the biographies of William Lilly 17th century astro celeb who danced the fine and dangerous line between politics and prediction, and Alan Leo 19th century practitioner who laid the foundations for a modern revival of the craft.
An Oxford college was a fitting venue. I’m not sure if Dr. John Dee attended Exeter college but his scrying mirror is in the museum round the corner. That aside, the very air in Oxford is redolent of great minds grappling with large questions.
And here in the chapel …
… we had an exquisite piano rendition of a piece by William Herschel the astronomer/musician who in 1781 discovered Uranus. An event which immediately exploded conceptual understanding of the solar system and the limits of space.
All very nice, but for an actor (which I continue to be, on the side), how does it relate?
Well I knew that Shakespeare was as steeped in astronomical/logical knowledge as any educated person of his time; from, “… a star danced, and under that I was born…” Much Ado About Nothing, to “… then no planets strike …” Hamlet, to “the words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo …” Love’s Labour’s Lost, to many references of “spherical predominance” King Lear, the plays and the poems are peppered with references.
But slow of me as a fan of the Bard not until now to notice his alchemical expertise as well. There is no doubt that he knew that alchemy as a symbolic system speaks then as now, of the quest for transformation of the base lead of human nature into solar gold.