The Sabian Symbols

by Lynda Hill Prac. Cert. F.A.A.

This article is a segment of a larger work, first published in the

Federation of Australian Astrologers Journal V.23 #3 (Sept. 1993),

FAA, P.O.Box 226, Welland, S.A. 5007, Australia.

In order to adequately discuss the Sabian Symbols, we must first begin with an understanding of the concept of symbolism.

Dane Rudhyar says “Symbols help man…to make sense of his existence.”(2)  The Hindu philosopher Ananda K. Coomaraswamy says, “…symbolism is the art of thinking in images.”  Tom Chetwynd, in the forward to his Dictionary of Symbols says, “Symbols are concerned with what is of greatest importance to man, his own life and his own mind.”  “(They) express the binding force of the universe.”  The great Carl Jung talks of symbols as “…(things) that may be familiar in daily life, yet (possesses more) than its conventional and obvious meaning …something…hidden from us.  (They have) a wider `unconscious’ aspect that… lies beyond the grasp of reason.”  Tom Chetwynd also states that “symbols cannot be understood purely intellectually for they must arouse feeling.”

So here we have this fantastic tool for accessing the “sense of existence”, the “greatest importance” the “unconscious aspect that lies beyond the grasp of reason”.  This is a magnificent, powerful aid to our lives.  Modern conservative society has done with symbolism what it has done with most other methods of getting in touch with our internal wisdom: it has pushed it aside, classed it as useless, and demanded that you ignore your own wisdom.

Symbolism is, therefore, a catalyst or key to accessing this inner wisdom; our connection with the universal consciousness; our spirit or soul; what some call the higher self.  This aspect of ourselves does not think in words, but in images, feelings, colours and sounds.  It is the abstract part of our psyche that our logical and rational society will not accept as valid because it doesn’t make sense: meaning it can’t be described in objective language.

We can often be surprised by images and situations that affect us far more deeply than is logically explicable.  It is often the symbolism that creates a pathway to our deeper understandings and brings them up into the conscious world.  Tom Chetwynd, again, says “Symbols have always been treasured as a means of releasing sources of energy from the unconscious.”

The Sabian symbols are a beautiful set of symbolic images for astrologers and non-astrologers alike. They enhance the depth of understanding of a chart, both natally and mundanely.  This article will serve as an overview of the Sabians:  their origin, use and application in natal and mundane astrology.

The Birth of the Sabian Symbols

The Sabians came out of an exercise conducted by Marc Edmond Jones, a noted American astrologer and spiritualist and a psychic named Elsie Wheeler.  Jones was interested in finding a less judgemental and more contemporary set of degree symbols than the ones that were available.  To quote Jones from his book The Sabian Symbols in Astrology `… ten years had been given to experiment with the delineations of John Thomas, a Welsh seer who used the pseudonym of Charubel. These symbols, published in 1889, had demonstrated a reliability of suggestive insight in their application to the horoscope, but it had become apparent that more effective results might follow if each degree were not so strongly moralized, that is, presented as essentially good or evil in its own nature.'(1)

Elsie Wheeler was an extraordinary clairvoyant crippled by arthritis for most of her life, with a remarkable ability to “see” symbols.  She used this talent to help her clients. Dane Rudhyar acknowledged this as being true of many clairvoyants of this type, but “…she proved to have the ability to a spectacular degree”(2).

The degrees were `manifested’ one day in 1925 in San Diego’s Balboa Park. Unfortunately the date was apparently not recorded.  Marc Edmund Jones took Miss Wheeler to Balboa Park in his car, where they worked, uninterrupted, all day.  They deliberately found a place in the park very close to a busy intersection where they would be surrounded by the vibrations of modern American life.  Jones used a series of 360 small blank cards, each of which was notated on the back with a sign and degree.  Neither of them knew which degree was dealt with when she described the pictures she saw. The cards were shuffled constantly to keep the selection of the cards random.  After approximately 90 of the cards were done they rested, driving around the park and returning to the same location, then another 90 after which they went for a drive well out of town to a place where they knew they could have lunch with little chance of meeting anyone they knew.  They returned to the same location and finished the last two quarters, which were done in the same fashion.

The entire 360 degrees were completed in one day.  A truly extraordinary feat. Marc Edmund Jones actually put the cards away in a trunk because he felt this was stepping too far afield from the kind of scientific work in which he was interested.(1)

Within the next year the word of these symbols had spread among a small group of Los Angeles students, awakening considerable interest, and a number of typescripts were made and distributed for the students to research. The students were very enthusiastic about the results.

Dane Rudhyar became so interested in these symbols that he asked and was granted permission to incorporate them in his book The Astrology of Personality. Jones said that Rudhyar “was really instrumental in awakening a countrywide interest in these degrees.”(2) In this book, however, Rudhyar wrote only 3 to 4 lines of interpretation for each symbol.

The next book to be published was by Marc Jones – The Sabian Symbols in Astrology, – (by the Sabian Publishing Society in 1953). This book had positive and negative interpretations of the symbols and was `illustrated by one thousand horoscopes of well-known people’.  Dane Rudhyar published another book on the Sabians, An Astrological Mandala, in 1973. Rudhyar had done an incredible amount of work on the Sabians, putting them into a series of `phases’ and assigning them the most in-depth and insightful interpretations to date.

Calculating The Degree

When looking up the Sabian symbols it is essential to round forward to the next whole degree.  With this system there is no 0 degree, therefore the 1st degree is from 0.01 to 1.00. For example, 15.35 of Scorpio is the 16th degree of Scorpio.  29.40 of Libra is the 30th degree of Libra.

The Sabian Symbols In The Natal Chart

Of course one can look up all the points in the chart, including the angles, vertex, asteroids, etc – the degrees that I find the most useful are those for the Sun, Moon and the North Node.

The following are quotes from Rudhyar’s Astrological Mandala.  The notes in brackets are my comments.

Queen Elizabeth’s M.C.;

26 Scorpio (Rudhyar); AMERICAN INDIANS MAKING CAMP AFTER MOVING INTO A NEW TERRITORY. KEYNOTE: The ability to adjust swiftly to a new situation by tuning in to its requirements.

He who lives in harmony with nature, moving on as new needs arise, finds himself intuitively at home everywhere

(The reference to `American Indians’ need not be taken literally.  This would relate to natives of any country.  Elizabeth’s M.C. represents royalty and as an extension of that, represents the old British Empire.  Moving into a new territory and setting-up camp is what the English did for centuries.  It is interesting to note that with Saturn squaring the M.C. and Pluto conjuncting the M.C., Australia and, quite probably, New Zealand are wanting the British to finally decamp. It seems fairly certain that by the year 2,000, Australia will be a republic.)

Queen Elizabeth’s Mars;

21 AQUARIUS (Rudhyar); A DISAPPOINTED AND DISILLUSIONED WOMAN COURAGEOUSLY FACES A SEEMINGLY EMPTY LIFE.

KEYNOTE: The capacity to meet emotionally upsetting experiences in human relationships with strength of character and personal integrity. The man who manages vast and complex business enterprises most often reaches power and achieves success because of his ability to deal with crises and temporary reversals of fortune.  At the emotional level who now see a “woman” confronted with sharp disappointment and forced to face the vanishing of cherished illusions, presumably in terms of a close personal relationship.  She has to learn to manage such crises, which are really tests of inner strength and perhaps compassion.  It urges us to develop

RESILIENCE under adversity.

(This symbol so aptly describes the “sharp disappointment” she must feel about almost all of her close personal relationships.  How Rudhyar saw someone “who manages vast and complex business enterprises…” out of this symbol is a total mystery to me.  The amazing thing about it is that Elizabeth is one, if not THE, richest women in the world – running an enormous business enterprise!)

Queen Elizabeth’s Sun:

1 TAURUS (Rudhyar);  A CLEAR MOUNTAIN STREAM.

KEYNOTE; The pure, uncontaminated and spontaneous manifestation of one’s own nature.

Here we see life substance in its original dynamic form and as it emerged from its spiritual source.  This is true whatever the nature of the source may be.  In a sense the mountain stream is conditioned by the nature of the soil and by all the forces which in the past have formed the mountain’s rock strata: that is to say, by past history.  Yet out of this past a new, pure (i.e. unadulterated) release of potentiality has emerged.  It is ready to perform whatever work its dharma is to accomplish.

It is flowing irresistibly toward its own destiny.  It is simply ITS OWN NATURE.

(Elizabeth really only knows how to be Queen.  She was groomed to be queen since birth.)

Some Interesting Revelations:

When I researched the symbol for my daughter’s Sun, I was again astounded by the result.  Ever since she could hold a crayon she has drawn rainbows, big rainbows.  Long before I knew this symbol was my daughter’s, I had a favourite drawing of a rainbow framed.

TAURUS 4 (Rudhyar): THE POT OF GOLD AT THE END OF THE RAINBOW; KEYNOTE: Riches that come from linking the celestial and the earthly nature.

In Genesis, the rainbow is the symbol of the Covenant of God with Noah.  In all mythologies it expresses, in one way or another, a linking process – or the bridge used by divine beings to communicate with mortals.  What the linking process brings to the individual consciousness is elusive, as the rainbow never ends where you are, yet it is the source of symbolic, universally valid wealth.  All wealth, in a very real sense, comes from “commerce”; i.e. from the co-mingling of minds and from contracts and thus is based on faith in the validity of a promise.

Man need not be overawed by the celestial display of power, for it leads to a fruitful contact with beings of light.  This is a natural kind of COMMUNION, involving a transubstantiation of matter.

Jones says of this symbol: There is always the promise of a treasure which at the end proves to be a gratifying complimentation in physical tokens of whatever spirituality the self has brought into manifestation through its own efforts.  The keyword is FAITH. 

(My daughter is, at 10 years of age, a student of mythology with a depth understanding of the “linking of the celestial and earthly nature” well beyond her years.)

Seeing these symbols work so well, I thought it would prove interesting to research the above degree to find how people who have a planet at 4 degrees of Taurus in their charts have found their `treasure’.  Pay special attention to which planet is on this degree.  You will see how the symbol and the planetary attributes are linked:

Louis Pasteur did it through long hours of research with his microscope (Saturn).  Bertrand Russell had a profound influence on the development of modern thought (Mercury).  Leonardo Da Vinci with his paintings (Sun), Michel Gauquelin through publishing his findings into his research of astrology (Jupiter), Jim Jones through luring more than nine hundred people to commit suicide in Guyana (Mercury), Carl Jung with his writings on the archetypes, the personal and collective unconscious (Neptune), Rudolf Nureyev with his body through ballet (Mars), Edgar Cayce, described as `the sleeping prophet’ (Neptune), Johann Sebastian Bach with his very innovative music (Uranus), Shirley Maclaine is well known for linking the celestial with the earthly (Sun), Cassius Clay found his pot of gold through boxing (Mars), Shirley Temple through her many movies (Sun), and the discovery chart of Chiron (Chiron) – the rainbow bridge!      

Summary

In symbols we can find a link from our conscious to our unconscious (Jung); to our internal wisdom; to follow your bliss (Campbell); to that aspect that lies beyond the grasp of reason (Jung).

The Sabian Symbols make it possible to hone in on very specific aspects.  This gives you a very powerful and specific tool for which Dane Rudhyar has the best, last word. They are “…a series of symbolic pictures that are meant to arouse in the student a realisation of the power of his own creative spirit.”Lynda Hill practices astrology and lives in Avalon, Sydney, Australia, where she also runs The Sabian School of Astrology.  She is a National Executive and a N.S.W. State Committee member of the Federation of Australian Astrologers..  Lynda has lectured on the Sabians at the Sydney Astrological Research Society, the F.A.A. N.S.W. Branch, has given a workshop in Seattle, Washington, and lectured at the Aquarian Revelation Conference, Lansing, Michigan in June 1993.

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