Above, asteroid Eros, which is the closest to Earth and whose orbit intersects the path of the Earth around the Sun, and thus may crash into us one ordinary day in this epoch or some other. Here is scientific proof that "irony" is a natural phenomenon. Enormous resources are being poured into projects which keep an eye on space for other objects which might hit the Earth. One such project, Spacewatch Team, has, as a result, been responsible for the discovery of dozens of new objects, including many Chiron-like planets called Centaurs. Photo from Astronomy Picture of the Day.
IN GREEK AND ROMAN TIMES, there were 12 primary deities, an evenly divided committee of gods and goddesses who represented different attributes of the human psyche. We know that our mythological models are really pictures of how we think of ourselves, and how we play our cultural games. So is it any surprise that in the prevailing Western model of astrology, we have the six Olympian gods, but only two of the goddesses?
This presents problems for astrology, but it also reflects a problem in the world. Imagine if our only two images of man were Daddy and Sexmonger (or Lawyer). What would a guy put on his résumé for college professor? "Hot in bed and likes kids?"
This is the problem with our astrological picture of women, and our corresponding cultural one. We have Venus, the sex goddess, and "the moon," supposedly mommy. (The moon doesn't even get capitalized; I will call her Luna, one of her proper names.)
Venus, who gets oversimplified like a lot of her sisters, is one of the most complex planets going: she works as an attractive force and as a creative one. She is about beauty and pleasure, two of the most idealized roles we attach to women. She "rules" two signs: Taurus, where we have a sense of our wealth, self-esteem and personal values; and Libra, a state of mind where we do most of our learning in the sphere of relationships. But Libra is also the sign representing the lower courts, where most issues of justice are litigated, so she has implications here as well.
Luna is not just mommy. She is the goddess of the hunt (Diana) and the guardian and patroness of unmarried women. We live by the hunt, or we did so in earlier (pre-agricultural) days. And we know that the world is not such a safe place for young women. She is an important goddess, but as "the moon" is reduced to a kind of housewife. Astrologically, her dominion is our habits, our body and our feelings and sense of security, intuition, childhood, and the realm of our unconscious thought patterns.
If you don't look further, this is where astrology runs out of female expressions of both Spirit and Humanity.
But there is more to women than this. Starting in 1801, and heralding the early feminist movements, there's been a series of discoveries of small planets, many of which were named after women. The first four of these are known as the major asteroids, and (with one exception) bear the Roman equivalent names of the Olympian goddesses. What we get in these four character types (or archetypes) is a view of the thoughts, roles and ideas that are missing from, or are poorly defined in, our culture and in our astrology. Were I King of the World, no astrology chart would be cast without them.
Two Little Points
Before I get into the meanings of the first four asteroids, there are two points that need addressing. The first is the common objection by most traditional astrologers that asteroids are "too little" to "have an effect." (I think what they really mean are there are "too many asteroids" and they "have a confusing effect on my mind.") However, let's take a quick look at this because the argument falls on its butt. Many things in astrology have no mass whatsoever. Nobody has ever seen the Part of Fortune with a telescope (it is calculated mathematically). Similarly, the North Node, the ascendant, the midheaven and the house cusps, exist only as abstractions (though the lunar nodes really make you wonder whether there's something there that can't be seen with the eye). So just because a planet is only a couple of kilomoeters across doesn't make it less important. What makes it less important is that it's diminished and not used, kind of like Pan in the Tom Robbins book who disappears because nobody believes in him.
Next point is, what is the difference between an asteroid and a planet? In general, asteroids are much more specific in their application. The asteroid Photographia, for example, is literally involved with the taking of photographs. A planet can have multiple signification. Mars, for example, is about anger, sex, agression, passion, war and specific things like falling down. And because it rules Aries and Scorpio it has heaped onto it a whole bunch more data in a chart.
Asteroids are generally not ascribed rulerships (there are lots of theories floating around, like sticking Juno with Scorpio and Vesta with Virgo, which make some sense). But the issue of rulerships is in itself suspect, or worth mulling over. It is an old system and its use is starting to be outworn. We have had to deal with this question quite a bit as a result of many new planetary discoveries (does Chiron rule Virgo or Scorpio? Does it rule anything? Does Pluto "really" rule Pisces? And so on.)
But we could say that asteroids -- even the Olympian goddesses -- are more specific in their themes and planets more general. Asteroids add amazing detail to a chart, for sure. But what we are seeing with the four Olympian goddesses is that their themes really are spreading out into all facets of life (take Ceres, for instance) and the fact that they might seem so limited at first has to do with the fact that they were limited and taken out of general consciousness for so long.
Here's a brief introduction to the first four Goddesses of Astrology.
Ceres, called Demeter in Greek, was discovered on New Year's Day 1801, before Neptune and before Pluto, and was deemed an "asteroid," or little planet; this is called the diminutive. Had she been discovered today, she would most certainly have been classified as a full-fledged planet. She comprises 25% of the total mass of the asteroid belt, where about 50,000 small objects orbit the Sun. The current debate over whether Pluto is not a planet needs to be turned around to include Ceres AS a planet.
Ceres is the root of the word cereal; she is the goddess of food and agriculture. In astrological delineation, we can look to her for very specific information about matters relating to food and nurturing, and where the two meet. She can represent the quality of nurturing we got as a child, and how we function (or don't) as nurturers in our relationships.
But Ceres has an added dimension, since her daughter, Persephone, was abducted by Pluto, which grieved her terribly. Ceres represents subject matter that surrounds the mother's (or primary nurturing parent's) grief and fears about children, particularly those who are taken to the underworld of crime, prison, drugs, or lost to dark parents. With millions of people unjustly in our prisons today, we have a very important planet and mythological reference to work with.
In terms of agriculture, we are in critical times as well. We are seeing the seizure of the life force by companies which create chemically-sprayed and genetically-modified foods; and at the same time, we're seeing a significant interest in organic and Biodynamic foods, in a struggle that feels a lot like the daughter of nature struggling for her freedom from the corporate underworld. Ceres is Mother Earth.
Juno, also discovered in 1801, was called Hera in Greek times. Her name means "queen of heaven." Mythologically, she is the wife of Jupiter, and endured his many trysts and sexual exploits with other goddesses.
Martha Wescott put it well when she said that Juno represents what "stands between the two [partners] and prevents the relationship from being utterly fulfilling. So Juno addresses the bone of contention. It's also part of the important dynamic that was learned from the relationship of the parents (and particularly the mother's role and attitude in that marriage)." Or, as one of my clients put it so succinctly tonight, "Marriage at any cost."
Pallas Athene, discovered 1802, is the goddess after whom the city of Athens is named, for she is its protectress. The view of her city from her temple on the Acropolis is stunning. She was born in full armor from the head of her father, Zeus. It is interesting that she is allowed to keep her Greek rather than her Roman name in modern usage, which is rare.
Athene is the warrior-goddess, who is making a re-emergence in a number of forms in our culture. Astrologically, she represents political and negotiating skills, having been transformed into a kind of modern lawyer-like warrior (as have most of her male warrior counterparts). In one of her most alluring roles in the past 25 years, she manifested as Princess Leah in the Star Wars series, the beautiful, intelligent and gutsy, not to mention politically shrewd, leader of the rebel forces.
But her sacrifice is that in order to have her political and warrior power, she seems to surrender an element of her femininity -- or so we think. She was, after all, born of a man and born in full armor. But underneath all that armor, she is quite naked. It just may take some negotiating to get there.
On these lines, I propose that sexual negotiation skills, which are a relatively new concept for our culture, are likely to be an attribute of Athene. These are essential skills for anyone who wants to have sexual experiences that are on mutually-acceptable terms.
Last, defenses... while we're getting personal with Pallas, I have seen that subject matter involving defenses and defensiveness can be involved with this asteroid. She is, after all, an armed defender. Righteous, just and true, but defensive about it. So we can look at the placement and aspects of Pallas for some clues about this attribute of who we are and how we react.
Vesta, discovered in 1807, is a complex goddess figure and correspondingly complex asteroid who has some interesting implications for our times. Called Hestia in Greek, she's the brightest asteroid, appropriate for her role as the goddess of the hearth, in whose temple the six Vestal Virgins tended the eternal flame. But this flame, kept in a temple, has sexual implications, and with Vesta we have the emergence of the Sacred Whore: the goddess of sex for healing, ritual and transformational purposes.
Astrologically, Vesta has been taken to represent issues like using work as a substitute for relationships, the transfer of sexual energy into art, and learning how not to take things so personally. All these themes hold, but they seem to cleverly disguise the attribute of the feminine which, making a personal sacrifice to do so, uses her sexual fire for the healing of others. She knows she is part of something larger than herself, and she gives herself up to do its work.
We met her in high school (if we were fortunate) as the one girl who was truly not afraid to have sex or be called a slut, and would not demand a relationship commitment in exchange. Sex with her was conscious, it gave us a new experiences, which changed us, and it taught us something about ourselves. We may still know such women, from whom sex is a conscious gift and a sharing that is no less powerful or intimate despite being outside a traditional relationship.
Vesta has many manifestations in what we're currently seeing emerge as a kind of spiritual sex movement, which includes Tantric sex, various types of erotic workshops, and many prostitutes who are considering themselves sexworkers. Sexworkers are women who know they play a vital role as both healers and in making up for a shortage in sexual supply that leaves many men emotionally hungry and out-of-balance (and thus takes a toll on women). Vesta takes us beyond the morality of sex and leaves us facing the reality of sex.
Personal Qualities in All People
Remember that both men and women have these archetypes in their charts, which represent both our inner personal qualities and the women in our lives. Men have many of the attributes of women and vice versa, particularly if you consider the qualities depicted by the asteroids. The best way to find out what they mean (if you are an astrologer) is to cast them into your charts for a while, and see what happens; and if you're not an astrologer, to study their myths, or speak to an astrologer who is familiar with their energies. I think you'll see that a whole bunch of vital information becomes available when you do.
Also, these are just the first four asteroids. There is excellent information available about 70 of them (many more are named), which have been delineated by astrologers including Martha Lang Wescott and Demetra George. In the case of asteroids like "Jerry" and "Garcia" you just have to use your imagination, though they do show up in interesting ways, when you look for them.
Chiron, by the way, is not an asteroid, but rather a Centaur planet. He is the first in a new class that now includes about 25 relics of the early solar system that exist outside the known asteroid belts, and which orbit our Sun. About seven of these new bodies (discovered since 1977) have names; watch Planet Waves for an article called The Centaurs in Astrology, in about a month or two. More information about Chiron is available at When Astrology Listens and An Introduction to Chiron.
For more information about asteroids, I recommend the books, tapes and newsletter of Martha Wescott, one of the great astrologers alive today. Her materials are at Treehouse Mountain. A free ephemeris to look up a bunch of asteroids is located at Centaur Research Project, where you can also look up your planet and Centaur positions as well (but not your rising sign). To get a printout of your chart chaep (and done right) contact the Astrology Center of America. They will include the major asteroids and Chiron if you ask.++