Lecture 50 — Cycles in Time

by The Editor

Contents List:

Days, Months, and Years
The Cosmos
The Great ("Platonic") Year
Piscean Epochs
The Purpose of Human Life
Personal Responsibility

Return to:

Index to Hermetic System Lectures
Ardue Site Plan

See also:

Introduction to Astrology
The Birth Chart
Man's Place in the World
Overcoming Personal Difficulties
After the Clockwork Universe

Days, Months, and Years

The Earth rotates on its axis, taking one day of very nearly 24 hours to complete each rotation

The Moon moves around the Earth, taking a month of about 28 days to complete each circuit.

Earth and Moon together move around the Sun, taking a year of about 365 days to complete each circuit.

Let's stop there for long enough to draw a mental picture of the combined motions of Earth and Moon. If we provisionally assume that the Sun is stationary, we can picture the Earth moving round it on an elliptical path and the Moon's path as a spiral around the curve of the Earth's ellipse. The Earth takes about 365 and a quarter days to complete a circuit around the Ecliptic. During this time, the Moon completes about 365/28 turns of its spiral. If we mentally "straighten out" the Earth's orbit, the Moon's "time path" looks like a screw with (about) 13 threads. The Moon is itself rotating on an axis parallel to that of the Earth, taking about 28 days to complete one rotation — which is why it always presents the same "face" to the Earth. For an interesting diagram, see Moon on the Internet.

All the other Solar planets and their moons orbit the Sun, each planet and each moon taking its own characteristic time and rotating at its own characteristic rate. [See The "Physical" Planets]. If we tried to picture all of them together, we should get a very complex collection of ellipses and spirals. If we translated all their various frequencies into sound patterns, we should have quite a hum!

The Cosmos

The pattern of cycles within cycles within cycles ad infinitum seems to be a fundamental principle of universal structure throughout what we discern as space, and so it is no wonder that so many of us think of the Universe only in mechanical terms as if it were nothing but a very complicated clock that for some mysterious reason never needs to be "wound up". Each "division" by means of which which we "count" cycles is purely arbitrary. The whole system is seamless — as we might expect from a creation of The Holy Spirit. So why do so many supposedly intelligent people seek to pinpoint a "beginning" for the Universe in a "Big Bang" which they cannot explain?

The Great ("Platonic") Year

Let's widen our time horizon and consider another cyclical complication. Not only does the Earth rotate on its axis as it encircles the Sun: the axis itself "wobbles" like that of a top. Each "wobble" takes about 25,920 years to complete. This effect is known as the Precession of the Equinoxes. It implies that the star clusters or constellations that gave the "celestial" Zodiac the names of the Signs have become separated from the Earth-centred "tropical" Zodiac we use today because the vernal point where the Sun "crosses" the Earth's equator gradually cycles through the constellations taking 25,900 years to complete each cycle and taking 2,160 years to pass through each Sign.

This "wobble" was known to the ancients, who divided the Great Year into twleve Ages or aeons, each of about 2,160 years. Thus we get the Age of Aries, the Age of Pisces, the Age of Aquarius, etc.

For a more complete explanation and some very interesting reflections upon the Great Year, please see Andy Raymond's Pages

Piscean Epochs

In his beautifully presented and well researched The Return of Merlin, the late Gordon Strachan draws attention to an essay by Charles E O Carter (1887-1968), reputedly the greatest British Astrologer of the Twentieth Century. See: Charles Carter.

The essay, entitled Historical Cycles and Newly Found Planets was published in Astrology for December, 1947. In it, Carter put forward the thesis that there are cycles in history other than those formed by by the conjunction of planets, and that these periods, or "epochs" can be correlated with the Signs.

Arbitrarily taking the year of the birth of Christ as the start-date of the Age of Pisces, Carter divides the Age into twelve epochs of 180 years. Starting with the Epoch of Aries, the epochs follow each other through Taurus, Gemini, etc. Strachan, a historian before he became a theologian, persuasively elaborates this thesis in his book.

By Carter's reckoning, therefore, we are now (2010 CE) in the epoch of Pisces, the final epoch in the Age of Pisces. Hence in another 150 years the Earth will have entered the "new" Age of Aquarius — which it has entered countless times in Ages past. Will a study of historical cycles help us to prepare for what may transpire as we move towards a Great New Year, the first year of the epoch of Aries in the next Age of Aquarius?


I can't help thinking that our human obsession with beginnings and endings is a consequence of our inward experience of time as a sense of getting older. We are inclined to think of time as an arrow that flies inexorably and irreversibly from birth to death ... and then stops. A closer study of the heavenly system should encourage us to combine our inner subjective sense with an objective outlook which might gradually increase the scope of our consciousness to encompass a new reality of time as an essentially cyclic phenomenon in which life and death are more akin to active days and resting nights than to intervals between absolute termini.

Notice the frequency with which I have used the word "about" to qualify the "lengths" of time taken by Sun and Moon to complete "cycles" and the ratios between between one cycle and another. As in the ratio between the side of a square and its diagonal, "rational" whole numbers never seem to occur.

When we take all the planets and their moons into consideration, is it not clear that no matter what "point in time" we choose to start with, the "great cycle" of the Solar System is unlikely ever to repeat any of its phases precisely?

The Purpose of Human Life

In Astrology, The Sacred Science by Joan Hodgson, the first chapter is entitled Symbols and Cycles. In it, she writes:

"The Sun, Moon and planets travel through the signs of the zodiac in an apparently anticlockwise direction, all at different rates and rhythms, while once in twenty-four hours all the constellations and planets appear to swing through the twelve houses of the heavens in a clockwise direction. So there is constant variety, an ever-changing pattern in stars and constellations all following their own particular path but in perfect rhythm and order, daily cycles, monthly cycles, yearly cycles, age-long cycles — each with its own quality and purpose — an inbreathing and outbreathing of the life of God.

"It seems that the tropical zodiac, moving gradually through the circle of the constellations, represents the sphere of man's consciousness, his own inner world, charted by the equinoxes and solstices which produce the seasonal cycle, by the sunrises and sunsets which govern the rhythm of his daily life.

"The first sign, the fiery Aries, traditionally rules the head and physical brain. The first degree of this sign, the point of Aries, is equivalent to the sunrise point and to the degree of the zodiac on the eastern horizon in the individual birth chart which sets the pattern for the mentality and experience of the present incarnation. The Sun is said to be exalted in Aries, and at every human birth the Light, the life-giving spirit, is reborn into the zodiac, the circle of animals. The immortal spirit takes on itself the limitations of the flesh of the human brain with sense perception within time and space only. The whole purpose of each incarnation is that the spirit, the Light, shall in time gain dominion over the powerful animal energies by gradually flooding the little mortal mind with light until it can consciously use the soul's inherent God-like powers to raise the physical atoms from death to immortality.

"The symbolic sunrise point, 0° Aries, is the position of the Sun at the vernal equinox, usually known as its vernal point. It is this point, representing the consciousness of man, indeed the consciousness of the whole human race, which moves gradually through the constellation zodiac in a clockwise direction, completing the cycle once in 25,920 years,.

"There is an old saying, 'God geometrises' and this constant rhythmic formation and dissolution of patterns in the sky which take form in matter is surely a manifestation of God thought, creating and recreating an infinite variety of form on every plane of existence.

"The interpretation of these cycles and patterns is what astrology is all about, for all are significant; all have their place in the evolution of the the human race from the animal to the divine consciousness."

Personal Responsibility

If, like me, you are inclined to take the optimistic view that physical death may not be THE END, but merely a "marker" in a personal cycle, then your principal responsibility is to endeavour to expand the range of your personal consciousness. I have become convinced that a study of astrology can be a great help in developing intuition — not as an alternative to rational "scientific" thought, but as an essential guide for directing the employment of rational thought.

As the word suggests, developing intuition requires us to study our own inner workings and overcome our stubbornly entrenched habits of thought. If you need help, I suggest you revisit:

See, also, After the Clockwork Universe.