Archeoastronomy and Scotland’s Clava Cairns by Anna Estaroth

Clava cairns 2 Clava ciarns 1

Midwinter sunset at the Clava Cairns.

Anna Estaroth gave us a fascinating talk the other night on Archeoastronomy and Scotland’s Clava Cairns.  Anna has been undertaking research at the Clava Cairns in pursuit of her MA in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology at Trinity St. Davids, University of Wales.

Anna explained that she used the title Ancestral Astrology for this talk, because it was probably the ancestors of the Picts who exhibited a special relationship with the sky when building the Clava Cairns near Inverness, Scotland.  By defining astrology as being where the sun, moon, planets and stars can be said to impact upon humans, Anna argued that these megalithic structures constitute a form of ancestral astrology rather than ancestral astronomy.  She then described these Bronze Age Cairns in relation to the midwinter sunset and lunar alignments.

Based on her fieldwork carried out in 2014-15,  Anna asked six questions:-

1) Were the passage graves actually aligned to midwinter sunset?

This appeared to be demonstrated.

2) Were they orientated on the major and minor lunar limits, as suggested by some authors?

Again the answer was largely yes, once Anna explained the difference between the major and minor lunar limits.

3) The hilltop cairns appear to be better attuned to the sky, compared to the river-side low lying passage graves – are they?

The answer being yes and no, they may appear different and even functioned in a different way, but they all demonstrate a particular relationship with the sky.

4) One of the ring cairns is said to have “rays” – what are they about?

This was touched upon; they connect the central ring-cairn with stones aligned to       midwinter sunset plus the minor limit moonrise and moonset.

5) Are there any alignments to major constellations such as Pleiades or Orion?

Answer no, not found so far.

6) Do any hill names indicate why they built here?

No – all hills have Gaelic names which derive from the historic period and we don’t even know the Pictish language let alone pre-Pictish.

We then looked at the software package Stellarium which Anna recommended. For your free download visit and check out your system’s requirements; there are downloads for both mac and windows users.  The software offers a vivid picture of the sky as seen from almost any part of the world and over a wide period of history and even pre-history.

If you are interested in midwinter sunrise and sunset phenomena, access to view the solstice sun at Newgrange is now a lottery and anyone can enter.   It may however, be more comfortable to look at the live feed on webcam.   For more details see

Maes Howe also has a live feed camera operated by Charles Tait.  This can be found  at  Tours are bookable from 10 am to 4 pm daily during the winter.

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SAA Autumn programme

We are pleased to announce our autumn programme with some truly tasty talks and some informal discussion meetings.  Talks will continue to take place at the Abbeymount Centre this year.  Things may change in 2016.  Discussions take place in the Regent Bar nearby

Discussion nights are very informal.  A member of the group will introduce a topic, there is also the chance to explore your own birth chart, so be sure to check up on your date, time and place of birth if you’d like to do this.

SAA_Programme_Table_Autumn-Winter 2015-2016 pdf blog version

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“I’m not a dog, I’m a god”

Plutonium at PamukkaleSyria Independence

[Click on the images to enlarge them]

On Wednesday 26th February we were treated to a very comprehensive and illuminating talk on Pluto.  Titled “I a not a dog I’m a god”, referring to Micky Mouse’s cartoon dog, Nick took us through the history and mythology of Pluto with many useful asides on his moons and rivers and their attributes.  His talk also covered the astrological associations of Pluto, now deemed a Dwarf planet by astronomers but anything but in daily life.

Pluto has at least 5 moons with more to be discovered.  In order of distance from Pluto they are Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra.  Kerberos, the Greek name for the mythical Pluto’s dog was chosen for a moon, as Cerberus, the Roman name, had already been allocated to another solar system body.  Kerberos and Hydra feature in the tales of Hercules presenting him with a challenge and ordeal, whereas Charon was the ferryman over the river Styx to Hades, the land of the dead.  Nyx is the Greek goddess (or personification) of the night.  A shadowy figure, Nyx stood at or near the beginning of creation, and was the mother of other personified deities such as Hypnos (Sleep) and Thánatos (Death).

The Styx (“Hate, Detest”) is a river in Greek mythology that formed the boundary between Earth and the Underworld (often called Hades which is also the name of this domain’s ruler).  The rivers Styx, Phlegethon, Acheron, and Cocytus all converge at the centre of the underworld on a great marsh, which is also sometimes called the Styx.  There is a fifth river of the underworld Lethe, the river of forgetfulness.  She was one of the five rivers of the Greek underworld, the other four being Styx (the river of hate), Akheron (the river of sorrow), Kokytos (the river of lamentation) and Phlegethon (the river of fire).  According to Statius, it bordered Elysium, the final resting place of the virtuous.  Ovid wrote that the river flowed through the cave of Hypnos, god of sleep, where its murmuring would induce drowsiness.

The shades of the dead were required to drink the waters of the Lethe in order to forget their earthly life.  In the Aeneid, Virgil writes that it is only when the dead have had their memories erased by the Lethe that they may be reincarnated.

Simply from these associations we can identify a wide range of Pluto’s appalling associations.  Perhaps for this reason, some people prefer to leap quickly to the idea of reincarnation and the renewal of life, when Pluto is mentioned.

Mythology brings in another dimension of his character, that of rape.  Pluto seized Persephone and dragged her into the underworld to be his wife.  Her mother Demeter brought on a near death experience for humanity (winter and famine) in her determination to bring her daughter back (to spring and new life).  Other heroes associated with quests to the underworld include Theseus and Orpheus.  Pluto and Persephone were the parents of the Erinyes; literally “the avengers” from Greek ἐρίνειν “pursue, persecute” [sometimes referred to as “infernal goddesses”].  They were female chthonic deities of vengeance.   The Iliad invokes them as “those who beneath the earth punish whosoever has sworn a false oath”.  They may be “an embodiment of the act of self-cursing contained in the oath”.  They correspond to the Furies or Dirae in Roman mythology.  (Thanks to Wikipedia for filling out the gaps in my memory on all these associations.)

The connection of Pluto with extreme emotion becomes very vivid here.

For examples of Plutonian people (i.e. people for whom Pluto is prominent in their charts and lives) Nick referred us to Anthony Wedgewood Benn, Sir David Wilcox, Sir Tommy McPherson, Margaret Thatcher, John Smith, Barack Obama, Winston Churchill (Pluto opposite Mercury), Alex Salmond (Pluto, Neptune Moon YOD), Barbara Castle (Pluto square Mercury and Venus), Gordon Brown,(Pluto, Moon conjunction), Peter Mandelson (aka the prince of darkness, Pluto at a mid point and sextile to Saturn, Sun and Neptune on one side and Jupiter on the other – now Peter, do tell us the truth….) and Ferdinand Marcos.

The chart in his compilation that I find the most poignant is the chart for Syria at the point of Independence in 1944.  I’ll attach this for you to ponder.


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Edward Lear – Master of Nonsense

Edward Lear - Master of Nonsense

I have fond childhood memories of reading Edward Lear’s Book of Nonsense, so it was a pleasure to hear what light Morelle Smith would shed upon his life and personality in her talk to the SAA on Wednesday 29th January. It turns out there was so much more to Lear than nonsense. For instance did you know that he was the youngest of 21 children?! His poor mother was unable to care for him, so he was handed to his oldest sister. Their relationship was close and lifelong. She was like a mother to him and he kept in touch with her through all his travels, which were many.

Lear did not have a strong constitution. He was vulnerable to bronchitis and other ailments. He also had a secret disorder; something that the Victorians viewed as demonic and therefore could not be revealed. He was subject to a mild form of epilepsy. This difficulty probably inhibited him from marrying. At different times in his life he held various women in deep affection but the anxiety about telling them about his epilepsy, coupled with the pressures of having to be a reliable bread winner for a family, held him back from seeking marriage.

Lear made his living, not from his nonsense poems but from painting. He turned professional artist in his teens. He always had a great love of animals and visited London zoo for subjects. His poor health however, forced him to travel south and he spent a great deal of time exploring Albania, Crete and Corfu. It so happens that Morelle is also an author and traveler and she shared her photographs of some of the same sights painted by Lear.

As well as being driven by sickness, Lear may also have been attracted to Albania by his admiration of Lord Byron. Lear was devastated by Bryon’s death.

Morelle also drew our attention to Lear’s gentle, affectionate nature and sense of humour. He always enjoyed the company of children and his poems and their illustrations were created to entertain them. Morelle reminded us of the Owl and the Pussycat – there are a many of versions of the poem/song from Utube.
This drew me on to find the song of the Jumblies, also on Utube – far and few, far and few are the lands where the Jumblies live, their heads are green and their hands are blue and they went to sea in a sieve!

Lear’s chart is intriguing in a number of ways. The Capricorn ascendant, coupled with Saturn suggests a serious character. Morelle told us he was very hard working and would get up early every day to go to work. On the other hand he could not abide a routine employment and valued his freedom to roam highly. The Scorpio MC with Uranus in 10th may be an indication of his eccentric sense of fun and also his epilepsy, accentuated by the opposition to Mercury in the 4th house. Mercury rules the 6th house, suggesting nervous ailments. The moon in Gemini also describes a restless native, always on the move, always writing down scraps of information – for Lear this was mostly by way of his travel journals, some of which were private and some for publication. It was his illustrated travel journal of Albania that inspired Queen Victoria to ask him to teach her to draw and paint.

Apparently Lear and the Queen had a harmonious relationship. Lear’s sun in Taurus would make him a kind and loyal subject with homely tastes and, with the Sun in the 4th house, a love of home and garden. Sadly he was never able or willing to settle anywhere for long and when, in old age, he chose a house in the south of France, with a lovely view of the sea, a hotelier came and built a large hotel in front of his house; a situation he had to struggle to extricate himself from.

Overall Lear emerged for me as a charming if eccentric character. He didn’t have an easy path through life but left us richer in terms of his wit and connection with birds, animals and children.

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Making our astrology radical!

Geoffrey Cornelius Workshop


The forthcoming workshop with Geoffrey Cornelius takes us to heart of astrology.  The notice reminds us that a reading must be “deeply rooted in meaningful symbolism”.  This raises an interesting question, whether the symbolism is deeply rooted in the thing itself or is a product of the creative imagination, the observed or the observer?

In  “The quest for Hermes Trismegistus” Gary Lachman explores this theme with references that range from the ancient Egyptians to contemporary neuroscience.  He tells us there are two modes of consciousness and refers to the dominant scientistic mind set of our time, as illustrated by the “astrophysicist Steven Weinberg, who famously announced that ‘the more the universe seems comprehensible the more it also seems pointless.’”.  The gnostic perspective might be more clearly illuminated by someone like William Blake seeing heaven in a grain of sand.  Lachman says “this meaning can only be recognised by that other mode of cognition, what Schwaller de Lubicz calls ‘the intelligence of the heart’ and which is also, he tells us, the ‘intelligence of the universe’, which will tell us everything’.”

Some of us will baulk at the idea that we are the creators of meaning in the universe.  Perhaps it is more subtle than that; a matter of practising a certain kind of seeing.  One that allows us to recognise that not only is “as above, so below” but also “as within, so without” – I see myself reflected in my world.

This challenging idea is a constantly recurring theme in astrological practice.  I unwittingly draw to me clients for whom a symbolic theme is playing out.  This can vividly illuminate themes in my own life, with the attendant issue of separating my own “stuff” from that of my client.  Clearly there are risks in practising this kind of “seeing” in an undisciplined way.  The benefit, the joy however, is that “When this happens, the horoscope springs to life and has the potential to move individuals to insight and action.”  This then lies at the heart of creative astrological practice.  Not so much the astrologer “telling” their subject their fate but rather co-creating the living symbol that invites the subject to new life.

It is this creative practice, that lies at the heart of astrology, as a thread of western esoteric and gnostic traditions.  Cornelius is the leading exponent of this point of view in our time.  He wrestles with ambiguity heroically, like Jacob wrestling with the angel, in his seminal work “The Moment of Astrology”.  In this work he thoroughly explores the various critiques of astrology, throughout history; people such as Saint Augustine or Pico della Mirandola.  He acknowledges the validity of the critics claims, until we think that Saturn has drained all meaning and value from the craft.  Then he shows us that there is another way of looking at things.  He references Marsilio Ficino and William Lilly and illustrates this other way, through the symbolism animated in his own lived experience.

Ficino was a scholar, astrologer and translator at the court of Cosimo de Medici and as such he was at the very heart of the Renaissance of ancient knowledge.  Cosimo wished to read the works of Plato, in translation, before he died.  He was a very old man for the time and knew he could not live much longer.  Then a work came into his hands that caused him to ask Ficino to set Plato aside.  He must start work at once on translating the Corpus Hermeticum of Hermes Trismegistus.  He did this because he believed that these books contained an original and ancient knowledge, the perennial wisdom, fundamental truths about reality that he must read before he died.  Lachman locates Hermes Trismegistus (not necessarily a single person!) in the mystery schools of Alexandria in Hellenistic Egypt.  Cosimo and Ficino believed that this was the key to ancient wisdom.  It offered the key, not just to life in this world, or a merely symbolic life but to the life eternal.

These knowledge’s and debates are likely to lie at the heart of the MA course soon to be launched by Canterbury University.  Cornelius is one of four tutors on the programme, which is likely to have both part time and distance learning options.

So we have plenty of reasons for wanting to meet Geoffrey Cornelius in Edinburgh on September 14th.  There is the magic of bringing our astrology to life; the contact with ancient and esoteric wisdom teachings and the possibility of learning so much more in future.

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The lore and language of stars

The mid 1990’s must have been a Neptunian time for Geoffrey Cornelius for this is when he was involved in the writing of these two beautifully illustrated books.  The language of the Stars and Planets and The Starlore Handbook .

Both cover similar material at first glance, although the Starlore Handbook is much more a star watcher’s guide to the skies whereas the Language of the Stars and planets spends more time on the ground with Paul Devereux describing sacred sites and alignments of the world.  This book is also more focused on the history and mystery of star and astrological lore, whereas the Starlore Handbook describes the constellations and their associated myths and stories.

To give a taster of “The Language of the Stars…” Cornelius says “In the most sophisticated astrologies, the relationship between character, fate and the heavens is both subtle and natural, reflecting not a disruptive interference from external forces but a complex and universal harmony within the universe.  Since the 18th century Enlightenment, science has gained an ever-advancing dominion over the material universe.  Yet many people today believe that the ancients and so-called primitive peoples can show us something astounding: that the universe is animate, and that far from being gross matter, the reality around us is “ensouled” – filled with volition and intelligence.”  This sets the scene for this book as a book of earth magic, tracing in outline, the history of astronomy and astrology around the world and setting out sacred sites and alignments where people have felt the potency of our living connection with the stars.

The Starlore Handbook is much more a skywatcher’s guide with sky maps for each month as well as maps for each individual constellation.  The astronomy is discussed with the magnitude, distance and colour of the major stars included and a guide to the major meteor showers.  Nevertheless, this is a beautiful little book with rich insights into starlore.  For instance on Virgo we learn that “The Babylonians linked her with the goddess Ishtar, also known as Ashtoreth or Astarte.  The latter is the forerunner of the Saxon fertility and spring goddess Eostre, whose festival is the origin of Easter, at a time of year when the constellation Vigo is becoming prominent in the evening skies.”

Both of these are wonderful little books and we look forward to meetinng the author in Edinburgh on 14th September.

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“Astrology for Beginners” By Geoffrey Cornelius and Maggie Hyde

This is the opening offering in our blog series on Geoffrey Cornelius.  The SAA will be welcoming Geoffrey to Edinburgh in September, so good to share a little of Geoffrey’s genius ahead of time.

“Astrology for Beginners” is a wonderful little book.  If you read nothing else about astrology read this one.  Every page is awash with cartoons, so not too many words in 174 pages, but richly packed with the origins, philosophy and uses of astrology.  It also documents controversies concluding that “Institutional science gives astrology as NO-WIN situation.”  “Symbolic thinking doesn’t match the rational-scientific consensus about reality.  The problem isn’t about evidence – it’s a battle of belief systems.”

With that sorted then, the book also contains some interesting chart data, for instance Marlon Brando, M.C.  Escher, Rudolph Valentino and Jules Verne, as well as a glossary of frequently used astrology terms.

Another handy area is a list of 6 things that astrology can do for us.  It’s always good to have this kind of list to hand when encountering sceptics.

1.  Self Knowledge.  It makes us aware of our psychic make-up and helps us to see patterns in our lives.

2.  Confirmation.  It confirms our sense of ourselves and the timeliness of our actions – when to sow, when to reap.

3.  Creates meaning.  Symbols bring meaning and give a sense of the sacred.  Jung says they activate the unconscious and heal the psyche.

4. Poetry and Fun.  Symbols open up poetry and imagination.  They’re also fun.

5. Problem solving.  Astrology evokes lateral thinking and reveals connections we couldn’t otherwise make.

6. It predicts the line of good fortune.  It helps us to find the line of good fortune in practical matters and complex human relations.

The best thing about it though is that it is an easy read and so full of fascinating insights

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Visible planets in July?

chart 29th July 2013

Sean Campbell has asked some interesting questions on our Facebook page. is a really good website for information on sky watching including meteor showers.  Just now, those who are keen or else simply insomniacs, may be able to see the Delta Aquarids during the darkest part of the night.  Then again the site does say that this shower is more visible in the southern hemisphere so I may not be hopping out of bed to check up on them here in Edinburgh.

We are in with more of a chance of seeing the Perseids on or around 12th and 13th August.  The constellation of Perseus that gives this meteor shower its name, rises in the north east around 11 p.m. at the start of August, so this is the time to start watching for them.  Move away from city lights and wrap up warm!

So what about an alignment of the planets at this time?  EarthSky makes it clear that the visible planets will be above the horizon just after dark or just before sunrise.  Mercury, Mars and Jupiter are morning stars just now, although the light of sun is likely to dowse them in sunlight.  In the evening we have a definite chance of seeing Saturn and maybe even Venus in her hesperus or western phase.  On 3rd and 4th August the moon passes Mars and Jupiter on her way to becoming a new moon on 6th.  This gives us dark skies and better chances of seeing meteors and night time planets.

So does it mean anything?  Well we have benefited from a long term trine transit of Jupiter to Saturn and Neptune.  The blessings of Jupiter have tended to bring out the best in the Saturn Neptune trine with opportunities for idealism to take form and practice.  Mars with Jupiter gives a bit of extra oomph to our plans and Mercury moving by, helps to trigger some good ideas and helpful conversations.  Venus in Virgo opposes Neptune and steps in at a mid point to Saturn and Jupiter adding charm and attraction to the mix.

This configuration was triggered for me yesterday when Mercury at 16 degrees of Cancer formed a nice trine to my progressed Venus and Mars in the house of friendships and some friends I haven’t seen for years turned up on a surprise visit.  Delightful and just goes to show how the faster moving bodies can constellate the potential in the wider situation.

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royal baby chartCongratulations to William and Kate on the birth of a royal baby and the Queen’s first great grandson.  Here is baby Cambridge’s chart.

There could be lots to say about this chart.  For now Scott Astro wants to draw your attention to the full moon across Cancer and Capricorn.  The baby is born under the present, powerful transit in trine of Saturn, Neptune and Jupiter.  This is offering idealism the chance to percolate to the surface in practical, tangible ways.  The Mercury, Mars and Jupiter conjunction in Cancer are opposed by Pluto in Capricorn.  This creates a Kite formation signifying personal power that is due to more than just his position in life.  He could turn out to be a really smart cookie.

Scott Astro

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