I always wondered what comets mean to astrologers. In my twenty years of astrology study, this question had haunted me. Journalists asked questions about comets when I wrote an astrology column, but I couldn't find the answers from my teachers or publications. However, when it was reported in early 2013 that there would be the chance to observe two comets that year and one would be very bright, that question came up again – how do astrologers regard comets?
Comets in Astronomy
The word 'comet' derives from the Latin word 'cometes', which originates from the Greek word κόμη (komē) whose original meaning is 'the hair on one's head'. It is usually composed of ice, dust and frozen gases such as carbon monoxide, methane and ammonia, from the cold and dark outer reaches of the Solar System. They have highly elliptical orbits. Some appear regularly, like Halley's Comet, visible every 75 to 76 years, and some have such large orbits that they visit the inner Solar System once in hundreds of thousands of years. As they approach the sun, attracted by its gravity, they enter our observable range. Heat from the sun evaporates frozen gases and ice, and under the effects of radiation and solar wind, the comet's trademark illuminated tail appears. Many comets, even great ones, may burn up, break into pieces or even disappear as they pass the sun.
Views of Ancient Astrologers
Ancient Greeks treated comets as abnormal phenomena, believing they were illusions caused by disturbances in the upper layers of the atmosphere. They regarded comets as 'big fire' in the sky because of their brightness and association with hot, arid weather which led to hurricanes, rainstorms and droughts. An early astrological study suggested that comets appeared when several planets formed a conjunction.
According to the records of ancient astrologers, comets brought forth other phenomena besides hot arid weather. In 340-341 BC and 60 AD, there were hurricanes when comets passed by, and in 373-372 BC there were earthquakes and tsunamis as comets slid through the sky. Aristotle believed that comets were an indicator of climate – when several comets appeared in a year, it would usually be an arid and stormy one.
From the Roman Empire onwards, comets became the symbol of another kind of disaster, the human-related one – death, riots, wars and slaughter, the death of a king or noble being the one that caught most attention. When Julius Caesar was assassinated in Rome in 44 BC, his successor, Augustus, announced that Caesar's soul had already ridden the comet heavenward.
From ancient times to the medieval, comets were seen as the symbol of evil power which brought forth natural disasters, human-related disorders and slaughter; and history deepens people's fear towards comets' infamy.
In 684 AD when Halley's Comet passed by, there was a three-month rainstorm and an outbreak of the Black Death.
In 1066 AD, when Halley's Comet passed by again, Harold II, the King of England, fought William I, the Duke of Normandy, and died at the Battle of Hastings, after which William succeeded to the English throne. Halley's Comet kept on bringing forth its implication regarding 'the death of an emperor' in this way.
Even in 1910 when a comet visited, a rumour spread that comets release toxic gases. As a result, many people tried to invent different methods of avoiding suffocation. Although the tail of a comet may contain carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, there were no reports yet of direct victims.
Comets are associated in people's hearts with taboos. Whenever people see comets, they immediately believe that something unlucky, disastrous and extreme is going to happen. However, what do astrologers consider when they make predictions regarding comets?
How Did Ancient Astrologers Predict a Comet's Influence?
When ancient astrologers observed comets, they paid attention to the shape and colour to determine their properties. If it had a grey tone like Saturn, astrologers would believe that this comet would bring forth similar types of incidents to Saturn. Sometimes comets would change colour. In 1680, William Knight documented that a comet initially had a grey tone like Saturn, thus leading to issues related to politics and lack of resources. Several months later it turned bright, implying themes and issues related to Jupiter. Although no suffocating stress or pressure was related, there was a rise of problems related to religion and law. The comet finally turned red, and Knight believed it was an obvious implication of thefts and robberies. Tycho Brahe also applied such skill on observing comets.
They considered the sign and its element through which a comet passed. For example, Pisces could be about oceans or fishery issues. Fire signs are usually associated with fire hazards, wars and slaughter; water signs with rainstorms and tsunamis; earth signs with droughts and food shortage; and air signs with hurricanes.
They even believe that every country has its own representing sign. Therefore, when comets are in a certain sign, countries represented by that sign could suffer disasters. For example, when a comet was in Taurus in 1678, William Lilly (in Lillies New Prophecy, Or, Strange and Wonderful Predictions relating to the year 1678: As well as from the Late Blazing-Star (London) 1678, 3-4) pointed out that it would affect Poland, Russia, Sicily, Norway, Algeria, Lorraine and Rome.
When a comet conjoins a planet or fixed star, it affects the theme of that planet. For example, a comet passing Mercury may bring issues related to transportation and bridges.
Traditional astrologers also cast a chart when they witness the comet and judge its influence according to the house in which the comet is located. For example, the famous astrologer Tycho Brahe cast a chart by this method and as the comet was in the 8th house predicted a disaster which would kill thousands of people.
Finally, they will consider the direction (or directions) in which the coma points, as it often implies the direction where disasters happen. If it points to a sign of the zodiac, the country it represents may also be involved.
To See Comets From Another Perspective
Those are the views of the ancient astrologers. Undeniably, both human-related and natural disasters often happen when a comet appears. Now, I am going to share my new thoughts on comets from several perspectives and aspects, based on data when comets appear in the sky.
Sacrifice and Grief
First, I will start from a psychological astrology perspective. In Greek mythology, only two myths relate to comets. One is the story of Menippe and Metioche, the daughters of Orion. Orion's wife brought up the sisters after the hunter died. The girls were blessed by goddesses – Athena taught them to weave and Aphrodite gave them beauty. One year a plague broke out, and the oracle of Apollo decreed that two maidens must be sacrificed. The sisters offered themselves and ended their lives by stabbing themselves with a weaving shuttle. Hades and Persephone, the King and Queen of the Underworld, pitied them and changed them into comets and meteorites – this is where the word 'meteor' comes from (Ovid, Metamorphoses, xiii. 687, trans. Melville). From this myth, we see both death and the association between the weaving shuttle's shape and a comet. One thing I would like to emphasise here is sacrifice, which we often witness happening on a large scale when comets appear. Many people will agree that Diana, Princess of Wales, bore a sense of sacrifice in her life. A flight attendant observed Comet Wilson Hubbard in the month when Princess Diana was born. In the years in which she divorced and died, there were also comets passing by the Earth. Last year, after the comet passed by, we heard about Ariel Castro who kidnapped and imprisoned three young girls for over ten years. This is related to 'release', about which I will go into detail in the following paragraphs.
The other myth related to comets is the story of Electra, one of the Pleiades. She had a son with Zeus named Dardanus. When Dardanus was building up his empire in Troy, Electra placed a wooden statue of Athena there to protect Troy. In the Trojan War, Odysseus followed the guidance of the goddess and stole the statue, which contributed to his conquest with the giant wooden horse. When Electra heard the news of the sack of Troy, she tore out her hair, which became a comet (Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica, 2.21). From here, we see grievance, anger, vulnerability and the passing of old things.
Interestingly Troy appears in both myths and later we will dig into the important message buried within these myths.
Release Collective Fear
Now let us look at a way of analysing comets in an imaginative way. First, like Chiron, comets are from the distant boundary of our Solar System, beyond Neptune and Pluto. Many psychological astrologers compare it to the collective unconsciousness in psychology, a theory which Melanie Reinhart applies to Chiron's effect. I agree that comets do imply fear and horror which comes from the collective unconsciousness. These emotions are invoked by unpredictable events and thus grab our attention.
It is interesting to imagine the formation of comets in this way: formed by dust (earth element), ice (water element) and gases such as carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide (air element) in the ancient, distant region. Then they are given energy when they pass the sun (fire element), thawing and releasing the frozen air.
I would like to suggest that comets symbolise frozen issues that ignite and grab attention, releasing from the abyss of our consciousness such suppressed emotions as fear and horror. We have already explored the threat of disasters, but the death or abdication of celebrities and important people can also stir up feelings of horror towards mortality. I will not deny the relationship between comets and death or the loss of influence of a celebrity: Comet Hyakatake passed by during the death of Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Edward VII in 1910 and Francois Mitterand, President of France, in 1996, the same year in which Charles, Prince of Wales, and Princess Diana divorced. In the next year, when Diana died in a car crash, Comet Hale-Bopp was passing by. Comet Pansatarrs also matched what comets imply by sliding across the sky in the same year as the death of Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, and the abdications of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and the Pope in 2013.
Release One's Thoughts from Slavery and Crime and New Thoughts
As they warm, comets release gases, but what does this represent? The release of ideas and emotions?
We surely have to notice that what we release is not only emotions but also gases. What are gases? Thoughts, ideas and views. What comets release would never be toxic gases, as those people perceived in 1910; what get released are ideas that are new and innovative.
Interestingly, 'to release' could also mean 'to be freed'.
For example: in 1910, slavery became illegal in China; in 1965 when Comet Ikeya-Seki passed by, the UK House of Lords proposed decriminalising male homosexual acts; in May 2013, three maidens kidnapped for ten years were released, and in the US, the definition of marriage was released from the original one which involved only opposite-sex partners. In the same year, Brazil, France, New Zealand Britain, Luxembourg and Uruguay legislated to allow homosexual marriage.
I have observed that many new ideas come up when comets pass by. Did a falling apple prompt Newton to discover the existence of gravity? It may be one reason, but Newton was keenly interested in comets and possessed a huge collection of books which documented ancient astrologers' study of comets. His studies of them would have influenced his model of gravitation and the Solar System. In 1681, he had already proposed a mostly-finished model of the Solar System which demonstrated the orbits of planets and the gravitation between them, but he failed to apply these theories to comets. He indulged himself in the study of comets. Although there was no completed calculation of comets, Newton had already acquired certain theories and observations – the fact that the orbits of comets are seriously affected by certain forces. He guessed that it would not be the magnetic force that affects comets' orbits, and it was in 1680 when he calculated and observed the orbit of comets that a thought suddenly came into his mind – attraction by the mass of the sun itself should be the force that plays the crucial role here. Although Newton did not complete his study of comets, through it he discovered the existence of gravitation and the interacting force between planets and the sun. His study also helped Halley (who predicted the orbit of the comet named after him) set up a foundation. What changed the world? It should be comets, not apples!
When it comes to new thoughts and changes to the world, there are others to consider. In September 1882 when the great comet passed by, Thomas Edison switched on his first generator in New York, and radically changed people's lifestyle. The comet was in Virgo, the sign related to daily living and industry. In 1976 when Comet West passed by, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak sold their first Apple I personal computer kit. In 1986 when Halley's Comet passed, the first computer virus appeared, and Britain and France announced the construction of the biggest undersea tunnel construction project at that moment – the birth of the Channel Tunnel. Comets occupy a crucial role in implying innovation.
Born From Chaos (to Find Life)
Newton and other scientists have raised another hypothesis which corresponds to my suggestion of 'birth of new ideas and things'. Actually, I would not call it 'things' – it should be 'the birth of life'.
When our Solar System was still young, comets were everywhere. These comets collided with the infant planets and exerted profound influence on their growth and evolution. Life-nurturing water on Earth could be the inheritance of comets that hit the infant Earth. Precursor complex molecules of life could have also been deposited during this phase. In other words, comets could bear the implication of the existence of new lives and new issues, which was indicated in mythology. In the myth of Electra and the Trojan War, Aeneas, the son of Aphrodite, left his homeland to avoid war when he witnessed the fall of a meteorite. Aeneas went to Rome, and it was said that he was the creator of Roman culture, shifting the global cultural focus from Greece to Rome. He found a new path and culture from the chaotic Trojan War. Similarly, William the Conqueror changed England in 1066, introducing Norman culture and other European systems.
Study of Comets, 2013
Comet PanSTARRS became visible to the naked eye on 12th February 2013, gliding though Aquarius, Pisces and vanishing in 0 deg Aries on 9th March. Considering it in our mundane astrology study, we once again discover the existence of themes and issues related to comets.
- While the comet was in Aquarius, a sign related to shock, split and isolation:
- 12th February: North Korea carried out its third nuclear test, triggering the termination of cooperation with South Korea.
- 15th February: a meteorite strike in southern Ural, Russia, injured 1500 people and damaged 4000 buildings.
- As the comet entered Pisces (28th February), Pope Benedict XVI resigned. Three days later it passed his Ascendant at 16 degrees Pisces and his MC ruler Jupiter at 20 degrees Pisces.
- On 5th March, as Comet Panstarrs hit his MC, Hugo Chavez died.
- The comet was brightest when in Aries, on 13th March, the day a new leader was born – the election of Pope Francis. Several days later, the Cypriot financial crisis broke out.
- Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands abdicated at the end of March. She has Moon-Jupiter-Venus-Sun at 8, 9, 10 degrees Aquarius, Mars (chart ruler) at 0 degrees Aries, Saturn (ruler MC) at 1 degree Aries; all are affected by the comet Panstarrs.
These incidents and events correspond with the discussion of astrologers in the past.
Regarding Natal Charts
Someone born when a comet is in the sky could be an innovative thinker, and could be associated with shocks, too. These people may carry out actions to release, or may have an overwhelming influence over large groups. Their attitude and traits may be unpredictable.
The Suez Crisis broke out when Comet Arend-Roland was in the sky (1957), also the year Osama bin Laden was born. He brought forth a great shock and we cannot deny his influence on some groups. A comet passed in 2011, the year he died. Ai Weiwei is another person who brought forth shock. Born two months after Osama bin Laden, much of his work, and his rebellion against the Chinese government, has caught public attention.
In 1882 there were two comets in the sky, in May and September. Many leaders were born that year, including: King Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden; Kurt von Schleicher, Chancellor of Germany; Getúlio Vargas, President of Brazil; Ramón Grau, President of Cuba; Mohammed Mossadegh, Prime Minister of Iran; Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President of the United States; and Seán T. O'Kelly, President of Ireland. In 1889, the year Hitler was born, Comet Barnard 2 visited. In December 1927, when a comet glided through the sky, Bhumibol Adulyadej, the respected King of Thailand, was born. He is the world's longest-serving current head of state and the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history.
Besides natal charts, I believe that we can derive information if we know the location of a comet in transit and its relationship with our natal chart. If transiting comets pass through a region in the zodiac and there is a planet in that area in your natal chart, shocking and sudden incidents as well as possible new attitudes and thoughts would appear in that aspect of life.
I have already mentioned the relationship between comets and Steve Jobs. In 1976, when Comet West was witnessed, it went through the zodiac from Capricorn to 14 degrees of Pisces. It passed over his natal Venus, Chiron, Mercury and Sun. This was when he and Steve Wozniak created the first Apple computer. In January and February 1986 Halley's Comet passed through 14 degrees Aquarius (the location of Job's natal Mercury). This was a critical moment in Job's life; he was forced to leave the company he established – shock and disaster descended to him through comets. However, it allowed him to start on a new path: he established NeXt Computer and the famous Pixar Animation Studios. NeXt Computer was the key to help him back into Apple Inc. later in his life. His natal Mercury, which was affected by the comet, is the ruler of his natal MC.
Another example is Pope Francis, elected while Comet Panstarrs was in the sky. In his natal chart, he has the Moon at 10 degrees Aquarius and Venus (MC ruler) at 7 degrees Aquarius. Both are affected by the comet. After his inauguration he released several friendly messages to the gay community, his words seen as some relief for Catholic gays.
I personally have some interesting experiences related to comets. Panstarrs was observed on 12th February, the day before my birthday. It was in the beginning of Aquarius where my natal Venus is located. My love life underwent a tremendous shock, and an unpredictable new relationship started soon after. In March, as the comet passed through Pisces where my natal Mercury is located, I started to be attracted by comets, and I sought opportunities to observe them and to read up on the study of their effects in astrology. Unfortunately there are few of these. A television programme broadcast by the BBC that month narrated different interpretations of comets. Comets always bring new ideas to us.
The Chinese View
After the discussion of Western viewpoints, I would like to share some Chinese thoughts regarding comets. The Chinese call them 'the broom star', usually associating them with bad luck. But we should remember that brooms are for cleaning and sweeping away unnecessary stuff, which we must do to make room. We could say that this is inevitable – new chances are brought forth through destructive forces.
The Chinese called comets 'hui xin'. 'Hui' is equivalent to 'wisdom'. Interestingly, in Chinese we always say "wield the sword of wisdom to cut away the attachment". Wisdom is like a sword, and comets are obviously a symbol of a treasure sword. From images, symbolisation of what we observe in life, is it possible that comets are an implication of the birth of new wisdom? Do they indicate where we should impart our wisdom? Are they a chance for us to cut certain bonds and attachments so that we can let new things come into our lives?
In mythology, comets imply Electra's grief at the vanquishing of Troy, but also great change, as Aeneas went to Rome. In 1986 as the comet passed over Steve Jobs' natal Mercury, he left Apple Inc. and established Pixar and NeXt Computer. If you manage to get hold of such information, perhaps you can follow Aeneas' footsteps, leaving your own Troy and establishing a new Rome.
Originally published in The Astrological Journal, Nov/Dec 2014.
Author: Rod Chang
Rod Chang has studied astrology for over twenty years, through self-study and through the LSA and the Faculty of Astrological Studies. His favourite areas of focus are mundane astrology and a humanistic approach to astrology. He is co-founder of the Academy of Astrology.
Comet Neowise: by David French, via unsplash.com.
Bayeux Tapestry: Scene 33, Halley's Comet and King Harold, uploaded by Myrabella via WikiCommons.
Electra at the Tomb of Agamemnon: by Frederic Leighton c.1868.
Depiction of comet in 1007 based on description from the time; artist unknown. Plate in the Book of Miracles by Agsburger Wunderzeichenbuch, c.1550.
Comet PanStarrs C2011 taken from the Norman Lockyer Observatory on 26 May 2013 showing the large anti-tail.