And the Dish Ran Away With the Spoon:
Previously published in Llewellyn's 2005 Moon Sign Book.
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Hey, diddle, diddle,
When I returned to school three years ago I took a sabbatical from astrological counseling, figuring life as a 40-something undergraduate would be demanding enough without the added emotional pressure of advising others about their lives. Gradually, though, I drifted into electional astrology - choosing times for events, usually weddings, based on astrological principles - to pay my tuition. It's satisfying work that suits the Virgo/analytical side of my nature perfectly, an almost purely intellectual exercise as logical and comforting as a crossword puzzle.
Despite my accidental astrological specialty, however, I didn't choose the date of my brother's recent wedding. Rather, the happy couple based their decision purely on practical considerations, the way 99.99% of the population chooses wedding dates (albeit with only a 50% success rate). And that suited me fine; for although I've found an astrological niche for myself choosing wedding dates for clients, I often worry that in plying this ancient art I may be messing around in matters that would work out just as well, perhaps better, without my interference.
I'm reminded of a bride who, after years in a tortuous relationship, asked me to choose the date for her wedding. I was reluctant, having seen and heard enough about the relationship over the years to doubt that astrology could do much to help this marriage succeed, but I did my best. Finding an astrologically acceptable day and time within the time frame they were willing to consider was difficult, and convincing them to use the time I chose was nearly impossible. But marry they did, at the appointed hour, and managed to stay together several more years, causing each other considerable misery before ultimately divorcing.
I later wondered if the relative harmony of the wedding chart had acted as a kind of cosmic superglue, holding the tenuous union together beyond its natural expiration date. Maybe, had they chosen one of the other, astrologically ruinous days they were considering, the whole mess would have been over with a lot more quickly! In cases like this one, good astrology may be employed to ill effect; after all, as any child who has eaten too much candy can tell you, getting what we want is not always what's best for us.
Perhaps, if left to our own devices, we instinctively gravitate to the moments that are right for us to do things - marry, start a business, plant a rose bush - whether or not our efforts lead to the outcome we'd hoped for. In fact, I suspect that using astrology in an attempt to influence the outcome of our actions may be self-defeating - that this very human desire to outwit fate may, in fact, deny us our right course of action and neutralize astrology's power to show us both our own motivations and the mysterious workings of spirit.
So maybe my brother and his bride, like the dish and the spoon in the old Mother Goose rhyme, had the right idea: to begin the mad gamble of togetherness by simply running away together, without first asking the astrologer if the time was right!
A Time to Every Purpose
That said, doesn't it stand to reason that if there is indeed "a time to every purpose under heaven," it would make sense to align ourselves and our actions with this purpose? After all, if astrology isn't good for this, what is it good for? I propose that electing wedding dates with astrology be approached as a ritual to bring individual will into alignment with universal wisdom. Employed in this spirit, the electional process can actually yield a better understanding of the forces that significantly impact our lives and decisions.
So the question before us is, once deciding to petition the gods for their blessing on your union, which astrological factors should you look to for verification that you're on the right path, or warning that you're on the wrong one? As with all types of predictive astrology, there are numerous rules to follow. Here are just a few important ones to get you started.
Venus. Begin with Venus, the planet most closely associated with weddings and marriage. A wedding chart should feature a strong and happy Venus, as little debilitated by sign, aspect, or retrograde motion as possible. Venus is strongest and happiest in Taurus, Libra, or Pisces (the signs of her rulership and exaltation), involved in only harmonious aspects with other planets, and placed in an angular house (the first, fourth, seventh, or tenth).
In real life, of course, this dream scenario is rarely achievable, because the ceremony must take place on a Saturday in June when Aunt Ruth is visiting from Portland, when Venus is retrograde in Scorpio and squaring Pluto. So I occasionally find myself recommending dates when Venus is in Aries, Virgo, or Scorpio (the signs of her detriment and fall, where she is least strong). I'll even bend the rules and allow Venus in difficult aspect to Saturn or Pluto if factors in the wedding couple's birth charts support this (such as strong connections at birth between Venus and Saturn or Capricorn, or Venus and Pluto or Scorpio).
On one point, however, I am intractable: Thou shalt not wed when Venus is retrograde. Retrograde periods when a planet appears to be moving backward in the sky, are times to reflect upon the matters represented by the planet, not to initiate action. Of Venus retrograde, Erin Sullivan writes, "[ ] flaws and faults in others can become enhanced, and one might see all the dangers of intimacy, rather than the supportive aspects of it." (Sullivan 2000, 96) Hardly sounds like an auspicious moment to begin a marriage!
If you find yourself planning your wedding for a time when Venus is retrograde, heed the wisdom of the retrograde, which urges you to take a second look at your reasons for choosing to marry this person, at this time, and in this way. Venus is retrograde for only forty days every eighteen months; you can almost always wait for it to turn direct.
Mercury. As the planetary ruler of contracts (of which marriage is one example), paperwork, and logistics, Mercury is legendarily problematic when retrograde; items are misplaced, miscommunication is rife, decisions are made based on inadequate information. The message of Mercury retrograde is "redo," "rethink," and even "reconsider" - as entertainers Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez apparently did when they postponed their September 2003 wedding during Mercury retrograde!
Mercury is retrograde more often than Venus (a few weeks at a time, four times each year) but it is nonetheless usually possible to avoid scheduling your wedding during these times. Occasionally, though, you're stuck with Mercury retrograde, and in the not uncommon event the bride or groom has been married before the "redoing" symbolism of Mercury retrograde can even be appropriate.
Still Mercury retrograde has its reputation as a nuisance for a reason, as my brother and his bride found out on their Mercury retrograde wedding day. The wedding was my brother's second - so far, so good; but despite the best efforts of a very organized bride, the wedding was a cornucopia of Mercury retrograde headaches. Traffic jams, keys locked in a car, miscued music, a decorative arch that nearly fell on the bride, bad directions, problems with the bridal couple's reservation at the luxury hotel they'd booked for their wedding night -- on and on it went, a textbook illustration of a vital principle: Weddings are stressful enough without inviting Mercury retrograde to the party!
The Moon. The Moon, ruler of mundane matters and daily routines, looms large in the symbolism of electional astrology. Its position by sign, house, and aspect are seen as a microcosm of how any action initiated under its influence will unfold and ultimately be resolved. In fact, lunar placements which would be perfectly admirable in a birth chart are sometimes considered unacceptable for the purposes of electional astrology. For instance, marrying with the Moon in Scorpio or Capricorn, the signs of its detriment and fall, is to be strenuously avoided. Likewise, a void of course moon (a Moon making no further aspects to other planets before leaving its sign), or the Moon applying to difficult aspects with other planets, is considered tantamount to astrological suicide.
Over the years, though, I've seen enough exceptions to begin to question these rules. Recently I've chosen several wedding dates featuring the Moon in Scorpio or Capricorn, simply because the Moon in those signs harmonized beautifully with other planetary placements on the date. For similar reasons, although traditional rules recommend marrying during the Moon's waxing phases (between the New and Full Moons), this is not always practical, nor in my observation especially important, falling more in the category of "nice if you can get it."
On the other hand, harmony between the Sun and Moon, representing the relationship both between the bride and groom and between the wedding couple and the world at large, is vital. If given a choice between a date with the Moon in Taurus in difficult aspect to the Sun and Uranus, or one with the Moon in Scorpio in good aspect to the Sun, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter, I know which I'd choose! And while I can't always avoid every difficult aspect between the Moon and other planets, I do try to make sure the Moon's last aspect before leaving its sign is a harmonious one (a sextile or trine, or conjunction with Venus or Jupiter). I was taught that the Moon's last aspect in the sign describes the way everything, great or small, will tend to "end up" for the couple. By ensuring that the moon's last aspect is a happy one, I am hoping the couple will be left feeling that whatever comes their way, "for us, everything seems to always work out okay in the end."
My brother's disastrous Mercury retrograde wedding took place with the Moon in Capricorn, but approaching harmonious aspects to the Sun, Venus, and finally Mercury before leaving its sign. He and his bride accepted the logistical mishaps of their big day with characteristic Capricorn pragmatism. They laughed off the problems, enjoyed their wedding and radiated love for each other, and their attitudes transformed a feast of problems into a fun and memorable occasion.
What if you can't get married on the "right"
Conversely, it is a mysterious truth that trying to squeeze an unhappy relationship into a happy marriage chart is nearly always doomed to failure. It is usually relatively easy to find a good wedding date for a happy, relaxed couple, and almost impossible to do the same for a stressed out, uncertain couple. Even if I am able to present such a couple with an astrologically fabulous date, something will almost always prevent the marriage from taking place at this favorable moment - their preferred venue will be unavailable, for instance, or one of them will have an aversion to marrying on a Sunday. So they gradually, unconsciously, negotiate their way back to the date and time that perfectly reveals the most important issues they must face together, then ask for my astrological blessing. Stubborness? I prefer to think the influence at work is that of the wise moon, perfect as she is in any sign or aspect, guiding this couple as she has so many others to the starting gate that's exactly right for them - however forbidding it might look to us!
We can approach astrology forcefully and inorganically, as a way of bending life to some abstract ideal. Or we can approach it with the wisdom of the moon, and the dish and the spoon, respecting its mystery and acknowledging our limited understanding. We can use it to analyze the moments to which we are spontaneously drawn - just as we spontaneously gravitated toward the moment of birth, with all its potential for pain and glory - to see what secrets those moments can reveal to us. And we can use the traditional rules of electional astrology as we might use candles or any other ritual device, not as an inoculation against life but as an invocation to align ourselves with a greater wisdom. And that's not such a bad use for astrology.
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