Life in the Balance

Archangel Michael with Scales - stained glass at Mont St Michel church

Archangel Michael with Scales - stained glass at Mont St Michel church

The dial on our astrological wheel will be pointing to Libra soon, as we reach the Autumn equinox on 23rd September, a sign that is traditionally overlighted by St Michael, an archangel within Christian, Jewish and Islamic tradition. Michael is often shown slaying a dragon (like St George) and is venerated at high places on prominent hills and outcrops, such as at Glastonbury Tor, Burrow Mump, and at Mont St Michel in Normandy, and he is often depicted with the balancing scales of Libra. So it is only appropriate that his feast day, 29th September, should be celebrated while the Sun is in that sign. For this is a time of balance, reflection and consideration and Michael represents the weighing of the human soul, and the restoring of order and equilibrium in the seasonal year.

As the wheel turns from Virgo to Libra, our attention turns toward beauty, balance and harmony. With the harvest in, the crop can now be weighed in the scales and, as day and night find their equilibrium again, so we are gently prompted by nature’s alchemical cycle to redress the balance in different aspects our own lives, especially in relationships. As our elemental focus shifts from earth to air, the Zodiac invites us to lift our gaze, raise our vibration, and take time out to reflect upon, and really appreciate a perspectives that are opposed to our own and learn to respect their ‘otherness’. It is an invitation to suspend our hasty judgments, relate more openly to those who cross our path, however different their view of life may be.

Autumnal Reflections

This time of the year offers us a perfect opportunity to appreciate nature, reflect upon her gifts and give thanks for her bounty. The harvest moon, the full moon closest to the Autumn Equinox, is the second moment in the year when light and dark are again balanced. Just as the Spring Equinox initiated a period of light, growth and verdancy, so the Autumn Equinox initiates the elevation of darkness over light as nature begins to withdraw from its outward expression, and we move into a more reflective mode. Just as Aries, embodying the dawn of the year, is sunrise time; so Libra embodies the setting sun, the dusk of the alchemical year. As the scales tip gradually toward shorter days and longer nights, it seems an appropriate time to weigh our own lives in the balance, embrace other viewpoints, suspend judgment and hold out an olive branch for peace, understanding and reconciliation.

The Alchemical Wedding

Libra represents the archetypal wedding of opposite forces, the uniting of male and female, of light and dark, of day and night. It invites an alchemical fusion that is fraught with creative tension, yet which enlivens the imagination to create new ways of combining opposing energies. It is the taught strings on Apollo’s lyre that will bring forth the harmony, the stretched canvas of the painter mirrored in his own struggle for expression pulls at his heart strings and motivates his art. Libra, always looking for refinement, for that ideal partnership that will transcend conflict, elevate the soul and resonate with the harmony of the spheres. This notwithstanding, Libra is the divinely packaged usherette of death and transformation par excellence. The reality of this may not be felt until we meet the next sign, yet the preparations for that transition are all made here. It is Libra’s role to disguise the deeper truth we must face in Scorpio, and seduce us into the mysteries of transformation through her beauty, her art and her gift for diplomacy.

Autumn leaves, in the process of their dying, inspire the artist to reach for her palette as colours turn golden, red and orange. So too, the myriad colours of sunset constellate our imaginings and turn our minds toward mystical union, which always involves the death of that which is known and a leap of faith into that which is not. The Wedding, too, so beautifully designed, choreographed to produce a perfect image of togetherness, seduces us into a marriage that will require us to surrender our individual status, give up our singleness of outlook, and merge our own unique light with that of our opposite. So it is that Libran beauty and idealism precipitate the reality of union in which we must learn to embrace otherness, recognise that which confronts us and learn to appreciate an opposing perspective.

Libran Mythology

In Egyptian myth, Libra is Ma’at, the goddess of the scales who, at the time of death, weighed the human soul on one pan and an ostrich feather on the other. If the scales tipped, then the soul must re-incarnate with the aim of releasing the surplus weight. Ma’at reminds us that the prime goal in life is balance, and for the Egyptians this was necessary to prepare the soul for the afterlife. In the Greek tradition, she is the seer Themis, who wears a blindfold and holds a pair of scales in one hand and a sword in the other. Themis is the daughter of Gaia and personifies the social order of law and customs on Mount Olympus, reminding us that social order is always drawn from natural order. In Christian tradition, the scales are held by the Archangel Michael, as mentioned above. Each of these deified beings bears a similar function that maintains both social and spiritual order.

There was a time before the Greek zodiac established its autonomy, when the constellation we know as Libra was actually an extension of Scorpio, its claws, and it is worth remembering that there is always a sting in the Libran perspective, as the blind prophet Tiresias found out to his cost. Before his blinding, Tiresias was granted by Hera the rare opportunity to experience life as a woman, so that he could have knowledge from both male and female perspectives. This trans-sexual initiation gave him a unique insight, which the gods exploited in the settlement of argument. Zeus and Hera were arguing over whether man or woman enjoyed greater sexual pleasure. Asked to adjudicate, Tiresias shared his honest experience that woman enjoys nine tenths of the pleasure, while man only one tenth. Furious that Tiresias should divulge such secret knowledge, she strikes him blind, while Zeus grants him the gift of prophecy in respect of his honesty.

“To the Fairest”

Adjudication is an obvious Libran theme and it features prominently in one of the most fitting of Libran stories, the Judgment of Paris. When uninvited guest Eris (also known as Discord, a classic aspect of the Libran shadow) gatecrashes the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, deep passions are stirred. She throws a golden apple before the gathering of goddesses. It bears the inscription “To the Fairest”. Paris is called in to judge the beauty contest that ensues and is set the unenviable task of choosing between Hera (goddess of marriage), Athena (goddess of wisdom) and Aphrodite (goddess of love). Paris is seduced by the latter choosing love over wealth and power, a decision that seals the fate of Troy. Lest we forget that is was for the beauty of Helen, Aphrodite’s prodigy and “the face that launched a thousand ships”, that the bloodiest war in Greek history was fought.

Reflecting on Eris’s challenge, I am struck by the wonderfully Libran ambiguity in the wording inscribed upon the apple. “To the fairest”. We would naturally translate that as to mean the most beautiful, but the actually wording throws up a question as to what is meant by that. The fairest equally implies even-tempered, well balanced in judgment and possessed of the quality of equanimity. It is interesting that this Libran story should emphasise “fairness” rather than voluptuousness or sensuousness. For Libra is not a sign of passion, but rather a sign of balance. In our story though the aesthetic pleasure derived from a well-balanced deportment is inevitably rejected in favour of a deep lust that lurks insatiably in the heart of the cool headed adjudicator.

The Libran phase of the alchemical journey around the wheel of the year, then, offers an opportunity to ponder, consider others opinions and learn to walk a middle path. It forms the first and most fundamental opposition in the Zodiac, that which exists with Aries, its opposite sign. We are six months in, half way around the wheel and for the first time in our unfolding journey, we are compelled to stare face-to-face into the eyes our opposite number. As much as Aries is impulsive and self-willed, with a single-minded, warrior-like passion, so Libra is considerate, reflective, and relationship-minded, with a taste for mediation and refinement, fairness and reconciliation. This is the first time on our journey where we are really forced to consider the consequences of our actions, and the impact they have on others. It is thus through the perspective of Libra that we first become truly conscious.

Transforming Relationship

Libra is a double-edged air sign, presenting us with both our partner and our opponent, stretching us to acknowledge our differences, learn mediation and find ways of reaching agreement, even if it forces us to reconsider our own cherished view of the world. Libra teaches us above all else that it is no longer enough to simply satisfy our own individual appetites, for we must now embrace our mirror image, and recognise how that which we do not appreciate or understand in ourselves, will inevitably manifest through those with whom we are drawn to unite. Whether as lover, business partner, opponent or rival, we are challenged to establish the principles of engagement in Libra, to draw up contracts, learn to listen to one another, develop strategies for meaningful exchange and learn to see the world through the eyes of another.

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