Greetings and welcome back to Journeys! This month I explore the relationship between the physical, astral and mental realms and the equipment we are normally given to investigate them. Next month I will be taking a break from posting to attend to some important business, but I’ll be back in June.
Students of both astrology and magic often come to some confusion in the matter of initially grasping how these two systems relate to the human body and especially if they are students of both since there are seemingly conflicting views. For example, students of “Initiation Into Hermetics” learn that the chest area of the body is the Air region, but students of astrology are taught that the heart is of Leo, which is a Fire sign. This is often a problem when we combine two different symbol sets from separate traditions as people are very keen to do in the modern day (and with extremely disparate traditions), however in this case because of the historical connection between western astrology and hermetic magic going back to ancient times the symbol sets do actually correspond, to a degree. However they do so in a somewhat occult manner which requires a degree of understanding in order to penetrate. In this article I will attempt to explain how the western astrological and magical analogies correspond with one another to reveal a much more complex occult anatomy then either system describes.
To begin with, a word or two about the schemes themselves. The hermetic information is easier to summarize – the body is divided into four Elemental regions with the densest Elements at the base and the least dense at the top. So the head and neck region is given to the Fire Element, the shoulders, upper body and chest and upper arms are the Air Element region, the lower body including the abdomen and forearms are the Water Element region and everything below the waist down to the feet as well as the hands are placed within the Earth Element region. These four Elemental regions are divided in three places – at the base of neck, at the diaphragm and elbows, and at the hips and wrists. The earliest goal of the magician is to achieve an equilibrium of these four Elements in all three of their bodies. These three bodies are the physical body itself, the astral body which drives the character and the mental body which connects us to the trans-personal and transcendent realms. This is done through a series of progressive exercises involving the four Elements and the Elemental realms which are their source. So in its simplest form of expression the hermetic or magical occult anatomy discusses things in terms of four Elements within three manifest realms and their bodies.
This is quite similar to the way that the zodiac is constructed in astrology with four Elemental essences that express in three patterns or modes, called Cardinal, Fixed and Mutable, but the manifest realms (physical, astral, mental) and the modes of the zodiac signs are not the same things. However although they are not the same things as the physical, astral and mental realms the three patterns of astrology do actually describe the function of these three manifest realms in terms of their role in astrology itself. The mental realm is Cardinal (or Active) in nature because it is initiatory and causal, giving impetus to astral waves through the pristine archetypes within it, the astral realm is Fixed in nature because this is the real substance of astrology itself, the matter at hand that we are born with and must work through, and the physical realm is Mutable in nature because it is always undergoing flux and change as a result of or in response to the mental and astral realms and astrology.
However the hermetic scheme has additional important points which need to be brought up here, and these are the ways in which the physical astral and mental bodies are connected. There are two matrices and a number of other forms of connectivity involving the bodies. The first of these is the astral matrix which connects the physical body to the astral body and is often described as a silver cord. The astral matrix is positioned in the physical body at the naval, the place where the umbilical cord was cut at birth. When this occurs, the astral awareness of the newborn baby is for the first time a personally independent entity, with an individual astral and physical body connected together. The second connective tether is the mental matrix which connects the astral body with the mental body and which is sometimes described as a golden or violet coloured cord. The mental matrix is centred in the physical body at the solar plexus in the diaphragm area, and is fully established with our first breath.
Within this system the astral body acts as an intermediary or transceiver between the physical body and the mental body. Its sole purpose is to faciliate communion between these two forms, and so when the physical body expires, the astral body follows suit, and the mental body rejoins its Host. The mental body is initially formed on the mental plane at conception when the Greater Self begins incarnating as an individual self at a particular point in time and space. It is a vehicle for that Self to learn specific and particular things during an incarnation. It is therefore a temporal vehicle which will exist for a period of time only before it rejoins the Greater Self. In order to manifest itself in a physical body this mental body needs to accumulate an astral body through which it will be able to cause a physical body to accumulate. This astral body is formed of past experiences and the need to resolve them, in particular personal entanglements with other beings that we have incarnated with and things we need to return to as a result of our past incarnations. All three of these bodies grow together in the womb (in mammals this is the Water region of the mother, in other creatures – for example birds – it takes other forms) until a pre-set biological time kicks in and birth happens. Consider the Intelligence of nature required to manage this entire operation for countless individual species across billions of years. Until the umbilical cord is cut the baby is astrally connected to its mother’s astral body as well as to her physical body.
The mental body itself is always connected to everything that is (the Divine or Unity) via a connection which emerges from the crown of the physical head, however this is not really a cord like the other cords are, since they are temporary manifestations which serve the function of connecting and binding the three bodies while the Crown tether is a permanent state of universal connection to everything which does not vary in quality or tone from life to life. Only our awareness of this connection varies, not its qualities.
Similar to the hermetic view of placing the Elements in an order from head to toe, the astrological idea is that the zodiac signs are placed in order starting with Aries from the top of the head down to the bottom of the feet which are given to Pisces. In addition, all of the organs of the body and their systems are given over to planets or one of the Lights as well as being connected to a sign by virtue of where they are generally located in the body and which planet traditionally rules the sign. So for example in the head which is given to Aries there are attributions to the two Lights in the form of the eyes and brain itself, which is also given over to Mercury. In addition to this because many of the parts of the body are interwoven together as a system (such as the skeletal system or the nervous system or the endocrine system etc.) and also because certain sensations are associated with certain zodiac signs, the astrological system is greatly complicated and ambiguous. For example in the head which is the most complicated region of the body, the ears and the tongue and the lower jaw are often attributed to Taurus because it has a connection to taste and hearing and chewing the cud. So even though the head in astrology is viewed as a primarily Aries type area it has all these moving parts which are confusingly attributed to other astrological things, and while the head is an extreme example of this complexity the situation is present throughout the astrological system in every area of the body. The blood for example is attributed to Mars and to Jupiter and its circulation to Leo and Aquarius, among other things. But the basic idea is quite simple – zodiac signs are arranged from beginning to end at the major locations of the body starting at the head and the planets are given to organs and systems within the body.
The major apparent disconnect here is that the four Elements are distributed differently in the two different systems. Pisces, a Water sign, is assigned to the feet which are in the Earth region of the body. The problem here is that these are two distinctly different systems that developed differently and for different purposes, but with a common occult philosophy and a shared history in which they overlapped. The key thing to understand is that while their fusion does not synchronise perfectly, it is possible to flex the astrological symbolism to harmonize them together. The easiest way to show this is to discuss each Elemental region of the body and each sign within that region, starting with the Fire region.
FIRE – Aries and Taurus, the head and neck.
This is the easiest region to explain, with Aries being the primal Fire sign and Taurus providing it with a support structure in the form of the neck. In the matching of the astrological signs to the four Elemental regions the Earth signs are all located at critical places where muscular support is needed – the neck, the diaphragm and the knees. In some astrological schemes Taurus is also connected to the lower jaw, where it also provides muscular support for chewing. However, there is another more occult reason for why Taurus as a zodiac sign fits in the Fire region of the body and this has to do with the connection of Taurus with the physical senses. Of all of the Earth signs, Taurus is the one which is most directly connected to all five of the physical senses, four of which have their organs located in the head. The sense of touch which is located throughout the body across the skin is still however connected to the activity of the Fire region simply because the brain, the locus of the physical Fire region, is the organ which interprets all of the electrical and chemical signals received by it through the body. Therefore, the external physical support of the neck and the input from the material, physical universe into the head and brain are related together through the concept of the sign of Taurus.
The brain however lacks mobility and therefore requires a body to move it around. The Fire region and the brain require an agent within that body to enact their will.
AIR – Gemini, Cancer, Leo, the base of the neck to the diaphragm.
That agent is the heart, which in the astrological scheme is the zodiac sign of Leo. The heart and brain are in a harmonious relationship since it is the brain which drives the beating of the heart while the heart pumps blood to the brain. We can say that the heart enacts the will of the brain to live. Leo is therefore the agent of the Fire Element in the Air region. The Air region is obviously connected with breathing because it contains the lungs, which are the organs of Gemini in this area. Gemini however also represents the shoulders and parts of the upper arms, ‘opening’ the Air region, so its placement in the Air region is self-explanatory. However it’s important to note that the division of the cerebral hemispheres of the brain (which in the Fire region is expressed externally through the symmetry of the face) now finds broader expression as the shoulders divide the skeleton into twin halves, and most of the organs of the body and its muscles follow suit.
The zodiac sign of Cancer is placed in the chest and breast area. When compared to the four Elemental regions of the body described by Bardon, the Water signs are all placed in the most sensitive areas of the external body as far as provoking an emotional response. The nipples in both sexes are the most sensitive area of the skin in the Air region. Additionally, the connection to nurturing and comforting (newborns breastfeeding, or consoling someone by laying their head upon your chest for example), also suggest a hint of Water to this part of the body.
The sign of Virgo which is placed at the diaphragm delineates the lower limits of the Air region, but it more truly belongs to the Water region since it descends from the diaphragm into the abdomen. Again we see the way that the Earth signs are used to provide a muscular support for the regions of the body, but the placement of Virgo is also significant because the diaphragm as a muscle is in service to the Water and Air regions since its purpose is to stir the activity of the organs and processes of the Water region (digestion, et cetera) and in doing so it drives the bellows of the lungs, forcing the breathing. The physical act of breathing is the way in which the physical body provides sustenance to the mental body. The physical act of eating and drinking is how the physical body provides sustenance to the astral body as well as itself. Thus, the placement of Virgo positions it to be in service to both regions of the body and to provide life force to the Air and Water regions, which are connected to the astral and mental bodies through the astral and mental matrices rooted in these physical locations of the body.
WATER REGION – Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, the diaphragm to the waist.
As explained above, Virgo divides the Air region from the Water region and while primarily in service to the Water region also serves the Air region. It is given over to most of the organs of digestion including the intestine, where its task is to separate purity from waste and clean out the system. The Water region is delineated in the astrological scheme by the sign of Libra which is given to the hips and the waist, however the sign of Scorpio is attributed to the genitals which are just below the waist. Internally though the sex organs are located within the Water region (ovaries, uterus, prostate gland). It’s worth noting that the Water region has these more fluid boundaries when compared to the astrological scheme, with Virgo ‘flowing’ into it from the top and Scorpio ‘flowing’ out of it from the bottom. Scorpio has its external manifestation in the Earth region (the sexual organs) but its internal manifestation in the Water region, where it is also very active in excretion and assisting Virgo through elimination.
Libra’s obvious manifestation at the hips need hardly be stated because they strongly resemble a pair of scales. Note that like the previous Air sign, Gemini, Libra sets a polarised form for the lower body, just as the shoulders do as they split in opposite directions, and that also like Gemini it is located at one of the borders of the Elemental regions. As noted previously, the Fire region needed an agent within the Air region of the body to enact its will or life. This was the heart represented so directly by Leo. Similarly, the Air region has an agent in the Water region in the form of Libra. This sign not only represents the hips astrologically but also the kidneys, a pair of organs which play a vital role in the harmony and balance of the body. The neutral nature of the Air Element is represented in these organs through their activity of neutralizing toxins in the body. The Fire region also has an agent in the Water region, and this is the solar plexus which is located between the naval and the sternum. The solar plexus or celiac plexus is a nerve cluster which acts as the brain of the Water region of the body, it keeps everything doing what it should, including the diaphragm, but it is obviously dependent upon both the brain and the heart in order to survive. However, both the brain and the heart need the solar plexus in order to stay healthy and to continue functioning, since it animates the breathing and digestion of substance, and is thus critical to the supply of Elements to the three bodies. Thus it is a nexus which binds the Air and Water regions and the astral and mental bodies to the physical and manages the absorption of the four Elements through the skin, lungs, digestion, elimination and by dealing with toxins, among other things. It is here that we feel the effect of our thoughts upon our emotions and our emotions upon our thoughts in a physical sensation which can at times be very distressing. Most people will recognize the tightening feeling in their mid-body area when extreme anxiety is affecting them or when they were undergoing something stressful. The solar plexus plays a major role in the manifestation of our aura and is extremely important in occult anatomy, and so I will come back to it shortly.
EARTH REGION – Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces, the waist to the feet.
The Earth region is the most still and immobile region of the body. It requires an impetus from above in the Fire region in order to take any kind of activity. At the centre of the Earth region, at the knees, the zodiac sign of Capricorn is placed. Again, this emphasizes the importance of supporting everything above it, and flexibility of the knee enables most of the movement our lower body can take. While both Taurus and Virgo offered strong muscular support for their regions, the support of Capricorn is more about bone than muscle because this is the Earth region. The shinbone of both legs is also a Capricorn area.
Sagittarius is attributed to the thighs and upper legs, which are the primary muscles used by the Fire region in bringing the Earth region to life. It’s clear that the athletic potential of this area of the body is a good match for the sporty and adventurous Sagittarius, but the key quality of Sagittarius is mobilization and this is what it brings to the Earth region of the body.
The lower legs or calves and the ankles are the Aquarius areas in the zodiacal scheme, both of which allow greater flexibility of movement and swiftness. Note that like the other two Air signs this is a complex joint in the bones, but unlike the shoulders and the hips, the ankles come in two pairs and are designed differently. Aquarius is not placed at a border of an Elemental region because it ignores borders. Instead it hovers just above the ground and facilitiates mobility like the Sagittarius sign. There are also pressure points around the ankle which connect to the other regions of the body, especially the solar plexus.
The Water sign of Pisces has again been given the most sensitive part of the Earth region, the feet, particularly the soles of the feet. Everyone knows how pleasurable, ticklish or relaxing it is to be touched here. The feet also have energy connections to every organ and muscle in the body as well as serving as an unconscious sensory instrument from our times listening to things through the ground with bare feet. However, it is primarily the sensitivity of the feet which connects them to Water.
As you can see, the two systems do not really contradict one another but the astrological attributions add some detailed information to each of the regions without changing their essential Elemental affinity. This brings up an interesting point in that while undergoing the practice of “Initiation Into Hermetics” we load each of these regions with the appropriate Element, the regions themselves are not pure expressions of the Elements. They contain nuances and a mixture of the other Elements while retaining the dominant affinity that they have. This is because nothing in the physical or astral realm is a pristine expression of a single Element – everything in the physical and astral universe is to some degree a mixture of more than one Element, including the beings which inhabit them. To locate a pristine expression of the Elements you have to seek for it in the mental realm.
The integration of these three bodies so that they are working harmoniously together in perfect tandem results in greater health and vitality as well as clarity of perception both in terms of ideas and feelings, among other things, while a disharmony between the physical, astral and mental (which often happens through blockages such as things we do not allow ourselves to feel) weakens our ability to draw vigor and energy from life and in some way interferes with our ability to engage with it. The equilibration of the four Elements in the appropriate regions of the physical, astral and mental bodies is what enables a magician to operate magically. The primary way of doing this in the physical and astral bodies is through Eucharistic magic involving eating and drinking foods which have been causally dedicated in the Akasha. The body will absorb these foods and so in turn absorb the Elements of the intention as well, distributing them to the physical, astral and mental bodies. The primary way of doing this in the mental body, however is through the practice of magical breathing both in terms of conscious intake of breath while focused in meditation upon specific qualities you wish to draw into the self, or through whole-body pore breathing through the skin in the same way. However, there are many other ways for a magician to attain equilibrium in the three bodies, not just through a magical practice of eating, drinking and breathing. In fact, it is always necessary to employ other methods if you wish to succeed at this task more rapidly. The transformation of your character is often required to remove energy blockages in the astral which if chronic accumulate as physical conditions in the physical areas analogous to them.
Just as our material bodies interact with various physical manifestations of the four Elements (plasmas and light, liquid, gases and solids) and ingests into itself specific combinations of those Elements in the form of food and breathing, so too the astral body interacts with various astral manifestations of the four Elements and feeds upon them. However in the astral realm there is no need to eat in the way that there is here, however there are still hungers – many of them in fact! The hunger of the astral realm is for specific types of significance which we in our earthly incarnation experience emotionally through the feelings we have about things. What we feed upon in the astral realm then are things which are akin to qualities in our character. For example, a person filled with rage and anger is in that moment both feeding from and being fed upon by astral entities which resonate with the significance of anger. Therefore, by mastering the character and the astral nature of the personality so that our negative qualities are no longer able to hijack our behaviour, we not only relocate ourselves astrally to a new environment, we start making new friends there too.
Additionally, just as the physical world is always turning on its axis and turning around the Sun which is in turn spinning around the galactic centre and so on, everything in astral space is also in motion. The astral sea continually shifts around us, presenting us with fresh inhabitants and situations, and this is what astrology tries to communicate to us here on earth. The physical body has senses and apparatus capable of interacting with the material of the physical world – eyes for vision, ears for the hearing of things, etc. – but the astral body also has its sensory array, none of which depend upon a physical brain. They require an astral ‘brain’ instead, which is located in the astral body at the solar plexus.
When the three bodies are integrated together and we are alive (i.e. as soon as we are born and the umbilical cord is cut) the astral senses are “cloaked” by the input of our physical senses.Similarly, the raw input of the equivalent senses of our mental body are also cloaked by both the astral and the physical senses. In infancy and childhood this cloaking of our more subtle senses by the physical experience is minimal and we can often still perceive the beings of these realms. However, as time goes by we inevitably lose sight of the reality of these realms and instead begin to perceive them as feelings and ideas that we have. In other words, the astral apparatus that we have which we use to have transactions on the astral plane is communicated to us as feelings. The same happens with the mental realm, only we end up interpreting this contact as thinking.
A magician is able to move the awareness from the physical body to either of the other bodies after separating them so that they are independent of the physical body. When this is accomplished it becomes clear that human feelings and emotions are simply the way we encounter astral reality when we are in a physical body. In fact this will be one of the first things we have to learn following our physical death. Some methods of astral travel, such as the astral method of separating the astral body and moving our awareness into it described by Bardon, are actually dangerous to attempt without the proper training because the shock of succeeding causes the awareness to snap violently back into the physical body which can damage or even break the astral matrix resulting in death. Even with the proper training there are dangers that this will occur when your body is touched while your astral body is separated so you have to practice this alone and be sure that you will not be disturbed. However there are other methods of exploring the nonphysical worlds, primarily the method of mental wandering which also leaves your astral body resting ‘behind’ and allows you to voyage beyond the Saturn sphere, while remaining connected to your resting astral body via the mental matrix. During such activities the heartbeat and respiration do not stop, but they do reduce to an almost imperceptible rate.
The spheres named after the planets (for those who don’t know these are magical realms of awareness which evocation magic can interact with) are not the same thing as the actual physical planet in space. However all of the spheres up to the Saturn sphere have astral dimensions to them which somewhat correspond to the astrological matters of the planet named after them. Just as we have a physical body in the physical universe composed of many cells, so too each of the spheres in the astral realm has a physical body composed of many cells. These are the worlds and stellar objects of our solar system and other solar systems. The movements of these planets relative to the Earth describe through synchronous activity the shifting of the astral sea relative to Earth and its individuals. They do not however in any way cause anything in the astral. This is an important argument astrologers have been having for millennia now – whether or not the planets cause things or merely describe them. The answer really is that they only describe them, but I do not think that the astrology of today is equipped to settle the question. Only magic can reveal this truth.