Daniel Dockery

animî nostrî dêbent interdum âlûcinâri

Home of published musician, recording artist, mathematician, programmer, translator, artist, classicist, and general polymath.
When the Stars were Right • Daniel Dockery

When the Stars were Right

October 11th, 2017

—or, “Fun with Coincidence”. (All Hallows Read, pt. 6.)

Occasionally, my various interest areas overlap in unexpected ways; last night was one such time. Researching earlier in the evening in Greek Horoscopes (an academic survey of surviving astrological charts from the first five centuries of the current era; ed. Otto Neugebauer & H.B. van Hoesen, vol. 48 of the Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, 1959), I was still thinking of my Lovecraft reading from the previous evening and earlier yesterday as part of my All Hallows Read, where among others I’d reread “The Call of Cthulhu”. In that story, HPL gives latitude and longitude for locations around and of R’lyeh, and he gives the date for its rising (1 March), sinking (2 April), and the crew’s landing and Cthulhu’s awakening (23 March), all 1925. While, true, he doesn’t give explicit times of day, which we’d ordinarily need for reliable chart calculation, in this instance we’re looking more at a period of time—the month of March—than a single specific instance, so we can still calculate the pertinent positions: we can find out, in other words, just which “stars were right”.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, since Lovecraft wasn’t, after all, thinking of astrology when he wrote those dates and locations (at least, I assume he wasn’t), on its surface the chart revealed didn’t seem so special. The bits that might be symbolically significant, in relation to the story—using the more negative traditional meanings of the signs, the malefics, etc.—would be the “great malefic” Saturn, retrograde, in Scorpio, ruled by the other malefic Mars, and both malefics in opposition. Using the “modern” planets, Neptune, governing dreams and hallucinations, obsessions and madness (a Cthulhian planet if ever there were one) was also retrograde and in Leo, adding intensity, visibility: compare the remarks in the story on how people around the world were suddenly having dreams, visions, and so forth, in that period: “March 1st [… f]rom Dunedin the Alert and her noisome crew had darted eagerly forth as if imperiously summoned, and on the other side of the earth poets and artists had begun to dream of a strange, dank Cyclopean city whilst a young sculptor had moulded in his sleep the form of the dreaded Cthulhu. March 23rd […] the dreams of sensitive men assumed a heightened vividness and darkened with dread of a giant monster’s malign pursuit, whilst an architect had gone mad and a sculptor had lapsed suddenly into delirium! […] April 2nd—the date on which all dreams of the dank city ceased”. Further, the modern great malefic, Pluto (Yuggoth on the rim?) stands out even more. That is, while Pluto was retrograde when R’lyeh rose, it had just gone back to direct/normal/non-retrograde motion as R’lyeh sank again. What makes it stand out more, though, is related to a planet’s retrograde cycle. Briefly, planets are considered astrologically to have three basic states of relative motion: direct, or normal motion; retrograde, or reverse direction; and a station, or stationary position where it’s transitioning between the two. While most who have read or heard much of astrology are familiar with at least the term “retrograde”, fewer are familiar with stations, though astrologically they are significant events, times when a planet appears to “stand still” in the sky. While they couldn’t see these outer planets, the ancients ascribed a great deal of significance to planetary stations and read them as omens. The reason I digress on the topic here is that Pluto went stationary above R’lyeh on the day the crew landed and Cthulhu awoke. When it began moving again, R’lyeh returned to the depths.

If we inspect the “quality” or condition of the planets, we find a few additional surprises. When R’lyeh rose, we find that Mercury was in its worst possible condition, being both in its detriment and fall simultaneously, suggesting a time when reason, rational/critical thinking would be significantly hindered in some way, making it all the easier for those earlier cited Neptunian influences to take and hold sway. Likewise, the malefic Mars was in detriment, “increasing its power for evil” as the ancients would say. We find Jupiter, the great benefic, was fallen, decreasing or impeding the presence/action of “good”/happiness/joy. Seems dreadfully apt. We also find that around noon of that day, Mercury, already in such poor condition, was conjunct the Arabic part of Suicide. Perhaps just as interesting or suitable are the changed qualities in action when R’lyeh sank again: there we find the Sun had come into its exaltation, a position of great strength, a return of light to the world; at the same time, the Moon reached its strongest position, being in domicile (its own sign), which by sign also meant it had become the ruler of newly direct Pluto to which it was also then conjunct, astrologically suggesting the reflected light of the sun dominating or overcoming Pluto’s influence. Before this change, consider the remarks in the story about the Sun: “The very sun of heaven seemed distorted when viewed through the polarizing miasma welling out from this sea-soaked perversion”; “That tenebrousness was indeed a positive quality; for it obscured such parts of the inner walls as ought to have been revealed, and actually burst forth like smoke from its aeon-long imprisonment, visibly darkening the sun”. When the sun reappeared, R’lyeh sank. Maybe Lovecraft considered astrology after all.

Considering the emphasis on the times when the stars are right, I decided to bring in another of my subject areas, and wrote a bit of code to search for these same positions in other times. Employing the Swiss ephemeris, based on NASA’s JPL’s ephemerides, offering accurate planetary positional data spanning some 30,000 years, I wrote a program that would search from 13000 bce to 17000 ce, looking for any time where the same planetary positions held or shall hold sway. In those thirty thousand years, that same combination of stellar influences occurs only the once, in March of 1925. Considering Lovecraft remarked that R’lyeh had been there since the sun was young, and our sun’s been around roughly 5 billion years and our planet around 4.6 billion, and HPL wrote that after “vigintillions of years great Cthulhu was loose again” (no, he doesn’t bother to say how Cthulhu was trapped there for 999 undevigintillion years or so longer than the earth and sun had existed) maybe that’s not so surprising, but unfortunately we have no reliable way of calculating or even estimating planetary positions at such remote times, so we can’t tell if the same planetary conditions obtained then. On the positive side (well, at least for us, if not for poor Cthulhu), if those are the necessary conditions for the stars to be right, the planet should be safe from Cthulhu’s wake-up call for at least another fifteen thousand years!

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Daniel Dockery

animî nostrî dêbent interdum âlûcinâri

Home of published musician, recording artist, mathematician, programmer, translator, artist, classicist, and general polymath.