VEDIC ASTROLOGY BASICS…WHAT MAKES IT DIFFERENT FROM WESTERN ASTROLOGY?
This is another question that I get a lot, and it can be hard to sum up without wandering. So, I’m going to pick four big differences, and stick to ‘em.
This article isn’t going to deal with anything technical. Calculating a Vedic chart by hand and learning enough Sanskrit to get around a Vedic website will be covered in Part Three, the next article in this series. Part Four will examine how to read a North-Indian style natal chart. So sit back and enjoy Part Two, which covers the interesting stuff without requiring much mental effort from you, dear reader.
1. THE NAKSHATRAS
Vedic astrologers borrowed the western Sun signs from the Greeks, and grafted it on to their own system more or less successfully, but the Moon signs are uniquely Vedic. They are considered the jewels of the Vedic system.
From a newbie perspective, the mere idea of learning 27 distinct archetypes is so much more exciting and confusing than the idea of mastering 12 sun signs and their meanings. It tends to winnow out folks who aren’t serious about grasping Jyotish pretty quick.
Rahu is shown riding the lion of royalty, while Ketu rides the vulture associated with death, destruction, and karmic clean-up.
Some of the asterisms occur in pairs, like Vishaka (Radha) and Anuradha – the name “Anuradha” actually means “Another Radha”. This means they share some core underlying characteristics.
One central meaning of the Moon is family, or tribe, or caste, or sub-caste. It connotes one’s people, or one’s social sphere. An exalted Moon was believed to be “tight” with its family – it didn’t warm to outsiders, or let them in very often. So the asterism Rohini, where the Moon is exalted, is said to take on this quality, and this is generally accurate for those born under Rohini.
A fallen Moon was believed to exhibit the opposite quality – it was extremely open to foreigners or outsiders, and often prospered among them socially and financially. The Moon is considered fallen in Anuradha, and natives born under this asterism often do exhibit this quality.
There is no way to do the nakshatras justice in this article. In Part 1, I mentioned the best book for a beginner is "The 27 Celestial Portals" by Prash Trivedi. A more extensive review by this author is available on amazon.com - the date is Nov 6, 2007, and there aren't that many reviews, so it should be easy to find.
The Rahu theme is very strong, including the triumph of a black man, and the demonic expressions on the faces of the spectators which are not visible in this image.
2. RULING PLANETS RULE; FALLEN PLANETS HURT BAD
This is one huge difference between Vedic and western astrology. In Vedic astrology, ruling and fallen planets have actual predictive value – their impact on destiny may be of staggering importance. Western astrology tends to emphasize beneficial personality traits in connection with ruling planets, and often minimizes fallen planets altogether. There is almost no predictive value associated with western planets in rule, exaltation, detriment, or fall.
In Vedic astrology, one considers ruling, exalted, and fallen planets in the rasi and also in the navamsa, the "marriage chart" which has a secondary use - it gives a snapshot of the native's life after age 35 or 36. All of these may and usually do have a distinct impact on the person’s life.
For those who did not have an earlier chance to read my article, “Which Vedic Techniques Actually Work?” this might be a good time to do it.
Here are a few observations:
Obviously, it would be nice to have no fallen planets in either the rasi or the navamsa. Those who have only fallen planets in the rasi and also in the navamsa are here to suffer. This often brings about spirituality, and sometimes results in a fascinating life-story. These people have had interesting lives because they have suffered, in some cases.
This painting by George Bellows is titled "Night Excavation". The dark midnight-blue shades of Rahu predominate. The focus on toxic elements mined from the earth, and the vulnerability of nearly invisible miners crouching around a flame point to a very Plutonian theme. There is some cross-over between Pluto and Rahu. Rahu also represents new technology, and it helps to remember that new mining techniques were high-technology in the early 20th century.
For people who have a number of ruling or exalted planets in the rasi, the results may not be as great as expected – the person ends up a comfortable, upper-middle class citizen with an ambitious lifestyle amidst a social sphere of similarly status-conscious individuals, or as leading members of their small town or city, or as comfortable housewives who marry well and are happy with their kids, and never achieve anything else. It is almost as if too much ease early in life makes them complacent. This is particularly true when the rasi is full of ruling and exalted planets, and the navamsa is just average.
It is better to have a relatively weaker rasi and save one’s ruling and exalted planets for the navamsa, since the navamsa is thought to map the second half of one’s life. This suggests a person who is able to realize real career and personal achievements after an early life of struggle and obscurity, or just plain hard work.
A fallen Saturn has a “generational” effect on many of the people born during the 2 ½ years that Saturn occupies Aries – I realized this while reading Barbara Pijan’s website. Aries represents new life, and Saturn-in-Aries natives tend to be hesitant about starting new life, or to limit their progency. A lot of one-child couples have at least one parent with Saturn in Aries. Or there is a significant age difference between the first and second child, suggesting secondary infertility or a desire to be a one-child couple for a long period.
Fallen malefics (Saturn and Mars) are said to manifest more consistently than fallen benefics (Jupiter and Venus) do. My own internal jury is still out on this.
Those with ruling, exalted, and fallen planets are more likely to associate these placements with distinct life experiences which occur at or near the age of maturation. That said, some individuals will experience significant success or failure even if the planet is located in a “regular” sign (see discussion of Angelina Jolie in Part Four).
3. PLANETS MATURE AT CERTAIN AGES
In Vedic astrology, planets mature at certain ages, and the full potential of the planet is seen at this time. Malefic planets, including the Nodes, are said to “calm down” after they give their maturation effect, allowing the things they represent better integration or at least less importance in the native’s life.
Nonetheless, there are some individuals whose lives are so dominated by a particular planet or Node, that when maturation occurs, it as is if the horoscope has no energy left to give, and the person dies. George Bellows, the early 20th century American painter who left a cow-town (Columbus, OH) to become one of New York’s most famous artists, was strongly influenced by Rahu – his famous painting of boxers and tenement children depict sacrifices and outcasts, and even his landscapes included Rahu elements of haze or smoke. He died at age 42, the age at which Rahu matures.
Here are the ages of planetary maturation:
Jupiter – Age 16
In modern times, having a ruling or exalted Jupiter usually shows some special opportunities for higher education or learning. For example, my ex’s Jupiter-in-Sag daughter won a scholarship to study in Germany for a year while she lived with a German-speaking family, and was also able to do a film internship in Germany – this turning point influenced her choice of college and career.
Jupiter is the karaka (indicator) of both children and spouse for a woman. In Vedic times, a girl was married at or before 16, and expected to produce a son soon afterwards. Having a strong Jupiter was considered a great blessing – it ensured the health of her husband and child, and likely promised a safe delivery. Girls with a strong natal Jupiter were and still are prized in the Indian marriage market.
Sun – Age 22
In modern times, this is when a young person begins to assert themselves in the job market.
Moon – Age 24
In Vedic times, a woman was fully established as a mother by the age of 24. Before the 20th century, if a woman did not marry by this age, she was likely to remain a spinster. In 19th century American culture, girls who were not chosen for marriage as teenagers often had a last chance at marriage around this age. Usually this came about because a sister died in childbirth, and a girl married her brother-in-law so that her sister’s children would be raised by an aunt.
Venus – Age 25
Venus is all about love and/or money. In modern times, significant love affairs often occur at this time. Some people plan weddings. Some are gifted the money to buy their first home. Some get their first decent job at this age. Some end up on unemployment for the first time – Venus gets lazy, but still brings in some money. And for some, nothing happens.
Mars – Age 28
This coincides with the 1st Saturn return in western astrology. It is a time of greater initiative and independence in life – Mars brings the courage to strike out in a new career, or move to a different part of the country, or to return to school. It is around this age that many young people finally leave their families behind and become completely financially self-supporting.
Mercury – Age 32
More intellectual development takes place at this time. Those with writing careers may publish their first books. Some become managers of others with significantly increased responsibility around this age.
Saturn – Age 36
As Veno notes, whatever the person has been working toward gives its full results at this age, usually in the house that Saturn occupies. Often either great upheaval or greater security and stability are the result. For an example of this, see my discussion of Angelina Jolie in Part 4.
Veno is the artist who did the beautiful illustrations in "The 27 Celestial Portals" by Prash Trivedi, and who also happens to be a talented Vedic astrologer in her own right.
Rahu – Age 42
This coincides with the western Uranus opposition, and for many, the onset of a mid-life crisis or real career success, or both. Rahu is associated with extra-marital liaisons of all kinds, dark-skinned people, foreigners, witchcraft, toxins, pharmaceutical use, aviation, hidden knowledge, and electricity. Rahu likes the things that society doesn’t approve of much, like kinky, BDSM sex. Komilla Sutton notes Rahu’s role in power-plays of all forms. Some achieve real power or prestige in their careers for the first time - my high school friend won his first state senate race as his Rahu matured.
Ketu – Age 48
This is the only one I haven’t experienced myself – it is said to be a spiritual turning point. In Vedic times, this was the age when a man’s grown sons could take care of their mother, so a man was free to become a wandering sadhu or at least go on extended pilgrimage. Ketu has a reputation for Neptune-like confusion and deception, but it is also said to be “like Mars” in terms of courage and initiative. People who are destined to take top roles in corporations are usually taking big steps toward that role around this age.
This painting is titled, "Burning Oil Well at Night near Rouseville, PA about 1861" by James Hamilton. Ketu is associated with oil and natural gas.
Not only planets but also houses experience an age of maturation in Vedic astrology. It is beyond the scope of this blog, but Veno gives a great overview of this phenomenon in her article, “Maturity of Planets and Houses”. For people who ask, “Well, what happens after I turn 48?” this article will suggest some answers for those younger than 66 years old.
4. RAHU & KETU
Hands down, Rahu and Ketu are far more important in Vedic astrology than the North Node and South Node are in western astrology. Rahu and Ketu have their own associations and mythology, and for all intents and purposes, have the status of planets, although they are not planets and do not act as lords of other houses. Rahu and Ketu even assume some of the properties of the outer planets Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto - planets that Vedic astronomers may have suspected existed although they could not see them.
Here’s a brief recap of the Rahu-Ketu myth: A demon with a desperate craving for the nectar of immortality connived a way to steal it, and managed to swallow it, but the Moon and the Sun tattled to Lord Vishnu, who swiftly retaliated by chopping off the demon’s head. The head (Rahu) retained its insatiable craving, while the headless body (Ketu) became associated with inability to function in the real world (and also with spirituality).
Here we see Rahu devouring the Sun, which Vedic sages believed is what happened during an eclipse. Some western astrologers have connected Rahu with the mythical dragon, because the North Node was traditionally called "The Dragon's Head" in classical times.
Rahu and Ketu are emphasized when they conjunct a planet, and strongly emphasized when they tightly conjunct the Ascendant or Mid-Heaven axis. Ketu is generally recognized to cause more trouble in the house where it lands, but the two always work as a pair.
As noted earlier, Rahu is associated with extra-marital liaisons of all kinds, dark-skinned people, foreigners, witchcraft, toxins, pharmaceutical use, aviation, hidden knowledge, smoke, haze, and electricity.
While Ketu is often associated with poverty, disaster and paralysis (inability to function), it does have some more positive associations, some of which are associated with considerable wealth in some cases. These include oil and gas, film, photography, and pilgrimage.
Those born in Ketu dasa will find their entire forties are dominated by Rahu and Ketu, because they will begin their Rahu dasa and experience the gain or loss associated with the early years of this dasa during the same decade that everyone else experiences the Rahu and Ketu maturation. For these folks, there are only a few breaks from Rahu and Ketu during the entire decade.
UPDATE - JULY 2, 2012
This article was being written while more than 1.3 million homes in the Washington DC area lost electricity during a near-100 degree heat wave. Everyone suffered (Rahu rules electricity). I don't even want to admit how much I've gritted my teeth and tried not to scream during the past two days, and some people still don't have power. But the trick is to find the "silver lining" in the sacrifice demanded by Rahu. My hope is that readers enjoyed the result.
PART THREE - If you want the next article in this series.
PART ONE - If you want the previous article in this series.