For thousands of years, astrologers worked with a limited number of planets – the seven classical planets (including the Sun and Moon) described all of the activity in the sky. Not that there wasn’t much more to the heavens: the Milky Way, the constellations and specific stars, comets, and more held interest and meaning for astrologers. But there were only seven planets, or wanderers, tracing their path across the backdrop of the stars.
All of that changed, relatively suddenly, in the late 18th century, when the planet Uranus was discovered. About sixty years later, Neptune joined the solar system, and 85 years after that came Pluto. Along the way, Ceres was discovered and moved from planet to asteroid (she’s now a dwarf planet to astronomers). More asteroids were discovered, and today they number well over one hundred thousand. Then came planets and dwarf planets: Eris, Sedna, Makemake, Varuna, Haumea, and more (see the review of More Plutos in this Book Review Section).
Astrologers had thousands of years to observe and follow the seven classical planets, and thousands of years to evolve the meaning of those planets. In the last few decades, the number of objects (planets, dwarf planets, asteroids, etc.) that astrologers have available for consideration has multiplied many times over. The contemporary astrologer is faced with the choice of ignoring the potentially valuable information offered by these new objects or accepting interpretations which are not only very recent but also rather tenuous. In A Cosmic Dialogue, Patricia Garner steps in to plead a case for a deeper and more transparent approach to naming.
What’s in a name? A great deal, to astrologers. A planet’s name reflects its symbolic meaning, and that begins the process of astrological interpretation. Garner points out the classical planets were named over the course of centuries. Today, that process is greatly accelerated, with a planet named within a year or less of its discovery, with astrological interpretation following close behind. Neither is it simply the rapidity of the process that troubles Garner, and she points out that astronomers do the naming without any consultation with astrologers. For astrologers to then accept the symbolic meaning of the planet is to incorporate into their practice whatever is offered to them by a science that is largely dismissive of astrology.
In A Cosmic Dialogue, Garner offers a more interactive and sophisticated approach to the naming and interpretation of new planets that spans everything from physical features of the celestial body to events on Earth at the time of the discovery. She also recognizes the significance of the proliferation of planets, and the shift in thinking that is required if we are to understand the expansion of meanings, both astrologically and terrestrially. That is, the traditional, “this planet stands for…” approach may not work in an increasingly populated solar system, and the very way we think about astrological meaning may be in need of revision.
Is this a book that holds interest only for astrologers? Hardly. While it is a plea to professionals to be vigilant and engaged, the book has fascinating discussions of astrological meaning that will be accessible to any interested reader. Garner’s history of the process of naming planets, both ancient and modern, is especially interesting (her section on the discovery and naming of Neptune reads like a mystery novel). The book is philosophical, historical, and theoretical. A Cosmic Dialogue is must reading for astrologers, but highly recommended reading for everyone interested in astrology.