I recently read the outstanding and revelatory book Of Water and the Spirit: Ritual, Magic, and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman by Malidoma Patrice Some. The book is an autobiographical narrative which gives amazing details on Malidoma’s adolescence and initiation into adulthood in the Dagara tribe in Burkina Faso. As Malidoma begins his initiation, gathered around a fire with a group of other young tribesmen, a Dagaran elder offers the brilliant teachings of their tribal concept of the circle.
As I read this, I was immediately struck by the insights provided into astrology’s layout of the birth chart, and specifically the four angles or pivots around which the birth chart is arranged (Ascendent, Midheaven, Descendent, and Anticulminate). The elder’s teaching is paraphrased by Malidoma and then translated from Dagaran into English—an amazing feat in itself—and was delivered to the Dagaran initiates seated around this fire in the mid-1970s.
But first, Malidoma Some introduces the teaching. “What he said was this: the place where he was standing was the center. Each one of us possessed a center that he had grown away from after birth. To be born was to lose contact with our center, and to grow from childhood to adulthood was to walk away from it.”
Roughly, the birth chart is a circular astronomical map capturing a moment in space and time, with the center of the circle being the native in their birthplace. Imagine the native lying on her back, feet facing south. If she rolls to her left, she will see the eastern horizon, or the ascending point. Rolling to her right, she will see the descending point. All that is below the native is shown in the lower half of the chart, and all that is in the sky is shown above the Ascendent/Descendent axis, or horizon. When interpreted, the chart’s tellings are a reflection of the native in the center.
“The center is both within and without,” says the elder. “It is everywhere. But we must realize it exists, find it, and be with it, for without the center we cannot tell who we are, where we come from, and where we are going. No one’s center is like someone elese’s. Find your own center, not the center of your neighbor; not the center of your father or mother or family or ancestor but the center which is yours and yours alone.’”
The foremost healing capacity of astrology is its power to reveal the self. From this point, one can grow in compassion for oneself, and be proud to be that person—the personality and the story which belongs singularly to the native. In this way we can be initiated into our personal paths, and if we keep astrology as our ally, we can remain aware of the changing nature of our life narratives, allowing us to evolve in alignment with the intentions of our higher selves.
Malidoma writes, “He said that each one of us is a circle like the circle we had formed around the fire. We are both the circle and its center. Without a circle there is no center and vice versa. We listened carefully, acquiescing from within us.” And the elde continues, “When there is a center there are four live parts to the circle: the rising part in the east and its right side, the north, and the setting part in the west and its right side, the south.”
Here we see not only the four angles clearly reflected, but also set in motion. The Dagaran elder pairs the rising point with the midheaven and the setting point with the anticulmination because of left-to-right/east-to-west motion, drawing from the daily path of the planets through our sky.
“All human beings are circles. Our setting part represents the coolness of water. It provides the peace of the body and the soul, and bridges the gap between how we look on the outside [the Midheaven’s indications of how we are perceived by the public] and how we are on the inside [the Anticulminate’s indications of our deeper, private selves]. It brings us to our family, the village, the community [the motion of the setting point brings us to the IC: our roots and community]. It makes us many. The god of the setting side is the god of the water, the water we drink, the water that quenches our thirst.”
The elder goes on to describe the action-oriented ascendent/midheaven section of the circle. “Its opponent is the rising part, the fire, the god that makes us do, feel, see, love, and hate. The fire has power, a great power of motion both within us and without. Outside of us, it drives us toward one another, toward the execution of our respective duties, toward the planning of our lives. We act and react because this rising power is in us and with us. Inside us is what causes our real family—those we are always drawn to when we see them—to identify us. From the realm where the ancestors dwell this fire can be seen in each and every one of us, shining like the stars that you see above your heads. Imagine what would happen if you did not have this fire. You would be a dead star, invisible, wild, and dangerous.
‘“Yes! The first within us is never dead, therefore it never needs to be reborn. When we know, without being told, that we must perform a certain sacrifice or ritual, we know because the fire tells us this. Through the fire within we dialogue constantly with those we left behind us by being born. The fire is the rope that links us with our real home that we abandoned when we died into being human. We leave our real homes to come into this life, but there is nothing wrong with this. You will understand why long before the end of your learning here. But I am not in charge of telling you this. Why should I be? I can’t tell anyone what his personal truth is—and who would I be to even try?”’
Although I doubt this was the elder’s intention, this final question could be addressed to astrologers. Who are we to think we can tell a person who they truly are? Should this not be a truth that a person discovers for themselves?
This is why the astrologer has a duty to remove their personal leanings from a birth chart reading, and endeavor to speak purely and exclusively the messages which are indicated to them by the planets. Yes, it is up to the astrologer to learn how to decipher these messages, and so each astrologer’s educational journey must be approached with delicateness, reverence, and humility. This approach must also carry over to their work with clients, as these beautiful evolving souls are the ones who grant astrologers the honor of divining messages of the celestial orbs in service to them. If the astrologer springs from self service and not in support of the client, truth is distorted and the power of astrology is diffused, with the potential for perilous outcomes. The elder’s final questions serve to caution the young initiates against selfishly-catalyzed, toxic magic.
You can find more about Malidoma, his writings, and his teachings at www.malidoma.com.