John Frawley - The Planets and their Essences

Below is another, and last from me, excerpt from John Frawley’s “The Real Astrology”, which deals with the principles that explain why astrology works, and how it works. I recommend anyone interested in the true form of this Art to get the book and commit it to heart

Crucial to the whole concept of astrology – crucial both for accurate judgement within it and for understanding how it works – yet utterly disregarded by modern astrology, is the idea of ‘essence’. This idea does not fit the contemporary world-view, so modern astrologers, rather than stand firm to their knowledge – the very knowledge that is necessary to prevent their craft being truly the baseless superstition that the sceptics proclaim it – have prostrated themselves before the false idol of modern thought (we use the term ‘thought’ in its loosest possible sense) and cast aside the cornerstone around which the edifice of astrology, and all traditional thought, is built.

This is not the place for technical splitting of philosophical hairs, so we shall paint with a broad brush and describe the traditional model of the world and all that is in it as looking somewhat like a fried egg. In the heart of each object is its essence; all around it is its accidental form. The classic image of essence is as the Idea in the mind of the Divine Architect, the accidental form of which Idea appears to us as an object in the world.

“The essence of a thing is that which it is said to be per se” – Aristotle, Metaphysics

That is, for example, that quality which would be left if I were to think of my best friend, but in doing so were to throw out every possible adjective with which I might describe him: that uncatchable ‘him-ness’ that would remain is his essence. Everything, even the most evanescent or intangible of things, a dream or a passing thought, has its essence; but in general (unless we be saints and have Intellection) we perceive only the accidental form.

Essence itself is imperceptible to us, at least with our external senses. The traditional science of physiognomy gives an example of how it can be seen. As physiognomy exists mainly in a corrupted state, we imagine the artist staring hard at his subject, noting every line and bump on their face and calculating the workings of their nature from this. Not so: for in the tradition, the artist will stare hard at his subject, but then turn away. That which he still sees in his mind’s eye when he turns away is the essence, from which he will judge the person’s nature. But this too is an image of essence, not essence itself: whatever we think we can see of it is not it but only its form on some more or less gross level of manifestation. Moreover, it is from this image – not from the person’s physical beauty – that the character is shown, for it betrays the person’s true inner nature.

In practice, essence becomes a relative term. It is the vision in the architect’s mind’s eye, which will, because of the nature of the material, be imperfectly manifested. It is also the vision in the building contractor’s mind’s eye, and the sub-contractor’s and the brick-layer’s, in each case being again imperfectly manifest in its transition from vision to material form (we are careful not to say ‘from vision to reality’, for it is the essence, not the material form, that is reality), though inextricably linked with it.

By the early Seventeenth Century, however, mankind had ‘evolved’ enough, or become ‘spiritually advanced’ enough to forget about essence. In the brave new world of Baconian science, essence was of no importance, primarily because of its frustrating refusal to allow itself to be weighed or measured, and all that was of concern was the matter of quantity. On this foundation is our contemporary world-view made. This is the altar at which modern astrology worships, although without the idea of essence astrology is nonsense.

Without recognising the existence of essence, we are left only with the material (and possibly not even that!). Left only with the material, we cannot possibly provide a convincing explanation for the workings of astrology. With only the material, we must follow the scientists and insist on some more-or-less tangible equivalent of a length of rope between ourselves and the planets as the only means of explaining the connection between planets and objects on Earth. As the scientists never tire of pointing out, this is nonsense (they should know – they invented the idea).

What are the options? We can posit a conscious-planetary-influence theory, with planetary ‘spirits’ working on mankind like a collection of (exceptionally hard-working) puppeteers. This is the favoured basis of the religious assault on astrology, even though there are precious few astrologers who would accept it. It is utterly unacceptable within the tradition. We have the physical theory, with the planets as inert masses exerting a pull something similar to gravitation as they plod along their courses. This leads to the endless and tedious debate on the relative gravitational effects of the planet Jupiter and the midwife on the new-born child. There are many modern astrologers who subscribe to some form or other of this theory, usually inventing some as yet undiscovered cosmic force to draw the link between planet and object. As many of these same astrologers are firm believers in the astrological influence of any number of half-inch conglomerations of dust floating around the asteroid belt, there is clearly an amount of work to be done on defining exactly how this force operates – and, of course, on finding that it exists. But the greater number of modern astrologers put their faith in Jung’s theory of synchronicity – which is an elaborate way of saying “Let’s not think about it at all”.

If only we still thought in terms of essence, all would be so simple. All essence is, essentially, one. At a level further towards us, lower on the ladder of manifestation, all essence of like nature is one. In the same way that white light is split into light of seven different colours by a prism, the oneness of essence is refracted through the planetary spheres. It is as if (and I stress, as if) it were divided into seven different-coloured rays, with one colour for each of the seven planets of the traditional cosmos. In the same way that all things that are red have something in common (their redness), all things whose essence is coloured by the ray refracted through Venus’ sphere share a certain ‘Venus-ness’. That is, in their essence they all share in a certain Venus-quality. All things that share in this quality are, in a way, one, regardless of where they happen to be located. So if Venus moves, all that has this Venus-nature will move. There is no causation, in the strict sense, as they are all one; but by looking at Venus we can surmise what is happening to countless things on Earth that share its nature, and thereby save ourselves countless individual deductions. The Divine action or moment that Venus’s movement represents does not happen first to Venus and then to ‘Venus nature things’, but happens at the same time to both Venus and Venus nature things. Looking at Venus shows us what this is in a much more intelligble and palpatable way than trying to deduce it from Venus things on Earth, in all their diversity and on all their different planes. This unity of essence was indeed described by the ancients as ‘planetary rays’; but we are mistaken if we take this to mean something as tangible as a beam of light or energy: this would bring us back to the impossible grossness of the length-of-rope theory.

Many, many things – approximately one seventh of all that is – are in their essence predominantly of Venus-nature, as another seventh share the nature of Mars, another of Saturn, and so forth. By determining the condition of Venus at any particular time, we can determine the condition of all things that partake of her nature. Everything in life is not, of course, divided neatly into seven discrete categories, one for each of the seven planets of traditional astrology; no one thing has its essence of solely one nature: all is mixed. The modern chemical theory of the elements, which are unable to exist in an unadulterated state, is a gross representation of this. Venus rules young women: that is, ‘young women’ is one of the categories of being that partakes of Venus nature; but all young women do not behave in exactly the same way at exactly the same time. This individual young woman has a foul temper – she partakes strongly of Mars nature; this one is grumpy – she partakes of Saturn nature; so their movement according to the Venus-nature of their essence will be moderated, the one by what her Mars-nature is doing, the other by her Saturn-nature. This is an extremely simplified example: everything that exists is woven of an immensely complex web of all seven principles. The important point is that we are not considering a relationship of cause and effect: we are considering things moving together because they are one.

The Doctrine of Signatures, so important in traditional medicine, suggests that, for instance, a plant whose leaves are shaped like a heart will have a therapeutic effect upon the heart. In modern terms this is described as the plant having an effect because it looks like the heart. In traditional terms, it has this effect because, in its essence, it is of the same nature as the heart. The physical resemblance is an accidental (in the strict sense of the word) manifestation of this sharing of essence. In the same way, gold and the heart resemble each other, not in this instance in their shape but in their qualities, as they too both partake of the same essential nature (in planetary terms, they share in the nature of the Sun), so gold is traditionally a medicine for the heart. Modern medicine still regards gold as the most effective treatment for arthritis: this is pure ‘essence medicine’, in this instance by opposites rather than likes. Arthritis manifests in saturnian fashion, restricting and limiting, so the perfect balance to it is a Sun-medicine: gold.

Science, however, has abandoned the idea of essence; the emphasis on experiment in modern scientific practice has also distorted our understanding of how things happen. Modern science is essentially empirical; the nature of the experiment is to normalise all conditions except the one which the scientist wishes to test (and except, as we have seen, for time, which the scientist no longer accepts as having any influence). The scientist leaves himself only one variable to examine, and the consequent one-pointed nature of experiment has devastated our comprehension of causation. Francis Bacon, who, more than anyone, stands accused of fathering modern scientific method, himself accepted the primacy of the first cause (i.e. the Divine Will); but the importance he placed on the examination of the secondary causes led, owing to the nature of all things to sink to the baser, to the forgetting of the first cause, and the method he fathered to the concentration on one and only one secondary cause. The ball goes into the goal; the fan cheers: the ball going into the goal has caused the fan to cheer. But there are many causes for the fan cheering: many reasons why he is there and not at work, or helping his wife with the shopping; why he supports this team and not the other; why he find cheering an appropriate response; and so on and so on. The ball entering goal – or whatever it is in any situation that the modern mind regards as immediate cause – hardly merits the name of cause at all; it is merely the occasion. So why are we fed with so patently superficial a view of reality? Can it be because we can then be persuaded that drinking Whizz-o-Pop will be the one cause of our catching the perfect woman, or driving a Hamster 3-litre the sole cause of our being eternally happy?

Science has abandoned the concept of essence, and modern astrologers, fawning after their scientific matters, have followed the scientific pattern. This lack of the concept of essence also enables the modern travesty of astrology to accord better with contemporary social ideas.


Excellent, excellent excerpt! Nothing is truly separate from one another. As Plotinus says in his Enneads, the entire Cosmos is One Unified Living Being.