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Western Astrology Articles by Julene Packer-Louis

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Introduction to Centaurs
by Julene Packer-Louis

The Astronomy of the Centaurs

The first Centaur to be discovered in outer space was Chiron on November 1, 1977. Since Chiron was the first of his kind astronomers didn't know what to do with him. Some argued he was comet that was captured in our solar system. Others argued he was an asteroid. Someone coined the word planetoid and a few jumped on that bandwagon. While it is hard to tell if the argument is settled or not, we can find astronomical information about them under the category of TNO (Trans Neptunian Objects) or KBO (Kupier Belt Objects).

They are called TNO or KBO because most of them orbit beyond Neptune in an icy region of space known as the Kuiper Belt. Other objects like the recently discovered argument for a planet, Sedna, orbits there as well. Some scientists argue that these TNO's & KBO's come the postulated Oort Cloud that exists 50,000 - 100,000 AU from the Sun. (AU = Astronomical Units. One AU is the distance between Earth and the Sun.) While the Oort cloud has never been proven to exist by sight, it is speculated to be there because of the activities of comets. I won't bore you will all those details. Suffice to say it is thought by many scientists that the Oort Cloud contains remnants of original planetary nebula from the collapse that formed our Sun and planets five billion years ago.

Centaurs were the renegades of myth and these orbiting objects are renegades as well. They have highly elliptical orbits. All planets orbits are elliptical (oval shaped), but these centaurs have extremely elliptical orbits. Like Pluto they are orbit crossers, meaning their orbits cross the orbits of other planets. (A small portion of Pluto's orbit dips inside Neptune's. This happened from part of the 70's through part of the 90's and Pluto was closer to Earth than Neptune.)

Some centaurs orbits are more elliptical than others. Some cross more than one planet's orbit. Chiron crosses the orbit of Saturn & Uranus. Pholus crosses the orbit of Saturn, Uranus & Neptune. Nessus crosses the orbit of Uranus, Neptune & Pluto. We can understand what outer planet lessons the centaurs are teaching us to integrate into our Saturnine reality, by understanding what orbits they cross, as the same message is backed up in their mythology.

The high eccentricity of their orbits causes them to book quickly through some zodiac signs and spend quite a bit of time in another. As the newly discovered centaurs complete a cycle, we may be able to understand the significance of that as well. Astronomical facts specific to each centaur will be covered in their individual articles about their discovery.

The Birth of the Centaurs in Mythology

As mythology usually has it, there are a few versions of this story. One version is that the centaurs were born from the god Zeus and the nymph Nephele who was in the form of a cloud. All centaurs came from this cloud and were originally "goat-men" (herein lies the theme of scapegoat). Now this whole cloud thing is quite interesting because many of the centaurs and new planets we are discovering that orbit in the Kupier Belt are suspected to have come from the Oort Cloud.

Another version of the story involves Ixion, a character with horse ears and tail. Ixion would be a player in today's lingo. One day he was invited to Zeus' house for supper. Well, Zeus knew of Ixion's reputation and the lack of boundaries he possessed concerning other people's wives. So he decided to test him and formed a replica of his wife Hera from a cloud. Ixion failed the test. From that union Centaurus was born. This version holds that the original centaur was Centaurus. His father was Ixion and he was born from a cloud. All the other centaurs are descendants of Centaurus. In either case the cloud is a pertinent factor and quite uncanny concerning today's macrocosmic discoveries.

Chiron & Pholus: Unique Parentage

Chiron is the son of Cronus (Saturn) and Philyra (a sea nymph). Philyra had been trying to ward off the advances of Cronus who wanted to mate with her. She turned herself into a horse to disguise herself from him. Cronus became wise to the disguise and turned himself into a horse. The two mated in horse form. Chiron was born from this union. Philyra could not deal with the fact that she gave birth to a son who was half animal and turned herself into a linden tree.

Pholus is the son of Silenus and an ash nymph. Silenus was a human with horse ears & tail. He was always drunk and would often go to the gardens of King Midas to sleep it off. There he would tell marvelous tales rich with symbolism.

General Themes of the Centaurs from Mythology

While each centaur has his own story rich with archetypal symbolism, there are some common themes they all share. One revolves around the battle between instinct and intellect. Another concerns transformation and release through the involvement of solar heroes. There is also the common victim/savior/persecutor dance.

The centaurs are half horse and half human. This biological set up paints a picture of the inherent battle between the primordial urges of animal instinct and the human development of the intellect. The animal half is representative of our lower nature that is often squelched in early childhood development. This energy is noted in the myths by pieces of the stories that are willful, vital, intoxicating, ecstatic, and sexual. The human half is representative of our higher nature that is paradoxically bound up with parental and societal programming. The ego resides in this part including all the protective barriers we place on the ego to prevent recurring wounds from the animal half behaviors. This energy is noted in myths by the exercise of control, discipline, intellectual capacity, and consciousness.

Their constant war with their neighbors, the Lapith re-iterates the theme of a battle between two halves. The Lapith were also descendants of Ixion. So the Centaurs and the Lapith had the same father. It denotes the battle of two descending lines from the same source. It also represents age old battles that have roots in the long ago past.

The themes of transformation and release often come through the death of the centaur. When we philosophize the mythology we must bear in mind that while the death in the story is physical, in our lives it can mean a metaphorical death - a death of the old way of thinking or being because consciousness has crept in. The things the centaurs are releasing through death are toxins and a solar hero is always involved. This provides the theme of moving to a new level of awareness where the past metaphorical toxins can be released and transformation can begin with the involvement of consciousness.

Lastly, the themes involve victims, saviors and persecutors. Sometimes a centaur or solar hero plays a few roles in the same story. This is symbolic of how we can all get caught up in the victim/savior/persecutor dance.

In summary both the astronomy and the astrology point to roots in the past and learning to incorporate new things being brought to consciousness that don't easily fit into our current cultural paradigms.

© Julene Packer-Louis, 2006