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Typhon, Damocles, Sisyphus: When Is “Bad” Really Bad?

by Boots Hart, CAP on April 1, 2010

Zeus and Typhon

If you came across the law firm of Typhon, Damocles & Sisyphus would you stop, gawk, then hurry on, mumbling “I think not!” to yourself? If you knew the mythic characters, you might. Typhon is natural disasters incarnate: volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis—the lot. Braggart Damocles landed himself in the hot seat of power only to look up and see a sword hung, point down, above his head suspended by a single, quivering thread. And Sisyphus? Congenial enough on the outside, Sisyphus would make friends then kill them just to prove he was smarter than those who make life’s rules.

But what if, when you told a friend about this law firm, they explained that Typhon was an environmentalist and into renewable power? And how the modern day Damocles represents the poor in food and drug cases lodged against big corporations (the “immortal untouchables” of today)—when he isn’t defending human rights, that is? What if you then heard that Sisyphus is a brilliant courtroom debater on the subject of end-of-life dignity? Or someone devoted to ethical standards in fertility medicine?

Metaphysically (which is to say in this conversation, astrologically), any symbol can represent or manifest as positive or negative. Even in the same life they can represent a little of each. And that isn’t contradictory: a person who would never commit murder might well enjoy slasher films. Points do have tendencies which professionals know how to read the same as doctors know how to read medical tests.

And we also need to realize that such tendencies can change during the course of a person’s life (which is why transits, progressions and returns so count!). The ancient Mayan idea of ongoing time as “wheels within wheels” gives us the apt picture here: a Saturn transit which in childhood may mean we’re boggled by how to tie our shoes, one Saturn cycle (29.46 years) later could be our feeling equally boggled by the intricacies involved in buying a house.

So when we consider a myth in metaphysical terms, both poles and interpretations both modern and ancient seem applicable. Science applies too. After all, myth incorporated everything humankind knew back then, and now we know more. The horoscope is our map of time/space—all the potentials, challenges, interests, life factors and orientations. All anyone will face, learn from, make good on, get past—or simply be motivated and thus profit by.

In this light, let’s start with Sisyphus, main belt asteroid number 1866. Because all main belt asteroid orbits originate in the gap between Mars and Jupiter, astrologically Sisyphus is a quality (or situational, evocative factor) we encounter as part of going from our “inner” or native life to one enhanced by Jupiterian growth/knowledge and Saturnian achievement.

In the case of Sisyphus, we’re talking an Apollo Asteroid. The Apollo group embraces main belt asteroids whose orbits have been altered by Jupiter’s magnetic resonance, shifting their cycles away from Jupiter (knowledge, knowing) in towards the Sun (life). Metaphysically, this is a statement of knowledge being sent through life experiences into our inner being. And that should be good, though the story of Sisyphus plainly shows how humanity is capable of taking the knowledge and using it for selfish and definitely evil things.

Sisyphus was the son of Corinth’s founders. Corinth was a city situated on the narrow isthmus connecting the Peloponnesus to the Greek mainland. With water on two sides and built astride the main highway, Corinth was in exactly the right position to grow very trade-rich (proving that “location, location, location!” was as true then as now). In fact, after growing obese on commerce, Corinth eventually got so expensive that the rich folk squeezed out all the people they needed around to do their privileged bidding. Very bad for Corinth…though hardly Sisyphus’ fault.

Yet not to worry—there’s enough to blame Sisyphus for without that! A true son of parents canny enough to found a city perfectly placed to take advantage of everything happening nearby, Sisyphus became not merely a great promoter of navigation and commerce, but also the very essence of deceitful avarice. His first gig was to befriend and welcome travelers into his home—where he’d murder them apparently just to prove he really was master of everything under his own roof. Next, Sisyphus turned his bright wiles to seducing his niece while stealing her father’s (his brother) throne. And after that, he really graduated to the big time, betraying a few of Zeus’ (Jupiter) personally cherished secrets.

And that was a mistake! If you really want to piss an immortal off, just treat their private matters as gossip. So Zeus summons Thanatos, god of death. And Zeus tells Thanatos to drag Sisyphus down to the Greek version of half-past Purgatory (in other words, Tartarus) and chain him there in a hellish time-out. Not liking the sound of this, Sisyphus goes with Thanatos but upon reaching the gates of torment asks for a little prep. What exactly does Zeus have in mind? What are all the chains for?

Predictably, the moment Thanatos explains, Sisyphus turns the tables, locking Death down while perhaps proving perhaps that while death is inevitable, it doesn’t always have foresight. More to the mythic point however, Sisyphus had in that moment also deprived the Underworld of incoming souls (being that there would be no Death to lead them from Earth). Does this make Sisyphus an atheist who doesn’t believe G/god(s) control existence? Or is he merely an archetypal anarchist?

Whichever, it took war god Ares (Mars) to free Thanatos (War freeing death? Sounds familiar…). But since it’s never a good idea to compel war, Sisyphus soon gets the message that he’s living on borrowed time. So he orders the wife to toss his body out into the public square when he dies. But when she does as bidden, Sisyphus gets totally tweaked that his wife could prioritize obedience over love…which may be a warning to domineering types of every ilk. So he makes a big stink to Persephone. And she, beleaguered Queen of the Underworld that she is, gives in. Persephone grants permission for Sisyphus to go back to the land of the living and have it out with the spouse.

Once there (of course!) he refuses to return, causing Zeus to order Mercury (god of all things mundane) to once and for all install Sisyphus in Tartarus—and to give him something to keep him eternally busy, too. The result? Sisyphus is sentenced to forever roll a giant rock up a hill, with the rock breaking free of his grasp (understanding/Jupiter) just shy of the goal (achievement/Saturn). The rock rolls back down and Sisyphus is forced to put out ever more effort to obey the rules avoided in life, even if his task is one which by definition can never be accomplished.

Sisyphus, supervised by Persephone

Sisyphus, supervised by Persephone

So what’s the point? The point is that by birth, Sisyphus was given a lot: money and big-time smarts. But he didn’t apply them to good ends, choosing instead to amuse himself at cost to others. But there is no escape. In the end, the greater power of knowledge (Jupiter’s magnetic resonance) consigns Sisyphus to endless circles (orbits) without even the shred of a chance to actually use his brains. In other words, knowledge is power, and s/he with the greater power has the greater responsibility.

This story also illuminates the positive/negative of Mercury’s two signs of rulership, Gemini and Virgo. Gemini positives are intelligent choice and clear-minded priorities which lead to profitable application. Gemini negatives are disorder, dishonesty, and dissipation of effort.

Virgo positives are learning how to use and hone skills which promote health and efficient advancement of causes to benefit all concerned. Virgo negatives are procrastination, laziness, lack of regard for others and getting so enamored of details that ultimately nothing gets done. Sisyphus was obviously capable of both sides of both these coins but turned the sum of his effort towards pretty negative things.

Given that Virgo and Gemini are Mercury-ruled and Sagittarius and Pisces are Jupiter-ruled (Jupiter being the primary ruler of Pisces, with outcomes ruled by Neptune), does this mean that Sisyphus placements tell us how well we will cope in either polarity? Maybe.

But as we consider this, let’s not forget Jupiter’s power of magnetic resonance, a power which has sent Sisyphus the asteroid in towards the inner recesses of our solar system (where we live) just like Jupiter (Zeus) sends Sisyphus to Greek hell. Is this a comment on mortal life and how not heavenly it can be? Or being that this story is about someone using wiles to get their way—does this mean Sisyphus is a purely mental symbol?  Does it allude to all things mentally tedious? States of mental torment, benign or criminal? Mental aberrations or illness? And because Sisyphus’ orbit cycles from Mars to a bit inside the orbit of Earth, is this a comment on how violence, bloodshed and war (Mars/Ares attributes) are about misuse of knowledge—the repudiation of it, or the rejection of (Jupiterian) ethics?

To all of these questions—a big “maybe” is our only current answer. Of the three astrological points being discussed here, Sisyphus is the “oldest” in terms of how long it has been known to humankind. Yet considering Sisyphus was discovered in 1972, that’s hardly very long. So only time and astrological research will reveal which (if any) of these ideas is actually valid.

Unlike Sisyphus, Damocles orbits from Mars out past Jupiter (knowledge, growth)…past Saturn (achievement), past Uranus (discovery, sudden change, disruption, innovation) almost to Neptune (all things idyllic, illusionary or inspirational). So we could say that in metaphysical terms, Damocles is a cycle which connects our inner, personal, everyday life to all which is inspirational and ideal.

How does that relate to the Damocles story? Well, Damocles is a courtier who sees his monarch’s lot as full of fun power and nifty privilege. And yet, what is king doing with all that? Sitting around? Pondering advice? Damocles thinks King-honey should get off the royal stick/scepter and get stuff done. Damocles wouldn’t hesitate. He’d have it all done and be ready to party (royally) come sundown.

Remembering that Neptune, painter of ideals and illusions, lies just beyond where asteroid Damocles reaches its aphelion (farthest point from the Sun)…this is a picture perfect picture of the courtier’s fantasy of what being king must be like. Symbolic of inspirational motivation, Neptune is right out there, just beyond Damocles’ reach as he keeps telling himself “I could do that! I’d be a terrific king!’

We all second-guess others. And since there’s a Neptune and Damocles in each of our charts, that’s to be expected. By sign, by house, by aspect, they probably describe how and who we second guess. And sometimes it’s that very ability to imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes or imagine the solution which motivates (Mars) us to figure out how to grow (Jupiter) into the job and earn the (Saturn) right to set the pace, and change things (Uranus) for the better. So that it becomes more like that Neptunian ideal just like we saw in our (Neptune) imagination.

In the myth, Damocles’ grumblings are heard by Ye Kingly Monarch. (What are courtiers for if not to rat each other out?) But said monarch being not the “off with his head!” type (or mayhap in need of amusement), Damocles gets invited to be—as the saying goes—king for a day.

And Damocles jumps at the chance, though he really has no idea what he’s getting into. This “what we face” seems to be very much the basis for asteroids in general, with the case of Damocles reminding us that asteroids are not just what we encounter but as described by their orbits, what the specific attribute in us gets shaped by as life goes along.

In this case, the moment Damocles settles his tush on the jewel-encrusted throne something tells him to look up. And there, right above his head, is a sword poised point down. Hanging by a thread, it quivers at his every word, his every move, his every breath: a brilliant metaphor for the metaphysical difference between the inner planet (personal world of Sun-Mercury-Venus-Earth/Moon-Mars) and worldly/public arenas symbolized by everything from Jupiter out.

Sword of Damocles, Richart Westall, 1812

Sword of Damocles, Richart Westall, 1812

And it’s the big giant gap between Mars and Jupiter (the distance between them is nearly four times the distance from Sun to planet Earth) which may be our hardest leap. Making that leap—or refusing to make it—describes how well we actually grow up. Our willingness to tackle making ourselves into what we want to be. The taking on of tasks to contribute to society or our planet, the doing what needs doing to care for a family…all such things require us to move outside our native comfort zone. In other words, we have to risk.

As for Damocles, he gets the point (so to speak!). And like the path of a returning asteroid he steps back into his role as courtier with greater humility (Neptune) born of having seen the greater perspective beyond self (Uranus) through which he’s recognized the reality of responsibilities (Saturn) he hadn’t really ever understood (Jupiter), grateful not to have a life where everything’s literally a matter of life and death.

Interestingly, Damocles’ 40.74 year orbit syncs with the “mid-life crisis” and changes we see in people at about age 81: at the end of each cycle, some of us give up on responsibilities. Others see the “knife edge” of necessity all the more keenly and from there go on to inspire and educate others who may have not yet learned their lessons. Some of the Damocledian options probably depend on which end of the orbit you “live” at—the personal or world-societal. But either can be good—it depends on whether we’re just looking to please ourselves and impose our will on others or whether we’re a true participant in (and willing to learn from) something greater than ourselves.

Leaving that aside, on to Typhon the mythic “monster.” Son of Gaea (Earth) and Tartarus (who due to Sisyphus we already know as Greek Hell), Typhon is easily seen as any natural force which embodies “hell on earth”: hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes, plagues, tsunamis, floods, tornadoes, etc. But since Greek mythology is also about human archetypes, Typhon is also that quality as embodied in our lives—the natural “personal” disasters: death, trauma, crippling illness, violence, accidents, etc.

In the story, mother Earth (Gaea) wants Typhon to free the Titans. Who are said Titans? The Titans are all things primitive, primal, instinctual. “Titanic” forces ruled our world long before humans arrived, carving the land—and the human character which then became civilized through inventing and adopting social systems. All the primal instincts still exist—though buried and held in check.

And that’s just what this Typhon myth is about. Gaea isn’t just “Earth” as in planet, but earthen—as in “of the earth”—humankind. You know, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Metaphysically and astrologically, we humans are earth/Earth. So when Gaea asks Typhon to release the Titans, that’s our base, biological (earthy) nature demanding that we free our primal and primitive self through embodying “hell on earth.”

Plus this isn’t uni-directional—hardly anything metaphysical is. So this also concerns how we respond at a primal and primitive level when what we conceive of as “hell on earth” confronts us.

Again, it’s all in how you deal with it. Some “hellish” things we get through and benefit by hugely. Floods ravage, but also nourish the land. Without primal nature, life on Earth would be limited by barrenness. The problem is thus living with these instincts: such things cannot be controlled. It’s thus up to us to make our peace with them as participants in this world and life.

Astronomically, Typhon’s home is in the far-away Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune, which makes it quite reasonable that its myth is so universal, basic and in a strange way “non-personal” when compared to that of Sisyphus or Damocles. Each story reflects the object’s celestial orbit.

Classified as a Centaur (a Kuiper Belt object forced by Neptune’s resonance into an orbit which throws it in towards Jupiter), Typhon is one of the many Scattered Disc Objects (SDOs). And since SDO’s are icy bodies typified by large oblong orbits and “eccentric inclinations,” that fits Typhon to a “t.” Typhon is the cosmic, karmic symbol of that which peels back our civilized façade, revealing our primal nature as well as the experience of having such forces thrust upon us.

Considering we each have a chart, and each natal chart contains Typhon, by sign, aspect and house (etcetera) we are able to see how and where we will act as agent for these kind of energies and where (or how) situations will confront us with same. With an orbit which takes 230.69 years, Typhon is another object no one (at this point) will live to see through an entire cycle. Currently in Virgo, the shape of Typhon’s orbit has it moving through the zodiac at a particularly “fast” clip. Virgo’s native association with health, work, service, methodology, responsibility, manners, taking into account how you affect others—the general need/ability/desire to get stuff done and/or stick to personal, moral, physical and ethical standards suggests that these things are being “threatened” and feeling “under attack.”

But are they? Or is that our perception? And if (or to the extent) they are, is that coming from within or being thrust upon us? Is it about our attempting to control the world, or are we acting as Hell Incarnate on this Earth? Given that Typhon’s orbit comes to just “inside” the outer point (aphelion) of Chiron’s orbit where that crosses the innermost point (perihelion) of Uranus’ orbit, maybe that’s really the conceptual  point.

Uranus’ polarity is discovery versus disruption. Or innovation which creates/enhances a free-working universal system/group/concept/standard without the imposition which in such a process would amount to anarchy, tyranny or exclusion.

As for Chiron, Chiron’s another centaur. Metaphysically, all centaurs present questions about how well we integrate our “animalistic” and “higher” (intellectual) side. And how such challenges get set off, compromised, or even defeated in the course of life or personal interactions. Chiron’s specific centaur “take” on same focuses on our ability to “break away from the pack” and/or “walk a path less traveled” while becoming healed and providing healing along the way.

So Typhon, this energy which threatens our societal veneer, comes closest (most apparent) to us just where our Uranian relationship with change/discovery is also most apparent. But at the same time, Typhon energy is also closest and most apparent where our ability to integrate our animal/intellectual selves and walk our personal path, healing ourselves and others, is farthest from us. This suggests that even through the most terrible situation, some good can come. You know, the “everything happens for a reason” theory.

This also suggests that—since Uranus is well known astrologically as a force which will occasionally force us to at least redecorate our rut!—primal forces exist because growth doesn’t always come easy. Humans like to control change—but we don’t own or run existence. And maybe that’s good, whether you’re a metaphysical type, a science type, a sociological type, a religious type or any other kind of “type,” reality-life-existence extends so far beyond anything we can actually comprehend as to make it a pretty good idea to put none of us humans actually In Charge.

As Typhon completes its move through Virgo (which it will exit on November 8, 2010), its function, which is to provoke and evoke primal feelings, is going to get still more intense. One Typhon cycle ago the United States was in the throes of being birthed—1780 is the middle of the American Revolution. It wasn’t quiet then, and it’s not quiet now. But just as in the story, we’ll survive. In the myth, Jupiter (knowledge, justice, applied understanding) not only maintains confinement of Titan(ic) forces but defeats Typhon. And in imprisoning Typhon under Sicily’s Mount Etna, he takes that which could be bad and turns it to a form of good: Mount Etna, though one of the world’s most active volcanoes, does little damage and indeed much good, enriching the soil from which come food and human nourishment.

The suggestion is thus that there’s a way to acknowledge and harness our primal needs, instincts and the situations which evoke same. We have to deal with encounters with hellishness, and with being our own “hell on earth.” We can’t evade or avoid. Nor can we just set it all free without limits, either. Not if we want to end up enriched, living a fertile life, that is.

All this is to say that whether we’re looking at our inner life, our societal life, or our life as a part of existence, some of the biggest challenges lie not with others or in what comes to us, but in how we react to it. We can just try to make everything suit our preconceived notions. Or we can require of ourselves to see life through a bigger lens. These choices are those which in the end determine not just who we are in the world, but who we are in our own eyes.

So if you ever do come across a law firm called Typhon, Damocles & Sisyphus, don’t write them off. But just to be safe—get a few recommendations.

You just never know.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Robyn April 8, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Hi, Boots

Charmingly written and wisely perceived, as usual. I so appreciate the educational weaving in you do of other planets/etc meaning in your essays. Thanks again!
Robyn

Boots April 8, 2010 at 7:46 pm

Hi, Robyn,

Thank you so much! It’s comments like yours which keep ink flowing (such as it is…!) in my computerized digital pen!

Boots

T April 27, 2010 at 3:40 pm

Loved this – very interesting and informative. I can definitely see how these entities manifest in my life and how they did at the time I was born. Thanks so much – as always, great read.

Diana Shaw January 21, 2014 at 3:18 pm

Because my pr. Asc. is in Scorpio, about to square natal Pluto, I thought I’d do some research to see if any other interesting placements are adding to the current…uhm…atmosphere. Anyway, I discovered that natal Sisyphus is conjunct my natal Pluto…now about to be squared by my pr. Asc. This excellent essay has really been enlightening. After some soul searching, I can’t say that I perceive myself as a type who takes advantage of anyone, however, perhaps, since Pluto resides in my 11th house, the ruthless connections I’ve made in the corporate work place, and the bidding I’ve done on their behalf as an employee, fills the bill. Anyway, the essay has inspired me to be extra careful about the friends I make in the next year! And, thank you again for posting such excellent work.

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