The Poetics of Prophecy
A relational astrology manifesto
This essay is a heavy reworking of something I’ve been working on since last year.
I believe astrology can be practiced in this relational way. Though I began it before I learned this term, I feel it flows in perfectly to the concept of relational astrology, a term created by Michael J. Morris, Pallas Augustine and Diana Rose Harper.
Chloe Margherita @psychic_nonnarelational astrology is all about the world reaching back; we don’t live in a cold, dead universe but one that listens and speaks
This writing is my own current relationship to this idea, which is intimately related to my concept of art-making and self-making. It is how I approach my astrology practice in private, in consults, in my writing, etc.
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If you read the following and find my style of poetic, prophetic friendship with the universe to resonate with you, then I am your diviner.
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Since I was young, I have been drawn to the possibility of prophecy. By “prophecy,” I gesture towards its original meaning— from the Greek prophēteia, meaning "gift of interpreting the will of the gods,"—and by gods I mean eternal laws— I mean spirit guides and daimons— I mean the 7 visible planets, and their corresponding deities— I mean the way the wind blows when you’re sitting outside and have a jolt of insight— and then you look up and the wind moves the grass towards you—
When I was young, I was content to simply witness the divine in the form of a certain glimmering in the air. But as I got older, I sought to study prophecy and understand it with my mind— I tried to find the truth in the center of my numinous experiences— a sort of rosetta stone that could translate the essence into reason or understanding for myself, my world, everything in between— but each potential road to this core— writing, relationship, spirituality, divination— just led to more holes.
This essay is an exploration of those holes. I want to talk about how prophecy, while being about epistemology— or knowledge— in some way— cannot be understood solely with the mind. It must take into account the vastness of the world and our inability to truly understand the whole. Part of this is because prophecy is relational, requiring our active engagement and living into the prediction to activate and guide its outcome. It’s not a way of dominating or being dominated by the world, but instead a way to see prophecy as a form of friendship with both the universe and yourself.
According to the Heart Sutra— also known as the “Heart of Great Perfect Wisdom Sutra,”— a name I love for its excess, like water pouring from the mouth of a river— “The Heart Sutra” is a cornerstone text in all branches of Buddhism, one I chanted every morning when I lived in a Zen monastery— according to the sutra Avalokiteshvara— the Bodhisattva of compassion— meditated and clearly saw that the whole world is “empty and thus relieved all suffering”—As it goes on, you see the whole chant is one of negation—“no eyes, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind, no sight, no sound”—.
Yet here I am, breathing in with my nose and watching letters fill my screen. When they are speaking of emptiness, they do not only mean void— the word my teachers gave was “potential”. Everything is shifting, particles moving, nothing staying still. And that’s what I mean by holes— there is really no center. Look inside and ask yourself: what inside me can I point to as “me”? Is it my heart? My stomach? My hands? My cultural contexts will tell me to locate myself in my head but there is nothing inherent about this wet grey matter in my skull that is more uniquely “Chloe” than the rest of me. Where is the soul located? I advise you to genuinely ask yourselves these questions and then just sit with them.
Through engagement with emptiness, we can engage with life as it is— remember that the realization of emptiness— according to the “Heart Sutra”— “relieved all suffering”. The path to relieving suffering then, is to realize nothing is bolted down. The nature of all the universe is flux. Even prophecy, then, the very will of the gods, is bounded within our contexts, and all the thoughts we aggregate around them, as well as the limits of our lives. But by paying attention to our worlds and our minds, we can be flexible too. Brad Warner also points out that this shape-shifting quality of emptiness means our knowledge of the world can never be complete:
Emptiness in Buddhist terms doesn’t mean nothingness. It means that every single thing we encounter — including ourselves — goes beyond our ability to conceive of it. We call it emptiness because nothing can ever explain it. Reality itself is emptiness because we can’t possibly fit it into our minds (emphasis mine).
We are never grasping the full, objective “truth” of the universe; even when we divine we are only getting a tiny piece of the whole picture, one that is special not because it is true but because we paid attention to it.
I believe poetry can help us understand prophecy better.
Why is prophecy like poetry? Because what they both lack in clarity they make up for in feeling— in being lived in. Because— as I will argue here— they are by-products of connection to the ever-changing emptiness as well as to ourselves. If anything, their lack of Pure Truth is part of their power.
I now shift scenes to Ancient Greece. According to Rollo May, “The divinations of the priestess [at Delphi]”— living and worshipping at the Temple of Apollo, the most highly regarded and authoritative oracle between 8th and 4th century BC Greece— the prophecies of the Oracle were generally couched in poetry and were often uttered “in wild, onomatopoeic cries as well as articulate speech, and this ‘raw material’ certainly had to be interpreted and worked over” (emphasis mine) in order to be understood.
Interpretation of the raw experience— our participation, in other words— was required even as this participation filters and alters the original message— prophecy invites subjectivity— adulteration— which can also describe poetry— always more of a dream logic than a factual description of what happened— and yet it is still accurate to call it “news that stays news” (Pound).
Perhaps that is why so few people read poetry anymore— because we read the same poets in school— Petrarch, Tennyson, Shakespeare, Eliot— and are only told the established meaning of their work instead of invited into it— when poetry is a space to be entered— like a derive1 through a city, winding our own way— thus creating our own meaning— because poetry asks for our feelings and understanding to be created along with it— its own meaning is contingent upon our entering—it moves beyond mere entertainment and spectatorship— the predictions of the Delphic priestesses, May goes on, “were not to be received passively; the recipients had to “‘live’ themselves into the message”— enter and be changed, in other words.
Prophecy give us a way to befriend the world. This idea reminds me of Joshua Beckman’s speech on poetry and the concept of friendship. “I feel the poem unrestrained,” Beckman describes to us in fragments, “at its core an exposure of unknowing— complex and unanswered… the freedom that is friendship...that allows the friend, unrestrained, to speak— and to be heard— not immediately designated or judged— but encountered...some ecstatic circuit’s been joined— and that’s how friendship feels”. Friendship is space. Friendship is being curious enough to drop your preconceptions to truly let the other speak. Is not prophecy the ability to drop the barriers of our minds, the idea that we can figure everything out ourselves, and allow the divine to speak back, to be encountered without judgment?
Taking after Emerson, Beckman calls friendship a “masterpiece,” but one that is “always in flux— temporary” and “can only be recognized fully from the inside”. Even someone from the inside can’t pin it down— can find no unchanging center. But connection is what’s important, not just knowing. Once you decide you know all there is to someone or something, you stop paying attention. Prophecy can only happen in the present, and only when we let ourselves be changed, or recognize that it is so.
This friendly encounter allows our sense of self to shift— to “a sense of self that feels outside of myself,” — which reminds me of the etymology of enthusiasm— “entheos: ‘divinely inspired, possessed by a god,’”— literally meaning “in god”— there is a connotation of both union and happiness— perhaps a joy in connecting with the more-than-human, like meeting a new friend.
Richard Tarnas describes astrological predictions as archetypal— “timeless universals that serve as the fundamental reality informing every concrete particular”— but how these timeless universals manifest on earth is “dynamically indeterminate, open to inflection by many...deeply malleable, evolving” — there is no way to touch pure Venus, for example, but you can see shades of her in a rose, a nice pastry eaten slowly, an ornate incense holder, the curve of skin rising from bedsheets— but scarcely have all the Venusian things, moments and people in the world been born. No one will ever reach the core of Venus, nor will they be able to consider all the potentials of a certain transit until it happens. That dance with the unknown means prophecy does not speak in hard truths and can also be shaped by us.
An astrologer may tell you, for example, a good time for love. But you must still go on a date, or reach out to you crush— even make an offering to Venus— for the prophecy to be fulfilled.
There is no guarantee of anything without our participation— we are filling the malleable archetype with our particularities— our desires and actions— and even then control is a myth— outcomes essentially unknowable and strange. But belief and thought can be its own weird magic.
So know that when I say prophecy all I really mean is connection— ever-flowing, mysterious, spacious, kind— true meeting. Live by that and you are never finished, never alone, whole and complete exactly as you are.
- “The Courage to Create,” Rollo May
- “The Heart of Great Perfect Wisdom Sutra”
- “Three Talks,” Joshua Beckman
- “Cosmos and Psyche,” Richard Tarnas