The title of this newsletter is from William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar.
Traditionally comets in astrology have been linked to disasters or the death of kings but this is a concept that is worth unpacking.
There seem to be only a few references to comets found in the translations from the Mesopotamian astrologer priests to their kings. This is not what one would expect, as comets are reasonably frequent. Indeed since the year 1800, a period considered to be quiet for comets, we have had over forty bright comets slashing through the starry sky. So either the Mesopotamian astrologers were not concerned by these “hairy stars” (the Greek word is Kometes which means hairy) or those particular letters have simply not yet been translated or found. However, Herman Hunger gives us one letter from the Babylonian priest Asaredu the Younger written around 671 BCE. Asaredu was referring to a comet which became visible at the time when Jupiter made its last appearance in the night sky and he wrote:
If] a comet [becomes visible in the path
of the stars of] Anu: [fall of Elam. Its] people
[……] will be confused [……] city with city
[……] brother will kill brother [……I the
king of Elam [……] his days are near (to their
Asaredu’s letter shows us that by the 7th century BCE comets were already harbingers of woes and troubles and considered heralds of the death of a king.
This view was highlighted when a comet appeared in 44 BCE after the death of Julius Caesar and then reinforced in 79 CE when a comet appeared and was considered to be a warning of the death of the Emperor Vesparian who dismissed the omen as he was bald: “This hairy star does not concern me; it menaces the King of the Parthians for he is hairy and I am bald” . Vesparian did, however, die later in that year. Indeed people’s belief in linking comets to the death of kings was so strong that many were surprised when no comet appeared in 814 after the death of Charlemagne.
But, as I have indicated, comets are not that rare and since 1950 we have had at least twelve comets all visible to the naked eye. The following is the list of bright comets in the recent past.
|Visible comets since 1950||Period of visibility|
|2002 Ikeya-Zhang||Visible to the unaided eye in March and April – cut between Venus and Mars.|
|1996 Hyakutake||Observed with the unaided eye from early March until early June.|
|1995 Hale-Bopp||Visible with the unaided eye from July 1996 to October 1997.|
|1975 West||Followed with the naked eye from late February until mid-April.|
|1973 Kohoutek||Period of naked-eye visibility spanned the end of November until late January.|
|1970 White-Ortiz-Bolelli||Seen visually only from the 18th May until the first week of June.|
|1969 Bennett||Under observation with the naked eye from February until mid-May.|
|1965 Ikeya-Seki||Observable with the unaided eye from early October until mid-November – The most brilliant comet of the 20th Century.|
|1962 Seki-Lines||A naked-eye object from late February through to the end of April.|
|1961 Wilson – Hubbard||Visible to the unaided eye only between 23rd July and the first days of August.|
|1957 Mrkos||Followed with the unaided eye from 29th July until the end of September.|
|1956 Arend-Roland||Naked-eye visibility extended from mid-March until mid-May.|
So given that the above twelve comets have not all been associated with the death of kings, we can probably place little store in this ancient thinking. However, this is not the end of the argument.
It has been a long time since we have had a comet which passed seriously close to the earth. Irish scholars McCafferty and Baille , basing their findings on dendrochronology (dating climate change via tree rings) and mythology, argue that the earth has experienced close comets and that some of these close comets were recorded in Irish mythology. They put forward a strong argument that the god Lugh, (whose name means light) – iIn Welsh mythology he is known as Llew, and in English mythology he is King Lear – was just such a comet.
Left: Two version of Lugh: A flaming
sword and right, a more ancient image showing his solar disk.
In the early version of the mythology, Lugh is described as being as bright as the sun but not the sun. This theme of “being the sun but not the sun” is also expressed in a question in the early myths put to a Druid priest by the Irish warrior Bress who stated:
“It would seem wonderful to me that the sun should rise in the west today and in the east every other day”, said Bress to his Druids. “It would be better for us if it were so” replied the Druids, “It is the radiance of Lugh of the Long Arm”. 
McCafferty and Baille point out that a close comet can rise in the west and be as bright as the sun but would, unlike the sun, have a long arm or column. They also revisit the descriptions of mythic heroes who are full of light and fire and put forward a convincing argument linking comets in history to the description and stories of great Celtic solar heroes. Such heroes include the Irish warrior Cuchulainn as well as the legendary King Arthur and his flaming sword. Cuchulainn is linked to a comet because of his rage, flowing hair, and brightness which outshone the sun while Arthur is inked by his sword which shot flames up into the sky like a column of light, similar to Lugh.
We also have additional evidence, apart from mythology and tree rings, of such close encounters. In 2350 BCE, Chinese astronomers recorded a time when ten suns were in the sky, all shining brightly. Later in 174 BCE, Titus Livius tells us that three suns shone all at once with burning torches falling to earth; and then in 42 BCE Diodorus of Sicily reported the sun shining at night. All of these three historical reports are suggestive of comets passing close to earth.
This theme of close comets generating stories of gods is also reflected in the writings of Pliny the Elder (79 CE) . When he described eleven different types of comets based on their visual appearance, he conveyed one of these as:
A white comet with silver hair so brilliant that it could not be looked at and having the aspect of a Deity in human form.
Indeed in considering the image above (my simple attempt at reproducing a close comet), it is easy to accept that such a comet is, firstly, quite destructive and, secondly, could be seen as a deity.
Comets also come in many different shapes, not just the pencil like shape we see in images and drawings. In 200 BCE the Chinese constructed a comet atlas which was recorded on silk. This atlas shows shapes of comets varying from a swastika to shields to trees.
So I think that it is important as visual astrologers to recognize that not all comets are the same and it may well be that the messengers of doom and gloom (the traditional role of comets) can probably be more successfully associated with close comets that shower the earth with debris and/or seriously impact on climate, causing destruction or, at the very least, providing such a terrifying display of heat and light that the fabric of society is damaged.
But the comet of January 2007 (Comet McNaught), although now officially award the title of “Great”, in fact was distant and tame and has now left us for some hundreds or thousands of years. Such a comet is unlikely to herald the death of a king or other such disasters. Yet as astrologers we instinctive seek meaning in our ensouled sky. So what can visual astrology tell us about this latest comet?
It so happened that comet McNaught cut across the ecliptic at the very time that Mercury was making a reappearance in the early evening sky and in doing so, the comet was seen to split the path between Mercury to Venus, breaking the normal link between the two sky figures. On one side was Venus radiating the stars of Capricorn, which are symbolic of that great civilizing domesticating god of Ea who brings order to his people. On the other side is Mercury, a messenger seemingly returning from the underworld (see image below).
In 2002 comet Ikeya-Zhang appeared to pass between a Venus amongst the stars of Pisces, newly emerging in the evening light, and a bright Mars, low in the west and within the stars of the constellation Aries (Starlight users may wish to have a look at the western horizon of a sky map for 18th March, 2002). The events of the year 2002 were filled with the drums of war as President Bush talked of the Axis of Evil. It seemed as if the calming ability of Venus was totally cut off from the heat of Mars who was sitting above her in the sky.
Now with comet McNaught we have the calming influence of a bright Venus in the civilizing stars of Capricorn being cut off from a messenger coming from the war-like stars of the constellation Sagittarius. Venus is higher in the sky, so one tends to think that this year will be remembered as one where there were further provocative acts but finally cool heads prevailed. Maybe, just maybe, this comet is indicating that governments, in all parts of the world, will not be so quick to respond to calls for vengeance or aggression.
I think this comet is a harbinger of good news, finally breaking the link between the warrior stars of Sagittarius and the government/ruling-class/establishment stars of Capricorn with the calming effect of Capricorn or Ea prevailing.
1. Hunger, Herman. (1992). Astrological Reports to Assyrian Kings. Helsinki, Finland: Helsinki University Press. pg.194.
2. Sagan C. and Druyan, A. (1985) Comet. Michael Joseph, London: pg 25
3. McCafferty and P. Baille, M. (2005) The Celtic Gods, Comets in Irish Mythology. Tempus. London
4. Squire, C. (1912). Celtic Myth and Legend: poetry and romance. The Gresham Publishing Company. London. pg 111