Sidereal Harmony: Relating the Circle of Fifths to the Wheel of the Zodiac by Michael Bank
Less of a book, this 29 page pamphlet aimed at those with either no music theory or astrological knowledge, provides a framework for linking the 12 note chromatic scale in Western music with the 12 sign Zodiac in five chapters. Whilst the logic cannot be refuted, as an astrologer I have serious philosophical objections that made it difficult to remain unbiased and objective.
Remaining within the seven planet solar system of the pre-Enlightenment era, the author’s rational in using this system is due to the formalisation of musical harmony during this epoch as he searches for a reason as to why the language of the modes of the major scales have been so consistently articulated in the way they have been by many musicologists. And to be fair, he succeeds. For those without an astrological knowledge, or indeed an understanding of basic music theory, the reader cannot refute the claims made and the parallels drawn.
My personal and professional objections lies within the astrology and the issue that a sign is not a planet; a planet is a multi-dimensional holon within the cosmos; and a planet is not solely defined by Grecian mythology. Citing poet, note not an astrologer, John Gower’s Confessio Amantis, the astrology is thoroughly medieval and Hellenistic. The astrology is classically dour and binary and whilst the text focuses almost exclusively on the qualities of the planets, it makes the same mistake that astrologers have done through the ages – correlating the signs with the ruling planets. The author is very likely not an astrologer and can be forgiven for that, but as an astrologer I cannot overlook it.
That said, it is a well written book that clearly links why musicologists have associated Ab with being mournful and F# triumphant (herein I refer to the logic of associating the depressing melancholy of the cruel, cold Saturnine complexion juxtaposes the Martian glee at victory of war). But, and this is a big BUT, a sign is not a planet. They are two separate issues, blurred by the abstraction that is the ruling planets, created by a Northern hemispheric generation obsessed with seeking order and logic in all things created by the Demiurge. Within this association, Capricorn, or Db, is malicious and cruel, whilst Aquarius, or Ab, is cold and mournful. This is clearly related to the planetary ruler and not the nature of Cardinal Earth or Fixed Air, which is the true meaning of the sign.
These correlations tiringly fill our literature and have inspired countless unthinking artists and astrologers to repeatedly regurgitate such fatalistic and negative associations, unwittingly glorifying the yang qualities, whilst demonising the Yin. Has the Sun no other attributes other than to be imperious? Is Mars’ sole function to fuck and kill? Is Mercury merely the trickster, Jupiter to live as a libertine, romping his way along the keys? What about the arrogance and bombast of the Sun, or the hunger to create with Mars; what about the licentious of Venus and the Nature-wisdom of Saturn?
Keeping close to the planetary interpretations from mythology, it is easy to understand why evil Saturn has been banished from the majesty of the light (white) keys, the purity of Diana, the Moon, has been associated with the simple and straight forward C-major scale, or the key of love is Eb, given the correlations with Taurus and Venus. Moreover, the author makes a case for why the tritones are so dissonant, linking Mars ( F#) with the Moon (C) and the Malefics D and Ab with Mars and Saturn. From the medieval perspective it makes perfect sense.
But we no longer live within a solar system defined by the Seven. We no longer live in a Northern Hemispheric, agriculturally orientated world view. We have expanded our cosmic consciousness to include other consciousness categories and therefore either the Saturnine bound musical theory needs to shift or we need to find ways of accounting for the expanded world within this Saturnine realm. If the signs are not the planets, where shall we place them, as it is obvious to the medievalist that they are the same, and therefore the logic is impeccable – 12 signs, 12 western notes; 7 planets, 7 modes/ moods. But what of the outers? What about the bridging planetoids/ cometoids (Ceres/ Chiron/ Nessus/ Pholus)? What about the realm beyond the signs – the fixed stars? All are relevant and have meaning within the psyche, but they remain unaccounted for within the musical tradition…