Time Devours his Children
This article will be published in the next issue of Infinity Astrological Magazine.
“By Saturn they seek to represent that power which maintains the cyclic course of times and seasons. This is the sense that the Greek name of that god bears, for he is called Cronus, which is the same as Chronos or Time. Saturn for his part got his name because he was “sated” with years; the story that he regularly devoured his own children is explained by the fact that time devours the courses of the seasons, and gorges itself “insatiably” on the years that are past. Saturn was enchained by Jupiter to ensure that his circuits did not get out of control, and to constrain him with the bonds of the stars.” — Quintus Lucilius Balbus as recorded by Marcus Tullius Cicero and translated by P.G. Walsh, De Natura Deorum (On the Nature of the Gods), Book II, Part ii, Section c
It is a truism that as one gets older, time accelerates. Months begin to pass like weeks, and then decades like years. The more things stay the same, the faster time moves. When one day is much like the next, then one year is like the next.
But sometimes we are at a critical moment in our lives. Perhaps we’ve travelled somewhere fabulous, or fallen in love, or experienced a tragedy. Suddenly each tremulous moment is infinite. The minutes and seconds thicken with meaning. The first year of a child’s life is etched on most parents’ memories. The first smile, the first laugh, the first grasp, the first crawl, the first step. Or when a person dies, the last visit, the last words, the last look become expanded moments, flush with power, and then in the days after death moments can become imbued with power and signficance.
When you look back at your life, it’s those crazy accidents, those births and deaths, those firsts that stick long in the memory, when time slowed down. We try to create these days by organising weddings and funerals, taking holidays. Some lives turn into a pearly necklace of those days connected by flaccid string.
Doing new things, going new places, reading new books, meeting new people: these slow down time. It can become an addiction.
On the other hand, the days, whether of drudgery or contentment, which melt one into another, blend into one long day. Brushing your teeth in the morning, the commute to work, the desk, the computer, the jokes, the kettle, the sandwich, the return home… One day much like another. A year could be five years — and suddenly you’re older.
But there’s more than comfort or tedium in the familiar. Doing old things, seeing familiar faces, rereading a beloved book: these things take us into infinite time, and they take us back in time too, so that time itself opens out of the present and into the past.
“In a certain sense the past is far more real, or at any rate more stable, more resilient than the present. The present slips and vanishes like sand between the fingers, acquiring material weight, only in its recollection.” ― Andrei Tarkovsky
Beloved, familiar faces take on layers of meaning. We look at a friend and see her as a 12-year-old, a 24-year-old, a young mother, a grandmother, all in the same face. Even the faces of more distant acquaintances, or film stars for example, gain layers of meaning for us as they age. You look at the craggy face of Clint Eastwood and see the Good, and Play Misty for Me and “make my day, punk”, all at once. And then your own memories come flooding back — who you were with and whether it was at the fleapit in Portobello Road and whether you were wearing platform sandals or ballet shoes. The other day I saw a spaghetti western called Django, and realised I’d last seen it at the age of six or seven. Memories came flooding back of an outdoor cinema in Cairo.
Memories evolve as you grow. And as you shape the narrative of your own memories, your identity is shaped too, because we are our memories.
But memories aren’t static either. You can lose your memory. Over time, secrets can emerge. Sometimes, you meet a different witness to your own past, who adds a detail that changes the colour of everything, makes you understand what was going on from a different point of view.
Lawrence Durrell’s series of novels Alexandria Quartet tells the same story from four different points of view. Durrell had a Pisces Sun on the IC, the seat of memory, and Neptune (art and imagination) in Cancer, the sign of memory. That was a talented generation born at the dawn of the 20th century.
Astrology, of course, recognises that time is not a simple steady tick-tock. Sometimes time is fast, like the Moon and Mercury, and sometimes it’s slow, like the outer planets. And in each sign the planets dance a different dance. Does Venus do the tango in Scorpio and a waltz in Taurus? In each of us, the multiplicity of planets sway to their different tempos, keeping time with the universe.
This article will be published in the upcoming issue of Infinity Astrological Magazine.