Of Time and Tide, and the Flowering at the Flood
by John Townley
As this oft-quoted passage relates, it's generally agreed that there's a time in life to get into the action, and that's when the action's afoot. Strike while the iron is hot. A rising tide floats all boats. Climb on the bandwagon before it passes you by. Get on the train before it pulls out of the station. There is an urgency to move when all else is in motion and new things are beginning — literally, a tidal call from Nature to get into the act while there is one.
Astrologers love this quote, because astrology is so much about following the portents, with an eye on the heavens, catching the astral weather at its best. It's the kind of advice we're all about, and we wax particularly Shakespearian when we're talking about cycles and returns, the astrological "tide markers." But we too freely mix up time markers (cycles) with tides (the times and spaces around cycle peaks), and returns (beginning spaces) as if they were interchangeable members of the same family, when they are in fact each distinct situations with separate descriptions and applications. To be trite but more to the point: they may all be fruits, but they're apples and oranges, so don't put them in the same crate. So in the interest of better packaging, here are some more delineated (and hopefully decorative) crate labels for shipping:
Cycles: the Hands of Time
In astrology, like all else, everything is encompassed by time and space. Time itself is measured in regular, repeated happenings, by definition. One orbit of the earth = one year, one solar cycle. One orbit of the Moon = one lunar month, or lunar cycle. These, translated to the hands of a clock, are how we tell time. Then, by observation, we begin to notice that it gets hot around the time the hour hand reaches noon (but not always, sometimes later, sometimes not at all if it's raining). Or, at around six PM it generally starts to get dark - but earlier in winter, later in summer, not at all if we turn the lights on. Thus is born our penchant for making predictions based on cycles. Astrologers extend it to Mars cycles, Jupiter cycles, Saturn cycles, and so on - all of which we associate with certain kinds of trends that seem to occur in sync with the planets. It's not an exact science, but it works well enough to know when to wake up, seek shade, plan for dinner, and in a broader way plan our lives long-term.
From Ebb to Flood: Tides and Opportunity
Each cycle seems to bear periods of opportunity and periods of quiescence, and these are the divisions of the tides. In the case of the Moon, they're obvious, and they lend the metaphor Shakespeare used so well. The flood tide brings opportunity, the ebb tide, shallows and miseries. A seafaring nation like England knew exactly what he meant. When the tide is at flood - which is just before, during, and directly after high tide - there is plenty of water to go around and plenty of commerce to be done in it. Ships come in with their cargoes, expeditions leave for foreign lands, money changes hands, everything is in action, turnover abounds. This effect goes right down to the level of shellfish opening and feeding, fish crowding in to feast on stirred-up water vegetation and micro-creatures, birds swooping down on the schooling fish. At the ebb tide (just before, during, and after low tide), boats lie grounded on the beach, occasional birds peck about at the shore, and shellfish slumber beneath the sand. All is shallows, and if it's action you're after, miseries. But hey, we all need rest sometime.
Lunar tides come twice a day, high when the Moon is overhead (major) and directly below (minor), low when it is rising and setting. That's mainly in the Atlantic Ocean, however. In many other places there is only one tide a day, depending on the breadth and shape of the sea. But in either case, the timekeeping semi-diurnal cycle of the Moon is surrounded by areas of opportunity or rest reflected by the direct gravitational pull of our companion satellite. When the Sun joins in at new or full Moons (the Sun has only one-third the pull of the Moon, so it acts more as a reinforcer or a spoiler of tides), the game gets even more intense. At first and third quarters, when the solunar pulls are out of sync, neither high nor low are so heavily pronounced.
So tides may be looked at as a broad result of cycles, and not cycles of themselves. And, the concept of tides may be extended to other planets as well. As the Mars cycle peaks for an individual, around the time Mars returns to its natal place, the internal tides of energy open up possibilities for effort that might not have been available a few months previous or following. And, perhaps, there is a reciprocal tide at the Mars opposition, with energy ebbs at the squares. The same may be said for Jupiter and Saturn, and you might even consider the combination of the two (often associated together with business and social change) as being the planetary version of the Sun and Moon, creating not only regular individual tides, but combined spring and neap tides as well.
However you apply the metaphor, tides are about segments of time and space taken together that provide relative activity or quietude.
The Flowering at the Flood: The Return Chart
At the very peak of a cycle, however, comes an instant within time that describes a special space, and a space only: the return chart. This spatial slice of time describes the circumstances at which the height of the cycle is reached and life plunges down into the next go-round. It reaches out into space to depict the supporting and debilitating factors that will paint the picture of the potential of the coming set of tides. It can tell you if you'll be coming on strong (in the area of the return planet's concern) or if you'll be hamstrung by interfering factors. To use another ocean metaphor, it's like a diver coming up for air at the surface. If it's calm, the sea is clear, and the current is running with you, you get a clean, invigorating deep breath that propels you ever farther into your next effort. If you surface in a stormy sea under a clump of unexpected seaweed, you don't get much air, lose your rhythm, and you're efforts are compromised until the next time you come up for a breath.
Whether it's a solar return, lunar return, or a planetary return (most astrologers pay rather little attention to planetary return charts, I'm afraid), the approach is the same. You have a chart of the circumstances surrounding the height of the flood tide that let you know just what kind of fortunes are available. It is the flowering of the preceding cycle and the germination of the next, all in one.
Together, cycles, tides, and returns make up three individual crates that encase the ripening fruits of opportunity. Open individually, combine carefully, then set your table accordingly.