I have, beside my bed, a most delicious and strange book. It’s so rich and peculiar that I have found I can only dip into it one story at a time. Yet it is so delightful that I keep it there to pick up every now and then so that I can take my mind far, far away — to another universe in fact.
If you have even the vaguest passing interest in astrology, you should read The Book of Heaven by Patricia Storace. It’s premise is one that you will appreciate.
With Mercury Rx in Virgo, I am looking at the pile of books on my nightstand.
What if, instead of the Lion, the Twins and the Scales, we had the Cauldron, the Knife and the Lovers’ Cluster? What would the world be like if our constellations told different stories? What could our mythology be like?
Published in 2014, this is a book for the decade of Neptune in Pisces: it takes your imagination and stretches it as far as it will go.
“Heaven…is infinite in a different way, endlessly reconceiving itself as the ocean does. In Heaven, the equinoxes shift; even the pole star changes places, changing what we trust and rely on, believe, what we are sure we know…
“We can never stop searching for Heaven, since there is always more of it than we can see.. There, as in those tales that evolve endlessly into other tales, stories have no end. They are hardly ever the stories you know, the official ones, in which wishes are made formal… They are more often the stories we didn’t hear, or wouldn’t believe, told by the person we ignored, the house that was razed, the choir of dry bones. The scholars of Heaven read and study the vast collection of ashes, books from the torched libraries…”
The Book of Heaven is a slow read: the prose is dense, poetic, hard. It’s like chewing through a piece of fruit and nut studded nougat. But the reward is tremendous.
There are four sections which tell the tales of four constellations: the Knife, the Cauldron, the Lover’s Cluster, and the Paradise Nebula.
“The world was created with a knife and a prayer. The knife you can see well, especially in the late summer nights. Look up after dark; you will see its green jade hilt, the sickle of brilliants that forms the curve of the scimitar’s blade, and the field of red stars sprayed around it, the drops of blood. It forms the topmost section of the constellation called the Murder, though decrees have been issued, as yet with no success, to change its name by compulsion to the Sacrifice.”
“The Paradise Nebula … is a constellation that disappears and reappears, as the generations orbit through the ages. If you live at the wrong moment, or on the wrong fragment of earth, you will not see the stars of fortune. They change position; they change eras; and their outline is so distinctive, that the entire cluster of stars seems, paradoxically, an illusion.”
These stories are reminiscent of tales from the Old Testament — a character called Souraya is similar to Sarah, but they are not retellings. The Old Testament is just the doorway through which Storace steps. The mythology she creates is centred on female experience — in opposition to the Old Testament, perhaps.
Storace’s storytelling sets one thinking too. Myths form the foundations of our storytelling. From Greece to Egypt to India to Ghana and Mexico, few are told from a female perspective — with some outstanding exceptions of course, such as Inanna’s Descent. In particular, we astrologers rely on Greece and Rome, and although there are strong female characters involved, we should ask ourselves about the point of view from which these stories are told. What is more, one issue we all have with our understanding of the planets is the perceived gender bias of the Solar System. Male: the Sun, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Pluto, Uranus. Female: the Moon, Venus. This is not a reflection of the world we live in. Thank the goddess for the asteroids! And I think many of us would query the idea of masculine/feminine when it comes to the planets anyway.
Storace, whose ability to draw you into another world is almost uncanny, has a similar chart to Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall. She has the same Cancer Sun conjunct Uranus — the Time Machine. (And so does Meryl Streep.)