Johfra Bosschart, Capricorn
A mountain goat is a very special creature to me and therefore I adore this image of Johfra, showcasing the goat in all its glory. Once I spotted a herd of them high in the mountains, once I saw them in a nature park and once in a children’s zoo, where I could observe how little goats are born climbers: they can stand immediately after being born and are able to climb very shortly after. Their instinct is to always move upwards. Symbolism is never arbitrary, but always has its roots in nature. The qualities of the animal resonate with the maturity and ambition associated with the sign Capricorn. Further, mountain goats have very flexible skeletons and their elemental quality is “surefootedness,” says Ted Andrews, who associates this particular animal totem with the need to apply flexibility while rethinking the basic structure of our lives. Inflexibility and rigidity, preserving the structure at all costs, are the more inharmonious expressions of the sign. The magnificent goat in Johfra’s painting seems to be petrified in time, like a statue: on the one hand, because it has accomplished perfection understood as perfect form, on the other hand, however, this showcases the rigidity of the sign and its leaden, heavy quality. The animal also has a thick coat, which makes it possible for the goat to survive the harshest weather conditions. The quality of endurance and, as Liz Greene puts it, “the theme of the waste land and the long wait for the redeemer in depression despair and deadness” are associated with this sign. But, like Sisyphus patiently pushing the rock upwards, the goat will not stop climbing.
Rocks are the material that makes its home. In Greek myth, rocks were the source of human life. After the deluge sent upon the earth by the angry Zeus, Deucalion – the only survivor together with his wife repopulated earth by walking and throwing stones behind themselves. Out of those stones people were formed. In Johfra’s image the little children seem to have sprung from the rock. Their spines (ruled by Capricorn) will gradually become stronger and they will be able to stand assuredly on their own two feet soon.
Also the foundation of Christian church was built on the rock, as St Peter’s name is derived from the word “petra” which means “rock.” In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus speaks to Peter: “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” The symbolism of rock and stone is very rich and we are also reminded of the philosopher’s stone sought by alchemists as the ultimate goal of their opus:
1.“The stone symbolized something permanent that can never be lost or dissolved, something eternal that some have compared to the mystical experience of God within one’s own soul…. It symbolizes what is perhaps the simplest and deepest experience, the experience of something eternal that man can have in those moments when he feels immortal and unalterable .”
Carl Gustav Jung
2. “In volcanic eruptions, air turned to fire, fire became ‘water’ and ‘water’ changed to stone; hence stone constitutes the first solid form of the creative rhythm —the sculpture of essential movement, and the petrified music of creation.”
Juan Eduardo Cirlot
Capricorn is an earth sign and the earth of Capricorn is stone (rock), while the earth of Taurus was soil, and the earth of Virgo was sand. Out of stones solid structures are built – our cities and our civilization. However, it is also interesting to see how the symbolic roots of the sign Capricorn are submerged in water. The sign itself, which Johfra chose not to show us, has always been represented as the sea-goat: a goat with the tail of the fish. Capricorn is the sign of the leader. Its tail submerged in water indicates that all power comes from the archetypal, watery dimension. A true leader has mastered the alchemical principle which said “solve et coagula” (dissolve and coagulate). Every rigid structure, every rule that has outlived its usefulness, needs to be dissolved before new order can be established (coagulated, i.e. solidified).
“…our modern Capricorn type shows the characteristic features of the sign mostly in their negative aspect. This is because humankind has not yet evolved to the point where a soundly organized society of free and creative individuals has become entirely feasible. .. To date we only know the shadowy and mostly dark aspect of the Capricorn realm – therefore we speak of the State as a coercive and inherently oppressive entity.”
Dane Rudhyar, “Zodiac as the Universal Matrix”
Our contemporary leaders have lost the connection with the watery source. Patriarchy has neglected the feminine, i.e. the sign Cancer, which is in opposition to Capricorn. They rigidly cling to power and they would have much to learn from history. Around winter solstice, ancient Romans celebrated the festival of Saturnalia (Saturn is the ruler of Capricorn). At that time social roles were reversed and slaves became masters. Such temporary anarchy prevented despotism and hardening into too rigid social structure, says Hillman. For a moment the world was allowed to step outside of time, and time is the domain of Saturn’s order.
The Babylonian deity associated with Capricorn was Ea (Enki in Sumerian mythology), depicted as the sea-goat, who was a wise and benevolent leader. He lived in the primordial fresh water ocean that surrounded the earth. That the water was fresh rather than salty shows the nurturing and civilizing quality of that god. He was a wise protector of humankind, god of magic and the one who protected humans from monsters, and who brought law and order upon the earth. A good leader needs to protect his people from the forces of chaos. That is probably why Johfra chose to depict the boy Hercules victorious over the crocodile on the left and the Apollo victorious over Python on the right. Ea was also the one who warned the wise man Utnapishtim of the deluge of the world planned by the enraged god Enlil. Utnapishtim had enough time to build a boat and survive the cataclysm. The boat carried by the ocean can be compared to the ego: a structure that we build within the vast ocean of the Jungian Self. Saturn, who is responsible for creating order, structures, and boundaries, is the ego builder. A rigid ego means death because it does not allow the waters of life to flow freely.
Let us contemplate other Capricornian paradoxes shown by Johfra in the painting. The old man (Latin senex) featured centrally is the Greek god Kronos (Roman Saturn). His sickle has dual meaning: it is an instrument of death and castration (Kronos castrated his father Uranos – the sky god) but also a harvesting tool. In myth Kronos swallowed his children which was like “the swallowing of youth by age, joy by depression, freedom by form, imagination by intellect, innocence by experience,” as Hillman puts it. To proceed, I must return to Hillman’s dichotomy of senex (old man) and puer (youth) because it matches Johfra’s vision perfectly. They personify “the poles of tradition, stasis, structure, and authority on one side, and immediacy, wandering, invention and idealism on the other. The senex consolidates, grounds and disciplines; the puer flashes with insight and thrives on fantasy and creativity.” The senex is associated with time, work, order, limits, learning, history, continuity, survival and endurance; all that is old, ordered and established. A senex quality was required to give “realization through time and dense corporality.” One always brings to mind the other and their duality is at the heart of father/son relationship and conflict. When an idea appears like a divine spark puer is there, but its maturation, perfection and harvesting is presided over by the senex. After Rhea fooled Kronos and gave him a stone to swallow instead of a baby (the stone here is symbolic of his hardened stance and heartless tyranny) she hid Zeus in the mountains where a benevolent goat Amalthea nursed and nurtured him. Her horn was later made into the Cornucopia (the horn of plenty) by Zeus. Thus, paradoxically, Capricorn is the sign of both lack and abundance. Amassing wealth can, however, lead to greed and tyranny and the cycle of established order/revolution must start anew:
“But the harvest is a hoard; the ripened end-product and in-gathering again can be dual. Under the aegis of Saturn it can show qualities of greed and tyranny, where in-gathering means holding and the pursue of miserliness, making things last through all time.”
It seems that the puer and senex cannot survive without each other. The puer breathes new life into the rigidity of the senex, nourishing him with new and fresh ideas; the senex establishes the necessary boundaries and brings ideas to fruition thanks to hard work and endurance. Says Hillman:
“As principle of coagulation and of geometrical order, it dries and orders, builds cities and mints money, makes solid and square and profitable, overcoming the dissolving wetness of soulful emotionality. The worship of flow, however, means also to be continually flowed through, provisional, suggestible, receptive to sinking into any surrounding. Now we meet another danger to puer consciousness: dissolution into water, oblivion.”
In the image puer and senex do not seem to be in conflict. The figure of the puer on the right (Johfra says he painted Apollo here) shows the wise senex reverence and even seems to worship him. Hillman reminds us that Apollo was actually a patron of youngsters entering into manhood. In a ritual of initiation young Greek boys offered their long hair to Apollo as a sign of their transition into adulthood.
The background of Johfra’s painting forms a skull (bones are ruled by Saturn in astrology) through which the Sun rises. That part of his vision is quite awe-inspiring. I would like to finish today with a beautiful passage from The Pulse of Life by Dane Rudhyar:
“In Capricorn, the Christos-seed is almost entirely unnoticeable, so completely overwhelmed is the renascent Day-force by the vast structure built by the Night-force. It is to be seen only in the heart of the Capricornian Yogi or Seer; the recluse Hermit; the lonely Wanderer on the heights of snow-covered peaks; the solitary Individual, who, after having assimilated within the strong structure of his selfhood the total contents of the Collective Unconscious has become a “womb of human totality.” In that “womb” which represents the fulfillment of an entire cycle of human expansion, he who has become a seed-man receives in utter consecration the New Life that comes from on high.
In due time the New Life always wins. The new type of human being pierces through the crust of the decaying matter of what was once the powerful State erected by Caesar, as spring impels seeds to germinate after the Piscean deluge of equinoctial storms. The Christos always wins against Caesar. The Federation of Man must win over the imperial machines erected by power-groups using Sagittarius energies — machines and propaganda, tanks and fanaticism — to crystallize their ambition. The cycle of life does not allow static fulfillment. Everything turns into its opposite. The wheel moves on everlastingly and the Day-force interplays with the Night-force in an ever-renewed drama which is life itself.”
Ted Andrews, Animal Speak
Johfra Bosschart, Astrology
Juan Eduardo Cirlot, The Dictionary of Symbols
Liz Greene, The Astrology of Fate
James Hillman, Puer and Senex, Collected Writing volume 3
Carl Gustav Jung, Man and His Symbols
Dane Rudhyar, The Pulse of Life
Dane Rudhyar, Zodiac as the Universal Matrix
Rachel Storm, The Encyclopedia of Eastern Mythology