Aprakash Grahas: The Non-Luminous Pools of Karma

The Dhooma Group: Dhooma (धूम), Vyatipata (व्यतीपात), Paridhi (परिधि), Indradhanu (इन्द्रधनु) and Upaketu (उपकेतु).

Planets in jyotish are always imagined through the lens of their numinous spiritual qualities. Without going into too much technical detail, Surya (the Sun) is the cosmic fuel that transports the atman through the many warehouses of karma on its zodiacal journey. Just as this divine point of luminosity and brilliant awareness guides the soul on its cyclical path, there is group of “non-luminous” or “non-radiant” planets (“a-prakash grahas”) that reflect partial or total unknowing – a true darkening of spirit.

These shadowy points (that are mathematically derived from the longitude of the Sun at birth) are pools of malefic karma that reflect the blind spots of the soul. Their essence is that of obscuration, just like the effect of the dreaded chaya grahas: Rahu and Ketu. When compared to the classic karakas of misfortune and fallenness like Saturn and Mars, these disembodied planets are less utilized in mainstream jyotish. The argument for this choice makes sense – why make the chart more complicated than it already is?

The tantrika is eternally wed to the bhutas and pisachas of the mind, and sees his own face in these phantasms of terror. The transpersonal potential of aprakash grahas (called the “Dhooma Group”), is, by Sage Parashara’s own admission, absolutely undeniable. In Grofian terms these dark rays of cosmic influence are the systems of condensed experience that constellate memories of present and past lifetimes flavored by the darker side of human nature. Theft, murder, self-undoing, severing of a lineage, addiction, suffering, cruelty and emptiness – among others. In this we see yet another reason for turning a blind eye to these anti-divinities, simply because not everyone is ready (or is required) to confront their meta shadow – a powerful preta that has amalgamated over uncountable lifetimes of difficult karma.

As the real jyotishi comprehends, aprakash grahas are constantly playing hide-and-seek with us, letting us know that there is much we do not know – the debris of samsara washing ashore, waiting to be perfected and transformed into pure splendor. In their unforgiving, all-absorbing ferocity, the native receives enough impetus to weather the stormy oceans of Kali Yuga and emerge victoriously from the smoke of mundane existence.

“That which is night for the unenlightened is day for the Yogi, that which is day for ordinary people is Night for the Yogic-seer.”

– Bhagavad Gita 2.69

Picture: Thai folk painting of Rahu devouring the Sun; artist unknown.

The Spiritual Alchemy of Ra’s al Ghul (Algol): Part I

The Spiritual Alchemy of Ra’s al Ghul

Were you once a woman (like me),
surprised by the knife in the back,
the rapist at the door?

Suspended in shock at
pleasure destroyed,
desire profaned?

Julie Simmons, Letter to Algol

Meeting Ra’s al Ghul

Located at 26 degrees 20 minutes of Taurus in the Tropical zodiac, Ra’s al Ghul (or Algol) is a fixed star in a binary star-system (composed of itself, i.e., Beta Persei-A, and a fainter star Beta Persei-B) that eclipses itself every 3 days for 8 hours at a time, appearing as though it vanishes on whim every now and then. On a normal night when the star is not invisible, the “blinking eye” of Algol can be witnessed without a telescope – like a stellar watchtower suspended in the heavens, vigilant and all-seeing. The ancient Arabs christened it as the most malefic star in the heavens, its name (derived from al ghoul), translating literally to “the Demon’s head”. Kings in erstwhile Babylonia would not begin battles when Ra’s al Ghul was weak (eclipsed), because their faith in Algol’s capacity for destruction was unwavering.

In subsequent iterations, we see the Hebrews calling it Rosh ha Satan (Satan’s Head), perhaps laying the foundation for the adversarial/luciferian current of this star. When the Greeks discover her, they refer to her position in the fixed stellar plane as Medusa’s severed head – the once-beautiful gorgon cursed by Athena with a gaze that could turn men into stone. Little importance is placed on the violent and traumatic antecedents of Medusa’s story, and her death at the blade of Perseus is often celebrated as a symbol of victory over our baser animal natures (interestingly embodied as a deadly woman). Abused first, cursed next and weaponized for her rage last, the gorgon’s life teaches us lessons about pain, trauma, grief, and the evil that accompanies white knights who seek to rescue the feminine from her own shadow.

Why exactly does Algol’s myth endure, and why do we have a duty to keep it alive?

The Mythology and Pathology of Algol

The slaying of Medusa is only one among several mythological narratives on the triumph over chaos that populates our collective world history. The chaoskampf motif is ubiquitous and almost self-perpetuating in nearly every culture. In the Nordic eddas we see Thor battling Jormungandr (the world serpent slumbering at the bottom of the ocean who is fated to rise at ragnarok); in ancient Mesopotamia this takes the form of the winged monster Anzu who is outwitted by the chosen hero of the old Gods, Ninurta – who later in the Babylonian Enuma Elish becomes Marduk severing the primordial mother Tiamat. In the Typhonian mysteries our hero becomes the storm-god Zeus, and in the Biblical tradition the nemesis becomes Leviathan.

Elsewhere in the far-east is the Rig Vedic Svarbhānu, an asura (a clan of beings separate from the devas), who lusts after amrita – the immortal nectar produced from the churning of the cosmic ocean, and is slain in two by Vishnu. The dragon’s head and body become the lunar nodes of the Moon, also called in Vedic astrology as Rahu and Ketu who eclipse the Sun and Moon periodically. Indra’s battle with the Vedic Ahi (snake) Vritra (the enveloper) is a clear example of the chaotic, unbounded (as the Necronomicon’s azonei) and adversarial nature of the serpent.

In the Shakta tradition and worship of the Dasamahavidyas, the self-decapitating goddess Chhinnamasta as a facet of the Adya (primordial) Kali is pictured with her hungry consorts Dakini and Varnini who are nourished by her blood. While the spiritual symbolism of Chhinnamasta is popularly referenced as an overcoming of the vasanas (karmic imprints that lead to bondage) and ego-based desires, the Pranatoshini Tantra reveals another dimension to the goddess’s birth, as narrated by Siva:

“When I saw her pale appearance, I suspected that she was abused by another. This infuriated me. From this anger a portion of me arose and became known as Krodha Bhairava. Thus Chhinnamasta was born on Viraratri.”

Chhinnamasta by Linda Falorio, as seen in Kenneth Grant’s Beyond the Mauve Zone.

These may not be exact parallels, and Algol’s gender is often interchanged in the various myths, but there is an unmistakable femininity to its archetype. Whether she appears as the primordial sea, the adversary to the patriarch, or the vilified victim (and subsequently the empowered), Algol’s story is about that aspect of the feminine (and by extension the Jungian anima within us all) that mutates and feeds on itself when it is wounded. Athena curses Medusa (we will never know if it was out of jealousy or the need to protect her) and banishes her to a remote island where she must deal with the pain and anguish of her disfigurement, and only the child of the rape growing inside her womb to keep her company.

This female rage is also mirrored in the archetype of the Black Moon Lilith, who embodies the primeval animal wisdom and natural instinct that society conditions out of us. Consequently, she is pushed back into the dark corners of our personal unconscious (the Freudian id) that expresses itself uncontrollably in malefic ways as a result of unhealthy repression. Lilith’s wisdom comes from the very fact that the feminine cannot be subdued or controlled – between the endless depths of the sea (Tiamat) and the unfathomable vastness of space (Kali), we are inconsequential. When the feminine is punished and silenced for this unsettling revelation within us, it grows (like Medusa’s child) into a spiritual tumour that manifests as illness within the body and the psyche.

In Eckhart Tolle’s alternative model of the psyche, Algol is reminiscent of the pain-body – the part of us that splits off from trauma, and continues to compulsively recreate scenarios with ourselves and others that will result in more pain to the self, thus confirming its own life script and satiating its hunger. Kelly Hunter explains the connection between the pain-body and Algol in her seminal work Living Lilith:

“Eckhart Tolle writes about the collective dimension of the female pain-body that carried the burden of thousands of years of repression by largely male ego supremacy. Certainly related to Algol, aspects of this pain-body ripple through all Lilith placements. Specifically the feminine values of love, relationship, mutuality, and harmony with nature have been denigrated and deranged for millennia. Algol carries this history and the hidden store of “demonic” rage and grief and the burden of slavery that continues to darken human existence. This undercurrent carries deeply buried attitudes towards the female half of the human family, as well as racial and cultural biases and ecologically unsound practices that dishonour the integrity of Nature.”

Followed by an important implication:

“Our collective rage in front of this holocaust of suppression can be self-destructive when internalized, yet redemptive when channeled.”

Algol’s importance in healing our collective (and personal) wound is twofold – one, because it is a repository of emotional information about the wounding; and two, because we all pass through her realm at an important moment in our lives: the womb, which will be the focus of Part II.