Anthroposophy and Astrology — PART 3: Mercury and Venus

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In PART 1 of the series Anthroposophy and Astrology we have discussed about the Horoscope, whereas in PART 2 we deepened the different zodiacs from an anthroposophical perspective. In this article we are going to talk about a very controversial topic: the inversion of the names of planets Mercury and Venus. For those not familiar with this issue, let’s jump right into it through this quote by Rudolf Steiner:

“Here I would like to add one thing, because misunderstandings have crept into the naming of the planets. In all occult nomenclature, what the astronomers call Venus is called Mercury, and vice versa. Astronomers know nothing of the mysteries behind this, because in the past it was not desired that the esoteric names should be revealed. This happened in order to conceal certain things.”

Egyptian Myths and Mysteries – Lecture IV – September 5, 1908

This is not the only time Steiner talked about it. Actually, there are many quotes referring to the same naming issue. I’d like to credit this important article by R. S. W. Bobbette that reports a huge list of Rudolf Steiner’s quotes about this topic. For the sake of this post we are not going through all of them, but if you’re interested check it out.

As you can see here Steiner is talking about the names of planets Mercury and Venus that were, at some point in history, interchanged. In his words, this was purposely made because it was not desired for the real names to be revealed. So Venus was called Mercury, and Mercury Venus. But why was that?

To understand the whole picture, the first thing I’d like to point out is that Steiner made a distinction between the esoteric (inner) knowledge of the Mysteries and the so called exoteric, outer knowledge. This is a very important aspect of the whole issue if we want to understand it correctly.

Mercury and Venus in the Copernican System

Now, with this distinction in mind, let’s take a look to the quote below. The quote is taken from the cycle of lectures “Spiritual Hierarchies”, and what’s interesting about it is that it comes with a diagram of the planetary spheres:

“You may be astonished at the sequence in which I have placed the planets [see picture below]. When the earth is here, and the Sun there, you would have thought that I should draw Mercury in the vicinity of the Sun, and Venus here. But no! For these Planets have had their names interchanged, in later Astronomy. That which is called Mercury to-day was called Venus in all ancient teachings, and that which is called Venus was called Mercury.

Thus, note it well, one does not understand the ancient writings when one takes that which in them is called Venus or Mercury for the Venus or Mercury of the present day. That which is said about Venus has to be applied to the Mercury of to-day, and what is said about Mercury to Venus. For those two designations were later interchanged. On the occasion when man turned the world system topsy-turvy, when the earth was deprived of its central position, the perspective was not only changed, but the designations of Mercury and Venus were also changed.”

Spiritual Hierarchies —Lecture VI — 1909
Mercury and Venus — Celestial Spheres — Spiritual Hierarchies
A picture of the Copernican System described in Spiritual Hierarchies —Lecture VI

The planetary arrangement in this picture is very peculiar. Here Steiner uses both the heliocentric model (Copernicus) and the geocentric model (Ptolemy) for the inner planets. As you can see the Earth, the Moon, Mercury, Venus and the Sun are drawn with both the heliocentric and geocentric orbits.

What Steiner is doing is starting from the heliocentric model that we all know. And he is arranging the planets in a specific position that makes possible the overlapping between this model and the old geocentric model. In doing so, he is suggesting that this overlapping is plausible. Honestly I don’t know why he doesn’t introduce the Tychonic System at this point, because what he is doing is basically describing it.

We are going to talk about it later as the solution to this riddle. But for now, let’s go back to Mercury and Venus. In the quote, Steiner says that “these Planets have had their names interchanged, in later Astronomy”. But was it really so? Did Copernicus inverted the names of these two planets? That would be something extremely well known by common astronomers because it has to do with the history of astronomy itself.

Physical Planets Where Not Inverted

To answer this question we can trust Dr. Elisabeth Vreede, first leader of the Mathematical-Astronomical Section of the School of Spiritual Science at the Goetheanum. In one of her letters concerning the movement of Mercury and Venus she explicitly refers to this issue, saying:

“Now we can easily picture the relation of Venus or Mercury to the Sun in that they are both revolving around the Sun. In figure 7 [showing the Ptolemaic System] of the previous letter the deferents of Mercury, Venus and the sun, all of which rotate in the same period of time, one year, can be regarded as coinciding with one another. In that way we pass over from the Ptolemaic system into the so-called Egyptian [the System of Tycho Brahe!].

Copernicus also proceeded in such a way that he left out the deferents of the lower planets and transplanted the center-points of their epicycles into the Sun, and had Earth also revolve around the Sun. We can here incidentally make the remarkable discovery that in figure 8 the Copernican sequence of the lower planets: Earth, Moon, Venus, Mercury, Sun, occurs of itself; while in figure 7 the old esoteric sequence of Earth, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, is adhered to.

Without going in detail now into the very complicated question of the “transposition of Venus and Mercury”, it can be shown here how it is that both Ptolemy and Copernicus call the same heavenly body “Venus” though giving it a different place in the sequence.”

Elisabeth Vreede – Year 1 – Letter VII – March 1928

So long story short we can say two things at this point:

  1. The Copernican System interchanged the position of the planetary spheres of Venus and Mercury (as seen from the Earth) compared to the old esoteric sequence;
  2. The inversion didn’t concern the actual physical planets!

On top of that we can say that taking one planet for another would have been almost impossible even by mistake. This because in ancient times they identified planets by their speed and not by their position.

Basically the ancient sequence of the planetary spheres was made taking the planets from the fastest to the slowest. The slower the planet, the closer it was to the perfect—immutable—world of the fixed stars. On the contrary, movement and change were a sign of imperfection, hence assigned to the Earth. For this reason the quicker the planet the closer it was to the Earth.

The Inversion of the Planetary Spheres

As Vreede clearly stated, the Copernican System altered the ancient sequence of the planetary spheres—not the name of the planets. But to better understand why Steiner said that Mercury and Venus where interchanged we really need to understand what a planet is from an esoteric standpoint.

Here’s what Steiner said about it in the cycle of lectures “Spiritual Hierarchies”:

“When the Ancient Rishis said the word Mercury (they did not use that word, but we take it as an example), did they mean by it the physical orb of that name? No! — even the ancient Greeks did not use it in that sense; what they meant was the totality of spiritual beings belonging to that planet. Spiritual world and spiritual beings were spoken of when, in the centres of secret knowledge for instance, the word Mercury was pronounced. When the disciples of that sacred knowledge spoke of the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn pronouncing these words in their different languages, they expressed the gradations of spiritual beings.”

Spiritual Hierarchies —Lecture I — 1909

And again, from Lecture VI:

Thus you see that in reality we do not find the outer spheres or dwelling places of the Hierarchies so much on the single planets as in the regions which are limited by the orbits of the planets. If you think of the whole surrounding space from the earth up to the Moon, it is filled with Angel-activities; and if you think of the spheres from the earth to Mercury, it is filled by the activities of the Archangels, and so on.”

Spiritual Hierarchies —Lecture VI — 1909

Mainly, the Spiritual Hierarchies dwell in the empty space within the orbit of a planet, and not on the planet itself. For this reason when we talk about “the Moon” from an esoteric perspective we are referring to “everything within the orbit of the Moon”.

In the ancient Ptolemaic System (geocentric model) each planetary sphere—each heaven—was included inside the orbit of its corresponding physical planet. This because men were still able to have some experience of the spiritual realities surrounding Earth. The Copernican System (heliocentric model) instead was entirely based on mathematical calculations and physical observations.

Of course the heavenly spheres of the so called inner planets (Mercury and Venus) are difficult to determine physically because their orbits overlaps (see the diagram above from Spiritual Hierarchies —Lecture VI). Nevertheless, this is necessary to reintroduce a model able to taking spiritual realities into account.

The Solution: the System of Tycho Brahe

As I mentioned above, in Spiritual Hierarchies (Lecture VI) Rudolf Steiner is basically talking about the system of Tycho Brahe. Just compare the diagram above with the picture below and everything will fall into place:

The diagram shows a possible representation of the actual solar system. It might be very complicated using it to explain astronomical laws, nevertheless it is very close to the human experience when we look at the sky from Earth.

It is a geo-heliocentric model, meaning that every planet but Mercury and Venus move around the Earth, whereas the internal planets move around the Sun. Of course Mars, Jupiter and Saturn don’t really move around the Earth! But from our perspective, they do.

I don’t deny it. This system is very awkward from a mere material perspective. However it’s a model that is able to bridge human spiritual experience with the current dominant astronomical model. That by the way is not only very abstract but also puts mankind in a sort of void, cosmic cemetery.

Now, what’s the only problem with the model of Tycho Brahe? The only problem is that the name of the planetary spheres (orbits) of Mercury and Venus—which corresponds to spiritual realities—are inverted!

So as you can see if we were to switch these names we would be able to marry the spiritual model with the material model. And if—as Steiner said—this inversion was made on purpose by the ancient Egyptian Mysteries, nowadays we could purposely switch them back, holding the flag of the New Mysteries.

In Conclusion

The literal interpretation of Steiner’s statements about the inversion of the planets Venus and Mercury is nonsense. It is based on the materialistic bias that a planet is nothing but a physical object orbiting in outer space and not a community of living spiritual beings (heaven or planetary sphere).

The lack of this preliminary distinction could lead to absurd theories. Taking blindly Steiner’s words many Anthroposophers believe that the planet Venus is actually Mercury and vice versa. And from that dogmatic perspective, quoting Steiner’s harsh words on Astrology, they feel entitled to trash the entire astrological tradition as rubbish.

This article speaks not only in defense of Astrology but also in favor of Anthroposophy that—freed from a dogmatic attitude—is able to bring a precious impulse for the renewal of modern astronomy.

6 comments

  1. Rob
    Gratefull for your writings here on this site. I teach courses in Antroposophy here in Brazil and your posts have been very useful!

  2. Hello Rob

    Am I right, or Rudolf Steiner says the interchange took place “because” of the copernician system, and also says it took place during the Egyptien era (as you report) ? How do you reconcile it ?

    Anyway, maybe we should consider the possibility that the ptolemaic system was not ordered along “orbital velocity” — which is eventually the more “visible” aspect of astronomy. Could not it be a “materialistic bias”, which may or may not correspond to the true “geometrical” planetary spheres ?

    I would tentatively suggest, that this “velocity bias” had already taken effect in mesopotamian astronomy, which the copernician system was found to fit like a glove… Because, if we start from the velocity paradigm, Fig. 7 is a spatial representation which is actually not correct, whereas Fig. 8 is correct : the copernician system is the correct spatial representation of the velocity paradigm. But if we start from a supposedly ancient paradigm (invisible geometrical spheres rather than velocities) then Fig. 7 may be its correct spatial representation, in which case Fig. 8 is not correct.

    • Hello Remy,
      in my opinion Steiner alludes to the fact that the Egyptian Mystery Schools tried to conceal the real meaning of the Mercury principle, understood from an alchemical perspective.

      Instead, when he refers to the naming inversion, he is talking about the Copernican System.
      And the only thing that was inverted at the time was the order (hence, the name) of the Planetary Spheres, not of the planets themselves. Dr. Vreede was very clear about it.

      Please note that in the Copernican System the planetary spheres don’t match with the planets. To make them align we need to take this very “special position” of Mercury and Venus when they are between Earth and the Sun. But when they are beyond the Sun, the spheres don’t expand or contract accordingly.

  3. Hello Rob

    I understand your point, but in the end, I think that the idea that it was just an inversion of the names depends on the assumption that in Fig. 7, the symbol Mercury (resp. Venus) is what we call today Mercury (resp. Venus), and this assumption depends on the “chronological paradigm”. Let me explain another way.

    In other words, the “ptolemaic system” referred by Dr. Vreede is basically just an order of *names* — but to to know which *reality* it alludes to, you need a more fundamental assumption (geometrical/chronological).

    That is the core difference between Fig. 7 and Fig. 8. Because the planetary reality pointed by the names of Fig. 8 is so obvious for us — we know that the names correspond to a geometrical reality — we tend to think that the names of Fig. 7 are equally clear, and in this case we think they “obviously” point to a chronological reality.

    But the key point is *structural* : any discrepancy between the paradigms (chronological and geometrical) — when we pass from Fig. 7 to Fig. 8 — requires an inversion to be “regular”.

    If we start from the (geometrical) assumption that the Mercury of Fig. 7 is the “pentagram planet”, there is no need to invert, because both domains are geometrical. And in both, the order will be : Earth, 5, 6, Sun.

    If we start from the (chronological) assumption that the Mercury of Fig. 7 is the “hexagram planet”, we need to invert because the domains are heterogeneous. In Fig. 7 the order will be : Earth, 6, 5, Sun — and in Fig. 8 it will be : Earth, 5, 6, Sun.

    We must also take into consideration a fact from Antiquity : the “pentagram planet” was called Lucifer (by the greco-romans) which is a name for the Mercury energy. From the Americas, we also know that Quetzalcoatl was a very luciferic god, strongly associated with the “pentagram planet” whose synodic period is 584 days. Also, a great quantity of quicksilver was found in the grounds of an ancient temple of Quetzalcoatl, yet I agree that it can not count as conclusive per se.

  4. Beyond any possible naming issue: “the pentagram planet” was called the same way by both Ptolemy and Copernicus as Venus. According to Ptolemy, the spiritual *reality* it alludes to (the occult properties behind it) is Venusian energy, and correspond to pleasure, love, beauty, and the arts.

    Steiner agrees with this in “The Spiritual Individualities of the Planets (GA 228 July 27th, 1923). Note that he is referring to the planets, not to the “planetary spheres” or “heavens”. They are two very different things.

    “On the other hand, Venus is highly responsive to everything that comes from the Earth. The Earth is, so to speak, her lover. Whereas the Moon reflects the whole surrounding universe, Venus reflects nothing at all of the universe, wants to know nothing of it. But she lovingly reflects whatever comes from the Earth. If with the eyes of soul we are able to glimpse the mysteries of Venus, the whole Earth with its secrets of the life of soul is there before us once again.”

    And again, about Art and creativity:

    “Venus transforms the occurrences of earthly life into dream-pictures. In reality, therefore, the whole sphere of Venus is a world of dream. The secrets of men in their earthly existence are transformed by Venus into dream-pictures of infinite diversity. She has a very great deal to do with poets, although they are not aware of it.”

    As we know from the astrological tradition, largely coming from Ptolemy, Mercury is the planet of the mind and intellect. In the same lecture Steiner confirms its occult properties:

    “We come next to Mercury. In contrast to the other planets. Mercury is not interested in things of a physical, material nature as such, but in whatever is capable of co-ordination. Mercury is the domain of the Masters of co-ordinative thinking; Jupiter, the habitation of the Masters of wisdom-filled thinking.
    When a human being comes down from pre-earthly life into earthly existence, it is the Moon impulse that provides the forces for his physical existence. Venus provides the forces for the basic qualities of heart and temperament. But Mercury provides the forces for capacities of intellect and reason, especially of intellect. The Masters of the forces of co-ordinative knowledge and mental activity have their habitation in Mercury.”

    For this reason I disagree with you when you say “the ‘pentagram planet’ was called Lucifer (by the greco-romans) which is a name for the Mercury energy”. The pentagram planet was called Lucifer, which is a name for the Venus energy.

    This is the link to the full lecture if you are interested:
    https://rsarchive.org/Lectures/SpInPl_index.html

    Again: the planets are not the planetary spheres. In Astrology we look at the planets, not at the planetary spheres. Their occult properties of the planets are crystal clear, and they shift as they change zodiac sign.

    The planetary spheres or “the heavens” describe the structure of the Soul World and the Spiritual World, and they remain fixed.

    Hope that helps

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