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Aging Gracefully: It's All a Matter of Timing

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By Valerie Vaughan

Does getting older ever get easier? As children, we feel impatient to be grown up. But once we're adults, we long nostalgically for a second youth. Children are told, "You'll understand better when you're older." But then when we're older and supposedly wiser, we lack the youthful energy to act on our wisdom. As Jonathan Swift wrote, "Everyone wishes to live long, but no one wants to become old."

Astrology offers a useful perspective on aging by organizing the chronology of different stages of life. In the second century AD, the great astrologer Claudius Ptolemy outlined the seven major phases of human life, from infancy to old age. These seven ages of man are associated with the seven classical planets, which follow an ancient order based on the speed of the planets' movement. First is the Moon, which moves the fastest, going once around the zodiac in less than a month. Mercury is second, completing his cycle in a few months’ time, followed by Venus, who cycles in less than a year. Then comes the Sun (one year), Mars (a little more than two years), Jupiter (twelve years) and finally Saturn, the slowest planet, whose cycle is about 29 years.

The Moon: Infancy

Corresponding to this planetary order are the seven ages of man. The first stage, from infancy to four years, is early childhood, and it is associated with the Moon, the fastest moving planet. According to Ptolemy, the Moon is a appropriate ruler for this age because there is a flexibility in the body, quick growth, changeability and the food of infancy is liquid, all things that are linked to the Moon.

Mercury: Childhood

The second stage is true childhood, lasting from four to fourteen. It is associated with Mercury, the second fastest planet. Ptolemy explains that this is the period when the child begins to articulate and formulate intelligence, when learning takes place and the mind-character can be molded through instruction.

Venus: The Teens and Early Adulthood

Personal Vengeance

Starting at age fourteen is the third age (youth) which lasts for eight years and is associated with Venus, the third fastest planet. Ptolemy explains that this is the age when there is an impulse toward love, sexual expression and a burning passion for ideals and all the blindness that goes with it.

The Sun: Young Adulthood

The Sun is the lord of the fourth and middle period, young adulthood, which begins around age 23 and lasts until age 40. Youth is now passed, and the focus turns from playful trial- and-error to decorum and ambition. This is a time when the person develops mastery and directs his own actions. It is the time for obtaining glory, position and material substance.

Mars: Mature Adulthood

Following this stage, Mars assumes command of mature adulthood for the next fifteen years (40-55). According to Ptolemy, Mars introduces severity and troubles, the feeling of being past one's prime. Mars urges people of this age to accomplish something before their time is up. This stage corresponds to what we now call the mid-life crisis.

Jupiter: Retirement and Wisdom

At about age 55, Jupiter takes over the elderly sixth age for a twelve-year period. Jupiter brings retirement from manual labor, toil and dangerous activity, and replaces this with wisdom, foresight and dignity.

Saturn: Old Age

Beginning around age 67, the final phase of old age is ruled by Saturn, indicating the time when the body and soul are cooled down, and there are blocks to natural impulses, desires, enjoyment and speed.

It's More Than "Just a Phase"

These descriptions, written almost 2000 years ago, are still valid today. Modern astrologers interpret birth charts by associating youth with Mercury and Venus, and old age with Saturn. Thus, people born with a prominent Mercury or Gemini rising are said to have a youthful appearance, a bounce in their step and a habit of moving quickly or spontaneously. A different type of youthful expression is evident when Venus is prominent in a birth chart, or when the Ascendant of the chart is Libra or Taurus, the signs linked to Venus. People who have these features in their chart will often display the "bloom of youth"- a soft beauty and innocent charm. People born with a strong Saturn or Capricorn rising will often appear to be older or wiser than their true age.

In astrology, old man Saturn is the most serious voice of the birth chart. His control can squelch the spontaneous ideas of Mercury; his reserve can obstruct the expression of Venus. But there are positive outcomes to the aging process. At his best, Saturn can tame the whimsy of youth; he can bring maturity and endurance to a love relationship. It takes a strong element of Saturn to make an effective parent, a faithful lover or a successful artist.

We live in a society that segregates the old and the young. Our culture glorifies youthfulness and relegates mature citizens to separate homes for the elderly. We rush headlong into newness, ignoring the wisdom of taking time to reflect. Perhaps the passing of time can be a two-way street. Saturn can be lightened up with a touch of Venus or a dash of Mercury. The key to aging gracefully may lie in fostering more "inter-generational" contact between the planets that rule youth and old age.

Aging Gracefully: It's All a Matter of Timing

This is a site about my journeying toward aging.
To know how to grow old is the master work of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living.
~ Henri Frederic Amiel ~