AN EXCHANGE OF LETTERS WITH MARC EDMUND JONES
In the September 1944 issue of the magazine American Astrology, in the section "Many Things," pp. 27-29, the following exchange of letters appeared: a letter I had written to the editor-founder, Paul Clancy, then his comments, and then a letter sent to Clancy by Marc Edmund Jones, presumably in answer to one which Clancy had written to him. These letters are reprinted here because of their historical significance. I might add that a copy of this September 1944 issue was very kindly sent to me by Joanne S. Clancy, now editor of the magazine, after I had ascertained it contained Marc Jones's letter.
Los Angeles, California
I have been thinking for some time about the possibility of a series of studies dealing with the Sabian Symbols, as I have found these symbols of the zodiacal degrees, in the main, amazingly significant and accurate. Not only have they proven of great practical value, but I am very much interested in the general structure of the sequence of meanings and images they display. Here is a whole of meanings with definite structural characteristics, and as such this series of symbols is quite a remarkable phenomenon in Western thinking — one which could be compared, for instance, with some ancient Chinese equivalent. I understand that the Yi King translation by Wilhelm (translated by Baynes, with a commentary by C. G. Jung) will be at last published very soon in New York. And therefore a study of these Sabian Symbols would seem particularly well-timed this year.
I would not discuss every symbol, or follow them in their sequence, but I would rather study the general structure of the series as a whole — starting with the symbols for the equinox degrees, establishing relationships between the symbols, etc. I have mentioned the idea to Marc Jones and his reaction to my project was very favorable. I feel that it is the kind of study which definitely belongs to American Astrology as it represents a really new departure and you have been the great pioneer in all these new fields. Thus I am asking you whether you would like me to go ahead and prepare the first installment of such a series of studies — to start preferably with the October issue (Fall Equinox).
COMMENT: This new series on the Sabian Symbols will commence in our next (October) issue of American Astrology Magazine. The Sabian Symbols were compiled and interpreted by Marc Edmund Jones and published by him under the title "Symbolical Astrology." Mr. Jones furnishes the following information on the origin of the Sabian Symbols, the details of which have never before been released:
During many years in experimenting with horoscopic interpretation, I had found that the symbolical degrees worked out by John Thomas, the Welsh seer, and published under his pen name of Charubel, were remarkably suggestive as far as their ideas were concerned, but that they suffered from the fact that they had been moralized; in other words, some were put down as bad, some as good, and so on. On the assumption that good and bad are relative terms and assuming that the meaning of each degree has as much a constructive as a destructive function, I found that these degrees were exceedingly valuable. My first idea was to obtain permission to re-interpret them, describing them in such a fashion that both good and bad points could be brought out.
At this time, I had a student who was a rather highly gifted psychic, making her living as a professional medium. She was greatly distressed by the idea that so much spiritualistic work was dishonest and cheap, and had wanted for a long time to do something of enduring worth. She is deceased, and for the record her name was Miss Elsie Wheeler, of San Diego, California, a woman of rather brilliant mind and very interesting to me because she was hopelessly crippled with arthritis, living in a wheel chair, and remarkable for her indomitable determination to make her own way and be dependent upon no one. When I first met her she accomplished this purpose by dressing dolls of a rather unusual sort and I perhaps am somewhat responsible for encouraging her in facing the world professionally as a medium, which was her deepest desire, and at which she was very successful up to the time of her death. I asked her if she would be interested in participating in an attempt at gaining 360 fresh symbols for the degrees on the pattern of the work of John Thomas.
Two factors were responsible for my making this suggestion. The first of these was the fact that during investigation quite a number of years before in New York, I had experimented with the idea of a series of 5~ symbols for the playing cards, in the construction of a special form of the Tarot which I then used and still use as a psychological training device for students under occult discipline. A New York woman of high psychic gifts had insisted upon attempting this and so I had tried it with rather striking results. For the record, this woman, who never did any professional psychic work, was Miss Zoe Wells, who passed on quite a number of years ago. At the time of working with Miss Wells, she made reference to a certifying symbol which she saw at the beginning and end of the project. I paid no attention to this at the time and do not know its nature. I was not interested in what gave her assurance as to the worth of what she was doing because to me, the test was how well the symbols worked, and I didn't expect them to work very well, although they proved quite remarkable.
The second factor in these symbols is something which carries out the boundary of knowing to thresholds where any assurance of truth is impossible and the investigation is beyond any kind of control as yet evolved by science. Many of the basic factors leading to the work I had done in the clarification of Astrology were gained by me out at and beyond this threshold, but I have only given serious attention to the results based upon such a foundation which have proved themselves in practice. I had never given out or passed on any of these suggestive things of themselves, but have checked carefully and shared the results when the results proved their value by the fact that they work. If the symbolical degrees were possible, they would have to rely for their origin upon these same materials. I decided that what had been done in a smaller way with Miss Wells might be done in a larger way with Miss Wheeler. I gave myself the task of watching or checking these factors of suggestiveness, using Miss Wheeler's mind for the visualization of an acceptable picture. I have no way of knowing the truth of the matter, but I am inclined to believe that I have been tapping in on a mine of old Sumerian culture or establishing some sort of psychological rapport with that forgotten civilization which first perfected" Astrology. What I was trying to do was to re-create the same basic matrix used by John Thomas.
I knew from a considerable amount of research work done in Spiritualism, almost as much as I have done in Astrology, that certain physical factors were necessary. I took Miss Wheeler out in my car, arranging to keep her alone with me all day. We worked in four sections, doing a quarter of the degrees each time. We parked the car at a place in Balboa Park, San Diego, where we were cloistered as far as any chance of being spoken to or interrupted was concerned and at the same time were within a stone's throw of a very busy intersection of city streets and life. I used a series of blank cards of a size permitting them to be shuffled constantly, each of which was marked on the back with a sign and degree, and with 360 to cover the zodiac. Neither Miss Wheeler nor myself ever knew what degree was dealt with when she described the pictures she saw which I wrote down hurriedly as I selected the picture. At times, I would reject and sometimes she would correct. The cards were shuffled constantly so that a law of random selection in statistics could work, and I gave continual attention to checks of an occult sort. After an approximate quarter of the cards were done we rested, driving around the park and then returning to the location, where another quarter were done. Then I drove her well out of town to a place where we could have lunch with little chance of meeting anyone we knew. We finally returned for the last two quarters, which were done in the same fashion.
With this much accomplished, I put the cards away in a trunk carefully, deciding that this was stepping too far a field from the kind of scientific work in which I was interested, and thinking that I would keep in the realm of spiritualistic investigation. One day someone asked me if it were true that if the cards were lost it would be impossible to repeat the feat, granting it had any merit, and so I had the symbols that were roughly penciled on the cards copied in a typed script, giving the carbons to several of my students who did considerable astrological work and asking them as a matter of interest to check the pictures and see how they worked. Their reports were on the enthusiastic side so that I was encouraged to take the next step in putting down the mathematical structure of the whole and issued them for the research group in mimeograph form along with the other astrological mimeograph series.
The next step in the story was that Dane Rudhyar, with whom I shared all this mimeographed material at the time he was beginning his public astrological work in writing, became so interested in these symbols that he asked permission to incorporate them in an abridged form in his The Astrology of Personality. He was really instrumental in awakening a countrywide interest in these degrees. I am starting at the present time to prepare them for book publication and I am trying to find enough validated charts so that if possible, an example can be given of every planet in every degree in the horoscopes of well-known people. I figure that I have at least a two- or three-year task and I am afraid I may not be able to get enough charts to give the amount of illustrated application I would like. I may issue a general appeal for help in getting charts for this purpose.
Marc Edmund Jones
An Astrological Mandala