Chiron instructing Achilles in the bow by Giovanni Battista Cippriani
A small cosmic body with an erratic, eccentric orbit, was unearthed in 1977 by Charles T. Kowal on November 1st. Its discovery was immediately controversial – what was it? An asteroid? A comet? It was eventually known as Chiron, and its unusual nature was clear from the start as it refused to conform to standard astronomical categories.
It was too large for a conventional comet, but not as big as (the relatively small) Pluto. Its orbit was odd too: placed between that of Saturn and Uranus, it transcended the paths of both. This makes it occasionally closer to the sun than Saturn, or further away than Uranus. It has other peculiarities, such as its ‘cometary tail’ which seems to disappear at certain times. As for its status as an asteroid, it’s too far from the asteroid belt (between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter) and its orbit around the ecliptic lasts for about 51 years, much longer than most asteroids take. It even stays in different signs for irregular lengths of time – anything from two years to seven. Clearly this is erratic. Odd. Eccentric. But it is deeply significant too, as we will see in this series on Chiron, the Wounded Healer of Greek Mythology.
It was astronomer Dr Brian Marsden (noting Chiron’s unusual characteristics) who called it a ‘maverick’. Chiron (whose name means ‘skilled with hands’) was the king of the centaurs in Greek myth. These strange beings, a hybrid of horse (body, legs) and man (head, arms) symbolise the struggle between one’s ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼earthly, ‘animal’ nature, and the human spirit reaching upwards, seeking to transcend it. Chiron was the offspring of Cronos, the earth god, and the water nymph Philyra, one of the many nature spirits. With this divine parentage Chiron should have been perfect, but Cronos, seeking to evade detection of his affair by his wife, had turned himself into a horse during intercourse. The result was the half-horse/half-human hybrid that was Chiron. Philyra was horrified, however, and asked Zeus (king of the gods) to change her form. Thus was she turned into a linden tree (which is what ‘philyra’ means). Chiron would later become mentor to the Greek heroes Achilles and Jason, imparting the skills of hunting and warcraft, and taught the god Asclepios the arts of healing and medicine. Here, then, we have a combination of masculine fighting spirit, tempered by something ‘higher’, more spiritual.
The element of water is strong in Chiron’s make-up, his mother a water nymph, his grandfather Oceanus, the ancient deity of all the earth’s fresh water. This at once connects him to healing powers, the soothing of pain and suffering. Indeed, he was different from most other centaurs (normally a savage, unruly lot) and known instead for his wisdom, justness and kindly disposition. In this he was a maverick. But he’s best known as the lame god who acquired an accidental wound when one of Heracles’ poisoned arrows pierced his thigh. Due to his immortal lineage, he could not actually die. Thus he lived a life of perpetual suffering. His life did finally end, though, when he offered himself to die in the place of Prometheus (another suffering god, chained to a rock for stealing fire -wisdom – from the heavens as a gift to mortals). Chiron’s death, then, was humanity’s gain.
Chiron suffering from his unhealable wound is a theme found on every birth chart – whether the ‘wound’ is emotional, psychological or otherwise – and astrologers are overlooking something vital if they ignore him. We’ll discover more of his role on the chart in future issues, but for now here’s the key to understanding Chiron (co-incidentally the planetary glyph is a key!): we’re on the road to being truly healed when we’ve accepted the ‘wound’ – and know we cannot change it.