Carrying your Oar Inland: An Astrology Lesson from Odysseus

In the Chinese astrology I practice,  called Zi Wei Dou Shu, there is a little used feature of the chart called the Ming Ruler and the Shen Ruler. The only instruction I’ve ever found about this is that the Ming Ruler is the star (or influence) that reveals the potential of the first half of your life, and the Shen Ruler the potential of the second half of life. That’s it. And since these stars are usually different from those found in the actual Ming and Shen boxes, I have often wondered how much significance to give them.

If you are a follower of astrology, either Chinese or Western, you know that every life chart is a synthesis of many factors. It’s the whole soup you’re looking at, not a list of ingredients. So knowing how to integrate this Ming and Shen information, understanding where it fits and how it influences the total pattern described in the chart, is important.

Recently I revisited the myth of Odysseus while reading a book about second half of life tasks. (Stay with me. You’ll see how this relates to the Ming/Shen question in a minute.) Here’s the part of the story that most people gloss over: when Odysseus returns home to Ithaca after his famous hero’s journey, he is given a second task. He is told to take his oar and walk it inland. He is to go on and on, until he gets to a place where nobody has ever seen the sea or knows what an oar is used for. When he meets someone who tells him his oar looks like a winnowing shovel, he is to stick the oar in the ground and make appropriate sacrifices.

This bit always seemed to me to be a crucial part of the myth. But what does it have to do with astrology and the discernment of your life path? The Ming Ruler is a guiding influence for the first half of life. While the whole chart describes our life curriculum, this particular star tells us how we go about our first half of life journey. This part of the journey is often about the outer world tasks we must undertake–things like relationships, work and career, how to make money, education, family raising, etc. But in the second half of life we are required to journey inward. Like Oddyseus, we must carry our oar, the thing that most symbolizes our accomplishments, to a place far inland. When we find ourselves in completely strange territory, where the gods don’t even recognize this thing we’ve done all our lives that we think is so solid and worthy, that is where we are asked to plant our oar and make appropriate sacrifices.

In the Zi Wei system, we can find guidance for this inward adventure from the star that is our Shen Ruler. What style of exploration does this star suggest? Do we take this quest on like a general or a warrior, with discipline and courage? Or is it more of quiet withdrawal, a gentle turning away like a trip to the mountain tea house? Do we do it in the company of friends, or will we be solitary sojourners? And what should we make of the requirement to sacrifice? In the Oddysey, our hero must make a sacrifice to Poseidon, the God of the Sea, who’s been dogging him with trouble throughout his ten year trip.
So what is the one issue you’ve been struggling with all your life? Who, or what, is your Poseidon? Our Shen Ruler tells us how to make peace with this, not through DOING something differently (that’s first half of life thinking,) but by turning inward, having the courage to go to a completely unknown place, and giving up our carefully constructed sense of self; in effect, letting it all go.

Sounds scary and difficult after all you’ve accomplished in life. But then you’ve got that star, that Shen Ruler, to guide your way. And you’ve got the whole second half of life to make the journey, to complete the return. Is it time to begin?

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