by Steven Forrest
(excerpt from The Night Speaks, updated with new Afterword written July 2013)
Remember the frantic intensity of the late sixties? New heroes and mythologies sprang out of nowhere. Naïve confidence ran rampant. Vietnam provided a crucifixion story and an evocative emotional rallying point. Bob Dylan, the Beatles and a generation of singer-songwriters orchestrated the drama with rousing anthems and irresistible manifestos. The advent of the Pill spiced the stew with the scent of sex. Think what you will about the foolish excesses and runaway herd instinct of those years, they were exciting times. But did history excite us, or did we excite history? Was humanity simply ready to stir up the zeitgeist'? It's the proverbial question of the chicken and the egg.
Meanwhile, 93 million miles away, gargantuan nuclear storms swirled across the troubled face of the sun. Great solar prominences exploded in hundred-thousand-mile high cascades of fire. Blasts of charged particles and waves of magnetism roared away from the sun, engulfing the Earth and planets. The eleven-year cycle of solar storms had reached its crescendo. For our central star, the late sixties marked the season of fire - sunspot maximum.
Whatever engines drove that chapter of our national history, they certainly had run out of gas by the middle seventies. Remember the disco wasteland? Gerald Ford? The "me" generation? Remember the confusion and floundering of our national leadership in the aftermath of Watergate and the OPEC-engineered energy crisis? We might be annoyed by the naïveté and blind enthusiasm of the late sixties, but no one who lived through them would be likely to call them boring. And no matter how charitable a view we take of the middle seventies, by most standards the "energy crisis" of those years was not limited to oil fields and gas pumps.
Throughout the middle seventies, the face of the sun was tranquil. Gone were the great magnetic storms of the late sixties. The season of calm, the sunspot minimum, had arrived.
Is this astrology? Certainly not in a traditional sense. Sunspots have nothing to do with Leo or Sagittarius. Nonetheless, whenever we notice a correlation between cosmic events and human affairs, we've entered the astrological realm.
Aleksandr Leonidovich Chizhevsky – a biologist, not an astrologer – was the first to notice the pattern: the intensity of human events peaks during sunspot maximum and slacks off at the minimum. He was a Soviet researcher - brilliant, but badly placed in history. Marxist theory prefers class struggles to solar storms as the drivers of history. Chizhevsky learned that lesson the hard way, spending twenty years exiled in the Gulag as punishment for his research. He died in 1964.
Subsequently, the Soviets have recognized the validity of his observations. In early 1968, the Moscow Society of Naturalists held a posthumous meeting in his honor. Sunspots – and Chizhevsky – were rehabilitated.
Chizhevsky stated his theories with great precision. Sunspots occur cyclically in a variable period with an average length of about 11.1 years. In this, they arc unlike other astrological cycles which normally can be predicted with near-perfect accuracy. He divided the solar cycle into four distinct phases, each associated with a particular set of human attitudes and motivations. He claimed that the rhythm of sunspots correlated with all major mass movements – wars, migrations, religious revivals – since the fifth century BC.
Here is a brief overview of Chizhevsky 's outline:
Phase One: The solar minimum. With sunspot activity at its eleven-year low, humanity is in an easygoing mood, tolerant but lazy. People are occupied with personal concerns and little inclined to organize themselves into any kind of unified, history-shaping force.
Phase Two: The solar increase. Social energies begin to coalesce. Exciting new Ideas and charismatic spokes people appear, planting seeds that quickly germinate into mass movements. Alliances form. According to Chizhevsky, at this point in the cycle some fundamental problem arises and demands radical solution.
Phase Three: The solar maximum. Energies abound. Everyone is excited, eager to respond en masse to leadership or inspiration, for better or worse. An air of enthusiastic drunkenness suffuses the polity. Emigration increases. Wars begin. Tension is high.
Phase Four: The solar decline. Exhausted and often disenchanted, humanity now loses steam. The seductive easy answers of the previous several years break down. Unity and collective focus drop off. Disillusionment increases. Groups disband. People go back to tending their own gardens – and gradually we descend again into the peaceful lassitude of Phase One, the sunspot minimum.
Chizhevsky divided the four solar phases into periods of three, two, three and three years respectively. Due to the varying lengths of the cycle, it's best to take those numbers as ratios. Once, two maxima were observed only seven years apart. Another time, seventeen years elapsed between maxima. For unknown reasons, hardly any sunspots were observed between 1645 and 1715 – years which, incidentally, were among the most peaceful in human history.
Now for the $64,000 question: how accurate is Chizhevsky's theory? Does the sunspot cycle really have any bearing on terrestrial experience, or is that idea just hocus-pocus dressed up in a few anecdotes and lucky coincidences? Finding an answer that holds up to rigorous scrutiny is not easy. Chizhevsky himself tried to quantify his hypotheses in a testable form. He drew up a chart which he claimed showed all major wars and social uprisings for the last two millennia. Analyzing these events in the light of his four solar phases, he concluded that almost 80% of them occurred during Phases Two and Three – the solar increase and the maximum. Only five percent occurred during the quiescent period of Phase One.
Unfortunately, Chizhevsky 's work can be faulted on two counts. First, there is the obvious problem of deciding what exactly is a "major" uprising or social change. There is inevitably a subjective component to such judgments, and a list assembled by a disinterested third party would be more convincing – if the pattern still held.
The second objection to Chizhevsky 's methodology is more serious. It has to do with the accuracy of his sunspot data. The Chinese observed sunspots as early as 28 BC. The sun-worshiping Inca knew that their sun-god, Inti, “had blemishes on his face.” But regular solar observation dates back only to Galileo, in the early seventeenth century. Since the sunspot cycle itself is somewhat irregular, Chizhevsky 's historical correlations become suspect before then. His approach was to extrapolate the eleven-year cycle backwards, interpolating between the scattered smattering of sunspot data that have come down from pre-Renaissance sources. Obviously, that's a questionable method.
Was Chizhevsky wrong then? Happily, you can judge that for yourself. Unlike more abstruse astrological questions, the sunspot connection can be researched with equipment no more elaborate than an encyclopedia. Look at the graph that follows. It plots the annual mean sunspot number since 1750. Immediately, the pronounced cyclical quality of the solar storms is evident. Equally evident is the great variability of the cycle. Some peaks are vastly stormier than others. Some lows are only relative, while others truly represent "the year of the quiet sun." Furthermore, the pattern seems distorted by unknown and apparently random factors, leading to multiple peaks and out-of-season "spikes."
The year 1775 shows a rather deep minimum followed by a meteoric two-year climb to one of the most fiery peaks in the history of solar observation. The American Revolution, of course, ignited during this period. New leaders arose and their new ideas fell on receptive ears. In this case at least, the facts are strikingly consistent with Chizhevsky 's theories.
The next solar minimum occurred around 1783 – and in September of that year, in Paris, the Treaty of Peace with Britain was signed. Fighting had actually ended about two years earlier, as we swung down toward the minimum in Phase Three.
The late 1780s saw another solar peak, and once again the flames of unrest were fanned. The Bastille was stormed, and the French Revolution exploded.
The subsequent ascending solar cycle, culminating in a rather low peak, marked the rise of Napoleon, who was declared Emperor of the French in 1805 after a series of military and political victories.
The year 1830 saw another peak in sunspot activity and another revolution in France. Once again, masses of men and women took to the streets, and again, a French king was deposed. That pattern was destined to be repeated a third time in the bloody French street rioting of 1848 which lead to the establishment of the Second Republic. Again, revolutionary fervor coincided quite precisely with a solar maximum.
The tensions which led to the U.S. Civil War mounted on an ascending solar cycle and finally exploded in spring 1861 as that cycle reached its peak. By 1866, the war was over – and the face of the sun was quiet.
The twentieth century opened on a descending cycle which bottomed out in 1902. As the Wright Flyer bounced into the air at Kitty Hawk, we were entering Phase Two, the solar increase – and clearly a "new idea" swept through humanity. Other new ideas were brewing simultaneously. Like the French and the Americans before them, the Russian people were tiring of the excesses of the Czarist regime. The ill-fated First Russian Revolution of 1905 coincided exactly with a solar maximum – as did the successful Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.
True to form, World War l started in Phase Two of the sunspot cycle, peaked during the stormy sunspot maximum, and its final shots were fired during the descent toward minimum.
As we enter living memory, Chizhevsky 's patterns seem if anything to become more vivid. 1923 marked a solar minimum. As the fabled Roaring Twenties got underway in earnest, the magnetic storms on the surface of the sun were also roaring toward a maximum centered around 1928. The “Great Crash” of 1929 occurred in the solar peak, but then solar activity plunged toward a minimum in 1933, as the world economy plunged into the Great Depression.
The road toward the Second World War waxed and waned in close synchronization with the solar cycle, but the war itself raises some interesting questions. The sunspot minimum of the early twenties found Adolph Hitler ignominiously defeated and locked in jail. Under the quiet sun, the social atmosphere was not yet ripe for his inflammatory ideas. Just a few years later, we find him living in a villa, a wealthy man. His infamous book, Mein Kampf, had sold ten million copies, riding the ascending solar cycle. As Chizhevsky put it, people were restive and "receptive to new ideas."
One might imagine that Hitler's charisma would have waned as the solar storms moved toward the minimum of 1933. Actually, that was the year in which he seized power. Perhaps significantly, Hitler was immediately confronted by serious opposition from within his own party. He instigated the “blood purge” of 1934, murdering hundreds of political opponents, while the army and the judiciary passively looked on.
Germany’s annexation of Austria and conquest of Czechoslovakia – the real military beginning of World War II – coincided with a solar maximum. That is not surprising, based on what we’ve seen previously. More surprising is the fact that the second half of World War II was fought during a theoretically “tranquil” solar minimum.
Peace came in 1945, but was followed two or three years later by the stormiest solar maximum since the American Revolution. In 1949, the Soviets detonated their first nuclear bomb and the horror of the Cold War was in full swing. In the United States, Joseph McCarthy began his rabid witch-hunt for "communists," and was not finally silenced until condemned by the U.S. Senate in late 1954 – during the quieter, more balanced solar minimum of that year.
The highest solar peak ever recorded occurred in 1957. Appropriately, in that year humanity experienced the beginning of perhaps its greatest adventure, with the launching of the Soviet Sputnik satellite and the onset of the space age. By early 1962, when the solar storms abated and our central star entered the relatively quiescent Phase Four, over seventy satellites and three human beings had been placed in orbit.
On a cultural level, we also find the birth of rock 'n roll coinciding with this period of solar ascendancy. In June of 1955, Bill Haley and the Comets’ Rock Around the Clock hit number one. Within the next year, they were eclipsed by the rise of Elvis Presley and the decades-long musical phenomenon which he set into motion.
The year 1964 saw a quiet sun, but the years 1968-1970 were characterized by a long plateau of peak solar turbulence. Woodstock, the sexual revolution, the counterculture, the escalation of the war in southeast Asia and the accompanying frenzy of protest at home, the first manned lunar landing – all unfolded during that extended maximum. Chizhevsky died in 1964, but he would certainly not have been surprised by the colorful, impassioned events of those years.
Another solar maximum occurred in 1979-1981. What happened? Once again, masses of people were excited by new leaders and new ideas, all gathering momentum in the final years of the 1970s. Ronald Reagan was elected president, riding the crest of a tidal wave of conservative reaction that roared across the country. Fundamentalist Christian fervor burst on the scene after a long period of decline. “Pray TV” became a household word. Parallel events unfolded in the Islamic world with the rise of Ayatollah Khoumeini and the explosion of Muslim fundamentalism, not to mention terrorism.
Our own times are, of course, the hardest to see clearly. The problem is compounded by the fact that the solar cycle is erratic. But the pattern is holding. As I write these words, in the very last month of the 1980s, the sun is roaring toward a maximum that may prove to be the fiercest one ever recorded. Appropriately, we find masses of people stirred into frantic, passionate motion. Under the charismatic influence of Mikhail Gorbachev, the Berlin Wall is being broken up for souvenirs. Marxist-Leninist governments are resigning every day.
In the spring of 1989, coinciding closely with a record-breaking solar flare, the Chinese government, in an act of horrific madness, crushed its own future under the treads of tanks in Tianamen Square. You, reader, placed further down the time-line than me, undoubtedly understand the meaning of these events more precisely than I do. Still, even to me sitting in the midst of breaking news stories, it's clear that Chizhevsky 's model is vindicated yet again.
Whatever is going on, the entire scenario should reach some sort of crescendo, for better or worse, in the early nineties.
(Note: I wrote these words in late '89. As I finalize this manuscript in mid-'91, we've just fought another sunspot war: the clash with Iraq.)
“For better or worse.” In many ways, that phrase represents the crux of Chizhevsky 's speculations. His sunspot theory, if it's sound, is not absolutely deterministic. Like the proverbial blind man holding the elephant's tail, these considerations give us only one piece of the puzzle. Ultimately, sunspots appear to have a strong correlation with humanity's emotions. Beyond that, they don't illuminate very much. The same peaks that parallel war and horror also sometimes parallel outpourings of art and science. The same lows that are associated with peace and tranquility also can show an environment in which a Hitler can quietly insinuate himself into the social structure. During the solar peak of the late sixties, America swung toward liberalism. With the following peak, we swung back to the Right. Who knows where the next one will carry us?
For our purposes, the critical point is that there appears to be a demonstrable relationship between humanity's mood and the solar cycle. Accepting the reality of that linkage is a far cry from buying into all the astrological arcana of Sun Signs, Moon Signs and Ascendants. Logically, the solar cycle's ties with history could be valid, while the rest of astrology could be hogwash. Still, once we allow ourselves to recognize the cogency of Chizhevsky's work, we've opened a door. We've accepted that there may be a direct relationship between cosmos and consciousness – that each is reflected in the other.
And that notion is the foundation upon which astrology rests.
AFTERWORD - July 2013
I will be brief here since most of you reading this can remember back into the late 1990s when the sunspot cycle was heating up again. Remember Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky and the whole witch hunt atmosphere? That scandal crested in 1998-1999, right on schedule. Maxima occurred around 2001, with the horrors of September 11th as the most obvious illustration. Then followed the downward trend epitomized by the years of the Bush presidency. As the cycle heated up again in the late-2000s, Chizhevsky would predict, “Social energies begin to coalesce. Exciting new ideas and charismatic spokes people appear, planting seeds that quickly germinate into mass movements.” And along comes Barack Obama.
Presently, we face a strangely dull maxima. Feel it? I do. Still, passions are high and the polarizations they create abound. And next, after another year or two go by, we will enter Chizhevsky’s Phase Three. A general calming will arise as “The seductive easy answers of the previous several years break down.” But then, late in this decade, the ancient cyclical fire will again stir in the ashes of the fallen mythology. New spark plugs will ignite the engines of history. And we will again look up from our personal gardens and notice the wider world.
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