It’s sweltering in Oxford. I collapsed after my first full day of astrological studies, to be awakened by some nightmare outdoor soiree blasting dreadful American disco throughout the sacrosanct grounds of Magdalen College. Don’t the Brits have any taste? Shouldn’t summer dances al fresco feature live musicians on period instruments? or at least a cute boy band crooning ballads? or a troubadour?
Is there no escaping Lady Gaga? No, there isn’t.
The thing about being awakened by a relentless beat under scattered laughter is it takes me a while to fight it, a while to give into consciousness, a while to plot my arising, by which time it was midnight and the music was over but I was wide awake. What else am I going to do but write my blog? The alternative is to study.
The Faculty of Astrological Studies, London, sojourns in summer at Oxford, the better to lure adepts from the four corners of the galaxy with visions of provincial cream teas and punts. This year, my first in attendance, there are 90 of us, of which 38 are from the UK and 7 are men. The photo above shows Faculty President Carole Taylor interacting with a slide of the astrological chart for the moment, yesterday, she was interacting with the chart. I was excited to see a grand trine from Mercury to Uranus to the North Node, but she seemed to disdain Uranus as “dysfunctional.” Uranus is such a very queer planet, Sweetie Darling.
Today, after showering and rushing to assimilate my allotment of baked beans, fried eggs, sausage, vegetarian sausage, fresh fruit and yoghurt, orange juice, and tea, I had a wonderful surprise. A tall man in a white mesh fedora and matching lab coat reminded me we’d spoken yesterday of Oscar Wilde. Turns out, Roy is head of hospitality at Magdalen, and he’d recognized in me a true believer.
So after breakfast, I followed him up a 500-year-old hand-hewn spiral staircase to the Oscar Wilde Room, so named for its famous ex-occupant, who read Greats here, 1874-8. I looked out the window at the river below, deeply moved to be standing where the gay genius himself had stood. I hoped some of the greatness would suffuse me. Along with the gayness.
Even with this precious detour, I was on time for my class on Electional Astrology at Exeter College — in fact, I spotted the teacher on my way in and had to separate her from a last-minute cigarette in the sun to come inside and teach us. I’m perhaps overly sensitive about how much this little junket is costing and I don’t appreciate anyone else wasting any particle of it. I’m too aware how much I don’t grasp. I need these experts to transmit their insights. It’s what I’m paying them for.
After six hours of instruction — interspersed with tea breaks and a lunch hour spent tracking down Oxford Playhouse, where I’m seeing Druid Murphy next week, and buying a bag of Flame Grilled Steak Flavour Ridge Cut Potato Crisps at Tesco to tide me over, plus a used thermos at Oxfam so I can bring my own tea tomorrow, since theirs tastes like brackish coffee — it was all I could do to stumble home to Magdalen.
And there, in my $100-a-day, rather nondescript dorm room, I experienced ennui. It took me a while to label the sensation, a mixture of heat exhaustion, swollen ankles, astrological overwhelm, and the tristesse of not attending the Faculty’s festive outdoor bbq in the rector’s garden — I’d made the mistake of asking the chubby lady chef what was on the menu — since I’d opted out of the full-board option to room at Magdalen and commune with Oscar. Last night, after the communal glass of wine, I trickstered in amongst the legal diners, a bit on edge but relishing the camraderie, the flowing Bourgogne red, and especially the mini tarte tatin. I decided not to make a habit of it, though.
I wonder if there’s a word for the malaise experienced by a pampered student of astrology daunted by the arcane rules of Electional or Horary, by the post-modern multiplicity of astrological approaches, by the marginalization of the art, by the dismayingly rarefied atmosphere of astrological assemblies.
In Magdalen’s main cloister quadrangle, there are a number of statues facing each other across the manicured lawn you’re not allowed to walk on. Seven of them are said to represent the deadly sins. I haven’t yet identified Sloth.
|by Oscar Wilde|
The little white clouds are racing over the sky, And the fields are strewn with the gold of the flower of March, The daffodil breaks under foot, and the tasselled larch Sways and swings as the thrush goes hurrying by. A delicate odour is borne on the wings of the morning breeze, The odour of deep wet grass, and of brown new-furrowed earth, The birds are singing for joy of the Spring's glad birth, Hopping from branch to branch on the rocking trees. And all the woods are alive with the murmur and sound of Spring, And the rose-bud breaks into pink on the climbing briar, And the crocus-bed is a quivering moon of fire Girdled round with the belt of an amethyst ring. And the plane to the pine-tree is whispering some tale of love Till it rustles with laughter and tosses its mantle of green, And the gloom of the wych-elm's hollow is lit with the iris sheen Of the burnished rainbow throat and the silver breast of a dove. See! the lark starts up from his bed in the meadow there, Breaking the gossamer threads and the nets of dew, And flashing adown the river, a flame of blue! The kingfisher flies like an arrow, and wounds the air.