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For many years, the back of my business cards carried the statement: Know yourself. The phrase, which is usually traced back to the ancient Greeks, was intended as a proper goal of life. But what does that statement really mean? Or to be more exact, which self were they talking about?

For the purpose of this piece, I would put forward that there is self and Self. A great deal of astrology focuses on self – or more accurately, selves. Fickle, reactive, vulnerable to all kinds of influences, these small selves often determine the quality of our lives: who we like and don’t like, our pursuits, passions, animosities and so on. But the Self – with a capital “S” – is different. It is the expression of “I AM” that is somehow above all those little “selves” that we get attached to.

In astrology, one of the ways that the assessment of the Self takes place is through finding the Part of Spirit, or the Part of the Sun. As its name suggests, the part is not a planet, but is a degree in the chart that is calculated through a formula involving the positions of the Ascendant, Sun and Moon.

Why is the Part of Spirit associated with the Sun and not the Moon? The symbolism of astrology makes this very clear: the Moon is associated with our instinctual urges. It is changeable, like the world is changing every moment. It is transient, suggesting our transience. In contrast, the Sun represents the higher Self, our personal portion of the divine. It is the opposite of transience and approaches genuine permanence, even immortality. We cannot look directly at the Sun, because it is too powerful, too brilliant, much like we would be overwhelmed by the divine if it was suddenly revealed to us.

However, it’s easy to forget that deeper, brilliant part of ourselves in the ebb and flow of daily life. And that’s because the things of the world – and the way our small fickle selves become attached to those things – can easily block the radiance of our inner Sun. To use an analogy: pick up two small pebbles, hold them closely in front of your eyes and look at the Sun. What happens? The tiny stones block the light. This is a good illustration of what happens within us every day. The constant stream of petty, transient emotions and thoughts essentially block our larger perceptions. This may be why most religions and spiritual paths require their followers to practice humility. Of course, it has to be real humility and not the pretense of humility, which is just as destructive as having none at all.

Next week, we’ll talk a little more about the Part of Spirit, as well as look at it in action in a chart.