Sunday, November 14, 2010


For he’s a jolly good fellow, which nobody can deny.
--traditional English song

A few weeks ago, we visited the Roman virtue of Auctoritas, the virtue of what Starhawk calls “Power-from-Within,” versus “Power-Over.” Today we will revisit this exploration of Power, via an archetype I call the “Happy King.” Tomorrow marks the 90th anniversary of the first complete public performance of The Planets, an orchestral suite written by British composer Gustav Holst. Each of the seven pieces (Holst skipped Earth, and Pluto had not yet been discovered when he wrote the suite) represents a planet of the solar system. They all have their merits, but it is Jupiter, Bringer of Jollity that has had the widest acclaim, and gives our virtue for today.

Holst was the son of a Swedish father and an English mother, both also musicians. As a teen he entered the Royal College of Music, and from the beginning hoped for a career as a composer. He had an enthusiasm for teaching music, however, and used that talent to pay the bills while writing and playing trombone in an opera band. Ironically, while The Planets brought him worldwide acclaim almost overnight, Holst expressed exasperation at the popularity of the pieces, feeling they overshadowed his dozens of other works.

Intriguingly, Holst took inspiration for this symphony not from astronomical observations, but from the astrological associations of the planets. (This again explains why he left out Earth.) Holst apparently had some talent reading his friends’ horoscopes. Per astrologers, the planet Jupiter--named for the Roman King of the Gods--has a certain influence on those born under it. Their jovial temperament shows virtues like Optimism, Expansion, and Bouyancy. Thus, the Jupiter suite attempts to exude this character. (Bouyancy may also apply to Jupiter from an astronomical perspective; its density is so low that, if we could find an ocean large enough to hold it, Jupiter indeed would float!)

Flautist Beverly Whitehead explains the strengths of the Jupiter suite:

It has an overall air of grand importance, and the jolly feel is highlighted by the C major key in which it is written. The whole movement sounds exhilarating, bringing the sense of joy that was in the composer's mind when he wrote it. The glorious ballad section in the middle suggests a typically English scene, and has inspired many patriotic hymns in both England and America.

For me, the jovian virtue of Jollity teaches an important lesson about the Greatness that results when we mix Power with Humor. Jupiter as Sky-God could exude a scary, martial, patriarchal, almost oppressive energy. But in Holst, we see Jove’s influence as true Magnanimity: Jupiter as bringer of Abundance, as provider. Not the imperiousness and madness of King Lear, but rather the Warmth and Affability of, say, Mr. Cunningham from Happy Days: 

Again, when we choose to exercise our power, we can do so from a place of insecurity, as did King Lear--in which case, we will threaten and rage madly to get our way. If, on the other hand, we tap into our Power-from-Within, we mix that Strength with traits like the Wiccan virtue of Mirth, or the Roman personal virtue of Comitas (Ease). These are signs of true Self-Possession--the Penultimate Virtue here at TTV (Self-Knowledge being the Ultimate.) When we channel from our creative fires, we radiate Reassurance and Providence. Our constellation of friends, family, and co-workers, not to mention perfect strangers, bask in our glow.

How do we tap into this? I think it starts with daily meditative practice, with Disciplina and Worshipful Listening (Samā).

Personally, I confess I have a longstanding soft spot for Jupiter, whose Magnificence and Joy make a heady combination. While I’m not an astrologer, for the past few weeks I have marked the Big Guy’s presence in the southwestern sky. The Bringer of Jollity appears as an especially bright star chasing the Moon across the starry heavens.

Tonight, sit outside after the sun goes down for a moment and wave hello to the Happy King as he sails across the sky. Consider how you, too, can shine Jollity down on your world.

May we see the gates of Jollity, and perhaps make a home there.


  1. well, it sure would be lovely to have more jollity lately! I have a friend/physician who says that he is running into a high number of anxiety-riddled people who are watching too much Fox news. He suggests they change to a different channel. I try to avoid the tv, and filter what I read, and I like Guideposts, because it is so positive. It is interesting to think of Jupiter being so buoyant, and so able to float! Autumn always seems to me to be a time of earnestness and dying, and nostalgia-- and a feeling of the fleetingness of life. Not so easy to feel jollity. I love what you have said about being more light, more expansive, less "heavy"!

  2. Hey Martina! Yes, I very much agree. There is something about the optimism of the jovial outlook that really appeals to me. Yesterday I was talking to a friend who recently attended a conference called "Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream" created by the Pachamama Foundation. They are calling for people to recognize the challenges we face while cultivating our creativity, optimism, and sense of responsibility to take action in the face of challenges. They call this condition "Blessed Unrest" and I think it will make a nice topic for a future visit on TTV...