The Zodiac: a Life Epitome

The Zodiac: a Life Epitome


A comparison of the Zodiacal elements with life-principles: cosmic, anthropologic and psychologic


Walter H. Sampson

reprint of the 1928 ed. published by the Blackfriar Press, London.

This book is available on Amazon, Abe Books, and an on demand printer in England (via Amazon).

Why is the zodiac important?

As astrologers we study four basic principles, or building blocks, of our field before exploring her other attributes: Sign, Houses, Planets, and Aspects.  For us, the Zodiac of signs is of paramount importance since this is our yardstick; it is our source for all other measurements. The Zodiac provides the container for every other astrological factor.  But the wheel of signs, created by the earth’s annual revolution around the Sun, is more than just a receptacle for everything else.  It is a living process that infuses every aspect of our lives with meaning.

Why this book?

Walter Sampson’s book is the most comprehensive book on the Zodiac that I have ever read, and probably the best ever written.  Beyond the usual descriptions of the meaning of signs, he shows the relationship that the signs have to each other. Further, he illustrates how the Zodiac is really a life process, expressing itself through every avenue of our experience: spiritual, psychological, and material.  The book demonstrates how each sign of the Zodiac is in a causal relationship with two other signs (its opposite and the sign following).  Further, each sign is also an effect of other signs.  Again, each sign is an effect of the sign before it and a cause of the sign after it. Sampson’s book laid the foundation for later astrology authors (Dane Rudhyar, Charles Carter, Marcia Moore, and Mark Douglas to name a few) who explored the Zodiac as a dynamic activity.  But Sampson does a better, deeper, more thorough job than anyone who has come afterwards.

Sampson tells us at the beginning of his work that belief in, or use of, judicial astrology is not necessary in order to study the symbolic meaning of the signs of the Zodiac as they describe life.  He does an excellent job, as the book’s subject matter is carefully researched, assiduously cross- referenced, and clearly presented.  Even though the style of writing is obviously from a bygone era, it reads remarkably easy.  Even though the style of his writing has the precision of an academic theses, he forgoes the use of an index, uses very few footnotes, and does not include a bibliography.  Instead, he intersperses all his references within the text which makes it read even smoother.  He quotes, with credit, from many different sources and authors including Emerson, Jung, and most interestingly, Percival Lowell’s astronomical works.  This is ironic because Lowell discovered the planet Pluto just two years after this book was released.

About the book

The organization of the work is straightforward; he explains in the Authors Note’s, Preface, and Introduction what his assumptions, prejudices, and procedures are about.  This book started as a series of lectures in 1919; these talks stimulated his thinking, apparently opening “Pandora’s box” for him; he spent the next nine years going ever deeper into the subject matter. Although many authors before and since have used the same divisions of the Zodiac as Sampson, he took the time to build a mental tapestry, showing the logic, the astronomical relations, as well as the geometry of how this pattern of the Zodiac keeps a recurring cycle of growth functioning in creation.

Using basic astronomy, he shows why the twelve signs are really six polarities, with positive and negative expressions that require each other to function. They mutually cause each other to exist and both are at the affect of each other.  He explores very thoroughly the four elements and the three modes, describing them in a manner that carries us far beyond the basic, to a deep understanding of their roots.  After reading this work, your concept of Fire, Earth, Air, and Water will never be the same; it will have expanded.  Sampson places great emphasis on the modes as he considers this division of the signs of the year into seasons most important.  Because every season has three signs, he defines mode not just in terms of geometry, but also as motion: Cardinal as straight line motion, Fixed as circular, and Mutable as vibratory.

Even though the organization of the work follows the signs sequentially (from Aries through Pisces), the signs themselves are grouped into one of three categories: elemental (Aries, Taurus, Gemini, and Cancer) which Sampson refers to as primitive and also subconscious; individual (Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio) which he refers to as human and the signs of our conscious experience; and universal (Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces) which he refers to as superconscious, beyond our ordinary comprehension, the laws, rules, principles, the blueprint of creation.  Each group contains one manifestation of all four elements and is initiated by a fire sign, which Sampson sees as the spirit behind matter: Aries (elemental), Leo (individual), Sagittarius (universal).  The elemental signs are the primitive building blocks of life; individual signs describe the entire human experience from birth (Leo) to death (Scorpio); the universal signs are beyond our normal human experience, but show the ideals functioning in our world.

The main text of the book starts with Aries, which he describes as one dimensional, Taurus as a flat surface, and Gemini as a three dimensional cube.  By adding the element of time to our measurements of length, height, and depth, we have existence, growth, development; something is born. This happens through the sign, Cancer.

Chapters VI and VII are devoted to the movement from Cancer (the last sign in the elemental group) to Leo (the first sign in the individual group).  Here we examine the concept of moving from the process of birth (Cancer) to the birth of the ego and self-awareness (Leo).  Throughout this work, Sampson weaves an interesting argument of how each sign is a logical and natural extension of its predecessor; while at the same time, shows how each movement is a revolt against its former sign.  Rudhyar employed the same argument in his works and listed “The Zodiac: A Life Epitome” in some of his bibliographies. Sampson’s influence is most recognizable in Rudhyar’s 1970 classic, “The Pulse of Life”.

As the book unfolds, Sampson shows that our experience as individual human beings can be understood as manifestations of Leo, Virgo, Libra, and Scorpio: the individual sign group.

In the universal signs (Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces) he demonstrates the birth of various socio-economic ideas which affect our lives today, because they are part of the grand cosmic blueprint.

My relationship to the book

In my early years as an astrologer, I tried to read every book on astrology if it was available in English.  One of the classes I taught to my students was a series on the Zodiac, and I did in fact read every book in print in English on the subject.  “The Zodiac: A Life Epitome” was, and still is, number one without a second; no other is even in the same galaxy.  Through the 70’s I read this work once a year; today I still reread it whenever I have the opportunity.

Book Review by Bob Mulligan