The Jig is Up, You’re Down Transiting Saturn Opposed Natal Sun
By Glenn Perry
No doubt some of you have read the news on Elon Musk of late. Only 47, Musk is the founder, CEO, and lead designer of SpaceX, the private American aerospace transportation company whose goal is to reduce space travel costs and eventually enable the colonization of Mars. For most of us, this sounds like the stuff of fantasy. But Elon is also the co-founder, CEO, and product architect of Tesla Motors, a multinational corporation that specializes in electronic cars, one of which was famously launched into space by a Musk rocket. How’s that for expanding your market? Musk is a force of Nature. As of August 2018, he was reportedly worth $20.2 billion.
Even billionaires, however, have Saturn transits. According to a recent New York Times article, Musk’s Midas touch turned leaden in 2018, not surprising given that transiting Saturn has been opposing his natal Sun all year (exact on Feb 13, June 24, and Nov 13).
Figure I: Elon Musk: June 28, 1971, Pretoria, South Africa
The Sun, of course, constitutes our capacity for free will, creative self-expression, and its affective component, self-esteem. When opposed by transiting Saturn―the reality principle or, as some would have it, the great god of depression―it is apt to signify a period when unbending authorities obstruct one’s intentions, formidable barriers retard progress, unrelenting pressure crushes the spirit, criticism rains down like hailstones, time is limited and dire circumstances force you to take stock, cut losses, and double down. Camus knew it as Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the mountain again, and again and again.
My Solar Fire chart calculation/interpretation program offers this cherry assessment:
Transiting Saturn Opposition Radix Sun
Life seems like an endurance test during this transit. You feel tired, worn out and old as your list of jobs seems overwhelming in comparison with your time and energy. There may be delays in your projects or simply a feeling that the fruits of your current labours are hard to see right now. It is a time to ponder on your priorities and discard any tasks that may be blocking your path, while shouldering responsibility in the areas which are important. Meditation may be useful. Certainly, it is a time to watch your diet and health.
In a Nutshell: A bad week for Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk came to an end with the share price dropping nearly 9% on Friday. The fall came after a New York Times article that says Musk has gone through “the most painful year of his career” trying to get the Model 3 up to full production. In the interview, Musk admitted to using a sleeping aid and being under tremendous professional and personal stress. Earlier in the week, the Securities and Exchange commission announced it was looking into Musk’s tweet about taking the company private and multiple lawsuits were filed against the company.
The Payoff: Tesla shares have now fallen 20% since Elon Musk’s infamous “funding secured” tweet. If Musk’s tweet is to be believed, investors stand to grab a profit of 38% if Tesla is taken private at $420. If there’s no deal available to take the company private, there is the very real chance the company goes bankrupt in the next three to nine months.
As of this writing, the deal is off and there is no money available to take the company private, which could further erode Musk’s credibility and expose him to a fine for misleading investors. Do a search for Elon Musk and you’ll find a hundred stories on his recent travails. A Vanity Fair headline says it all: “Elon Musk’s Week From Hell Ends With Tears”. Although Musk admitted during the NY Times interview that the past year has been “excruciating”, there is no relief in sight. In fact, things are getting worse. Musk says he’s working 18 hours a day, 7-days a week, and is stressed to the max from delayed production of his model 3 mass-market electric car.
The above is just a small sample of the trials and tribulations Musk has had to endure this year, though much has been self-inflicted. After a string of negative press targeting Tesla cars for their lack of adequate safety procedures, Musk admitted he was “frustrated” with the media and was contemplating counter-measures, which, in turn, caused backlash from journalists. With transiting Saturn opposing the Sun, it’s back and forth we go as the solar-ego instinctively defends itself against what seem to be harsh, unwarranted criticisms. All of this can be extremely deflating. And to the extent one has attempted to defy gravity―literally in Musk’s case (think SpaceX)―it can lead to a resounding crash.
Years ago, I remember reading a story in the San Francisco Chronicle about a city supervisor who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge to his death. Living far beyond his means, he had led a profligate life that culminated in massive debt, legal troubles and imminent financial ruin. In effect, the jig was up, and he went down, preferring to smash face first into the icy waters of the San Francisco Bay at 80 mph than face the grievous consequences of bad decisions. The paper listed his date of birth. Sure enough, transiting Saturn was opposing his Sun.
Saturn moves slowly and generally retrogrades at some point, which means the transit is exact three times over the course of 9 months. Its opposition to the Sun occurs every 29 years to everyone; so, it’s not a common thing, more an extended reality check that hovers like a dark cloud blocking out the Sun for the duration. Lollipops and rainbows are in short supply, the air goes out of the balloon. Saturn says, come back to earth; it’s time to pay the piper.
People have it at different times of their lives depending upon the Sun’s location at birth. The celebrity chef, Anthony Bourdain, had it this year, too. Like Elon Musk, Bourdain is a Cancer, with transiting Saturn opposing his Sun on January 22, July 25, and October 17. But Bourdain didn’t even make it to the 2nd pass. On June 8, his best friend, Eric Ripert, found him hanging in his bathroom, deader than a burnt steak. In what must surely be an understatement, Ripert reports, “Tony had been in a dark mood these past couple of days.”
Others claimed that his grueling, globe-trotting work schedule fueled a vulnerability to depression. This would be consistent with Bourdain’s stressed Capricorn Moon and his Venus-Sun quincunx to Saturn (see Figure II). As a TV host and virtual one man show, Bourdain was a self-admitted workaholic who gave everything to his series, Parts Unknown. Ironically, Bourdain recently predicted he would probably “die in the saddle.” After his energy was exhausted, friends say he would simply collapse ― this time, off a chair with a rope tied round his neck.
Figure II: Anthony Bourdain: June 25, 1956, 8:35 am, New York
These rather grim examples give us pause to reflect that hard work and career success is no guarantor of personal happiness. If one’s life is out-of-balance and there’s no fuel left in the tank when Saturn comes round to visit, it’s like getting hit head-on by a twelve-ton truck just as you’re completing a marathon. Worse, the driver parks his rig on your chest for 9 months as the officials bicker over whether you actually crossed the finish line. Talk about adding insult to injury.
Of course, not every Saturn opposition to the Sun results in severe deflation. Like any transit, its effects unfold along a continuum from functional to dysfunctional. Transits are participatory things; we happen to them as much as they happen to us. For some, transiting Saturn opposed the Sun is simply a reality check and course correction that puts one back on the path to success. Others use it in collaboration with authoritative others (Saturn) to achieve a joint goal of weighty significance.
Results, both low and high, are contingent on the signs and houses involved as well as natal aspects the Sun makes to other planetary playmates. But mostly, outcomes reflect the level of integration operative within the person as a whole. If the individual needs work in forming a proper balance between Solar and Saturn functions, it will be a less than pleasant time. But if one is already on good terms with Saturn, the occasion, if not exactly a happy reunion, will at least provide a spur that quickens one’s journey up the mountain – and without the obligatory boulder rollback.
A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.
Rumors and allegations have been swirling since I gave a lecture on the sidereal zodiac in India last month. I thought it might be helpful to share my perspective and address an issue that goes beyond questions of scholarship and cultural sensitivity. Most people in the west hold the right to free speech and the values of free inquiry as sacrosanct. However, I have learned from recent experience that the right to free speech may not apply when people are confronted with speech they don’t like. The reasons for this are complex, ranging from cultural imperatives to wounds we’ve suffered as a community. But first, some background.
An International Incident
I am a member of The International Association for Astrological Research (ISAR). Until this past month, I was also their research director and ethics chair, having been on the ISAR Board for sixteen of the last twenty-one years. This February, I went to an international conference in India and presented my research on a topic of significance to the global astrological community: “the two-zodiac problem.” A verbatim transcript of the talk is here, or you can see it on YouTube.
The lecture was a straightforward, even-tempered reading of a paper that concluded with an opinion that the sidereal zodiac is a historical error. Only 30 minutes long, it was but a brief summation of a 9000-word article submitted to the conference organizers months earlier and published in the conference proceedings. The article itself was the product of years of research, containing 39 references to noted authorities on the origins of the zodiac. A more recent version has just been published in the ISAR Journal (Vol. 47, Issue 1, March 2018).
As the lecture generated considerable controversy, resulting in my resignation from the ISAR Board, the following is a synopsis to provide a context for the discussion that follows.
At the inception of the Babylonian calendar in the 1st millennium BC, the solar year was divided into four seasons of three months each with the equinoctial and solstitial points located in the middle of months I, IV, VII, and X. This later became the basis for a twelve 30° per/sign zodiac organized around the equinoctial and solsticial points.
Midway through the 1st millennium BC in pursuit of greater computational accuracy in measuring planetary positions, Babylonian astronomers consolidated approximately 17 to 18 irregular constellations along the ecliptic into 12 equal, sharply defined 30° sectors called zodiacal signs.
While signs were defined in reference to the fixed stars, the constellations themselves were anchored to the equinoctial and solsticial points at approximately 10° sidereal Aries, 10° sidereal Cancer, 10° sidereal Libra, and 10° sidereal Capricorn. Hence the Babylonian zodiac was a hybrid, neither fully tropical nor sidereal but a combination of both. In effect, the cardinal constellations were seasonal markers. Wrapping the cardinal constellations around the equinoctial and solstitial points made it easy to identify the start of a new season, for it began on the day the Sun rose in that constellation.
For most of the 1st millennium BC, signs and constellations were conflated. There was no need to make a sharp distinction between signs, constellations, and seasons since it was assumed their linkage was permanent. Zodiacal signs were metaphors of seasonal processes occurring in nature. Aries is spring-like as nature is heating up and new life is sprouting, bold and fresh. Libra is balanced, just as the duration of light and darkness is perfectly balanced at the start of autumn. Scorpio is transformational as leaves are turning colors, falling to the ground, and nature is dying. Capricorn is winter-like, signifying when nature is maximally contracted, days are short, and austerity is required.
The starry heavens comprised the ancient calendar and were a means for organizing time into discernible segments and qualities. Later, zodiacal signs came to have additional meanings that went beyond their correlation to seasonal processes. Yet, all such meanings were self-consistent with their original, root meaning in nature. From the foundational meaning of Aries as the start of spring, for example, analogous meanings were derived pertaining to birth, new beginnings, assertion, fighting, and war.
When precession of the equinoxes was discovered by the Greek astronomer Hipparchus in the 2nd century BC, the implications were staggering. Constellations and seasons were not in a fixed relationship to one another, as had long been supposed; rather, seasons were wedded solely to the equinoctial and solstitial points. Moreover, these points drifted relative to the backdrop of the fixed stars at a rate of 1° every 72 years, which meant that seasons and constellations were increasingly divergent.
To assure that sign meanings retained their original connection to the seasons, and that calendars would remain accurate over time, the signs were divorced from the constellations, which drifted away like the first stage of a rocket that had served its purpose well. Henceforth, the cardinal signs began with the equinoctial and solsticial points: 0° Aries (vernal equinox), 0° Cancer (summer solstice), 0° Libra (autumnal equinox), and 0° Capricorn (winter solstice). This was the tropical zodiac.
At about this time, the tropical zodiac migrated to India, which had no zodiac of 12 signs, nor any horoscopic astrology with planets, houses, or aspects (though it did have a system of 27 nakshatras, or lunar mansions). By the 2nd century AD, virtually the entire corpus of Hellenistic astrology had been transmitted to the east. What didn’t make the trip was knowledge of precession. Hindus initially copied the Greeks in linking the cardinal signs to the equinoctial and solstitial points. But there is no mention of precession in Indian astrological or astronomical texts until the 10th century AD, more than a thousand years after Hipparchus discovered precession in the west.
During the 2nd and 3rd centuries, after the transmission of Hellenistic astrology to India was complete, the vernal point and 0° sidereal Aries were roughly in correspondence. Only dimly aware of precession if at all, it was easy for Hindu astrologers to make the mistake of measuring planetary position strictly from the fixed stars with only passing reference to the equinoctial and solstitial points. Evidence suggests they assumed, as had the Babylonians before them, that signs and constellations were essentially the same―twelve 30° sectors that would remain in a fixed relationship to the seasons forever.
By the 10th century, however, the vernal point had precessed some 10° backwards relative to the fixed stars and was now in the constellation Pisces. It became obvious that the original correspondence of sidereal Aries to the vernal point no longer held. Having become habituated for a thousand years to the notion that the constellations were the true powers, they adopted the sidereal zodiac officially and abandoned any reference to the vernal point as the start of the zodiac.
Meanwhile, in the west, it was increasingly accepted that constellations never had the power or meaning that early humans projected onto them. Their presumed influence on earthly matters had merely been an illusion based on a misperception of the actual cause of seasonal processes. The true cause of the seasons was the earth’s axial tilt (obliquity) relative to its orbital plane, a phenomenon that would not be fully understood until after the Copernican revolution of the 16th century.
Most importantly, while zodiacal signs are abstract principles rooted in nature, their meanings arise from the phase relations (angles) they constitute in earth’s orbital cycle, evidence for which is that houses and aspects derive their meanings from the same angles as the signs to which they correspond. The earth-Sun annual cycle, the 24-hour diurnal cycle of earth’s axial rotation, and the synodic cycle between two planets, are all divided into 12 sub-phases within a 360° cycle starting at a definite point―the vernal point (signs), the eastern horizon (houses), and the conjunction (aspects). In short, the meaning of signs, houses, and aspects share a kinship based upon the angle they have in common. Libra, for example, is analogous to the 7th house and the opposition, as all three are comprised of the same 180° angle.
The upshot is that in astrology, all meaning is an angle. Constellations have nothing to do with it.
This was essentially my argument. The zodiac originally served a calendrical purpose, and calendar keeping is the foundation upon which astrology rests. Zodiacal signs are phase relations of earth’s annual orbit about the Sun, which is subdivided into 12 angles and anchored to the equinoctial and solstitial points. Once Hindu astrologers rejected the linkage between signs and seasons, their zodiac became unmoored, drifting into space in abandonment of a 2000-year tradition that had always connected the zodiac to the cardinal points, however loosely. In the most controversial slide of the lecture, I noted:
Yet, the sidereal zodiac hangs on, a vestigial organ once relevant to our Babylonian ancestors but no longer in accord with our current understanding of the cosmos. The sidereal zodiac was effectively terminated by the tropical zodiac, but like a ghost haunting its executioner, casts a troubling shadow over our profession.
Several people objected to likening the sidereal zodiac to a “vestigial organ”, thinking it was disrespectful. Yet, it is an apt metaphor. The original, twelve 30-degrees per/sign zodiac of the Babylonians was a fabric of constellations hung upon the equinoctial and solsticial points like dressing on a frame. What became the exclusively tropical zodiac necessarily evolved out of a dependency on stars for measurement. But once precession was discovered, zodiac signs were severed from the constellations and the sidereal component eventually became superfluous, like a vestigial organ. In saying this, no disrespect was intended. It’s simply what happened.
That the sidereal zodiac “casts a troubling shadow over our profession” is also true for a variety of reasons, the most important of which is that clients and the larger public are confused about what to believe. Recently, a complete stranger confided to me (we sat in adjoining seats on a plane) that she received readings for herself and her four teenaged children by a Vedic astrologer who told everyone that they were not who they thought they were; that is, they had different Sun signs from what they had always believed. It caused considerable upset for the family and precipitated a shared identity crisis. Their “felt sense” of the accuracy of their Sun-sign was contradicted by the Vedic astrologer’s authoritative pronouncement that the tropical zodiac was wrong.
Of course, the Vedic astrologer had every right to assert what he believed to be true just as a tropical astrologer would if the situation were reversed. The point is that many people are confused and upset. They want to know what to believe; they want to trust astrology and astrologers. But if we cannot decide something as fundamental as which zodiac is correct, why should they trust us? As with every field, the truth matters. Ideas have consequences. If there is a sound argument based on historical facts that one or the other zodiac is incorrect, then that argument should be made.
After I returned from India, what happened next was extraordinary. My lecture ignited a firestorm of protest amongst western astrologers who attended the conference. Several charged that the lecture violated ISAR’s ethics code.
A.8.a. Different Approaches
Astrologers respect approaches to professional astrology that differ from their own and the traditions and practices of other professional groups with whom they work.
In a coordinated campaign, a half-dozen or more astrologers wrote to the ISAR Board demanding that I be removed as Ethics Chair under threat of canceling their membership. In effect, ISAR was being extorted to punish me, and in effect, to silence me.
The allegations were that I had “belittled and attacked my hosts,” that my talk “degenerated into name calling and arrogance,” that “a vehement tone emerged,” and that my “rudeness” and “aggression” may have “sabotaged a promising dialogue between the two astrologies.” The problem was that all the accusations were demonstrably false, as anyone who reads the text or views the video can see.
Within days following the talk, Facebook was ablaze with similar allegations of my being rude, insensitive, intolerant, disrespectful, and aggressive toward my Indian hosts. It was a contagion of scorn and derision spread by social media contact. One individual went so far as to attribute quotes to me that were entirely fabricated.
After thoroughly reviewing the matter, none of my fellow Board members thought I had done anything unethical. Allegations that my lecture violated ISAR’s ethics code were dismissed as unfounded. No one asked, suggested, or pressured me to resign from the Board. Nevertheless, the resultant outcry put the ISAR Board in a tough spot: defend me and lose members or punish me and retain members.
After much consideration, I thought it best to resign because I didn’t think the ISAR Board should be in that position. And I couldn’t guarantee they wouldn’t be again. After all, I had a history, which several people on Facebook had already brought up. “Glenn has done this before,” they charged. “He attacks traditions he doesn’t like.”
The question arises as to why positions I’ve taken are so upsetting to so many. There are two possibilities, and they are not mutually exclusive. The first is that I am simply a bad person guilty of all charges. The second is that the astrological community is thin-skinned and hyper-defensive in response to perceived criticisms.
The first possibility warrants an admission. It is my view that people are responsible for repetitive experiences they attract. After all, this is implicit in astrology, for every variable in the chart symbolizes both a facet of character and a characteristic event. Such events start in childhood and extend into adulthood, always of the same pattern―yet, each new episode provides a vehicle for the further integration and development of the person. Since I teach this to my students, I can hardly deny it’s also true for me.
In my chart, a key configuration is Moon Sagittarius in the 8th exactly opposed to Mars Gemini in the 2nd. I grew up in a family with a mother who refused to admit the truth that she was alcoholic. Even when severely inebriated, which happened regularly, she would deny that she was drunk. If confronted with the obvious, she attacked me for being a bad son and saying things that were viciously untrue and deeply hurtful. In other words, she played the victim, seeking to induce guilt in her accuser. She was successful; it was crazy-making. And since no one else (sister, father) was willing to intervene, it left me in a state of guilt-saturated, perpetual anger. I felt frustrated and alone in attempts to heal a family wound that vastly exceeded my capacity.
In retrospect, I can see that this pattern of childhood experience fits my chart perfectly. In short, it’s me, not just my family or mother. It’s my karma, and it bears consequences that unavoidably extend into adult life. Later experiences with my astrological “family” recapitulate the general pattern. Noting problems that require honest confrontation, I set about exposing them, but this merely triggers angry denials and denunciations. Howls of protest echo my inebriated mother’s counterattacks whenever I confronted her. And just as I felt unsupported by my sister and father, so I feel unsupported by my astrological colleagues, with rare exception.
Clearly, this pattern of experience is the externalization of an inner state; as within, so without. Whatever residual anger is left over from my early years now manifests as frustrated attempts to engage others who oppose my efforts to address problems in the field. What can we make of this? Traditional astrologers might solemnly pronounce it’s a tragic fate from which there is no escape. Evolutionary astrologers might proclaim it’s a just karma earned from misdeeds in a prior life. I would not argue with either. But I would add that the degree to which I’m aware of the pattern empowers me to make choices in how I respond to it―choices that I otherwise could not make―and that makes all the difference.
I believe inner and outer conditions are synchronistically related and constitute a feedback loop that facilitates learning. One thing I’ve learned from my pattern is that I can’t force people to see things they’re unable or unwilling to see. As a child, I tended to take it personally, as if my mother’s denial and counterattacks were evidence that either I was “bad” (hurtful, crazy) for confronting her, or she was bad (uncaring, dishonest) for denying the legitimacy of my pain. In retrospect, I can see that we were both in tremendous pain. My mother’s defensiveness toward me wasn’t personal; it was in the service of protecting her from overwhelming guilt. My perceptions and feelings were sound regardless of whether she could validate them.
Likewise, if certain of my colleagues become upset with positions I’ve taken on various issues, I can’t take it personally, and there’s no point in forcing the issue. But neither can I assume that my perceptions and feelings are invalid. That someone gets upset over someone else’s opinion is not prima facie evidence that a wrong has been committed. There are plenty of historical examples that attest to this. Darwin’s work was upsetting to Christians who believed in the literal truth of the Bible; Copernicus’ work was threatening to astronomers who were deeply attached to a geocentric view of the cosmos. Both were reviled, hated, and ridiculed by their colleagues. I’m not comparing myself to Darwin or Copernicus. What I am saying is that just because people get upset with a viewpoint does not necessarily constitute a moral lapse on the part of the presenter. An argument may or may not be immoral (dishonest, depraved) but should be assessed on its own merits, not on whether people are pleased with it.
The challenge (and opportunity) in responding to hostile feedback is to deepen empathic connection with one’s detractors. While this is not easy when you’re up against the wall, recent events have given me pause to reflect: am I truly rude, divisive, and arrogant? Or, is the astrological community hyper-defensive in response to perceived criticisms? In whichever way the question is answered, there can be no progress toward resolution without compassion for self and other. I must accept I make mistakes; I can be blunt, opinionated, and combative; I can overstate my case. But this does not exclude the possibility that there’s an external problem as well. And if so, the work lies in seeing the connection and keeping my balance in addressing both.
Upsets and Allegations
The following is not intended to relitigate prior offenses, but to put in perspective an issue that I think has broader implications for us as a community. In 2002 at a NORWAC Conference, I interrupted and corrected a speaker during his lecture when he made an untrue, inflammatory comment about an article on astro-ethics that I had just written for The Mountain Astrologer. I regret interrupting the speaker. It was wrong. But the situation was more complicated than appeared. With oversight from the ISAR Board, I had recently created the ISAR Ethics Code, which was the backdrop for the article the NORWAC speaker had referenced during his talk. In that code, an injunction stated:
D.3.g. Claims About Past Lives Astrologers who interpret chart symbols in terms of possible past lives assure clients that such interpretations are speculative in nature. Such interpretations do not induce unnecessary guilt or fear in the client, or state with unjustified certainty that the client is suffering from the consequences of an alleged past life action. Likewise, when writing articles or books that contain statements about past lives and astrology, authors disclose the source of their information and acknowledge the speculative nature of their claims.
This section was intended to address the questionable practice, common in books and computer-generated reports, of making pronouncements about the meaning of configurations in terms of past lives. Often these “interpretations” were of a highly negative nature without acknowledging that the interpretation was entirely speculative. Since consumers had no way of differentiating meanings grounded in observable data from those that were made up whole cloth from the astrologer’s imagination, they were in a vulnerable position if they were told, for instance, that Venus square Saturn indicates a karmic debt due to “selfishness” and “misuse of love” in a past life, and that in this life the native would be doomed to “limitations, disappointment and loneliness” in their quest for love. Mind you, this is an actual interpretation from a well-known book one can still purchase.
As a psychologist, I was troubled by these and similar interpretations of past lives currently being marketed by the astrological community. So, in addition to the section in the ISAR Ethics Code, I wrote an article highlighting the dangers such practices held for vulnerable clients. I did not state in the article (nor do I believe) that past-life interpretations are inherently unethical; rather, I asserted that astrologers should admit such interpretations are speculative. Once again, the article was well-researched and respectfully argued with 21 references to various authorities. And once again, it was met with howls of protest and demands for apology from astrologers who identified with the practices critiqued. Chief among these was the NORWAC speaker whose apparent intention in giving his lecture was to embarrass (and silence) the author.
In 2008, a similar situation unfolded following an article I wrote for the NCGR Research Journal titled “From Ancient to Postmodern Astrology”. There had been a resurgence of interest in traditional astrology during the prior two decades, which was partly in response to the sloppy, vague and imprecise nature of humanistic, psychological astrology that had emerged in the 20th century. Yet, the traditional techniques being recovered tended to be rigid, one-dimensional, and fatalistic, as characterized astrology in the first and second centuries. My intention in writing the article was to encourage caution in the uncritical acceptance and application of practices that originated 2000 years ago. By analogy, if modern dentistry became the beneficiary of an archaeological discovery of lost dentistry methods from year 2, we might expect the profession to be somewhat reticent in applying them immediately with modern patients.
Again, the article was extensively researched with 41 references to authorities on the evolution of astrology. It dealt strictly with ideas and practices, not persons. Yet, once more, there were howls of protest and slashing, vituperative attacks on my character and scholarship. It was as if I touched a nerve that triggered some deep, primal anger unrelated to the merit of the article. The lynch mob erupted in full force.
What’s curious about these responses is that I generally receive favorable reviews for my work. Among the hundreds of articles I’ve authored during my 40 years in the field, only three sparked controversy: questioning whether past life information can be ascertained from birthcharts; reviewing concepts in traditional astrology that lead to fatalistic interpretations; and critiquing the underlying rationale of the sidereal zodiac. In effect, I challenged certain practices that I thought were theoretically and/or ethically questionable.
The offending articles are invariably characterized as “attacks” but are actually critiques, which is a legitimate form of academic writing. ‘Attack’ derives from the language of war and entails aggressive and hostile action against a person, group, or belief. The goal is subjugation of the enemy. Conversely, a critique is a detailed analysis, assessment or evaluation of something, especially a literary, philosophical, or political theory. The goal is discernment of truth. While a critique may contain some criticism, it is not an attack unless the reviewer is so over the top with bitterness, hostility and condemnation that it clearly crosses the line.
It’s worth noting that when someone accuses you of attacking a tradition that you’ve merely critiqued, what’s actually happening is they’re attacking you for doing the critique. A good example is a recent 90-minute YouTube video of my 30-minute India lecture. It was created by an astrologer who, it seems, has harbored a grudge that goes back to the aforementioned 2008 article on traditional astrology. Ten years later, he’s still out for revenge. In the video, he starts with plunging the dagger and spends the next 90 minutes twisting it.
Looking Beyond the Self―Astrology’s Shadow
In the wake of my lecture in India, one astrologer suggested that perhaps I embody the “shadow” of the community. I’m not exactly sure what she meant, but if the astrological community has a shadow, I suspect it has to do with a sense of badness and wrongness that’s been inculcated by centuries of scorn from science, academia, and the church.
Recently I read an article about Syrian migrants flooding into Germany and causing severe stress on that country’s resources. Yet, any citizen who complains about Germany’s open-door refugee policy is immediately denounced as a Nazi. In effect, Deutschland’s shadow is its shame from WWII atrocities committed by actual Nazis. Contemporary Germans polarize to that identity by exclaiming their virtue as a compassionate, inclusive, and welcoming nation. And I believe they are, but they’re also hyper-reactive to any behavior that could be construed as racist.
The psychology of present day Germany illustrates how inherited shame can be a powerful force in constellating a collective shadow and shaping compensatory attitudes. As astrologers, we have inherited shame, too. We’ve been condemned by the church for nearly two millennia; rejected by science and banished from the University for three centuries; and are continually mocked by the media. Surely, our collective shadow is a deep sense of moral and intellectual inferiority. How could it be otherwise? Though I would be quick to argue that our shame is unwarranted since any objective person who takes the time to study astrology recognizes its validity.
In some ways, astrologers live in a world similar to my childhood family. Unable to admit her shame, my mother tried to get me to think I was crazy, that my perceptions and experience were merely imagined, that I was wrong in what I believed to be true. The psychological term for this is “gaslighting”, which occurs when someone is manipulated into questioning the validity of their feelings and perceptions, and ultimately their sanity. Likewise, the guardians of the dominant paradigm in western culture have a vested interest in sowing doubt within the astrological community. For if it turns out we’re right, the old paradigm will topple. The stakes are high, and the guardians are not likely to relinquish power without a fight. Gaslighting is their weapon of choice. Centuries of ridicule and scorn have left deep emotional scars upon the psyche of the astrological community.
Astrologers are so accustomed to defending themselves from external attacks that it makes self-evaluation difficult. Ostracized from academia, we are largely untrained in critical thinking and research protocols. The result is an insular, self-protective mindset that tends to proclaim all views as equally valid, an untenable position that no other field would ever presume to take.
This was brought home during a Facebook discussion following my lecture in India. One astrologer was astonished that I critiqued the sidereal zodiac before an audience of Indian astrologers. “I can’t imagine that an Indian astrologer would be rude enough to criticize the tropical zodiac,” she sniffed. “Besides, who is so arrogant as to presume something doesn’t work in astrology?”
Her statement speaks for itself. Every knowledge claim, every method and technique, “works”. Such an attitude compensates astrology’s shadow―the fear that nothing works, that we are fools, that our detractors were right all along. To keep these fears at bay, an unspoken but powerful taboo has arisen: Thou shalt not criticize anything astrological.
So, what happens when the taboo is violated? What happens when one of our own questions the validity of an accepted astrological doctrine such as the sidereal zodiac? Jung called it enantiodromia, the tendency for the psyche to flip into its opposite; to be possessed by its unconscious. In our case, the persecuted becomes the persecutor, projecting upon the wrongdoer its own sins and attendant shame. Scapegoating is the technical term, the most dramatic example of which is the public lynching of individuals accused of rape or murder, impulses that are repressed within the psyche of every citizen. Figuratively speaking, a lynch mob is any angry group that leaps to punish someone they believe has committed an egregious offense, the potential for which they deny within themselves. By definition, the lynch mob exterminates its scapegoat without due process. In this case, it kills the critic.
It seems to me that what we’ve been witnessing on Facebook and in letters to ISAR excoriating the author is a classic example of a lynch mob seeking a scapegoat. One astrologer even suggested I should be killed; others that I be banned from astrological conferences forever; another called me a sociopath. The reactions were so extreme and disproportionate to any actual offense that I cannot help but think there’s more going on than meets the eye. What happened following my lecture is an ancient, primitive, and frightening phenomenon that seems rooted in a community’s need to expiate its shame and guilt by finding a scapegoat and engaging in an act of ritual murder.
A Pervasive, Irrational Bias
In subsequent discussions on Facebook that dealt with statistical research, I was struck by the pervasive bias amongst astrologers that both zodiacs can work. There was no particular logic to these pronouncements; just a fervent conviction that somehow both zodiacs must be valid. At first, I suspected this was due to an aversion to telling an entire group of believers that they are wrong. But I think now it has more to do with the aforementioned taboo: Thou shalt not criticize anything astrological.
I take it for granted that every field makes mistakes. This was driven home during my years in graduate school. I learned that the history of science is littered with the corpses of discarded theories, some of which were around for thousands of years before being pronounced defunct. This is how knowledge advances; there’s no shame in it.
Because I believe two zodiacs that contradict one another cannot both be right, my inquiry began with a question: could a mistake have occurred that resulted in a splitting of one zodiac into two? I then endeavored to determine where, when, and how the mistake might have occurred. This seemed a more logical way to proceed than leaping to the warm and fuzzy conclusion that both zodiacs are correct and then coming up with a tortured rationale for why this is so. We should at least be willing to consider that one side or the other is wrong if that’s what the evidence indicates.
For the Sidereal Zodiac to be Valid
What would it take for the sidereal zodiac to be valid? Let us consider the matter, but first there are some facts to face. That the constellations were originally linked to the equinoctial and solsticial points is beyond dispute. Likewise, it seems self-evident that sign meanings are rooted in their association with seasonal processes from which later, analogous meanings were derived. We also know that the Babylonian New Year began with the first new Moon closest to the vernal equinox in the constellation Aries. Since it heralded the renewal of life, the vernal equinox (spring) was a natural place to start the year. However, the stars that formed the backdrop to that date in the 1st millennium BC were irrelevant since they would only be there temporarily. Within a thousand years, an entirely new group of stars would surround the vernal point. Yet, the meaning of the vernal point does not change; spring is still spring. Clearly, what gave tropical Aries its meaning―vitality, boldness, spontaneity, fresh starts, an instinct for survival―was its association with the vernal point, not the constellation of stars that surrounded it.
For the sidereal zodiac to be valid, we would have to assume that by some miracle the stars that comprised the constellation Aries had then, and will continue to have forever, exactly the same meaning and effect as the period of time indissolubly associated with the vernal equinox. In other words, the meaning and power of sidereal Aries is entirely independent of the vernal point and will continue to have the same meaning and power long after the vernal point has precessed from it.
Moreover, by this same miracle coincidence, every other constellation had exactly the same quality and meaning as the season to which it once corresponded; and would continue eternally to have this meaning despite no longer being in alignment with the season to which it corresponded when the zodiac originated. This implies, for example, that the 30° sector of stars surrounding the winter solstice in 500 BC had a meaning and power that just happened at the time to be a perfect match to the quality of winter that is indissolubly associated with the sign Capricorn―conservative, cold, formal, a penchant for structure, and so on. Even after the constellation Capricorn no longer coincided with the winter solstice, its attendant stars would continue forever to confer winter-like attributes to anyone born with the Sun in that constellation. This is what the sidereal zodiac requires us to believe.
The sidereal argument (if it can even be called that) begs credulity. The claim that star groups have eternal meanings and powers consistent with the seasons to which they corresponded when the zodiac first originated is farfetched, to put it mildly. It is more reasonable to assume that constellations were artificial constructs, expedient groupings of stars that provided a visible means for measuring planetary positions and forecasting seasonal changes. In all likelihood, myths and meanings projected upon constellations derived from the misperception that they were causal factors in determining seasonal conditions and analogous sociological phenomena.
In saying this, I realize I am violating astrology’s first commandment: Thou shalt not criticize anything astrological. Yet, even in the truncated form presented above, I would think any reasonable person would perceive there’s a certain logic to the argument. It’s rational, coherent, defensible. So, why not simply have a respectful conversation about where we might disagree? As we shall see in the following section, it’s not so easy anymore, for anyone.
A Postmodern Straitjacket
It would be naive to think that astrological debates are not subsumed within a larger, cultural matrix that establishes rules for what is permissible to think, say and do. When I was at graduate school in the 70’s and 80’s, my first courses were in epistemology and the history of science. Our professors wanted us to learn how to think critically and, ultimately, tackle unsolved problems in a chosen topic area. Research would ideally culminate with presentation of a paper at a conference, which might spark further discussion and debate. If someone disagreed with a presentation, they were encouraged to attempt to explain, using logic, evidence, facts, and substantive arguments, why they disagreed. By the 1990’s, all that began to change.
This change has been the subject of numerous studies in itself. Alan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind was a bellwether and heralded a wave of similar books including Bruce Bawer’s more recent The Victims’ Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the Liberal Mind. Bloom, Bawer, and other authors assert there’s been a breakdown in norms governing academic discourse over the last decades, especially regarding tolerance of opposing views. Some speakers invited to college campuses are demonized to the point that students are coddled and insulated in “safe spaces” from speech they find threatening―or, more ominously, these speakers are prevented from even entering the campus due to violent protests.
All of this is traceable to the rise of a pernicious doctrine―postmodernism―that not only has infected college campuses but also western culture as a whole. Postmodernism started as a legitimate corrective to the excesses of modernism but eventually morphed into a caricature of itself, as so often occurs with compensatory movements.
Essentially, postmodernism divides the world into oppressors and oppressed and sees all discourse as a power struggle between them. Oppressors are those in a position of power; the oppressed those who comparatively lack power, which is invariably defined as a consequence of victimization by the powerful. The oppressed are never in any way responsible for their own condition. They are, by definition, victims.
The power of truth to shape moral behavior is undercut by postmodernism’s core edict: there is no final truth, merely points of view originating in different places and times. All truths are rationally equivalent; all acts are morally equivalent. Nothing is right or wrong except thinking makes it so, and there is no privileged perspective. Tolerance reigns supreme over all other virtues and renders superfluous any sort of moral judgment. Intolerance is the only real crime. Fairness and equality supersede evaluations of superior/inferior, better/worse, or any form of hierarchy based on merit. Inclusivity and diversity supplant meritocracy. Equal opportunity is replaced by equal outcome; everyone gets a trophy because feeling unequal is not an option. In short, protection of feelings takes precedence over discernment of truth.
Postmodernism is a form of absolutism that presumes a position of superiority over conventional ideologies (religious and political) that are uniformly defined as authoritarian, dogmatic, and oppressive of minorities. Otherwise known as ideological fascism, it has spawned the “I Am Offended” movement like cholera on an infected ship. That postmodernism is itself merely a perspective is largely unrecognized by its exponents. Yet, to the extent it remains unrecognized, it compels allegiance under threat of being labeled morally inferior or mentally ill―selfish, heartless, racist, misogynistic, colonialist, supremacist, islamophobic, xenophobic. The list goes on.
Clearly, postmodernism has found its way to astrology. The chief complaint regarding my talk in India was that it was insensitive by virtue of my conclusion that the sidereal zodiac is an historical error. Again, in the world of postmodernism, judgments of right and wrong are divisive, offensive, and downright mean. Some critics alleged that I assumed a “posture of cultural superiority” and displayed “blatant disrespect for the culture of the people in whose home he was a guest.” One astrologer even charged that my talk exemplified colonial powers oppressing the local natives.
I was fully aware of the sensitivity of critiquing the sidereal zodiac while in India. However, it seemed to me that protecting Indian astrologers from challenging views is akin to treating them as children. It’s the worst kind of condescension because it cloaks itself as moral superiority. And that’s the paradox: to not give the talk would be insulting to Indian astrologers, for it implies they are too weak to tolerate disagreement and too ignorant to engage in reasoned debate. I categorically reject this view.
One might think that an international conference is the proper venue for discussion of problems that transcend cultures and remain unsolved within a field. But western astrologers, well-versed in the “I Am Offended” movement, screamed I should apologize for offending my hosts! In doing so, they were marching lockstep in obeisance to the postmodern ethos that feelings are more important than truth.
A Wizard Attacks
One western astrologer who was present at the lecture was especially offended. This astrologer, who likes to dress up in wizard’s clothes and call himself “Merlin”, wrote an open letter to the astrological community about how “shocked and dismayed” he was in response to the delivery of my lecture, as well as its content. His harangue is worth consideration because it demonstrates the extremes to which some astrologers will go to silence speech they don’t like. Although a tropical astrologer, he has made public his conviction that both zodiacs are valid; thus, he has turf to defend, and is willing to do so by denigrating the character of those who openly disagree with him.
He begins by criticizing my first slide, a cartoon depicting a beleaguered elephant on a couch in a psychiatrist’s office saying, “I’m right there in the room, and no one even acknowledges me.” Of course, it’s a metaphor of the two-zodiac problem. The wizard thought this was “appalling” and demonstrated “blatant ignorance and disrespect” for Indian culture given that I shared the stage with a statue of Lord Ganesha, the elephant headed god of the Hindu faith. Yet, had he read the accompanying article published in the proceedings of the conference, he would have noted that I wrote:
I’m thinking this could be Ganesha, the Hindu Elephant Headed God. Ganesha is widely revered as the remover of obstacles, the patron of arts and sciences and the deva of intellect and wisdom. As we gather on these pages to discuss astrology, which is rooted in the zodiac, it is perhaps fitting that Ganesha should be seeking therapy for his experience of not being acknowledged. For his predicament symbolizes a difficult topic we often try to avoid, perhaps out of politeness, or simply because of its mind-numbing complexity. Yet, he also symbolizes precisely those attributes necessary to face it, if not resolve it.
My decision to use the cartoon reflected my faith that Indian astrologers have a sense of humor and a capacity to appreciate metaphor. I also had faith (wrongly, it turns out) that if someone is going to criticize my position on the sidereal zodiac that he would take 40 minutes to actually read the article on which the lecture was based. He was certainly aware of its existence.
The gist of this astrologer’s criticism was, in his own words:
Astrology must be inclusive, not exclusive. Just because a technique or theory doesn’t work for you is not reason to take it away from those who use it successfully.
Apart from how a technique or theory can be taken away simply by questioning its validity, the wizard’s argument implies that if someone uses a technique and believes it works, then it does work; if they believe the theory that the Moon is made of green cheese, then it is made of green cheese. Practice and belief equates to truth. Case closed. By this logic, we would still be using leeches to treat patients with pneumonia.
My critic’s thinking epitomizes the attitude that all views in astrology are equally valid. And since no one is ever wrong, there is no permission to ask hard questions, challenge certain presumptions, or offer arguments as to why one view may be more correct or helpful than another. Instead, there is a circle-the-wagons mentality and an attempt to silence unwanted speech through disparagement and ridicule. According to this astrologer, he was “horrified” by my behavior; I am divisive, ignorant, rude, disrespectful, judgmental, guilty of “infantile thinking”, and have “damaged our community.”
He alleges that many of these charges have to do with the “tone” of my delivery―how I say things rather than what I say. But I think this is disingenuous. What is actually meant by tone is any statement that disagrees with a statement by someone else. We’re back to the central taboo of astrology: no criticism allowed. When detractors criticize my tone, I suspect this merely conceals the true source of their animus, which is the nature of the lecture itself―a critique. For a critique violates astrology’s first commandment: Thou shalt not criticize anything astrological.
Conflating academic discourse with bad behavior is essentially a gag order on discussion of important issues we face as a field. Hurling slurs, vilifying, and name-calling doesn’t enlighten, inform, or educate. Indeed, it undermines those goals by stifling speech around precisely those topics that should be debated.
The wizard’s own thinking on the two-zodiac problem is instructive on multiple levels. First, he makes a number of trivial and baseless criticisms, such as citing a slide that states there are 28 nakshatras. Wrong, he trumpets! There are only 27! Actually, there are two systems, one 27, the other 28. These and similar allegations illustrate how apologists for the sidereal zodiac will leap at any opportunity to pick holes in my argument even while doing so from a position of ignorance.
The wizard’s most thunderous reproach focuses on my citation of Aristotle’s Law of Non-Contradiction. Aristotle’s Law states that contradictory statements cannot both be true in the same sense at the same time. If this is so, I argued, then two zodiacs that assign different meanings to the same dates cannot both be true, since they obviously contradict one another. But the wizard evokes the wave-particle duality of quantum mechanics as an illustration that Aristotle’s Law of Non-Contradiction is wrong. Subatomic particles appear to coexist simultaneously as both particle and wave! It follows that the zodiac can likewise coexist simultaneously as both a seasonal and a constellational structure!
This all sounds very profound until you disrobe the wizard’s argument and reveal the vacuous reality underneath. Wave-particle duality does not refute Aristotle’s Law of Non-Contradiction, the critical part of which is: “in the same sense at the same time”. In quantum physics, whether light is perceived as a particle or a wave depends upon how the experiment is set up. An experimental setup cannot depict light as a particle and a wave in the same sense at the same time; it can only measure one or the other. As Werner Heisenberg put it, “We do not study nature herself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.”
More importantly, whatever legitimacy the wave-particle duality may have on a subatomic level, it does not uniformly extend to the macro level of planets and stars. As has been often stated, quantum mechanics doesn’t contradict Newton’s laws, it merely corrects them at the infinitesimally small subatomic level. The upshot is that wave-particle duality does not disprove Aristotle’s Law of Non-Contradiction; nor does it offer any support for the extended claim that a single zodiac can propagate in both constellational and seasonal forms. Despite the wizard’s protestations, the inherent contradiction of sidereal and tropical zodiacs cannot be explained away through banal allusions to the paradoxes of quantum mechanics; you cannot sprinkle pixie dust on your keyboard and utter the magic words “wave-particle duality” and expect, Poof! ―a 2000-year old problem will simply disappear.
As an illustration of Aristotle’s Law, a more telling example is the Ptolemaic conception of a geocentric cosmos versus the newer Copernican heliocentric model. For thousands of years, it seemed that the Sun moved round the earth, and virtually everyone believed it to be so. But Copernicus proved it was an illusion; it is the earth that orbits the Sun, not vice versa. His model utterly contradicted the earlier conception and there was no going back.
This is but one example, but it makes the case that contradictions of the sort we are dealing with here―two zodiacs that assign different meanings to the same dates―are inherently irreconcilable. Both cannot be true. The fanciful nature of the wizard’s attempt to salvage the integrity of both systems highlights the lack of critical thinking that pervades the field. “Let’s be inclusive,” he seems to be saying; all apparent contradictions are simply misunderstandings; all statements that seem to disagree are, in fact, equally valid. No one is ever wrong about anything. But this is sheer folly. The notion that astrologers are not prone to the same errors as every other field is simply a defense that compensates astrology’s shadow: the fear that we lack all credibility.
Despite its populist appeal, there is a certain desperation in the wizard’s line of reasoning, like a man flailing about and sinking ever deeper into a quagmire of inanity. Conversely, I’ve been accused of thinking “like a skeptic,” the arch enemy of astrologers everywhere. While I would be the first to admit that some skeptics go too far (atheism, scientism), I would add that astrologers don’t go far enough (gullibility, wishful thinking). There’s a middle ground where self-monitoring and evidence-based practice is critically important for any profession that aspires to legitimacy. We can’t have it both ways: bemoan our current status as the gold standard of superstition while at the same time steadfastly refuse to question anything a fellow astrologer asserts as true.
The Importance of Research
Astrology cannot proceed as a real profession if we do not remain open to refutation. The primary advantage of scientific inquiry lies with its efficiency. Hypotheses can be tested, retained, or discarded according to their merit. Knowledge thus accumulates that is relatively free from erroneous assumptions. In effect, research is a kind of corrective procedure, an intellectual screening process that eliminates fallacies, deceptions, and general errors of thinking so that they do not tangle up our accumulating body of knowledge and lead us astray.
Now, I want to address a side issue that sprouted from the lecture I gave in India. It pertains to the implicit delegitimization of what in the social sciences is called ‘qualitative research’, which is the methodology I applied in researching the two-zodiac problem. Several detractors allege that my lecture was completely lacking in “objective, empirical evidence”. But what does this really mean?
Research methods can be roughly organized into two broad categories: quantitative and qualitative, each of which defines evidence differently. Quantitative methods involve statistical analysis in an attempt to establish a connection between a causative (or corollary) factor and event-outcome in terms of a precise numerical value. Conversely, qualitative methods make no attempt to measure or count, but rather try to increase our understanding of a phenomenon through descriptive analyses and interpretive procedures that build a complex, holistic picture of the topic under study.
Whereas quantitative methods are ideal for the study of relatively simple systems that are self-contained, such as exist in the hard sciences (physics, chemistry), qualitative methods are more appropriate for complex topics that involve multiple, intersecting factors that evolve over time, like human beings. For this reason, qualitative methods are typically utilized in social sciences like psychology, anthropology, and history. It follows they are also appropriate for astrology. For example, a qualitative method might explore how different sectors of the sky came to have discernable meanings for human communities. How did these meanings evolve, and for what reasons?
The format for a qualitative study follows the traditional approach of presenting a problem, asking a question, collecting data to answer the question, analyzing the data, and answering the question. The question, in effect, is the hypothesis, which is a sort of provisional theory, guess, or supposition that must eventually be researched to determine whether evidence supports or refutes it.
For example, my approach to the two-zodiac problem began with the question: could a mistake have occurred that resulted in a splitting of one zodiac into two? From this, I derived the hypothesis:
A mistake occurred at a particular point in history that resulted in the splitting of an original zodiac into two separate, contradictory zodiacs, only one of which is valid.
The nature of one’s hypothesis is the most important factor in determining methodological approach. To test my hypothesis, I decided the hermeneutic method was most suitable. Hermeneutics is a qualitative method that focuses on interpretation; explanation refers to the meaning behind the analysis of data. This meaning, in turn, is evaluated in terms of whether it confirms, disconfirms, or leads to revision of the hypothesis.
Hermeneutics allows for analysis of a phenomenon from a variety of different angles in hopes of arriving at a broad, comprehensive understanding. The researcher gathers relevant factual data, analyzes it inductively, infers its meaning, and describes the results in persuasive language―that is, in terms that attempt to convince the reader of the rightness of the interpretation. The purpose is not to prove the ultimate truth or falseness of a given doctrine, but to affect our degree of belief.
In researching the two-zodiac problem, my objective was twofold: 1) discern whether there is historical evidence from various texts that lead one to reasonably conclude a mistake occurred that resulted in the splitting of an original zodiac into two contradictory versions; and 2) determine whether evidence supports the hypothesis that one or the other zodiac constitutes an error.
First, I collected data pertinent to my question. This included anthropological studies of the Neolithic period (10,000 – 2000 BC), archaeoastronomy, origins of the zodiac as revealed through cuneiform tablets, the history of western and eastern astronomy, Babylonian mythology, the development of calendars, Hellenistic astrological texts, and relevant parts of contemporary astrology.
Second, I analyzed the data in terms of the “hermeneutic circle,” a dialectical movement that goes from interpretive hypothesis, to evidence, back to hypothesis, and round and round. In so doing, my hypothesis was continually adjusted in light of new data until sufficient information was gathered that allowed for a reasoned conclusion; that is, an interpretation that connects the dots and gives a coherent meaning to the evidence. This is hermeneutics. This was the method I utilized in doing my study.
I have taken some time to describe the hermeneutic method in order to address the question of what constitutes evidence? In qualitative research, evidence can be any verifiable factor that is pertinent to the hypothesis, such as statements in authoritative texts. Such evidence is then utilized in building a case and arriving at a conclusion. Conversely, in quantitative research, evidence is defined strictly in terms of statistical results; that is, evidence is the outcome of the experiment. For example, Robert Currey writes:
In the scientific method, evidence should be empirical, not historical assumptions and claims that are debatable. He provides no objective evidence.
Currey further asserts that my argument was “simplistic” while admitting that he never read the actual article. Naturally, a 30-minute lecture would have to be simplistic in comparison to the 9000-word article on which it was based. More importantly, Currey seems to ignore the meaning and value of evidence in the broader context of qualitative research. While the conclusion of any study is debatable if one can come up with a better argument based on existent evidence, to suggest that that my conclusion is based only on “historical assumptions and claims that are debatable” is misleading because it delegitimizes the very real evidence on which the argument was built.
There are many evidential facts disclosed in my article that are not mere assumptions. For example:
Obsession with equinoctial and solsticial points was ubiquitous in the ancient world, as reflected in the alignments of sacred monuments.
At the inception of the Babylonian calendar in the 1st millennium BC, the solar year was divided into four seasons of three months each with the equinoctial and solstitial points located in the middle of months I, IV, VII, and X. This later became the basis for a twelve 30° per/sign zodiac organized around the equinoctial and solsticial points.
The Babylonians began their year at the new moon closest to the vernal equinox in the constellation Aries.
Zodiacal signs, constellations and months were often conflated in cuneiform tablets during the 2nd half of the first millennium BC.
There was no 12-sign zodiac in India prior to importing Hellenistic astrology in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD.
The Greek astronomer Hipparchus discovered precession in 134 BC.
There is no formal mention of precession in any Indian astrological or astronomical text prior to the 10th century, 1000 years after Hipparchus.
Signs, houses, and aspects uniformly derive their meanings from multiples of 30° angles, which are phase relations within whole (360°) cycles – annual, diurnal and synodic – that have nothing to do with constellations.
I could go on, but the above should suffice to make my point. While these facts require further elaboration and synthesis to appreciate their significance, that they constitute objective evidence in support of my hypothesis is relatively certain in the absence of evidence to the contrary.
It is difficult to know whether Currey’s criticisms are solely due to a preference for quantitative methods, or because he thought my lecture in India culturally insensitive. As he put it, “Tolerance of diversity within the practice of astrology is not a PC posture, but rational humanity.” This implies that a speaker is intolerant merely by concluding on the basis of historical evidence that a doctrine is in error. Once again, protection of feelings takes precedence over discernment of truth.
One seemingly fortunate development in the wake of my lecture was the launching of the Kepler Conference Online Research Forum for discussion of “The 2-Zodaic Problem”. However, their opening statement reads:
At a recent conference in India, controversial claims were made for the superiority of the western, tropical zodiac over the sidereal zodiac used by Indian astrologers. Ironically, this claim directly conflicts with the evidence we presented in our lecture at the same conference. We introduced a range of experiments using sound research methodologies, that lead to very different conclusions. Unfortunately, in all the debate that has raged ever since, there has been little to no recourse to any evidence whatsoever….So we invite everyone affected by this controversy to please join us in an open-minded, even-handed, evidence-based investigation of this ‘problem.’
The organizers seem to be implying that only experimental, quantitative “sound” methodologies have merit in addressing the two-zodiac problem. Other methods (namely, qualitative) offer “little to no recourse to any evidence whatsoever.” But as we have seen, this depends on how you define evidence. As Courtney Roberts put it, “At this point, we’re really only interested in empirical evidence and solid methodologies. In my experience, most people vastly overestimate the power of their own ‘reasoning’…” Courtney may be right about people overestimating their capacity to reason. She also seems to be saying that reason and evidence (facts) are dichotomous; but if so, this is a false dichotomy. For reason’s as dependent on facts as a tree its roots. Without facts, an argument cannot long stand and will topple over when faced with the stiff winds of opposition.
Further, in a call for papers to be presented at the Kepler 2019 Conference, there appears to be the usual bias toward the co-validity of both zodiacs.
We actively encourage cooperation between Western & Vedic astrologers and seek to build upon the results and relationships established in Kepler 2.0 & our forums on the 2-Zodiac problem, especially projects identifying the relative strengths and weaknesses, and the combined potentials of both systems.
The above statement seems to be predicated on the presumption that both zodiacs are valid, which is precisely what is at issue. While bias is implicit in the nature of a research question, it’s another matter to state that a conference is primarily interested in research that validates the belief that both zodiacs are equally true. I could be wrong about this, and it may be that Kepler Forums are not biased against qualitative approaches to the two-zodiac problem, and they are equally open to research that supports one or the other zodiac being invalid. But if so, it would be helpful to make this more explicit. Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that there are a number of researchers who, in testing each zodiac with quantitative methods, found support for the tropical zodiac but not the sidereal―Robert Currey, Kyosti Tarvainen, and Vincent Godbout among them. There is allegedly research that leads in the opposite direction as well, but I do not yet know enough to comment further.
It is unfortunate that in an area where we could be inclusive as a community―astrological research―there seems to be a snubbing of qualitative approaches, as if they have no value or relevance to the two-zodiac problem. Yet, the two methods are not mutually exclusive. Experimental results are often used as components of qualitative studies and, vice versa, qualitative studies can lead to experimental designs for more focused inquiry. The two methods are complementary, with each having its own strengths and weaknesses.
Although I believe there are inherent difficulties in testing the validity of tropical and sidereal zodiacs via experimental designs, I would not discourage anyone from trying. The larger point is that evidence comes in many shapes and forms and is not limited to experimental results. With qualitative methods, reason connects facts and places them in a wider, more comprehensive framework. Facts become pillars in a structure of meaning. This view holds that a conclusive understanding cannot be grasped by a myopic obsession with the concrete results of particular experiments, for this misses the forest for the trees. Truth requires a capacity for abstract thought, an ability to connect the dots, to see the whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
It is worth repeating that astrology cannot proceed as a real profession if we do not remain open to refutation, by whatever method. Such a critical and discriminating approach to knowledge assures that our “truths” will continue to evolve.
If people disagree with my choice to give that lecture in India, that’s okay; we can agree to disagree. But to take it to another level and publicly excoriate the speaker and demand his ouster as Ethics Chair in an organization he’s served for 16 years; well, that’s symptomatic of a deeper issue. So long as protection of feelings takes precedence over discernment of truth, our freedom to discuss astrology’s real problems will remain compromised.
The Two-Zodiac Problem Toward an Empathic Understanding By Glenn Perry
And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years…” And it was so.
Author’s Note: The following is a verbatim transcript of a talk I gave at the IVC India Conference in Kolkata, India, on February 2, 2018. The lecture was a summation of ideas developed more fully in an article published in Constellation News, edited by Sri Gopal Bhattacharjee. For discussion of the controversy surrounding the lecture, click: Are We Free to Discuss Astrology’s Real Problems?
As you can see, I’ve chosen to start my talk with a cartoon depicting an elephant seeking therapy for his plight of not being acknowledged. The elephant in the room generally symbolizes a difficult topic we try to avoid, perhaps out of politeness, or simply because it’s a problem for which we have no solution. Clearly, the elephant in the room at this historic conference where east meets west is that anxiety ridden question: can two zodiacs co-exist without contradiction―or, is one zodiac correct and the other wrong?
As we all know, astrology originated with the zodiac, which like a cosmic womb is the source for everything that follows. But, we also know that our field is currently divided by two different zodiacs, tropical and sidereal, each of which claim parentage of the same child―astrology itself.
The situation is not unlike the story from the Hebrew Bible in which two women living in the same house both claim to be mother of a child. It fell upon King Solomon to make a judgment as to who was the true mother.
Our Solomonic problem, if I can call it that, derives from contradictory ways of defining the zodiac. The tropical zodiac is defined by the seasons and is disconnected from the stars as a frame of reference, whereas the sidereal zodiac is defined by the stars and is disconnected from the seasons as a frame of reference.
Both zodiacs use a 30-degree, 12-sign system in which the meanings given to signs are roughly similar yet fall on different dates. And both zodiacs reside along the ecliptic, which is the Sun’s equator extended into space. Because the planets orbit the Sun within eight degrees above or below the plane of the ecliptic, the zodiac is a 16° band circling the Sun. However, this is where the two zodiacs part company.
The sidereal zodiac is comprised of 12 equal, 30-degree constellations―groupings of stars―visible along the ecliptic. And while both zodiacs begin with Aries, the sidereal zodiac defines Aries in terms of fixed stars.
Conversely, the tropical zodiac places Aries at the vernal equinox (first day of spring), which is where the earth’s celestial equator intersects the plane of the ecliptic due to the earth’s axis being tilted at an angle of 23° relative to its orbital plane.
Before exploring how the two-zodiac problem might be solved, let me dispense with one approach that’s unlikely to be helpful: The claim that both zodiacs are equally valid for their system.
As whole systems, differences between western and Vedic astrology are relatively superficial, with more overlap than difference. Conversely, the difference between the two zodiacs is fundamental and irreconcilable. It will do us no good to hedge the issue.
Aristotle’s law of non-contradiction states that contradictory statements cannot both be true in the same sense at the same time. Put simply, a thing cannot be itself and not itself; March cannot be March and February. Two zodiacs that assign the same meanings to different dates and different meanings to the same dates are inherently contradictory.
Mutual tolerance for both zodiacs may be a feel-good, politically correct position, but it is also an intellectually lazy one.
I also don’t think personal, subjective experience can tell us which zodiac is correct because there are too many ways an astrological archetype can be represented in a chart.
In the end, all that matters is whether an explanation is persuasive; that is, whether it explains the facts of the matter in a clear, comprehensive and convincing fashion.
Most treatments of the debate focus on whether the ancients measured planetary position from the fixed stars, or from the equinoctial and solsticial points. A star-based measurement system would favor the sidereal zodiac; measuring from the cardinal points would favor the tropical. In fact, as we shall see, the original zodiac was actually a hybrid defined by fixed stars and cardinal points.
But really, this misses the point. The important question is why the zodiac came into being in the first place. For what purpose did it originate?
The entire two-zodiac controversy hinges on a single question: Could constellational meanings have originated independent of seasonal processes? That is, could the constellations have come into being without being anchored to the equinoctial and solstitial points?
In astrology, the mutable signs are associated with intellectual inquiry. Gemini facts lead the way, followed by Virgonian analysis. Sagittarian abstract reasoning looks at the evidence to see if it supports or refutes a hypothesis. Then, there’s Pisces, which is the least intellectual of the mutable signs, but perhaps the most critical to our task.
Pisces is direct perception, or knowing by empathic connection with the thing known.
Unless we can place ourselves in the mind-set of early humans when the night sky first took on meaning, our treatment of the problem is apt to be short-sighted, a dry, objective analysis and interpretation of facts, but without any depth of understanding. To achieve depth, we must utilize the gifts of Pisces: imagination, and empathy.
We must imagine what it was like before astrology, and try to empathize with early humans gazing upwards as the stars slowly drifted across the vault of heaven…seeing the Moon grow larger night to night, finally full, then smaller, and eventually returning to full again, each month in a different sector of the night sky.
And with each lunar cycle there were corresponding changes on earth―alterations in duration of light and darkness, heat and cold, vegetative cycles and animal migrations―always following the same sequence, year after year, until gradually the sequence became predictable.
For early humans, life was harsh, brutal, and short. One could die in a dozen ways, none of them natural―starvation, bear attack, or simply the bitter cold. Adapting to the rhythms and cycles of nature was critical to survival. Observation of the night sky focused on one all-important question: as the stars move, what happens here, in my world? What happens to me?
Of special significance were the stars that rose just ahead of the Sun at dawn (heliacal rising). For every lunar cycle, the Sun inhabited a sector of sky that became associated with earthly phenomena that occurred during that 30-day period. Such sectors came to be known as constellations that heralded specific times of year.
As days grew longer or shorter, nature reflected changes in the duration of daylight in an ever-repeating yearly cycle. The rains came, rivers flooded, bears awoke from hibernation, flowers bloomed, trees lost their leaves, animals migrated, lakes froze, round and round, always the same sequence on earth, always the same constellations above.
Understandably, the ancients concluded it was the constellation the Sun was currently occupying that determined such changes. In Babylonia, where the zodiac originated, it was assumed that the constellations were formed at the beginning of time by all-powerful sky-beings. The figures that populated the heavens were not simply passive symbols representing the seasons; they were superhuman, celestial gods with a direct, causative effect upon the world of humans.
Every constellation, every month, had its own meaning and signaled to the tribe the requisite activity to be performed― migrating salmon headed upstream, spear them; strawberries ripe, pick them; chestnuts fallen on ground, store them. The starry heavens comprised the ancient calendar and were a means for organizing time into discernible segments and qualities; but they were also messengers whose annual appearance told humans what to do now.
By the time agriculture began in approximately 10,000 BC, observation of the night sky turned serious. There was an exact right time for planting crops and you could easily get it wrong if there was an unseasonably warm period in mid-February. The ability to predict when the seasons were about to shift was critical to the survival of the tribe and was the prime motivation for observing the changing sky. Knowing the proper times for sowing, cultivating, and harvesting crops were universal human concerns and the basis for organization of communal life.
Toward this end, the Sun’s latitudinal movement along the horizon at dawn was of particular importance. For six months, the Sun rose in a progressively northern latitude as days grew longer, then turned (tropos) at the constellation Cancer and moved in a southern direction as days grew shorter.
Upon reaching sidereal Capricorn at its most southern latitude, it turned again. During its northward movement, it arched higher across the day sky; during its southern trek, it hung lower.
The annual back and forth movement of the Sun along the horizon had four discernable stages ― two equinoxes and two solstices ― marking seasonal changes in accordance with durations of daylight and night. At the vernal equinox, days and nights became equal but daylight was increasing; at the summer solstice, daylight was maximum but subsequently days got shorter; at the autumnal equinox, days and nights were again equal but darkness was increasing; and at the winter solstice, daylight was minimal, but again began to increase. These dates and their corresponding constellations marked the turn of the seasons.
Activities performed at various times of the year ―plowing, planting, harvesting ― became associated with the constellational deity that ruled that phase of the year. Monthly rituals, festivals, and appropriate sacrifices all occurred in synchrony with the annual appearance of the representative constellation at dawn. Myths evolved to explain how and why the gods controlled their corresponding seasonal processes. In this way, natural events were symbolically encoded in allegorical representations. This made the constellations memorable, which was critically important at a time in history when writing did not yet exist.
Because each month had its own quality, zodiacal constellations were metaphors of seasonal processes occurring in nature. Aries is spring-like as nature is heating up and new life is sprouting, bold and fresh. Libra is balanced, just as the duration of light and darkness is perfectly balanced at the start of autumn. Scorpio is transformational as leaves are turning colors, falling to the ground, and nature is dying. Capricorn is winter-like, signifying when nature is maximally contracted, days are short, and austerity is required.
Over time, zodiacal signs came to have additional meanings that went beyond their correlation to seasonal processes; yet (and this is a critical point), all such meanings were self-consistent with their original, root meaning in nature.
It is difficult to summarize in a few sentences the immensity of data detailing how early humans organized virtually every facet of tribal life in conformity with the equinox and solstice points. Obsession with celestial correlates to equinox and solstice dates was so prevalent in the ancient world that it constituted a kind of human unanimity, being the central defining feature of ancient ceremonial monuments everywhere on earth, from the Inca’s Torreon in Machu Picchu, to the Mayan pyramid of Chichen Itza, the Bighorn Medicine Wheel and Sundance Lodge of the Plains Indians, Stonehenge in England, Newgrange passage tomb in Ireland, and the Great Pyramid of Egypt whose sides famously align with the four cardinal directions. At each site there is invariably a face, an aperture, a shaft, or some other means upon or through which the rays of the Sun exactly pass on the day of an equinox or solstice, thus heralding the changing of the seasons.
While the origins of zodiacal constellations predate recorded history, the bulk of Mesopotamian constellations were created within a relatively short interval around 1300 to 1000 BC. By 500 BC, the Babylonians had converted approximately 18 fuzzy, unequal constellations into 12 equal, sharply defined 30-degree sectors called zodiacal signs. At this time, signs and constellations were still conflated; constellation was sign, and sign was constellation.
The Babylonian zodiac was sidereal in the sense that planetary positions were determined in relation to the fixed stars of the constellations, BUT (and this is a big ‘but’) it was tropical in that the midpoints of the cardinal signs―Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn―were placed precisely at the equinoctial and solstitial points, as if anchored to them. The vernal equinox was at 15° Aries, the summer solstice at 15° Cancer, the autumnal equinox at 15° Libra, and the winter solstice at 15° Capricorn. From this, one might surmise an intention to associate specific constellations with specific seasons.
In fact, by the first millennium BC, there was virtually no difference between the Babylonian Calendar and the Babylonian Zodiac. Twelve months of 30 days became 12 signs of 30 degrees. That the sidereal zodiac was tied to the seasons is plainly evident in the fact that the first new moon closest to the vernal equinox in the constellation Aries started their calendar.
Bottom line, the equinoctial and solsticial points were all-important markers of temporal order. First the Babylonians determined their location in the sky, then built the zodiac around them. Just as ancient cultures built monuments around the cardinal points to commemorate the dates they occurred, so the cardinal points became the mighty frame for the entire zodiac structure.
Precession of the equinoxes is critical to our understanding of why the original zodiac bifurcated into two separate zodiacs. Precession is caused by the Earth’s wobble on its axis, which is induced by the gravitational tug of Sun and Moon. As a result, the Earth’s polar axis traces out a cone of approximately 26,000 years, which is how long it takes the vernal point to make a complete circle against the backdrop of the stars and return to a previous position. This means that the vernal equinox slowly drifts backwards through each constellation at the rate of 1° every 72 years.
The ancients displayed no technical or written understanding of precession until the 2nd century BC, and even then, it was not widely known or properly understood. For early stargazers, the constellations and earthly phenomena seemed to be in a fixed relationship to one another, as if attached by cosmic cables.
This cosmological feature was called durmahu by the Babylonians, which refers to a strong rope made of reeds that tied terrestrial seasons to celestial movements. As the Sun moved into a new constellation every month, so the seasons were pulled along like an ox pulls a cart―or, so it seemed.
Heliacal Rising of Sidereal Virgo Signals, “Harvest Wheat!”
With no awareness of precession or the actual cause of seasonal variations, early stargazers conflated constellations with their corresponding seasonal periods. If the constellation Virgo rose ahead of the Sun every year when wheat was ready to be harvested, so the ancients naturally equated that constellation with the harvesting of wheat.
If the rains in Babylonia fell in their greatest abundance in late winter and early spring, it was the god Aquarius in the heavens that controlled the rains. Aquarius’ overflowing vases were not regarded as simply a seasonal allegory of the rains, but the actual physical source of the waters that fell to earth.
However, in approximately 134 BC, the Greek astronomer Hipparchus checked the measurements of star positions by his predecessors. He noted that a certain star’s appearance in the dawn sky was drifting slightly forward century to century relative to the autumnal equinox. In fact, it was not the star that was moving, but the equinox that was drifting backwards.
Recall that at the beginning of the 1st millennium BC when the 12-sign zodiac was first constructed, the equinox and solstice points were set in the middle of their corresponding constellations―Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn. However, by mid-millennium, the vernal equinox had drifted to 10 degrees Aries. And when Hipparchus discovered precession in 134 BC, it had shifted to 5 degrees Aries.
The implication was staggering because it directly implied that the stars were not stable markers of the seasons and thus could not be relied upon for construction of accurate calendars over time. Seasonal predictability was the whole impetus behind calendar keeping, and calendar-keeping is the foundation upon which astrology rests.
Division of the year into 4 seasons with 3 substages was clearly wedded to the solstice and equinox points, the locations of which were thought to be anchored to specific stars in specific constellations. Yet, the cardinal points and cardinal constellations were slowly drifting apart.
Given the rate of precession, the cardinal points would eventually fall in constellations completely out of synch with earthly seasons and their requisite activities. If there was continuous slippage between the cardinal points and their corresponding constellations, the eventual mistiming of seasonal based activities, especially agriculture, was inevitable.
This led to Hipparchus’s decision to begin the zodiac with the vernal equinox, though there were precedents for this even before him. Subsequently, others followed. It had become obvious that the only way to keep the zodiac in synch with the seasons was to link it permanently to the cardinal points and abandon any reference to fixed stars. By separating the vernal point from the constellations and making it the official beginning of the zodiac, Hipparchus’s tropical zodiac did a better job of measuring time. Hence, it slowly gained prominence and superseded the older, less reliable constellational model.
In Ptolemy’s monumental work, Tetrabiblos from the 2nd century AD, which summarizes the astrological tradition as it was handed down by his predecessors, he emphatically reports the consensus view that [quote] “the powers of the signs take their cause from the solstitial and equinoctial starting-places, and from no other source.”
By the 3rd century AD, it had become clear that zodiacal constellations never had the power to determine earthly phenomena that early humans projected upon them. The notion that constellations had power and meaning in themselves had merely been an illusion rooted in a misperception of the actual cause of seasonal processes.
From at least 2000 BC, as more sophisticated mathematical schemes evolved, constellations had been chopped, expanded, added, or eliminated, which only underscores that they never had any inherent meaning in themselves―that is, they were not gods with divine powers to determine events on earth as the ancients supposed. They were merely artificial constructs, expedient groupings of stars that served as a backdrop for measuring planetary movements and shifting phases of time, the causes of which were still not understood.
Note that signs in the tropical system are essentially angles carved out by the earth’s annual orbit about the Sun. Every 30 degrees from the vernal equinox constitutes a new sign. This same sequence of angles repeats itself with houses and aspects. They, too, are comprised of the same angles―0, 30, 60, 90, 120, and 180―and their meanings share a kinship with the signs to which they correspond. Again, signs, houses, and aspects are all based on multiples of 30 degrees.
This is what gives us our system of rulerships. In astrology, all meaning is an angle; a phase within a more encompassing 360° cycle. Think about it: houses and aspects are completely unrelated to constellations; yet, they share a kinship of meaning with their corresponding signs. Libra, the 7th house, and the opposition are variations on a theme. Why? Because they’re comprised of the same 180° angle.
By all accounts, Hellenistic astrology was transmitted to India in the 1st and 2nd century AD and quite possibly earlier. It seems that all academic scholars who have specialized in the origins of astrology―Otto Neugebauer, Bartel van der Waerden, and David Pingree among them―agree on this point: India inherited most of its astrology from the Greeks. I am aware this is a controversial statement, especially here, and I cannot personally attest to its truth. I am simply unaware of any evidence to the contrary.
India did have an ancient system of 28 lunar Nakshatras analogous to constellations, which went back to at least the 3rd millennium BC. But prior to the 2nd century AD there was no zodiac in India of 12 equal, 30-degree divisions with four cardinal points. In fact, there was no zodiac at all. Once imported, however, the sidereal zodiac of India began with the constellation Aries, just as it did with the Hellenistic Greeks.
And up until the 5th century AD, Aries began with a fixed star that coincided with the vernal point at that time. Vedic scholar Dieter Koch asserts that the Puranas and other Vedic texts from 200 to 600 AD all state “the solstices are at the beginning of Capricorn and Cancer and the equinoxes at the beginning of Aries and Libra.”
Likewise, from approximately 2500 BC, the Nakshatras began with Krittika, which at the time coincided with the vernal equinox. Like the Babylonian constellations, the Nakshatra system appears to have originally been tied to the seasons, but over millennia have drifted out of synch with them. All of this suggests that early Indian astrology was consistent with both Babylonian and later Hellenistic formulations that recognized the central importance of the equinoctial and solstitial points as seasonal markers.
The problem was they had no knowledge of precession. This is evident in the fact that there’s no mention of precession in any Hindu astrological or astronomical text prior to the 10th century.
What can we conclude from this?
It appears that Indian astrologers were simply following the sidereal tradition prior to Hipparchus and Ptolemy. Unlike their western and Arabic counterparts, they never grasped that the constellations had no intrinsic meaning or influence in themselves. And so Hindu astrologers continued to confuse the visible backdrop—the constellations—for the real thing.
So, to return to my original question: Is there a persuasive argument for claiming that constellational meanings originated independent of seasonal processes?
We know the original zodiac was a hybrid constructed of two factors: 1) invisible equinoctial and solstitial points that established the four seasons; and 2) constellations that provided visible markers for timing the 12 phases of year: four seasons of three months each. The original zodiac was a giant calendar-clock in the sky.
With Hipparchus’s discovery of precession, however, it became clear that the constellations had no causal relationship to events on earth. This was a momentous breakthrough, the importance of which cannot be overstated. For millennia, constellations had been the shiny object that distracted from the true importance of the equinoctial and solstitial points. But it was the latter, not the constellations themselves, which established the structure of the yearly cycle and the qualities of monthly durations.
And if constellations were not responsible for the seasons, it’s unlikely they were responsible for anything else either. All sign meanings are self-consistent and derivative of their foundational meaning rooted in nature. Once the foundational meaning of constellations was refuted, the whole system collapsed like a house of cards.
So, the umbilical cord was severed; the cardinal points were finally liberated from their entrapment in arbitrary, superfluous, made-up constellations. The old sidereal division of twelve fixed-star signs slowly fell into disuse both observationally and computationally―at least in the West.
Yet, the sidereal zodiac hangs on, a vestigial organ once relevant to our Babylonian ancestors but no longer in accord with our current understanding of the cosmos. The sidereal zodiac was effectively terminated by the tropical zodiac, but like a ghost haunting its executioner, casts a troubling shadow over our profession.
In conclusion, let me simply say we should make room for diversity of opinion in astrology. But tolerance of opposing viewpoints is not mutually exclusive with critical thinking. A field grows by a willingness to question itself and go where the evidence leads. This is not always comfortable, but we astrologers are nothing if not resilient. I’ve every confidence we can survive and even grow stronger through rigorous self-examination.
Stories that Feel Good Are More Likely to be True By Glenn Perry
This essay contains some ideas I wrote down after talking with a friend who was obsessing about his breakup with an ex-girlfriend, which was quite literally driving him crazy. He was caught in a negative loop: the more he thought about her, the worse he felt. He was not merely obsessing, he was in a death spiral of morbid rumination that virtually guaranteed he could only feel worse, and never better. How can one escape from such a quicksand of negative thinking? Insight into one’s birthchart can certainly help, but that’s just the beginning.
It is characteristic of human beings to engage in self-talk. That is, we talk to ourselves, constantly. Internal dialogues are an attempt to make sense out of experiences, which, in turn, can be categorized in terms of meaning attributions, starting in childhood. A meaning attribution is an attribution of meaning to an experience―in other words, an interpretation. These tacit interpretations, which are frequently outside of awareness, subsequently inform our conscious thoughts and feelings.
In effect, we make up stories, which invariably are consistent with our horoscope and capable of evolving toward more fulfilling versions over time. As this idea was outlined in a previous article, The Horoscope as Evolving Story, my intention here is to focus more thoroughly on the origin and evolution of these internal stories.
Personal narratives are constructed from deep, habitual, often unconscious beliefs, many of which formed in childhood during periods when the self was unavoidably egocentric and prone to assuming responsibility for every experience. Children tend to think, “Whatever happens to me, is because of me,” and “How I’m treated, is how I deserve to be treated.”
The younger the child, the more egocentric. And the more egocentric, the more the child is inclined to identify with momentary, limited experiences. If experience is good, the self is good; if it’s bad, the self is bad. When early experience is consistently bad (frustrating, depriving, hurtful), resultant ideas about the self become deeply ingrained, and the child is vulnerable to developing a fixed, negative identity that may be completely discrepant with his true talents and worth.
The Case of Aaron
This was the case with my aforementioned friend, whom I’ll call Aaron. As with all internal stories, the basic outline of Aaron’s personal narrative is symbolized by his astrological chart (see Figure 1), which not only depicts his character structure, but also the fate that flows from this structure.
Figure 1: Chart of Aaron
Like all of us, Aaron’s story had its roots in childhood. As the oldest of four children, he was tasked with taking care of his younger siblings while his parents worked. In family therapy literature, Aaron would be identified as “the parentified child”. Burdened with the responsibilities of parenthood, yet without the power or authority to enforce compliance, he was placed in a no-win, double-bind. If Aaron strong-armed his siblings, he incurred their wrath and retaliation; however, if he failed to control them, he suffered punishment from his parents for failure to fulfill his responsibilities.
Aaron’s dilemma was compounded by a mother who was inordinately concerned with the social status of her family. Accordingly, she was always “on him” for not measuring up to her standards of absolute perfection. She was especially concerned with the image he (and she) projected to the outside world. Aaron would later lament, “my mother didn’t love me.” He concluded that her constant criticism was proof of his deficiency on virtually every measure. In fact, however, he was conscientious, dutiful, well-behaved, an excellent student, star athlete in high school, won a scholarship to Yale, played quarterback on their football team, and was ultimately drafted by the NFL. You cannot get much more successful than that.
Yet, as an adult, Aaron was plagued with anxiety, depression, and anticipation of failure. He was so afraid of being oppressed, controlled, and judged that he found it extremely difficult to work for a company. Instead, he made his living independently as an all-around handy-man capable of fixing virtually any problem that might arise in homes―electrical, plumbing, carpentry, and so on.
Eventually, he found himself in a familiar double-bind. He and his girlfriend purchased and moved into an old, run-down four-story colonial home that Aaron dedicated himself to fixing up with the intention of selling for a profit. The dwelling was huge, but Aaron tackled his tasks with his usual energy and competence. Unfortunately, it was a costly and lengthy undertaking that slowly drained the finances of his girlfriend, who went off each day to work only to come home to new expenses and more problems. Not surprisingly, her anger and frustration was often directed at Aaron. For until the house was finished and sold, Aaron generated no income. This went on for years, during which the housing market crashed and the value of their property was substantially reduced.
This created severe anxiety and feelings of failure in Aaron, which spilled out in tense, guilt-saturated relations with his girlfriend. The double-bind was that if he continued his efforts to renovate the property, it further depleted his girlfriend’s finances with little prospect of success; yet, if he failed to measure up to her expectations, he jeopardized the relationship. At least that’s what he believed. In the end, they were forced to sell their home at a loss. Aaron’s arduous work over several years produced nothing. By the time they finally unloaded the house, their 7-year relationship had deteriorated beyond repair. She decided to end it and acquire a place of her own. Aaron was devastated. He had no money, no job, no home, and no girlfriend. Rejected and alone, he contemplated suicide.
The parallels in Aaron’s adult situation with those of his childhood are readily apparent. As a parentified child, he stayed home to manage and discipline his three younger siblings, a task that not only deprived him of his childhood, but also set him up for failure since he had neither the maturity nor the means to succeed at the task assigned him. As an adult, he again stayed home to complete tasks that required an almost superhuman effort―singlehandedly renovating a home whose problems were never-ending. And just as his mother came home each day to evaluate his work when he was a child, so his girlfriend likewise came home to review his progress. The pressure to perfect his home and make a success of his undertaking recapitulated the stress he experienced trying to live up to his mother’s unrelenting standards of perfection.
In the wake of the rejection by his girlfriend, Aaron reverted to his customary internal story of being an unworthy, unlovable child. His unconscious strategy to disconfirm this self-judgement was twofold: First, project his guilt by blaming his girlfriend’s decision to leave on her deficiencies―that is, her lack of caring and support. Second, win her back by demonstrating renewed dedication to her well-being. When this failed, he became even more mired in obsessive ruminations about why she left him. Aaron, as we might say in the vernacular, was stuck―stuck in a story that virtually guaranteed he would feel bad. Inside the narrow confines of his self-narrative, he was a miserable failure.
As astrologers, we should not be surprised when a present situation parallels a past one, for both are manifestations of the same chart configuration. In this case, the pattern is reflected in Aaron’s Moon conjunct Saturn in Virgo straddling his Ascendant. Moon rules mother, home and real estate; Saturn symbolizes responsibility and demands for perfection; Virgo is task oriented and problem focused; and the Ascendant pertains to an instinctive way of acting upon the world for the sake of survival and freedom. Taken together, the configuration suggests an inborn tendency to feel undeserving of love and life unless one successfully fulfills domestic responsibilities and completes tasks imposed by a harsh maternal figure.
Clearly, this constitutes a pattern that Aaron is repeating from childhood. Unless one believes that the cosmos has afflicted him with a condition of perpetual, irremediable suffering and that this condition is symbolized by the configuration, the question arises as to whether such repetitions serve any purpose. Is there a higher-level expression of Moon-Saturn Virgo conjunct Ascendant that might afford Aaron some chance at happiness? Is there a destiny at work here, and if so, how can he grow toward fulfillment of it?
In the remainder of this essay, we will explore this question not merely as it relates to Aaron, but in terms of general principles. The first of these is that repetition of experience serves the purpose of providing both incentive and opportunity for changing cognitive habits that produce unnecessary suffering. If Aaron is to break out of the spiral of negative thought in which he is mired, he will need to disconfirm old beliefs and replace them with a broader, more compassionate and forgiving understanding.
The Construction of Self Stories
Self-stories have emotional consequences, and those that create suffering tend to be rooted in narrow, pathogenic ideas based on earlier, more egocentric forms of thinking. Conversely, stories that feel good are broader, more comprehensive, and thus more likely to be true. We will examine why momentarily.
Consider that there are two parts to every experience, inner and outer. The outer dimension is our relationship to an actual event or situation. These can be specific, personal relationships with a sibling, spouse, or boss, or they can be relationships with more abstract entities such as government officials, corporations, society, men or women. The inner factor is comprised of meanings that are constructed to make sense of outer experiences. Once established, such meanings are then projected onto future experiences representative of that same entity.
If a boy grew up with a seductive mother who manipulated him emotionally, he might later think as an adult: “Woman are seductive and dishonest in their expression of affection; they use men for the money and status they gain from the relationship.” A woman who was molested as a child by her uncle, who initially was merely affectionate, might subsequently think, “Most men are selfish and exploitive and just want to use me for sex; they don’t really care about me. I’m just an object to them.” In other words, human beings are prone to generalizing from powerful, but limited, formative experiences.
Meaning attributions tend to be habitual and are applied to any analogous event. Mental habits are organized like a tree with deeper, more abstract and more encompassing beliefs constituting the roots of one’s theory of reality. Grounded in a relatively limited number of core convictions, these abstract, general postulates operate more or less unconsciously. They are simply “givens,” unquestioned assumptions and resultant attitudes. Extending upward and outward from these general postulates are more particular ideas that pertain to various departments of life—self-concepts about survivability, prosperity, intelligence, belonging, play, work, relationships, religion, politics, and career. In turn, each of these categories produce yet more specific thoughts that constitute our everyday thinking and perceptions.
Like buds on a single branch, everyday thoughts are but the visible features of a deeper, more complex generative process. The thoughts we think and the words we speak well up from a less conscious dimension, the deep structure or “narrative” that supports, shapes, and informs the contents of our awareness.
The purpose of mental habits is to maintain the organization of the self. A person keeps thinking and doing the same thing because it is literally who they are—or, at least who they believe they are. However, the self-concept is just that: a concept constructed from multiple, intersecting meanings (beliefs) that are repeated over time and serve to organize identity and preserve one’s way of being in the world.
It is common to conflate events with the meaning one gives them. Many of us are only dimly aware that meanings are constructed and therefore distinct from events. Thoughts are not sharply differentiated from lived experience. Karen sees a man with extensive tattoos and thinks: “That guy is an ex-convict; stay away from him.” Perception and thought are fused, as if one is inexorably connected to the other. Yet, meaning-making is a freely chosen creative act. Failure to recognize this causes perception and meaning to merge. Mike’s boss appears to have a sour attitude and Mike concludes, “My boss has it in for me.” Mike might not question how much his conclusion is a projection—a creative act—rather than an objective fact.
The Origin of Internal Stories
Experience tends to be interpreted in ways consistent with the developmental stage in which it originated. It follows that a child cannot think about an experience at a level that exceeds his developmental range; thus, events are given meanings that reflect the developmental concerns and capacities of the existent stage. The earlier the experience, the more narrow the interpretation and the less conscious the thought process.
Cognitive psychology teaches that subjective experience is generated via a three-step process: perception, interpretation, feeling. Because perception precedes interpretation and interpretation generates feeling, it is easy to conclude that experience determines one’s emotional reactions. But this leaves out interpretation, which mediates between perceptions and feelings. For example, if Frank observes someone with a lot of money and thinks they are selfish, he may feel angry. Yet, from perception to state is mediated by a thought, “He is selfish.” The event does not cause Frank’s feeling; his interpretation of the event does, even if the interpretation is occurring at an unconscious level. Frank is participating in the creation of reality whether he knows it or not.
The question, “How does that make you feel?” wrongly implies that feelings are determined by events rather than by one’s interpretation of them. This can lead to futile efforts to change outer conditions in order to improve inner feelings. In fact, the inner state is mediated by thoughts one has about the external situation.
There is a crucial difference between influence and control. An individual can influence others, such as a co-worker’s behavior, but cannot control that behavior. We can, however, control our thoughts to a significant degree. Ironically, thoughts are the only things within one’s control. I can choose to judge my co-worker’s behavior as selfish and hostile―or, as motivated by fear and a wish to protect herself from pain. Each choice entails different meanings, feelings, and resultant responses. In fact, the two ways of viewing the same behavior are not mutually exclusive. The co-worker’s behavior may, in fact, be selfish and hostile, yet the latter interpretation incorporates the former in a more complex, compassionate, and forgiving framework of meaning.
Again, a meaning attribution is a kind of story that involves the self with an outer condition, such as politics. Story constructions generally operate outside of awareness. Someone with Saturn square Pluto might tacitly believe that all people in authority, especially government officials, are greedy power mongers conspiring to exploit the citizenry for personal gain. This belief may not be fully conscious; yet, it will determine what the person attends to and the meanings he infers from his observations.
Supported by selective attention, such a story has its initial consequences on an internal level. First, it will determine feelings, then attitudes, and then behavior—the television stations he watches, the friends he associates with, the sources of information he accesses and prefers (TV networks, radio talk shows, magazines, newspapers, books), and so on. Information sources tend to be chosen that buttress presuppositions. This is variously referred to as cherry picking, selective attention, or confirmatory bias. Most people live in a bubble of self-referential stories reinforced by deeply ingrained, perceptual habits.
Again, different people can access the same information and give it radically different meanings. Any single event can be interpreted on multiple levels, from narrow-shallow to broad-deep. While most of us recognize this in a general sense, opinions are often mistaken for self-evident truths. This is partly because recognition of fallibility and uncertainty is anxiety provoking; thus, it is avoided. It could be argued that enlightenment is largely a process of disillusionment, a crumbling away of untruth, a seeing through the facade of pretense and gradually eliminating half-truths and erroneous assumptions previously thought to be unequivocally true.
The Cone of Thought: Feelings Reflect Level of Thinking
Given that any particular event can be interpreted in multiple ways, different stories can be constructed from the same event. In politics, this is called “spin”. Meaning attributions constitute a spun “narrative” about events.
But here’s the main point: Happiness is directly proportional to a story’s level of truth. Hence, stories that feel bad are more likely to be false; whereas stories that feel good are more likely to be true.
Why is this so?
Imagine that a story about an experience can be constructed on an emotional scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being an interpretation that is utterly despairing, hopeless and frightening, and 10 being a story that evokes feelings of acceptance, flow, and happiness. Picture this scale as a cone of thought, narrow and shallow at the bottom, wide and deep at the top (see Figure 2). Stories at the bottom of the scale are comparatively narrow and egocentric, with distorted thinking and pathogenic assumptions. The story itself generates suffering and discord.
Conversely, stories closer to the top are comparatively broad-minded, data rich, and complex. Stories at higher levels incorporate information from below but go beyond to a more comprehensive understanding. There is a deep, insightful awareness accompanied by faith, wisdom, and compassion. Such stories are emotionally stabilizing and generate comparative serenity. People who operate on the basis of higher stories do not get knocked off their emotional center so easily; they are more resilient and capable of flowing with events rather than allowing events to determine how they feel.
Figure 2: The Cone of Thought
The important point is that higher levels of thought tend to be inclusive of lower levels, while adding something new. This is precisely what makes the story broader and deeper by comparison.
An example would be a woman who thinks she wasn’t a good mother to her now adult son. She sees him struggling with social and professional issues and thinks, “I wasn’t a good enough mother…” This thought process has various ramifications that lead her down a rabbit hole of further negative thought, “I’m the cause of my son’s problems…he is suffering because of me…his life is restricted in fulfillment because of my flaws and failings…if he commits suicide, it will be my fault.”
To the extent that she identifies with this story, she will be consumed with guilt and spiral downwards. This might cause her to criticize her son, telling him what to do and becoming attached to whether he does it. She needs him to do better so she can feel better; she projects her guilt into him and exhorts him to be a better person so she can feel like a better mother. But this merely evokes guilt and resentment in the son who pushes back, so their relationship spins into a negative cycle of avoidance, conflict, and mutual recriminations.
The issue is not that the mother’s story is untrue, but that it’s partially true. A larger truth would be that every mother is imperfect; we all make mistakes. While mistakes inevitably impact children, this is unavoidable, part of the human condition. Children must go forward and make choices in accord with their own destiny, and parents are neither responsible for those choices nor the consequences that flow from them.
Moreover, children have an inborn character that is not merely the product of their environment even if their environment is synchronistic with (reflective of) their initial character. Causality is circular and reciprocal so that the child impacts the parent as much as vice versa. If one adds a karmic, spiritual perspective, it may even be that the larger intelligence of the cosmos orchestrated the birth precisely so mother and son could be challenged in specific ways to facilitate their mutual development.
The above is a more expanded framework of meaning. It acknowledges that life is a co-evolutionary process and that children always have the opportunity to learn, heal, and evolve via experiences that are self-generated. In the fullness of time, they may make useful contributions to society precisely because of the growth that results from their suffering.
Such a view exemplifies a more hopeful, positive, and forgiving understanding. It inevitably leads to better feelings because it is more true than the prior, limited and comparatively false narrative. In fact, the better feelings that result are the best proof of the story’s truth.
Broader, more encompassing stories can be differentiated from attempts to merely deny pain. The latter is commonly referred to as “spiritual bypassing”, or what Robert Masters calls, “avoidance in holy drag.” Many people spout platitudes and employ spiritual solutions in a misguided attempt to transcend emotionally wrenching experiences―experiences that actually require immersion and integration. While spiritual practices have validity in proper measure in some situations, they can be misappropriated and overutilized to serve a defensive purpose.
Examples include excessive compassion and blind tolerance rather than acknowledge that certain behaviors have destructive consequences; exaggerated detachment and emotional numbing in response to threatening events; premature forgiveness rather than accepting, expressing, and working through appropriate anger; porous boundaries as a substitute for the more difficult task of saying “no” and asserting limits; dismissal of dysphoric feelings via stock phrases such as, “what bothers you about others is really about you,” “we create our own reality,” and “it’s all just an illusion.”
These defenses cloak one’s emotional truth in holy vestures that suggest an elevated, spiritual sensibility. But they are the equivalent of a metaphysical martini, erecting a hazy, artificial barrier to painful feelings, repressed needs, or disturbing facts. What might under other circumstances be considered a healthy attitude, can be overused and misapplied to bypass the stress of inner work. Compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, detachment, recognition of impermanence, withdrawal of projection, and acceptance of responsibility for self-created experience all have value in the larger scheme of things; yet, can also be perversely exaggerated in an attempt to avoid difficult challenges and uncomfortable truths.
Spiritual bypassing may appear similar to broader, more encompassing stories, but only superficially. A spiritual bypass is like a flowery tree with shallow roots: attractive for as long as it lasts, but easily blown over by a stiff wind in an emotional storm. Conversely, healthy stories incorporate suffering and use it as loam for the cultivation of integrity and authentic wisdom. True spirituality does not confer a bubble of immunity that insulates one from sorrow; rather, it enables us to go into our pain more deeply, to embrace and endure suffering in the faith that it will eventually lead to higher ground.
No One is Exempt from Suffering
As an inherent part of life, suffering may even have spiritual value. Experiences of defeat, loss, failure, rejection, and disappointment are inescapable. At higher levels of thought, however, these events do not generate feelings that are unbearable. Instead, one’s emotional level tends to return to a state of relative happiness more quickly, and eventually toward greater happiness as the learning that accompanies the experience is metabolized to facilitate yet more growth.
In other words, the depth, intensity, and duration of suffering can be alleviated by thoughts one has about the precipitating events. So, to prevent unnecessary and prolonged suffering one must reach for a higher thought. A higher (or better) thought is an interpretation of events that feels better than an interpretation that feels worse. Better thoughts are more empathic, compassionate, and forgiving. Their power derives from a more encompassing, balanced and complex view as opposed to one that is restricted, lopsided, or simplistic.
Better thoughts also tend to be more realistic in the sense of being in accord with reality. They do not jump to the transpersonal to avoid the personal, but rather incorporate both in a balanced whole. Higher thoughts tend to have greater validity than lower thoughts. They are higher in that they are more clarifying and comprehensive. They explain more than simpler thoughts, which tend to feel worse and explain less.
Again, there are occasions when perception, interpretation, and feeling are entirely in accord with reality and yet the person still suffers. If a woman loses a beloved spouse due to illness and concludes, “I will never see my husband in this life again and I will deeply miss him,” it would be reasonable to expect she will experience grief for a time. Jung defined neurosis as a failure to endure legitimate suffering. Stories that feel better do not exempt one from sorrows necessitated by mortality, impermanence, and human imperfection. Everyone at some point will experience hardship and loss. Everyone will make mistakes and suffer the consequences―drinking too much, making a rash decision, saying the wrong thing, enabling others and having it backfire―the list goes on. It is necessary to face these experiences honestly and courageously.
Even if one assesses the meaning of events in a way that minimizes unnecessary suffering, one still must undergo necessary suffering. But a person who engages in negative thinking will suffer more than required. Their made-up stories compound, deepen, and prolong their suffering, making it seem as if there’s no exit, no escape. One is doomed, trapped in unending despair. They may bitterly lament, “Why do bad things always happen to me!?”
Conversely, stories that feel good allow one to move up the emotional scale from worse to better. One ascends the emotional scale one thought at a time. Paradoxically, feeling better occurs by honoring legitimate suffering rather than resisting it. By situating inescapable sorrow in a more comprehensive, positive and uplifting framework, events that cause suffering are imbued with redemptive meaning. They become stepping stones across a creek of temporary misfortune rather than cement blocks tied to your feet at the bottom of a lake of chronic pain.
For Aaron, willingness to endure legitimate suffering meant accepting that the best laid plans do not always yield desired results. Sometimes events occur for which one bears no responsibility; yet, they obstruct success. And this, in turn, may have additional consequences, such as loss of a relationship. The larger question is whether such a sequence of events serves a purpose.
First, Aaron would need to consider if there is some potential gain from his ordeal. For example, are circumstances requiring him to develop in a way that he might not otherwise? Perhaps working on his house further prepared him for a career in home renovation that would serve him well in the years ahead. In fact, this seems to have been the case. Seen retrospectively, it often becomes apparent that tests and trials at one stage of life are preparatory for opportunities yet to come.
Second, planets on the Ascendant are naturally associated with fresh starts and new beginnings. Aaron might contemplate that for his life to move forward, some things need to end. Saturn is especially prone to “clearing the decks” and downsizing so that a more economical, productive strategy can be employed. As much as he wanted his relationship to continue, it was important for him to trust and accept that it was not meant to be for reasons he would only later discover.
Third and most importantly, his distress should incentivize a fearless reflection on whether there is a lesson to be learned. Given the obvious parallels between his present and past relationships with maternal figures, Aaron might legitimately wonder if his house situation recapitulated his childhood experience and whether his girlfriend was a surrogate for his mother. As mentioned, repetition of childhood experience provides an incentive and opportunity for changing cognitive habits that produce unnecessary suffering.
His belief from childhood was that he was responsible for his sibling’s behavior despite not having the authority or power to control them. If one of them broke a lamp from roughhousing and his mother arrived home upset, Aaron assumed it was his fault. In his current situation, the situation was similar. Just as he could not force his siblings to behave responsibly in his parent’s absence, so he had no control over the housing market or the cost of problems arising unexpectedly in his home renovation project. If his girlfriend became upset in response to these events, her feelings might be legitimate, but that does not equate to it being his fault. Any blame or anger directed at him would be inappropriate. In other words, the similarity of his present situation to his childhood afforded him the opportunity review and revise his internal narrative and forgive himself for events over which he never had any control. In so doing, he not only can redo his past, he can liberate himself from unwarranted guilt and unnecessary suffering associated with present events.
In time, Aaron came to see that he craved his girlfriend’s love and support because he was trying to make up for a deficit left over from childhood. Yet, his strategy of trying too hard to please her―that is, work nonstop toward an unattainable goal of perfect control―merely resulted in exhaustion, at which point he became grumpy and dejected. His herculean efforts to prevent what he feared―criticism and rejection―actually brought it about, for co-habiting with someone who is perpetually stressed, guilt ridden, and irritable is not conducive to long term relationship stability. His girlfriend left him at least in part because he was unpleasant to live with. It was only by losing her that he came to see that his neediness was the manifestation of a childhood dependency on his mother’s love that had been chronically unfulfilled. Living on his own afforded him the opportunity to develop an internal self-love rather than remaining solely dependent on receiving emotional supplies from the outside.
This, in effect, would become the new narrative. His internal dialogue shifted from excessive worry and irrational self-blame to: “I work hard to provide a comfortable living space for myself and others. In the process, problems will inevitably arise that I could not have foreseen or prevented. Part of the joy of building and maintaining homes is my ability to adapt in the moment to what needs to be done, and to implement practical solutions. But some situations arise that have no solution; they are merely predicaments to be endured with patience and forbearance. Not everything is my fault or my responsibility. There are limits to what I or anyone can accomplish.”
Figure 3: Chart of Aaron
Note that Aaron’s new narrative reflects a higher-level expression of his Saturn-Moon conjunction in Virgo on the Ascendant. Such astrological configurations not only symbolize past adaptations to difficult circumstances, they also point the way to a higher, more comprehensive understanding. Whereas his old narrative reflected an innate tendency to feel undeserving of love and life unless he successfully fulfilled domestic responsibilities imposed by a cold, punitive maternal figure, his new narrative enabled him to see that his mother’s behavior reflected her fears, flaws and failings, not his goodness or lovability as a son. Rather than a relentless striving for perfection to justify his own existence, Aaron learned to appreciate his skills and talents as a worker, to enjoy the journey rather than the destination, to take joy in the fulfillment of duties without undue attachment to outcomes, and to deepen emotional connections with others via the services he provides.
Certainly, there is more we could say about Aaron’s chart―his Sun in Cancer, the Moon-Saturn square to Venus―but I do not wish to distract from the main thrust of this essay, which is about the importance of self-talk. In reflecting upon Aaron’s story, I am reminded of lines from the 1927 prose poem, Desiderata, by American writer Max Ehrmann. Desiderata was Erhmann’s letter to his son, but it could just as well signify a higher-level narrative that Aaron was learning to author for himself. It reflects an optimal blend of Saturnian and Lunar sensibilities.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore, be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.
Summary & Conclusion
Repetition of childhood experience provides an opportunity for gaining insight into the origin of pathogenic narratives, and for achieving liberation from the stranglehold they exert upon the psyche. New, more complex narratives can replace the previous story’s inherent limitations.
Stories that feel good are more likely to be true. Conversely, stories that feel bad tend to be comparatively false. At best, chronically painful stories constitute partial truths that operate within a restricted frame of meaning. Resultant negative feelings―guilt, shame, fear, hurt, sadness, resentment, anger―are inevitable by-products of the story’s incompleteness.
These false narratives constitute a shell in which the person is trapped, but with sufficient effort can break free. To be liberated from false narratives―that is, to feel better rather than worse―requires a more comprehensive view in which the prior story’s incompleteness can be seen objectively. This entails shifting to a less egoic perspective that elevates awareness from a comparatively shallow understanding to one that is broader and deeper.
As most of us already know, there will be a total eclipse of the Sun on Monday, August 21st, directly over America. Naturally, everyone wants to know what this means, and so the media has been awash in stories featuring various astrologers offering differing opinions.i
Historically, eclipses were regarded with a mixture of awe and dread. When astrology first began some 3000 years ago, people had no understanding of the natural cycles of earth, Sun, and Moon that caused eclipses. All they knew was the lights went out, and understandably that was alarming. Eclipses were generally seen as a bad omen, from which is derived the word ominous. In fact, however, an eclipse is just a conjunction between the Moon and Sun in which the two bodies are perfectly aligned by both longitude and latitude. It has the same meaning as any other Sun-Moon conjunction: a beginning of the lunar-solar 30-day cycle, which occurs every month, the only difference being that on months with an eclipse the Sun and Moon are more perfectly aligned than normal.
Process and Content What strikes me the most about some of the predictions I’ve been reading is their content heavy nature. While some astrologers remain safely and appropriately abstract, talking about times of change and new beginnings, others leap to more concrete conclusions. All the usual suspects are mentioned – nuclear war, earthquakes, assassinations, racial strife, civil unrest, revolution, fires, crashes, violence, heart attacks, impeachment, and even scientific breakthroughs. The latter is especially heartening given the list of horrors that precedes it.
In AstroPsychology, we take pains to separate process interpretations from content interpretations. Process refers to the inner, psychological meaning of a configuration. Content pertains to event outcomes that constitute observable data. A cardinal rule in AstroPsychology is that content mirrors process, but whereas process is knowable with some degree of certainty, content is inherently indeterminate in its concrete form. All we can know is that whatever happens will conform (usually more perfectly than we could have imagined) to the range of possibilities inherent in the configuration.
The distinction between process and content is important because as astrologers we are constantly being asked by the media to predict something concrete about what is going to happen. But this is a trap. For unless we start with an acknowledgement that such attempts are inherently and unavoidably speculative, we run the risk of being “proven wrong” when future events do not conform to our predictions. Then we end up with egg on our face, and once again astrology becomes a subject of derision and scorn. In fact, however, a prediction can be true on a process level and wrong on a content level, but the latter is less important than the former.
Deconstructing the Current Eclipse Let’s consider an example that pertains to the upcoming solar eclipse. On Monday, August 21st at approximately 2:30 EDT, the Sun and Moon will perfectly align at 28 degrees, 52 minutes of Leo. I will not detail here the astronomical intricacies of what constitutes an eclipse, for it’s not particularly germane to our discussion. Suffice to say that four variables combine – Sun, Moon, Conjunction and Leo – each of which has its own meaning.
On a process level, we can say that the Sun signifies the yang, masculine component of the psyche, both individually and collectively. It relates to the human capacity for creativity, ego-identity and intentionality – the capacity to bring about preferred outcomes. The Moon signifies the yin, feminine component of the psyche and pertains to our need for caring, belonging, and establishing emotional connections. The conjunction means that Sun and Moon come together at the end of their synodic cycle to begin anew. Thus, the conjunction signifies fresh starts, a kind of reset that ignites a new cycle of action and generates a vital, dynamic energy, like a shot of adrenalin.
Finally, the sign Leo suggests the conjunction of Sun and Moon will be expressed in a dramatic, playful and perhaps prideful way, for Leo is all about having fun and enjoying who one inherently is. In many ways, Leo is about the need for identity, which collectively can manifest through “identity politics” or a focus on “national identity”, the two being diametrically opposed.
Putting all this together suggests a moment in time of a particular quality that will radiate across America like a giant magnetic pulse. We might say that our national identity (Sun) is coming together in a way that promotes closeness, caring, and a sense of interdependence (Moon). Masculine and feminine can potentially meld together in a dynamic unity, like a rare metal both strong and supple. Moreover, our country is enjoying a rebirth of sorts (conjunction) that will incite a celebratory (Leo) spirit, much like we might experience on the 4th of July. Perhaps something will be created for the first time that unites the populace and becomes a source of national pride. Since this is not a typical conjunction, but one that entails perfect latitudinal alignment – that is, a total eclipse – its effect is amplified considerably.
In short, a solar eclipse in Leo is hardly a bad thing. Things fall into place for a new start, a fresh beginning, a sense of creative possibility. There’s a feeling of resolve and coherence of intention, like blasting out of the blocks in a 100-meter sprint with cannons booming and fireworks overhead.
On the other hand, it could also constitute a period of emotional reactivity (Moon) pertaining to issues of identity (Sun). Expressed in a Leo manner, this could mean rage over perceived offenses as occurs in identity politics, and/or compensatory pretensions of superiority as exemplified in individuals and groups identified by race, gender, class, or religion who claim exalted status for one reason or another. An obvious example is white supremacists, but similar pretensions of superiority can be found in the more extreme factions of the women’s movement, Islamic supremacism, and other groups who seek to elevate themselves at the expense of the whole.
All the above could be elaborated further, and nuances of meaning teased out and discussed in greater detail. For now, however, it suffices to paint a picture of what Sun and Moon conjunct in Leo could mean at a process level. But what about content? What might this mean in terms of empirical events?
Predicting Outcomes This is where things get speculative, for any single configuration is embedded in a matrix of other planetary cycles that pertain to the moment as a whole. For example, the conjunction of Sun and Moon forms a trine to Uranus at 28 degrees Aries, which suggests an opportunity to create radical change, advance a cause, or awaken the national psyche to a new realization. Other relevant aspects further contribute to the overall quality of the moment. A solar eclipse does not occur in a vacuum, but in relation to a complex web of interdependent influences, just like in a natal chart. Deconstructing and attributing a coherent, intelligible meaning to the entirety of the moment is a daunting task.
This is further complicated by the fact than any single variable is multidimensional in its manifestation. Sun, Moon, conjunction and Leo have a multitude of meanings individually. When combined, the number of possible outcomes potentiated by their synthesis increases exponentially. Imagine that one astrologer predicts medical science will achieve a heroic breakthrough in rejuvenating the heart through stem cell implantation that could extend the human life span. Another predicts that North Korea will agree to stop its nuclear program, swelling our sense of victory in a test of national wills. Yet another predicts that President Trump will be impeached and that he will resign from office, triggering a clash of far left and far right ideologues that plunge the United States into a period of tumult.
Any or all of these could happen, or none at all. Other, more perfect manifestations of the eclipse could occur, and these might total in the hundreds or even thousands. Most will never make it to the front page of our newspapers, magazines, and websites – or, if they do, we may never hear about them because we do not read those particular sources.
The point is that predicting the future is mostly guesswork, a combination of inference, speculation, and projection, the latter being the inevitable accompaniment of the person making the prediction. We perceive the future through the lens of our biases, hopes, and fears. That’s why different astrologers may make dissimilar predictions even though working with the same data.
There is also a natural tendency to want to predict something significant that confers an advantage to the recipient(s). Astrology is predicated on the assumption that the future can be known with at least some degree of certainty, and that knowing it enhances our ability to avoid calamity and exploit opportunity. Accordingly, there is an egoic investment in the importance of the predictions made; the more sensational the prediction, the greater the attention given to the astrologer. This can escalate toward ego-inflation and morbid exaggeration, with ever more ominous predictions competing for the limelight.
With regard to eclipses, typical of these is predicting “the King will die”. A notable example is often provided of the “sun king”, Louis XIV, the monarch of France who reigned from 1643 until his death in 1715 at age 77. It seems terribly fitting that the sun king died just following a solar eclipse. However, he was certainly not the only king to die and be replaced during such an event. Given that there are approximately four to six solar eclipses every year somewhere on earth (even if not total eclipses), and that their influence allegedly extends months beyond the actual date, we can surmise that an eclipse will knock off a few kings over the centuries, and millions of lesser personages, too.
Perhaps during eclipse periods we should be less afraid of apocalyptic scenarios than of the tendency to make lurid, dramatic predictions that place astrology itself in a bad light. While the vanishing (or vanquishing) of kings is certainly one possibility with the eclipse, recall that any conjunction is inherently a new beginning, which naturally requires that something end. Predicting only negative outcomes implies there’s nothing positive in the astrological event. Yet, having a new king is surely as meaningful as having an old one pass away.
To illustrate how this can happen in far less dramatic ways, I am currently in an ISAR board meeting in the Gulf of Mexico on a cruise ship. We just had our first session (Sunday) with new ISAR president, Alexander Imsiragic, who replaced the venerable Ray Merriman. Ray stepped down to make room for new leadership but will remain on the board – hardly an occasion for gnashing of teeth and falling on one’s sword. In fact, it’s been a fun, exciting transition, as befits a solar eclipse in Leo.
The Trump Factor Speaking of kings, I recently read a blog by an astrologer who proffered that since a solar eclipse entails the Moon’s shadow falling onto the surface of the earth, this must mean that eclipses require us to face our individual and collective shadow, the latter being embodied in U.S. President Donald Trump who represents all that is dark, reprehensible, and inferior in our collective nature. And so, this astrologer contends, the current eclipse is a time for facing our own darkness and eliminating atavistic tendencies.
I am not sure this is helpful. First, it posits a synchronistic association between the Moon’s shadow and our national shadow. Well, maybe. More importantly, it is an obvious projection of the author’s political sensibilities. While some degree of projection is inevitable when predicting concrete outcomes, I think we should take pains to stick as close as possible to the evidence; that is, not get too far out in front of the facts.
Donald Trump, Jun 14, 1946, 10:54 am, Jamaica, New York
Much has been made of the eclipse falling within a degree of Trump’s Ascendant and Mars in Leo. Just as with other transits, this Sun-Moon conjunction at 28° Leo will activate those parts of a birth chart that are close to the 28th degree of any sign. Trump’s Ascendant is 29° Leo and his Mars is at 27° Leo, so the eclipse will activate both. Does this mean Trump could be impeached, assassinated, have a heart attack, promote violence, or start a war with North Korea as some astrologers predict?
Note that the above scenarios are all negative. Given that the eclipse is simply a conjunction, there is nothing bad about it. Likewise, neither are the Sun, Moon or Leo inherently negative. To the contrary, the perfect alignment of male (Sun) and female (Moon) principles in celebratory, romantic Leo suggests a blossoming of positivity. This is certainly not the first time Trump has had a significant transit to his Ascendant and Mars; yet, he is still here, richer and more powerful than ever, despite his embattled presidency. We might attribute this partly to natal Mars sextiling his Sun and trining his Moon, as will the eclipse when it conjuncts his Mars.
What then can we anticipate from the eclipse sitting on his Mars Leo Ascendant? Since the eclipse itself is a Sun-Moon conjunction and it, in turn, conjuncts his Mars, which conjuncts his Ascendant, what we have is a kind of super-conjunction of four variables: Transiting Sun-Moon conjunct Ascendant-Mars. An aspect derives its meaning from the sign that corresponds to that angle in the natural zodiac. The conjunction is an Aries aspect since the angle it forms is 0°. Likewise, the Ascendant is an Aries point since it corresponds to where the horizon meets the ecliptic, or 0° of the earth’s 360° diurnal cycle. And finally, Mars rules the sign of Aries. To paraphrase Yogi Berra, “It’s Aries all over again, and again, and again…” In short, there are five ways Aries is implicit in the eclipse falling on Trump’s Mars-Ascendant.
What I would infer from this is that everything the eclipse means is hugely compounded in Trump’s chart. At the very least, this will entail a massive infusion of “fire and fury” into an already dramatic personality. So, we might expect to see the Donald behaving more like himself than usual, which is hard to imagine since he’s already extremely dynamic, bombastic, and combative. Having a solar eclipse in Leo conjunct one’s natal Mars is a bit like pouring gasoline on a fire. Perhaps events will trigger a need for him to fight even more strongly for what he sees as his mandate, to project strength, and do it with his usual bold, feisty, unapologetic style. I would also expect some sort of new beginning to the Trump presidency in keeping with the Super-Aries quality of the transit.
As an external event, this could mean pretty much what we’ve been seeing the last few days – members of both parties attacking him for his handling of the violence in Charlottesville last weekend, Trump doubling down and generating more criticism in an escalating, rapid cycling of attacks and counter-attacks, just as occurred in Charlottesville and in lesser ways throughout the country.
Given that Trump’s eclipse on his Mars also sextiles his Sun and trines his Moon, it would not surprise me if he lands on his feet and lives to fight another day. There are some signs of a fresh start, like spring buds pushing up through the hard crust of the earth. Trump’s former chief strategist who was fired on Friday, Steven Bannon, stated he believes “a new era is beginning” that is actually at odds with his (Bannon’s) brand of nationalist-populist exceptionalism. Bannon expects that Trump’s new advisors, specifically chief of staff John Kelly, will try to moderate Trump and turn him into a more conventional president.
In the meantime, however, Trump continues to fight back against an ever-increasing tide of attackers accusing him of hateful rhetoric, bigotry, and vitriol. With violence erupting all around him, Trump is at the center of America’s cultural war. Last weekend in Charlottesville VA, there was a clash between two fascist groups, one on the left (Antifa), the other on the right (Neo-Nazi, White Supremacists).ii During the fight over the city’s removal of confederate monuments, a demonstrator drove his car into approaching counter-demonstrators, killing one and injuring many others. Trump condemned the violence “on many sides” without specifically mentioning the white supremacy group. His response was clearly inadequate and since then he’s been under constant siege. One can only imagine that the heat will increase following the eclipse.
In fact, however, the violence was between two groups, “each of which,” in the words of Melanie Phillips, “perpetuate hatred and intolerance, stand against freedom and seek to impose their view of society and human nature by force….He [Trump] should have specifically denounced white supremacism as having no place in American society. At the same time, he should have specifically condemned the hatemongering ideology of left-wing identity politics.”iii
Trump, ever the happy warrior, embodies a certain anger in the populace that fueled his run for the presidency. Against political correctness, excessive compassion, identity politics and the cult of victimology, Trump is always ready for battle. It’s no surprise he’s surrounded himself with generals – Chief of Staff John Kelly, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster. All of this is especially fitting as the eclipse bears down on his Mars-Ascendant in Leo. Again, expect to see him project strength and courage in the immediate future, even more than is his usual custom.
Summary and Conclusion The total solar eclipse sweeping across America is neither good or bad, but likely to have effects both ways and everything in between. The clashing of two fascist groups in Charlottesville last weekend encapsulates a larger picture that is currently unfolding throughout the country. Like the natural opposites of Sun and Moon, both extremes are attracted to the other; an erotic, orgiastic melding of mutual antagonisms desperately seeking a middle ground. The resultant effect reminds me of cold atomic fusion. The hot Sun expresses, the cool Moon contains. Tremendous power is released, but there is also a potential for transformation if resultant forces can be controlled and directed to constructive ends.
While we can understand the processes involved, it remains to be seen how exactly the eclipse will manifest from this point forward on a content level. As always, content is a matter of context – the total surrounding chart – as well as the level of integration of the participants. This means America itself. The title of this essay is an eclipse of reason. If the extremes of both parties prevail, then by definition this is unreasonable, irrational, and unbalanced. For balance to be restored, we truly do need a new beginning, one that transforms opposites into a higher order unity.
Regarding integration, much depends on how America’s leader, Donald Trump, fares in the coming months. He has, after all, the bully pulpit, and what he says and does will set the tone for the rest of the country. The eclipse on his Mars-Ascendant in Leo could portend an escalation of attacks on his presidency and more needless counter-punching. On the other hand, it also suggests the potential for a new beginning, a fresh start after painful lessons learned.
Albert Camus &
The Myth of Sisyphus Planets as Psychological States
By Glenn Perry
In this essay, we will explore the life and birth chart of Albert Camus, celebrated French novelist, playwright, and philosopher from the mid-20th century who was recipient of the Nobel prize for Literature in 1957. Our purpose is to show how Camus’s predominant preoccupations―the themes, struggles, and convictions that reoccur in his works―express an intrapsychic conflict symbolized by a key planetary configuration. We will set the table by first examining planets as psychological states. Whereas every planet symbolizes a continuum of psychological states, aspects between planets signify core ideas that generate and sustain specific states. Our primary example will be Camus’s Yod from Saturn to Sun-Jupiter. It was this configuration that manifested through Camus’s most famous idea: his notion of the Absurd.
Planets As Psychological States In a previous column, we explored how sign-planet systems refer to affects that are experienced on a range of intensity. Each sign-planet system has a target state, or preferred feeling, deviation from which is experienced as a varying reference signal. When events create a disturbance from the target state, resultant negative feelings signal the need for corrective action. For example, an insult is experienced by the Leo-Sun system as “wounded pride”. This, in turn, stimulates a behavioral sequence that is calculated to restore the desired solar state of self-esteem. A person might leap to defend his honor via a counter-attack, or respectfully confront the offender, or simply avoid the person.
Planets not only symbolize a range of affects that are evoked in response to specific events, they also represent enduring psychological states. States are more stable than momentary feelings (affects) that arise and quickly subside; they can be chronic, for good or ill. A psychological state is characterized by a recurrent pattern of experience as reflected in mood, attitude, internal dialogue, facial expression, posture, voice tone, and what a person says and does.1 In other words, a state is reflected in virtually every aspect of a person’s inner life and observable behavior.
States common to most persons entail emotions such as anxiety, anger, guilt, sadness, shame, sexual excitement, surprise, and joy. However, a state is more complex than its emotional component. It also includes an underlying motive, associated beliefs, and self-talk (internal dialogue), all of which can be summarized by the term ‘attitude’. An attitude is a settled way of thinking, feeling, and acting vis-à-vis a particular topic such as politics, war, or religion. An individual may, for example, hate politicians, glorify war, or distrust religion. A person’s dominant attitudes, which are more-or-less synonymous with states, are manifestations of character structure and reflected in the way corollary planets are constellated in the birth chart.
Saturn as an Enduring State
In AstroPsychology, each sign-planet system is associated with a range of states. Remember, a state is characterized by a recurrent belief, mood, internal dialogue, and behavioral pattern. Of these, belief is primary, for it underlies and generates all the rest. Consider that wherever Saturn is in the chart, we find a drive to achieve an unrelenting high standard, which we might call perfection―Capricorn’s core motivation. Deriving from this are additional Capricornian needs for structure, order, and success. Depending upon how Saturn is constellated, as well as its degree of integration, the native will have some belief about his or her ability to fulfill Capricorn needs. And this belief will produce corresponding Saturnian states.
If Saturn is in the 3rd and under pressure from difficult aspects, a reporter may suffer writer’s block due to a belief that his writing skills are inferior. This, in turn, can generate a depressed mood and self-talk that is persistently negative, “I’m failing to meet journalistic standards”. Believing he lacks the necessary ability, he procrastinates in doing the requisite work. Note how his mood (depressed), internal dialogue (negative), and subsequent behavior (procrastination) all flow from a single underlying belief.
Saturnian perfectionism can manifest along a continuum of states from suicidally depressed to supremely successful. Moving from positive to negative, Saturn’s continuum of states includes: Successful, organized, focused, ambitious, determined, serious, grave, stressed, anxious, inferior, craving, inadequate, pessimistic, failure, gloomy, isolated, guilty, despairing. Since perfection represents an absolute that can never be attained, it can result in perpetual guilt if carried to an extreme. While there are two general types of guilt, Saturnian and Neptunian, the Saturnian variety results from the perception that one is failing to fulfill duties and meet obligations―in short, that one is inadequate to the task at hand. The resultant saturnine mood is gloomy, pessimistic, and despairing.
A negative Saturnian attitude is usually generated by a fear (belief) that one will never be good enough. Good enough for what, we ask? For anything with which Saturn happens to be involved. To determine the specifics, we would have to look at Saturn’s sign, house, and aspects. If it is connected to the Sun by aspect, then personal identity will be bound up with Saturn; thus, Saturnian states will strongly impact one’s capacity for intentionality, self-expression, play, creativity, performance, romance, and self-esteem. For these are the Sun’s primary functions.
Of course, the Sun has its own (Leo) needs to fulfill, among them validation, approval, and self-esteem. To the extent the Sun is functional, resultant states are positive; if the Sun is dysfunctional, states are negative. Just as with other planets, Solar states fall on a continuum: Proud, confident, self-assured, certain, happy, playful, worthy, romantic, willful, stubborn, defensive, disdainful, uncertain, unworthy, embarrassed, humiliated.
When Sun and Saturn are in aspect, they will combine in ways that reflect the nature of the angle and its degree of integration. One possibility with hard Sun-Saturn aspects (square, opposition, quincunx) is an inferiority complex, fears of inadequacy, expectations of failure, depressive tendencies, and the like – all related to core solar issues of personal identity and creative self-expression. I’m reminded of a famous quote by Camus, who had the quincunx, “Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee”? Camus struggled with the question of whether life was worth living if human beings are doomed to perpetual despair in a meaningless universe.
With hard aspects, the internal dialogue tends to be self-deprecating and predictive of failure. “I don’t have what it takes. It’s too hard, I’m going to embarrass myself,” and so on. To the extent the person defends his solar identity against Saturn, there is apt to be a fear of authority, which might originate with a parent (usually father) and subsequently extend to fear of any Saturnian figure – bosses, superiors, the government, and so on. This might emerge as a cynical, hostile, or defeatist attitude: “They’re holding me down. What’s the point of trying?” The negative attitude underlies and reinforces the depressive mood.
Of course, this is but one way, albeit a common one, in which Sun-Saturn expresses itself. Just as often, the native goes to the other extreme by identifying with Saturn at the expense of the Sun, thus producing the chronic achiever. Through a combination of discipline, perseverance and hard work, the Saturn-dominated individual pushes himself to the top of his field. No matter how much status and honor is conferred, however, he will not be satisfied. Since perfection can never be attained, he can never stop striving to excel, to surpass himself, to be perfect. This Saturn mood is tense, stressed, driven; the attitude is ambitious and determined, “I must be the best.” Self-talk focuses on setting the next goal, formulating plans, and pressuring the self to improve: “You should have gotten the promotion; you can do better.”
While one can identify with Sun at the expense of Saturn, or vice versa, conflicting tendencies co-exist and vacillate within the same person. First one dominates, then the other. In both instances, Saturn is over-functioning and unintegrated. In the first scenario, a fear of failure produces a defeatist attitude; in the second, it produces a compensatory, driven attitude.
Although astrologers cannot be certain how an aspect will be expressed, the nature of the underlying belief will determine whether the corollary attitude is predominantly negative or positive. In both examples above, the underlying belief was the same: a sense of personal inadequacy and anticipation of imminent failure. Although the subjective mood and outward behavior differs, neither state – defeatist or driven – is conducive of enduring satisfaction.
Integration of Sun-Saturn When Sun-Saturn is operating in a balanced, harmonious manner, the individual is more relaxed, patient, and flexible in pursuing aims. He or she respects limits, honors authority, is less driven, and more capable of achieving and enjoying success. Each planet enhances the other’s functionality. Work and play become coordinated; responsibility and creativity fuse. Underlying beliefs tend to be more positive, and the respective planetary functions are effectively utilized to achieve goal states of Saturnian mastery and Solarian self-esteem. All of this will be reflected in a person’s mood (serious but playful), attitude (confident and authoritative), internal dialogue (“I enjoy planning for and pursuing success”), facial expression (content/focused), and voice tone (coolly self-assured). Outward behavior is apt to be characterized by disciplined creativity applied to the achievement of long-term goals.
Such a state will be constant to the extent the person has integrated his or her Sun-Saturn aspect. Again, integration is not something that can be determined merely by looking at the chart, although soft aspects are suggestive of a relaxed, harmonious flow between the two faculties. While integration of hard aspects requires sustained effort, rewards tend to exceed those that accrue from soft aspects. Multi-billionaire Oprah Winfrey, who has Sun in exact square to Saturn, is a good example. Actress, director, producer, entertainer, media mogul, talk-show host, and philanthropist, Winfrey’s list of accomplishments is so long it would take several pages to list them all. Suffice to say she is one of the most successful, influential woman in the world.
Oprah Winfrey: January 29, 1954, 4:30 am, Kosciusko, MS
As befits an exact Sun-Saturn square, however, Oprah’s rise to the top was not without struggle. Born to an unwed teenage mother mired in poverty in the Deep South, she was raped at nine and suffered continuous sexual abuse from multiple relatives for the next five years. At age 14, she became pregnant and was shipped off to live with her estranged father. Her baby died two weeks after delivery from complications of being born premature. Oprah’s remaining teen years were characterized by constant humiliation and defiant rebellion. Unwanted, she was shuffled back and forth between her grandmother, mother, and father. Despite these hardships, Oprah Winfrey went on to achieve extraordinary success and is often praised for overcoming adversity to become a model and benefactor to others.
The Saturn Complex of Albert Camus
A more typical case involves the previously cited Albert Camus, who embodies both the depressive and success themes of Saturn. Living in war-torn France during the 1940’s and 50’s, Camus emerged as an internationally recognized novelist, dramatist, political journalist, philosophical essayist, and champion of freedom. His extensive writings provide a unique glimpse into Saturn as enduring state and psychological complex.
In the chart below, note that Camus has Saturn Gemini in the 9th forming an opening quincunx to Sun Scorpio in the 2nd. It also forms a closing quincunx to Jupiter Capricorn in the 4th. Since Sun and Jupiter are sextile, this makes Saturn the focal point of a Yod with Sun-Jupiter. It is especially significant that Jupiter in Capricorn forms a hard aspect to its own dispositor, Saturn, which occupies Jupiter’s house (9th).2Jupiter and Saturn are thus thrice entangled – by sign, house, and aspect – which underscores the importance of the contact as well as their difficulty in working together.
I will have more to say about Jupiter-Saturn momentarily. Suffice to say that Camus’s Sun-Jupiter sextile comprises a two-pronged attack against Saturn, which is their common nemesis. His Sun attacks through creative works (fictional novels and plays) that seek to resolve problems wrought by Saturn, whereas Jupiter attacks through non-fiction books, political journalism, and philosophical essays that expose the dark side of Saturnian abuses. We will first examine Jupiter’s relationship with Saturn.
Albert Camus: November 7, 1913, 2am, Mondovi Algeria
While often characterized as a philosopher in the existentialist tradition, Camus described himself as merely “a writer”. Given that Mercury signifies his 10th house of career and tenants his 3rd house of communications, it is noteworthy that David Simpson writing on Camus for the Encyclopedia of Philosophy suggests, “it may be best simply to take him at his own word and characterize him first and foremost as a writer—advisedly attaching the epithet ‘philosophical’ for sharper accuracy and definition.”3 Of course, this perfectly accords with Camus’s birth chart. Mercury not only signifies his career as a writer, its position in Sagittarius further qualifies the nature of his writing as philosophical.
But, we might ask, what kind of philosophy? As Mercury’s dispositor, Jupiter provides information as to the nature of Camus’s philosophical, political, and religious convictions. Camus was never comfortable identifying himself as a philosopher. He was not inclined to abstract theorizing, nor did he develop a coherent, carefully defined doctrine. According to Simpson, Camus’s thought was focused on current events and was “consistently grounded in down-to-earth moral and political reality”.4This certainly fits Jupiter in earthy Capricorn, which suggests a morality focused on practical concerns rather than intangible, metaphysical speculation. Moreover, its placement in the 4th inclined Camus to seek political and economic justice for the nations to which he belonged―his country of birth, Algeria, and his adoptive homeland, France.
As mentioned, Jupiter in Capricorn forms a closing quincunx to its own dispositor, Saturn. This means Jupiter must depend on Saturn to further its aims; yet, the closing quincunx suggests such dependency is likely to backfire. In AstroPsychology, we would say Jupiter is “ill-disposed”. For rather than support Jupiter’s aims, Saturn actively resists them and even poses a danger. The nature of the danger is apt to derive from an extreme, destructive expression of Saturn, at least from Jupiter’s perspective. Objectively, this took the form of Camus’s preoccupation with totalitarian political ideologies like Fascism and Communism that he regarded as a threat to truth, justice, and morality.
Subjectively and thus behaviorally, Saturnian states of pessimism and despair impinged on Jupiter’s core values of hope and faith, which made Camus’s writings a threat to prevailing views―religious, philosophical, and ideological. An unremitting tension between Saturn and Jupiter is abundantly evident in all of Camus’s work, examples of which I will provide momentarily.
Since an aspect derives its meaning from the zodiacal sign that comprises that angle, a closing quincunx is Scorpionic; the two planets―Jupiter and Saturn―regard each other with mutual distrust and animosity, even while engaged in mutual influence. One or the other is likely to be projected and cast into shadow, and thus the entire aspect will erupt in ways consistent with Scorpio―passionate, extreme, and potentially destructive until and unless the crisis is resolved. In effect, a closing quincunx is a kind of wound that requires healing. And because the wound is projected, it manifests as an alarming situation or predicament.
Of additional significance is Saturn’s placement in the 9th house, which Jupiter naturally rules. Again, this underscores how tightly Saturn and Jupiter are bound together despite the unease of their relationship. Saturn not only symbolizes Camus’s approach to the affairs of the 9th, but also manifests as the concrete outcomes―things, people, and events―Camus experienced in that locale. The 9th house pertains to the search for truth (philosophy, ideology, religion) and the pursuit of justice (law, ethics, morality).
Saturn in Gemini in the 9th suggests that Camus would like to achieve perfect, factual knowledge of the metaphysical realm. Yet, the very nature of the realm is abstract, concerned with speculative ideas and inferences. Accordingly, Saturn in Gemini is likely to conclude in frustration that certain, indubitable truths are nowhere to be found. Simpson writes that Camus’s mature philosophy was not merely a naïve atheism,
but a very reflective and critical brand of unbelief. It is proudly and inconsolably pessimistic, but not in a polemical or overbearing way. It is unbending, hardheaded, determinedly skeptical. It is tolerant and respectful of world religious creeds, but at the same time wholly unsympathetic to them. In the end, it is an affirmative philosophy that accepts and approves, and in its own way blesses, our dreadful mortality and our fundamental isolation in the world.5
No astrologer could write a better summary of Saturn Gemini in the 9th, at least as Camus experienced it. It cannot be overstated that an aspect can be expressed in multiple ways. At higher levels of integration, no matter how difficult the aspect, it will be expressed in a manner that allows for satisfaction of the respective needs the planets are obligated to fulfill. It is clear from the foregoing, however, that Camus was unable to fulfill Sagittarian-Jupiter needs for faith, hope, and meaning during the course of his short life. In fact, he went in the opposite direction.
In lieu of any genuine religious faith, and given that Saturn rules government, Camus’s focus on political ideology was virtually certain. Again, he was preoccupied with the obstruction of justice (Jupiter) by oppressive government control (Saturn). When the Nazi’s conquered France in WWII, he was morally outraged by their imposition of a brutal, harsh system of laws. Yet, it is equally true that Camus’s own Saturnian skepticism dampened his capacity for faith and, as I will argue, limited his ability to see broader, more encompassing truths. Shortly, we will examine how Camus’s gloomy atheism was charged with having exactly that effect.
When two planets conflict by hard aspect, generally the slower predominates. Renown for its hard-core realism and persistent doubt, Saturn is likely to frustrate Jupiter’s quest for truth, meaning, and justice―or, at least make Jupiter work assiduously for even a scrap of satisfaction. This was most immediately apparent in Camus’s political convictions. Distrustful of Saturnian authority and potential abuses of power, Camus joined the French anarchist movement in his 30’s, wrote for their publications, and remained supportive of anarchist movements throughout his life. As a political ideology, anarchism is the antithesis of Saturn, for it advocates self-governed, hierarchically-free, stateless societies, and regards external, hierarchical forms of government to be largely undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful.
Camus’s cynical distrust of bureaucracy is consistent with Jupiter being ill-disposed, for he feared that the collective impulse for government, however high-minded and well-intentioned, would likely backfire and turn against the people. This was exemplified in Camus’s direct experience with Nazis while living in occupied France. In addition to his anarchist views, he became active in the Resistance and from 1944-47 served as editor-in-chief of the newspaper, Combat. His yod to Saturn was never more evident than when he wrote: “We are suffering a reign of terror because human values have been replaced by contempt for others and the worship of efficiency, the desire for freedom by the desire for domination. It is no longer being just and generous that makes us right; it is being successful.”6
In 1947, at age 34, he published an allegorical novel, The Plague, which depicted Fascism as converting formerly free, independent-minded human beings into soulless, oppressive bureaucrats who, like rats, afflict humankind with death and contagion. In fact, Fascism did turn against its own people as well as the inhabitants of conquered nations via its evil racial policies, death camps, cruel eugenics, forced sterilization, and involuntary euthanasia.
Again, consistent with the Scorpionic/closing quincunx between Jupiter-Saturn, one of his plays, State of Siege, depicts the officious, clip-board wielding Secretary of a fascist dictator as a modern, bureaucratic incarnation of the medieval figure Death. As if giving a nod to Saturn’s sign position of Gemini, a prominent concern of the play is the appropriation of language (Gemini) in the service of totalitarian ends, with words twisted and redefined to serve the machinations of power, or silenced altogether through state control of the press.
Although Camus had a brief flirtation with communism in his early 20’s, he was quickly disenchanted. Living in his native Algeria at the time, he initially saw communism as a means to combat inequalities between European and Algerian natives, but he was soon denounced as a Trotskyite-traitor and expelled from the party by age 24. He wrote, “We might see communism as a springboard and asceticism that prepares the ground for more spiritual activities.”7 Given that Camus was an avowed atheist, it is noteworthy that he saw communism as a spiritual springboard. Again, in the absence of an authentic faith, his religious impulse was sublimated into politics-as-religion. This is certainly consistent with Saturn in the 9th.
However, Saturn’s quincunx to Jupiter assured disillusionment with even this compromise. In his 1951 non-fiction book, The Rebel, Camus (now 38) condemned totalitarian ideologies like Marxism-Leninism for their system of pervasive control, micro-management, violent coercive methods, and suppression of human freedom. If Camus was looking for an exemplar upon which he could hang his fear of Saturnian authority, Fascism and Communism provided ready and easy targets.
Sun-Saturn and the Absurd
Camus’s Sun Scorpio in the 2nd house, which forms an opening quincunx to Saturn, provided a second front in his life-long war with the grim reaper. An opening quincunx has a Virgonian connotation, for the respective planets have a problem with one another to which they are compelled to seek a solution. With Sun sextile Jupiter, Camus was personally identified with the pursuit of truth, justice, and meaning. No problem there; yet, as the other leg in the Yod to Saturn, the Sun was destined to perpetual battle with Saturn in the 9th.
It should be noted that the only aspects Camus’s Sun and Jupiter make are to Saturn (quincunx) and each other (sextile). While the Jupiter-Saturn quincunx reflects Camus’s general philosophy, the solar quincunx pertains more to his identity and creative works, especially his freedom (free-will) to make something of himself. The Sun-Jupiter sextile confirms that Camus saw himself as an individual capable of creating a bountiful life, but the two quincunxes to Saturn in the 9th suggest that perception of meaning in a larger, philosophical sense would remain extremely difficult.
This difficulty manifested most notably in his landmark 1942 book, The Myth of Sisyphus, an extended contemplation on the search for meaning in a meaningless world. That he wrote and published his signature work precisely on his Saturn return at age 29, highlights its significance as an attempt to resolve his own fated struggle. With Myth of Sisyphus, Camus formally introduced and fully articulated his most famous idea―the concept of the Absurd. The ‘absurd’ results from the fatal collision of two realities: man’s desire for meaning and clarity on the one hand, and the silent, cold universe on the other. In other words, the absurd entails a futile search for meaning in the face of an unintelligible world devoid of God and eternal truths or values. Man’s very capacity for reason leaves him feeling estranged and alone in the blank, indifferent “silence of the universe”.
Camus offered three responses to the absurd: suicide, religion, or acceptance. He begins his treatise with a provocative sentence: “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.” To give this much weight to the impulse for self-annihilation suggests that either people in war-torn France were desperately unhappy, or Camus himself was depressed. Since he was having his Saturn return when he wrote the book, I’m guessing the latter, though perhaps it was both. Camus reasoned that if we decide that life without inherent purpose or meaning is not worth living, then we can simply kill ourselves. He dryly observes, “I see many people die because they judge that life is not worth living.” In the end, he rejects suicide as a viable solution to the problem, calling it a cowardly evasion of life and itself absurd. Surely this was a relief to his readers for it virtually guaranteed they would get to read the full four chapters. However, that he advised readers not to kill themselves suggests he himself took the option serious enough to warrant an argument against it.
Camus’s second response to the absurd is religion, which he called “a leap of faith”. A leap of faith entails blind belief in intangibles, such as God, transcendence, redemption, and immortality. But this, too, he rejected, for a leap of faith goes beyond the evidence of life and favors abstraction (Jupiter) over concrete, personal experience (Saturn Gemini). As the principle of reality, Saturn trumps Camus’s Jupiterian capacity to believe in the supernatural. Using a phrase in keeping with the closing/Scorpionic quincunx, he regards religious faith as “philosophical suicide” in that it evades the problem of the absurd by substituting fantasy for grim reality. Doing so, thought Camus, constitutes the annihilation of reason―hence, philosophical suicide.
Over and again Camus cautions the reader to eschew hope, as if hope can only lead away from the cold, somber truth of existence. His utter negation of faith is like a defiant scream into a void that refuses to accede to his demand for definitive answers. He judges other philosophers as having failed to achieve truth by their very willingness to hope―that God exists, that the supernatural is real―as if Camus’s personal negation of faith is the final and ultimate standard by which other philosophers are to be judged.
Camus’s atheism reflects his belief there can be no meaning or purpose in the universe beyond what he can rationally understand on the basis of evidence, and that for him to believe otherwise would be tantamount to self-annihilation. It also exposes the extent to which his Sun-Jupiter sextile is dead set against granting any validity to Saturn’s formulations in the 9th; hence, those formulations remained profoundly negative, lopsided, and out-of-balance, as exemplified in totalitarian ideologies like communism and Fascism, and the more rigid, dogmatic, and irrational excesses of formal religions like Christianity and Islam.
Planets in quincunx occupy signs that share nothing in common―neither polarity, modality, element, nor perspective. Their fundamental incongruity is precisely why they pose a problem/crisis for one another, the solution to which often involves paradoxical logic. In a celebrated display of circular reasoning that is testament to Saturn’s quincunxes to Sun and Jupiter, Camus asserted his third choice and what he believed was the only valid solution to the problem of the absurd: full, unflinching, courageous acceptance. Paradoxically, “life can be lived all the better if it has no meaning,” for then mankind is truly free, liberated from imprisonment to religious decrees and their strict, moral codes. “He enjoys a freedom with regard to common rules”. By living without hope, man is no longer in anxious pursuit of eternal life. By accepting there is no purpose to life, he can embrace all that life has to offer. And since life has no meaning, there is no scale of values, no intrinsic morality. “What counts is not the best living but the most living.”
In short, Camus’s solution to the meaningless of life is a passionate, amoral hedonism (Sun Scorpio 2nd). The self is free to do whatever it wants, can passionately pursue earthly pleasures, and can rebel against the rules of morality constructed by traditional faith. Camus’s primary exemplar in this regard was Don Juan, the serial seducer who lives through his sexual conquests and who recognizes, “There is no noble love but that which recognizes itself to be both short-lived and exceptional.”
In effect, Camus’s final solution to the problem of the Absurd entails Sun and Jupiter teaming up in common revolt against Saturnian restraint, as might befit an unintegrated Yod. Camus made much of the concept of revolt. The contradiction of man’s search for meaning in a meaningless world requires constant confrontation, constant revolt, said Camus. Individuals should embrace the absurd condition of human existence by defiantly continuing to explore and search for meaning even while accepting there is no inherent meaning to life. Camus asserted that he believed not in God, but in Man; that Man can create his own meaning. And if this is all starting to sound confusing and logically inconsistent, welcome to the world of the quincunx.
Rather than find a way to embrace Saturn in the 9th, which might ultimately have yielded a solid, sensible philosophy that did not exclude hope and meaning, Camus chose instead to rebel and to live without “false hope”. He advised others do the same. For then humankind would be free to pursue earthly pleasures and revel in a kind of orgiastic primitivism, to worship only what is immediately real to the senses. As the 2nd house is the sensory realm of the body, of tangible, physical comforts (possessions, resources), as well as the natural domain of the earth itself (agriculture, gardens), it is not surprising that Camus overvalued this realm as an escape from Saturnian despair. One imagines Sun Scorpio pushing Saturn away in dread and by doing so rebounding into the 2nd with a voracious intensity.
Echoing this view, Simpson writes that Camus was a natural-born pagan, more of a sun-worshipper and nature lover than one notable for his piety or religious faith. “There is no salvation, [Camus] argues, no transcendence; there is only the enjoyment of consciousness and natural being. One life, this life, is enough. Sky and sea, mountain and desert, have their own beauty and magnificence and constitute a sufficient heaven.”8 Clearly, Camus’s God (if one could call it that) lived not in the 9th, but in the 2nd and 4th houses wherein Sun and Jupiter happily and passionately resided, mutually rejecting any requirement to believe in a higher Saturnian power. The “best” living may be Saturn in the 9th, but the “most” living was Jupiter augmenting Sun Scorpio in the 2nd.
Lest one think that Saturn in the 9th under hard aspect virtually assures an atheistic worldview, we have only to examine other philosophers and religious leaders who had the same position. Hard aspects to Saturn in the 9th may suggest struggles in relation to faith, but do not automatically result in rejection of religion. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, who had Saturn in the 9th square to Sun Leo, is a good example. Despite early doubts, he ultimately professed a sincere and devoted relationship with Christianity. Likewise, John Muir, the American naturalist and philosopher, had a 9th house Saturn in quincunx to the Sun, but unlike Camus saw in Nature the handiwork of God. The list goes on – the Dali Lama (Buddhism), Jerry Falwell (Christianity), and Martin Heidegger (Taoist leanings) all had Saturn in the 9th under stress from hard aspects, yet all professed faith in a divine reality.
We must conclude, therefore, that Camus’s solution to what he called the Absurd was not much of a solution at all. Rather, it was what psychologists call a compromise formation―an attempt to ward off dreaded states by maintaining a compromised level of experience and style of behavior. A conflict between competing needs tends to produce fear that any attempt to fulfill one need could have negative repercussions for the other. If Camus pursues his Capricorn-Saturn needs for perfect factual knowledge (Gemini) of metaphysical truths (9th), his conclusion – life is meaningless – virtually assures a state of solar despair. However, if he pursues his Leo-Sun needs for passionate enjoyment (Scorpio) of momentary pleasures (2nd), he forfeits his Saturnian duty to achieve clarity as to the higher meaning and purpose of life. His compromise, therefore, is to concoct a philosophy that states there is no inherent meaning and purpose to life, but that humans are free to revolt against the absurdity of their own condition; they can construct their own, private meanings and pursue happiness and live passionately in open defiance of the Absurd. It is a brilliant rationalization, but one suspects any happiness it affords is limited at best.
Camus himself said as much. “There is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night.”9 He continually stresses that joy is necessarily intertwined with despair, and that the inevitability of death confers a premium on intense experience and the ecstatic celebration of the pleasures this one life can give.
His ultimate absurd hero was Sisyphus, the king of Corinth and a figure of Greek mythology who was condemned to repeat forever the same meaningless task of pushing a boulder up a mountain, only to see it roll down again before reaching the summit. Sisyphus’s eternal punishment was due to having disrespected and defied the gods, specifically Thanatos, the god of Death. For when Death came for him, the king tricked him and put him in shackles so that he, Sisyphus, need never die. Of course, with Death in chains languishing in Sisyphus’s closet, this meant that no one else could die, too. Pluto took offense at this, as it knocked Nature seriously out of whack, and so dispatched the god of war to liberate Death from the chains of Sisyphus.
That Sisyphus was a king establishes him as a solar (egoic) figure. The king’s crime speaks volumes, for it establishes from the outset that he denied any purpose, meaning, or value to death, and favored his carnal desires over and above all other considerations, both spiritual and moral. Homer tells us that Sisyphus had a reputation for being a swindler, liar and fraud, willing even to cheat Death and betray the gods. Notorious as the most cunning knave on earth, Sisyphus lived a dissolute life in endless pursuit of whatever pleasures the moment provided. In effect, the king was corrupt. Eventually his indiscretions caught up with him, and he was hauled down to Hades to face his punishment.
But Camus sees Sisyphus as the ultimate absurd hero. “His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth.”10 Just as humans are condemned to the meaningless task of living, so Camus saw in Sisyphus the essence of the human condition. But Camus went further, attributing to Sisyphus a heroic quality.
He sees Sisyphus as heroic in the sense that he performs his task in full, conscious awareness of his eternal torment, or at least Camus assumes he does. Sisyphus has no illusions. He is lucid. But! says Camus, “The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory. There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.”11 This reference to “scorn” is telling, for it reveals an underlying bitterness, not in Sisyphus, but in Camus for whom Sisyphus is merely a convenient screen on whom to project. Clearly, Camus’s scorn of the gods reflects his solar fear of Saturnian authority, and more specifically religious (9th house) authority. What better image of Sun Scorpio quincunx Saturn in the 9th than a dead king condemned by the gods to the interminable task of pushing a boulder up a mountain and never successfully achieving his goal?
Camus imagines Sisyphus capable of returning to his rock not merely in sorrow, but in joy, a joy that can come to him when he fully accepts the meaninglessness of his plight. For Camus, this is to scorn the gods, for “it drives out of this world a god who had come into it with dissatisfaction and a preference for futile sufferings.”12 Camus is saying that there is no reason or purpose to suffering―at least none with a divine origin. For all that we experience is of wholly human origin with no transcendent meaning. But if we bear our suffering heroically, if we revolt against the despair of life, if we eschew hope that by our efforts we may someday be redeemed, then and only then we may have some small chance at moderate happiness. Imagining Sisyphus once more at the foot of the mountain in Tartarus, Camus concludes his work by saying, “The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”13
But this conclusion rings hollow. Camus makes clear that happiness for him is a solar act of revolt against what would otherwise be interminable despair―a despair that ironically is a consequence of Camus’s own failure to integrate Saturn. In other words, such happiness is compensatory, a reaction formation that serves as a defense against a dysphoric state of mind that is the unavoidable concomitant of his own worldview. Recall that ill-disposed Jupiter seeks meaning from Saturn in the 9th, but Saturn is in a sign (Gemini) opposed to meaning and quincunx the sign in which Jupiter resides (Capricorn). Hence, Saturn deprives Jupiter of the meaning it seeks. It says, “All your striving for meaning leads to the conclusion that human existence is meaningless.” Knowing this, one can have sympathy for Camus’s predicament, but it does not change the fact that his philosophy is less a statement about the human condition than it is a statement about him.
When Camus describes Sisyphus’s return down the slope, he admires the stony, saturnine attitude he imagines Sisyphus to have. Stony, without self-pity, hardened to the grim realities of meaningless, pointless exertion. “At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.”14]This is Camus’s formula for happiness: a heroic choice (Sun) to revolt. But it strikes me as a denial of legitimate suffering, like someone who laughs hysterically to ward off unbearable pain. It defies common sense to imagine Sisyphus as anything but unhappy, miserable in recognition of the hopelessness of his plight. That is the whole point of the myth.
Camus writes beautifully, but we should not conflate the elegance of his prose with the quality of his thought. His interpretation of the myth of Sisyphus is not a “manual of happiness”, as he tries to suggest. Rather, Sisyphus’s story is a morality tale whose lesson is simple: violate the laws of nature at your own peril. What could be clearer? Sisyphus locks Death in a closet; that is, avoids the transformation that death inevitably requires of us all. It is a profound dishonoring of Pluto for whom Death is an ally and servant. Death, the grim reaper, is a stand-in for Saturn who reminds us that our time is limited and that we should strive to live responsibly within the rule of law, exercising appropriate self-restraint and recognizing that when our time comes we will be judged by a higher power and appropriate consequences follow.
Our modern sensibility may scoff at such a notion; it is not scientific, it cannot be empirically proven. Camus, of course, would agree. Yet, the intuition that earthly sins generate celestial consequences is archetypal, showing up in virtually all faiths in one form or another. It is implicit in the meaning of Saturn. Since Camus did not believe in God (or gods), he saw no significance in Sisyphus’s crime beyond it mirroring his own religious scorn. But I see Sisyphus’s rock as symbolic of Saturn itself, of the responsible and patient toil toward perfection of heart and mind that Sisyphus avoided in life. And so he was bound to Saturn in death.
The question naturally arises as to whether Camus saw something of himself in Sisyphus’s profligate crimes. One might assume he did. On the one hand, Camus was inordinately responsible and morally serious, so much so that he was awarded the Nobel prize in literature for his persistent efforts to “illuminate the problem of the human conscience in our time.” He was honored for exemplifying in both his personal and creative life “an attitude of heroic defiance or resistance to whatever oppresses human beings.”15 While battles with Saturn surely inspired his greatest accomplishments, they had other consequences, too.
For example, Camus was renowned for his dalliances with women. His first marriage ended as a consequence of infidelities on both sides, and his second marriage was likewise marred by public scandal and affairs. Although Camus insisted he loved his wife, he also argued passionately against the institution of marriage, dismissing it as unnatural, “a constrictive and outmoded institution.”16Saturn again. Even after his wife gave birth to twins, Camus continued to joke to friends that he was not cut out for marriage.17 He persisted with his numerous affairs, including a public affair with the Spanish-born actress Maria Casares.
Given the customs of the French, perhaps we should not make too much of this. Camus enjoyed life in the fast lane with the Parisian elite, so what? In 1960, he was killed when his friend and publisher, Michel Gallimard, lost control of his fast, expensive sports car and crashed it into a tree. It was a horrendous crash. Photos show the car devoured right up to its rear axle. Camus was accelerated through the window, breaking his neck and killing him instantly. He was forty-six years old. In his pocket was a train ticket. After their Christmas holiday, Camus had planned to take the train back to Paris with his wife and kids, but at the last moment decided to travel instead with Gallimard. No one knows exactly why.
Can such a death have any meaning? Camus would say no, neither life nor death has any meaning. But as astrologers, we are not so quick to dismiss. We know that Camus rejected suicide as a solution to the despair of life. He believed that man must stay alive for no better reason than to rebel against the absurd. Live life to the fullest and hate death! And yet, his life was stolen from him at the peak of his powers. Death came for him sooner than expected. Saturn rules control, and we know that Camus resisted Saturnian control, seeing it as oppressive and constrictive. Saturn also rules obstacles. Gallimard lost control and crashed his car into an obstacle. Of course, Camus was not the driver so it may seem unkind to suggest he was in any way responsible for his own death. But in the archetypal world, responsibility does not have such limited meaning. Parts of ourselves we avoid can boomerang in infinitely creative ways. It is tempting to surmise, as Sisyphus found his rock, so Camus found his tree. Saturn and Camus, together at last in deathly embrace.
Summary & Conclusion
We have seen that enduring psychological states are manifestations of character, which is symbolized by the birth chart and the degree to which it is integrated. Chronic states emerge from deep, core beliefs represented by dominant planetary configurations. Unresolved psychic conflict tends to produce pathogenic beliefs and accompanying dysphoric states; conversely, to the extent planetary aspects are integrated, constructive beliefs result. These, in turn, produce positive states that will be evidenced in virtually every aspect of the person’s life: mood, attitude, self-talk, body language, facial expression, outward behavior and life experiences.
An example was provided of Albert Camus’s Yod, which entails a sextile between Sun and Jupiter with both planets quincunxing Saturn. While Camus’s extraordinary accomplishments suggest a high degree of integration of the Yod, it is also likely they were, at least in part, a product of his unresolved struggle with Saturn. A sense of meaninglessness and depression plagued Camus. His atheism was the equivalent to his anarchism, for both entailed a revolt against Saturnian authority in the 9th; both entailed scornful disbelief, the one in religion, the other in government―or, at least in conventional forms of hierarchical government. And both were responses to despair.
Perhaps the most significant lesson we can take from analysis of Camus’s life and birthchart is this: His ideas about the human condition, his philosophy and its influence on the world, teaches us less about the meaning of life than it does about one man’s attempt to exorcise his demons. Camus’s atheistic worldview as articulated in The Myth of Sisyphus was a self-portrait of his psychic structure and its level of integration.
This, no doubt, is true for all of us who endeavor to say something about the world. Each of us views life through a personal lens, as symbolized by the birth chart, and like Camus we see but through a glass darkly. If astrology has value, it’s that it enables us to become conscious of the stories we construct and gain insight into their underlying psychic matrix. Astrology is the light that illumines our darkness. And from that, if he were still alive, I suspect even Camus could draw hope
* * * * *
1Horowitz, M.J. (1987). States of mind: Configurational analysis of individual psychology. New York: Plenum Medical Book Company.
2A dispositor is a planet that rules the sign that another planet occupies. Since Jupiter is in Capricorn, Saturn disposes Jupiter. A dispositor is thought to carry forward the actions of the planet(s) it disposes. However, if the disposed planet is in hard aspect to its dispositor, then it is “ill-disposed,” for the dispositor is against the objectives of the planet it disposes. See: Perry, Glenn (2012) Introduction to AstroPsychology. East Hampton, CT: APA Press, pp. 349-358
A Meditation on Aries-Mars Why Fortune Favors the Brave
By Glenn Perry
At the inception of this writing, it’s 7pm here on the east coast, 12 hours before the Vernal Equinox―or, zero degrees Aries, the start of Spring. Wanting to get a newsletter out as quickly as possible, I’ve decided to do it in true Aries style: rushed, bold, instinctive, raw and uncensored. Just do it, as the Nike ad line says. And given the time of year, what better topic to write about than Aries-Mars itself?
A good place to start is with an explanation of what I mean by Aries-Mars. As with any astrological archetype, it includes sign, planet, house and aspect. All of them are comprised of angles, the exception being “planet” whose movements create angles. In astrology, all meaning is an angle (phase) of a planetary cycle.
The angle that defines sign, house, and aspect for Aries-Mars is 0°. The vernal equinox on March 20th constitutes 0° Aries and occurs precisely where the earth’s equator intersects the plane of the Sun’s equator (ecliptic). In effect, it’s an Earth-Sun conjunction that marks the beginning of the zodiac. The phenomena of births, starts, and beginnings is key to understanding Aries.
If we consider the zodiac as symbolizing the cycle of nature as revealed in the four seasons, each of which has three phases―cardinal, fixed, and mutable―then a natural starting point would be the new cycle of life that commences each spring. The image of sprouts pushing up through the earth seeking sunlight is a perfect rendition of Aries. Life seizes the initiative, conquers new ground, pursues its own source. It is naturally aggressive.
Analogously, the Ascendant is where the spinning earth’s horizon intersects the ecliptic at any point during the earth’s 24-hour rotation. Intersection of horizon and ecliptic signifies the 1st degree of the 1st house for that horoscope. The Ascendant sign marks the birth moment and suggests how the individual will assert herself in life; that is, the native’s natural, instinctive way of pushing up and out into the world.
Likewise, when two orbiting planets align in the same zodiacal degree at the same time, we call that space/time point a conjunction, which fittingly is the start of their synodic cycle.1A conjunction of two planets in a specific sign connotes how they will combine and assert their respective natures, and perhaps begin something together.
Again, the vernal equinox, Ascendant, and conjunction all constitute the same angle of 0°. Clearly, they not only share a kinship of angle, but of meaning―starts, new beginnings, and instinctive ways of asserting.
The 0° angle seems to have a kinship with Mars, whose nature is consistent with the meanings we ascribe to Aries, Ascendant, and conjunction. In ancient times, all phenomena associated with Mars were presumed to be an expression of the god itself. Mars was a universal principle in Nature. As such, the red planet is part of a larger cosmic order, no less a face of the Divine than any other planet or angle within the all-encompassing 360° cycle.
Aries-Mars as Archetype
When speaking of an astrological archetype, I generally link sign and ruling planet together, for they are a matched pair. Sign is the need, and planet is the action. Every planetary action can be understood in the context of the need it serves, and every sign-need can be inferred from behavior characteristic of that sign. Signs are not merely needs, but also sets of traits naturally geared toward satisfying the underlying need. When a planet is in a sign, it activates the behavioral attributes of that sign.
Before examining Aries-Mars in greater depth, let me first define my terms and offer a few keywords. In observing Aries behavior, four interrelated needs can be inferred: Survival, freedom, action, and novelty. The primary need of Aries is survival, beingness, perpetuation of one’s own existence. Self-preservation is the first law of nature and the basis of all other needs. Essential to our capacity to be is the freedom to act in our own self-interest, for freedom is inextricably related to survival. If we are not free, survival is jeopardized. Synonymous with freedom are needs for autonomy and independence, threats to which are a common cause of fights and war.
Joining this short list is the need for action and movement―which is perhaps the most basic property of life. You know something is alive by its capacity to move itself. Even at a cellular level, life moves. To be is to do. Finally, Aries also symbolizes a need for novelty, or adventure; the instinct to do something simply because it has never been done before. Novelty is a natural extension of life’s prime directive to perpetuate itself by finding new areas in which it can begin, survive, and flourish.
As with every set of needs associated with a sign, Aries’ needs are interdependent and self-consistent. All Aries behavior can be understood in the context of these four primary drives: survival, freedom, action, and novelty.
As the active agent of Aries needs, Mars actions fall into four subsets: assert, initiate, fight, and encourage. To assert includes related actions to act, declare and affirm. Again, Aries-Mars rules beginnings, which entails initiating, starting, or giving birth to new endeavors. And as the warrior archetype, Mars’ actions include the impulse to fight, compete, and battle for dominance. Our final Mars action-category, to encourage, means to excite, strengthen, or embolden someone or something.
While the primary state of Mars is simply beingness, its action keyword is “I do.” Mars is action oriented. Go for it, just do it, these are key Martian sentiments. Mars quickens, emboldens, invigorates, vitalizes, and enlivens the expression of whatever planet it aspects. It encourages and galvanizes that planet into action.
For Mars, I especially like the verb “galvanize”, which means to stimulate or excite someone as if by an electrical current (think cattle prod). Near synonyms include spur, arouse, and incite. Mars Libra in the 6th might mean: “News of Jane’s wedding galvanized the women in the office to plan an engagement party.”
Planetary actions never occur in vacuum but in relation to whatever sign and house the planet occupies and toward whatever planet it aspects. If Mars is in Taurus, for example, it might assert in a slow, steady manner; act in the service of resisting change; start a new garden; and fight to retain holdings. Like a pit bull, Mars Taurus hangs tough: never say die, dig in your heals. If these actions fall in the 11th house, the person could be an environmental activist spurring a movement of like-minded others fighting for the cause of conservation.
Mars in aspect to another planet will be inclined to fight for or against what that planet symbolizes, contingent upon the angle. Trines and sextiles incline Mars to assert happily in the interest of the other planet. Mars in opening trine to Jupiter, for example, might initiate a social event to raise money for a philanthropic endeavor, such as promoting a high school sports team. With hard aspects, however, Mars will attack the planet even while being unconsciously influenced by it. The native may feel angry in response to the overly aggressive expression bysomeone else of whatever the other planet symbolizes. Later, as the aspect becomes more integrated, the individual can consciously utilize that planet’s energy in the service of Mars’ own objectives.
Imagine, for example, Mars Taurus in the 6th square Pluto Leo in the 9th. The individual may work (6th) as a landscape (Taurus) engineer (Mars). Frustrated by unjust ecology regulations imposed by the EPA (Pluto in the 9th), he accuses the EPA of corruption and complains that their regulations (closing square) are too extreme and that they restrict his freedom to excavate lands and transform grounds into healthier, more creative settings. As integration of the square occurs over time, however, he may become more proactive and advocate for laws that do not criminalize natural rights or obstruct the freedom of property-owners to renovate, preserve, and enhance the value of lands they legitimately own. Here, Mars is using Pluto in the 9th to greater advantage.
Astrological archetypes are embodied in characters that are interrelated and thus self-consistent in meaning. For Aries-Mars, these include the warrior, competitor, pioneer, adventurer, explorer, and noble savage. Aries-Mars fights for freedom and the right to exist (warrior), competes for survival and available goods (competitor), pursues adventure and novelty for its own sake (adventurer, pioneer), and embodies a childlike naivete and simplicity of spirit (noble savage).
With Sun Aries trine Mars in Leo, Thomas Jefferson was one of the founders of the United States. The Mars’ verb tofound means to establish and originate an institution, organization or (in this case) a country. Consistent with Aries-Mars, Jefferson’s pioneering action of founding America also required a willingness to fight for our nascent country’s freedom. Jefferson immortalized Aries-Mars in his Declaration of Independence, which in effect was a declaration of war against England that launched the birth of a new nation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Aries-Mars association with war warrants further comment. Generally, anger is what we feel when Mars is in its fighting mode. Much has been written on this topic, going back at least to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics in the 4th century B.C. Under certain conditions and expressed properly, Aristotle regarded anger as a virtue, the absence of which rendered the individual timid, cowardly, and morally deficient. Conversely, those who expressed anger to excess were wrathful and equally blameworthy. “Anyone can become angry, that’s easy,” said Aristotle. “But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way; that is not easy.”2
Aries as Developmental Stage
Years ago when I lived in California, I had a Sun-Aries friend named Arden who was a psychotherapist. Her name suitably hinted at a core Aries trait―ardent (fervent, enthusiastic). She certainly was that. I’ll never forget her blazing eyes and sparkling smile. Arden was so alive. On the wall of her office was a poster of a cracked egg out of which was emerging a newly hatched baby chick. Below were the words, “Go forth and conquer!” Arden’s poster epitomized not merely her personality, but Aries as a maturational phase of life.
Like every zodiacal sign, Aries constitutes a developmental stage during which its needs and traits are predominant. I discuss this more fully in Aries as the Sensorimotor Stage of Development. Suffice to say that Aries constitutes the first stage of life, or birth to age two (a two-year period), during which the child’s perspective in time-space is relatively limited to the here and now. Babies have little sense of before or later, nor of any place but their current surrounds. Experience is confined to the eternal present. The emotional corollary to this time-space perspective is joy―or, rage when wants are frustrated. Infants are typically happy but quick to anger precisely because they have no sense of later. If only the now exists, then every impulse must be immediately satisfied since there is no other time but the present.
If babies could suddenly speak,
Of what they so inordinately seek
they would pound their fist and shriek,
“If not now, when?!”
It could be argued that happiness is a natural, inborn Aries state as reflected in the faces of ebullient infants. In a poem called “Infant Joy,” William Blake writes:
“I have name. I am but two days old.”
What shall I call thee?
“I happy am. Joy is my name.”
To be enthusiastic about life may simply be life’s feeling for itself. The very word “enthusiasm” derives from the Ancient Greek enthousiasmós, which consists of the root words “theos” (god) and “en” (in); thus, enthusiasm literally means “God within.” For the Greeks to be enthusiastic was to be inspired by, or more precisely, possessed by the gods.
That happiness is the natural state of life is an intriguing idea with profound implications. Indian sage Poonjaji asserts that the potential for happiness is always present but can only be attained by disidentifying with the ephemeral contents of consciousness; in other words, neither worrying about the past nor stressing over the future. Happiness is the underlying constant, whereas the causes of unhappiness come and go. If a person identifies with what comes and goes―attachments, possessions, things, jobs, or relationships―then unhappiness is sure to follow, for no experience and no object is permanent. The only experience that is truly permanent is the observing Subject; that is, one’s subjective experience of witnessing the contents of consciousness as they arise and pass away, moment to moment. By identifying with what is permanent―the observing Self―the seeker is happiness itself, a state of enlightenment indistinguishable from God.
Given Poonjaji’s teaching that happiness is being in the now, it is fitting he has Sun conjunct Mars with both planets squaring Uranus. Another new age guru, Baba Ram Dass, has Sun conjunct Uranus in Aries. That being in the now is consistent with the psychology of Aries-Mars is underscored by the title of Ram Dass’s classic 1971 book, Be Here Now. Yet another spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, wrote a best-selling guide to spiritual enlightenment titled The Power of Now (1997). Tolle has Sun Aquarius tightly opposing Mars Leo.
Tolle claims he was depressed for much of his life until he underwent, at age 29, an “inner transformation”. Significantly, this occurred when transiting Saturn conjuncted his Mars and opposed his Sun, thus activating his natal Sun-Mars opposition. Recalling this experience, he confesses:
I couldn’t live with myself any longer. And in this [state] a question arose without an answer: who is the ‘I’ that cannot live with the self? What is the self? I felt drawn into a void! I didn’t know at the time that what really happened was the mind-made self, with its heaviness, its problems, that lives between the unsatisfying past and the fearful future, collapsed. It dissolved. The next morning, I woke up and everything was so peaceful. The peace was there because there was no self. Just a sense of presence or “beingness,” just observing and watching.3
Eckhart Tolle: Feb 16, 1948, Dortmond, Germany. Time Unknown
Eckhart went on to write The Power of Now and become, according to the New York Times, “the most popular spiritual author in the Unites States.”4
It is certainly noteworthy that Tolle, Ram Dass, and Poonjaji all have a strong Aries-Mars connection to their Sun, which, in turn, is linked to the archetype of Aquarius-Uranus. Poonjaji has Sun conjunct Mars and square Uranus; Ram Dass, Sun conjunct Uranus in Aries; and Tolle, Sun in Aquarius opposed Mars in Leo. Each seems to exemplify and remind us that enlightenment is a state of happiness, and that happiness is being in the now.
Sports and Competition
Sports best exemplifies the joy of being in the moment. While team sports are mostly a Leo phenomenon, every sport has an Aries component if only because of its raw action, competition, and immediacy of focus. If a competitor is going to win, he or she cannot be thinking of before or later, yesterday or tomorrow. The present is all that matters. And once having won, joy typically erupts.
It’s interesting to note that many of the same Aries-Mars words that describe war equally apply to sports. Examples are so numerous it could make for its own article. If a team wins by a narrow margin, “they barely survived.” But if the team loses badly, “they got killed…it was a slaughter.” And if an athlete “beats” his opponent, it could mean that he won the match or that he assaulted the other player. Hopefully not the latter, though in boxing it means both!
At the time of this writing, we’re in “March Madness” when top college basketball teams vie for the national championship. In Connecticut where I live, UConn Women’s Basketball is legendary. Over the past twenty years they’ve dominated the sport, winning four straight national titles and twelve overall since 1995. That’s a national title on average every other year for twenty years. During this twenty-year run, UConn had 6 undefeated seasons, whereas all other teams combined total 3. UConn’s current win streak is 111 straight games, the most ever in basketball for men or women.
Why are they so dominant? Most everyone agrees it’s their coach, Gina Auriemma, a squarely built, feisty Italian-born Sun Aries pug who consistently produces teams that embody Aries-Mars characteristics to a degree other teams simply cannot match. Inspired by Gino, UConn woman play with unbridled joy and aggression―fiercely competitive, stifling pressure defense, relentless fast break offense, perpetual motion in perfect harmony. And like the Terminator, they never, ever stop, even when fifty points ahead.
A consensus is building that Auriemma may be the greatest coach of all time in any sport. In addition to Sun and Venus in Aries, his Mars is in Sagittarius, the sign of coaching, and forms a grand fire trine with Pluto Leo and Venus Aries while opposing its own dispositor―Jupiter in Gemini. This configuration is reflected in his teams. One Aries-Mars trait especially marks Gino’s girls: they’re always in the moment. Auriemma pushes the point endlessly. Play every game like it’s your last. Don’t get ahead of yourselves. Treat every team, every moment the same: Go for it. There’s only the now. Past victories don’t matter. You’re only as good as your last win.
Auriemma is the ultimate happy warrior renowned for his impish smile and sharp sense of humor. He doesn’t worry that he’s running up the score or whether other coaches resent UConn’s dominance. Gino has one direction―forward; one speed―fast; and one objective―win. Everything else fades into the background, trivia of little or no consequence.
Gino Auriemma, March 23, 1954, Montella, Italy. Time Unknown
Compared to UConn’s perfectly orchestrated ballet of war, other teams look like they’re in slow motion. They seem lazy, sloppy, lacking those essential Aries traits that Gino’s girls have in abundance: fire and competitive zeal. While no streak lasts forever, it is remarkable that one man’s Aries-Mars energy can spread itself over dozens of teams and impact countless lives. UConn women’s basketball is Gino; his personality is indelibly stamped on every team he coaches.
Just Do It
The Nike ad line “Just do it” epitomizes the Aries-Mars attitude, the hallmark of which is courage. Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “Courage is fear that does not control you.” Likewise, GK Chesterton asserted that courage is a paradox because it means a desire to live with a readiness to die.
A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide and will not escape. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it: he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine. (p. 91).5
Courage is required not only to sustain life, but for new beginnings of every variety, whether to start a business, initiate a proposal, or simply get married. We have all heard the maxim, “Fortune favors the brave”, which suggests the fates―the gods―conspire to reinforce acts of courage. German writer-statesman, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, thought as much: “Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid,” he said. “Whatever you can do, or dream you can – begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”
While attributed to Goethe, this quote actually has its origins in the Old Testament. The Lord continually exhorts his prophet, Joshua, to “be strong and courageous” in leading the Israelites to the promised land. God promises that if Joshua is sufficiently bold, then He will lend a hand; God will meet Joshua half-way.
It was the Roman poet Virgil who first penned the immortal words “Audaces fortuna iuvat” (luck helps those who are brave), although we must assume this sentiment was widely held among the Greeks long before Virgil wrote it in his masterpiece, the Aeneid, between 29 and 19 BC.6
In Greek and Roman mythology, Fortuna(or Tyche) was the goddess of fortune and personification of luck, both good and bad. It is of no small significance that Fortuna’s favor was closely tied to virtus, a virtue that connotes valor, boldness, manliness, courage, and strength of character―all obvious Aries traits. As a goddess, Fortuna made clear that women are not exempt from the requirement of virtus. The Greeks believed that citizens who lacked virtus, male or female, invited ill-fortune on themselves.
Fortune favors the brave.
Aries as Angle, a Face of God
I have often reflected on whether Aries-Mars should be considered a divine value. By “divine value” I mean a human capacity favored by God (or the gods) on a par with more obviously spiritual sign-planet archetypes such as Sagittarius-Jupiter and Pisces-Neptune. From an astrological perspective, the entire cosmos is the visible body of God; or, as Manly Hall put it, “astrology is a religion inasmuch as it reveals the anatomy and psychology of God.”7 Hall would argue that God is the summary product and source of all astrological variables, including Aries-Mars.
In ancient astrology, an aspect between two planets meant that each planet sees only that “face” (side, aspect) of the other, not the planet as a whole. Likewise, every angle that comprises the zodiac is but one face of the zodiac―that is, a face of God. These various faces of the One were commonly regarded as gods themselves, ancillary deities, each playing a subordinate role in the service of a divine whole. As the 0° angle, Aries is singularly important, for it is the first face of God, the beginning of our knowledge of the Absolute. Like a divine spark, it sets in motion the process of evolution that the zodiac symbolizes. If life grows, develops, and leads to the gradual return of all self-actualized beings to source consciousness (enlightenment), then life itself―Aries―is primary, for without it nothing else can happen. Every other sign, or angle, derives its meaning from its relation to Aries.
Reflecting on the Aries imperative to survive, I am reminded of a scene from the 1992 film, The Last of the Mohicans, starring Daniel Day Lewis as “Hawkeye” and his love interest “Cora” played by the luminous Madeline Stowe. A small party including Hawkeye and Cora are hiding under a waterfall as the bloodthirsty Huron warriors are closing in. Hawkeye knows he will be killed if the Hurons find him, and if dead he’ll be unable to rescue Cora. She is determined to fight but Hawkeye turns to her and shouts:
No! You stay alive! If they don’t kill you, they’ll take you north up to the Huron lands. Submit, do you hear? You’re strong! You survive! You stay alive, no matter what occurs! I will find you! No matter how long it takes, no matter how far. I will find you!
A final embrace, and Hawkeye hurls himself through the waterfall and plummets to the icy waters below. Within days, he tracks down Cora as the film races to its climax.
What makes the scene so powerful is the sheer emotional intensity of Hawkeye admonishing Cora to stay alive. It is simultaneously a moment of transcendent love and infectious courage. Stay alive! For otherwise there is no future, no progeny, no evolution back to source. This is the divine imperative, the first law of nature, and why we intuitively know suicide is wrong, that any pointless death is wrong. Survive. Stay alive. Fortune favors the brave.
If survival is the first if not prime directive, then perhaps God does require the full development and actualization of Aries-Mars capacities as a condition of favor. Aries is the elan vital, the spark of life. It bestows a willingness to assert for what we want, to act in our own self-interest, to draw a red line in the sand and hold it, compete for dominance, fight for survival, kill if necessary (just war), and place personal preferences on a par with those we love. In short, the Divine includes within Itself the principle not merely of births and beginnings, but of aggression, war and violence, too.
This should not imply that Aries-Mars is favored solely for itself, but that it is an essential component of a balanced, integrated psyche. A fully individuated, self-actualized person utilizes Aries-Mars in the service of every other psychological capacity symbolized by the zodiac: to secure prosperity, to speak candidly, to protect the young, defend one’s honor, work arduously, assure fairness, expose and eliminate corruption, fight for justice, risk failure in the pursuit of success, initiate change for the greater good, and, finally, to have the courage to surrender to God’s will and accept what cannot be changed. Without Aries-Mars to galvanize into action and strengthen our overall psychic economy, other capacities are proportionately weakened, impotent, or stillborn.
No Guilt, No Regrets
I was recently watching a Kevin Costner flick, 3 Days to Kill, when I thought to myself, “Why am I enjoying this?” It’s about a CIA agent estranged from his wife and daughter because he’s constantly being sent out to kill bad guys. It occurred to me that such films are just updated versions of the Paleolithic hunter who kills to feed his family. For untold thousands of years, that’s what men did: bash, spear, and shoot other animals, then bring them home to the wife and kids to eat. Everybody’s happy. Now we can’t do that anymore. Our animals are bashed, speared, and shot by corporations called Safeway and Food Lion. We’re deprived of the hunt, so we watch hunters in movies with names like Rambo, James Bond, and Ash Carter. Zombie TV shows like The Walking Dead allow us to collectively channel our desire to kill. And since zombies are technically already dead, we don’t have to feel guilty about it. We can just kill them, endlessly.
Aries-Mars is the part of us that will do whatever it takes to assure the continuance of life; well, at least our life, and those we love. Paradoxically this means we must be willing to take life―whether of animal, fish, bird, plant or zombie―to sustain life. That’s Mars’ prime directive, and it does not suffer any guilt about it.
Again, this contrasts markedly with traditional spiritual archetypes like Pisces-Neptune wherein empathy, compassion, and self-sacrifice are the norm. When Pisces’ perceives suffering, it evokes existential guilt and the impulse to rescue. “I am my brother’s keeper,” say Pisces. “We’re all in this together.” This is not the part of us that will slash a deer’s throat then cook it over an open fire and eat it on the spot.
The apparent conflict between love as the basis of the Christian religion and the callousness of nature has long been a source of debate. In the 19th century, Darwin’s theory of evolution asserted that survival of the fittest is the first law of nature, whereas theologians hold that love is Creation’s final law. Alfred Lord Tennyson’s In Memoriam A. H. H. from 1850 captures the conflict:
Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed
If there’s one thing astrology makes clear, it’s that favoring one archetype over the other is folly. For all are interdependent and required for a balanced whole, even if the zodiac also shows that later signs transcend but include those that come before. The point is, steps cannot be skipped. As the last sign, Pisces-Neptune is infinitely forgiving; yet, as the first sign, Aries-Mars abhors cowardice and the pretense of helplessness. Man up. Pull your own weight. Compete. That this attitude is consistent with, and indispensable to, a grounded spiritual sensibility is reflected in a poem by John Ciardi titled “In Place of a Curse”.
At the next vacancy for God, if I am elected,
I shall forgive last the delicately wounded
who, having been slugged no harder than anyone else,
never got up again, neither to fight back,
nor to finger their jaws in painful admiration.
They who are wholly broken, and they in whom
mercy is understanding, I shall embrace at once
and lead to pillows in heaven. But they who are
the meek by trade, baiting the best of their betters
with extortions of a mock helplessness,
I shall take last to love, and never wholly.
Let them all into Heaven―I abolish Hell―
but let it be read over them as they enter:
“Beware the calculations of the meek, who gambled
nothing, gave nothing, and could never receive enough.”
This same attitude is epitomized in Gino Auriemma’s approach to coaching. There’s a video of Auriemma on YouTube with 39 million views. He’s answering a question that references the enthusiasm on the UConn bench after the Huskies make a basket. Mind you, these are the girls who are not playing.
Auriemma explains that he and his coaching staff put a huge premium on body language and attitude. If a player is feeling sorry for herself on the court because she’s not playing well, she will be benched. If a player is already on the bench and sulking because she’s not playing, she will stay on the bench. “If your body language is bad,” says Auriemma, “you will never get in the game. Ever. I don’t care how good you are.” He continues:
I’d rather lose than watch kids play the way some kids play. I’d rather lose. And they’re allowed to get away with just whatever and they’re always thinking about themselves. Me, me, me, me. I didn’t score, so why should I be happy? I’m not getting enough minutes, so why should I be happy? That’s the world we live in today. When I look at my team, they know this. When I watch game film, I’m checking what’s going on on the bench. If somebody is asleep over there, if somebody doesn’t care, if somebody’s not engaged in the game, they will never get in the game. Ever.8
Note how this contrasts with Piscean forgiveness, compassion for victims, and the impulse to relieve suffering. Aries-Mars says, “Shake it off, stay strong, get back in the game!” Auriemma is so insistent that his players maintain a positive competitive attitude that to display otherwise virtually assures you will not play, ever. I have to wonder, maybe in part that’s God’s mind-set, too.
Mohatmas Gandhi, India’s spiritual leader and perhaps the greatest exponent of non-violence the world has ever known, counseled that “where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence.”9 He went on to explain that he would rather have India resort to arms to defend her honor than cowardly submit and remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor.
My treatise would be incomplete without mention of Aries-Mars’ dark side. First, it should be known that every sign-planet system correlates to a specific personality disorder that reflects an excess of that archetype. For Aries-Mars, this can show up as too much Aries-Mars in a chart or, more typically, an overcompensation of Aries-Mars due to intrapsychic conflict. Frequently it is both, examples of which I will provide momentarily. The point is that under the right horoscopic circumstances any sign-planet archetype can be expressed in an extreme, unbalanced way, which is precisely what defines psychopathology.
Since I have written elsewhere on this topic, let me cut to the chase.10A personality disorder is characterized by four factors: rigidity, excess, impairment, and distress. First, the person tends to be rigidly preoccupied with a singular need as symbolized astrologically by the relevant archetype. In the vernacular, we call this “being stuck”. If someone is inordinately afraid they will not get that sign-need met, they are apt to over-rely upon a specific mode of behavior (planet) designed to fulfill the need. Second, they do that behavior to excess; that is, they not only do it constantly (rigidity), they do it at an extreme amplitude (excess). If the behavior were a song, they would continuously play that song at a volume that is deafening.
Third, a personality disorder correlates to diminished capacity to fulfill the need in question (impairment), which, again, is generally due to the person’s overfunctioning in a way peculiar to the disorder (rigidity and excess). By trying too hard, their behavior backfires; in a word, it is dysfunctional. Fourth, while individuals with a personality disorder often do not recognize their part in creating problems, distress is nevertheless a natural consequence of the problematic behavior. The person will simply blame something or someone else for their suffering.
The psychopathology that correlates to Aries-Mars is antisocial personality disorder. In pop psychology, a person so characterized is often referred to as a psychopath or sociopath, which mean essentially the same thing. The essential features of antisocial personality include:
Lacks self-restraint and respect for limits
Regularly breaks or flouts the law
Constantly lies and deceives others to exploit their trust
Is impulsive and doesn’t plan ahead
Can be prone to fighting and aggressiveness
Has little regard for the safety of others
Is irresponsible and won’t meet financial obligations
Doesn’t feel remorse or guilt
If someone displays 3 or more of the above traits to a degree that meets the criteria of a personality disorder―rigidity, excess, impairment, and distress―they are probably a psychopath.
Virtually every trait of psychopathy is consistent with an extreme, unbalanced expression of Aries-Mars. There is generally a history of hostile, aggressive behavior in which the rights of others are violated. The need for independence is so extreme that there is an impaired capacity to sustain lasting, warm, and responsible relationships with friends, lovers, or employers. Cheating and promiscuous behavior are common.
An infantile need for immediate gratification impairs their capacity to accept social norms with respect to lawful behavior. Antisocial actions include, but are not limited to, illegal occupation, destruction of property, theft, assault, and spousal and child abuse. Thoughtless, reckless behavior leads to accident proneness as typified, for example, by recurrent speeding and/or driving under the influence. Lack of reliability is evident in a troubled and unstable work history with frequent absences and quitting of jobs without a plan. Irresponsibility is especially apparent in a failure to honor financial obligations, such as paying bills, taxes, rent, loans, or child support.
The Aries-Mars orientation to time―living in the now―is perverted into “living for the moment” as expressed by impulsivity and the tendency to travel from place to place without a clear goal or fixed address for months at a time. Like babies, the world of the psychopath is collapsed into “Me, here, now.” Unable to slow down, look ahead, or reflect upon the meaning and consequences of their actions, there is a lack of remorse with no intention to change. Psychopaths feel compelled to “get over” on others, intimidate the weak, and prey upon the gullible. The need for dominance is so extreme that life becomes an unending competition. They justify their predatory behavior by rationalizing, “everyone does it.”
If my thesis is correct that psychopaths are inordinately preoccupied with Aries’ needs for survival, freedom, action and novelty, then impairment would lie in not being able to fulfill these needs. Due to their excessive recklessness and the anger they provoke in others, the very nature of psychopathic behavior endangers the psychopath’s existence. And even if they do survive, they are often incarcerated because of their criminality, thus losing their freedom. This, in turn, impairs their ability to act as they wish or pursue new experiences. In short, everything to which the psychopath is excessively devoted is ultimately compromised or lost altogether.
Recall that antisocial personality can by symbolized by too much Aries-Mars in a chart. This can take the form of multiple planets in Aries, a packed 1st house, or a stellium regardless of planets and signs involved. In addition, if Mars is under stress via hard aspect, this can lead to Martian overcompensation as a defense against the planetary impulses with which it conflicts. When any of these factors combine, there is significant potential for Aries-Mars pathology―though it is never guaranteed. Any configuration, no matter how difficult, can always function in healthy ways at higher levels of integration.
Meanwhile, examples of psychopathy are legion and occupy every stratum of society. Former CEO of Enron, the infamous Ken Lay, is the poster child for predatory, sociopathic corporations that exploit the public trust. Lay has Mercury, Sun and Moon conjunct in Aries, with all three planets sextile a Mars-Jupiter conjunction, which, in turn, is stressed by a square to Neptune. He was convicted of 10 counts of conspiracy and securities fraud, causing 20,000 Enron employees to lose their jobs and life savings. Found guilty by a grand jury in May of 2006, two months later he died of a heart attack at age 64.
Another notorious psychopath, Richard Allan Davis, has a stellium of five planets in Cancer in the 8th house, all of which oppose Mars Capricorn in the 2nd. In addition, Mars forms a quincunx to his Sun, which is the Sun’s only aspect. Davis was a career criminal who served time for breaking and entering, burglary, auto theft, forgery, assault and kidnapping, all prior to being charged with the infamous 1993 kidnap-murder of 12-year old Polly Klaas in Petaluma, California. He kidnapped Polly during a slumber party at her home, then drove to a cow field where he sexually assaulted and strangled her. Davis is currently on death row in San Quentin.
Our third and final example is Richard Kuklinski, a serial murderer and contract killer responsible for the deaths of up to 250 men between 1948 and 1986. Kuklinski has Mercury and Sun in Aries, with the Sun forming an opposition to Mars, as well as a square to Pluto. Sun Aries opposing its own dispositor, Mars, is a particularly lethal combination in that there’s a preponderance of Aries-Mars energy that also entails significant intrapsychic conflict, thus causing both Sun and Mars to overcompensate in resistance to the other. This is like stretching a rubber band to the breaking point.
Richard Kuklinski, April 11, 1935, Jersey City, NJ. Time Unknown
Prior to his final arrest in 1986, Kuklinski was involved in narcotics, pornography, arms dealing, money laundering, hijacking and contract killing on a global basis. Fellow mobsters called him “the one man army” and “the devil himself” due to his fearsome reputation. Kuklinski has been the subject of three documentaries, two biographies and a 2012 feature film, The Iceman. During his early days, Kuklinski would go to Hell’s Kitchen on Manhattan’s West Side to shoot, stab, and bludgeon men simply to practice and perfect killing. He made Hell’s Kitchen a kind of lab for murder, a school, he said. Kuklinski later recalled,
By now you know what I liked most was the hunt, the challenge of what the thing was. The killing for me was secondary. I got no rise as such out of it…for the most part. But the figuring it out, the challenge—the stalking and doing it right, successfully—that excited me a lot. The greater the odds against me, the more juice I got out of it.11
In this last sentence, “the greater the odds against me, the more juice I got out of it,” we hear evidence of Sun Aries opposing its own dispositor, Mars. It’s as if Kuklinski had to create a situation in which his own existence was threatened by his solar intention to annihilate the existence of the other (Mars). We also hear a chilling echo of the Paleolithic hunter who stalks and kills his prey. Kuklinski had a wife and two kids and all they knew was that he put food on the table; he was a good provider. The Iceman was captured and sentenced to life imprisonment at age 50. Afflicted with a rare and incurable inflammation of the blood vessels, he died 20 years later chained to a prison hospital bed. Inflammation, fittingly, is an Aries-Mars malady.
Summary & Conclusion
Aries-Mars derives its meaning from the angle it signifies in a 360° astronomical cycle. That angle is 0°, which marks the start of the zodiac, 1st house, and conjunction. As such, Aries-Mars correlates to the principle of beginnings.
Psychologically, Aries is experienced as a set of self-consistent needs for survival, freedom, action, and novelty. As the active agent of these needs, Mars’ primary functions are to assert, initiate, fight, and encourage. This is especially apparent in aspects with other planets wherein Mars emboldens and galvanizes those planets to fervent action.
As a developmental stage, Aries-Mars signifies the first two years of life. Just as the world of infants is constricted to me here now, so the psychology of Aries-Mars reflects this same orientation. Its natural egocentricity, assertiveness, and impatience is inextricably wedded to the perception that only the present exists. A further corollary to being in the now are the emotions of joy and enthusiasm, which seem to express life’s natural state.
Sports and competition provide a vehicle for Aries-Mars energy. Courage not only epitomizes Aries-Mars, it may be that valor is accompanied by luck precisely because higher powers require boldness for the full development and furtherance of life’s evolution back to source. Yet, if expressed solely for its own sake―that is, in an extreme, unbalanced manner, Aries-Mars can vampirize the psyche. As such, it correlates to psychopathy, often with lethal consequences.
It is easy to be conflicted about Aries-Mars. The potential for over or under doing it are strong, and can lead to painful, ugly outcomes, not the least of which is war in one form or another. And yet, there are ways of doing even war correctly―that is, valiantly. And so we celebrate in myth and folklore those who express Aries-Mars in proper balance with all the other ways of being human. For without a sufficient embodiment of its core virtues―strength, courage, independence, self-assertion, and a capacity for anger when natural rights are threatened―we forfeit our lives and those we love in a dim cowardice, abandon the field to the worst among us, and, still worse, betray the gods.
Fortune favors the brave.
* * * * *
1A synodic cycle is the period time it takes between the conjunction of two planets and their next conjunction. During a synodic cycle, the faster of the two planets will form a series of 30° angles (aspects) with the slower planet, eventually catching up to the slower planet and forming a new conjunction.
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.
~ Ecclesiastes 3
By Glenn Perry
Evidence suggests that the zodiac not only symbolizes the structure and dynamics of the psyche, but also the evolutionary unfoldment of consciousness. The structure of the zodiac exactly parallels the stages of the human life cycle. Each sign can be understood as a developmental stage of specific quality and duration. The dominant traits and concerns of each sign are age-appropriate for the stage corresponding to that sign.
Infants (Aries) are necessarily selfish, egocentric, and concerned about survival. Toddlers (Taurus) are preoccupied with attachment needs and are easily forgiven for wanting things to stay the same. Seven year olds (Gemini) are naturally fickle, shallow, and curious. Latency age children (Cancer) turn inwards and become more vulnerable to rejection. Adolescents (Leo) are unavoidably narcissistic, willful, and defensive. Novice adults (Virgo) worry about job skills and employability.
Marriage and partnership are dominant concerns of thirty-year olds (Libra), while mid-life adults (Scorpio) obsess about death and power. Afterwards, they become increasingly interested in justice and moral imperatives (Sagittarius). Sixty year olds (Capricorn) are expected to be conservative, traditional, and to uphold the status quo. The seventies (Aquarius) mark a period of radical change as individuals detach from old identifications. A gradual dissolution and readiness to return to source marks the final stage of life, from 77 and beyond (Pisces).