Early humans experienced planetary archetypes as messages from gods originating outside of their own minds. Today we recognize archetypes as the core feelings, needs, and values that constitute our inner life. A core tenet of AstroPsychology is that planets symbolize psychological functions that are oriented toward satisfying the needs of the signs they rule. Signs are motives; planets are their active agents.
Another way of saying this is that a planet symbolizes a single psychological faculty, which can be defined as an inherent power to perform multiple functions. Planetary functions are the normal, proper, or characteristic actions of that planet; thus, for example, Mars symbolizes the functions of asserting, starting, fighting, competing, and surviving.
Again, planetary functions are motivated by the need(s) of the sign that planet rules. This implies that motivation and function are as inseparable as a rocket and its fuel tank. In fact, each sign-planet pairing can be regarded as a system. When we talk about the body, we refer to specific systems such as the cardiovascular system, the gastrointestinal system, and the endocrine system. Likewise, there are psychological systems as well. Aries-Mars rules the competitive/assertion system, Taurus-Venus the security/stability system, and Capricorn-Saturn the control/mastery system.
A sign-planet is a motivational system because it entails an interaction between two components of the psyche: sign and planet. As needs, signs motivate their ruling planets to perform specific functions, and these functions involve appropriate actions that serve the underlying motive.
Abraham Maslow (1968) proposed that human beings are born with an essential nature that is analogous with physical structure. Just so in astrology, psychological functions are analogous to their biological corollaries. The functions of digestion and elimination, for example, are paralleled by corresponding psychological processes ruled by Virgo-Mercury and Scorpio-Pluto.
Whereas the Virgo-Mercury system governs the intestines, gastrointestinal system, and overall food metabolism, it also governs psychological process of analyzing and utilizing information in the service of competence. Just as we digest food, so we digest information, breaking it down into useful parts and assimilating it into our cognitive structure. In other words, Virgo is about the metabolizing of information—a clear corollary to the process of digestion on a biological level.
Likewise, biological and psychological processes of elimination are ruled by Scorpio-Pluto. On a biological level, Scorpio-Pluto governs the sexual/generative organs, which include the bladder, prostate gland, testicles, colon, and rectum. Note that these organ systems are involved in processes of ejection and elimination; ovulation and menstruation in the female and ejaculation in the male. We purge and eliminate on a psychological level, too, as when we experience catharsis and abreaction, purging toxic emotions or eliminating destructive mental habits. In addition, Scorpio-Pluto rules sexuality and tends to be penetrating, erotic, and regenerative by its very nature.
These two examples—Virgo-Mercury and Scorpio-Pluto—illustrate how biological and corollary psychological functions are ruled by the same sign-planet system. In effect, a sign-planet system is analogous to a biological organ in that it symbolizes a type of action that is in the service of a psychological need, or motive. Just as the need of a sign can be inferred from behaviors that characterize that sign, so a planet’s functions can be inferred from actions that characterize its nature.
This is simply a matter of inductive reasoning. By observing characteristic actions of a planet, one can discern where the actions are leading to—in short, the purpose of the behavior. An action is any behavior that is goal-directed, or done for a reason. If one observes that Neptune is implicated in spiritual strivings, compassion for suffering, redemptive love, charity, psi abilities, fantasy, and dreams, then the faculty of Neptune would have to account for all actions classified as Neptunian.
If we call Neptune the Transcendent Faculty, this may suffice, for spiritual strivings are in the service of transcending the separate self-sense and uniting with a higher consciousness. Concern for the less fortunate, charity, and redemptive love require one to transcend self-interest and act to relieve the suffering of others. Psi abilities involve cognitive capacities that transcend rational intellect and sensory experience, while fantasy and dreams involve the perception of ideals and possibilities that transcend everyday, material reality. While no single word does justice to the diverse forms this archetypal process takes, Transcendent Faculty is as good a term as any. It may be that the best name for a planetary faculty is simply the planet itself—in this case, the faculty of Neptune.
Any characteristic action of a planet can be converted from a verb into a noun, which gives us a name for that function. Recall that planetary functions are the normal, proper, or characteristic actions of that planet. For example, Neptune symbolizes the verbs to imagine, to empathize, and to intuit. By converting these verbs into nouns we get three functions of Neptune: imagination, empathy, and intuition. Each term captures one facet of a complex, psychological faculty. Of course, there are other functions of Neptune beyond these three.
Again, functions are always in the service of needs. For every need represented by a sign, there is a planetary function devoted to the fulfillment of that need. Signs and planets form verb-noun pairs, as it were, the planet being the active agent (verb) of the sign-need (noun) over which it rules.
Saturn, for instance, is the planet that rules Capricorn. The need of Capricorn can be described as the drive for perfection in material form—or, put simply, the need for order, structure and control. Saturn, as the verb form and active agent of Capricorn, fulfills its needs by ordering, structuring, and controlling within the behavioral environment. Hence, Saturn represents the functions of order, structure, and control. In this regard, every planet symbolizes a particular kind of activity. Planets are actors and each one acts in a different way.
In an actual chart, Saturn would be in a particular sign. Let us say, for instance, that Saturn is in Gemini. Thus, we have the syntax of an astrological sentence: the need of Capricorn (noun) is fulfilled by Saturn (verb) in a Gemini manner (adverb). In short, the need for order is fulfilled by achieving intellectually. Saturn in Gemini represents the drive for perfection through the ordering of mental constructs.
If Saturn is highlighted in the natal chart by, for example, being conjunct the Ascendant, we might have an individual with an obsessive need to structure language into a logical system. Perhaps he might write a book on linguistics or devise a theory of syntax. The Gemini sign placement merely suggests how Saturn fulfills its Capricorn-need and what some possible outcomes might be.
The point here is that needs symbolized by signs provide the motivation that triggers functions represented by planets. How and whether those functions satisfy their motivating needs is indicated by a host of additional factors including the planet’s sign and house position and its aspects to other planets. The degree to which a planet can satisfy its sign-need is a measure of that planet’s functionality (or dysfunctionality).
This is a topic that will be explained more fully in subsequent columns. In our next installment, we will explore how sign-needs are experienced as emotions that trigger behaviors calculated to achieve specific ends.
Recently there was a discussion on Facebook that illustrated what I call astrological prejudice. A professional astrologer got the ball rolling by posting the following:
“Simple question about Venus in Leo: How do you counsel these people? How do you get them to pay attention to anyone else? (Okay, this is a personal issue. My brother has Venus in Leo. Any random thoughts are appreciated).”
I was struck by this question and the conversation that followed because it seemed to endorse a subtle form of discrimination. Many of us know people who report how an astrologer looked at their chart and made some negative comment accompanied by a sneer or look of consternation, as if that person were cursed, afflicted, or simply bad. Apart from the underlying arrogance in assuming that one can know a person merely from his or her birthchart, I think such responses betray a fundamental misunderstanding of how astrology works.
In the question above, for instance, there is reference to ‘these people’ followed by a negative stereotype: “How do you get them to pay attention to anyone else?” (Implying they are all self-centered). Most of us will recognize that there is no “these people” with regard to a planetary sign position. The very phrase implies there is some consistency that applies to everyone who has Venus in Leo. As with any other planetary sign position, it is an ingredient within a complex mix in which everything affects everything else (in addition to extra-astrological factors such as age, maturity, culture, and so on, all of which make their own contribution). So, to reduce a person to a planetary configuration and expect to explain some negative aspect of his behavior on that basis alone is a prejudice in the same way that making sweeping statements about blacks, or Hispanics, or any other minority is a prejudice. The comment this astrologer posted on Facebook could easily be construed as:
“I dislike people with Venus in Leo. They’re so narcissistic! My brother had Venus in Leo and all he could talk about was himself.”
To be fair, a certain amount of generalization is unavoidable if we are going to create intelligible meanings about planetary sign positions. Yet, it is important to differentiate statements about a planetary configuration from statements about a person. With astrology we can describe components of the personality but we cannot reduce the person to the component any more than you can reduce a casserole to a particular ingredient. It follows that we should not make statements about whole people on the basis of particular parts; rather, we should make statements about parts, and then seek to discern how the parts fit together to make the person.
It takes some discipline to restrict one’s statements to parts, but it is a good habit to cultivate. For example, I can say, “Venus in Leo seeks intimacy by being showy and playful” without assuming that someone with Venus in Leo will necessarily behave this way. For there are other possibilities, too, as well as additional chart factors that will complicate the picture. If, for example, Venus in Leo is in the 12th square Saturn and opposing Neptune, these factors are likely to mitigate the native’s tendency to be showy and playful in relationships. Saturn might incline the person to feel anxious about his attractiveness and social skills. And the Neptune/12th house factor suggests that relationship needs could be repressed or sacrificed in any number of ways.
Of course, Venus’ position in Leo is still going to operate, but it will be so intermixed with these additional chart factors that knowing exactly how the Leo component will show itself is largely guesswork until the astrologer gets to know the person. Given Venus’ house position and aspects, perhaps the native works as an art therapist with individuals who are institutionalized for mental illness. In that context, he helps them develop confidence in their Venusian social skills by finding ways for his patients to collaborate on a joint art project, like a group painting. Here we see how the Leonian need for self-esteem and creative self-expression finds an outlet within that specialized setting. In effect, he facilitates fulfillment of Leo needs in his patients (12th house) through art (Venus). But this is a far cry from claiming our art therapist is self-absorbed.
In his personal life, he may worry whether he is sufficiently attractive to find a mate. If he is socially awkward and anxious, we might not be surprised if he focuses too much on the egoic needs of a narcissistic co-worker who is using him to cheat on her husband (he rationalizes that he is saving her from a bad marriage). The possibilities are endless. In short, real people are too complex to be slotted into simplistic categories based upon a single planetary sign position.
I imagine that the astrologer who originally posted his Facebook question knows what I am saying in theory. Most of us have heard the old saw that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. However, the way we use the language does not always reflect that. Differentiating statements about planetary configurations from statements about people is a subtle distinction, to be sure. Too often we pay lip service to the notion that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but then make statements about a part of the chart that suggests a greater degree of certainty vis-a-vis a behavioral or event outcome than is actually warranted.
I take pains to let clients (and students) know that any statement I make about a part of the chart is just that: it’s about the part, not about them. Since the human brain is only capable of synthesizing three or four variables at a time, and since those variables individually and collectively can manifest in a multiplicity of ways, and since people are free to grow and change within the parameters their chart allows, the idea that we should be able to tell people who they are and what’s going to happen to them borders on the preposterous. How my clients express the full complexity of their charts is not something I can know from the chart alone. All of this underscores that being a good astrologer requires a certain tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty, without which we are apt to presume things about clients that are at best simplistic, at worse untrue.
In a previous column we discussed Jung’s assertion that certain events occur as a consequence of an archetypal need being activated within the field of the psyche. By ‘archetypal need’, I mean any need that falls within the purview of a zodiacal sign. Needs for learning and communication, for example, are related to Gemini. Every zodiacal sign constitutes a grouping of self-consistent needs, which can be inferred from behavioral traits and themes that are characteristic of that sign.
Synchronistic experiences reflect the activated needs while also providing a vehicle for their potential satisfaction. In this regard, events are both symbolic and purposeful in that they seem to motivate the individual toward the development of certain universal values. One can decipher in the synchronistic event (as in dreams) an apparent evolutionary tendency of the unconscious. In effect, astrological archetypes symbolize both internal and external motivational factors; they impel behavior, manifest as events, and thereby motivate new behavior in a feedback cycle that assures the individual will continue to evolve by experiencing the consequences of his or her own internal states.
The phenomenon of synchronicity points to an intelligence in nature that actively searches for solutions to obstacles that block the continued unfoldment of life. This transformational process has a teleological quality and is consistent with perennial models that purport life is animated by transcendent Forms, or archetypes, which serve as formative patterns and universal ideals for processes occurring on lower levels. In an effort to conform to these patterns and to actualize the ideals they embody, creatures spontaneously organize themselves into states of increasing unity and integrity. This, in turn, is consistent with the perennial claim that living systems are drawn forward by the memory of a higher state of being from which they are descended, and to which they are destined to return.
While the zodiac describes a hierarchical sequencing of archetypal motivations, it is psyche as a whole that describes the master motive—wholeness or unity. This has been variously referred to as self-actualization (Maslow, 1968) or individuation (Jung, 1953), both of which imply that the psyche has a tendency to grow toward the fullest possible actualization of human potential. This tendency to develop in the direction of a stable unity is the central defining feature of Jung’s psychology. It was this conviction that underlay his assertion that the sovereign motive of human beings was individuation, Jung’s term for the intrinsic tendency of the psyche to evolve in the direction of psychic wholeness—that is, to be an indivisible whole. Both Maslow and Jung were proponents of a teleological theory of motivation that postulated some sort of unitive consciousness as the ultimate and final cause of behavior.
Just as Maslow postulated the drive for self-actualization, and Jung the path of individuation, there is an overarching motive implicit in the organization of the zodiac. As an integrated totality, the zodiac symbolizes the potential for wholeness. In effect, the zodiac symbolizes the archetype of the Self, which Jung defined as both the center and the circumference of the psyche. This definition echoes the German mystic Meister Eckhart’s description of God as a circle whose circumference is nowhere and whose center is everywhere. As the unity archetype and the organizing principle of the personality, the Self not only signifies the union of opposites within the psyche, but is also a God-image that symbolizes a wholeness toward which the psyche strives.
Here we see an obvious parallel to the zodiac, which has a center—symbolizing the individual—and a circumference symbolizing the 12-fold division of the collective psyche. According to Jung, the archetype of the Self incorporates within its paradoxical unity all the opposites embodied in the various archetypes. Likewise, the zodiac is composed of six archetypal pairs of opposites—Aries/Libra, Taurus/Scorpio, Gemini/Sagittarius, Cancer/Capricorn, Leo/Aquarius, and Virgo/Pisces—which, once integrated, enables the individual to find a new center, a point of balance that allows for harmony both within and without.
Just as the archetype of the Self is depicted as a process of centering or as a process involving the union of opposites, so the zodiac symbolizes a process of integrating these polarized sign-needs into a unified whole. The Self emerges as the central archetype from the union of all other archetypes; as such, it constitutes a higher order category of archetype. The zodiac, too, constitutes a higher order category than the signs that compose it.
The emerging central archetype is often depicted in images of the mandala. In its simplest form, the mandala is a quadrated circle combining the elements of a circle with a center plus a square, a cross, or some other expression of fourfoldness. As such, the mandala symbolizes the Self, the archetype of totality. The zodiac also has a four-fold structure due to the sequence of Cardinal, Fixed and Mutable that repeats itself four times round the zodiac. Thus the zodiac is a quadrated circle combining the elements of a circle with a center plus a square.
In fact, the overwhelming majority of mandalas are characterized by the circle and the quaternity (see Figure 1). The circle and the square depict the inner and the outer aspects of life. The watery, fluid inner realm is round and signifies a state of flow, while the earthly world of substance is square and correlates to groundedness, or stability.
In the image above, note how the circle is contained within an encompassing square; another square is contained within the encompassing circle, and within that square is another circle, ad infinitum. Again, the circle of the zodiac also contains a fourfold structure, as determined by its four cardinal points that symbolize the beginning dates of the four seasons: Aries (Spring), Cancer (Summer), Libra (Fall), and Capricorn (Winter). Just as mandalas depict the inner and outer aspects of life, so each sign of the zodiac symbolizes an intrapsychic factor and a corresponding outer condition. These outer conditions serve as points of attachment, like ground stakes attached to tent lines that keep the tent centered in one place. Analogously, human beings become attached to people, places, and things, which ground their existence and provide the necessary stresses and strains to fuel an inner process of centering, or integration.
In alchemy, mandalas represent the synthesis of the four elements to produce the quinta essentia, the “Incorruptible One,” which represents the union of opposites necessary for the Mysterium Coniunctionis, or “inner marriage”. Jung considers the mandala image the preeminent symbol for the Self, the archetype of wholeness. Again, the zodiac can also be viewed as a four-fold whole, with its four elements of fire, earth, air, and water—all opposites—that must be brought into balance by finding a center.
Mandalas are ubiquitous across cultures and seem to represent a basic unifying principle that lies at the root of the psyche. Whether we call it the drive for self-actualization, the path of individuation, or depict it in the mandala of the zodiac, the message is the same: wholeness is the ultimate and final motive of the psyche to which all actual experience is subservient.
Because mandala images appear spontaneously in dreams and in certain states of conflict, Jung theorized that they represent an integrative factor. This idea receives support from Buddhism where mandalas function as ritual instruments that assist meditation and concentration. Likewise, the horoscope, by objectifying the psyche through zodiac symbols, provides insight into the nature of consciousness and the meaning of experience. Integration is supported by study of the horoscope because it provides an image of the psyche as a potentially unified (indivisible) whole. Reflection and meditation upon such an image can promote the process of individuation.
Jung (1960) describes how centering brings about a shift of power from the ego to the Self, thus enabling the individual to more readily surrender to a higher power that works through him. Because the Self, of which the mandala is a symbol, is the archetype of unity and totality, it is, therefore, the God within. The individual, in seeking Self-realization and unity, becomes the means through which “God seeks his goal.” By fulfilling his or her own highest potential, the individual is also fulfilling God’s will. This is why Jung felt that the individuation process was ultimately a spiritual journey.
All of this is implicit in the structure of the zodiac, which is a symbol both of microcosm and macrocosm, human and divine, part and whole. The prime dictum of astrology is, “as above, so below;” cosmos and psyche are mirror images of one another. Jung noted that the “quaternity of the One,” his mandala symbol for the Self, is likewise the schema for all images of God. Thus the innermost divine essence of man is characterized by mandala images that can just as well express a God-image, the atman that is Brahman. An astrological chart is an image of Deity—the Universe as a whole—unfolding within the consciousness of an individual human being.
Again, as symbols of the Self, mandalas seem to represent an integrating factor. Jung noted that when consciousness is confused, mandalas might emerge via dreams or fantasies as compensatory attempts at self-healing by imposing an ordered structure. When people are disoriented because of severe psychological conflict, the circular pattern of the mandala compensates the disorder of the psychic state—namely, through the construction of a central point to which everything is related. This can be interpreted as an attempt at self-healing on the part of Nature. The psyche instinctively produces a mandala image, which operates teleologically as a lure or a reminder of a potential wholeness yet to be realized.
Just so, the zodiac symbolizes a concentric arrangement of contradictory but reconcilable elements. It is precisely when people feel confused and conflicted that they often seek an astrologer. Like a mandala, the horoscope symbolizes the potential for integrating what appear to be irreconcilable parts into an ordered whole with a new center. For many people, the goal of a good reading is insight and integration, for the horoscope enables one to see that a disordered psychic state and corollary external conflict has a meaning that, once understood, can bring order out of chaos. Seeking a chart consultation may serve the same purpose as a spontaneous mandala image; it is the psyche’s attempt at self-healing. Perhaps the astrologer is employed by the client’s Self and used as an agent of that Higher Will. In this sense, every astrologer and every reading is potentially in the service of an evolutionary imperative that issues forth from a transcendent power—the God within and without.
In next month’s column, we’ll explore how planets are agents of wholeness, psychological functions that strive not only to satisfy their relevant needs, but also to combine with one another in ways that bring about ever increasing psychic unity.
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Jung, C.G., (1953). Psychology and Alchemy. Collected Works, Vol. 12, Bollingen Series 20. New York: Pantheon.
Jung, C.G., (1960). The structure and dynamics of the psyche. Collected Works, Vol. 8, Bollingen Series 20. New York: Pantheon.
Maslow, A. (1968). Toward a psychology of being. Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand.
Student: I often hear the terms ‘individuation’ and ‘integration’ used interchangeably. How can you define the concept of integration? And what is the difference between integration and individuation?
Glenn: These are excellent questions. First, let me discuss the concept of integration because it leads to individuation. Psychologically we can define integration as the process of developing and coordinating personality elements into balanced units, leading ultimately to a balanced whole. To the extent that one achieves integration, intrapsychic and interpersonal conflict is reduced. Astrologically, the concept of integration is most pertinent to planetary aspects. It involves 1) fuller development and differentiation in conscious awareness of planetary components; and 2) their subsequent coordination and balancing within the self.
Successful integration yields new, higher level abilities—emergent properties—that result from a successful blending of planetary energies. If integrated, a hard aspect between Mars and Venus no longer connotes a conflict between needs for autonomy and intimacy, but rather a vibrant approach to love graced with rapscallion charm, yet which also allows for assertion, negotiation of differences, and resolution of conflicts as they arise.
Planetary aspects can vary in expression along a continuum of possibilities, with integrated expressions at one end, and disintegrated expressions at the other. Individuals evolve along this continuum of potentiality, unfolding higher possibilities over time. Since the astrologer cannot know how an aspect is manifesting until s/he talks to the client, it is imperative that astrologers take the time to know their clients and to provide interpretations that express an appropriate range of meanings.
The English poet Coleridge said that a work of art is rich in proportion to the variety of interdependent parts which it holds in a unity. We can apply this to the psyche as well. As Yogi Berra put it, “It’s Okay to have butterflies, just make them fly in formation!”
Some confusion may arise as to the difference between ‘individuation’ and ‘integration’. The concept of individuation, or self-actualization (Maslow’s term), always refers to the psyche as a whole and not to any particular part or conflict within the psyche. Whereas ‘integration’ can refer to a particular configuration, such as the integration of Mars opposed Venus, we would not say ‘the individuation of Mars opposed Venus’.
Individuation implies integration, but it refers to a holistic process encompassing the entire psyche, not any particular part or aspect; thus, Jung refers to ‘the journey of individuation’ as that of becoming an indivisible whole over the course of one’s life. The term ‘integration’, on the other hand, can refer both to the strengthening and coordination of particular components and to a process of integrating the chart as a whole. If used in this later sense, of course, the meaning of integration is virtually identical to individuation.
The Obama Administration scandal involving the NSA surveillance program has me feeling sympathetic toward the government. While there are widely varying reactions to 29-year old Edward Snowden’s recent disclosures, we can probably all agree it’s an interesting manifestation of the Uranus-Pluto square. Before exploring this further, let us first examine the Edward Snowden birth chart in an effort to understand what drove him to reveal NSA and CIA data to the international community.
Snowden is the former undercover CIA employee and computer systems specialist who perfectly embodies the tensions between Uranus and Pluto. Uranus rules advanced technology, as in computers, and is associated with revelation, awakening, and liberation. Pluto rules the dark and shadowy world of CIA operatives intent on rooting out destructive elements within our midst (think home grown terrorists like the Tsarnaev brothers). If integrated with Pluto, Uranian technology can be utilized to awaken us to the nature and extent of global terrorism especially as it bears on matters of national security. If unintegrated, however, Uranus is apt to prematurely (and irresponsibly) reveal government secrets, which impairs the proper functioning of Pluto.
The aspect in question duplicates the archetypal square between Aquarius and Scorpio, the signs ruled by Uranus and Pluto. This highlights the difficulty as well as the importance of integrating this archetypal pairing. Whereas Scorpio understands the necessity of secrecy in the battle against evil, Aquarius’ open, altruistic, and egalitarian nature just doesn’t get it. Revealing CIA secrets for the sake of protecting the privacy of American citizens is like setting your house on fire to keep ants out. Mind you, I’ve no love for ants. They can be annoying and intrusive. But burning one’s house down seems a bit over-reactive. Snowden’s personal rebellion against the NSA is the equivalent of calling Al-Qaeda and saying, “This is how we spy on you guys,” the result being they can adjust their strategies in light of the newly disclosed information. However well-intentioned Snowden’s whistle-blowing might seem, we are less safe now than we would have been.
Edward Snowden, June 21, 1983, 4:42am, Elizabeth City, NC
Snowden’s birth chart is certainly consistent with the behavior for which he is now infamous. While a full analysis is not possible here, we can at least note the four oppositions involving the Gemini-Sagittarius axis: Sun and Mars in Gemini both opposing Neptune in Sagittarius, while Jupiter and Uranus in Sagittarius oppose Mercury in Gemini. The lunar nodes are in these signs as well, further underscoring the importance of the Gemini-Sagittarian dialectic. Gemini is obsessed with the gathering and classification of raw data, while Sagittarius is concerned with its significance in the big picture. In other words, Sagittarius is focused on what the information means with respect to larger, global issues such as the war on terror. Sagittarius would also be sensitive to the ethical consequences of obtaining, evaluating, and disclosing the information.
It is significant that Snowden’s three inner planets—Sun, Mars, and Mercury—are all in Gemini, whereas the slower moving, outer planets are in Sagittarius. The suggestion here is that Snowden is more identified with the relatively narrow, immature perspective of his Gemini planets, which operate on the assumption that nothing is more important than full and immediate disclosure of information for its own sake. Developmentally, Gemini corresponds to age 5-8 when children are apt to blurt things out without fully understanding the sensitive nature of the question asked, or the embarrassing implications of the information disclosed. Their relative ignorance and insensitivity is age appropriate, however, so easily forgiven. The situation is more complicated for a 29 year-old.
With Sagittarius on the Descendant and Neptune in Sagittarius in the 7th house, Snowden is apt to project qualities associated with these signs and planets onto others with whom he is in relationship. This would include NSA, CIA, and government officials who are in charge of evaluating the information for its potential usefulness as well as their legal right to obtain and store it. Sagittarius corresponds to ages 44-53, which is that stage of life wherein one’s capacity for moral reasoning is fully mature. With 6th and 7th house planets in this sign, it follows that Sagittarian qualities would be most fully expressed in Snowden’s co-workers (6th house), collaborators (7th house), and superiors (with Aquarius on the M.C., Uranus signifies the 10th house of authority). It would be precisely these others that would utilize the data Snowden provides to predict the nature of possible threats to national security.
As the final dispositor of the chart, Mercury is especially important. Not only is it in a very aggressive position on the Ascendant as well as disposing Mars in Gemini (thus repeating the Gemini-Aries link in three different ways), but the opposition to Jupiter-Uranus in Sagittarius suggests that Snowden is opposed to the use of data gathering for the sake of a holistic, techno-analysis of potential terrorist threats. To the extent Snowden is identified with his Gemini planets and prone to impulsive reporting (as when a child tattles on his friends to elevate his own good standing), his revelations evidence a lack of integration between the respective planets. In other words, Snowden’s capacity to make wise and effective use of his Uranus-Jupiter conjunction was insufficiently mature. He was still influenced by Jupiter and Uranus, thus his image as a high-minded whistleblower motivated by altruistic concerns; yet, I do not believe he had the experience or vision to fully understand the necessity of the task in which he was engaged as an NSA employee, nor the potentially lethal consequences of making the information available to U.S. enemies.
As ruler of the M.C., Uranus in Sagittarius in the 6th signifies the authority that Snowden betrayed. This is precisely the NSA in its role as a global information network employed to discern troubling patterns of information, connect the dots, and predict the nature and location of specific threats. Rather than cooperatively engage his Uranian cohorts in solving the problem of domestic terrorism, Snowden co-opted Uranus for himself in a shocking revelation of government secrets.
It is also interesting that he has the same opposition between Sun-Gemini and Neptune-Sagittarius as the rogue LA cop, Christopher Dorner, who likewise blew the whistle on his superiors. Whenever the Sun opposes Neptune, there is always the possibility of narcissistic inflation, as when a single individual sets himself against the system and acts as if his opinion, his specialness, and his moral superiority trumps all other considerations. As a trans-border fugitive fleeing from justice, Snowden is currently under the protection of Russian president, Vladimir Putin. One suspects he was blinded by his own light and flew straight into the spider’s web.
Student: I live in Florida. Can you give me some keywords for transiting Neptune on the I.C ? I’m worried that my home is going to collapse into a sinkhole!
Glenn: Well, that’s one possibility! Anytime Neptune makes contact with a sensitive point in the chart, that area plays ‘host’ to a Neptunian process. Affairs associated with the 4th will provide a vehicle for the further development of Neptunian potentials. This might mean needing to cultivate an attitude of ‘let go and let God’ in relation to home or family. For example, you might need to surrender, relinquish an attachment, or allow something to end. Neptune is also about compassion, empathy, and forgiveness, so your capacity to express these qualities is likely to develop through a cluster of experiences that center around 4th house themes.
Something might occur that pertains to an idealization of family or one’s ancestral past. Neptune can be visionary, so perhaps you’ll develop a deeper, more empathic understanding of what your ancestors suffered; or how the entire planet—mother earth, Gaia—is a living Being and our true home in a wider, spiritual sense; or how we are all one extended human family that transcends racial and national boundaries. Concerns for saving the earth, the green movement, and related concerns might come to the fore, especially given that Aquarius is concerned with movements and causes.
As for outcomes, anything other than a ‘wait and see’ attitude is just guesswork, for a transit can manifest in any number of ways: spiritualization of the home through feng shui, living temporarily at a spiritual retreat, camping in a state park and communing with nature, loss or sacrifice of home as occurred during Hurricane Sandy, concern for the homeless, family dissolution, loss or tragedy involving a family member, living or working in an institution that cares for victims, flooding in the home, moving to a home on the sea, saving a home in disrepair, watching extended reruns of “Gilligan’s Island”, and on and on!
Note that these ‘outcomes’ do not take into consideration Neptune’s sign position or the aspects it might form to natal planets. Whatever actually occurs will invariably reflect a higher level of complexity that we can readily grasp. All of this underscores that astrology is an indeterminate system.
In my opinion, the best use of a transit is to adopt the proper outlook signified by that planet. Strive to apply that mind-set in an optimal sense to whatever the events are that actually unfold. Guessing or anticipating what these events might be is somewhat of a fool’s errand, even though many clients expect us to provide them with advice and warnings. Focusing on what could or might happen is merely self-inflicted scare mongering. Just stay open, concentrate on the present, and go with the flow—especially when Neptune is involved! No one thing will happen, and whatever does will more perfectly express the configuration than any astrologer could possibly guess.
Also, work with the transit to make it what you want. The transit is not merely happening to you; you’re happening to it, too. Cultivate the appropriate attitude that pertains to Neptune: visionary idealism, faith in a higher power, surrender, compassion, forgiveness, resiliency, non-attachment, and a sense of flow, especially as such attitudes are required in relation to 4th house experiences. Cooperate with events as they unfold. For whatever does happen, its purpose is to serve as a catalyst for the further development and integration of your Neptunian potentials.
Above all, trust the Universe. It knows better what we need than we do.
On April 15, 2013, during the Boston marathon, a horrific expression of Mars square Pluto exploded on the world stage. 26-year old Muslim Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his younger brother, Dzhokhar, calmly placed two pressure cooker bombs in the midst of the crowd on Boylston Street as they watched the runners go by. Moments later the bombs exploded with a deafening blast, spraying shrapnel, nails and ball bearings in all directions, killing 3 people and ripping arms and legs off another 264. Within days Tamarlan and Dzhokhar were identified as suspects by the FBI. That evening, Tamarlan killed an MIT police officer in cold blood in order to obtain his firearm, carjacked an SUV with his brother, and initiated an exchange of gunfire with police as they were closing in.
An estimated 200-300 rounds of ammunition were fired at the two brothers, who responded by emptying their pistols and throwing bombs and grenades at the officers. Tamarlan was shot multiple times, suffered a possible blast injury from a suicide vest, and was finally run over by his brother who sped off in the stolen SUV. Dzhokhar dragged Tamerlan underneath his vehicle for some 20 feet before crashing through the police barricade to escape. Gruesome pictures surfaced online of Tamerlan’s bloody bullet-ridden body lying dead on a hospital table, his mouth and eyes open wide in a ghastly final scream.
It is hard to imagine a more violent end.
Deconstructing Mars square Pluto
These events, including and especially Tamerlan’s affinity for pressure cooker bombs, are consistent with a single aspect in his chart: Mars in Aquarius square Pluto in Scorpio within 8 minutes of exactitude. To understand Tamerlan fully, of course, it would be necessary to examine his birthchart as a whole. No single configuration is sufficient to account for who he is or what he has done. Also, we do not have his birth time, which further compromises any attempted analysis.
Finally, it must be acknowledged that Mars square Pluto, like any other aspect, can manifest in a variety of ways on a continuum of functionality; hence, subsequent comments are not meant to imply the aspect will manifest the same way for every person. Most certainly it will not. This article is meant to analyze solely how it manifested in Tamerlan’s life. Mars square Pluto is an essential ingredient of the terrorist act for which Tamerlan is now famous: the Boston marathon bombings.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev Horoscope: Kalmykia, Russia, Oct. 21, 1986, Time Unknown
In the simplest sense, Mars is about action. As the ruler of Aries, its function is to fulfill needs for survival, autonomy, and freedom. When functioning optimally, it confers the requisite strength and courage to assert decisively in one’s own self-interest. Pluto, on the other hand, signifies an entirely different principle. As ruler of Scorpio, its function is to transform, regenerate, and heal. By definition this implies something that needs to be transformed—an emotional wound or corrupt condition. If functioning properly, Pluto bestows the ability to root out, purge, and eliminate whatever is toxic to the system in order to facilitate a process of healing and renewal. Very often this entails a certain attraction to death in all its myriad forms.
When Mars and Pluto are in aspect, each will infuse the other with the nature of its essence. Mars will strengthen and embolden the plutonian imperative for transformation, and Pluto will deepen and intensify Mars’ penchant for decisive action. An additional factor is worth noting: Mars’ orientation in time and space. As the archetype of the warrior, Mars is focused primarily on the here and now, for its prime directive is survival. Threats must be fiercely confronted with a willingness to do whatever is necessary to assure continuity of existence. This is especially true if the threat is Plutonic, which makes it appear extreme or even evil. Such threats can only be vanquished with a ‘total war’ response that is immediate, absolute, and exceedingly powerful.
With Mars in Aquarius and Pluto in Scorpio, the angle that blends their respective energies is the opening square, which is a Cancerian aspect and connotes themes of family, home, and country.1 Opening squares require the two planets to contain and sublimate their motivating impulses into a joint product that in some way entails caring and protection, for that is the essence of Cancer. Squares, however, are notoriously difficult to integrate, and there’s no guarantee that an optimal expression of the two planets will result. Until and unless the aspect is integrated at an intrapsychic level, each planet regards the other as an impingement that must be contained, inhibited, and suppressed. For if allowed to function freely, behavior may result that brings about the very thing Cancer fears most: rejection, with all its accompanying anguish and pain.
Things are especially difficult when the operative planets rule signs that are inherently in conflict. In the case of Mars-Pluto, Aries and Scorpio are quincunx; thus, the two signs have absolutely nothing in common, being different by polarity, modality, element, and perspective. The same incompatibility, therefore, is true for their planetary rulers. Mars and Pluto are like fire and water, which as we all know produces steam. If the actual aspect between the planets is a square, the difficulty is compounded. For the inescapable tension between the two drives tends to bring out the more extreme, negative attributes of both. Mars becomes increasingly hot, impatient, and combative; Pluto gets icy cold, super intense, and ruthless. The one is foolishly rash; the other cruelly vindictive. The resultant hybrid is like mixing a pit bull with a black panther; hyper aggression with pure predator instinct operating under cover of darkness. It is, in short, a formula for a monster.
A useful way to grasp the flavor of an aspect is to convert one planet into an adjective and the other to a noun. With Mars adjectives and Pluto nouns, apt phrases are: impatient conversion; violent transformation; reckless power; aggressive cleansing; and immediate elimination. With Pluto adjectives and Mars’ nouns we get: pent up anger; covert action; passionate assertion; explosive violence; and extreme measures. If we use Mars’ verbs with Pluto nouns we have: Initiate death; activate power; commence purification; fight evil; and begin evacuation. Or in reverse: Fear freedom; hate liberty; eliminate competition; subvert independence; and destroy life.
While no single phrase captures the full complexity of the aspect, each contributes to a mosaic of meaning made up of separate but related components. Taken together, they provide a quick glimpse into a range of Mars-Pluto potentialities—albeit, in this case, toward the negative end of the continuum. If nothing else, Mars square Pluto confers courage to confront death; perhaps in extreme cases even an eagerness to die, as in Jihad or suicide bombers. The impulse for survival and the attraction to death are operating at cross purposes, which may paradoxically result in a headlong rush into danger. When cornered by the police, that is what Tamerlan did. Exiting his vehicle, he threw his remaining bombs at the officers, then dashed through the smoke firing his pistol and running straight at them until he was cut down in a hail of bullets.
Little is known about Tamerlan’s past. According to Dzhokhar’s later confession, Tamarlan was the mastermind of their plot to murder Americans. Originally from Chechnya, but living in the United States since he was 16, Tamerlan self-radicalized by watching terrorist videos and sermons by cleric Anwar al-Awlaki that encouraged young Muslims to kill enemies of Islam. A devout Muslim, former student at Bunker Hill Community College, and amateur boxer of some renown, Tamerlan claimed: “I don’t have a single American friend, I don’t understand them.”2 He also complained about America’s lack of values, and worried that “people can’t control themselves.”
These are interesting statements in light of Tamerlan’s own history of violence. In 2009, he was arrested for aggravated assault and battery against an American girlfriend who reported that Tamarlan tried to force her to convert to Islam and control what she wore and who she associated with. According to the arrest report, she called 9–1–1 “crying hysterically” to report that she had been “beat up by her boyfriend”.3 Tamerlan subsequently married a different American girlfriend, Katherine Russell, who did convert to Islam and began wearing a hijab when Tamerlan demanded that she do so. Friends claim Tamerlan would shout at Katherine and call her a “slut” for not covering up; also, he would fly into rages and throw furniture and other objects.4 If he did not actually assault his wife, one suspects it was only because he feared a second arrest.
The nature of Pluto is to transform what is wounded. Generally, this means anything that is associated with Pluto by hard aspect. Mars, in effect, is that which is wounded and that which needs to be healed. Pluto’s square to Mars suggests that Tamerlan’s capacity for freedom and survival felt jeopardized by some sort of external threat. Cognitively this can manifest as a pathogenic belief that acting in one’s own self-interest; that is, to be a separate, autonomous individual may actually be dangerous and could provoke lethal retaliation. Accordingly, Martian impulses are held strenuously in check, for their untimely expression might prove fatal. This internal state of alarm is not necessarily conscious, of course, for the underlying belief is held out of awareness precisely because it is painful and frightening. Periodic outbursts of violent behavior are entirely consistent with the aspect, since repression of Mars merely results in the accumulation of an explosive charge that will eventually seek release against a safe target—a boxing opponent in the ring, a wife in the privacy of his home, or innocent bystanders taken by surprise.
As to the origins of such behavior, it usually goes back to a childhood trauma that encapsulates the more problematic nature of the aspect. It is no doubt significant that Tamerlan’s family was from the war torn Republic of Chechnya, a hot bed of Islamic extremists fighting to gain their independence from Russia. Throughout the 20th century, Chechens periodically rebelled against the Soviets, with hostilities burning red hot during the 1990’s, which was Tamerlan’s childhood. Over the course of two bloody wars, nearly half of Chechnya’s population had been internally displaced and lived in refugee camps or overcrowded villages. The country was in perpetual economic crisis. Food shortages were epidemic. Occupied and under constant attack by Russian brigades, death was everywhere and life was cheap. Terrorism was an instinctive response; explosive violence wracked the land. Finally in 2002, Tamerlan’s father applied for asylum in the United States, citing fears of deadly persecution due to his ties to Chechnya.
It is not difficult to see how the tumult and turmoil of Tamerlan’s childhood environment was a perfect reflection of the aspect in question. Just as Mars square Pluto makes autonomy seem dangerous, so Chechnya’s attempt to gain freedom from Russia had lethal consequences. By the time Tamerlan arrived in the United States at 16, the trauma of his childhood was deeply rooted in his psyche, an indelible pattern of fear and anger indissolubly associated with an impinging foreign power. You can take the boy out of the terror; but you can’t take the terror out of the boy. Once an emotional pattern is established, it seeks an appropriate outlet.
A Pressure Cooker Set to Explode
Displaced to the United States and surrounded by infidels that continuously violated his Muslim values, Tamerlan’s new predicament was in some ways analogous to Russia’s occupation of his homeland. His Islamic way of life was under assault. The moral permissiveness, overt sexuality, and progressive secular values of American culture must have been a constant affront. Old resentments were surely stirred. Recall Tamerlan’s complaint that Americans have no values and can’t control themselves. Also, that he tried to control his girlfriend’s dress and choice of associates, convert her to Islam, and assaulted her when she would not comply. He shouted at his wife that she was a “slut” and threw objects in fits of rage.
All these attempts at control suggest Tamerlan was preoccupied with sexual mores. As Mars rules freedom and Pluto signifies sexuality, we might surmise that Tamerlan’s outrage at the sexual freedom of western culture was a projection of his own Mars-Pluto conflict. I am not suggesting this was his exclusive or even primary concern, but archetypally it falls within the parameters of Mars-Pluto. An even more egregious affront to his Muslim values was America’s invasion of Islamic countries, which must have resonated with his childhood memories of Chechnya being invaded by Russia. This, too, exemplifies a Mars-Pluto dynamic, for war is analogous to cultural rape.5 Dzhokhar acknowledged to FBI interrogators that the U.S. wars in Afghanistan (2001-present) and Iraq (2003-2011) motivated him and his brother to carry out the bombing.
Tamerlan was like a pressure cooker slowly building up steam during his decade long residency in the United States. At a conference a few years ago, I gave a lecture titled: “Psychodynamics of the Square: The Pressure Cooker Aspect,” which was accompanied by the description:
The square requires containment and control of conflicting impulses; otherwise, defenses are erected against unwanted drives, resulting in unconsciously motivated behavior. Such behavior naturally inclines toward negative extremes that compensate for whichever impulse is denied.
In this case, the unwanted drive would be Mars, for inner planets tend to be dominated by slower moving, outer planets. As a consequence, Mars energy would build up within the psyche and inflame the Plutonian impulse for transformation by rendering it more hostile—like an aggressive cancer destroying healthy cells. While Pluto naturally tends toward extremes, in this instance Mars would make it even more extreme. Mind you, this is the inner (intrapsychic) picture.
With regard to outward behavior, imagine an angry physician performing heart surgery hyped up on amphetamines. Not only is he apt to feel impatient and irritable while performing a complex surgical procedure that has life or death consequences, but he hates the patient he is operating on without knowing exactly why. This metaphor, of course, is simply meant to imply that Tamerlan’s Plutonic propensity for healing and transformation had hypertrophied into an out-of-control monster that sought to reform American culture by any means necessary, even killing innocent civilians. Moreover, I suspect Tamerlan never knew that the origins of his hatred for western values may have originated much earlier in the unresolved traumas of Chechnya atrocities. When a planet is repressed, it influences behavior from an unconscious level through the planet with which it is in conflict. In this case, Pluto is being revved up by Mars for reasons that are largely unconscious.
As an actual outer event, Pluto’s square to Mars is apt to manifest in a manner that synchronistically reflects the inner state. In illustration of this, consider that for three years Tamerlan was hounded and questioned by FBI agents (Pluto) who had been tipped off by Russian officials that Tamerlan had converted to radical Islam. Subsequently, his every movement was followed and actions monitored.6 He was pulled over by police at least nine times in four years.7 Note how this pattern duplicates exactly the intrapsychic conflict that is its genesis. The FBI (Pluto) is dominating and suppressing Tamerlan’s freedom (Mars). Moreover, it is an experiential pattern that is self-reinforcing. The more Tamerlan was suspected of being dangerous, the more dangerous he became. Knowing that his freedom was in jeopardy, Tamerlan’s resentment must have intensified over time, a simmering cauldron of anger and frustration.
Mars square Pluto is a pressure cooker aspect not only by virtue of its angle. The very nature of Mars and Pluto makes it doubly so, for Mars is the archetype of war, and Pluto is associated with concealment. Together, this is a formula for concealed aggression or covert war—in a word, terrorism. Tamerlan’s hatred had to be bottled up and hidden from view. He must have been wrapped tighter than an Egyptian mummy. As tension builds, however, the pent up energy is suddenly released in an explosive, out-of-control manner. The mummy awakens and goes on a killing rampage.
Tamerlan’s use of pressure cooker bombs is a perfect metaphor of his inner state. Gun powder and shrapnel are placed inside the container, and a blasting cap attached to the top. Long range remote controls were used by the brothers to trigger kitchen-type egg timers that detonated the bomb.8 The pressure cooker contains the energy of the explosion and allows it to build up before it releases; thus, low explosives can produce a relatively large explosion. The fragmentation of the pressure cooker creates additional lethal shrapnel.
Just as Tamerlan was himself a ticking time bomb, so he must have resonated with a device that mirrored his own Mars-Pluto psychodynamics. Mars is the weaponized nails and ball bearings; Pluto the gun powder; and the square is the pressure cooker that contains the explosion before it releases. For Tamerlan, the pressure cooker bomb was a form of self-expression, an instrument and outlet for his own pent up Mars-Pluto rage.
Summary and Conclusion
The opening square of Mars in Aquarius to Pluto in Scorpio is the quintessential aspect not only of the terrorist in a generic sense, but more specifically of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s internal state leading up to the Boston marathon bombings. Even the sign positions of the planets are apt, for Mars in Aquarius is consistent with fighting for a radical cause, while Pluto in Scorpio underscores the do-or-die, volcanic intensity of his commitment. The opening square connotes the contents of his repressed Mars, held in check by fears associated with impulses for freedom and an accompanying conviction that his life was in perpetual jeopardy. Just as Chechens were attacked and killed for trying to separate from mother Russia, so Tamerlan felt that he was forever in danger of losing his freedom, regardless of where he lived.
As a Cancerian aspect, the Mars-Pluto opening square also reminds us that Tamerlan’s root motivations went back to home and family. Persecuted and driven from their homeland by an invading superpower, his family carried their emotional scars to the United States, which ultimately became a proxy for Tamerlan’s vindictive rage against Russia. Unable to fight the original enemy, he chose to vent his anger upon the nearest substitute—his new homeland, the United States, which all too readily fit the pattern of an invading superpower encroaching upon an Islamic state.
Once a pattern of thinking and feeling is established, it will seek an outlet that roughly matches the archetypal template. Tamerlan was compelled to repeat his early experiences in Chechnya in order to gain mastery over what had traumatized him. In so doing, he duplicated the personal hell of his childhood by turning Boston into a flaming battle ground, the latest front in his personal vendetta against the forces of evil.
Psychologically speaking, repetition compulsion is an attempt to remember and to master what had heretofore been repressed. Yet, unless the repetition leads to conscious insight and understanding, the original trauma is simply repeated over and over. Often this entails an unconscious role reversal; the victim becomes the perpetrator. Rather than feeling powerless, one becomes all-powerful. It is likely that some version of this occurred with Tamerlan. He was compelled to repeat what he had no doubt witnessed in Chechnya, but in so doing unwittingly became the evil that he sought to vanquish.
The opening square must contain and resolve feelings generated by conflicting impulses, and then redirect them towards caring ends. Tamerlan’s initial intention was to protect his own family from the moral corruption and decadence of his host country. Once radicalized, however, this eventually extended to the families of Afghans and Iraqis and any other country where Muslim sensibilities had been violated by the great Satan (America). As with all terrorists, Tamerlan saw himself as an agent of global Islamic revolution toward a Universal Caliphate. The ultimate goal was to eliminate western secularism and make the world safe for domination under Islam and Sharia Law. Tamerlan’s fantasy was one giant family ruled by Islamic purists, the perfect expression (for him) of Mars in opening square to Pluto.
The Cancerian theme of the opening square was especially evident in Tamerlan’s original plan to detonate his bombs in Boston on July 4th, our nation’s birthday. Hundreds of thousands of patriots would have been packed together at the banks of the Charles River. The Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular is known as the premier Independence Day celebration in the nation. How ironic that the planet of independence, Mars, would have been directed against an Independence Day celebration. As it was, Tamerlan’s plan was averted only because construction of the bombs were finished earlier than expected, so he changed his target to Patriot’s Day, the day of the Boston marathon.
If the opening square requires the operative planets to sublimate their impulses into a joint product that in some way entails caring and protection, what Tamerlan did was a perversion of true caring. Rather than utilize Mars-Pluto in the service of protecting loved ones in the homeland; he used it to murder mothers and children in a homeland he sought to destroy. His story tragically reveals what can happen when an aspect is not integrated in a functional way.
History is replete with examples of heroic, functional expressions of Mars square Pluto. General George Patton used it to flush the Nazis out of France and Italy in WWII; Mel Gibson used it in the making of his film Braveheart, which celebrated the Scottish warrior William Wallace whose cry of “Freedom!” rallied the Scots to chase England out of their homeland. And British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, aptly named “The Iron lady” by a Soviet journalist, used her Mars-Pluto square to triple England’s nuclear forces, defeat communism in the Cold War, and drive invading Argentinian forces out of the British-controlled Falkland Islands.
Lots of other notable people have (or had) it, too—Dr. Phil, Suzanne Somers, Amelia Earhart, Nancy Grace, Thomas Jefferson, Lenny Bruce, Harvey Milk, Bruce Lee, John McEnroe—all of whom, when you look closely, have a streak of fierce intensity that carries them forward into various arenas to fight the good fight. These examples and countess others illustrate that Mars square Pluto is not inherently an evil aspect that compels human beings to commit acts of rape and murder, though certainly there are numberless examples of those who have done so. As with any hard aspect, it requires reflecting upon mixed feelings and holding them in awareness so that new, adaptive capacities can emerge. Such capacities can then be utilized for the greater good.
When painful, traumatic memories reside at the base of such an aspect, holding them in awareness so they can be metabolized, healed, and redirected toward constructive ends may be exceedingly difficult, like taming a wolf in the wilds. Regrettably, Tamerlan was unable to do it, becoming instead a lone-wolf terrorist who fought for the wrong cause with the wrong methods. In the end, the story of Tamerlan Tsarnaev is a cautionary tale, a grim reminder that as Shakespeare wrote long ago, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves…”
* * * * *
1 One can differentiate an opening from a closing aspect by determining the faster moving planet. As the faster of the two, Mars will separate from a conjunction with Pluto and form a series of 30 degree angles over the period of time it takes to traverse the zodiac and reform the conjunction (the synodic cycle of Mars-Pluto). The first 90 degrees of this cycle is the first square. Just as the sign Cancer signifies the first 90 degrees of the Earth’s separation from the vernal equinox, so the first 90 degree angle of the synodic cycle between two planets has a Cancerian quality.
5 I am not suggesting that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were unjustified. That is a separate question. I’m merely saying that from Tamerlan’s perspective, invasion of an Islamic country by the U.S. not only was a repetition of what Russia did to Chechnya, but archetypally also had connotations of cultural rape.
Chris Dorner Birth Chart and Synchronicity A Unitary Model of Motivation
By Glenn Perry
Human motivation is typically discussed in terms of extrinsic or intrinsic causes. In this article, however, we will examine motivation in a wider context of synchronicity and circular causality. From a synchronistic perspective, external events may actually be extensions of internal motivating factors which, in turn, are linked to cosmic powers (archetypes) that are inherently intelligent and intentional. To illustrate how events can have transcendent meaning, we will examine the birth chart of Chris Dorner, the deceased Los Angeles Police Officer who went on a murderous rampage earlier this year. Dorner’s case exemplifies the tragic consequences of failure to discern an event’s evolutionary purpose.
Motivation and the Universal Psyche
Psychologists initially depicted human beings as passive agents of forces beyond their control. These passive-mechanistic theories regarded motivation as extrinsic to the individual, meaning rooted in material conditions (physiology and environment) outside of individual consciousness. Intrinsic motivation, which was proposed later, was based entirely on psychological factors—innate needs, goals, and purposes—that require no biological or sociological basis. Intrinsic motivation is perfectly in accord with the meaning of zodiacal signs.1 A sign-need can be inferred from behavior that is characteristic of that sign. Accordingly, each sign symbolizes a fundamental human need, or motive, which impels its ruling planet to act in its service.
Jung’s concept of synchronicity is an implicit theory of motivation that transcends the linear and deterministic thinking of passive-mechanistic models, as well as the concepts of purely psychological theories. As such, it can serve as the basis for a more complex, unifying motivational model rooted in astrology. Jung repeatedly observed that events in the outer world seemed to coincide meaning¬fully with inner psychic states. They were not necessarily causally related, but symbolically so; inner and outer events were isomorphic in that they had the same or similar quality. Jung concluded that the workings of archetypes could be discerned not only in subjective phenomena such as dreams and myths, but in objective phenomena as well. He was intrigued with the possibility that psyche merged with outer reality to form a unitary reality transcending the antithesis of subject and object.
The specifics of synchronistic events, he thought, could actually be the exterior coverings of archetypal energy projecting forth from consciousness onto the material plane. Archetypes, Jung concluded, were psychoid; that is, they shape matter as well as mind. When an archetype appeared externally in the form of an event, that event was synchronistic precisely because it represented a meaningful arrangement of inner psychic and outer facts. In this sense, events can be considered symbolic derivatives of consciousness.
Jung defined synchronicity as the simultaneous occurrence of a certain psychic state with one or more external events that appear as meaningful parallels to the momentary subjective state.2 The problem with this definition, however, is that it is confined more-or-less to single instances of synchronicity. What the theory actually implies is that any habitual psychic state or attitude will be reflected by an ongoing pattern of external events that meaningfully parallel the habitual subjective state. This, of course, is the core doctrine of astrology: every psychological factor—need, emotion, belief, attitude, and behavior—is symbolized by some part of the chart, which also symbolizes an event, person, place, or thing. The implication is that internal and external conditions are synchronistically related on a constant basis. Character is destiny. This idea is fundamental to the astrological world-view.
Jung’s notion of synchronicity is relevant to our theory of astrological motivation, for it reconciles the apparent contradiction between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. No one doubts that human beings are responsive to external stimuli. Likewise, there are certain fundamental human needs that impel behavior from within and that operate relatively independent of environmental conditions. But synchronicity suggests that both internal and external causes are mirrors of one another. More to the point, it implies that extrinsic motivation is really intrinsic motivation disguised as an event. This is because psyche is non-local in the sense that it includes its environmental relations; events are derivatives of consciousness and are purposeful to the extent that they motivate the individual to make whatever behavioral adjustments are necessary to assure need satisfaction.
All of this underscores that astrological archetypes are evident not only in the structure of the psyche, but also in our ongoing experiences with the material world. Physiological processes, political events, societal institutions, community affairs, and experiences of everyday life are thought to be manifestations of archetypal patterns in nature. It follows that the particular relation of the individual to these archetypal manifestations is a reflection of that individual’s consciousness—i.e., the degree to which he has integrated the relevant archetype(s). Again, this was the basis of Jung’s theory of synchronicity: psyche cannot be separated from the events to which it adheres.
The Case of Christopher Dorner
Sometime during the evening of February 3rd, 2013, former Los Angeles Police officer, Chris Dorner, assassinated 28-year old Monica Quan and her finance, Keith Lawrence. Monica was the daughter of Los Angeles police captain Randal Quan. Both were on Dorner’s 40-person hit list. All targeted individuals were in some way connected to Dorner’s failed court case against the LAPD. Vowing to wage “unconventional and asymmetric warfare” until the LAPD publically admitted he was fired in retaliation for reporting excessive force, Dorner killed two more officers before barricading himself in a remote cabin near Big Bear Mountain. Surrounded on all sides and refusing to surrender, he suicided with a pistol shot to the head.
What is most unusual about Dorner’s case is that according to all reports he was a perpetually cheerful, responsible, and intelligent individual with no history of mental illness prior to being fired. Hardworking and morally upstanding, Dorner came from an admired family, played football at Southern Utah University, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science, and served honorably in the U.S. Navy as a Lieutenant and reservist from 2002-2013, receiving numerous awards and decorations.
On the day following Quan’s murder, Dorner published a 20-page manifesto on Facebook, “To: America. Subject: Last resort,” which outlines the series of events that culminated in his decision to go nuclear.3 It is simultaneously a confession, declaration of war, and goodbye, “I will not be alive to see my name cleared,” writes Dorner, “That’s what this is about, my name.” In his manifesto, we learn about Dorner directly, including his actual motives for the shootings. There is no sensational court trial with shifty lawyers distorting the truth and prostituting themselves in deliverance of a defendant’s twisted, self-exonerating version of events. Instead we have a raw, brutally honest life story, the tragedy and pathology of his psyche laid bare.
The key event(s) that precipitated Dorner’s killing spree extended from 2007 through 2011. He joined the LAPD in 2005 and was completing his training when, on July 28 2007, he and his training officer, Teresa Evans, were called to subdue a mentally ill man who was causing a disturbance. According to a report filed by Dorner, Evans used excessive force in arresting the suspect, twice kicking him in the face while he was handcuffed and lying on the ground. The mentally ill man, Richard Gettler, received medical treatment for minor injuries to his face and later told his father that Evans had, in fact, kicked him. Gettler repeated this claim in a videotaped disposition. Despite Dorner’s report, the victim’s corroborating testimony, the father’s testimony, and Evan’s own history of previous infractions of a similar nature, no action was taken against her. Instead, after a brief investigation, Dorner’s employment was terminated on September 4, 2008 by the LAPD for allegedly making false statements against Evans.
Dorner appealed his termination in one court after another between 2009 and 2011. Each higher court, however, sided with the LAPD and upheld the lower court’s rulings, stating that Dorner was not credible in his allegations against Evans. This enraged Dorner as he screamed in disbelief at the end of the hearing, “But I told the truth! How could this (ruling) happen?!” It is worth noting that Dorner’s dismissal cost him not only his job, but also his security clearances and thus his Navy career as well. In his manifesto, an outraged Dorner asserted that his wrongful dismissal was his prime motivation for the shootings.
I have taken some time to outline these events in order to establish what motivated Dorner to act as he did. Recall that the larger question is how synchronicity and motivation are related. Before detailing the synchronistic nature of the events that precipitated Dorner’s decision to kill, it will be helpful to see how the pattern, both psychological and situational, is symbolized in Dorner’s birth chart.
Chris Dorner Birth Chart
Space prohibits a full analysis of all factors that may be contributory to Dorner’s story, so I will limit myself to a single configuration, which is, I suspect, the heart of the matter. Also, keep in mind that we do not yet have a birth time for Dorner, so no mention will be made of house positions.
Chris Dorner: June 4, 1979. New York, NY (Noon chart; time unknown)
The configuration in question is Dorner’s Sun conjunct Mercury in Gemini with both planets opposing Neptune in Sagittarius. While this configuration can manifest in a multiplicity of ways, I will direct my comments to the known circumstances of Dorner’s life and the choices he has actually made.
The Sun, of course, symbolizes the will and identity. As the ruler of Leo, its motivating needs are for self-esteem and creative self-expression. If all goes well, the will is employed in decisions—self-expression—that result in experiences of approbation, approval, and validation. To the extent these needs are met, the individual develops a solid sense of self and enduring self-esteem.
Mercury, as the ruler of Gemini and Virgo, is motivated by needs for learning and communication (Gemini), as well as competency and service (Virgo). Given that Mercury is in its own sign, this underscores the importance of communication in Dorner’s chart, as evidenced by his 20-page manifesto in which he details all the relevant facts leading up to his tragic final act.
Opposing all of this is Neptune, which has its own set of motivations. As ruler of Pisces, Neptune is obligated to fulfill needs for transcendence of ego, surrender to a higher power, and sacrifice for the greater good. To the extent individuals realize these spiritual ideals, they develop compassion for human suffering and a willingness to forgive both self and others for the inevitable flaws and failings of being human. Like all transpersonal planets, however, Neptune’s imperatives are a challenge to personal needs and wants. Especially difficult are hard aspects to Mercury and the Sun. This is underscored by the fact that these two planets rule signs that are either square (Gemini), opposed (Virgo), or quincunx (Leo) to Pisces.
Neptune’s penchant for fantasy, idealism and imagination can conflict with Mercury’s focus on empirical data. Accordingly, the way one wants things to be can distort one’s view of how things actually are. This gives rise to Mercury-Neptune’s reputation for telling less than the whole truth. In addition, Neptune requires seeing beyond mere facts or whether a job has been properly done; rather, its focus is on cultivating forbearance and forgiveness for situations that may be irreparable. Although Mercury is our problem solving function, Neptune reminds us that problems should not be confused with predicaments. A predicament can be defined as a difficult, unpleasant, or embarrassing situation from which there is no clear or easy way out, and often no way out at all.
When in hard aspect to the Sun, Neptune will eventually oblige the native to sacrifice egoic needs for triumph, being right, and winning accolades. To foster Piscean attributes of soul, this god of the oceanic depths is renown for experiences that defeat the personal will, dissolve attachments to a glorified self-image, and force one to endure loss, humiliation, and degradation. If the individual is able and willing to work through such experiences, the spiritual yield is considerable: resiliency, compassion, humility, capacity for forgiveness, and willingness to turn over to a higher power that which is beyond personal control. As befits watery Pisces, one is more able to flow with life’s ups and downs, victories and defeats, gains and losses, without loss of equanimity.
Conversely, if one is unwilling to accede to Neptune’s demands, defenses are erected and strategies employed that may forestall but can never prevent the collapse the ego so desperately wishes to avoid. Solar defenses entail an appropriation of Neptunian functions, but for the sake of the ego. Rather than accept personal limitations, the individual feels unlimited in his ability to control events and people; the self becomes inflated, grandiose, and mythically heroic in a deluded, self-aggrandizing way. All of Neptune’s primary concerns remain operative—e.g., the wish to relieve suffering, administer to victims, and identify with the whole of universal life—but without a concomitant reduction in personal self-importance. Instead, there is a rigid, compensatory exaggeration of self as a defense against the terror of ego annihilation.
This exemplifies a cardinal rule in any hard aspect: mutual influence and reciprocal resistance. In resisting Neptune, the Sun hypertrophies into a bloated, hyperbolic caricature of self-confidence (hubris, arrogance); yet, is still influenced by Neptune, as evidenced by the self’s intent to do something extraordinary that benefits the collective. The incongruity between self-aggrandizement and self-abnegation does not appear to be consciously recognized. To the extent that a functional blend between the two planets is lacking, Sun and Neptune are set off against one another, with a back and forth movement from one extreme to the other. Just as the Sun puffs up in reaction to Neptune, so Neptune warps into total victim status in reaction to the Sun. The individual alternately assumes these different identities without awareness of the inherent contradiction.
In Dorner’s manifesto, for example, he details ad nauseam how he was victimized by the LAPD. They lied, they’re racist, they ruined his life. “Evans…you destroyed my life and name because of your actions,” he writes. “I’ve lost a relationship with my mother and sister because of the LAPD. I’ve lost a relationship with close friends because of the LAPD. In essence, I’ve lost everything because the LAPD took my name and knew I was INNOCENT!!!” He goes on like this for 20 pages, repeating over and over how he was betrayed, slandered, and libeled. In Dorner’s mind, the significance of his victimization is so monumental that he implores journalists to investigate his entire life history to establish his good character.
It is not clear why relationships with friends and family were allegedly lost due to the LAPD. I suppose even a mother may grow tired of a son’s interminable self-pity and vindictive rage. One suspects that Dorner doth protest too much, for his passionate self-defense suggests he may be harboring a guilty conscience. However, rather than accept even a smidgen of responsibility for his difficulties with the LAPD, Dorner can only play the victim.
That he was not always innocent is evident in the following. While on patrol, Dorner overheard two fellow officers use the word ‘nigger’ in reference to the black community. Dorner admits he leapt over a passenger seat grabbed the neck of the offending officer and squeezed. “Don’t fucking say that,” he warned. A violent scuffle broke out and he subsequently initiated a formal complaint against them. Later, during the review of his case involving Evans, the department charged that he bullied his fellow officers as evidenced by the aforementioned incident. “How fucking dare you attempt to label me with such a nasty vile word,” he writes. He then lists all the places he’s lived and all the schools he’s attended so that journalists can investigate his good character and chronicle for the entire world to see that he’s not a bully. “I didn’t need the US Navy to instill Honor, Courage, and Commitment in me,” growls Dorner, “It’s in my DNA.”
It is important to understand that even while Dorner raged against his ‘wrongful dismissal’ by the LAPD, he could never actually grieve the loss or fully, consciously accept the experience. This illustrates the extent to which his solar identity and will are polarized to Neptune. He is momentarily seized by Neptune as victim, only to rebound back to his Sun and polarize to Neptune with a near hysterical vengeance. Unwilling to accept that there are certain types of experiences that a mere act of will cannot alter, e.g., being ‘right’ and ‘good’ does not exempt one from loss or tragedy, he rails against God like a crazed Job with violent intentions. In his manifesto he recalls how, as a child, he was disciplined for fighting when fellow students called him ‘nigger’ and other racial names. When he was told by the principal that good Christians turn the other cheek, Dorner stiffened in cold rage. “I’m not a fucking Christian…That day I made a life decision that I will not tolerate derogatory terms spoken to me.” His mother told him that sometimes bad things happen to good people. “I refuse to accept that,” writes Dorner.
These statements are significant, for again they illustrate his ongoing struggle against Neptune’s prime directive for spiritual surrender. If Neptune were integrated, he would be able to grieve, turn it over to God, and ultimately forgive his perpetrators after doing whatever he could legally to rectify the situation. Likewise on a solar level, he would soften and accept some responsibility for his predicament. It is noteworthy that only after his training officer, Teresa Evans, filed a report critical of his performance that Dorner then filed his report charging her with ‘excessive force’. One can easily imagine how the LAPD might conclude that Dorner’s report was both retaliatory and an attempt to discredit her appraisal of him. This, in fact, was their argument in the court case that Dorner brought against them.
Rather than see both sides of the situation, however, Dorner’s Sun blew up like a supernova and morphed into an avenging angel. In an attempt to push away Neptunian feelings of helplessness, guilt, and grief, the solar ego compensates by reacting in the opposite direction. Still influenced by Neptune, yet holding to an image of himself as faultless, Dorner transformed into a moral crusader with transcendent powers to avenge the weak, clear his name and singlehandedly change the LAPD’s culture of corruption. “You have awoken a sleeping giant,” he writes. “The culture of LAPD versus the community and honest/good officers needs to and will change. I am here to correct and calibrate your morale compasses to true north.”
Throughout his manifesto, he brags about his superior intelligence and marksmanship, his indifference to death, and his mastery of weaponry and warfare. He tells the LAPD exactly how he intends to kill them and why they cannot stop him. “You cannot prevail against an enemy combatant who has no fear of death,” he says. “You will now live the life of the prey.” Here we see how Neptunian fantasy infects the solar identity in a virulent form; suddenly this former cop-in-training is a comic book superhero posturing as an invincible agent of cosmic justice. “You are a high value target,” Dorner individually warns Caucasian, Black, Lesbian, Hispanic, and Asian officers, all of whom are accused of victimizing the innocent in one way or another. For those who were directly involved in his court case, he promises to stalk and kill their children. “I never had the opportunity to have a family of my own, I’m terminating yours. Quan, Anderson, Evans…look your wives/husbands and surviving children directly in the face and tell them the truth as to why your children are dead.”
One can glean from these statements the extent to which his Sun is polarized to Neptune while still being heavily influenced by it. He cannot accept being a victim; instead, he will fight heroically and sacrificially for all victims. Railing against people who resist gun laws, he tells Wayne LaPierre, President of the NRA, “you’re a vile and inhumane piece of shit….May all of your immediate and distant family die horrific deaths in front of you.” Apparently, Dorner wants to prevent crazed killers like Adam Lanza (of the Newtown massacre) from obtaining firearms; yet, he himself is a cold-blooded murderer and best reason for anyone who wishes to own a gun. Dorner does not see the contradiction. Whereas Neptune requires surrender to a higher power, he becomes the higher power and demands that all surrender to him. In a twisted, narcissistic perversion of authentic spirituality, he elects himself to be an agent of divine retribution. The mayhem will only stop, Dorner says, “when the department states the truth about my innocence, PUBLICLY!!!”
Synchronicity and Extrinsic Motivation
Earlier I stated that extrinsic motivation takes the form of an event that mirrors an internal attitude while also providing a catalyst for psycho-spiritual growth. Our question is how exactly this occurred in the case of Chris Dorner. The relevant events occurred during the period 2007-2011. Dorner reported Evans for using excessive force in August 2007 and ten months later was relieved of his duties for ‘making up’ that Evans had kicked the suspect. From 10/08 through 02/09, he attended a department hearing for decision of continued employment, which he lost. A series of three appeals followed, culminating in the California Court of Appeal affirming the lower court’s rulings on October 3, 2011. According to a report in the NY times, Dorner’s allegation that he was unjustly fired resonated among some LAPD employees “who have criticized the department’s disciplinary system, calling it capricious and retaliatory toward those who try to expose misconduct.”4
While it is worthwhile to consider the relevant transits and progressions that were occurring during this time, let us delay that analysis momentarily. I am more interested here in discerning the potential purpose of the aforementioned events—to wit, the specifics of his termination by the LAPD and the period surrounding it. Assuming that Dorner, in fact, was a victim of wrongful dismissal, what might be the significance of such an event from an archetypal perspective?
In an attempt to answer this question, let us first review our general theory behind synchronicity and extrinsic motivation. Individuals express archetypal forces through their thoughts, fantasies, and behaviors. It may be that such expressions reverberate within the collective consciousness—the divine ground—and influence Its response. In other words, the individual psyche acts back on the objective psyche from which it derives and with which it is indissolubly associated. Thus a feedback cycle is established: (1) the individual experiences an internal state that motivates an action; (2) the action has an effect upon the collective consciousness; and (3) that effect reverberates back upon the individual in the form of an event of similar quality, which informs his next response, and so the cycle continues. A feedback cycle has no clear beginning or end. An event can motivate from without just as a need can motivate from within. Motives, rooted in archetypes, have internal and external correlates.
An important element of synchronicity is what it implies about the purpose of an event. Rather than simply ask how something occurred (what caused it), Jung asked: what did it happen for? Every archetype, thought Jung, had its own energy and intention. Although there were no laws governing the specific form in which an archetype might appear, there were definite tendencies dependent upon the situation at hand.
Jung noted that synchronicities were most apparent when the individual was undergoing some sort of crisis, or change. Astrologically, we know that such changes are precipitated by specific transits and progressions that manifest within and without. The formation of psychic patterns within the uncon¬scious seems to be accompanied by physical patterns in the outer world. Synchroni¬cities reached their peak, thought Jung, when the individual was in a heightened state of awareness, such as occurred during periods of transformation: births, deaths, moves, marriage, divorce, intense creative work, or a change in career. Internal restructuring seems to produce and require external resonances; that is, synchronicities are outer circumstances that afford a vehicle and catalyst for interior transformations. In short, they motivate the individual to change in specific ways.
Traits, Transits, and Synchronicities
We can hypothesize that this is exactly what was occurring during the critical time of 06/08 to 01/09 when Dorner was relieved of duty and then fought to be reinstated. It was precisely during this six-month period that transiting Saturn conjuncted itself (Saturn return) and then squared his Sun/Mercury-Neptune opposition. A number of statements in his manifesto highlight the significance of this period. He twice mentions the date of 1/2/09 when his department hearing for continued employment went against him: “Since 6/26/08 when I was relieved of duty and 1/2/09 when I was terminated I have been afflicted with severe depression….I do not fear death as I died long ago on 1/2/09.”
Saturn’s linkage with frustration and depression has long been established, as the word ‘saturnine’ (gloomy and morose) clearly indicates. More importantly, Saturn’s square to his natal Sun/Mercury-Neptune opposition suggests this is a period in which Dorner will be obliged to do serious inner work on the aspect in question. One can imagine the ordeal of putting together his case, finding corroborative witnesses, and fighting through the fog of confusion, deceit, and denial in the LAPD’s case against him (transiting Saturn square Mercury-Neptune). In addition, he was fighting to restore his honor and clear his name against false charges that could permanently scar his reputation (Saturn square Sun-Neptune). Of course, none of this is related to the inner work that the transit requires, a point we will return shortly.
Our hypothesis is that these outer events not only reflected Dorner’s psyche; they provided an appropriate vehicle for the inner work that was required. Accepting that Dorner’s version is true, he was the apparent victim of a deception. First, Evans lied about kicking the suspect; then the department accused Dorner of making false statements in retaliation for Evan’s poor evaluation of his performance in the field. In other words, they claimed he was lying to protect his career. In turn, Dorner accused the LAPD of lying to protect their image as a law abiding public institution.
Regardless of who was lying to whom, the entire incident is certainly reflective of natal Sun/Mercury opposing Neptune. First, if Dorner is correct, the LAPD denied and distorted the facts of the matter, which reflects Mercury opposed Neptune. Moreover, they did it to save face, which is consistent with Sun opposed Neptune. One can well imagine the LAPD’s humiliation if it came out that one of their own kicked a mentally ill man in the face after he was handcuffed and lying on the ground. This is the second significant aspect of the ‘event’, namely the accusation of excessive force against a helpless victim. And finally, it was not merely that the LAPD failed to prosecute Evans, they turned on Dorner and terminated his employment.
I have already stated that these outer events reflect some aspect of Dorner’s psyche. Evidence for this is that the LAPD’s behavior is consistent with the meaning of a major configuration in Dorner’s chart. If we accept that Sun/Mercury opposed Neptune not only symbolizes a fate, i.e., an ongoing pattern of outer events, but also and more importantly a pattern of inner events—specifically, a mental and egoic pattern made up of attitudes, traits, and habits that constitute Dorner’s character—then the implication is clear: the outer situation reflects an inner one.
It is not difficult to see that Dorner’s behavior is consistent with that of the LAPD. Given that Dorner’s accusation against Evans occurred the day following her negative appraisal of him, it is certainly feasible that his report was, in part, motivated by revenge. Her criticisms were not only an affront to his ego; they put his career in jeopardy. Accordingly, he reacted in kind. That he is prone to vengeful behavior is well established by the murders he later committed in retaliation for his alleged ‘wrongful dismissal’. And since he might not have been entirely honest about his reasons for reporting Evans, this throws into some doubt the facts of the report itself. If the kick did occur, how intentional was it? Could it have been inadvertent, a relatively minor infraction that did not rise to the level of police brutality? All of this is to say that Dorner’s report may have skewed the facts in the service of his own self-interest.
Secondly, there is the issue of excessive force. This was the gist of Dorner’s charge against Evans, who, allegedly, overreacted when Gettler resisted arrest. But Dorner, too, has a history of excessive force. He reacted violently when children called him names, and he attacked a fellow officer for saying the word ‘nigger’ in reference to other blacks. Jumping over a car seat and grabbing the officer by the throat could certainly be construed as bully tactics, regardless of how justified Dorner was in being offended. This, of course, pales in comparison to his murderous rampage in retaliation for being fired. It is no small irony that Dorner resorted to excessive force to avenge his firing for reporting excessive force.
Thirdly, the LAPD’s retaliation against Dorner for reporting Evans’ misconduct is mirrored by Dorner’s own subsequent behavior. A scapegoat is someone who is forced to suffer and take the blame for other’s wrongdoing. When the LAPD targeted Dorner as a ‘bad cop’ who betrayed his own, they were transferring blame from Evans (and themselves) to him. Their reason for doing so was ostensibly to protect their image and ‘save face’. Such thin-skinned, morally bankrupt behavior was an attempt to prevent their humiliation, at Dorner’s expense. Likewise, however, when Dorner constructed his 40-person hit list, his intent was to inflict suffering upon innocent victims, including children, in retaliation for what a few officers had done. Moreover, his actions were a defense against the humiliation of being fired. As Dorner put it, “This was a necessary evil that had to be executed in order for me to obtain my NAME back.” In his mind, it was justifiable to destroy the lives of innocents merely to defend his honor. Note this is exactly what the LAPD did to him. What he demonized in them, he was guilty of himself at a whole other level of magnitude.
A surface reading of the events might lead one to conclude that Dorner’s behavior was merely a reaction to LAPD actions that caused him great pain. This is the popular rendition of the story circulating on the Internet: he was the victim of a grave injustice, and heroically fought to restore his honor and change the system! However, there are reasons to believe that Dorner’s actions were not merely the effect of causes that preceded and originated independently of his own consciousness; rather, it may be the other way around: the events of 06/08 to 01/09 were reflections not causes of Dorner’s psyche. First, his behavior was entirely consistent with his birth chart, which depicts his character structure a priori. Second, there is empirical evidence that deception, defensiveness, and vindictiveness were characteristic of Dorner before his employment was terminated. And third, he had free will. Regardless of whether he was a victim of wrongful dismissal, Dorner had options other than murder. That he chose revenge was an expression of his character, not merely of the events that befell him.
Dorner’s Missed Opportunity
It is not enough merely to point out correlations between Dorner’s character and the events he experienced. At best, this is blaming the victim. And I do not wish to trivialize the anguish a human being can feel when his reputation has been denigrated, his dreams shattered, and his character unjustly maligned. Yet, the true significance of these events is that they provided Dorner an opportunity to evolve beyond the level that was being mirrored to him by agents within the LAPD.
As Jung would do, we must ask: What did the event happen for? Where was it leading to? A teleological perspective holds that important life events occur for the sake of development toward a more optimal state of being—in effect, to fulfill one’s destiny. Difficulties are purposive in that they provide both a catalyst and a vehicle for growth toward a higher, more integrated version of oneself. Dorner already admitted that his wrongful dismissal was his primary motivation for the shootings. But surely this decision did not come easily. His final court appeal ended on October 3, 2011. More than a year passed before the shootings began on February 3, 2013. During this time, I suspect he struggled over what to do. His manifesto reveals he had many conversations with friends and family about the matter.
In systems theory, Dorner was at a ‘bifurcation point’ in the evolution of a system. A horoscope (psyche) is a system; that is, an assemblage of parts with relations between them. Bifurcation points occur in response to crises that the system cannot resolve at its current level of organization. Accordingly, the system is at a cross roads, and must choose between alternative courses of action. Growth occurs when the system is able to resolve the crisis by achieving a higher level integration of its parts, which, in turn, yields new, emergent properties—skills and abilities that did not previously exist. But growth is not a given, for living systems are dynamic, autonomous entities that have the freedom to choose.
In Dorner’s case, we must assume there was no fait accompli, no irresistible compulsion that forced him to murder. During the period in question, he was at a crossroads that presented a choice: the low road or the high road. To feel better about events that were clearly beyond his control, he could not continue to function at his current level of consciousness. In effect, his predicament—the deception and vindictiveness of his nemesis—not only mirrored traits within his own character, it provided him the opportunity to transcend the pattern by allowing himself to suffer fully the emotional consequences of such behavior. Regrettably, that is often the only way that certain kinds of learning can occur.
In our current feel-good culture that avoids pain at all costs (take a pill and call a lawyer), it may seem odd indeed to describe Dorner’s suffering as an opportunity for transcendence. Yet, that is Neptune’s higher expression, and Dorner was unmistakably in a Neptunian situation. Not only was transiting Saturn activating his Sun/Mercury opposition to Neptune, but the crushing loss of his naval and police career, as well as the manner in which it occurred (treachery, deceit), bear the unmistakable stamp of Neptune.
Recall that an astrological archetype is a motivating principle whether it occurs as an inner state or outer event. Dorner’s experience as a whole could have motivated him to rebalance his Sun/Mercury with Neptune. In part, this would mean strengthening the weakest link. His self-esteem was clearly linked to his identity as a strong, powerful man (military/law enforcement); thus, it was the opposite pole—humility, compassion, and surrender to a higher power—that was the greater challenge. The humiliating loss of his career must surely have plunged him into despair. It is precisely at such times that human beings fall to their knees and pray—for strength to bear the loss, for wisdom to understand it, and often for forgiveness. These are the times that test our faith and compel us to turn inward and draw upon our spiritual resources.
Like all planetary functions, Neptune signifies a capacity. We tend to think of this in purely positive terms, such as our capacity for idealism, imagination, charity, and so forth. But these capacities grow out of a deeper, less celebrated aptitude—an ability to submit, let go, and place our trust in the unknown source of our own consciousness, that invisible presence variously referred to as God, Tao, Brahman, the Absolute, and a thousand other names. When all has been lost and vaunted will has failed to turn the tide, we turn to Spirit as a source of solace and strength. Again, however, this is a capacity, which is stronger or weaker depending upon our relationship to Neptune. Dorner’s ordeal could be construed as an opportunity to strengthen his neptunian capacities. That, precisely, was its higher purpose.
There is an abundance of evidence that Dorner went kicking and screaming into that good neptunian night. In his manifesto, he admits “I’m not a fucking Christian,” and “though not a religious man, I always stuck to my own personal code of ethics…” Clearly, having a code of ethics was not enough. The solution to his predicament did not require a Jupiterian response (law, ethics, morality), for that was tried and failed. What was needed was a capacity for letting go and letting God, for ego dissolution, and for grieving his loss with unadulterated compassion for his own suffering.
That he was unwilling to do this is suggested by a treasured quote given to him by a friend. Dorner says he never forgot the quote: “’I never saw a wild thing feel sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever feeling sorry for itself.’ ~ D.H. Lawrence.” Perhaps he took this to mean that he should not feel sorry (have compassion) for himself; that instead he should bury his pain and stay strong. Research indicates, however, that repressing one’s pain merely causes it to persist at an unconscious level. Unable to be properly metabolized, it festers, spreads, and ultimately infects the entire psyche such that all one’s feelings and thoughts are poisoned by it. Such undigested pain may be the true genesis of the murderous hatred that eventually drives one to kill. How interesting that Dorner himself dropped dead in the frozen, wintry mountains of California, a wild thing killed by a self-administered bullet to the head. One suspects he did so in order to not ‘feel sorry’ for himself.
There is another factor worth considering. Recall that Dorner’s Sun and Mercury are in Gemini. The fact that Gemini is archetypally square Pisces and opposed Sagittarius signifies that it has difficulty with both these signs. Pisces is all about letting go, whereas Sagittarius is about abstract reasoning and the ability to arrive at a sound conclusion. If properly integrated with Gemini, these signs confer a capacity to examine the facts (Gemini), accept what cannot be changed (Pisces), and settle upon the proper philosophic attitude (Sagittarius). For example, the person might say to himself: “Sometimes bad things happen to good people. I will endeavor to forgive my adversaries and trust that everything happens for a reason, even if for the moment I cannot understand it.”
If not properly integrated, Gemini has a tendency to obsess over the facts, going round and round in circles without ever getting anywhere. In the vernacular, this is ‘being stuck’. A hint of this was evident in Dorner’s courtroom cry when the verdict went against him, “But I told the truth! How could this happen?!” Without an ability to let go and accept on faith that his experience is serving a purpose that may only be understood much later, Dorner is apt to keep repeating this Gemini mantra, “How could this happen…how could this happen…how could this happen…” like a broken record stuck on an unanswerable question that ultimately drives everyone away, and himself crazy.
This is not to say that Dorner was a victim of his birth chart. It simply underscores his failure to develop the requisite attitude and understanding that could have saved him. Astrologically, such an attitude is perfectly symbolized by Neptune in Sagittarius, the opposite and complementary pole to his Mercury/Sun in Gemini. When painful events occur that are beyond one’s control, the only thing that is within control is one’s attitude toward the events in question. Ideally, this means humble acceptance of God’s will coupled with a willingness to learn from the experience. But Dorner tried to elevate himself above his fate and do the impossible—force the LAPD to recant their charges—and failing that, to kill and kill again. Such vengeful hubris was bound to end in disaster—which literally means ‘against the stars’.
An unrealistic, exaggerated, or rigidly held sense of entitlement is a symptom of narcissistic personality disorder. We do not know much about Dorner’s background; however, no mention in existing documents is made of his father. If Dorner never knew his father or suffered an early loss of paternal love, which is not uncommon with Sun opposition Neptune, this might have contributed to his exaggerated sense of entitlement. As Fenichel writes, such individuals “because of early frustrations…arrogate to themselves the right to demand lifelong reimbursement from fate.”6 In other words, if a boy’s capacity to endure loss has been damaged by a traumatic experience at a young age, he may defend against the pain of future losses by demanding special treatment and exemptions.
Neptune in Sagittarius is the true antidote to Geminian obsessiveness and narcissistic revenge. For it confers faith in a just universe that surpasses human understanding, coupled with trust that, in the full expanse of time, all things work together for good. “Beloved, do not avenge yourself; leave that to God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay,’ sayeth the Lord.” This passage from Romans: 12:19, attributed to the apostle Paul, encourages those who have been wronged to place their trust in a moral order that transcends human law. For to do otherwise runs a great hazard of injuring both oneself and others by acting improperly under the influence of passion. To avenge oneself is to take justice out of the hands of God.
Summary and Conclusion
It is a cliché to say, “He shot himself in the foot,” meaning a person was needlessly self-destructive. In Dorner’s case, of course, the situation was more serious: he shot himself in the head, and not merely allegorically. His final suicide was a literal enactment of what needed to occur symbolically—an ego death. If Neptune opposes the Sun, that is what is required. To suffer willingly, to take it on the chin, to be humbled and even humiliated is precisely what the aspect demands before it can bestow its gifts. The alternative, which is what Dorner chose, is to appropriate Neptune in the service of the Sun and thereby become inflated and grandiose, a self without boundaries hell bent on a personal vendetta that places ego above the lives of innocent victims. Rather than ego death, there is only death.
I have tried to show that Neptunian situations provide the motivation to develop Neptunian capacities, not for the sake of the ego, but for ego transcendence. The synchronistic events that Dorner experienced can be seen as a logical consequence of his own character flaws. As such, they occurred precisely to motivate the development of attributes—resilience, compassion, humility— that would rebalance his out-of-balance (narcissistic) state. In other words, they occurred teleologically for the purpose of spiritual development.
At such times, the self is at a bifurcation point; one choice leads to evolution, the other to regression. To take pride, paradoxically, in one’s ability to humbly accept loss and defeat, reflects an integration of Sun and Neptune. For it reveals a functional balance between self-esteem (Sun) and self-abnegation (Neptune). Without such balance, the self is forever in danger of falling prey to the Scylla of inflation or the Charybdis of deflation; the intoxicating allure of narcissistic grandiosity, or catastrophic collapse into wretched anonymity; to be everything, or nothing.
Had Dorner made the wiser choice, there is no telling what he might have accomplished. Perhaps he would have discovered a new calling and dedicated his life to a noble cause. At a higher level of integration, this is what Sun-Neptune means: devotion to a transcendent ideal that serves the greater good. We see this in innumerable individuals that have hard aspects between Sun and Neptune, all of whom suffered great loss at one time or another, which they endured and in so doing became an inspiration to others—Jung’s descent into psychosis, Gandhi’s imprisonment for his resistance to British rule, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s affliction with polio, to name just a few.
It is certainly paradoxical that in accepting the limits of will-power, one is empowered; for the personal will is then aligned with the Universal Will and becomes the instrument of a higher power. Again, if not exceedingly careful, this can lead to inflation. The key lies in cultivation of the proper Neptunian attitude: non-resistance, non-attachment, accepting that all things pass, flowing with transitions, and trusting in the benevolent hand of the unknown. “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same, then you will be a man, my son.” This line from a Rudyard Kipling poem captures exactly the equanimity and flexibility of an integrated Sun-Neptune aspect.
Tragically we will never know what Dorner might have become had he been willing to forgive his enemies. That is perhaps the quintessential Sun-Neptune act: a choice (Sun) to let go of a grievance (Neptune). While the capacity for forgiveness is bolstered by empathy and compassion for human failings, it also requires the forbearance to withstand the shrill protestations of wounded pride. As Alexander Pope correctly observed some three hundred years ago, “To err is human, to forgive, divine.” Pope’s aphorism hints that the very act of forgiveness presupposes a strength that derives from a higher power. Perhaps this is why Gandhi, who also had Sun opposition Neptune, said that the weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.