Birth Chart of Pope John Paul II
And The Culture of Death
By Glenn Perry
According to the recently deceased pope, John Paul II, we live in a culture of death. Yet, the pope’s chart suggests that he might have suffered a fear of death induced by early traumatic losses of his mother, brother, and father. Certainly this could account for his preoccupation with the topic. Born as Karol Wojtyla on May 18, 1920, 5:30 pm in Wadowice Poland, his Moon was in Gemini in the 8th house, which, in turn, formed a T-Square to Uranus in Pisces in the 4th opposing Saturn in Virgo in the 10th. As the focal planet of the T-Square, the Moon is under tremendous pressure to reconcile the conflicting impulses of Saturn and Uranus. Significantly, it must do this in a context of death and transformation (8th house). This is the world in which John Paul II lived.
Birth Chart of Pope John Paul II
May 18, 1920, 5:30pm, Wadowice, Poland
His early home life was marked with trauma and tragedy. When he was 8, his mother died while giving birth to a stillborn child, and his only sibling, an older brother, died 3 years later of scarlet fever. In 1941, when he was 21, his father died of a heart attack. Only after his entire family was gone did Karol Wojtyla begin studying for the priesthood. He and his fellow students met at night in a secret seminary in Krakow during the Nazi occupation, risking arrest for their activities in the Catholic underground.
In the above we see an early prototypical manifestation of his T-Square. As a significator of mother and family, the Moon’s square to Saturn corresponds to the emotional deprivation he suffered from his mother’s death (Moon/mother in the 8th), and the square to Uranus signifies the emotional shock of losing his entire family. These conditions were analogously repeated by the political revolutions (Saturn-Uranus) of Nazism and then Communism that resulted in the loss of his homeland (Moon). Since squares are aspects of resistance, it’s likely that Wojtyla defended himself against these losses by barricading his feelings against the hard, cold realities of Saturn and the unpredictable, disruptive nature of Uranus.
It is noteworthy that the Moon disposits Pluto in Cancer in the 9th house, which underscores Wojtyla’s perception that his religious values (9th house) were under siege and thus driven into the Catholic underground (8th house). All these factors could lead to a hypertrophication of his Moon, i.e., an exaggerated, out-of-balance, compensatory development in reaction to perceived dangers. Confirmation of this would be evidence that Wojtyla was inordinately lunar—caring, protective, and sympathetic—in response to Saturnian or Uranian phenomena that were emotionally wounding and/or that entailed a threat of death.
In fact, Pope John Paul II’s papal rule was characterized by relentless opposition to ideologies and cultural trends that were at odds with traditional, i.e., family (Moon) values. For over thirty years, he stood solidly against much that the secular world deems politically necessary (Saturn) or socially progressive (Uranus), especially when these involved the topic of death. The pope crystallized the church’s opposition to birth control, in vitro fertilization, abortion, euthanasia, stem-cell research, and the death penalty, all of which he perceived as human interference in life and death processes that were solely the province of God. The Moon signifies caring, protecting, and belonging; accordingly, Pope John Paul II cared for his flock, protected them from dangerous ideologies, and made clear that to belong to the church required strict obedience to traditional Catholic tenets.
While the Moon is critically important to resolving the Saturn-Uranus opposition, the latter has it’s own meaning. With the opposition there is a tendency to flip-flop between polar extremes signified by the opposing planets. Saturn is apt to resist (and try to control) the Uranian penchant for progress, innovation, and reform, whereas Uranus will rebel against the Saturnian proclivity toward godless materialism and authoritarian control. The latter was clearly embodied in the politics of communism, toward which Pope John Paul II took a Uranian position. His early leadership in the underground resistance to the communist takeover of Poland is well documented. This activity involved his Moon as well, since Poland was his homeland. Although he decried communism, he railed against the excessive materialism of Western culture, too.
The title of one of his books, A Sign Of Contradiction, bears testimony to the contradictory (Saturn-Uranus) forces that the pontiff struggled to reconcile. A Sign of Contradiction was a ringing manifesto that clearly defined Pope John Paul’s view of the world as caught between the evils of Marxism and the seductions of capitalism. One could argue that both political theories are signified by the same opposition. Communism is a godless, top-heavy, rigid bureaucratic system that emphasizes Saturn, but also represents a radical utopian vision that collapses hierarchies and, at least originally, was designed to liberate the masses from class inequities—thus Uranian. Likewise, capitalism values money, material success, and profit above all else (Saturn), but is also based on an open market system that champions free enterprise, product innovation, entrepreneurial spirit, and economic progress, all of which are better symbolized by Uranus.
That Pope John Paul II was in conflict with both political systems is testimony to his Saturn-Uranus opposition. His major social encyclicals were sharply critical of communist systems for inhibiting individual freedom and development; yet, he also chastised capitalism for its “soulless consumerism” and neglect of social responsibilities. Both criticisms reflected a concern that Saturnian processes were pre-empting Uranian values (freedom and altruism). In an apparent effort to integrate both polarities, he argued for structural economic change that constituted a kind of Christian socialism—collective production and distribution of goods infused with humanitarian ideals of charity and compassion.
Pope John Paul II was elected to the papacy because he represented the middle ground between conservative (Saturn) and progressive (Uranus) factions of the church. Despite his political embrace of socialist doctrines (Uranus), however, most scholars agree that that the pope’s actual rule came down strongly on the side of conservatism (Saturn). He saw his role as maintaining doctrinal discipline within a church that he believed was dangerously fragmented by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) which sought to make it a less authoritarian institution. Yet, his efforts to impose greater religious orthodoxy produced friction within the flock. While he championed human rights and challenged dictators (Uranus opposed to Saturn), he was criticized for stifling debate within the church on issues like contraception, divorce, and the role of woman (Saturn opposed to Uranus). Again, the pope usually sided with Saturn at Uranus’ expense. Any radical new Uranian idea was regarded as a threat to the authority (Saturn) of the church and disruptive to the unity of the Catholic flock over which he saw himself as protector (Moon).
While a distinct minority of Catholics feel that Pope John Paul II’s traditionalist ideas and hard line on social issues put the church back on track, giving it Saturnian structure and clear limits, his royal edicts made keeping the faith more difficult for many so called cafeteria Catholics. These Catholics embrace some but not all of the church’s tenets. In fact, polls indicate that a clear majority of American Catholics reject the church’s position that couples cannot practice contraception, priests cannot marry, and woman cannot be ordained as priests. Despite lack of support for such positions, John Paul remained a stern disciplinarian intent on curbing what he saw as a dangerous leftward drift in Catholic theology and practice.
Pope John Paul II’s Vatican-down approach to church governance—centralized power, autocracy, and suppression of dissent—is testimony to Saturn’s efforts to restrain Uranian impulses. In effect, his teachings drove the liberal-conservative divide into polar extremes. As always with oppositions, however, there is a flip-flop from one side to the other. John Paul’s early efforts as cardinal in Poland were predominantly Uranian, i.e., radical defiance of pressure by the communist regime to impose atheism on the polish people. He protested any violation of church rights, or human rights in general, including the freedom of Catholic education and catechism. His rejection of totalitarian systems that crushed the individual and degraded people into objects was instinctive. Yet, for all his opposition to communism, his papal commitment to centralized, top-down, authoritative control was a virtual mimicry of a communist dictatorship.
Bishops were warned that dissent on any papal position was unacceptable, and clergy were threatened with expulsion from the church if they questioned the pope’s edicts. His book Splendor of Truth made it clear that clerics were bound to a ‘loyal assent.’ And he imposed the equivalent of ecclesiastical gag orders on exponents of Liberation Theology, a revolutionary Marxist-Christian hybrid championed by radical theologians in Latin America. Any priest or bishop sympathetic to reformist and liberal ideas was sternly reprimanded, marginalized, and left to languish in minor posts—like being exiled to theological Siberia. Accordingly, there was a persistent undercurrent of discontent with some aspects of the pope’s reign, which was often compared to a royal court presided over by a despotic king.
Liberal Catholics saw the Pope as the product of a conservative, patriarchal church, which accounted for his autocratic and negative pronouncements on such subjects as homosexuality, premarital sex, the ordination of women, and artificial birth control. From an astrological perspective, however, the pope’s fervent embrace of conservative Catholicism is testament to his identification with Saturn and projection of Uranus. For all his caring and personal compassion, John Paul ruled with an iron hand, crushing dissent and consistently resisting the forces of change. This was most apparent in his position on contraception. His edict that condoms should not be used under any circumstances provoked, in the age of AIDS, deep anger. The refusal to allow condoms even for saving lives was incomprehensible for many Catholics and essentially disqualified the church from having any role in the debate over AIDS.
Again, the solution to the pope’s T-Square fell largely upon his Moon Gemini in the 8th, which operated like a referee trying to regulate and control the mutual aggression of two heavyweight boxers—Saturn and Uranus respectively. As a maternal archetype, the Moon’s primary function is to care and protect. Wojtyla’s Moon did this in an 8th house context of crisis/death and in a Geminian style of sheer intellectualism. Gemini is about defining and clarifying facts. John Paul’s literary output was staggering, filling nearly 150 volumes. With his Moon square Saturn and Uranus, his writings were fueled by an emotional reaction against Saturnian and Uranian extremes. In fact, the pope’s goal was nothing less than the establishment of a completely Christian alternative to the atheistic-humanistic movements of the 20th century (Uranus), and the unbridled materialism of Western capitalism (Saturn), both of which he saw as a critical threat to the mother (Moon) church.
Perhaps his most famous literary work was his impassioned 1995 encyclical, Evangelium Vitae — “Gospel of Life” — that summoned the world’s 1 billion Roman Catholics to beware an encroaching “culture of death” that threatened human life. All Catholics were to “resist crimes which no human law can legitimize”—abortion, stem-cell research, capital punishment, and euthanasia. Such practices, he declared, were “always evil.” One might suspect, however, that the pope’s preoccupation with an alleged “culture of death” is actually a reflection of a vestigial fear left over from the traumatic losses of his childhood.
To the extent that the pope was traumatized by the premature death of his entire family, it is not difficult to understand why he might insulate himself from the pain of death through ironclad religious beliefs that assure safe passage to the hereafter—back to his heavenly father and mother, as it were—and to eternal life. It is interesting to note that, according to his biographers, the pope not only chose celibacy by entering the priesthood, he apparently never dated. Rather, he maintained a lifelong devotion to a dead mother—not his own mother, but the Catholic (Virgin) Mary, whom he perceived as the Mother of Christ, of God, and of the Church itself. On a 1996 cover of a Catholic periodical, Inside the Vatican, the pope was pictured praying before a full-cover image of Mary accompanied by the words, “The most Marian Pope in history has entrusted his pontificate—and his life—to the Virgin Mother of God.”
So obsessed with Mary was Wojtyla that he took as his Episcopal motto Totus Tuus, meaning “Totally Yours” to signify his devotion. No other Pope made so many pilgrimages to Marian sanctuaries throughout the world. No other Pope consecrated so many countries and continents to her care. After recovering from the assassination attempt upon his life, John Paul II claimed it was Mary who actually saved him from the assassin’s bullet.
All of this is interesting from an astrological point of view. With Cancer intercepted in the 9th, the Moon is co-ruler of the 9th; thus, mother and church are clearly related. Moon in the 8th suggests that mother and church become linked to themes of death and resurrection, especially as these relate to Saturnian-Uranian phenomena that threaten the Moon’s interests—e.g., state laws that allow for the termination of pregnancy, unsympathetic politicians that advocate capital punishment, or techno-societal changes such as stem-cell research and the “right to die” movement. For the pope, the solution to these “evils” is devotion to a maternal archetype—Mother Mary—that can resurrect the “dead”, i.e., give new life to non-believers and protect the faithful from the horrors of death. Life, in other words, is associated with faith in Mary, and death with lack of faith. No where is this more apparent than in Evangelium Vitae when he writes:
“Mary, like the Church of which she is the type, is a mother of all who are reborn to life. She is in fact the mother of the Life by which everyone lives, and when she brought it forth from herself she in some way brought to rebirth all those who were to live by that Life….O Mary, bright dawn of the new world, Mother of the living, to you do we entrust the cause of life: Look down, O Mother, upon the vast numbers of babies not allowed to be born, of the poor whose lives are made difficult, of men and women who are victims of brutal violence, of the elderly and the sick killed by indifference or out of misguided mercy.”
As mother of “the Life by which everyone lives,” Mary is equated with a life-giving regenerative force—Jesus/God—that can save the world from the ravages of death, suffering, and darkness. In effect, the pope is saying that Mary is the salvation for our culture of death. Through Mary all who are mired in evil and despair can be reborn into eternal life. Conversely, to go against life in any way is to go against Mary, Christ, God, and the Church. One might surmise, however, that the pope’s worship of Mother Mary, and his deep and pervasive concerns about death, was unconsciously motivated by an unmet longing for his true mother—a mother that could protect him from the harsh realities and cold uncertainties of life. Identification with the maternal archetype of the Virgin Mary was, I suspect, psychologically linked to a reunion with his own, long lost mother.
It is no small irony that the pope’s final days were spent against the dramatic backdrop of the court battle surrounding Terri Shiavo, the Florida woman kept alive by artificial support who spent the last 15 years of her life in a persistent vegetative state and who was, by court mandated decision, eventually allowed to die. Surely the pope would have disapproved, but as astrologers we must ask: Were the Pope’s moral convictions motivated entirely by faith, or was his faith motivated by an unconscious fear of death rooted in the unshakable trauma of losing his mother at age 8?
There is, perhaps, no final truth in these matters. As astrologers, it is enough that we are reminded of this simple fact: One’s most cherished beliefs—even those wielded by a pope that affect the lives of millions—may merely serve to cloak the mind from darker fears that one is loathe to face. In the end, the pope’s perceived “culture of death” might simply have been his own personal underworld, a hellish place he dared not go, sealed off by a wall of piety, and haunted by the ghosts of his mother, brother, and father.
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