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Stories that Feel Good are More Likely to be True

Stories that Feel Good
Are More Likely to be True
 

By Glenn Perry

This essay contains some ideas I wrote down after talking with a friend who was obsessing about his breakup with an ex-girlfriend, which was quite literally driving him crazy. He was caught in a negative loop: the more he thought about her, the worse he felt. He was not merely obsessing, he was in a death spiral of morbid rumination that virtually guaranteed he could only feel worse, and never better. How can one escape from such a quicksand of negative thinking? Insight into one’s birthchart can certainly help, but that’s just the beginning.

 

It is characteristic of human beings to engage in self-talk. That is, we talk to ourselves, constantly. Internal dialogues are an attempt to make sense out of experiences, which, in turn, can be categorized in terms of meaning attributions, starting in childhood. A meaning attribution is an attribution of meaning to an experience―in other words, an interpretation. These tacit interpretations, which are frequently outside of awareness, subsequently inform our conscious thoughts and feelings.

In effect, we make up stories, which invariably are consistent with our horoscope and capable of evolving toward more fulfilling versions over time. As this idea was outlined in a previous article, The Horoscope as Evolving Story, my intention here is to focus more thoroughly on the origin and evolution of these internal stories.

Personal narratives are constructed from deep, habitual, often unconscious beliefs, many of which formed in childhood during periods when the self was unavoidably egocentric and prone to assuming responsibility for every experience. Children tend to think, “Whatever happens to me, is because of me,” and “How I’m treated, is how I deserve to be treated.”

The younger the child, the more egocentric. And the more egocentric, the more the child is inclined to identify with momentary, limited experiences. If experience is good, the self is good; if it’s bad, the self is bad. When early experience is consistently bad (frustrating, depriving, hurtful), resultant ideas about the self become deeply ingrained, and the child is vulnerable to developing a fixed, negative identity that may be completely discrepant with his true talents and worth.

The Case of Aaron
This was the case with my aforementioned friend, whom I’ll call Aaron. As with all internal stories, the basic outline of Aaron’s personal narrative is symbolized by his astrological chart (see Figure 1), which not only depicts his character structure, but also the fate that flows from this structure.

Figure 1: Chart of Aaron

Like all of us, Aaron’s story had its roots in childhood. As the oldest of four children, he was tasked with taking care of his younger siblings while his parents worked. In family therapy literature, Aaron would be identified as “the parentified child”. Burdened with the responsibilities of parenthood, yet without the power or authority to enforce compliance, he was placed in a no-win, double-bind. If Aaron strong-armed his siblings, he incurred their wrath and retaliation; however, if he failed to control them, he suffered punishment from his parents for failure to fulfill his responsibilities.

Aaron’s dilemma was compounded by a mother who was inordinately concerned with the social status of her family. Accordingly, she was always “on him” for not measuring up to her standards of absolute perfection. She was especially concerned with the image he (and she) projected to the outside world. Aaron would later lament, “my mother didn’t love me.” He concluded that her constant criticism was proof of his deficiency on virtually every measure. In fact, however, he was conscientious, dutiful, well-behaved, an excellent student, star athlete in high school, won a scholarship to Yale, played quarterback on their football team, and was ultimately drafted by the NFL. You cannot get much more successful than that.

Yet, as an adult, Aaron was plagued with anxiety, depression, and anticipation of failure. He was so afraid of being oppressed, controlled, and judged that he found it extremely difficult to work for a company. Instead, he made his living independently as an all-around handy-man capable of fixing virtually any problem that might arise in homes―electrical, plumbing, carpentry, and so on.

Eventually, he found himself in a familiar double-bind. He and his girlfriend purchased and moved into an old, run-down four-story colonial home that Aaron dedicated himself to fixing up with the intention of selling for a profit. The dwelling was huge, but Aaron tackled his tasks with his usual energy and competence. Unfortunately, it was a costly and lengthy undertaking that slowly drained the finances of his girlfriend, who went off each day to work only to come home to new expenses and more problems. Not surprisingly, her anger and frustration was often directed at Aaron. For until the house was finished and sold, Aaron generated no income. This went on for years, during which the housing market crashed and the value of their property was substantially reduced.

This created severe anxiety and feelings of failure in Aaron, which spilled out in tense, guilt-saturated relations with his girlfriend. The double-bind was that if he continued his efforts to renovate the property, it further depleted his girlfriend’s finances with little prospect of success; yet, if he failed to measure up to her expectations, he jeopardized the relationship. At least that’s what he believed. In the end, they were forced to sell their home at a loss. Aaron’s arduous work over several years produced nothing. By the time they finally unloaded the house, their 7-year relationship had deteriorated beyond repair. She decided to end it and acquire a place of her own. Aaron was devastated. He had no money, no job, no home, and no girlfriend. Rejected and alone, he contemplated suicide.

The parallels in Aaron’s adult situation with those of his childhood are readily apparent. As a parentified child, he stayed home to manage and discipline his three younger siblings, a task that not only deprived him of his childhood, but also set him up for failure since he had neither the maturity nor the means to succeed at the task assigned him. As an adult, he again stayed home to complete tasks that required an almost superhuman effort―singlehandedly renovating a home whose problems were never-ending. And just as his mother came home each day to evaluate his work when he was a child, so his girlfriend likewise came home to review his progress. The pressure to perfect his home and make a success of his undertaking recapitulated the stress he experienced trying to live up to his mother’s unrelenting standards of perfection.

In the wake of the rejection by his girlfriend, Aaron reverted to his customary internal story of being an unworthy, unlovable child. His unconscious strategy to disconfirm this self-judgement was twofold: First, project his guilt by blaming his girlfriend’s decision to leave on her deficiencies―that is, her lack of caring and support. Second, win her back by demonstrating renewed dedication to her well-being. When this failed, he became even more mired in obsessive ruminations about why she left him. Aaron, as we might say in the vernacular, was stuck―stuck in a story that virtually guaranteed he would feel bad. Inside the narrow confines of his self-narrative, he was a miserable failure.

As astrologers, we should not be surprised when a present situation parallels a past one, for both are manifestations of the same chart configuration. In this case, the pattern is reflected in Aaron’s Moon conjunct Saturn in Virgo straddling his Ascendant. Moon rules mother, home and real estate; Saturn symbolizes responsibility and demands for perfection; Virgo is task oriented and problem focused; and the Ascendant pertains to an instinctive way of acting upon the world for the sake of survival and freedom. Taken together, the configuration suggests an inborn tendency to feel undeserving of love and life unless one successfully fulfills domestic responsibilities and completes tasks imposed by a harsh maternal figure.

Clearly, this constitutes a pattern that Aaron is repeating from childhood. Unless one believes that the cosmos has afflicted him with a condition of perpetual, irremediable suffering and that this condition is symbolized by the configuration, the question arises as to whether such repetitions serve any purpose. Is there a higher-level expression of Moon-Saturn Virgo conjunct Ascendant that might afford Aaron some chance at happiness? Is there a destiny at work here, and if so, how can he grow toward fulfillment of it?

In the remainder of this essay, we will explore this question not merely as it relates to Aaron, but in terms of general principles. The first of these is that repetition of experience serves the purpose of providing both incentive and opportunity for changing cognitive habits that produce unnecessary suffering. If Aaron is to break out of the spiral of negative thought in which he is mired, he will need to disconfirm old beliefs and replace them with a broader, more compassionate and forgiving understanding.

The Construction of Self Stories
Self-stories have emotional consequences, and those that create suffering tend to be rooted in narrow, pathogenic ideas based on earlier, more egocentric forms of thinking. Conversely, stories that feel good are broader, more comprehensive, and thus more likely to be true. We will examine why momentarily.

Consider that there are two parts to every experience, inner and outer. The outer dimension is our relationship to an actual event or situation. These can be specific, personal relationships with a sibling, spouse, or boss, or they can be relationships with more abstract entities such as government officials, corporations, society, men or women. The inner factor is comprised of meanings that are constructed to make sense of outer experiences. Once established, such meanings are then projected onto future experiences representative of that same entity.

If a boy grew up with a seductive mother who manipulated him emotionally, he might later think as an adult: “Woman are seductive and dishonest in their expression of affection; they use men for the money and status they gain from the relationship.” A woman who was molested as a child by her uncle, who initially was merely affectionate, might subsequently think, “Most men are selfish and exploitive and just want to use me for sex; they don’t really care about me. I’m just an object to them.” In other words, human beings are prone to generalizing from powerful, but limited, formative experiences.

Meaning attributions tend to be habitual and are applied to any analogous event. Mental habits are organized like a tree with deeper, more abstract and more encompassing beliefs constituting the roots of one’s theory of reality. Grounded in a relatively limited number of core convictions, these abstract, general postulates operate more or less unconsciously. They are simply “givens,” unquestioned assumptions and resultant attitudes. Extending upward and outward from these general postulates are more particular ideas that pertain to various departments of life—self-concepts about survivability, prosperity, intelligence, belonging, play, work, relationships, religion, politics, and career. In turn, each of these categories produce yet more specific thoughts that constitute our everyday thinking and perceptions.

Like buds on a single branch, everyday thoughts are but the visible features of a deeper, more complex generative process. The thoughts we think and the words we speak well up from a less conscious dimension, the deep structure or “narrative” that supports, shapes, and informs the contents of our awareness.  

The purpose of mental habits is to maintain the organization of the self. A person keeps thinking and doing the same thing because it is literally who they are—or, at least who they believe they are. However, the self-concept is just that: a concept constructed from multiple, intersecting meanings (beliefs) that are repeated over time and serve to organize identity and preserve one’s way of being in the world.

It is common to conflate events with the meaning one gives them. Many of us are only dimly aware that meanings are constructed and therefore distinct from events. Thoughts are not sharply differentiated from lived experience. Karen sees a man with extensive tattoos and thinks: “That guy is an ex-convict; stay away from him.” Perception and thought are fused, as if one is inexorably connected to the other. Yet, meaning-making is a freely chosen creative act. Failure to recognize this causes perception and meaning to merge. Mike’s boss appears to have a sour attitude and Mike concludes, “My boss has it in for me.” Mike might not question how much his conclusion is a projection—a creative act—rather than an objective fact.

The Origin of Internal Stories
Experience tends to be interpreted in ways consistent with the developmental stage in which it originated. It follows that a child cannot think about an experience at a level that exceeds his developmental range; thus, events are given meanings that reflect the developmental concerns and capacities of the existent stage. The earlier the experience, the more narrow the interpretation and the less conscious the thought process.

Cognitive psychology teaches that subjective experience is generated via a three-step process: perception, interpretation, feeling. Because perception precedes interpretation and interpretation generates feeling, it is easy to conclude that experience determines one’s emotional reactions. But this leaves out interpretation, which mediates between perceptions and feelings. For example, if Frank observes someone with a lot of money and thinks they are selfish, he may feel angry. Yet, from perception to state is mediated by a thought, “He is selfish.” The event does not cause Frank’s feeling; his interpretation of the event does, even if the interpretation is occurring at an unconscious level. Frank is participating in the creation of reality whether he knows it or not.

The question, “How does that make you feel?” wrongly implies that feelings are determined by events rather than by one’s interpretation of them. This can lead to futile efforts to change outer conditions in order to improve inner feelings. In fact, the inner state is mediated by thoughts one has about the external situation.

There is a crucial difference between influence and control. An individual can influence others, such as a co-worker’s behavior, but cannot control that behavior. We can, however, control our thoughts to a significant degree. Ironically, thoughts are the only things within one’s control. I can choose to judge my co-worker’s behavior as selfish and hostile―or, as motivated by fear and a wish to protect herself from pain. Each choice entails different meanings, feelings, and resultant responses. In fact, the two ways of viewing the same behavior are not mutually exclusive. The co-worker’s behavior may, in fact, be selfish and hostile, yet the latter interpretation incorporates the former in a more complex, compassionate, and forgiving framework of meaning.

Again, a meaning attribution is a kind of story that involves the self with an outer condition, such as politics. Story constructions generally operate outside of awareness. Someone with Saturn square Pluto might tacitly believe that all people in authority, especially government officials, are greedy power mongers conspiring to exploit the citizenry for personal gain. This belief may not be fully conscious; yet, it will determine what the person attends to and the meanings he infers from his observations.

Supported by selective attention, such a story has its initial consequences on an internal level. First, it will determine feelings, then attitudes, and then behavior—the television stations he watches, the friends he associates with, the sources of information he accesses and prefers (TV networks, radio talk shows, magazines, newspapers, books), and so on. Information sources tend to be chosen that buttress presuppositions. This is variously referred to as cherry picking, selective attention, or confirmatory bias. Most people live in a bubble of self-referential stories reinforced by deeply ingrained, perceptual habits.

Again, different people can access the same information and give it radically different meanings. Any single event can be interpreted on multiple levels, from narrow-shallow to broad-deep. While most of us recognize this in a general sense, opinions are often mistaken for self-evident truths. This is partly because recognition of fallibility and uncertainty is anxiety provoking; thus, it is avoided. It could be argued that enlightenment is largely a process of disillusionment, a crumbling away of untruth, a seeing through the facade of pretense and gradually eliminating half-truths and erroneous assumptions previously thought to be unequivocally true.

The Cone of Thought: Feelings Reflect Level of Thinking
Given that any particular event can be interpreted in multiple ways, different stories can be constructed from the same event. In politics, this is called “spin”. Meaning attributions constitute a spun “narrative” about events.

But here’s the main point: Happiness is directly proportional to a story’s level of truth. Hence, stories that feel bad are more likely to be false; whereas stories that feel good are more likely to be true. 

Why is this so? 

Imagine that a story about an experience can be constructed on an emotional scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being an interpretation that is utterly despairing, hopeless and frightening, and 10 being a story that evokes feelings of acceptance, flow, and happiness. Picture this scale as a cone of thought, narrow and shallow at the bottom, wide and deep at the top (see Figure 2). Stories at the bottom of the scale are comparatively narrow and egocentric, with distorted thinking and pathogenic assumptions. The story itself generates suffering and discord.

Conversely, stories closer to the top are comparatively broad-minded, data rich, and complex. Stories at higher levels incorporate information from below but go beyond to a more comprehensive understanding. There is a deep, insightful awareness accompanied by faith, wisdom, and compassion. Such stories are emotionally stabilizing and generate comparative serenity. People who operate on the basis of higher stories do not get knocked off their emotional center so easily; they are more resilient and capable of flowing with events rather than allowing events to determine how they feel.

Figure 2: The Cone of Thought

The important point is that higher levels of thought tend to be inclusive of lower levels, while adding something new. This is precisely what makes the story broader and deeper by comparison.  

An example would be a woman who thinks she wasn’t a good mother to her now adult son. She sees him struggling with social and professional issues and thinks, “I wasn’t a good enough mother…” This thought process has various ramifications that lead her down a rabbit hole of further negative thought, “I’m the cause of my son’s problems…he is suffering because of me…his life is restricted in fulfillment because of my flaws and failings…if he commits suicide, it will be my fault.”

To the extent that she identifies with this story, she will be consumed with guilt and spiral downwards. This might cause her to criticize her son, telling him what to do and becoming attached to whether he does it. She needs him to do better so she can feel better; she projects her guilt into him and exhorts him to be a better person so she can feel like a better mother. But this merely evokes guilt and resentment in the son who pushes back, so their relationship spins into a negative cycle of avoidance, conflict, and mutual recriminations.

The issue is not that the mother’s story is untrue, but that it’s partially true. A larger truth would be that every mother is imperfect; we all make mistakes. While mistakes inevitably impact children, this is unavoidable, part of the human condition. Children must go forward and make choices in accord with their own destiny, and parents are neither responsible for those choices nor the consequences that flow from them.

Moreover, children have an inborn character that is not merely the product of their environment even if their environment is synchronistic with (reflective of) their initial character. Causality is circular and reciprocal so that the child impacts the parent as much as vice versa. If one adds a karmic, spiritual perspective, it may even be that the larger intelligence of the cosmos orchestrated the birth precisely so mother and son could be challenged in specific ways to facilitate their mutual development.

The above is a more expanded framework of meaning. It acknowledges that life is a co-evolutionary process and that children always have the opportunity to learn, heal, and evolve via experiences that are self-generated. In the fullness of time, they may make useful contributions to society precisely because of the growth that results from their suffering.

Such a view exemplifies a more hopeful, positive, and forgiving understanding. It inevitably leads to better feelings because it is more true than the prior, limited and comparatively false narrative. In fact, the better feelings that result are the best proof of the story’s truth.

Spiritual Bypassing
Broader, more encompassing stories can be differentiated from attempts to merely deny pain. The latter is commonly referred to as “spiritual bypassing”, or what Robert Masters calls, “avoidance in holy drag.” Many people spout platitudes and employ spiritual solutions in a misguided attempt to transcend emotionally wrenching experiences―experiences that actually require immersion and integration. While spiritual practices have validity in proper measure in some situations, they can be misappropriated and overutilized to serve a defensive purpose.

Examples include excessive compassion and blind tolerance rather than acknowledge that certain behaviors have destructive consequences; exaggerated detachment and emotional numbing in response to threatening events; premature forgiveness rather than accepting, expressing, and working through appropriate anger; porous boundaries as a substitute for the more difficult task of saying “no” and asserting limits; dismissal of dysphoric feelings via stock phrases such as, “what bothers you about others is really about you,” “we create our own reality,” and “it’s all just an illusion.”

These defenses cloak one’s emotional truth in holy vestures that suggest an elevated, spiritual sensibility. But they are the equivalent of a metaphysical martini, erecting a hazy, artificial barrier to painful feelings, repressed needs, or disturbing facts. What might under other circumstances be considered a healthy attitude, can be overused and misapplied to bypass the stress of inner work. Compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, detachment, recognition of impermanence, withdrawal of projection, and acceptance of responsibility for self-created experience all have value in the larger scheme of things; yet, can also be perversely exaggerated in an attempt to avoid difficult challenges and uncomfortable truths.

Spiritual bypassing may appear similar to broader, more encompassing stories, but only superficially. A spiritual bypass is like a flowery tree with shallow roots: attractive for as long as it lasts, but easily blown over by a stiff wind in an emotional storm. Conversely, healthy stories incorporate suffering and use it as loam for the cultivation of integrity and authentic wisdom. True spirituality does not confer a bubble of immunity that insulates one from sorrow; rather, it enables us to go into our pain more deeply, to embrace and endure suffering in the faith that it will eventually lead to higher ground.

No One is Exempt from Suffering
As an inherent part of life, suffering may even have spiritual value. Experiences of defeat, loss, failure, rejection, and disappointment are inescapable. At higher levels of thought, however, these events do not generate feelings that are unbearable. Instead, one’s emotional level tends to return to a state of relative happiness more quickly, and eventually toward greater happiness as the learning that accompanies the experience is metabolized to facilitate yet more growth.

In other words, the depth, intensity, and duration of suffering can be alleviated by thoughts one has about the precipitating events. So, to prevent unnecessary and prolonged suffering one must reach for a higher thought. A higher (or better) thought is an interpretation of events that feels better than an interpretation that feels worse. Better thoughts are more empathic, compassionate, and forgiving. Their power derives from a more encompassing, balanced and complex view as opposed to one that is restricted, lopsided, or simplistic.

Better thoughts also tend to be more realistic in the sense of being in accord with reality. They do not jump to the transpersonal to avoid the personal, but rather incorporate both in a balanced whole. Higher thoughts tend to have greater validity than lower thoughts. They are higher in that they are more clarifying and comprehensive. They explain more than simpler thoughts, which tend to feel worse and explain less.

Again, there are occasions when perception, interpretation, and feeling are entirely in accord with reality and yet the person still suffers. If a woman loses a beloved spouse due to illness and concludes, “I will never see my husband in this life again and I will deeply miss him,” it would be reasonable to expect she will experience grief for a time. Jung defined neurosis as a failure to endure legitimate suffering. Stories that feel better do not exempt one from sorrows necessitated by mortality, impermanence, and human imperfection. Everyone at some point will experience hardship and loss. Everyone will make mistakes and suffer the consequences―drinking too much, making a rash decision, saying the wrong thing, enabling others and having it backfire―the list goes on. It is necessary to face these experiences honestly and courageously.

Even if one assesses the meaning of events in a way that minimizes unnecessary suffering, one still must undergo necessary suffering. But a person who engages in negative thinking will suffer more than required. Their made-up stories compound, deepen, and prolong their suffering, making it seem as if there’s no exit, no escape. One is doomed, trapped in unending despair. They may bitterly lament, “Why do bad things always happen to me!?”

Conversely, stories that feel good allow one to move up the emotional scale from worse to better. One ascends the emotional scale one thought at a time. Paradoxically, feeling better occurs by honoring legitimate suffering rather than resisting it. By situating inescapable sorrow in a more comprehensive, positive and uplifting framework, events that cause suffering are imbued with redemptive meaning. They become stepping stones across a creek of temporary misfortune rather than cement blocks tied to your feet at the bottom of a lake of chronic pain.

Revisiting Aaron 
For Aaron, willingness to endure legitimate suffering meant accepting that the best laid plans do not always yield desired results. Sometimes events occur for which one bears no responsibility; yet, they obstruct success. And this, in turn, may have additional consequences, such as loss of a relationship. The larger question is whether such a sequence of events serves a purpose.

First, Aaron would need to consider if there is some potential gain from his ordeal. For example, are circumstances requiring him to develop in a way that he might not otherwise? Perhaps working on his house further prepared him for a career in home renovation that would serve him well in the years ahead. In fact, this seems to have been the case. Seen retrospectively, it often becomes apparent that tests and trials at one stage of life are preparatory for opportunities yet to come.

Second, planets on the Ascendant are naturally associated with fresh starts and new beginnings. Aaron might contemplate that for his life to move forward, some things need to end. Saturn is especially prone to “clearing the decks” and downsizing so that a more economical, productive strategy can be employed. As much as he wanted his relationship to continue, it was important for him to trust and accept that it was not meant to be for reasons he would only later discover.

Third and most importantly, his distress should incentivize a fearless reflection on whether there is a lesson to be learned. Given the obvious parallels between his present and past relationships with maternal figures, Aaron might legitimately wonder if his house situation recapitulated his childhood experience and whether his girlfriend was a surrogate for his mother. As mentioned, repetition of childhood experience provides an incentive and opportunity for changing cognitive habits that produce unnecessary suffering.

His belief from childhood was that he was responsible for his sibling’s behavior despite not having the authority or power to control them. If one of them broke a lamp from roughhousing and his mother arrived home upset, Aaron assumed it was his fault. In his current situation, the situation was similar. Just as he could not force his siblings to behave responsibly in his parent’s absence, so he had no control over the housing market or the cost of problems arising unexpectedly in his home renovation project. If his girlfriend became upset in response to these events, her feelings might be legitimate, but that does not equate to it being his fault. Any blame or anger directed at him would be inappropriate. In other words, the similarity of his present situation to his childhood afforded him the opportunity review and revise his internal narrative and forgive himself for events over which he never had any control. In so doing, he not only can redo his past, he can liberate himself from unwarranted guilt and unnecessary suffering associated with present events.

In time, Aaron came to see that he craved his girlfriend’s love and support because he was trying to make up for a deficit left over from childhood. Yet, his strategy of trying too hard to please her―that is, work nonstop toward an unattainable goal of perfect control―merely resulted in exhaustion, at which point he became grumpy and dejected. His herculean efforts to prevent what he feared―criticism and rejection―actually brought it about, for co-habiting with someone who is perpetually stressed, guilt ridden, and irritable is not conducive to long term relationship stability. His girlfriend left him at least in part because he was unpleasant to live with. It was only by losing her that he came to see that his neediness was the manifestation of a childhood dependency on his mother’s love that had been chronically unfulfilled. Living on his own afforded him the opportunity to develop an internal self-love rather than remaining solely dependent on receiving emotional supplies from the outside.

This, in effect, would become the new narrative. His internal dialogue shifted from excessive worry and irrational self-blame to: “I work hard to provide a comfortable living space for myself and others. In the process, problems will inevitably arise that I could not have foreseen or prevented. Part of the joy of building and maintaining homes is my ability to adapt in the moment to what needs to be done, and to implement practical solutions. But some situations arise that have no solution; they are merely predicaments to be endured with patience and forbearance. Not everything is my fault or my responsibility. There are limits to what I or anyone can accomplish.”

 

Figure 3: Chart of Aaron

Note that Aaron’s new narrative reflects a higher-level expression of his Saturn-Moon conjunction in Virgo on the Ascendant. Such astrological configurations not only symbolize past adaptations to difficult circumstances, they also point the way to a higher, more comprehensive understanding. Whereas his old narrative reflected an innate tendency to feel undeserving of love and life unless he successfully fulfilled domestic responsibilities imposed by a cold, punitive maternal figure, his new narrative enabled him to see that his mother’s behavior reflected her fears, flaws and failings, not his goodness or lovability as a son. Rather than a relentless striving for perfection to justify his own existence, Aaron learned to appreciate his skills and talents as a worker, to enjoy the journey rather than the destination, to take joy in the fulfillment of duties without undue attachment to outcomes, and to deepen emotional connections with others via the services he provides.

Certainly, there is more we could say about Aaron’s chart―his Sun in Cancer, the Moon-Saturn square to Venus―but I do not wish to distract from the main thrust of this essay, which is about the importance of self-talk. In reflecting upon Aaron’s story, I am reminded of lines from the 1927 prose poem, Desiderata, by American writer Max Ehrmann. Desiderata was Erhmann’s letter to his son, but it could just as well signify a higher-level narrative that Aaron was learning to author for himself. It reflects an optimal blend of Saturnian and Lunar sensibilities.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore, be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. 

Summary & Conclusion 
Repetition of childhood experience provides an opportunity for gaining insight into the origin of pathogenic narratives, and for achieving liberation from the stranglehold they exert upon the psyche. New, more complex narratives can replace the previous story’s inherent limitations.

Stories that feel good are more likely to be true. Conversely, stories that feel bad tend to be comparatively false. At best, chronically painful stories constitute partial truths that operate within a restricted frame of meaning. Resultant negative feelings―guilt, shame, fear, hurt, sadness, resentment, anger―are inevitable by-products of the story’s incompleteness.

These false narratives constitute a shell in which the person is trapped, but with sufficient effort can break free. To be liberated from false narratives―that is, to feel better rather than worse―requires a more comprehensive view in which the prior story’s incompleteness can be seen objectively. This entails shifting to a less egoic perspective that elevates awareness from a comparatively shallow understanding to one that is broader and deeper.

* * * * *

A Meditation on Aries-Mars: Why Fortune Favors the Brave

A Meditation on Aries-Mars
Why Fortune Favors the Brave


By Glenn Perry

 

The god Ares/Mars

At the inception of this writing, it’s 7pm here on the east coast, 12 hours before the Vernal Equinox―or, zero degrees Aries, the start of Spring. Wanting to get a newsletter out as quickly as possible, I’ve decided to do it in true Aries style: rushed, bold, instinctive, raw and uncensored. Just do it, as the Nike ad line says. And given the time of year, what better topic to write about than Aries-Mars itself?

A good place to start is with an explanation of what I mean by Aries-Mars. As with any astrological archetype, it includes sign, planet, house and aspect. All of them are comprised of angles, the exception being “planet” whose movements create angles. In astrology, all meaning is an angle (phase) of a planetary cycle.

The angle that defines sign, house, and aspect for Aries-Mars is 0°. The vernal equinox on March 20th constitutes 0° Aries and occurs precisely where the earth’s equator intersects the plane of the Sun’s equator (ecliptic). In effect, it’s an Earth-Sun conjunction that marks the beginning of the zodiac. The phenomena of births, starts, and beginnings is key to understanding Aries.

If we consider the zodiac as symbolizing the cycle of nature as revealed in the four seasons, each of which has three phases―cardinal, fixed, and mutable―then a natural starting point would be the new cycle of life that commences each spring. The image of sprouts pushing up through the earth seeking sunlight is a perfect rendition of Aries. Life seizes the initiative, conquers new ground, pursues its own source. It is naturally aggressive.

Analogously, the Ascendant is where the spinning earth’s horizon intersects the ecliptic at any point during the earth’s 24-hour rotation. Intersection of horizon and ecliptic signifies the 1st degree of the 1st house for that horoscope. The Ascendant sign marks the birth moment and suggests how the individual will assert herself in life; that is, the native’s natural, instinctive way of pushing up and out into the world.

Likewise, when two orbiting planets align in the same zodiacal degree at the same time, we call that space/time point a conjunction, which fittingly is the start of their synodic cycle.1 A conjunction of two planets in a specific sign connotes how they will combine and assert their respective natures, and perhaps begin something together.

Again, the vernal equinox, Ascendant, and conjunction all constitute the same angle of 0°. Clearly, they not only share a kinship of angle, but of meaning―starts, new beginnings, and instinctive ways of asserting.

The 0° angle seems to have a kinship with Mars, whose nature is consistent with the meanings we ascribe to Aries, Ascendant, and conjunction. In ancient times, all phenomena associated with Mars were presumed to be an expression of the god itself. Mars was a universal principle in Nature. As such, the red planet is part of a larger cosmic order, no less a face of the Divine than any other planet or angle within the all-encompassing 360° cycle. 

Aries-Mars as Archetype

When speaking of an astrological archetype, I generally link sign and ruling planet together, for they are a matched pair. Sign is the need, and planet is the action. Every planetary action can be understood in the context of the need it serves, and every sign-need can be inferred from behavior characteristic of that sign. Signs are not merely needs, but also sets of traits naturally geared toward satisfying the underlying need. When a planet is in a sign, it activates the behavioral attributes of that sign.

Before examining Aries-Mars in greater depth, let me first define my terms and offer a few keywords. In observing Aries behavior, four interrelated needs can be inferred: Survival, freedom, action, and novelty. The primary need of Aries is survival, beingness, perpetuation of one’s own existence. Self-preservation is the first law of nature and the basis of all other needs. Essential to our capacity to be is the freedom to act in our own self-interest, for freedom is inextricably related to survival. If we are not free, survival is jeopardized. Synonymous with freedom are needs for autonomy and independence, threats to which are a common cause of fights and war.

Joining this short list is the need for action and movement―which is perhaps the most basic property of life. You know something is alive by its capacity to move itself. Even at a cellular level, life moves. To be is to do. Finally, Aries also symbolizes a need for novelty, or adventure; the instinct to do something simply because it has never been done before. Novelty is a natural extension of life’s prime directive to perpetuate itself by finding new areas in which it can begin, survive, and flourish.

As with every set of needs associated with a sign, Aries’ needs are interdependent and self-consistent. All Aries behavior can be understood in the context of these four primary drives: survival, freedom, action, and novelty.

As the active agent of Aries needs, Mars actions fall into four subsets: assert, initiate, fight, and encourage. To assert includes related actions to act, declare and affirm. Again, Aries-Mars rules beginnings, which entails initiating, starting, or giving birth to new endeavors. And as the warrior archetype, Mars’ actions include the impulse to fight, compete, and battle for dominance. Our final Mars action-category, to encourage, means to excite, strengthen, or embolden someone or something. 

While the primary state of Mars is simply beingness, its action keyword is “I do.”  Mars is action oriented. Go for it, just do it, these are key Martian sentiments. Mars quickens, emboldens, invigorates, vitalizes, and enlivens the expression of whatever planet it aspects. It encourages and galvanizes that planet into action.

For Mars, I especially like the verb “galvanize”, which means to stimulate or excite someone as if by an electrical current (think cattle prod). Near synonyms include spur, arouse, and incite. Mars Libra in the 6th might mean: “News of Jane’s wedding galvanized the women in the office to plan an engagement party.”

Planetary actions never occur in vacuum but in relation to whatever sign and house the planet occupies and toward whatever planet it aspects. If Mars is in Taurus, for example, it might assert in a slow, steady manner; act in the service of resisting change; start a new garden; and fight to retain holdings. Like a pit bull, Mars Taurus hangs tough: never say die, dig in your heals. If these actions fall in the 11th house, the person could be an environmental activist spurring a movement of like-minded others fighting for the cause of conservation.

Mars in aspect to another planet will be inclined to fight for or against what that planet symbolizes, contingent upon the angle. Trines and sextiles incline Mars to assert happily in the interest of the other planet. Mars in opening trine to Jupiter, for example, might initiate a social event to raise money for a philanthropic endeavor, such as promoting a high school sports team. With hard aspects, however, Mars will attack the planet even while being unconsciously influenced by it. The native may feel angry in response to the overly aggressive expression by someone else of whatever the other planet symbolizes. Later, as the aspect becomes more integrated, the individual can consciously utilize that planet’s energy in the service of Mars’ own objectives.

Imagine, for example, Mars Taurus in the 6th square Pluto Leo in the 9th. The individual may work (6th) as a landscape (Taurus) engineer (Mars). Frustrated by unjust ecology regulations imposed by the EPA (Pluto in the 9th), he accuses the EPA of corruption and complains that their regulations (closing square) are too extreme and that they restrict his freedom to excavate lands and transform grounds into healthier, more creative settings. As integration of the square occurs over time, however, he may become more proactive and advocate for laws that do not criminalize natural rights or obstruct the freedom of property-owners to renovate, preserve, and enhance the value of lands they legitimately own. Here, Mars is using Pluto in the 9th to greater advantage.

Astrological archetypes are embodied in characters that are interrelated and thus self-consistent in meaning. For Aries-Mars, these include the warrior, competitor, pioneer, adventurer, explorer, and noble savage. Aries-Mars fights for freedom and the right to exist (warrior), competes for survival and available goods (competitor), pursues adventure and novelty for its own sake (adventurer, pioneer), and embodies a childlike naivete and simplicity of spirit (noble savage).

With Sun Aries trine Mars in Leo, Thomas Jefferson was one of the founders of the United States. The Mars’ verb to found means to establish and originate an institution, organization or (in this case) a country. Consistent with Aries-Mars, Jefferson’s pioneering action of founding America also required a willingness to fight for our nascent country’s freedom. Jefferson immortalized Aries-Mars in his Declaration of Independence, which in effect was a declaration of war against England that launched the birth of a new nation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Aries-Mars association with war warrants further comment. Generally, anger is what we feel when Mars is in its fighting mode. Much has been written on this topic, going back at least to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics in the 4th century B.C. Under certain conditions and expressed properly, Aristotle regarded anger as a virtue, the absence of which rendered the individual timid, cowardly, and morally deficient. Conversely, those who expressed anger to excess were wrathful and equally blameworthy. “Anyone can become angry, that’s easy,” said Aristotle. “But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way; that is not easy.”2

Aries as Developmental Stage

Years ago when I lived in California, I had a Sun-Aries friend named Arden who was a psychotherapist. Her name suitably hinted at a core Aries trait―ardent (fervent, enthusiastic). She certainly was that. I’ll never forget her blazing eyes and sparkling smile. Arden was so alive. On the wall of her office was a poster of a cracked egg out of which was emerging a newly hatched baby chick. Below were the words, “Go forth and conquer!” Arden’s poster epitomized not merely her personality, but Aries as a maturational phase of life.

Like every zodiacal sign, Aries constitutes a developmental stage during which its needs and traits are predominant. I discuss this more fully in Aries as the Sensorimotor Stage of Development. Suffice to say that Aries constitutes the first stage of life, or birth to age two (a two-year period), during which the child’s perspective in time-space is relatively limited to the here and now. Babies have little sense of before or later, nor of any place but their current surrounds. Experience is confined to the eternal present. The emotional corollary to this time-space perspective is joy―or, rage when wants are frustrated. Infants are typically happy but quick to anger precisely because they have no sense of later. If only the now exists, then every impulse must be immediately satisfied since there is no other time but the present.

If babies could suddenly speak,
Of what they so inordinately seek
they would pound their fist and shriek,
“If not now, when?!”

It could be argued that happiness is a natural, inborn Aries state as reflected in the faces of ebullient infants. In a poem called “Infant Joy,” William Blake writes:

 

“I have name. I am but two days old.”
What shall I call thee?
“I happy am. Joy is my name.”

 

To be enthusiastic about life may simply be life’s feeling for itself. The very word “enthusiasm” derives from the Ancient Greek enthousiasmós, which consists of the root words “theos” (god) and “en” (in); thus, enthusiasm literally means “God within.” For the Greeks to be enthusiastic was to be inspired by, or more precisely, possessed by the gods.

That happiness is the natural state of life is an intriguing idea with profound implications. Indian sage Poonjaji asserts that the potential for happiness is always present but can only be attained by disidentifying with the ephemeral contents of consciousness; in other words, neither worrying about the past nor stressing over the future. Happiness is the underlying constant, whereas the causes of unhappiness come and go. If a person identifies with what comes and goes―attachments, possessions, things, jobs, or relationships―then unhappiness is sure to follow, for no experience and no object is permanent. The only experience that is truly permanent is the observing Subject; that is, one’s subjective experience of witnessing the contents of consciousness as they arise and pass away, moment to moment. By identifying with what is permanent―the observing Self―the seeker is happiness itself, a state of enlightenment indistinguishable from God.

Given Poonjaji’s teaching that happiness is being in the now, it is fitting he has Sun conjunct Mars with both planets squaring Uranus. Another new age guru, Baba Ram Dass, has Sun conjunct Uranus in Aries. That being in the now is consistent with the psychology of Aries-Mars is underscored by the title of Ram Dass’s classic 1971 book, Be Here Now. Yet another spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, wrote a best-selling guide to spiritual enlightenment titled The Power of Now (1997). Tolle has Sun Aquarius tightly opposing Mars Leo.

Tolle claims he was depressed for much of his life until he underwent, at age 29, an “inner transformation”. Significantly, this occurred when transiting Saturn conjuncted his Mars and opposed his Sun, thus activating his natal Sun-Mars opposition. Recalling this experience, he confesses:

I couldn’t live with myself any longer. And in this [state] a question arose without an answer: who is the ‘I’ that cannot live with the self? What is the self? I felt drawn into a void! I didn’t know at the time that what really happened was the mind-made self, with its heaviness, its problems, that lives between the unsatisfying past and the fearful future, collapsed. It dissolved. The next morning, I woke up and everything was so peaceful. The peace was there because there was no self. Just a sense of presence or “beingness,” just observing and watching.3

Eckhart Tolle: Feb 16, 1948, Dortmond, Germany. Time Unknown

Eckhart went on to write The Power of Now and become, according to the New York Times, “the most popular spiritual author in the Unites States.”4

It is certainly noteworthy that Tolle, Ram Dass, and Poonjaji all have a strong Aries-Mars connection to their Sun, which, in turn, is linked to the archetype of Aquarius-Uranus. Poonjaji has Sun conjunct Mars and square Uranus; Ram Dass, Sun conjunct Uranus in Aries; and Tolle, Sun in Aquarius opposed Mars in Leo. Each seems to exemplify and remind us that enlightenment is a state of happiness, and that happiness is being in the now.

Sports and Competition

Sports best exemplifies the joy of being in the moment. While team sports are mostly a Leo phenomenon, every sport has an Aries component if only because of its raw action, competition, and immediacy of focus. If a competitor is going to win, he or she cannot be thinking of before or later, yesterday or tomorrow. The present is all that matters. And once having won, joy typically erupts.

It’s interesting to note that many of the same Aries-Mars words that describe war equally apply to sports. Examples are so numerous it could make for its own article. If a team wins by a narrow margin, “they barely survived.” But if the team loses badly, “they got killed…it was a slaughter.” And if an athlete “beats” his opponent, it could mean that he won the match or that he assaulted the other player. Hopefully not the latter, though in boxing it means both!

At the time of this writing, we’re in “March Madness” when top college basketball teams vie for the national championship. In Connecticut where I live, UConn Women’s Basketball is legendary. Over the past twenty years they’ve dominated the sport, winning four straight national titles and twelve overall since 1995. That’s a national title on average every other year for twenty years. During this twenty-year run, UConn had 6 undefeated seasons, whereas all other teams combined total 3. UConn’s current win streak is 111 straight games, the most ever in basketball for men or women.

Connecticut’s Women’s Basketball team in 2017 playoffs.

 

Why are they so dominant? Most everyone agrees it’s their coach, Gina Auriemma, a squarely built, feisty Italian-born Sun Aries pug who consistently produces teams that embody Aries-Mars characteristics to a degree other teams simply cannot match. Inspired by Gino, UConn woman play with unbridled joy and aggression―fiercely competitive, stifling pressure defense, relentless fast break offense, perpetual motion in perfect harmony. And like the Terminator, they never, ever stop, even when fifty points ahead.  

    Gino Auriemma

A consensus is building that Auriemma may be the greatest coach of all time in any sport. In addition to Sun and Venus in Aries, his Mars is in Sagittarius, the sign of coaching, and forms a grand fire trine with Pluto Leo and Venus Aries while opposing its own dispositor―Jupiter in Gemini. This configuration is reflected in his teams. One Aries-Mars trait especially marks Gino’s girls: they’re always in the moment. Auriemma pushes the point endlessly. Play every game like it’s your last. Don’t get ahead of yourselves. Treat every team, every moment the same: Go for it. There’s only the now. Past victories don’t matter. You’re only as good as your last win.

Auriemma is the ultimate happy warrior renowned for his impish smile and sharp sense of humor. He doesn’t worry that he’s running up the score or whether other coaches resent UConn’s dominance. Gino has one direction―forward; one speed―fast; and one objective―win. Everything else fades into the background, trivia of little or no consequence.

Gino Auriemma, March 23, 1954, Montella, Italy. Time Unknown

Compared to UConn’s perfectly orchestrated ballet of war, other teams look like they’re in slow motion. They seem lazy, sloppy, lacking those essential Aries traits that Gino’s girls have in abundance: fire and competitive zeal. While no streak lasts forever, it is remarkable that one man’s Aries-Mars energy can spread itself over dozens of teams and impact countless lives. UConn women’s basketball is Gino; his personality is indelibly stamped on every team he coaches.

Just Do It

The Nike ad line “Just do it” epitomizes the Aries-Mars attitude, the hallmark of which is courage. Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “Courage is fear that does not control you.” Likewise, GK Chesterton asserted that courage is a paradox because it means a desire to live with a readiness to die.

A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide and will not escape. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it: he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine. (p. 91).5

Courage is required not only to sustain life, but for new beginnings of every variety, whether to start a business, initiate a proposal, or simply get married. We have all heard the maxim, “Fortune favors the brave”, which suggests the fates―the gods―conspire to reinforce acts of courage. German writer-statesman, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, thought as much: “Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid,” he said. “Whatever you can do, or dream you can – begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”

While attributed to Goethe, this quote actually has its origins in the Old Testament. The Lord continually exhorts his prophet, Joshua, to “be strong and courageous” in leading the Israelites to the promised land. God promises that if Joshua is sufficiently bold, then He will lend a hand; God will meet Joshua half-way.

It was the Roman poet Virgil who first penned the immortal words “Audaces fortuna iuvat” (luck helps those who are brave), although we must assume this sentiment was widely held among the Greeks long before Virgil wrote it in his masterpiece, the Aeneid, between 29 and 19 BC.6 

In Greek and Roman mythology, Fortuna (or Tyche) was the goddess of fortune and personification of luck, both good and bad. It is of no small significance that Fortuna’s favor was closely tied to virtus, a virtue that connotes valor, boldness, manliness, courage, and strength of character―all obvious Aries traits. As a goddess, Fortuna made clear that women are not exempt from the requirement of virtus. The Greeks believed that citizens who lacked virtus, male or female, invited ill-fortune on themselves.

Fortune favors the brave.

Aries as Angle, a Face of God

I have often reflected on whether Aries-Mars should be considered a divine value. By “divine value” I mean a human capacity favored by God (or the gods) on a par with more obviously spiritual sign-planet archetypes such as Sagittarius-Jupiter and Pisces-Neptune. From an astrological perspective, the entire cosmos is the visible body of God; or, as Manly Hall put it, “astrology is a religion inasmuch as it reveals the anatomy and psychology of God.”7 Hall would argue that God is the summary product and source of all astrological variables, including Aries-Mars.

In ancient astrology, an aspect between two planets meant that each planet sees only that “face” (side, aspect) of the other, not the planet as a whole. Likewise, every angle that comprises the zodiac is but one face of the zodiac―that is, a face of God. These various faces of the One were commonly regarded as gods themselves, ancillary deities, each playing a subordinate role in the service of a divine whole. As the 0° angle, Aries is singularly important, for it is the first face of God, the beginning of our knowledge of the Absolute. Like a divine spark, it sets in motion the process of evolution that the zodiac symbolizes. If life grows, develops, and leads to the gradual return of all self-actualized beings to source consciousness (enlightenment), then life itself―Aries―is primary, for without it nothing else can happen. Every other sign, or angle, derives its meaning from its relation to Aries.

Reflecting on the Aries imperative to survive, I am reminded of a scene from the 1992 film, The Last of the Mohicans, starring Daniel Day Lewis as “Hawkeye” and his love interest “Cora” played by the luminous Madeline Stowe. A small party including Hawkeye and Cora are hiding under a waterfall as the bloodthirsty Huron warriors are closing in. Hawkeye knows he will be killed if the Hurons find him, and if dead he’ll be unable to rescue Cora. She is determined to fight but Hawkeye turns to her and shouts:

No! You stay alive! If they don’t kill you, they’ll take you north up to the Huron lands. Submit, do you hear? You’re strong! You survive! You stay alive, no matter what occurs! I will find you! No matter how long it takes, no matter how far. I will find you!

A final embrace, and Hawkeye hurls himself through the waterfall and plummets to the icy waters below. Within days, he tracks down Cora as the film races to its climax.

Hawkeye and Cora

 

What makes the scene so powerful is the sheer emotional intensity of Hawkeye admonishing Cora to stay alive. It is simultaneously a moment of transcendent love and infectious courage. Stay alive! For otherwise there is no future, no progeny, no evolution back to source. This is the divine imperative, the first law of nature, and why we intuitively know suicide is wrong, that any pointless death is wrong. Survive. Stay alive. Fortune favors the brave.

If survival is the first if not prime directive, then perhaps God does require the full development and actualization of Aries-Mars capacities as a condition of favor. Aries is the elan vital, the spark of life. It bestows a willingness to assert for what we want, to act in our own self-interest, to draw a red line in the sand and hold it, compete for dominance, fight for survival, kill if necessary (just war), and place personal preferences on a par with those we love. In short, the Divine includes within Itself the principle not merely of births and beginnings, but of aggression, war and violence, too.

This should not imply that Aries-Mars is favored solely for itself, but that it is an essential component of a balanced, integrated psyche. A fully individuated, self-actualized person utilizes Aries-Mars in the service of every other psychological capacity symbolized by the zodiac: to secure prosperity, to speak candidly, to protect the young, defend one’s honor, work arduously, assure fairness, expose and eliminate corruption, fight for justice, risk failure in the pursuit of success, initiate change for the greater good, and, finally, to have the courage to surrender to God’s will and accept what cannot be changed. Without Aries-Mars to galvanize into action and strengthen our overall psychic economy, other capacities are proportionately weakened, impotent, or stillborn.

No Guilt, No Regrets

I was recently watching a Kevin Costner flick, 3 Days to Kill, when I thought to myself, “Why am I enjoying this?” It’s about a CIA agent estranged from his wife and daughter because he’s constantly being sent out to kill bad guys. It occurred to me that such films are just updated versions of the Paleolithic hunter who kills to feed his family. For untold thousands of years, that’s what men did: bash, spear, and shoot other animals, then bring them home to the wife and kids to eat. Everybody’s happy. Now we can’t do that anymore. Our animals are bashed, speared, and shot by corporations called Safeway and Food Lion. We’re deprived of the hunt, so we watch hunters in movies with names like Rambo, James Bond, and Ash Carter. Zombie TV shows like The Walking Dead allow us to collectively channel our desire to kill. And since zombies are technically already dead, we don’t have to feel guilty about it. We can just kill them, endlessly.

Aries-Mars is the part of us that will do whatever it takes to assure the continuance of life; well, at least our life, and those we love. Paradoxically this means we must be willing to take life―whether of animal, fish, bird, plant or zombie―to sustain life. That’s Mars’ prime directive, and it does not suffer any guilt about it.

Again, this contrasts markedly with traditional spiritual archetypes like Pisces-Neptune wherein empathy, compassion, and self-sacrifice are the norm. When Pisces’ perceives suffering, it evokes existential guilt and the impulse to rescue. “I am my brother’s keeper,” say Pisces. “We’re all in this together.” This is not the part of us that will slash a deer’s throat then cook it over an open fire and eat it on the spot.

The apparent conflict between love as the basis of the Christian religion and the callousness of nature has long been a source of debate. In the 19th century, Darwin’s theory of evolution asserted that survival of the fittest is the first law of nature, whereas theologians hold that love is Creation’s final law. Alfred Lord Tennyson’s In Memoriam A. H. H. from 1850 captures the conflict:

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed

If there’s one thing astrology makes clear, it’s that favoring one archetype over the other is folly. For all are interdependent and required for a balanced whole, even if the zodiac also shows that later signs transcend but include those that come before. The point is, steps cannot be skipped. As the last sign, Pisces-Neptune is infinitely forgiving; yet, as the first sign, Aries-Mars abhors cowardice and the pretense of helplessness. Man up. Pull your own weight. Compete. That this attitude is consistent with, and indispensable to, a grounded spiritual sensibility is reflected in a poem by John Ciardi titled “In Place of a Curse”.

At the next vacancy for God, if I am elected,
I shall forgive last the delicately wounded
who, having been slugged no harder than anyone else,
never got up again, neither to fight back,
nor to finger their jaws in painful admiration.

They who are wholly broken, and they in whom
mercy is understanding, I shall embrace at once
and lead to pillows in heaven. But they who are
the meek by trade, baiting the best of their betters
with extortions of a mock helplessness,
I shall take last to love, and never wholly.

Let them all into Heaven―I abolish Hell―
but let it be read over them as they enter:
“Beware the calculations of the meek, who gambled
nothing, gave nothing, and could never receive enough.”

This same attitude is epitomized in Gino Auriemma’s approach to coaching. There’s a video of Auriemma on YouTube with 39 million views. He’s answering a question that references the enthusiasm on the UConn bench after the Huskies make a basket. Mind you, these are the girls who are not playing. Auriemma explains that he and his coaching staff put a huge premium on body language and attitude. If a player is feeling sorry for herself on the court because she’s not playing well, she will be benched. If a player is already on the bench and sulking because she’s not playing, she will stay on the bench. “If your body language is bad,” says Auriemma, “you will never get in the game. Ever. I don’t care how good you are.” He continues:

I’d rather lose than watch kids play the way some kids play. I’d rather lose. And they’re allowed to get away with just whatever and they’re always thinking about themselves. Me, me, me, me. I didn’t score, so why should I be happy? I’m not getting enough minutes, so why should I be happy? That’s the world we live in today. When I look at my team, they know this. When I watch game film, I’m checking what’s going on on the bench. If somebody is asleep over there, if somebody doesn’t care, if somebody’s not engaged in the game, they will never get in the game. Ever.8

Note how this contrasts with Piscean forgiveness, compassion for victims, and the impulse to relieve suffering. Aries-Mars says, “Shake it off, stay strong, get back in the game!” Auriemma is so insistent that his players maintain a positive competitive attitude that to display otherwise virtually assures you will not play, ever. I have to wonder, maybe in part that’s God’s mind-set, too.

Mohatmas Gandhi, India’s spiritual leader and perhaps the greatest exponent of non-violence the world has ever known, counseled that “where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence.”9 He went on to explain that he would rather have India resort to arms to defend her honor than cowardly submit and remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor.

Aries-Mars Psychopathy

My treatise would be incomplete without mention of Aries-Mars’ dark side. First, it should be known that every sign-planet system correlates to a specific personality disorder that reflects an excess of that archetype. For Aries-Mars, this can show up as too much Aries-Mars in a chart or, more typically, an overcompensation of Aries-Mars due to intrapsychic conflict. Frequently it is both, examples of which I will provide momentarily. The point is that under the right horoscopic circumstances any sign-planet archetype can be expressed in an extreme, unbalanced way, which is precisely what defines psychopathology.

Since I have written elsewhere on this topic, let me cut to the chase.10 A personality disorder is characterized by four factors: rigidity, excess, impairment, and distress. First, the person tends to be rigidly preoccupied with a singular need as symbolized astrologically by the relevant archetype. In the vernacular, we call this “being stuck”. If someone is inordinately afraid they will not get that sign-need met, they are apt to over-rely upon a specific mode of behavior (planet) designed to fulfill the need. Second, they do that behavior to excess; that is, they not only do it constantly (rigidity), they do it at an extreme amplitude (excess). If the behavior were a song, they would continuously play that song at a volume that is deafening.

Third, a personality disorder correlates to diminished capacity to fulfill the need in question (impairment), which, again, is generally due to the person’s overfunctioning in a way peculiar to the disorder (rigidity and excess). By trying too hard, their behavior backfires; in a word, it is dysfunctional. Fourth, while individuals with a personality disorder often do not recognize their part in creating problems, distress is nevertheless a natural consequence of the problematic behavior. The person will simply blame something or someone else for their suffering.

The psychopathology that correlates to Aries-Mars is antisocial personality disorder. In pop psychology, a person so characterized is often referred to as a psychopath or sociopath, which mean essentially the same thing. The essential features of antisocial personality include:

  1. Lacks self-restraint and respect for limits
  2. Regularly breaks or flouts the law
  3. Constantly lies and deceives others to exploit their trust
  4. Is impulsive and doesn’t plan ahead
  5. Can be prone to fighting and aggressiveness
  6. Has little regard for the safety of others
  7. Is irresponsible and won’t meet financial obligations
  8. Doesn’t feel remorse or guilt

If someone displays 3 or more of the above traits to a degree that meets the criteria of a personality disorder―rigidity, excess, impairment, and distress―they are probably a psychopath.

Virtually every trait of psychopathy is consistent with an extreme, unbalanced expression of Aries-Mars. There is generally a history of hostile, aggressive behavior in which the rights of others are violated. The need for independence is so extreme that there is an impaired capacity to sustain lasting, warm, and responsible relationships with friends, lovers, or employers. Cheating and promiscuous behavior are common.

An infantile need for immediate gratification impairs their capacity to accept social norms with respect to lawful behavior. Antisocial actions include, but are not limited to, illegal occupation, destruction of property, theft, assault, and spousal and child abuse. Thoughtless, reckless behavior leads to accident proneness as typified, for example, by recurrent speeding and/or driving under the influence. Lack of reliability is evident in a troubled and unstable work history with frequent absences and quitting of jobs without a plan. Irresponsibility is especially apparent in a failure to honor financial obligations, such as paying bills, taxes, rent, loans, or child support.

The Aries-Mars orientation to time―living in the now―is perverted into “living for the moment” as expressed by impulsivity and the tendency to travel from place to place without a clear goal or fixed address for months at a time. Like babies, the world of the psychopath is collapsed into “Me, here, now.” Unable to slow down, look ahead, or reflect upon the meaning and consequences of their actions, there is a lack of remorse with no intention to change. Psychopaths feel compelled to “get over” on others, intimidate the weak, and prey upon the gullible. The need for dominance is so extreme that life becomes an unending competition. They justify their predatory behavior by rationalizing, “everyone does it.”

If my thesis is correct that psychopaths are inordinately preoccupied with Aries’ needs for survival, freedom, action and novelty, then impairment would lie in not being able to fulfill these needs. Due to their excessive recklessness and the anger they provoke in others, the very nature of psychopathic behavior endangers the psychopath’s existence. And even if they do survive, they are often incarcerated because of their criminality, thus losing their freedom. This, in turn, impairs their ability to act as they wish or pursue new experiences. In short, everything to which the psychopath is excessively devoted is ultimately compromised or lost altogether.

Recall that antisocial personality can by symbolized by too much Aries-Mars in a chart. This can take the form of multiple planets in Aries, a packed 1st house, or a stellium regardless of planets and signs involved. In addition, if Mars is under stress via hard aspect, this can lead to Martian overcompensation as a defense against the planetary impulses with which it conflicts. When any of these factors combine, there is significant potential for Aries-Mars pathology―though it is never guaranteed. Any configuration, no matter how difficult, can always function in healthy ways at higher levels of integration.

Ken Lay, Mugshot

Meanwhile, examples of psychopathy are legion and occupy every stratum of society. Former CEO of Enron, the infamous Ken Lay, is the poster child for predatory, sociopathic corporations that exploit the public trust. Lay has Mercury, Sun and Moon conjunct in Aries, with all three planets sextile a Mars-Jupiter conjunction, which, in turn, is stressed by a square to Neptune. He was convicted of 10 counts of conspiracy and securities fraud, causing 20,000 Enron employees to lose their jobs and life savings. Found guilty by a grand jury in May of 2006, two months later he died of a heart attack at age 64.  

Richard Allen Davis

Another notorious psychopath, Richard Allan Davis, has a stellium of five planets in Cancer in the 8th house, all of which oppose Mars Capricorn in the 2nd. In addition, Mars forms a quincunx to his Sun, which is the Sun’s only aspect. Davis was a career criminal who served time for breaking and entering, burglary, auto theft, forgery, assault and kidnapping, all prior to being charged with the infamous 1993 kidnap-murder of 12-year old Polly Klaas in Petaluma, California. He kidnapped Polly during a slumber party at her home, then drove to a cow field where he sexually assaulted and strangled her. Davis is currently on death row in San Quentin.

Richard Kuklinski

Our third and final example is Richard Kuklinski, a serial murderer and contract killer responsible for the deaths of up to 250 men between 1948 and 1986. Kuklinski has Mercury and Sun in Aries, with the Sun forming an opposition to Mars, as well as a square to Pluto. Sun Aries opposing its own dispositor, Mars, is a particularly lethal combination in that there’s a preponderance of Aries-Mars energy that also entails significant intrapsychic conflict, thus causing both Sun and Mars to overcompensate in resistance to the other. This is like stretching a rubber band to the breaking point.

Richard Kuklinski, April 11, 1935, Jersey City, NJ. Time Unknown

Prior to his final arrest in 1986, Kuklinski was involved in narcotics, pornography, arms dealing, money laundering, hijacking and contract killing on a global basis. Fellow mobsters called him “the one man army” and “the devil himself” due to his fearsome reputation. Kuklinski has been the subject of three documentaries, two biographies and a 2012 feature film, The Iceman. During his early days, Kuklinski would go to Hell’s Kitchen on Manhattan’s West Side to shoot, stab, and bludgeon men simply to practice and perfect killing. He made Hell’s Kitchen a kind of lab for murder, a school, he said. Kuklinski later recalled,

By now you know what I liked most was the hunt, the challenge of what the thing was. The killing for me was secondary. I got no rise as such out of it…for the most part. But the figuring it out, the challenge—the stalking and doing it right, successfully—that excited me a lot. The greater the odds against me, the more juice I got out of it.11

In this last sentence, “the greater the odds against me, the more juice I got out of it,” we hear evidence of Sun Aries opposing its own dispositor, Mars. It’s as if Kuklinski had to create a situation in which his own existence was threatened by his solar intention to annihilate the existence of the other (Mars). We also hear a chilling echo of the Paleolithic hunter who stalks and kills his prey. Kuklinski had a wife and two kids and all they knew was that he put food on the table; he was a good provider. The Iceman was captured and sentenced to life imprisonment at age 50. Afflicted with a rare and incurable inflammation of the blood vessels, he died 20 years later chained to a prison hospital bed. Inflammation, fittingly, is an Aries-Mars malady.

Summary & Conclusion

Aries-Mars derives its meaning from the angle it signifies in a 360° astronomical cycle. That angle is 0°, which marks the start of the zodiac, 1st house, and conjunction. As such, Aries-Mars correlates to the principle of beginnings.

Psychologically, Aries is experienced as a set of self-consistent needs for survival, freedom, action, and novelty. As the active agent of these needs, Mars’ primary functions are to assert, initiate, fight, and encourage. This is especially apparent in aspects with other planets wherein Mars emboldens and galvanizes those planets to fervent action.

As a developmental stage, Aries-Mars signifies the first two years of life. Just as the world of infants is constricted to me here now, so the psychology of Aries-Mars reflects this same orientation. Its natural egocentricity, assertiveness, and impatience is inextricably wedded to the perception that only the present exists. A further corollary to being in the now are the emotions of joy and enthusiasm, which seem to express life’s natural state.

Sports and competition provide a vehicle for Aries-Mars energy. Courage not only epitomizes Aries-Mars, it may be that valor is accompanied by luck precisely because higher powers require boldness for the full development and furtherance of life’s evolution back to source. Yet, if expressed solely for its own sake―that is, in an extreme, unbalanced manner, Aries-Mars can vampirize the psyche. As such, it correlates to psychopathy, often with lethal consequences.

It is easy to be conflicted about Aries-Mars. The potential for over or under doing it are strong, and can lead to painful, ugly outcomes, not the least of which is war in one form or another. And yet, there are ways of doing even war correctly―that is, valiantly. And so we celebrate in myth and folklore those who express Aries-Mars in proper balance with all the other ways of being human. For without a sufficient embodiment of its core virtues―strength, courage, independence, self-assertion, and a capacity for anger when natural rights are threatened―we forfeit our lives and those we love in a dim cowardice, abandon the field to the worst among us, and, still worse, betray the gods.

Fortune favors the brave.

* * * * *

Notes: 

1 A synodic cycle is the period time it takes between the conjunction of two planets and their next conjunction. During a synodic cycle, the faster of the two planets will form a series of 30° angles (aspects) with the slower planet, eventually catching up to the slower planet and forming a new conjunction.

2 Aristotle, Rhetoric, book II, chap. 2, 1378a

3 Scobie, Claire (2003-08-01). Why now is bliss. Telegraph Magazine. Retrieved on 2017-03-31.

4 McKinley, Jesse (2008-03-23). “The Wisdom of the Ages, for Now Anyway.” New York Times. Retrieved 2017-03-31.

5 Chesterson, G.K. (2015) Orthodoxy. CreateSpace Independent Publishing

6 Magill, Frank N. The Ancient World: Dictionary of World Biography, Volume 1. Routlege, p. 226. 

7 Hall, M.P. (1936). The philosophy of astrology. Los Angeles: Philosophical Research Society, p. 11

8 Doyle, Paul. “Viral Video: Geno’s Words Carry Weight,” in The Hartford Courant, Friday, March 24, 2017, p. C3

9 Source: The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi, “Violence & Conflict Resolution,” at: http://www.mkgandhi.org/nonviolence/phil8.htm. Accessed April 2, 2017

10 Perry, Glenn (2012). Depth Analysis of the Natal Chart. East Hampton, CT: APA Press. See especially Chapters 6, 8, and 10.

11 Carlo, Philip (2006). The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer. New York, New York: St. Martin’s Press,  p. 251

 

 

A Template 1

Ruminations On
Sun-Sign Cancer


By Glenn Perry

Evidence suggests that the zodiac not only symbolizes the structure and dynamics of the psyche, but also the evolutionary unfoldment of consciousness. The structure of the zodiac exactly parallels the stages of the human life cycle. Each sign can be understood as a developmental stage of specific quality and duration.

The dominant traits and concerns of each sign are age-appropriate for the stage corresponding to that sign. Infants (Aries) are necessarily selfish, egocentric, and concerned about survival. Toddlers (Taurus) are preoccupied with attachment needs and are easily forgiven for wanting things to stay the same. Seven year olds (Gemini) are naturally fickle, shallow, and curious. Latency age children (Cancer) turn inwards and become more vulnerable to rejection. Adolescents (Leo) are unavoidably narcissistic, willful, and defensive. Novice adults (Virgo) worry about job skills and employability.

Marriage and partnership are dominant concerns of thirty-year olds (Libra), while mid-life adults (Scorpio) obsess about death and power. Afterwards, they become increasingly interested in justice and moral imperatives (Sagittarius). Sixty year olds (Capricorn) are expected to be conservative, traditional, and to uphold the status quo. The seventies (Aquarius) mark a period of radical change as individuals detach from old identifications. And a gradual dissolution and readiness to return to source marks the final stage of life, from 77 and beyond (Pisces).

Ruminations on Sun in Cancer

What It’s Like for a Guy
Ruminations On Sun-Sign Cancer


By Glenn Perry

A while ago I was asked by astrologer Leah Imsiragic to answer a few questions about my personal experience of Sun in Cancer. Other astrologers were asked about their Sun signs, and our responses were eventually published…I can’t remember where, which is embarrassing for a Sun-Cancer as we’re supposed to have good memories. However, since the summer solstice was just last week (start of Cancer), I thought it timely to republish my reflections on this sign. I have taken the liberty to flesh out some ideas that were merely hinted at in my original responses to Leah.


Sun in CancerLeah: Why is the Sun’s sign position in the natal horoscope important and what can that tell us?

Glenn: I always say that the Sun performs the same role in the psyche that it does in the solar system. It is the central hub around which everything else revolves; it’s the heart of the matter, the core of the personality, the seat of consciousness. Psychologically, it signifies creative self-expression, intentionality, and will―our capacity to choose and by our choices create an identity.

Underlying our choices and creative self-expression is a wish that others will validate those choices; that they will enjoy and approve of what we express and who we are becoming. Validation and approval support the development of self-esteem, which is one the Sun’s prime objectives.

The sign and house position of the Sun show how (sign) and where (house) the person will attempt to establish his or her own identity. It reveals how and where the person will experience a sense of purpose, play, creativity, enjoyment, and pride―and, we might also say, a sense of honor.

Honor is a somewhat archaic term and a quality we see too little of these days. In brief, honor (or lack thereof) is the summary product of one’s choices. Its attainment implies a concerted effort to act correctly―that is, in ways that demonstrate one’s courage, kindness, trustworthiness, responsibility, and benevolence. Honor implies integrity and purity of motive. And having it assures the respect and esteem that is afforded persons that consistently display nobility of character. Since it feels good to act right, honor is also commensurate with self-esteem.

Liam Neeson as Sun in Cancer

I love the scene in the film, Rob Roy (1995), when the hero, Robert Roy MacGregor (Liam Neeson), is asked by his son, “Father, what is honor?” MacGregor reflects for a moment and then responds:

All men with honor are kings, but not all kings have honor. Honor is what no man can give you and none can take away. Honor is a man’s gift to himself.

His son replies: “How do you know you have it?” “Never worry on the getting of it,” says MacGregor. “It grows in you and speaks to you. All you need do is listen.”

This is the gift of the Sun, rightly earned. It implies a solar tropism toward honor, such that our inner Sun (king) is always guiding, coaxing, and encouraging the self to make choices that accord with one’s better angels. As Polonius said in Hamlet,

“This above all: to thine own self be true.
And it must follow, as the night the day.
Thou canst not then be false to any man.” 

Surely this is what Macgregor means when he exhorts his son to listen to the voice of honor as it slowly grows within. To thine own self be true. For to do otherwise is to ultimately become dishonorable, which is accompanied by a painful loss of self-esteem.

The Sun sign, of course, is very different from the Sun itself, even though astrologers tend to conflate them. I don’t like to talk about signs as personalities, such as he is a Cancer or she is a Capricorn, because it gives the false impression that signs can be reduced to personality types. It implies that Sun-signs are signs, when, in fact, a sign is expressed differently contingent upon the planet that occupies it. 

Essentially, a sign is a motive or drive that seeks fulfillment according to its own nature. Every sign wants something; that is, it symbolizes a need that is universal. And the nature of that need generates behavior appropriate to its ends. If Cancer signifies the need for belonging (to a family, community, and nation), then Cancerian behavior is naturally caring, protective, supportive, devoted, loyal, patriotic, and so on. This underscores that a sign’s behavior is best understood in the context of the need that behavior serves. 

The meaning of a Sun-sign is more complex than merely a sign, for it entails a two-variable compound―Sun and sign. Of necessity Sun-signs must be conceptualized in terms of solar functions of self-expression, will, and identity. First, people express themselves in a manner consistent with the nature of their Sun-sign. Second, they make choices – exercise their will – in a way that reflects the psychology of that sign. And third, they tend to identify with that sign’s motivating principle and implicit values. All of this is very abstract, I realize, but it serves to establish the foundation of the matter.

Ultimately, the sign position of the Sun constitutes a path of honor for that individual. It is that principle of life one must fully develop and embody, in its highest sense, in order to actualize his or her potential to become honorable. I am not saying that the Sun-sign is the sole means to honor, but that it is a critical passage of a larger journey that encompasses the self and life as a whole. 

Sun-sign CancerLeah: What is the essence of Cancer?

Glenn: This is a good question. Again, it should be noted that it is a different question than “how does the Sun function in Cancer?” I’ll try to address both. The essence of Cancer is the need for closeness, belonging, understanding, nurturing, and unconditional love. This need (or conglomeration of needs) underlies and motivates all Cancerian behavior. It follows that any behavioral trait of Cancer can be understood in the context of the need(s) that behavior serves. Cancerian introspection, caring, and sensitivity to rejection are all in the service of fulfilling Cancer’s primary need for closeness.

It’s worth mentioning that Cancer is semi-sextile Leo, which is the sign the Sun rules. Leo comes immediately after Cancer in the zodiac. It is the Sun’s natural home, the place where it feels most comfortable and can most easily be itself. Signs that are semi-sextile have a compensatory relationship, as if the succeeding sign is pushing away the sign that precedes it by saying, “I am so over you; I define myself by being everything you’re not!” So, when the Sun is placed in Cancer, it’s like going backwards, precisely because Cancer is behind Leo. The urge to differentiate and carve out a personal identity by making choices that express one’s authentic self is inhibited by invisible loyalties to the past. This is the equivalent of having a 13 year old boy balk at the prospect of adolescence. He would prefer to remain close with his family and not have to deal with adolescent angst involving the formation of a personal identity distinct from his family.

Summer solstice with Sun in CancerThis regressive quality of Cancer is interesting in light of the summer solstice, which is the beginning of Cancer. The Sun appears to stop its northern climb, hovers for three days, and then begins to move backwards, lower and lower in the sky until six months later it arrives at the winter solstice and reverses course again. This can be seen as a metaphor of Cancer’s natural reticence, hesitation, and backward quality (Cancer rules the past, ancestry, history). In effect, Cancer restrains the Sun’s natural expression of upward and outward by muting its exuberance. It softens and gentles it, turns it inward, and inclines intentions in the direction of caring for, and protection of, that which has already been established―precedents, traditions, foundations.

Rather than differentiate oneself from others by a strong, clear expression of personal will, the solar function is stifled in Cancer because expression of personal preference may have the unintended consequence of creating distance between oneself and others. By itself, the Sun might spontaneously declare, “I am a Catholic, a Republican, a Yankee fan, and I love country music!” But if in Cancer, the Sun might worry that many people could be alienated by those choices because they cannot identify with them. There are bound to be people who are Protestants, Democrats, Mets fans, and hate country music. This is worrisome to Cancer.

All of this implies that Sun-Cancer cannot readily and naturally be authentic―that is, true to itself, out of fear it might be setting itself up for rejection. “If I don’t belong to the Protestant family, the Mets family…those people won’t like me.” It equally worries that others who make different choices could feel rejected by Sun-Cancer’s non-endorsement of those choices.

Leah: What is the best and strongest quality of the sign of Cancer?

That would be emotional intelligence. Cancer’s ability to tune in, sense, and accept what’s happening on a feeling level gives it an instinctive ability to understand people and situations emotionally. It then adjusts its behavior accordingly.

chameleon embodies Sun in CancerThis is why Cancer is often described as having chameleon-like qualities that enable it to blend in with its environment. Again, the need for closeness and belonging are primary drivers that underlie all Cancerian behavior. We could even say this is what motivates a mother’s love for her child. The maternal instinct to retain closeness entails an innate capacity to understand what the child is feeling and needing at any given moment, to feel in sympathy with the child so that a loving connection can be maintained.

With the Sun in Cancer, there’s an ability to express caring, understanding, sympathy, protection, and so on. It is precisely these attributes with which the person is identified, even heroically invested. Such sentiments extend to all life, especially life-forms in need of protection. For me cruelty to animals is almost unbearable, even when merely imagined. I remember in 1984 I had just gotten out of the movie, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, in which Tarzan’s surrogate ape-father is shot and killed by humans at the end of the film. Feeling naturally protective of animals, I was extremely upset. As I was pulling out of the parking lot, another car entered and tried to force me to back up. I jumped out of my car and was ready to fight. I was so furious with humans I was ready to kill one for what they did to poor Tarzan’s father.

On another occasion when I was 12 years old, some boys I was playing with shot and killed a rabbit with a pellet gun behind a neighbor’s house. I was horrified! How could they be so uncaring, so insensitive! Under threat of violence I forced them to dig a hole, bury the murdered rabbit, and express suitable condolences and regret. I’m sure at that point they harbored secret doubts as to whether I really was a guy.

Leah: What is the weakness of the sign of Cancer?

As with any sign, its strength is also its weakness when carried too far. Simply place the word ‘over’ in front of any Cancerian attribute and one can glimpse the problem―oversensitive, overprotective, or overemotional. Cancer’s sensitivity to rejection and its worry of hurting others can incline it to timidity, shyness, and reticence, especially when the Sun is in this sign.

As the ruler of Leo, the Sun corresponds to play, recreation, and socializing with friends. But with Sun in Cancer, it’s hard for me to initiate social contact and express a desire to play―even something as simple as calling a friend―as I assume it would be an imposition and display a lack of sensitivity. Maybe they’re having dinner, or engaged in a task, or parenting their child. I tend to start every call with an apology, “I’m so sorry to bother you…” I know it is irrational, but it’s instinctive. Conversely, if Sun-Leo calls a friend, they assume it is a compliment to that person, which it actually is.

If my Moon rather than Sun were in Cancer it would obviously work better since Cancer’s strengths would then be utilized in the service of lunar functions that require exactly those traits. There are occasions when listening, understanding, and expressing sympathetic rapport are entirely appropriate. During such times, the Moon is activated. And if it’s in Cancer, then one’s lunar capacity to respond sensitively is strong and natural.

However, since the Sun constitutes its own functions (will, play, self-expression), it requires traits that are distinctly different from Cancer. When a solar situation predominates, such as being at a party, the Sun’s functionality is inhibited by virtue of being in the sign ruled by the Moon. Sun-Cancer is the classic wallflower―shy, hanging back, on the sidelines rather than out front. Imagine at a party it’s your turn to play charades. But you would rather blend in with the furniture or serve the guests some chips than perform in front of strangers!

It should be understood that Cancer’s weakness is not so much an inherent property as a consequence of its lack of integration with other parts of the self. People can express any sign badly – either too much or too little – but that’s not the fault of the sign. When a planet is in a sign that forms a hard aspect to the sign it rules, such as when the Sun is in Cancer, then that planet’s functionality is compromised; it’s more difficult for the planet to be itself. Recall Leo is semi-sextile Cancer. Since the Sun rules Leo, Sun-Cancer is like a Shakespearian actor having to perform the role of Juliet when he would much prefer to play Romeo.

Leah: What have you learned from your Sun-sign?

That I would prefer to have my Sun in Leo. All kidding aside, I’ve learned the importance of knowing how to deal with feelings. Paradoxically, there is tremendous power in the capacity to be emotionally vulnerable and transparent. The willingness to open up and share that side of myself has had unexpected benefits that I could not have foreseen as a child growing up in a family where feelings were shunned. I am fiercely loyal to my feelings now, and regard them as my staunchest ally.

People can disagree with your thinking, but not with your feelings. If I say, “Islam is more a political ideology than a religion,” people can legitimately disagree with me. But if I say, “Islam scares me,” that’s not a statement with which one can disagree. It’s simply how I feel. There’s no right or wrong about it, even if it might serve as a basis for further conversation. When one’s thoughts, values, and decisions are supported by feelings, there is more gravitas to the person, more substance and depth of personality. Feelings are your ground, the rudder of your ship, the roots of your being. Feelings are what enable us to connect with one another.

Forest Whitaker is a Sun in Cancer personality
Forest Whitaker as Big Harold

I remember seeing the Oliver Stone film, Platoon, back in 1986. It was about American soldiers fighting the Vietnam War. After one of the battles, some soldiers were arguing vociferously about right and wrong, about whether America should even be in the war. Tempers were flaring when Big Harold, played by the consummate actor Forest Whitaker, simply said: “I don’t know, brothers, but I’m hurting real bad inside.” In that instant the whole energy shifted, quieted, and calmed. Big Harold had given voice to what everyone was experiencing, and suddenly they were all connected. A simple expression of feeling can do that.

While Cancer (and the Moon) is associated with feelings, this should not imply that the Cancer-Moon archetype is feelings. Sometimes you’ll hear astrologers say, “The Moon is feelings.” But this is misleading. To be sure, Cancer-Moon has its own feelings (tenderness, protectiveness, maternal love), but every sign-planet system is characterized by certain kinds of feelings that when triggered activate the planet to take appropriate action. If a person feels their life is in danger when a stranger rushes towards them with a club, those are Aries feelings―alarm, agitation, aggression―which stimulates the flight or fight response of Mars.

The Cancer-Moon archetype symbolizes one’s capacity to feel the entire panoply of emotions that being human entails, to be receptive to such emotions, and to convey their message to the appropriate planetary function. It does a person little good to have emotions if s/he cannot consciously feel them, understand their meaning, and channel them into an appropriate response. The stronger the Cancer-Moon archetype in a chart, such as having Sun (or any planet) in Cancer, the more likely the native is capable of dealing with feelings. It’s as if their conduit to feelings is wider and deeper than people who are not so blessed. 

Leah: What is the Sign(s) you deal the best with and what is the most difficult sign for you and why?

That’s a difficult question, since I think that all signs are equally difficult and equally easy, depending upon the person expressing them. I personally am very attracted to Scorpionic qualities, for that’s the sign on my 7th house cusp and it is also naturally trine Cancer. So there’s a simpatico there. I like the depth, intensity and vulnerability of that sign. And of course everyone loves a Leo, mostly because it’s so adept at loving you―applauding, cheering, and appreciating you for exactly who you are right now. Leo is, after all, a social sign. Its very nature is designed to be liked. 

I also enjoy Aries in small doses – it’s so vibrant! – but it can be annoying in its egocentricity, which is a quality that Cancer finds difficult to understand. While Pisces is naturally trine Cancer, I have precisely the opposite problem with that sign when it’s expressed in a dysfunctional, exaggerated way―bleeding heart do-gooders that enable bad behavior rather than allowing people to learn from their mistakes. I suspect my aversion to weepy, no-boundary Piscean feebleness reflects my Sun’s square to Neptune, making the archetype of Pisces-Neptune a bit of a shadow for me.

Leah: What have you learned from other signs?

That would take a book, which it just so happens I’ve written! Check out Chapter 4 in An Introduction to AstroPsychology for my take on zodiacal signs. You see, even a Sun-sign Cancer can indulge in shameless self-promotion! 

Leah: What can other signs learn from the sign of Cancer?

That the rest of you are insensitive brutes! (Pisces being the exception, of course, which is low praise to be sure). Okay, I’ll be serious. If there’s something to be learned from Cancer by other signs, it’s the value of understanding, accepting, and honoring personal feelings; and how doing so will invariably strengthen the functionality of every part of the Self.

And now I feel like stopping, so I will!  🙂 

* * * * *

Emotional States, Planetary Responses and the Case of Charles Manson

Emotional States, Planetary Responses
And the Case of Charles Manson


By Glenn Perry

 

Emotional ResponseIn a previous column, The Significance of Planetary Emotions, we examined how each sign of the zodiac not only symbolizes a set of interrelated needs, but also a range of emotional states. These states are carriers of affective signals, or motives, which move us to perform particular actions to satisfy needs. The ruling planet receives the affective signal and is informed as to the requisite action. Depending upon the planet’s level of functionality, the individual may undershoot, overshoot, or hit the mark just right.

For example, if a Uranian situation arises that requires resilience in the face of unexpected events, a person’s response might range from shock and dissociation to cool, dispassionate objectivity. The latter would be more adaptive, allowing the individual to see the big picture, adjust to the situation, and alter his or her behavior as needed. In real life, of course, such archetypal dynamics do not arise independently, but always involve other needs and feelings. If Mars is involved, the situation may also invoke anger, impatience, and aggression―or, fierce courage in the face of an existential threat.

Imagine, for instance, an Army Ranger (special ops) who parachutes behind enemy lines in Nigeria to rescue schoolgirls abducted by Islamic terrorists, soon to be assigned to ISIS fighters as sexual slaves. Encountering unexpected resistance, he adapts to the situation on the ground in a way that maximizes his ability to survive, kill the enemy and complete his mission. This would be a functional version of a Mars-Uranus aspect. Such a one is, in a phrase, “cool under fire”.

Calibration and Target States
In general systems theory, the relationship of emotion to motivation can be described in terms of calibration and target states.1 A target state is what one wishes to attain on an emotional level; that is, a desired feeling. Whereas a motive is an impulse to do something, a target state is the end state desired. Target states, in other words, are what we actually feel when the motivating need is fulfilled. In the situation above, dual target states are signified by Uranus and Mars respectively: objective perspective (Uranus) combined with joyful aliveness (Mars). Our Army Ranger is committed to staying alive but in tandem with a detached overview that allows for maximal adaptability in pursuit of altruistic ends.

In the table below, I list some target states along with their precipitating archetypal motives.2

Sign-Planet Motive Target State
Aries/Mars  Survival, Freedom  Joyful Aliveness
Taurus/Venus  Safety, Security, Constancy Security & Comfort
Gemini/Mercury  Knowledge, Communication Mental Stimulation
Cancer/Moon  Closeness, Caring, Belonging Caring & Belonging
Leo/Sun  Validation, Self-Esteem Pride & Confidence
Virgo/Mercury Service, Competence, Efficiency Useful & Competent
Libra/Venus Intimacy, Relatedness, Beauty   Intimacy & Harmony
Scorpio/Pluto  Transformation, Integration, Power Powerful & Centered 
Sagittarius/Jupiter  Meaning, Truth, Faith Optimistic, Expansive
Capricorn/Saturn  Structure, Perfection, Success Order & Mastery
Aquarius/Uranus  Overview, Liberation, Progress Objective, Detached
Pisces/Neptune Transcendence, Unity, Forgiveness  Blissful Unity 

Figure 1: Sign/Planet Motives and Target States

Calibration refers to the allowable degree of deviance from a target state before one is motivated to act. Every individual has a range of permissible feeling for a given motivational system. For Capricorn-Saturn, we tolerate a certain amount of failure or lack of success, beyond which we are motivated to achieve. For Venus, we will endure a measure of distance before needing to restore relatedness and intimacy with our significant other.

Again, the term for this fixed range is the calibration, or “setting” of the motivational system. This setting operates like an emotional thermostat. Just as a thermostat automatically responds to temperature changes by activating heating or cooling mechanisms, so human beings automatically respond to changes in affective states by activating corrective behaviors. This underscores that certain states are naturally and innately preferred over others.

With the Capricorn-Saturn system, if a person feels he is falling too far behind in his goals, he will tend to try harder; if he feels he is way ahead of schedule, he may, for the moment, relax and focus on some other need until he again feels an urgency to achieve. Each sign-planet in astrology has a desired (target) state. Capricorn-Saturn would be a state of order, control, and success. The degree of realization of the preferred state is continually monitored by a reference signal – an affect – that specifies the amount of deviance from the target state.

When a disturbance arises in the environment that has a destabilizing effect on the desired state, this effect is registered as a varying reference signal. The degree of variance from the target state represents a measure of error. The indication of error is then used to trigger a behavior that opposes the error. Thus, changes in action (output) are opposed to effects of disturbance (input) in exact measure as to the degree of error from the target state.

To put this in astrological terms, imagine an individual with a strong Capricorn-Saturn component to his personality. In addition to several planets in Capricorn, his natal Saturn conjuncts the M.C. and opposes Venus in the 4th. Saturn’s target state is a feeling of mastery and success. Of late, however, he has been underfunctioning on the job because he has been distracted by his marriage. His wife has been demanding that he spend more time with her and the children. Eventually his boss tells him that he is being demoted due to inferior productivity. This is the disturbance; his affective response includes feelings of anxiety, guilt, and failure. As a reference signal, such affects vary markedly from Saturn’s target state of success.

To the extent that he can tolerate feelings of failure and use them for motivation, he is likely to compensate by working harder, staying focused, putting in extra time, and so on, even though this might exacerbate stress on his Libra-Venus system. With Saturn as the more pressing need, his renewed dedication to work is calculated to counteract feelings of guilt and failure that have been evoked by his demotion. His goal is to re-establish a feeling of success in his career. Once this is accomplished, he can refocus on his marriage.

A primary goal of any organism is to restore balance (homeostasis) by counteracting disturbance and re-attaining its target states. An emotional variable that has slipped out of prescribed bounds is the system’s equivalent of motivation in the sense that it leads the individual to search for a means to bring it back into line. In the case above, the most intensely felt variable was Saturn with Venus hovering in the background and competing with Saturn as a dominant concern.

The point here is that an organism does not simply respond to an environmental stimulus in a direct, linear fashion; rather it controls its responses―turning certain functions on or off―by virtue of intrinsic reference signals: emotions. Human beings have internal needs, goals, and purposes independent of environmental circumstances. A person controls inputs in accord with the effect these inputs are likely to have on desired states. If the disturbing effect is allowed into consciousness―that is, if it is not suppressed, then the compensatory response is calculated to achieve the desired state. However, if the stimulus conflicts with a more pressing need, the individual may employ defenses to sustain the operation of whatever function (action) has top priority.

Imagine that our Saturn-Venus man is confronted by his wife who bitterly complains about his demanding schedule. Given that his job is on the line (he received a demotion), he is likely to use a Saturnian defense of devaluation (putting his wife down) in order to sustain his commitment to rehabilitate his career. He might say, “You’re being totally unreasonable! If I lose my job we can’t keep the house or afford to put the kids through private school!” The determining factor, again, is not the stimulus itself―his wife’s complaint―but the husband’s assessment of the effect her Venusian demands will have on his preferred state of career success (Saturn).

Feedback and TOTE Units
As living systems, human beings utilize feedback to regulate their functioning. A feedback loop is a process in which information about one’s current state is continually compared with a desired state as a way of keeping on track. It begins with some internal standard of comparison—a desired state of optimal satisfaction. In an attempt to achieve and maintain the standard, people compare where they are to where they want to be. If there is congruence, they terminate that set of behaviors; if there is incongruence, they continue to strive.

Open Systems Model

Figure 2: A Feedback Loop

Miller conceptualized this as a TOTE unit,3 which stands for the sequence of Testing one’s state against the standard, Operating if there is a discrepancy, again Testing, and finally Exiting when there is a match between the standard and one’s state of being. If we were to analyze a Taurus-Venus motivational system, Taurus is the need for financial security (safety, comfort, pleasure), and Venus is the capacity for fulfilling it and attaining the target state. As a TOTE unit, it might operate the following way:

  1. Testing: A person experiences a need for financial security and is motivated to satisfy it. He has a standard, or preferred state – prosperity – and tests his current state against the standard. Taking stock of his net worth, he realizes his savings are dangerously low.
  1. Operation: He sets a specific goal that he hopes will satisfy the motive. For example, he decides to embark on a savings plan of putting away $500 per/month, and implements the plan in hopes of satisfying the need for greater security.
  1. Testing: At completion of the behavior―that is, after each month of successfully meeting his goal, he checks (tests) to see if his savings plan has led to the desired state of prosperity. Perhaps he is still spending too much.
  1. Exiting: If his need for greater security is satisfied from attaining the goal, that motive will cease to be dominant and a new motive becomes foremost. After several years of saving for example, he may decide he wants to enjoy life more and plans for regular vacations with his wife (vacation = Leo-Sun motivational system). If, however, his savings did not lead to satisfaction, then he will have to “operate” again by coming up with a new plan.

In the above example, we can see how the Taurus-Venus state of prosperity becomes the standard for the operation of a TOTE feedback loop. Once the person feels the need and envisions its potential satisfaction (providing he believes it’s attainable), he engages in a behavior – saving money – aimed at achieving fulfillment. Upon reaching satisfaction, his state of being will match the standard and the sequence will end (or recede into the background). Every sign-planet motivational system operates in a similar way.

Strength & Functionality
The relative strength of a motive can be inferred from how a planet is constellated in the chart as a whole. If a particular sign is heavily tenanted by multiple planets, then the planet that rules that sign will be continually stimulated and constitute a recurrent state. If a planet is angular, heavily aspected, or in its own sign or house, then the affects related to that planet will likewise be strongly experienced and constitute a dominant motive. It follows that any combination of the above will reinforce the dominance of the affect/drive.

It should be noted that the strength of a planetary function is not the same thing as its degree of coordination with other parts of the self. One cannot tell merely by looking at the chart whether a predominant planet is integrated and functional; only that it will be a dominant affect. If sufficiently stressed by hard aspects or difficult sign or house placement, it might overfunction and be an ongoing challenge.

When a planet overfunctions, it tends to overshoot the mark. That is, it tries too hard to fulfill its motivating need. This is generally due to two interrelated factors. Pursuit of the need is associated with 1) anticipation of unwanted consequences related to a rival sign-planet system to which it is wedded (such as occurs with hard aspects); and 2) a fear that its own need may never be fulfilled. Subsequent efforts are thereby characterized by rigidity and excess. The native cannot stop doing the behavior in order to ward off the unwanted consequences of doing it (rigidity); and while doing it, overdoes it (takes it to an extreme). In effect, the planet overfunctions as a way of defending itself against other planetary functions with which it is inseparably related yet inextricably conflicted.

Charles Manson
To give one obvious example, Charles Manson has the Sun and three additional planets in Scorpio, with Pluto opposing his Moon and squaring Uranus (see Figure 3). Manson was born to an unmarried, alcoholic, sociopathic 16-year-old floozy who once sold Charles for a pitcher of beer. Though he was retrieved by an uncle, his mother eventually abandoned him altogether (after doing a 3 year stint for armed robbery). At age 13, he aped his mother’s crimes by committing a spree of armed robberies and was subsequently incarcerated at the Indiana Boys School (a reformatory “home”), where he would later claim he was brutalized sexually, emotionally, and physically.4 Needless to say, his lunar experience of mother and home(s) was horrific.

Manson, Charles

Figure 3: Charles Manson: Nov 12, 1934, 4:40pm, Cincinnati, Ohio

Recall that if a sign is heavily tenanted by multiple planets, then the planet that rules that sign will be continually stimulated and constitute a recurrent state. With four planets in Scorpio, the need for power and transformation is clearly a dominant motive, and Pluto will thus be continually stimulated. Moreover, Pluto is both angular and heavily aspected, further accentuating its status as a recurrent state and central theme in Manson’s life.

As Pluto is inextricably related to the Moon by virtue of being in the sign ruled by the Moon (Cancer), the house ruled by the Moon (4th), and opposing the Moon itself, activation of Pluto would simultaneously activate lunar needs for closeness, home, and family. It follows that the “unwanted consequences” that Manson anticipated from fulfilling his Scorpio-Plutonic needs were related to the Moon. Unconsciously he would believe that stimulation of lunar dependency needs via Pluto could only lead to more of what he had already experienced as a child: shame, rejection, and violation―in a word, trauma.

Manson’s experience of Plutonic wounding in relation to the 4th house/lunar theme of family was deep, pervasive, and intense. Whatever hope he might once have had for a healthy, functional family was surely destroyed by the time he reached adolescence. Without going into all the details, suffice to say that his need to feel empowered and capable of transforming a bad family experience into a good one was contaminated by the conviction that in pursuit of such a goal his trust would be violated and his dependency needs scorned. In effect, any need for maternal love and belonging (Moon) rendered him vulnerable to annihilation (Pluto) since his power was inadequate to prevent additional trauma. If nothing else, his entire childhood was proof of that.

As mentioned, when pursuit of one need is in conflict with another, the former can act as a defense against the latter. In so doing, it overfunctions―in this case, by being hyper-Plutonic, which is perhaps redundant since the very nature of Pluto tends to be extreme, but never more so than when operating as a defense against a painful, unhealed wound (Moon). So long as Pluto resists the function that needs healing, healing can never occur. This means Pluto can never cease operations because it is constantly stimulating the thing that it fears, which then rebounds upon Pluto, requiring further defensive maneuvers in a vicious, self-escalating cycle. This is like holding a hungry, squirming python by the throat knowing that eventually your grip will tire. You don’t dare release it; yet, the longer you hold it at bay, the less strength you have and the more dangerous it becomes. 

Functioning properly, Scorpio-Pluto transforms through a process of integrating the feared planet. It penetrates, exposes, and eliminates toxic elements while regenerating what has been wounded. This is what healing means; it restores integrity. If, however, Scorpio-Pluto is overfunctioning as a defense against an internal injury, then it becomes a source of dysfunction itself―twisted, deviant, and seeking power over the wounded part. Rather than eliminating what is toxic, it is itself toxic and strives to either subjugate or eliminate the planetary function (and its external representatives) that it has arrayed itself against. This is precisely what makes it vulnerable to possession by the feared element―a kind of unconscious embodiment of the repudiated planetary function―which is then acted out with a vengeance.

Charles Manson
Charles Manson

A common Scorpio-Pluto defense under such circumstances is projective identification: renounce the role of victim by doing to the other what has been done to you. Rather than gaining power by facing and working through fears, power is wrought by instilling fear in others; hence, the victim becomes the perpetrator. This is not the power of integrity, but of intimidation. Manson’s propensity for Plutonic power was immense, but it was not well integrated with the sign (Cancer) and house (4th) it tenanted, nor with the planets (Moon, Uranus, and Saturn) that it aspected.

Regardless of its defensive posture, Pluto is still influenced by the needs and feelings of the planets it repudiates. Dependency needs (Moon) creep in, even though dreaded; the Uranian penchant for revolutionary change is still operative, though intensified and darkened by Plutonic malice. And while Saturnian authority was reviled, Manson set himself up as a petty tyrant presiding over his own cult. Such contradictions make plain that while the psyche can repress unwanted needs, it cannot eliminate them entirely. Like monsters in classic horror films, eventually they break through into consciousness, wreaking havoc. Taken all together, Manson’s Pluto configuration is a psychological complex. 

The central issue, of course, was the Moon, which in Jungian terms was the nuclear heart of the complex. Like a beeping red light on your dashboard signaling engine malfunction, the Moon was continually sending out messages of distress. Manson needed to deal with his need for family but in a manner that protected himself from further harm. His final solution: the “Manson Family”, a paranoid cult comprised predominantly of woman who, hypnotized and controlled by Charlie’s Plutonic powers, were utterly subservient. To prevent what he unconsciously anticipated (rejection, violation), Manson could never let down his guard; thus, all woman were his sexual slaves, obedient to their master. In so doing, any possibility of rejection was minimized.

Moreover, his need for transformation was so extreme that he manipulated cult followers to commit murder for the sake of igniting a fantasized apocalyptic revolution (Helter Skelter) arising from racial tensions between blacks and whites. Manson’s plans for Helter Skelter clearly reveal the imprint of Uranus as the focal point of the T-Square with Moon and Pluto. Yet, as always, the lunar issue predominated, for the revolution he anticipated would be fueled by blacks feeling hated, rejected, and oppressed by whites―in a word, that they did not belong.

One suspects Manson unconsciously identified with the disempowerment and persecution of blacks at the hands of a powerful white majority―a central issue of the 1960’s with the black power movement, the murders of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, and the drama of Black Muslim, Muhammad Ali, defying the U.S. government. Manson’s fantasized race war in the American homeland reflected a wound involving his own internalized image and memories of home, now projected outwards. Like 18th century blacks abducted from their native lands, he was a stranger in a strange land. He had never belonged to anyone or anywhere. And for that, someone had to die.

It is chilling that Manson’s most famous victim was the beautiful blond actress Sharon Tate, murdered in her own home while eight months pregnant. Stabbed 16 times, Tate allegedly cried, “Mother…mother…” as she was being killed.5 An echo of the horror and pain Charlie must have felt the innumerable times his mother violated his trust? She behaved shamefully, acted criminally, turned tricks (prostitution), failed to protect him, forced him to live in sleazy motels, loved the bottle more, rejected and finally abandoned him. It must have killed his soul. Do to the other what has been done to you. In the end, even the womb was not safe from Charlie’s wrath. All of this is consistent with the preponderance of Scorpio planets and the T-square that Pluto forms to Moon and Uranus. But it is far, far from functional.

Dominant planets like Manson’s Pluto are apt to symbolize a chronic “mood,” for a mood is simply a relatively stable pattern of feeling, a kind of global affective response pattern that is more diffuse and enduring than an affect. It is not merely a response to a specific event, but rather a persistent attitude that saturates a person’s every perception, thought, and behavior. If the planet is Jupiter, the person may be perpetually optimistic, if Saturn, chronically depressed, and if Pluto, deeply paranoid. These affects would repeatedly activate the corresponding planetary function to satisfy the need that the emotion conveys. But if that planet is so defended that it cannot properly integrate with other functions, then it becomes a perpetual sore point, an endless longing, a need that can never be fulfilled.

Summary & Preview
To summarize, people become aware of basic needs through the processing of information from the environment to which they have a visceral response. They experience these responses as emotional states that motivate them to act in state-specified ways; that is, to choose behavioral goals that will result in the desired state of need satisfaction. They tend to persist until the goals are achieved and the needs are fulfilled. If their behavioral strategies prove effective, then goal attainment will result in need satisfaction and termination of the behavioral sequence. Otherwise, individuals are compelled to reevaluate their strategy and decide on a new goal or a new approach.

Astrologically, this process can be understood by relating sign-planet motivational systems to specific affects that are experienced on a range of intensity. Each sign-planet system has a target state, or preferred feeling, that is experienced as a varying reference signal. Deviation from the target state evokes a disturbing affect, which, in turn, stimulates a corrective planetary action that is calculated to achieve the desired feeling. Planets, therefore, symbolize flowing goal-oriented movements that constitute a series of operations conducing toward an end. Such processes involve continuous change until the goal state is reached.

In real life, of course, more than one motivational system can be triggered at the same time, such as when planets are in aspect. Activation of one need simultaneously activates the other. If there is a conflict between the two needs, as is frequently the case, one planet may overfunction as a defense against the other, as we saw in the case of Charles Manson.

In subsequent columns, we will explore how hard aspects can symbolize contradictory states and cognitive dissonance, and why deep attunement to one’s internal world is essential if intrapsychic conflicts are to be resolved.

* * * * *

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Notes:

1 Perry, G. (2012). Depth analysis of the natal chart. Haddam Neck, CT: APA Press

2 Perry, G. (2012). An introduction to AstroPsychology. Haddam Neck, CT: APA Press

3 Miller, G.A., Galanter, E., & Pribram, K.A. (1960). Plans and the structure of behavior. NY: Holt.

Emmons, Nuel. (1988). Manson in his own words. New York: Grove Press

5 Watson, C., Chapter 14, Aboundinglove.org, “Will You Die For Me?” p. 71. Retrieved June 11, 2016. Manson himself did not murder Tate, but rather directed his followers to “kill them all.”

 

 

 

Mercury as Final Dispositor

Mercury as Final Dispositor
Its Meaning in the Horoscope

By Glenn Perry

 

Mercury as Final Dispositor
     Mercury the Messenger God
Student: I know you have Mercury as final dispositor in your chart. Could you provide some examples as to how you’ve experienced that?

 
Glenn: As we’ve discussed in class, a final dispositor is a planet that disposes the longest chain of planets in the chart. By definition a final dispositor is in its own sign; thus, no planet can dispose of it. It’s the end of the line, the final cause of the chart, that for the sake of which other things happen. A final dispositor is like a lake into which flows a river that has been fed by multiple tributaries. The longer the chain of planets, the more powerful the river that flows into the final dispositor, wherein the energy pools and deepens over time.
 
Any planet in its own sign feels like a hand in a glove; it functions in a pure, effortless way. Of course, aspects and house position make a contribution, too, and can present different types of challenges. With Mercury in Gemini as the final dispositor of my chart, I’ve always been an insatiable, lifelong learner.
 
There are so many fascinating things to know. My idea of heaven is lying in a hammock under a shady tree on a warm sunny day with several books I can peruse to my pleasure. No doubt this reflects Mercury Gemini in the 2nd house.
 
But because my Mercury conjuncts Mars and Uranus, I was always frustrated in school for not being able to study what was actually of interest to me. Uranus and Mars both have an element of independence and freedom — liberation from prevailing structures (Uranus) and freedom (Mars) to act in accord with personal impulses and wishes. I resented having to study subjects that had no appeal. It was more than boring; it was like a strait jacket!
 
I always felt that my real education started after I finished undergraduate school, since I could finally start studying what I wanted to learn. For me, being in graduate school was like being able to dine every night at a posh restaurant. That’s when my love of learning really blossomed. Even now, independent, self-motivated learning is something to which I strongly relate. And that’s a part of what I’ve tried to incorporate into my online school.
 
With Mercury in the 2nd house, storing information is important, as in building a library and having lots of bookshelves, file cabinets and computer files. My Word files are quite complex, and people who see my computer often comment on how many folders I have. But, of course, that’s what Mercury-Gemini likes to do: label, classify, and make distinctions between one category of knowledge and another. Everything I read, I want to keep. I have extensive book shelves in three different rooms on two floors, and each section contains a specific category of books, just like a library. The idea of throwing away a book feels sacrilegious.
 
A phrase I resonate to with Mercury-Gemini in the 2nd is: “having a wealth of information.” Recall that the 2nd house is not values per se, but specifically those thingsthat we value and wish to possess. For me, the things that I cherish most are Mercury-related, such as books. I have more books than I could ever read; yet, I keep them because I never know what I might want to learn next.
 
Since the 2nd house is associated with the bodily and earthly realm, I’ve always had a strong interest in new physics and biological research, especially pertaining to the evolution of living systems, starting with the big bang all the way up the chain of being. This was the topic of my doctoral dissertation, although ultimately it was about the evolution of consciousness. I like data that is grounded in things that have real substance. I became fascinated with the idea that living systems are learning systems. That is, even the smallest microorganisms are in some way intelligent and proactive in their hunger for information.
 
The idea of writing for a living always appealed to me; that is, making money (2nd house) from learning and communication. I remember the first time I heard the phrase “informational products”. I immediately recognized it was something I wanted to do. Tangible products, of course, are 2nd house things, whereas Mercury is information.
 
In retrospect I can see that being an “infopreneur” is something my life has been leading toward. An infopreneur is someone who is his own creator, marketer, and distributor of information via e-zines, e-books, audio files, video files, websites, online courses, and so forth. That’s me, although making money was never the primary motivation. Learning is. Yet, being able to produce something tangible (2nd house) that enables others to learn (Mercury) does have a win-win practical ring to it, so there it is! 🙂
 
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AstroPsychology as Grounded Theory

Drawing Down the Heavens
AstroPsychology as Grounded Theory


By Glenn Perry

 In this article, I examine the origins of astrology as an outcome of inductive and deductive reasoning. Whereas inductive logic arrives at conclusions on the basis of concrete data, deductive logic predicts concrete outcomes on the basis of established principles. The danger of overreliance on deduction in astrology is that it can lead our field into a solipsistic, self-referential dead end―a closed system that fails to evolve. AstroPsychology may be a corrective to this trend in that it is a hybrid model grounded in data that derives from ongoing research across disciplines. 

 

AstroPsychology as grounded theory

Astrology from its inception has been based on data that correlates human experience to celestial movements. For example, if individuals born within thirty days following the vernal equinox were consistently observed to be more courageous than average, early astrologers logically concluded that Sun in Aries correlates to courage as a personality attribute. This is inductive reasoning.

However, once the general meanings of astrological variables were established―meanings of signs, planets, houses and so forth―practitioners were able to deduce probable outcomes from planetary positions. Deductive reasoning is the basis for the predictive dimension of astrology, reasoning from the general to the specific. If a particular configuration occurs, we can deduce its meaning (outcome) from time-honored principles of interpretation.

In doing so, however, there is a tendency to perpetuate a certain type and level of understanding―that is, to see what we have grown accustomed to seeing, to ask the same old questions and arrive at the same old answers. For a theory to evolve, there must be a willingness to depart from deductive reasoning that presumes a particular outcome on the basis of established principles. Even when correct, a deductive approach to knowledge tends to perpetuate the very theory that generates its predictions.

Conversely, an inductive approach to knowledge is rooted in whatever further data can be gleaned from a topic. Rather than predict, the goal is simply to observe, but with new eyes and fresh questions that probe ever deeper into the phenomenon under study. An evolving theory should be open to new data from which a more comprehensive understanding can emerge. Inductive reasoning is the essence of grounded theory as a research methodology. 

AstroPsychology as grounded theory implies a model derived from inductive logic, which is reasoning from the specific to the general. Again, you begin with some data, and then determine what general conclusion(s) can logically be derived from that data. Having Jupiter in Capricorn, I prefer my theoretical formulations about astrology to be as grounded as possible in tangible evidence. While my library has burgeoned to dangerous proportions―threatening to spill out into every room of the house―I must admit my thinking has been more influenced by client work than books. Of course, both are indispensable, but one advantage of working with clients in the slow, painstaking way that psychotherapy allows is that you get to see astrology up close in real time, like a botanist observing the unhurried, almost imperceptible movement of a flower unfolding its petals. After four decades of watching clients struggle, grow, and evolve, my understanding of astrology has changed.

Although I was a professional astrologer before becoming a psychotherapist, it always seemed to me that the two fields had much to offer one another. Both focus on human behavior; yet, astrology provides a language for disclosing connections between inner and outer realms of experience that goes far beyond anything psychology has to offer. At the same time, psychology offers new concepts and a methodological rigor that has broadened, deepened, and sharpened my understanding of astrological symbols. In short, I have tried to look at both fields with new eyes and fresh questions. The ongoing work of synthesis warrants a name, “AstroPsychology”. But what exactly does this mean?

Origins
A definition of AstroPsychology should start with a brief history of the term. Although astrology as generally practiced can be traced back to the first century B.C.E., its latest mutation―psychological astrology―occurred at the turn of the 20th century in response to three events. First, positivist science was at its peak and there was little tolerance for archaic systems like astrology that did not fit into the reigning mechanistic paradigm. Traditional, event-oriented astrology had come under increasing legal scrutiny, and astrologers actually risked arrest for making predictions. Focus on personality description was more acceptable, however, and so enabled astrologers to continue practicing with relative impunity.

Second, the theosophical movement that began during the latter half of the 19th century was in full swing and many of its leaders were astrologically literate, including Alice Bailey and Alan Leo. Because Theosophy addressed the spiritual, subjective realm of being—that is, psyche—Buddhist and Hindu ideas concerning karma, reincarnation, and growth of soul were incorporated into astrology.

And third, the new discipline of psychoanalysis was becoming increasingly popular during the opening decades of the 20th century. Given that astrology and psychoanalysis both sought to explain human behavior, astrologers were naturally drawn to the deeper, interior realm of psyche that Freud and his followers were beginning to articulate.

Together, these three factors launched a new kind of astrology that came to be known as psychological astrology. Its most noteworthy exponents were Alan Leo, Charles E. O. Carter, and Marc Edmond Jones. At the beginning of the movement, psychological astrology was little more than superficial descriptions of behavior, albeit in greater detail than typically occurred with traditional astrology. Toward the middle of the century, however, Dane Rudhyar began introducing Jungian and humanistic ideas into the field with an increasing emphasis upon the human capacity for growth and change.

By the 1970’s, the incomparable Richard Idemon began using the term “AstroPsychology” to differentiate his brand of Jungian oriented astrology from other practitioners. In Europe, the Swiss astrologer, Bruno Huber, also adopted the term, but with different meaning. Our work at the Academy of AstroPsychology can be seen as an evolution of Richard’s, though it has little in common with the Huber school.1

A New Personality Theory
Most of psychological astrology in the 20th century could be characterized as a mish-mash of humanistic and Jungian ideas without any formal structure. As such, it never developed into a systematic, full blown personality theory. Different authors made noteworthy contributions; yet, no single contribution reached the level of a personality theory in the tradition of a formal, psychological model. According to Hall and Lindzey’s classic tome, Theories of Personality, any adequate theory of personality should accomplish the following minimal objectives:2

  1. It must be comprehensive, or integrative, in that it deals with the total, functioning person.
  2. It must account for what motivates the human being.
  3. It must contain a set of empirical definitions concerning the various parts of the personality, thus permitting observation.
  4. It must consist of a network of assumptions about behavior that are systematically related in accordance with certain rules.
  5. It must be useful in that it is capable of generating predictions about behavior that are testable and verifiable, thus expanding knowledge.

Again, astrologers have made little if any attempt to meet the foregoing objectives in an explicit, systematic way. Yet anyone familiar with astrology knows that it implicitly meets all these requirements. Astrology is comprehensive in that it is concerned with all the parts and processes that make up the human psyche. The signs of the zodiac symbolize the basic drives that motivate human conduct, and their planetary rulers constitute parts of psychic structure that can be empirically defined, thus permitting observation. Rules of chart interpretation—chart synthesis—represent a network of assumptions about behavior that are systematically related. Finally, astrology is useful in that it is capable of generating predictions that are verifiable, thus promoting research and expanding knowledge.

For these reasons, a primary objective at the Academy of AstroPsychology has been to develop astrology into a comprehensive model of the psyche—an astrological theory of personality, if you will—that explicitly meets all of Hall and Lindzey’s criteria.As a meta-model, AstroPsychology cannot be defined in terms of any particular theory, but rather synthesizes a variety of ideas from different perspectives, including psychodynamic, cognitive behavioral, Jungian/archetypal, object relations, humanistic, transpersonal, and general systems theory. It also utilizes information derived from developmental psychology and various spiritual traditions that emphasize the evolution of soul within an overarching, reincarnational framework. Rules for chart synthesis are explicitly formulated that allow for precision of meaning at a psychodynamic level while also allowing that astrological archetypes can manifest outwardly in a variety of ways. Particular stress is placed on the birthchart as symbolizing a developmental process that is expressed and experienced differently over time.

While ancient astrology roughly described how human behavior correlated to planetary positions, these descriptions were limited to surface features of the personality. In contrast, AstroPsychology plumbs the depths of soul and does so in terms that did not even exist prior to the 20th century. Basic needs, psychological functions, affect states, intrapsychic conflict, internal dialogues, unconscious complexes, defense mechanisms, pathogenic beliefs, personality disorders, developmental stages, and the gradual but inexorable movement toward self-actualization are all explained with the framework of AstroPsychology. Students do not need any background in psychology to understand these concepts, for they are seamlessly interwoven with astrology. In sum, this is what distinguishes AstroPsychology from psychological astrology in general: its broad, inclusive structure, emphasis on development, systematic precision, depth of focus, and spiritual import. 

Perhaps the single most defining attribute of AstroPsychology is its focus on integrating the birth chart and, thus, supporting the human potential for growth and change. Integration can be defined as the process of developing, differentiating, and coordinating personality components into a functional unity. Emphasis on integration is grounded in research that suggests the very purpose of human life—if not all life—is to evolve into more complex states until individuals recognize their at-one-ment with source. As the philosopher Manly Hall put it, “Man can think of his own life either as the fulfillment of himself, or as the gradual completion of a greater existence of which he is a part and with which he is indissolvably associated.”4

The Significance of Events
While AstroPsychology by definition is psychological, it also honors the importance of external events. Every variable in the chart has both a subjective and objective meaning, which implies that inner and outer reflect one another in an acausal, synchronistic way. As such, neither determines the other in a linear sense; rather, the relationship is circular. Psyche—that complex of attributes experienced as thought, feeling, and will—impacts the environment which, in turn, reacts upon the person in a continuous interactive cycle. Psyche is both a cause of, and response to, environmental conditions; we are defined and refined by our relations with the outside world.

If psyche encompasses its relations with the environment, then consciousness is non-local and what we call “fate” may actually be soul concretized through experience over time. This is what the birth chart seems to symbolize—an exteriorization of the soul’s pattern in terms of physiology, personality, and environment. Every meaningful experience is a synchronistic reflection of a pre-potent psychic structure that evolves by processing the event-consequences of its own internal states. This alone makes AstroPsychology unique as a personality theory.

The non-local, evolutionary nature of consciousness further implies that birthcharts do not depict a static character and unalterable fate. Rather, the horoscope symbolizes an unfolding process (soul) that learns, develops, and expresses itself at higher, more integrated levels over time.

Prediction
Given that AstroPsychology is non-deterministic, its approach to forecasting warrants further comment. Over the last several decades, psychological astrology has been characterized as lacking sufficient focus on concrete, external events. Its seeming indifference to prediction rendered it vulnerable to criticism by practitioners who believed astrology’s primary function is (or should be) foreknowledge of the future. Also, if psychological astrologers do not have to predict empirical events, they are insulated from any kind of disproof mechanism. Statements about the inner world cannot be evaluated for accuracy with the same rigor as statements about the outer world. Accordingly, 20th century psychological astrology drifted into a fuzzy, vague, shoot-from-the-hip approach that made it suspect in the eyes of serious scholars.5 

AstroPsychology strives to remedy this problem. Again, while its primary focus is the psyche, there is also a keen interest in external events—not merely to predict them for their own sake, but to discern their significance as evolutionary drivers. An evolutionary driver is an event that serves as a catalyst and vehicle for a developmental process. As a catalyst, it triggers a shift in the native’s thinking and behavior that empowers him or her to meet a situation more effectively. And as a vehicle, it provides exactly the right type of situation—whether in marriage, career, health, or otherwise—to serve a corrective or educative purpose.

Understanding the significance of outer events enables astrologers to discuss them with clients in ways that support a natural, evolutionary process, for the event in question will always reflect a key configuration in the birthchart, whether natally or by transit/progression. When clients gain insight into what a situation means and requires from a growth oriented perspective, they are better able to consciously evolve; that is, intentionally collaborate with the cosmos toward realization of their full potential.

Another reason that events are important is that they provide a barometer for measuring the native’s level of functionality in a particular area of life. In other words, they serve a diagnostic function. If, for example, a woman with Neptune conjunct Mars in Scorpio in the 7th house consistently marries alcoholic, abusive men who exploit her financially, this is an important indication that she has significant work to do in the area of partnerships. On the other hand, if she enjoys a stable marriage with a man with whom she sets up a joint therapy practice that specializes in helping undifferentiated, low functioning couples in crisis, then this is an indicator that she is expressing that same configuration at a higher, more integrated level. Both outcomes equally express the same configuration. 

The question arises as to whether either outcome could be predicted. From the perspective of AstroPsychology, predicting specific outcomes is a guessing game of dubious merit even when the guess turns out to be correct. First, as the above example illustrates, a given configuration can be expressed at different levels of integration; thus, predicting outcomes is problematic—especially in the absence of historical knowledge about the person for whom one is predicting. Second, and more importantly, foreknowledge of an event is unhelpful if there is no understanding of the event’s significance as a vehicle for a specific kind of developmental process. What can be predicted, however, is the process that underlies the particulars of the event.

By “process” I mean the underlying needs and psychological functions of the configuration that serve as generative matrix for the event. Consider, for example, a client who has Sun conjunct Venus in Pisces in the 10th square Mars in Sagittarius in the 7th (see Figure 1). As a nurse, she is constantly encountering unruly, self-righteous others who insist that she immediately comply with their demands. In other words, her 7th house relationships are characterized by an outspoken and aggressive Mars in Sagittarius, which she is projecting. As a result, she identifies with her Venus-Sun in Pisces at the expense of her Mars. She is kind, loving, and compassionate, but frequently feels like a victim of other’s selfish aggression. As an event-pattern, her experience can be understood in terms of the level of integration she’s expressing with regard to the square.

Sun-Venus square Mars

Figure 1: Sun conjunct Venus square Mars

As a process, each planet in the configuration signifies a basic need and behavioral action—to express oneself and fulfill self-esteem needs (Sun), to engage others and satisfy needs for social relations (Venus), and to act in one’s own self-interest for the sake of freedom and survival (Mars). These planetary processes are colored by the signs they tenant, and unfold in the context of the houses they occupy. The square signifies an intrapsychic conflict that requires containment in awareness of the respective processes so they can be effectively coordinated. To the extent this conflict remains unconscious and unresolved, defenses like repression and projection will assure that troubling events occur without her having any awareness of her own role in bringing them about.

From an astrological perspective, however, we can see not only the quality of events that are likely to occur, but their meaning and purpose as well. We might infer that the event-pattern of aggressive others impinging upon our kindly nurse is occurring for the sake of arousing her own Mar’s function to awareness so that it can be more fully integrated with her Venus-Sun. Fire has to be fought with fire, but tempered with fairness (Venus) and honor (Sun) that expresses compassion (Pisces) toward her offenders while also asserting clear limits (Mars). To the degree that she is able to rise to the challenge that her circumstances dictate, both her relationships (7th) and career (10th) will improve.

A single event might encapsulate the pattern. That is, it can reflect the underlying process and provide a vehicle for its further integration. Imagine that when the configuration is activated by a transit our sensitive client has to contend with intrusive demands by a high-minded nurse with whom she is partnering in a ward for accident victims. Such an outcome would reflect the astrological variables involved in her natal square. But any number of other events can serve the process just as well. Accordingly, predicting concrete events is secondary to knowing the abstract function they serve. Prediction is important, but not as an early warning system to advise clients in taking evasive or exploitive action; rather, prediction can be utilized as a means of supporting the client in meeting life’s opportunities and challenges with the proper attitude. By understanding the underlying purpose of a given period, clients are better able to actualize the potential for growth inherent in the time.

Inescapable Indeterminacy
De-emphasis on predicting concrete events is also in keeping with the multidimensionality, intra-dimensional variability, and polyvalence of astrological archetypes. An astrological variable is multidimensional in the sense that it can symbolize multiple dimensions of meaning both within and without. For example, Mars can signify a basic need (survival), psychological function (assertion), state of mind (excitement), and behavioral trait (bold), while also representing an external character (rival), place (racetrack), thing (weapon), or event (competition). Within any of these dimensions there is intra-dimensional variability. As an event, for instance, Mars could also be an argument, a new beginning, or simply an adventure. Finally, astrological archetypes are polyvalent in that they combine with other variables—signs, houses, and aspects—which shape and modify their expression in countless ways.

With regard to polyvalence, a configuration such as a planetary aspect involves multiple signs, planets, and houses. As such, it constitutes a higher level system that exerts regulative control over its component parts. The aspect constrains, shapes, and modifies the functioning of the parts so that they comply with the objectives of the higher level system. Although every component has multiple possible expressions, each is swept up in the structure of the psychic form it helps to comprise; thus, from the myriad potential expressions of each part, each particular expression is selected and coordinated to form a single, coherent, relatively integrated holistic pattern, much like a family exerts regulative control upon its members to comply with the values and objectives of the family as a whole. Without such downward causation, the internal world of the psyche would be a teeming, buzzing chaos.

Astrology’s enormous flexibility as a language means there is an inescapable ambiguity and indeterminacy to birthcharts. One cannot reliably determine concrete particulars from a system that is inherently indeterminate. This underscores why predicting process—the purpose and meaning of a time period—not only is of greater value than guessing outcomes, it is also more in accord with what is actually possible. Purpose and meaning occur at a higher level of abstraction than concrete particulars; or, stated in the reverse, different manifestations of a configuration can have the same or similar meaning.

For example, imagine two individuals with identical charts—one a Catholic priest and the other a white supremacist—both of whom have transiting Jupiter conjuncting Pluto Scorpio in the 9th opposing Mars Taurus in the 3rd (see Figure 2). Separate events occur that are personally relevant to each. In the first, the Catholic priest is accused of sodomizing a young boy in his congregation but is protected from prosecution by the archbishop of his province. In the second, a prejudiced Alabama court acquits the white supremacist who is being tried for blowing up a black church and maiming a little girl. Concretely, the events seem different; yet, at a higher level of abstraction, each incident constitutes an injustice in which a powerful but corrupt moral authority—the archbishop and Alabama court—exonerates a perpetrator who has violated a victim in a church.

 

Jupiter Transit

Figure 2: Transiting Jupiter conjunct Pluto in the 9th

Although the particular outcome in each case is not predictable, astrology allows us to surmise the meaning of the period independent of the events that occur. The outcome was fortunate for the perpetrators, which correlates to the Jupiter transit, but fortunate in the context of a heinous act symbolized by Pluto Scorpio in the 9th opposing Mars Taurus in the 3rd. One might infer from the variables involved that the purpose of such a transit is for the perpetrators to reflect upon the moral implications of their violent crimes. Although each escapes punishment, we should not assume that such injustice has no value as a learning experience. The extent to which our pedophile priest and racial bigot mend their ways will be tested by the next major transit to the same configuration. If it is Saturn, they might not be so lucky. The upshot is that the outcome of a transit might not be knowable in advance, but its meaning and purpose can be.

Summary & Conclusion
Psychological astrology began in the 20th century in concert with cultural developments that set the stage for the emergence of a new type of astrology. While early formulations tended to be vague, imprecise, and overly focused on behavioral traits, AstroPsychology presents a highly structured, coherent system that not only reveals the intrapsychic world with unprecedented depth, clarity and precision, but is equally mindful of the circular feedback relations that occur between inner and outer reality.

AstroPsychology recognizes the importance of events as vehicles and catalysts for a developmental process; yet, also accepts the radical indeterminacy of outcomes and thus the futility of predicting events if incognizant of their significance as evolutionary drivers. By stressing the abstract meaning of events over their concrete form, individuals are empowered to consciously cooperate with an evolutionary imperative at the heart of the cosmos.

A prime objective at the Academy of AstroPsychology has been to develop astrology into a theory of personality that is both rigorous and flexible. The purpose of this effort is not merely to gain acceptance for astrology within the field of psychology, but for the inherent value of building a cutting edge, cogent model that subsumes and integrates relevant concepts from different traditions and thereby advances our understanding of what it means to be human.

* * * * *

Notes

1 This article is abstracted from Perry, G. An Introduction to AstroPsychology. Haddam Neck, CT: AAP Press, 2012.

Hall, C., & Lindzey, G. (1978). Theories of person­ality. New York: John Wiley & Sons

The Academy of AstroPsychology offers online classes in astrology as a personality theory, developmental model, and diagnostic/prognostic tool. www.astropsychology.org

4 Hall, M.P. (1954). The essential nature of consciousness. Los Angeles: Philosophical Research Society

 5 Hand, R. Toward a Postmodern Astrology. Published at www.astro.com, cited September 1, 2014. http://www.astro.com/astrology/in_postmodern_e.htm

 

Multiple Layers of Meaning

Multiple Layers of Meaning 

By Glenn Perry

 

Multiple layers of meaningStudent: Recently I heard an astrologer give a reading in which he made no mention of planets in signs or houses. He only interpreted aspects. The client was going through her Saturn return and the astrologer interpreted Saturn conjunct natal Saturn, but that’s all. Yet, it seemed to be helpful! I’ve also heard astrologers interpret planets in signs but they did not seem to fit the person. Maybe sign positions are superfluous? In striving to understand chart synthesis, how important are signs and houses in comparison to just aspects? 

Glenn: There’s no question that aspects are extremely important. In chart synthesis, they’re the skeletal structure upon which the sign positions can be added, like flesh on bone. And the houses provide the background setting in which the planetary aspect plays out. Unless we’re talking about a conjunction, there are generally 7 variables in an aspect that have to be combined into an intelligible statement—two planets, two signs, two houses, and the aspect itself. The complexity of the challenge is daunting and so the tendency is to focus on two variables at a time, the planet in a sign, or a house, or in aspect to another planet. However, fragmenting the person in this way misses how all these variables combine to make the person who he or she actually is.
 
It is relatively easy to say something intelligible about a planet’s sign or house position or a single aspect to another planet. But unless the astrologer takes pains to explain that the interpretation only pertains to a part of the person—that is, it does not describe the person as a whole—then the client is unlikely to recognize the validity of the description offered.
 
All of this underscores the importance of talking to the client before interpreting the chart. Unless the astrologer takes time to really know his client, it’s almost impossible to make an interpretation that synthesizes the seven variables in a way that is actually relevant to how the client is expressing that configuration. Again, the challenge is incorporating the sign and house positions into the interpretation of the aspect. This makes the interpretation more nuanced, specific, and complex in its ability to more closely approximate the person’s actual experience.
 
I call this “layering.” Just as the earth has different layers from its core to its atmosphere, so astrologically a planet has a core meaning for itself, over which is layered the meaning of its sign position, its house position, and additional layers contingent upon its aspects. The more an interpretation combines one meaning layered over another in a way that relates to the client’s actual life concerns, then the more accurate, precise, and relevant the interpretation becomes.
 
Such an interpretation has the quality of a subplot within the larger narrative of the chart as a whole. It is too complex to be reduced to a series of statements about personality traits. Conversely, if a simple interpretation is made of a planet in a sign, or a house, and these factors are not synthesized with the aspect of which they are a part, then it remains generic and not nearly so relevant to the actual experience of that particular person. 
 
To give a simple example, I have two clients with Venus forming an opening square to Mars. Generically, this suggest some difficulty in being able to tolerate the tension of conflicting drives, one for attachment (Venus) and the other for autonomy (Mars). The first person, a woman, has Venus in Pisces in the 10th and Mars in Sagittarius in the 7th. Her tendency is to dissociate (Pisces defense) when in relationship because she worries the other person will become aggressive and violate her rights. With her Mars in Sagittarius, she anticipates she will be attacked on moral grounds (Sagittarius). Since Venus is in the 10th, her Pisces defense of dissociation (passivity, withdrawal) occurs most noticeably in her profession where she takes on more responsibility than she can actually handle. In other words, she cannot say ‘no’.
 
The second person has Venus in Libra in the 9th square Mars in Cancer in the 7th. His fear is that if he commits to marriage with his girlfriend he’ll lose his freedom, so he equivocates and placates and appeases, which is characteristic of Venus in Libra. Since his Mars is in Cancer, he anticipates she will be angry and hurt if he wishes to spend time with his friends. He worries that her dependency needs (Cancer) will overwhelm his capacity to adapt (Libra). And since his Venus is in the 9th, he rationalizes his reluctance to commit on legal grounds (9th house) that divorce laws are biased in favor of woman. 
 
More could be said about both cases, but hopefully this brief example illustrates the subtle differences between aspects on the basis of sign and house positions. The devil is in the details to be sure, but the larger story is in how the details fit together to make a life.
 
In courses AP 102 through 104, specific rules are taught that enable students to make complex, layered interpretations that are maximally relevant and accurate while also allowing for flexibility of meaning. For more on this topic, see my column on “Astromyopia”.

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