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