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
|Aries/Mars||Survival, Freedom||Joyful Aliveness|
|Taurus/Venus||Safety, Security, Constancy||Security & Comfort|
|Gemini/Mercury||Knowledge, Communication||Mental Stimulation|
|Cancer/Moon||Closeness, Caring, Belonging||Caring & Belonging|
|Leo/Sun||Validation, Self-Esteem||Pride & Confidence|
|Virgo/Mercury||Service, Competence, Efficiency||Useful & Competent|
|Libra/Venus||Intimacy, Relatedness, Beauty||Intimacy & Harmony|
|Scorpio/Pluto||Transformation, Integration, Power||Powerful & Centered|
|Sagittarius/Jupiter||Meaning, Truth, Faith||Optimistic, Expansive|
|Capricorn/Saturn||Structure, Perfection, Success||Order & Mastery|
|Aquarius/Uranus||Overview, Liberation, Progress||Objective, Detached|
|Pisces/Neptune||Transcendence, Unity, Forgiveness||Blissful Unity|
Figure 1: Sign/Planet Motives and Target States
Calibration refers to the allowable degree of deviance from a target state before one is motivated to act. Every individual has a range of permissible feeling for a given motivational system. For Capricorn-Saturn, we tolerate a certain amount of failure or lack of success, beyond which we are motivated to achieve. For Venus, we will endure a measure of distance before needing to restore relatedness and intimacy with our significant other.
Again, the term for this fixed range is the calibration, or “setting” of the motivational system. This setting operates like an emotional thermostat. Just as a thermostat automatically responds to temperature changes by activating heating or cooling mechanisms, so human beings automatically respond to changes in affective states by activating corrective behaviors. This underscores that certain states are naturally and innately preferred over others.
With the Capricorn-Saturn system, if a person feels he is falling too far behind in his goals, he will tend to try harder; if he feels he is way ahead of schedule, he may, for the moment, relax and focus on some other need until he again feels an urgency to achieve. Each sign-planet in astrology has a desired (target) state. Capricorn-Saturn would be a state of order, control, and success. The degree of realization of the preferred state is continually monitored by a reference signal – an affect – that specifies the amount of deviance from the target state.
When a disturbance arises in the environment that has a destabilizing effect on the desired state, this effect is registered as a varying reference signal. The degree of variance from the target state represents a measure of error. The indication of error is then used to trigger a behavior that opposes the error. Thus, changes in action (output) are opposed to effects of disturbance (input) in exact measure as to the degree of error from the target state.
To put this in astrological terms, imagine an individual with a strong Capricorn-Saturn component to his personality. In addition to several planets in Capricorn, his natal Saturn conjuncts the M.C. and opposes Venus in the 4th. Saturn’s target state is a feeling of mastery and success. Of late, however, he has been underfunctioning on the job because he has been distracted by his marriage. His wife has been demanding that he spend more time with her and the children. Eventually his boss tells him that he is being demoted due to inferior productivity. This is the disturbance; his affective response includes feelings of anxiety, guilt, and failure. As a reference signal, such affects vary markedly from Saturn’s target state of success.
To the extent that he can tolerate feelings of failure and use them for motivation, he is likely to compensate by working harder, staying focused, putting in extra time, and so on, even though this might exacerbate stress on his Libra-Venus system. With Saturn as the more pressing need, his renewed dedication to work is calculated to counteract feelings of guilt and failure that have been evoked by his demotion. His goal is to re-establish a feeling of success in his career. Once this is accomplished, he can refocus on his marriage.
A primary goal of any organism is to restore balance (homeostasis) by counteracting disturbance and re-attaining its target states. An emotional variable that has slipped out of prescribed bounds is the system’s equivalent of motivation in the sense that it leads the individual to search for a means to bring it back into line. In the case above, the most intensely felt variable was Saturn with Venus hovering in the background and competing with Saturn as a dominant concern.
The point here is that an organism does not simply respond to an environmental stimulus in a direct, linear fashion; rather it controls its responses―turning certain functions on or off―by virtue of intrinsic reference signals: emotions. Human beings have internal needs, goals, and purposes independent of environmental circumstances. A person controls inputs in accord with the effect these inputs are likely to have on desired states. If the disturbing effect is allowed into consciousness―that is, if it is not suppressed, then the compensatory response is calculated to achieve the desired state. However, if the stimulus conflicts with a more pressing need, the individual may employ defenses to sustain the operation of whatever function (action) has top priority.
Imagine that our Saturn-Venus man is confronted by his wife who bitterly complains about his demanding schedule. Given that his job is on the line (he received a demotion), he is likely to use a Saturnian defense of devaluation (putting his wife down) in order to sustain his commitment to rehabilitate his career. He might say, “You’re being totally unreasonable! If I lose my job we can’t keep the house or afford to put the kids through private school!” The determining factor, again, is not the stimulus itself―his wife’s complaint―but the husband’s assessment of the effect her Venusian demands will have on his preferred state of career success (Saturn).
Feedback and TOTE Units
As living systems, human beings utilize feedback to regulate their functioning. A feedback loop is a process in which information about one’s current state is continually compared with a desired state as a way of keeping on track. It begins with some internal standard of comparison—a desired state of optimal satisfaction. In an attempt to achieve and maintain the standard, people compare where they are to where they want to be. If there is congruence, they terminate that set of behaviors; if there is incongruence, they continue to strive.
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.
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.”