Tuesday, 28 April 2009
That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
(T. S. Eliot, The Wasteland)
Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you,‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
The goddess flings a snake at her from her dark locks,
and plunges it into the breast, to her innermost heart, so that
maddened by the creature, she might trouble the whole palace.
Sliding between her clothing, and her polished breast,
it winds itself unfelt and unknown to the frenzied woman,
breathing its viperous breath: the powerful snake becomes her
twisted necklace of gold, becomes the loop of her long ribbon,
knots itself in her hair, and roves slithering down her limbs.
And while at first the sickness, sinking within as liquid venom,
pervades her senses, and clasps her bones with fire.
(Virgil, Aeneid 7)
And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first.
(Margaret Thatcher, interview to Woman's Own magazine, October 31st, 1987.)
* * *
One of the excitements that comes along perhaps once or twice in a modern astrologer's life is the discovery of a major new planet. We had it in 1930, with the appearance of Pluto, and then again in 1977 when the curious planetoid/comet Chiron came to light. Both of these have proved to be hugely important in the birth-chart. However, it takes astrologers a fairly long time to be able to work out what on earth these planets mean, the archetypal symbolism which they carry; Liz Greene is on record as saying that it took twenty years of observation before she felt comfortable teaching about the astrological significance of Chiron, for example.
The astrologer also has to distinguish between primary, important elements in the chart and secondary, minor ones. There are so many asteroids and other bodies knocking around the solar system that one could easily fill up every degree of the chart with something. New planets need watching to see if they are important or not. Amateur astrologers are often so hungry for the chart to render them information that they chuck everything in and can't thereby see the wood for the trees.
Anyway, we now have a new planet (or dwarf-planet) to consider: Eris, one of a number of so-called Kuiper Belt objects. Larger than Pluto and three times farther out, I shall say now that my instinct says this one is going to be very important. Because in astrology the solar system is a symbol of the totality of the psyche--both individual and collective--the discovery of a new planet represents the emergence into consciousness of a new principle, which was hidden or unconscious before. (As above, so below, in the ancient hermetic formula.) As a result, the principle tends to erupt in the collective at the same time as the new planet's discovery, on both a psychological and a physical level. Synchronous world events can often give a degree of insight into its meaning. The discovery of Uranus coincided with Benjamin Franklin's experiments with lightning, and with the French and American Revolutions: we now associate the planet with the Promethean fire of new knowledge and technology, and with attempts to map out, plan or otherwise control life or human societies according to rigidly rational and ideal criteria. The way the French Revolution toppled from the enthroning of Reason to the bloodshed of the Terror is a very precise articulation of Uranian principles. The idea of the urban tower-block is also very Uranian--one can imagine post-World War II architects saying, 'Why shouldn't people live on top of each other up in the sky, instead of side to side in glum little terraces?! Think of the views! Think of the space we'll save in cities!'--totally neglecting, of course, the fact that many people need contact with the earth to be happy, and that the habitability of the building depends on keeping the lifts functioning: twelve flights up are not much fun for the frightened old lady with shopping when the lift is out of order or blocked by the body of a slumped junkie. But such is the glorious abstraction of Uranian vision.
Neptune (discovered 1846) coincided exactly with the first use of anaesthesia and with rages for spiritualism and esoteric doctrines; Pluto (1930) with the rise of fascism, the theoretical foundations for nuclear weapons, and the spread of psychoanalysis to London and the US. (Freud moved to Hampstead in 1938). So current events give us some clues as to the meaning of a new planet, but even these require time and observation so that the astrologer can distinguish the new planetary 'note' from the background noise. Also time and experience are required to be able to get a sense of the wholeness of the new principle, its archetypal breadth, rather than overemphasising a single, historically contingent manifestation. For example, astrologers in the 1930s thought Pluto was to do with organised crime, because of Al Capone and so on. Indeed it is, but because it represents the principle of ruthless survivalism--germane to immigrant experience, of course--and not because it is somehow 'the planet of crime'. Crime is as archetypal and varied as any other aspect of human life, and potentially can be represented by any planet. Even sub-types of crime, such as serial killings, may have very different planetary significators dependent on motive: a twisted sense of mission, lust, material benefit, or inspiration from psychotic delusions, and so on.
A further corollary of the idea that planetary principles nudge up into consciousness around the same time as the planet is discovered lies in the significance of names. The giving of names is also archetypal: the names fit the planets in a mysterious way. People have continued to feel that there is something mysterious and dignified about the heavens, deserving of names with mythic resonance, which is why we call Uranus 'Uranus', and not William Herschel's ghastly original suggestion, Georgium Sidus, 'George III's Star'. (The French understandably didn't like 'Georgium Sidus' much and wanted to call the new planet 'Herschel', which also fell by the wayside for the same reason.) The giving of Greco-Roman names keys us into Greco-Roman mythology, which is another, related source of insight about the nature of a new heavenly body. The intricate patterns of myth, of course, represent another human attempt at capturing the total richness and complexity of the psyche.
So, we have Eris. Discovered in 2005, it is a little smaller than our Moon and a quarter as big again as Pluto; it has one satellite of its own. It has a highly eccentric orbit which takes it three times farther out that Neptune or Pluto, as noted above, but which also brings it in as close as both the latter two at various points in its 577 year orbital cycle. Like Pluto, it is angled oddly to the 'plane' of the solar system.
When first discovered it was given an alphanumeric designation, and then the working-name 'Xena', after Lucy Lawless' character in the TV series of the same name. An archetypal complex of images was already beginning to emerge: the planet was identified as feminine, as the 'strange, foreign one' (Greek ξενα), and the associations of the name 'Lawless' were certainly vivid. The body caused considerable chaos for astronomers: the discovery of a planetoid larger than Pluto called Pluto's status as a planet into question, and it took some months before the International Astronomical Union could resolve the issue and come up with a watertight system of classification. Until this was done, the planet could not be officially named, because of the different naming criteria laid down by the IAU for different classes of object. When an agreement was reached, Pluto was downgraded to the status of 'dwarf planet', along with Xena and the largest of the asteroids, Ceres; and eventually the name Eris, after the Greek goddess of Strife, was given to the new heavenly body. Astrologers observed wryly as the planet was so dubbed, reflecting on the chaos and discord its discovery had already set in motion. Yet again, a new planet seemed to have been aptly named. Eris' moon was named Dysnomia, 'Lawlessness', in a homage to Lucy Lawless:
But what might the new planet mean astrologically? Well, first things first. Like the other 'new' planets, Eris will represent a collective rather than a personal principle, because everyone born over a 50 year period will have Eris in the same sign. (In fact because of its peculiar, very elliptical orbit, Eris will go through some signs much more quickly than others, as Chiron does.) One of the disadvantages of this is that the consultant astrologer is therefore like to meet only people who have Eris in Aries or, if the client happens to be in their 70s or 80s, in Pisces. (Eris changed signs in the 1920s: my late grandmother had Eris in the last degree of Pisces.) This means that it is impossible to get direct experience of how Eris functions in say, Libra, although in 300 years we will no doubt find out. We have a less extreme version of this problem with Pluto--there's no one alive with, say, Pluto in Taurus, but the astrologer might meet clients with Pluto in Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, or Sagittarius, or even, just conceivably, in late Gemini. This at least allows us to get a sense of how the planet functions in the different elements.*
So except by means of historical inquiry, we aren't going to be able to get much sense of what Eris is like as a generational influence in Air or Earth, so the blindfold is rather on and we are in the realm of the informed guess. But like the other outer planets, Eris won't be a personal planet: the building blocks of the the conscious ego in astrological terms are Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. We may well be implicated in the collective concerns of the generation we are a part of through links between the personal planets and the outer ones--everyone is--but these influences are wider than the personal ego and are often difficult to integrate. The outer planets tend to be indigestible to the ego, and I suspect that Eris will prove to be among the more difficult of these. The conflicts and crises associated with Eris by house and aspect will be beyond the control of the individual, stretching and confronting us with elements that are alien to the individual personality.
The Mythological Eris
The next, and indeed fundamental, key to the meaning of a new planet follows on from its name. As I noted above, astrologers have always looked to the myth of the deity associated with the planet in question for insights into its meaning. This only works sometimes, having proved less than helpful in the case of Uranus, Neptune and Pluto--the mythology of Neptune in particular is of only the vaguest use in understanding its action within the psyche. (This suggests that the archetypal meaning of the 'new' planets, representing principles that were just beginning to surface consciously in the human psyche, were understandably hard for individuals to grasp. Better names for Uranus, Neptune and Pluto would have been Prometheus, Dionysus and Moira. One only has to read 19th century classical scholarship on Euripides' Bakkhai to get a sense of how very difficult the complex Dionysus archetype was for the average Victorian to grasp.)
Eris, fortunately, is fairly distinct in mythological terms and fascinatingly presents us with a dual face. Hesiod describes in the Works and Days how--
After all, there was not only one variety of Strife, but over earth
two Strifes exist. One, men would praise, seeing her at work,
but the other they revile, for they have wholly different natures.
The one, a cruel being, foments evil and war and battle;
no mortal loves her, but under compulsion by the will of the deathless gods
they pay harsh Strife her due of honour. But the other is the elder daughter
whom dark Night brought forth, and the son of Kronos on high,
dwelling in the upper air, embedded her in the earth's roots;
she is much kinder to men. She stirs up even the idle to hard work,
for a man grows eager to labour when he sees his neighbour,
a rich man who hurries to plough and plant
and put his house in good order, and one neighbour contends with another
as they hurry after wealth; this Strife is good for men.
Potter too is piqued with potter, craftsman with craftsman;
beggar begrudges beggar, and bard resents bard. (My trans.)
This is extremely interesting. All the planets are double-faced and multivalent: they have both positive and negative manifestations in human terms. But the mythology of Eris makes this absolutely explicit from the start. The doctrine of the two Erides in the Works and Days is a rewriting of the description of the 'bad Eris' in Hesiod's own earlier Theogony; she appears there as the sister of Ares, the god of war, causing bloodshed and giving birth to a catalogue of miseries:
But abhorred Eris brought forth painful Toil, Forgetfulness, and Famine, and tearful Sorrows, and Squabbles too; Battles, Murders, Manslaughters, Quarrels, Lies, Disputes, Lawlessness and Ruin, all of similar nature; and also Oath, who most troubles men upon earth when anyone wilfully swears a false oath.
Ares' unpleasant sister is elsewhere called Enyo: in the Iliad, Homer explicitly identifies the two. So, the mythological picture so far gives us 'negative' Eris, embodied in argument and conflict, but also the 'positive' Eris who represents the urge to achieve, the spur of healthy competition. (I find it very interesting that Eris should be discovered just as debate rages about the place of competition in our education system; the positive Eris seems the antithesis of our current 'All must have prizes' educational philosophy, as Melanie Phillips, loathe though I am to namecheck her, has described it.) Mythologically speaking, Eris seems to represent both Strife and Striving, Contention as well as a rather Thatcherite-sounding Competition. However, it's striking that Hesiod's attempt to demarcate the twin Erides as having 'wholly different natures' wobbles somewhat towards the end of his description in the Works and Days. The vision of the angry potters and resentment-filled beggars is taking the idea of rivalry (positive Eris) and moving it towards quarrelling and violence (negative Eris.) The thing they seem to share, the archetypal core, if you like, is envy. As Liz Greene has pointed out, in a discussion of Saturnian defences, '[e]nvy can be extremely creative. Through making envy conscious, we can discover what we want and value, because we see it in someone else and wish we had it...Envy, recognised and constructively channelled, can spur us toward developing qualities and abilities which we might not otherwise have recognised as our own potentials.' (Barriers and Boundaries: The Horoscope and the Defences of the Personality, p. 139.) Envy, if we cannot acknowledge it, can also lead us to attempt to destroy the person or institution which possesses the quality we feel we do not have ourselves. The positive Eris is actually called 'Emulation' elsewhere in classical literature, and I think the concepts of conscious and unconscious envy may well be the key to the astrological Eris.
But of course the most famous mythological story concerning Eris recounts her role as catalyst of the Trojan War. Hera, Athena and Aphrodite had been invited along with the rest of Olympus to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, who would become the parents of Achilles, but Eris had been snubbed because of her troublemaking inclinations. The bad fairy in the folk-tale Briar-Rose and the wonderfully creepy Maleficent in Disney's Sleeping Beauty are clear sub-literary echoes of Eris:
She therefore tossed into the party the Apple of Discord, a golden apple inscribed τῃ καλλίστῃ, 'tei kallistei'--"To the Fairest One"--provoking the goddesses to begin quarreling about the appropriate recipient. The hapless Paris, as we all know, was appointed to select the most beautiful by Zeus, a mythic complex which Liz Greene has seen as especially relevant to the crises and challenges experienced by people with strong Libra. Each of the three goddesses immediately attempted to bribe Paris to choose her. Hera offered political power, Athena skill in battle, and Aphrodite tempted him with the most beautiful woman in the world: Helen, wife of Menelaus of Sparta, the option which the hapless Paris chose and which brought about the utter destruction of his city, kin, and people.
It should be apparent by now, I hope, that Eris is a powerful deity in myth, with an archetypally rich series of themes with which we can work. Below I discuss these under three headings: the first discusses Eris in evolutionary terms, as a symbol of Darwinian struggle; then I look at it in economic and political terms. Finally, I offer some thoughts about its psychological significance. I must emphasise again that these are initial explorations, and are offered tentatively.
Eris as Darwinian Survival of the Fittest
The further out we go the less and less personal the planets are; Pluto, for example, is a very archaic energy, representing the collective urge to survive at all costs, regardless of the fate of the individual. It thus has a strong connection with the phenomenon of extinction in the service of the broader sweep of organic life. (One can see why Pluto is a very uncomfortable energy when it erupts into personal human life, when certain elements in society may be marked out by the collective for suppression or ruthless extirpation, whether they be blacks, Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, or Muslims; we should note that the full horror of the Nazi death-camps were exposed to the world during a precise Saturn-Pluto square.) If Pluto is the collective survival instinct at its most primitive, Eris may have something to do with the driving mechanism for evolution: competition between species for light, food, and water. Members of a single species may differ significantly, and those which have some advantageous genetic quirk will survive and procreate in greater numbers than members of the same species which do not possess the same advantage, so that the new adaptation gradually passes through the gene-pool. Eris may be the astrological symbol of the survival of the fittest (a phrase Darwin never in fact used) by means of natural selection. It seems rather Eridian to me that genetic change is merely happenstance, an accident of DNA replication; for every advantageous error in replication, there must be innumerable useless or actively harmful changes. Evolution can only proceed because species reproduce in such vast numbers, of which the great majority are totally dispensible (Pluto). As Darwin wrote:
As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected. From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form.
Transiting Eris conjuncted Darwin's Sun in Aquarius as he set off on his voyage aboard HMS Beagle, during which he made the observations that led eventually to the writing of The Origin of Species. The conjunction was operative--to within a degree--during the entire 1831-6 voyage. As The Origin of Species was published in 1859, Eris moved in to conjoin Darwin's natal Mercury and precisely square his natal Saturn~Neptune conjunction in Sagittarius in the 12th. The book's publication had an interesting Eridian flavour: Alfred Russel Wallace sent Darwin a theoretical version of a mechanism for evolution, closely similar to his own, just as Darwin was preparing to publish. Fortunately the two were able to come to an agreement to present their work together at a meeting of the Linnean Society of London in July 1858.
Envy and the Economic Eris
Hesiod's positive Eris seems to me to have an obvious bearing on economic issues. In the Greek, the word for the 'well-ordered' house of the industrious peasant is the same as that which lies the root of our word 'economics'--literally the 'rules of housekeeping', or something along those lines. This is worth a degree of speculation. On the one hand, the principle of Eris-as-Emulation brings to mind Keith Joseph and 'Thatcherite' economic policy, according to which the desire for self-betterment is inculcated by the urge to enjoy for oneself what others have, thus driving growth and ensuring efficiency within a deregulated market. But these phenomena always form an archetypal unity with their opposites, and I am inclined to see the Thatcher government/Old Left conflicts of the early 1980s as profoundly suggestive of the nature of the astrological Eris. Whilst the left saw Thatcher's free market economics as heartless, elevating competition above all other human concerns and initiating a decade of grotesquely conspicuous consumption, the right saw only sour resentment which discouraged ambition and entrepreneurship. The conflict is archetypal: where the left sees greed, the right sees envy, and each is necessary to justify the other's self-righteousness. Hesiod's picture of the relationship between the two men, shiftless and industrious, is recalled.
Whatever one thinks of Thatcher, her emphasis on the importance of competition, not only in the goods market but also in capital and labour markets, closely echoes the mythology of Eris. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that her birthchart features a Venus~Eris trine. We should also remember that the word 'Venus' may be connected etymologically to terms for buying and selling, and in any event comes from an Indo-European root *wen- meaning "to strive after, wish, desire, be satisfied"; I suspect the two planets might well get on better than we might expect. (It is Venus~Aphrodite, after all, who ends up in myth with Eris' fateful apple.) In Thatcher's chart, Eris also forms an inconjunct aspect to the Moon, and is also just conjunct Uranus, out of sign, suggesting the nasty, disruptive shock her policies gave the country, as well the cool way in which she imposed her new economic vision for what she saw as the country's own good. As she came to power, transiting Eris squared her natal Jupiter and Pluto exactly, and inconjuncted Saturn. Indeed, Thatcher conducted her entire premiership this close Jupiter~Eris~Pluto T-Square, suggesting her radical, brutal transformation (Pluto) of the country's institutions of wealth-creation, in order to foster unchecked growth (Jupiter) by means of competition and economic aspiration (Eris). In the early 80s, transiting Pluto opposed transiting Eris and, just as the Miners' Strike got going in 1984, squared Jupiter: a nice example of the way that political events mysteriously find protagonists who echo their own astrological weather. Thatcher even unknowingly echoed Hesiod, famously claiming to be an ordinary, thrifty housewife. And as always, it takes two people to express both sides of an archtypal conflict, behind which there is a mysterious unity, and I was unsuprised to find that Arthur Scargill, leader of the National Union of Mineworkers and Thatcher's chief opponent during the Miners' Strike of 1984-5, has Eris closely conjunct Saturn. As Thatcher left power in 1990, Eris was beginning to oppose her natal Sun on 19 Libra. Furthermore, though I haven't time to go into it here, Thatcher's single-minded (and immensely popular) pursuit of the Falklands War, and in particular the sinking of the Belgrano, suggest that the archetype of the other Eris, the sister of Ares, was not absent from her nature:
The Psychoanalytic Eris
Leaving Thatcher and delving into psychoanalytic theory, I am inclined to associate Eris tentatively with the Freudian 'return of the repressed'; that is, the disruptive rising to the surface of some unwelcome and disowned psychic element, which, if not given access to consciousness and the ego's associated executive functions, will often be projected onto an outer 'hook', or express itself through neurotic or somatised symptoms. I suspect a link here with Mercury as psychopomp, his guise as leader of dead souls; as such, he is the only one of the Olympians who regularly ventures down into Hades and returns, a symbol of our ability through thought and language to work with the contents of the Unconscious. Mercury is officially allowed to go down and up between earth and Hades, as it were; but Eris comes whether invited or not. I have an instinct--and it's no more than an instinct at this stage--that Eris may turn out to have something to do with psychological crises and breakdowns, in which repressed conflicts erupt into consciousness, and possibly it may also have some bearing on allergies and phobias. (Analysts tell me that an allergy sometimes represents the somatisation of an unconscious complex which the ego is not allowing to surface in any other way, though as the son of two doctors I am somewhat sceptical.)
Eris seems to be the spectre at the feast. Appearing at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, or in her fairy tale guise as the bad fairy at the Christening, she represents the irrefusable eruption of disowned psychic contents. ("You weren't wanted", say the three podgy, fussy good fairies to Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty, when she haughtily asks why she was not invited.) These may not in themselves be purely negative, but they will be raw and unadapted. I remarked earlier that Eris is likely to be one of those archetypal principles which is difficult for the ego to metabolise, like Chiron or Pluto; I wonder in particular if it has a particular connection to women's repressed rage at patriarchal oppression, as planetary archetypes tend gendered one way or the other for a reason, though some, like Pluto, are ambiguous. As sister of Ares~Mars and symbolically associated several times over with the imagery of the warrior-woman, there is potentially much to explore here. (Alas, Lorena Bobbit's birth data do not seem to be available.)
* * *
One final strategy we can use to get a sense of how Eris might work psychologically is to consider how well it might 'get on' with the other planets, using a mixture of astrological experience, mythology, and intuition. Some astrological principles have a certain amount of common ground: Mercury and Uranus are 'friends' if you like, as are the Moon and Neptune, Saturn and Chiron, or the Sun and Mars; they can, as it were, make partial common cause. Some pairings are less happy: the Sun as symbol of the personal consciousness is swamped and threatened by Neptune's amorphous, ego-obliterating solutio, for example, and the Moon's penchant for identifying with the body and with one's roots makes it uncomfortable with Uranus' cool, dissociative disregard for the flesh.
Eris' collective nature is unlikely to make it a natural bedfellow for the Sun. If, as I suspect, Eris reflects a very primitive level of struggle in organic life then it stands in marked contrast to the Sun's personal values. On the other hand, the urge to strive, to distinguish oneself from the common herd is germane to the Sun; I wonder if there is something Eridian in the idea of injured merit and its associated concommittants of insecurity and inflation. (See below for a discussion of Iago in these terms.) It's fitting somehow that Maleficent should be so aristocratic, in constrast to the co-operative bourgeois busyness of the good fairies. Sun~Eris might therefore suggest contempt and hatred for the collective as the profanum vulgus, a sense of terrible insecurity and resentment at exclusion disguised by inflation and a tendency to autocracy.
I doubt that Eris and the Moon have much common ground. The Moon symbolises what makes us comfortable, and Eris is likely to be an uncomfortable energy; that said, a fiery Moon (Eris conjunct Moon in Aries, for example, which a very large number of people will have) which relishes challenge and competition might be better able to express this energy in a healthy way. A Cancerian Moon squaring Eris might find it rather more difficult.
Mercury is a different matter. Behind the astrological Mercury is the archetype of the Trickster--wonderfully explored by Lewis Hyde in his superb anthropological work Trickster Makes This World--which is the archetype of creative intelligence in the service of desire. Curious, ambiguous and given to devilment, Mercury as thief and mischief-maker has something in common with the mythological Eris. Both can foster conflict: I'm reminded of a Yoruba myth in which Eshu, the messenger and go-between of the gods, walks in a line between two men working in two fields on either side of a road. One man thinks Eshu is wearing a red hat. The other thinks he is wearing a black hat. They fall to quarrelling, and end up having a fist-fight over the nature of the disputed garment. Eshu watches them, sighs, and goes on his way--wearing his special hat that is red on one side, black on the other. Mercurial conflict arises from the archetype's sheer ambivalence, and can be prevented by the intelligent fostering of multiple perspectives. But 'negative' Eris foments disaffection and disputes out of a sense of personal slight, creating conflict by revealing tensions that are present but unconscious in the psyche. The inscribed apple which Eris lobs into the wedding-party is after all designed to prey on the vanity of the three goddesses and to set them against each other.
With Venus, myth gives us a hint, in that it is Venus, as I've noted, who ultimately benefits from the choice of Paris. I've also mentioned positive Eris' connection with imitative desire, the way that we learn what to want because we see others wanting it. This is rather inimical to Venus' personal values, but there is common ground here with the Taurean side of Venus, with its acquisitive connection to money and possessions. 'Keeping up with the Joneses' might be a Venus~Eris phenomenon in archetypal terms, and given the competitive, invidious nature of positive Eris, in connection to Venus the phrase 'All's fair in love and war' comes to mind.
That the relationship between the two planets is actually rather complicated is indeed suggested by the pairing of love and war in certain schools of Greek thought. The Sicilian pre-Socratic philosopher Empedocles famously thought that Love (φιλία) and Stife (νεῖκος) were paired cosmic forces which brought about the combination and separation of the elements, which would otherwise be unvaried and undifferentiated. Empedoclean Love was certainly identified with Venus at various points in antiquity, but Strife was normally connected with Mars, as for instance in the famous proem to Lucretius' De Rerum Natura, in which Strife (Mars) lies in a state of post-coital collapse in the lap of Love (Venus), a scene of course wonderfully painted by Botticelli. However, astrologically, Love and Strife might better be connected with Neptune (dissolution back into undifferentiated unity) and Eris (the revelation of latent conflict). This again makes me feel that there is something very important about Eris; it may be connected somehow to the unanswerable question of why human beings are different at all, which is profoundly linked to the issue of consciousness. After all, on one level, every birthchart contains the same 'stuff': we all have the same planets, the same elements, and the same signs. On another level, we are profoundly differentiated, with different elements of the chart emphasised or de-empasised, and at widely varying levels of consciousness. Eris may well perform a function akin to the cilia of the lungs, sweeping material upwards from the unconscious and laying intrapsychic conflict bare so that we must confront it.
Mars also plays a clear role in the mythology of Eris, which suggests how they may interact astrologically. Eris is quite simply his sister, a kind of female version of the unpleasant, brutal Ares, the most disliked of the gods in Homer. In Iliad IV, Homer identifies her with the goddess Enyo:
Strife whose wrath is relentless, she is the sister and companion of murderous Ares, she who is only a little thing at the first, but thereafter grows until she strides on the earth with her head striking heaven. She then hurled down bitterness equally between both sides as she walked through the onslaught making men's pain heavier.
Again, I am tempted to see the image of Strife literally growing in terms of Freudian repression: from being ignored and repressed she expands to vast size, or perhaps, if kept tamped down in the unconscious, she swells to become the proverbial 'elephant in the living room'. I recall an example of this once when I was teaching a teenage girl as a private tutor (she was a Libra, so I suspect she may have had an Eris~Sun opposition) who was given to self-harming. Her mother, a seductive, rather glacial personality, was clearly jagged with rage at her daughter's refusal to get up or wash, and her habit of cutting her arms lightly with razor-blades. I recall once being sat down to teach Twelfth Night in their kitchen as the mother busied herself around us, making small-talk, totally ignoring the fact that her daughter was sitting there actually bleeding from numerous fresh cuts. Both went on to make fairly obvious attempts to get me--a hired tutor of no importance--onto their 'side'. The atmosphere of unspoken rage and conflict was so powerful and so uncomfortable for me as a neutral outsider that I resigned from the job. Mars~Eris may then suggest both healthy self-assertion through competition--Eris as Emulation again--as well as difficult, knotty conflict and violence.
Jupiter and Eris and rather strongly linked in myth; Hesiod, as we have seen, has Zeus implanting the positive Eris 'in earth's roots', suggesting that she is firmly embedded in our experience of being incarnated, of living on earth and in physical bodies. It also suggests that she needs proper acknowledgement if we are to live well and enjoy the earth's produce. She thus reflects a variety of Saturnian gumption here, the urge toward profitable industry, in a kind of positive version of God's curse upon Adam in Genesis 3, quoted at the top of this article: by the sweat of your face shall ye eat bread. Interestingly, from the post-Homeric 'cyclic' epics, which survive only in fragments, and from other sources, it appears that it was Zeus himself who was responsible for getting Eris to disrupt the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, along with Themis, the personification of 'that which is right', that peculiarly Greek combination of natural and social law. Zeus felt, according to myth, that the world was becoming gravely overpopulated and that a good drawn-out war would be an excellent method of culling human beings. Therefore, at the wedding, he stationed Hermes at the door and bade him forbid Eris entrance; when he did so, Eris rolled the (clearly preprepared) apple into the assembly from the door, thus bringing about the war, as Zeus knew she would.
My own feeling is that it is not Zeus~Jupiter but Themis who is the key here, and that Zeus is just something of a patriarchal stooge. Themis is a Plutonian deity, the mother of the Moirai or Fates; she represents the boundaries of natural law which brings Nemesis in their wake if crossed. Eris here is, if you like, the executive branch of Nemesis. Eris, in this guise, doesn't destroy by attacking personally, laying about her with weapons like her brother Ares; rather with one small, well-placed action she exposes radical internal conflicts which ensure that people eventually destroy themselves. (Echoes of the appropriately named Chaos Theory.)
As for Saturn, we seen that the positive Eris is potentially rather compatible with Saturnian values; one might expect tenacity and industriousness to be appropriate interpretations of a Saturn~Eris trine or sextile, or a conjunction of the two planets trining the Sun or Moon. (I would especially expect this to be the case with the conjunction in early Taurus which will occur in the late 2050s). Negative Eris also chimes with Saturn's tendency to envy and resentment, and to its sense of exclusion. Eris might well be implicated in Saturnian situations of victimisation and chronic insecurity, with their unfortunate associations with scapegoating. (Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma Bomber, had Eris conjunct both Chiron on one side and Saturn~Venus on the other; perhaps we might think of Eris' apple symbolically in terms of explosive devices.) But on the other hand, Saturn represents the boundaries of the personality, its barriers and defences, whilst Eris may represent the breaching of those barriers by repressed material. Where Saturn attempts to block, Eris will undermine insidiously, chipping away until the whole structure falls. This is why my intuition tells me Eris may have much to do with situations of psychic breakdown.
Uranus and Eris have some kinship; both are disruptive to the old order. But Uranus does away with the old from the top down, in order imposing a new vision or pattern; it is all mind and spirit. Eris, on the other hand, has links to the squalling Freudian id, destroying the old from the bottom up by forcibly reminding it of what has been hidden down in the basement. (Or in the attic: Jean Rhys, whose book Wide Sargasso Sea re-imagines the 'madwoman in the attic' of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre through a postcolonial and feminist lens, had Eris opposition Venus, inconjuct the Sun and Uranus.) In total contrast to Uranus, Eris has no interest in building or imposing something new. Eris represents a realm of archaic instinctuality with which Uranus would rather not deal at all, though the two planets might have superficially similar aims.
I can see little common ground between Eris and Neptune. Eris is all about the sense of difference, not Neptunian porousness; they might conceivably share a resentful sense of exclusion and abandonment, but where Neptune suffers and self-victimises, Eris plots revenge.
Pluto and Chiron are the planets most obviously akin to Eris. Pluto and Eris, as I noted, represent very primal, impersonal urges, to struggle and to survive. I'm rather glad I won't be around to see the Pluto~Eris conjunction of about 100 years hence: if I had to place an astrologer's bet on some kind of ghastly climate change-driven third world war for the earth's resouces (the conjunction will be in Taurus), that would be the aspect on which I would place my money. Chiron shares a maverick quality with Eris, and Eris, like Chiron, is possessed of a vast, savage rage. But with Chiron, the rage is inspired by a wound, and a wound which tragically is nobody's fault but for which there is nevertheless no cure. It's a planet which seems to have a connection with a sense of cosmic unfairness. With Eris, on the other hand, the rage is personal: it is a sense of pique, of anger at her exclusion from the party. As I noted above, there is something in Eris of a sense of injured merit, which reminds me very strongly of the murky patterns of Othello. Eris (or Eris~Pluto, or Eris~Chiron) may well have an Iago-like quality.
Iago's resentment of Othello is the flipside of his love and loyalty to him; but when he is passed over for promotion, his sense of personal slight is so global precisely because it taps into some terrifying, inner black hole, generating an implacable destructive power totally out of proportion to the stimulus. This led Coleridge to say that Iago acted with 'motiveless malignancy', but this isn't quite true. He does have motives, but none of them either separtately or together are sufficient to explain his actions. His self-justifications are contingent and oddly throwaway. But like Eris, he doesn't destroy Othello and Desdemona directly: he works on Othello's own insecurities, fostering his latent jealousy until the general destroys himself and his wife. I've always found it interesting that Iago uses techniques which might elsewhere belong in a comedy: lost hankerchiefs, verbal trickery and so on. W. H. Auden called him a 'practical joker', and that captures something of Eris too: on one level, the image of the three noblest goddesses of Olympus squabbling on the floor for a gilded gewgaw is cynically amusing. But I think that envy--that Eridian keyword--is central here. Othello feels pathological jealously, torn apart by the feeling that someone else (Cassio) has taken or is taking away what is his; but Iago acts, in part, from envy, which not only wants what someone else has, but wants the other person not to have it. (I often watch this in my brother and myself: both of us are Taureans, and he's prone to jealousy, and I to envy. They're quite distinct.) Envy, according to Chaucer, is the worst sin because it destroys all the virtues; other sins only attack one, as Gluttony, for example, destroys Continence.
I think Othello may have much to teach us about the dynamics of Eris~Pluto, and about Eris more generally; my whole generation (Thatcher's children) has Eris opposition Pluto, and it might be worth looking at themes of invidiousness in charts where the opposition is emphasised by a connection to a personal planet. Iago is the apotheosis of envy, as well as being a very accurate portrait of the superficial charm, absence of conscience and terrible inner emptiness of the psychopath. As for Othello himself, when we watch the play we see a masterful portrait of an unconscious complex coming to the surface and taking over the personality, because the ego is not strong enough to mediate it. And Iago stands on the sidelines, manipulating things like a demonic psychologist, a Mengele-Freud.
* * *
That is what I have to say on the subject of Eris, so thank you to any and all readers who have waded through this absurdly long post. I hope the forgoing is illustrative of something of the complexity of the mythological Eris as an archetype, and suggestive of the ways in which the new planet may be interpreted astrologically. From now on, I'm going to look at Eris in every chart that I do, to see if further themes and patterns emerge. (One thing I did note when examining charts for this article was the number of times I found Eris involved in inconjunct aspects, which might reflect the fact that inconjuncts (150 degree aspects) occur between planets in signs which are not compatible by quality, element, or gender; such planets are triply in conflict.)
There are numerous places for further research. The transit cycle of Eris and the other outer planets needs to be studied; one would expect there to be a link with the build-ups to various wars. A brief perusal reveals that Eris squared Pluto all through the decade before the outbreak of WWI; it was exact in 1910 and moved out of orb during the war itself. At the moment of Archduke Franz Ferdinand's assassination--the 'golden apple' to WWI's Trojan War--Eris in Pisces was exact trine to Neptune and Mercury in Cancer, trining the Archduke's own natal Mars. Eris is also strikingly prominent in the chart for 9/11: as the first plane hit the World Trade Centre, there was a Mercury~Eris opposition exactly over the Ascendant/Descendant axis. The outbreak of WWII (the first shots fired in Danzig) saw Eris on 4 Aries, right in the middle of a close Moon-Jupiter conjunction in the 8th.
Much here remains to be seen. One thing, however, that cheers me about Eris is that its difficult associations will force astrologers to take a more cautious view of the new planet's benefits. It's traditional for newly-discovered heavenly bodies to be hailed by the woolier end of the astrological community as symbols of spiritual enlightenment, universal harmony, and other New Age bromides. Even Chiron, who has one of the saddest and most pessimistically pragmatic stories in myth, full of irreversible loss and chronic pain, was seen in some quarters as the astrological poster-boy for 'healing' in the tofu-and-shamanic-drumming sense. It's as though any newly-discovered planet has to be seen through Uranian~Neptunian spectacles before a more realistic vision can be forged. But with Eris, personification of discord, envy, and competition for resources, goddess of hard work and imitative acqusitiveness, the antipsychopomp who might as well be Mercury's tricksy sister as that of Mars? Unlikely, I feel.
* * *
*Incidentally, the TV drama Skins absolutely captures, in exaggerated form, something of the distinctive quality of the Pluto-in-Scorpio (1984-96) generation: intense, introverted and insular, but with a paradoxically compulsive need to network and share, cynical and often self-destructive and highly sexualised, but with a forensic, mordant eye for hypocrisy and self-delusion in the society about them:
I reflected while watching it that it's the generational shifts in the outer planets' signs that mark that heart-sinking sense of a generational gulf. The kids in Skins are meant to be only 9 years younger than me, yet never has anything made me feel quite so antique.
Saturday, 11 April 2009
This is the chart of the elderly lady I have elsewhere called 'Bethan June Phelps' when describing the tangled history of our friendship. Birth-data has been withheld for confidentiality. You may want to follow the link above to get a sense of my view, at least, of her nature and the events that passed between us, before going on to see how this is reflected in the archetypal underpinnings of her horoscope. Her view of the matter, no doubt, would be somewhat different. Please note that I have permission to discuss the chart in public.
* * *
The chart is very earthy: five planets are in earth signs, plus the ascendant and midheaven. Only one planet, the Moon, is in fire. A lot of planets, however, are in cardinal signs. According to the most basic of astrological theory, then, this is someone who is intensely driven towards concrete achievement, towards having an impact on the physical world around them, but whose capacity for vision, imaginative play and excitement, for 'seeing the bigger picture' is not all that accessible to consciousness. Earth at its worst can be remorselessly unimaginative, self-entrenching and depressive, so it's interesting to look at the way that someone with a chart so oriented towards concrete achievement in the world has seemed to stall for decades in a kind of melancholy stasis. To give a concrete example, in the ten years that I knew 'June', she only spent a single night away from her home.
The chart also has two large aspect-formations: a grand cross between Mercury, Uranus, Pluto and Mars (the red square with the diagonals put in), and a grand trine between Mars, Venus and Chiron in air (the blue triangle). Grand crosses are difficult, though often very productive: the four planets concerned are all forced to 'talk' to one another whether they like it or not, and the energy grates and nags and is awkward. They need work to integrate healthily and productively, and this tends not to come easily. In contrast, with grand trines, it is easier for the three planets to come to an understanding, even if their intrinsic natures are not very compatible.
The Moon conjunct Pluto (out of sign) in the 4th is one of the fundamental base-notes of June's chart. The Moon denotes what makes us feel comfortable, and 'at home', as well as our sense of the past and our immediate familial roots. With the Moon in Leo, we sense that June was by nature a dramatic child with a strong need to be the focus of parental attention. But with Pluto conjunct the Moon in the 4th, I suspect 'home' was felt to be rather a dangerous place--shark-infested waters, as it were, a domestic atmosphere glowering with suppressed tension and thick with family secrets. The 4th is the house, amongst other things, of the father (or the archetypal father-image projected onto the actual father), and Pluto is acting here as a major father-significator. This is a useful instance of the way that one cannot be sure in advance of the level on which an astrological symbol will operate: Pluto in the 4th could suggest a father who was cruel and abusive, or just a secretive individual who spent all his spare time in a shed at the end of the garden. In June's case, her father was a coalminer--Pluto rules the subterranean, darkness, dangerous professions, and the generation of power. (For all that I bang on about astrology as an archetypal 'poetics of the human', it is often strikingly literal in just this way.) The key to Pluto in the 4th here, I think, is the sense in June's childhood that father isn't safe: a pit-prop could collapse at any time, or there could be a gas leak 200 feet below ground-level. There was a very real threat of death and disaster hanging over her childhood. June was fond of reminding me of fascinating mining superstitions, such as the custom that one never argues with a man who is about to go down the mine, which were still observed in her family.
The presence of the Moon loosely conjunct Pluto also suggests a lot about June's mother. By regressed motion, the moon would have been conjunct with natal Pluto at conception: this suggests that pregnancy was experienced by June's mother as in some way cataclysmically disastrous, a dramatic and disturbing event. (June was an only child.) There are a number of scenarios which could be possible here: the most obvious is that the pregnancy was medically fraught, and that there were serious fears for the health of mother and baby; perhaps it came after a series of miscarriages. More luridly, it could even indicate that conception was the result of a sexual assault. Less disturbingly and more probably, June's mother might have felt horror and depression at the thought of having to take a enforced break from her career as a schoolteacher and its associated freedoms. I have no idea: June and I never discussed it. Again, the chart gives the archetypal background, not a 'fated' or literalised transcription of events. At any rate, this Pluto aspect suggests that pregnancy was no 'happy event' for June's mother, but a viscerally disturbing disruption of her life.
Further to this--and as an example of the way that family life chez Phelps seems to have been charged with plutonian secrets--June was raised until she was in her teens to think that her mother's younger sister (whom I will call 'Joanne') was her own elder sister. There was an age-difference of less than a decade between them, and at least 15 years' age-gap between her mother and Joanne. This strikes me as suspect, to say the least. Of course, June's mother's mother might have had another daughter unusually late and then died, leaving a her own grown-up daughter to look after her much younger orphaned sister. It's not inconceivable. But on the other hand, one wonders if 'Aunt Joanne' was not, in fact, June's mother's biological daughter from a teenage premarital liaison, happy or no. June's mother had, it seems, adored Joanne with a sunny and uncritical devotion, which would make more sense if the latter were in fact her daughter rather than her younger sister. If so, it is unclear how June's father felt about all this: the swirl of events is certainly murky and charged. (The pattern continued, incidentally: June's first cousin, Hilary, was apparently convinced that she herself was in fact Joanne's biological daughter. That's rather a lot of ambiguous parentage for one family.) June often said that her mother has always been distinctly cool towards her, signified astrologically by June's Moon square Uranus and Mercury in the 10th opposition Pluto, suggesting her mother's inability to get close, verbal cruelty and a certain festering resentment, even jealousy of her daughter. Or we should say, rather, that June perceived her mother's behaviour in those terms: the Pluto and Uranus in question are June's, not her mother's. The little Moon~Pluto child may possess an unnerving, dark intensity which might well unsettle, even frighten, the more conventional, 'nice' parent.
Despite the link to Pluto, the Moon is warm in Leo, which is fond of big gestures and is made comfortable by self-dramatisation. June had considerable talent in this direction, especially for vocal mimicry, campy self-mockery and coming the comic grande dame. If she found something for which she had been looking in her tumbledown, filthy house, she would invariably exclaim in a surreal outburst, '"Aha!!", she cried in Spanish, as she waved her wooden leg!'. She once came up with the plan of wheeling a friend's new baby up the road in his pram to the village shop, where she would explain to the puzzled masses that she 'had just come back from seeing those nice doctors in Rome.'
The dramatic monologue was June's preferred conversational mode, and as I have noted elsewhere, she was a remarkably gifted storyteller. For example, I first met her when I was in my early teens, when she would explain, with solemn outrage, that she lived in poverty. And indeed, she was pretty short of funds, existing on the basic state pension of £95 a week: not a sum I'd care to live on myself. Her house--her parents' house, in fact, and her childhood home--was quite amazingly dirty, with every wall the colour of toffee and a greasy film of nicotine on all the surfaces. The upstairs front bedroom had a collapsed ceiling, a keyboard, half a dozen ancient hat-boxes, two sewing machines, three wardrobes, several card-tables, a suitcase full of lurid kaftans, baskets of wool, a typewriter, plastic bags stuffed with papers, a collection of pictures of cats, and bowls of disarticulated doll-parts. June would decry the obscenity of it all, bitterly regretting the fact that she was still paying off her former partner's credit card debt, a few pounds a week, and would be doing so for the rest of her life. In a distinctly Pluto~Moon in Leo story (tragedy, malign fate, and explosions), she told me that she never inherited her partner's wealth because he had not signed the new version of his Will when he was unexpectedly blown up in a tank in Beirut. This gives you, reader, a good sense of the way that the internal logic of June's stories could give one pause. Outstanding debt, as I understand it, is not personally transferable, but payable out of the deceased's estate; however, the cards might have been in both their names, I suppose. But the incident of the unsigned Will is just too melodramatic to be true--it has an equally ludicrous sequel, according to which June's late partner's sister came round to their shared flat after her brother's death, and before June's eyes snatched all her expensive clothes out of the wardrobe as hers by right.
June would tell these stories with great weary sighs at life's cruelty toward her, and at the penury in which she lived: all the while she would be chaining cigarette after cigarette. She smoked at least a pack of 24 Royals a day, and at £5.54 a pack, her material poverty might have had more to do with her spending half her pension on rough ciggies than it did with ancient debt and operatic misfortune. June's autobiographical tales were always rather Terry Pratchett-meets-The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, if you'll forgive that bizarre juxtaposition.
The general love of drama is accentuated by her Sun~Jupiter conjunction in Capricorn. Jupiter is not terribly at home with Capricorn's characteristic cynicism and gloom, but with the Sun this placement might suggest a drive to succeed and build lasting structures in life which can embody the best of one's values. ('If you build it, they will come', as June was fond of quoting from Field of Dreams.) The conjunction is in the 9th house so Jupiter is thus 'at home', and thus we can be sure that June's dreams were expansive and had to be meaningful. Jupiter~Sun is a placement which looks above all for meaning, for philosophical sweep. A teacher's aspect, Jupiter~Sun can signify the sage or the professor, or indeed the counsellor, a role which June regarded as particularly her own, in a somewhat exaggerated fashion.
Sticking with Sun~Jupiter, Mariana over at Gatochy's Blog has a marvellous description of what she calls 'Lady Catherine Syndrome', and Jean suffered badly with this maddening need to emphasise her own wisdom and expertise in every possible field--'[t]he implication being', as Mariana says of Austen's Lady Catherine de Burgh, 'that, next time, as indeed in all times, it was wiser to see her before taking any step, in any direction.' June claimed a formidable back-catalogue of careers and skill-sets: she had been a Cordon Bleu cook, a jeweller, a men's tailor, a drug and alcohol counsellor, a dancer, a pilot, a director, a chairwoman of the WI (complete with Leo Moon speech in the Albert Hall, an incident, ahem, 'borrowed' from Calendar Girls) and, last but not least, a white witch. She had also worked for a time as a legal secretary in a firm of solicitors, and in a classic example of Jupiter~Sun's tendency to inflation, not helped by Moon~Pluto in Leo's intense need to self-dramatise, she let me believe for years that she had in fact been a lawyer. (She would talk about having 'defended people in court' and 'her clients', and so on.) In reality, she had been a member of the firm's typing pool.
June created an elaborate and increasingly densely-woven fantasy world around herself, and it's very informative to look at the astrological signatures of this. Astrology certainly can't diagnose mental illness, and no astrologer worth their salt would ever presume to do so. But it can give us an insight into the archetypal background and the individual's resultant intrapsychic stresses, those places where two or more primal needs clash and raise painfully contradictory demands.
Most fundamentally, June's Sun, Jupiter and Mercury in Capricorn represent a need to achieve, to build something. Capricornian self-respect depends on creating something solid and the status gained thereby. All the earth signs require something tangible, but Capricorn needs to do as well as to be. it knows that 'nothing can come of nothing', to quote Lear. But for whatever reason, in June that need was somehow never met: despite her high intelligence and obvious giftedness, conventional tokens of personal achievement--marriage, children, property--consistently eluded her. Why?
Astrologically, three factors are at work here, I think: the Saturn~Chiron~Neptune T-square, the heavily-aspected Uranus in the 12th, and the fact that there is only one planet in fire.
To start with the last of these, it's a commonplace of both astrology and Jung's Analytical Psychology that the conscious and unconscious sides of the psyche are self-compensating. ('Sides' is the wrong word--the Unconscious is vast and the conscious mind's 'circle of candlelight' quite small in comparison.) If one function or element is weak in the chart, then it's not the case that the person somehow just 'doesn't have' that element: rather it will function unconsciously, often with enormous strength and at a rather primitive, unsophisticated level. So June's fire, that is, her capacity for enthusiastic imagination, for creative vision, for risk-taking, was unconsciously tremendously powerful, to a degree of which she herself was probably completely unaware, seeing herself as the responsible, down-to-earth ol' dame who was 'as old as God'. (She was saying that in her early sixties, and indeed looked much older than she was: at 58 she looked 75.) She had no conventional imaginative creativity at all. Her writing, for example, was hidebound by a style which I used to think of as 'decorated rural gothic'--she would write 'one's paternal parent' when she meant 'my father'. She was also fond of those painting-by-numbers pictures, whereby you get a line-drawing with its subsections labelled with a number to tell you which colour of paint to use. This was a woman who clearly believed she had no originality as a creative artist: and yet all that fiery imagination was running loose from the ego's control behind the scenes, building fantastic, vivid imaginative structures, whole cathedrals of confabulation.
So, again in a psychological commonplace, that which we do not make conscious returns to us as fate. Important principles of life which are left to languish in the Unconscious meet us in outer life through projection, often with a nasty smack, or, as here, will rise up in an autonomous way and flood the conscious mind. Like Walter Mitty, June now lives in a fiery realm of vivid make-believe, in which she danced with Bob Fosse, had dinner with the Kray brothers, addressed the Albert Hall, hobnobbed with the rich and famous, prosecuted criminals and flew aeroplanes. Tales of personal tragedy and triumph mingled, but the scale was always large and she was always the centre of the story. Whether she herself believed her confabulations or not I really couldn't say: I always had the unnerving feeling that there was a kind of 'filter' around her, so that she only saw what she wanted to see and heard what she wanted to hear. She was quite capable of talking of someone who had stopped speaking to her 20 years before as a close friend, or of saying, without irony, that she wasn't too worried about the alarming flea infestation 'because fleas will only live in a clean house'--even as she sat squalidly surrounded by thick dust and fly-egg-encrusted saucers of catfood. (She approached but never reached the outer stages of Diogenes Syndrome, and was without doubt in the category of compulsive hoarder.)
Our second factor, Uranus in the 12th, is hugely tense in June's chart. It receives aspects from every other planet except Venus and Saturn. In a close square aspect to the Moon, it suggests a Promethean rage at the body and its fallibility, a hostility to the lunar realm of instincts and physiological rhythms. June's health was a disaster, and she blamed her body for most of her misfortunes, regarding herself as suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, apparently self-diagnosed.* (This is also a reflection of Chiron in the 2nd, with its associations of chronic pain and the unreliability of both the body and the physical world.) But again, some of her stories about her physical health were unusual, to say the least. She claimed, for example, to have gone through the menopause at the age of 36, as a side-effect of painkillers administered in A&E for a broken arm. She also claimed multiple allergies: she apparently became ill if she smelled hyacinths or sandalwood, took antibiotics or any painkiller including morphine, or, bizarrely, ate pork. (Some of these were later proved to be fictitious--given morphine under a different brand-name in hospital, she was observed to have no allergic reaction whatsoever.)
As often with strong Uranus aspects, June found fitting into to everyday life difficult. She ate poorly, and usually slept in until 3pm. Prone to superstitiousness and fearful intuitions, she would often claim that somebody somewhere had a 'poppet' of her, into which they were jabbing pins. It was very difficult, if not impossible, to point out sensitively that some of the undoubted difficulties of her life could be ameliorated by different choices, so I usually kept quiet. A Uranian misfit, June used to describe herself as 'one who hears the beat of a different drummer.' With the planet's placement in the 12th house, I wonder how much she was channelling ancestral patterns here: it's interesting that in later life she chose to identify with the archetype of the witch, the ambivalent, marginal old woman who sets herself against society and pleases herself, in league with mysterious powers. I've no doubt that in choosing this self-image, she was telling a profound symbolic truth about herself.
The trouble with Uranus here is that it is a placement of intense idealism. Uranus likes vision (like Neptune, and indeed Jupiter) but its vision is of cosmic perfection, of abstract from messy human concerns and the needs of the body--a ruthlessly electrical blueprint. Uranus cannot tolerate imperfection, and June's Uranus, closely aspecting both the Sun and the Moon, is very powerful. I saw this side of June's nature quite frequently: she would dream of perfection, but sabotage any attempt to actualise that dream. So, for example, she would talk regularly about how desperately she longed to visit Paris again, and in particular a certain magasin de parasols, talking about the city with great fervour. But, should she visit, she would have to be back the same day (she insisted) because she had to sleep in her own bed: and although she lived only twenty minutes away from the main Eurostar terminal, she refused to use the Channel Tunnel, which thus made the journey impossible and effectively ensured that her dream was unfulfillable. At 28, I now realise that her feelings were ambivalent beneath her idealistic language: what if the city had changed, what if she herself had changed so much that she could no longer enjoy the place, and so spoiled precious memories? Further, she would have been relying on an adoring teenage boy (probably something of a nuisance) to finance every aspect of the day out, and even June--who could be spectacularly exploitative--might have felt uncomfortable at such overt freeloading. Being pushed into that feeling of dependence might have made her feel very angry indeed. Compromise was impossible, and in the end, June wanted the beautiful, melancholy ideal of Paris more than she wanted the actuality.
As the walls of her physical world shrank, her imaginary world seemed to grow more florid. On several occasions, she would announce that long held dreams had suddenly come true: having always said how much she would like to meet Sir Derek Jacobi, she announced one day that she had in fact met him, quite recently, on a painted sacking 'street in London'. (June could hardly get herself to ASDA under her own steam, let alone to London.) Similarly, after the Hell's Angels tore through our village, she proclaimed that one nice man had given her a ride all the way to the coast on his bike. The sadness of all this wish-fulfillment is striking: all June's stories created a parallel world in which she was recognised as remarkable or special, or in which she had pregnant encounters with remarkable or special people whose glamour thereby rubbed off on her a little. Ultimately, I think it is a rage at flawedness, a sense that this is not how things should be, which fueled June's confabulations, and, in part, prevented her from actually making anything concrete of her life. As with Paris, there was always some fatal and fated flaw somewhere, some fly in the ointment which, though never her fault, meant that she had never completed her training, never gone to university (though she--of course!--had been offered a place at Cambridge), never married, never had children, never emigrated to Canada, never bought her house, never saved any money, never wrote her novel...the feeling-tone seemed to be if something isn't perfect, or isn't perfectly timed, then I won't have it at all.
It's all very sad, as well as being an object lesson in the ambivalence of astrological symbols. But the route of confabulation and the 'histrionic' symptoms are not merely Uranian. After all, someone else could have exactly this brand of paralysing idealism and instead of fantasising an elaborate alternative biography could merely have come to the conclusion that life is shit and there's an end on it.(We all know the kind of person who loves poking holes in other people's dreams.) This takes us to the Chiron~Neptune~Saturn T-Square, which shrieks across the chart like iodine in an open wound.
I've noted above that negative aspects are difficult to integrate because two planets are permanently grating against each other: even if, as planets, they basically 'get on' (Mercury and Uranus, Venus and the Moon, the Sun and Jupiter), in square or opposition aspect they will be by definition in non-complementary signs, and so will be working in ways which are difficult to combine. Very often, especially with the opposition, the tendency is to identify with one 'pole' and to project the other. (And, that which we do not make conscious returns to us as...etc.) The close Saturn~Neptune opposition in Jean's chart is of this nature, I suspect. She indentified very much with Saturn--which, with all those planets in Capricorn, she would be wont to do--seeing herself as a hard-bitten, practical realist. (She was actually one of the least practical people I've ever met: she lived with a collapsed ceiling in her front bedroom for years because she never got around to moving the piled-up boxes of useless junk so that the landlord could come in and repair it.) And yet Saturn in Pisces can suggest a deep sense of disillusion and emotional inadequacy, of life being very cruel and tough just where one is most tender. At its best, this placement can suggest and emotional realism born of suffering, and June certainly felt that that was a good description of her work as a counsellor: work, needless to say, which I am not at all convinced was real. I suspect that she herself may have had counselling after a breakdown at some point, and merely switched the roles. She was fond of remarking that she had had to have counselling as part of her training, and I find it very unlikely that any counsellor worth the name wouldn't have picked up fast that something was pretty wrong somewhere.
This means, of course, that June was likely to project her Neptune in Virgo: identifying with pragmatic Saturn and the world of matter, the world of dream and fantasy was kept powerfully unconscious. It's interesting that she should have represented herself as the sage counsellor (Saturn) to those mired in Neptunian addictions, whereas in reality she had a very strong drive towards hazy escapism herself, as seem in her fantastical delusions, or perhaps self-deceptions. By projecting Neptune, it came to dominate her. None of this is a moral issue: Saturn~Neptune oppositions are often very painful, because the two principles are so wholly incompatible. Like Elizabeth I, June's motto might have been semper eadem, 'always the same', imagining herself as a rock around which the sea of chaos beat. One of her favourite catchphrases was 'this too will pass', a motto of stern Saturnian patience.
But, as always, we encounter that which we project through the outer world. In particular, Saturn~Neptune encodes various varieties of Victim/Redeemer patterns, which occurred again and again in June's relationships. She constantly gave the impression that innumerable people depended on her, people who were usually referred to vaguely as 'Ooofie-Doofie' or 'Madam Flanjan', as if to underline their anonymous contingency. Unlikely mercy missions included midnight flits to the the beds of dying AIDS patients in London, or helping agoraphobics to go shopping. Certainly with me it was unclear who was playing the victim and who the redeemer. I met June by chance for the first time one day on the bus coming home from school; in later years June took to telling people that my grandmother had asked her to look after me. In fact, no more absurd request could have been possible, as my grandmother loathed June and strongly disapproved of our friendship, seeing her as a manipulative bad influence--an interesting example of June's Neptunian ability to rewrite reality to something she preferred, and then to believe it.
* * *
What can psychological astrology do for someone like June? Being realistic, the answer is not a lot. Now in her seventies, these are patterns of being which have been laid down over a lifetime, and there are serious mental health issues which are far, far beyond the competence of a counselling astrologer to deal with in the normal two sessions. She is, to put it bluntly, barmy, and underneath all the confabulation lies a defeated person. She needs help beyond the sort that astrology can give. Perhaps depth psychotherapy might have helped, but perhaps also it needs to be accepted that there are people for whom nothing can be done, though of course it's never to late to change or begin some kind of honest encounter with one's unconscious drives: the chart keeps on changing and growing throughout one's life. Hers is certainly a difficult chart: with a grand cross and a T-square, there's an awful lot here which doesn't come easily, a lot of incompatible archetypal principles yoked for a lifetime and forced to interact. Saturn (form, limit) would rather not speak to formless, oceanic Neptune at all; the instinctive, body-focused Moon is terrified of Uranus' chilly, dirigiste cerebrations. There's the psychologically hard childhood to consider, felt to be undemonstrative at best and poisonous at worst, filled with dark familial undercurrents to which our sensitive little Moon~Pluto girl would have been all too alert. ('Why does Daddy love me and Mummy doesn't? Why does Mummy love Joanne when Daddy seems to hate her?') But there's also a lot of strength here: Sun~Jupiter in Capricorn is an aspect which does see life as a banquet, even if it regards itself more as the beggar Lazarus looking to catch the scraps which fall from the rich man's table than the rich man himself. It can also bring enormous determination to achieve: one of the saddest things about June's chart is that she genuinely could have been any of the things which she posed as: she had the intellect and dramatic flair to have been a successful barrister, and the patience and experience of personal suffering to have made a sympathetic counsellor, for example. The thing that makes the difference, that has locked her into this 'fated' victim-redeemer complex, is hard to pinpoint astrologically. It is, in part, down to one's degree of consciousness, that is, to one's willingness to take honest responisbility for one's own complexes. No one, least of all me, can deny that this is very hard indeed, and that the primrose-path of least resistance often seems infinitely more tempting.
* * *
*I remain dubious on this subject. My suspicion is that when the aetiology of the disease (really a vague list of symptoms) which we now call 'CFS/ME' is properly worked out, we will find that about 30% of diagnosed sufferers have some kind of genuine, chronic immune-system disorder, another 20% will be malingerers cheating the DSS, and the remaining 50% will have some kind of mental health issue. I've met too many people with ME whose personalities are too reminiscent of each other not to have a somewhat jaundiced view. One common pattern that I've noticed consists of Superficially Biddable Teenage Girl locked into an unconscious passive-aggressive fight-to-the-death with Overbearing Mummikins, in which the daughter parks her own wheelchair-bound body as though it were a truck in front of the hurtling freight-train of Mummy's ego--but there are others. They tend to be Pluto/Neptune issues, in astrological terms. Despite the symptoms of mental fogginess, lassitude, and exhaustion (Neptune), deep down in the Unconscious is a complex of cold, imperious will and rage, burning black on black (Pluto).
Wednesday, 25 March 2009
I am partial to cyclic theories of reality, as in Hinduism or astrology and the ever-turning Wheel of Fortune.
The three became my coterie, the only group I have ever flourished in. Their contributions to the creation of the campy, semimythic diva and deranged gender-neutral entity "Camille Paglia" are immeasurable.
- Camille Paglia, speaking in the second quotation of friends Bruce Benderson, Stephen Jarrat and Stephen Feld.
I occasionally think of the birthchart as being each person's hidden poem, the individual's secret 'Song of Myself', imbued like a literary work with metaphor and mystery and crux. A horoscope is a like a four-dimensional text, and astrology an applied poetics. In this light, the technical skills to decode the depths of a chart might be considered quasi-philological, but the art of interpretation is something more akin to literary criticism, with the same qualities of measured attentiveness, self-awareness, and articulacy required in the interpreter.
Unlike a poem, a chart is not 'fixed': it continues to flow and develop throughout a person's life, as the immensely intricate, musical patterns of planetary transits and progressions interweave. 'Music' is an excellent - and of course ancient - metaphor for the cycles of the cosmos. The shifting patterns of a chart are very like polyphony, the flicker and chime of the faster-moving inner planets playing out over the deeper cantus firmus of the sluggish outer ones. Of course, we know about more planets than the ancients did - not only Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, but also the quirky planetoid Chiron and a whole host of minor asteroids and transplutonian bodies. Amateur astrologers often overemphasise these, thus fatally cluttering up their charts and compromising the clarity of their interpretations. (Personally, I always use Chiron but check the larger asteroids very rarely.) The experience of reading a astrological chart with understanding is rather like listening to the 40 exquisitely plaited parts of Spem in Alium, or perhaps more like listening to the Ring Cycle, in which the recurring leitmotifs appear and disappear within a vast dramatic structure of immense archetypal depth and complexity.
But here's another chart.
Camille Anna Paglia, born Endicott, NY, 2nd April, 1947, 6.57pm.
(I've written about Paglia here: fond as I am of her, her Salon.com column has gone a bit batty of late.)
One of the cruel things about astrology is that it emphasises the innate and unfair differences between human beings. The individual is not born a tabula rasa; there is such as thing as inbuilt character, a mysterious and precious seed held within a complex mesh of nature and nurture. According to astrology, we all come into the world with a certain disposition and array of archetypes already at work in us, our allotted μοῖρα. But whilst the chart may be fixed, the degree of consciousness which the individual brings to bear on it is not. People can make great things of a very difficult chart, and people with ostensibly 'lovely' charts can well and truly balls them up. Astrology is extremely complex and all the planets have modes of being destructive as well as creative. The beginning astrologer who associates Neptune, say, with only 'spirituality', 'transcendence', and 'universal compassion' will learn a nasty lesson when they look at the very Neptune-dominated chart of, for example, Josef Mengele. What people make of their chart, which is to say, of their innate character, is up to them and belongs to some mysterious dimension beyond astrology. This is something to bear in mind when looking at Paglia's chart; a devotee of astrology herself, she obviously knows her own chart well and it's fascinating to see which bits of it she has put forward as her public persona, and which she has held back.
Hers is a chart balanced between water and fire. Water is the element characterised by imaginative sympathy, the tidal pulls of intense emotion; fire on the other hand represents intuitive vision, the capacity to grasp the whole, to enthuse and to quest in the world of the imagination. This basic weighting of the chart is reflected in Paglia's choices as a scholar and critic. The opening lines of Sexual Personae, Paglia's unwieldy, eccentric masterpiece, capture the unitive vision of fire~water: 'Sexual Personae seeks to demonstrate the unity and continuity of western culture--something that has inspired little belief since the period before World War I.' (SP, p. xiii). She presents us with a vast, visionary schema, within which she is to some extent impatient of detail. (It has been cogently pointed out by Monica Potkay that Paglia's supposed neo-Untergang des Abendlandes blithely misses out almost the whole of the Middle Ages.) The fire~water bias of the chart is neatly symbolised up by the grand trine between Saturn, Jupiter and Mars, which has two legs in water signs and one in fire. This is a woman who believes she can instantly take the measure of the Zeitgeist using her innate and intuitive subjectivity, anterior to and swifter than rational thought processes--a strategy which is sometimes brilliantly acute and sometimes rather tiresome. (See Paglia on Sarah Palin, for example.)
On the other hand, we must not forget her Libra rising, which suggests an exquisitely refined aesthetic sense and strong views about civilised behaviour. Paglia's anti-Rousseauist view is that it is civilisation, not supposedly-benevolent nature, which allows human flourishing, and that socialisation places vital checks on humanity's innate violence and barbarism. This is a profoundly libran insight. Humanity in a state of nature, to Paglia, is inevitably going to be more Lord of the Flies than Gauguin's Edenic Tahiti. (I was reminded of Paglia's Libra ascendant when I read an interview in which she was asked what her favourite smell was, and surprisingly replied fresh linen drying on the washing line.) Devoted to elegance and beauty, Libra is also, incidentally, a rather androgynous sign, because it denotes a certain inner balance between masculine and feminine qualities. This chimes neatly with Paglia's original 1974 Yale PhD dissertation, on 'The Androgyne in Literature and Art', which became the core of Sexual Personae, and with her tomboyish youthful cross-dressing.
Paglia also has one major placement in earth, a robustly physical virgoan Moon; she is fond of reminding people that away from the limelight she is 'earnestly clerical' Agnes Gooch, not the dramatically fiery Auntie Mame. One suspects that her Virgo Moon adds much-needed eye for fine linguistic detail (Virgo is ruled by Mercury) and an aptitude for practical labour to the point of workoholism. (Despite the occasional glamorous photoshoots of the 90s, Paglia rather sweetly describes herself as 'small and worn.') I suspect a punishing regimen of writing, reading and classroom teaching makes Paglia feel comfortable and at home, and her Virgo Moon symbolises, amongst many other things, her formidable skills at explication de texte.
Going back to the fire~water bias, it's not at all unusual for charts to exhibit this kind of paradox and tension: if used with insight, such clashing currents within the personality can be immensely creative. Paglia's horoscope is lit up by the opposition between her 6th house Aries Sun opposing Neptune in Libra, strong in the 12th, its own house. Aries Sun is a ferociously energetic, physically brave placement, and one totally devoid of self-doubt. An inspiring leader, Aries Sun people can often foster a wonderfully warm sense of enthusiasm, but tend on occasion to trample unwittingly on the sensitivities of others. In the 6th, it underlines Paglia's work ethic, suggesting that she feels most herself when channelling all that passion and enthusiasm into the daily routine. But her Neptune in the 12th is absolutely opposed to this kind of productive, hands-on toil. Rather, it is a visionary placement, deeply in touch with the mysterious and formless realms of the imagination, of the transpersonal, of sacrifice, self-immolation and illusion. As the ambivalent, oceanic continuum of pleasure/pain, Neptune resists being anchored in form and imprisoned in flesh. In the 12th, it is an atavistic conduit for the collective visions and longings of the past. Paglia never ceases to talk about her Italian heritage, from which she seems to draw great imaginative strength; I was reminded of a wonderful scene in HBO's series Rome, in which Brutus and his mother Servilia pray before the busts of the family imagines, wax ancestor masks each lit up by a candle flickering behind it--the ancestors as eerie but very real presences.
When there is a profound split of this kind in the chart, especially as here in an opposition between the Sun or Moon and an outer planet, the two parties have to reach a liveable compromise. The personal, individual ego has to be brought into a relationship with something which is impersonal, vastly larger that it, and uncontainable. This is very hard to pull off: Sun opposition Neptune is the kind of aspect one might find in the chart of a chronic drug addict, or, more positively, in that of someone with a profound religious vocation, a monk or nun. The way Paglia seems to have managed this is fascinating: by becoming a passionate devotee (Sun in Aries) of the Arts (Neptune), she has channelled these turbulent energies into her work. In a nice example of the kind of jaw-dropping neatness of metaphor to which astrology is prone, Paglia's Sun~Neptune opposition exactly encodes the central thesis of Sexual Personae.
Building on Nietzsche, Paglia sees western culture from the time of Egypt as a battleground between the hieratic, eye-obsessed, hard-edged, rational, male forces of the 'Apollonian', and the squidgy, chaotic, female, chthonian, order-resisting maelstrom of the 'Dionysian'. Her deepest ambition, she writes, is 'to fuse Frazer with Freud.' Her entire thought is predicated on unity emerging from the push-pull of conflict and fusion. Her Apollo is not just that aggressive, egocentric Aries Sun, but also her Saturn in fire (Leo): an autocratic and implacable placement, it reminds one of the famous statue of Apollo on the west pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, extending his arm to quell disorder and chaos--an image Paglia reproduces in Sexual Personae:
Her Dionysus (Plutarch's hugra phusis, 'watery nature') is that oceanic Neptune in the 12th, though, as we shall see, Pluto is important too. 'Dionysus was identified with liquids - blood, sap, milk, wine. The Dionysian is nature's chthonian fluidity', as Paglia writes.
It's worth noting that the link between Neptune and Dionysus is an astrological commonplace. It's often remarked by astrologers that the names of the 'new' planets are synchronistic, in other words the names fit the planet in a very mysterious way; but said names are not in fact quite right, from an astrological point of view. Uranus would have been better called Prometheus; Pluto should have been named after some dark feminine deity of fate, such as Moira, Ananke or Nemesis; and Neptune would have been better called after paradoxical, polymorphous, ecstatic, terrifying Dionysus.
From the cyclic interfusion and resistance of Apollonian and Dionysian forces, according to Paglia, culture is born. Neptune in the 12th, conjunct her Libra ascendant, is a symbol of Paglia's respect for religion and mysticism (though she herself is an atheist) and her mythic mindset, at home in the swirl of archetypes. But crucially, thanks to the link to the Sun, she is able to get it down, to bear tidings back from this phantasmagoric realm, rather than merely getting lost in its trackless wastes. It's interesting to think about her theory of criticism in this connection; she describes it as 'an evocation of the shades', aiming to give a complete, emotionally-affective description of the art-object 'on its pedestal of ritual display'. She scorns anatomising critical tactics which resist sublimity, and do violence to the organic unity of both the artwork and the cultural matrix from which it emerged. For Paglia, art both issues from and is a defence against the uncanny and unconscious, the cultic realm of Neptune.
Paglia's identification of the Dionysian with nature and the archetypal feminine is important, if seriously problematic. She's fond of emphasising 'feminine' nature's churning destructiveness, its nightmarish swampiness and impersonal instinctualism. The vagina dentata, the vampire and the femme fatale are personae which appear again and again in her work. With shades of Beardsley and Swinburne (and with tongue, perhaps, slightly in cheek) she writes:
Woman's body is a labyrinth in which man is lost. It is a walled garden, the medieval hortus conclusus, in which nature works its daemonic sorcery. Woman is the primeval fabricator, the real First Mover. She turns a gob of refuse into a spreading web of sentient being, floating on the snaky umbilical by which she leashes every man. (Sexual Personae, p. 12.)
This kind of imagery reminds us that not only Neptune but Pluto too is needling her Sun, and that Pluto has a remarkably concentrating effect on Neptune's escapist evasions. Chthonian nature is both Neptunian and Plutonian for Paglia--feminine, liquid, but also the ambivalent womb-tomb, the Magna Mater as ravening maw. (Her view of the dangerous duality of the archetypal feminine can be read here in her essay in the Classics journal Arion on Erich Neumann's seminal Jungian study The Great Mother.) She's an incredibly Sun~Pluto individual, and indeed the trine between the two planets suggests that this very difficult energy--dark, intense, and taboo--is actually quite consciously accessible to Paglia. It certainly shows in her fearless implacability and determined pugnaciousness: she was sacked from her first academic job for getting involved in a fistfight. She's also prone on occasion to an unattractive plutonian triumphalism (Pluto is after all loosely conjunct Saturn in Leo), being of the opinion that she single-handedly took on the 'Stalinist' feminist mainstream of the 1990s and won. ('I mean, these women are losers. They're gonna lose to me. My victory over them will come decade by decade, okay? Their punishment for maligning me now is to see the triumph of my work. Ha!' - Vamps and Tramps, p. 249.) In true plutonian style, Paglia sees herself--with some reason--as a daring truth-teller about the barbaric undertow of human nature and sexuality which less honest and driven people would prefer to leave buried. In interviews she has told an amusing story of her teenage self accidentally pouring too much lime into a primitive latrine at summer camp, causing a explosion: 'It symbolized everything I would do with my life and work. Excess and extravagance and explosiveness. I would be someone who would look into the latrine of culture, into pornography and crime and psychopathology...and I would drop the bomb into it.' This dark undercurrent is also inseparable from art, and she quotes Neitzsche with approbation: 'Almost everything we call 'higher culture' is based on the spiritualisation of cruelty.' (SP, p. 29.)*
Whatever one thinks of this, it's easy to see Sun~Pluto in Paglia's refusal to support illusions about the benevolence of human nature, and in her casting of her personal conflicts as a volcanic life-and-death struggle to dominate or be dominated by authority. Here she is on the cover of Vamps and Tramps, androgynous in plutonian black, looking like a goth sharp-shooter about to reach for her pistols:
Prone to cast herself in archetypal guises, her two favourites--the Maenad and the Amazon--encapsulate her Sun~Neptune and Sun~Pluto respectively. And indeed a lovely line of hers sums up the comic egomania of her Aries Sun, the mythopoeic harking-back of her 12th house Neptune, and the feral intensity of her Sun~Pluto: 'The first line of my autobiography would read: My people were nursed by the she-wolf.' (Vamps and Tramps, p. 199.)
Seeing Paglia's chart in terms of her Sun~Neptune opposition (with Plutonian shades) reminds me of a saying of F. Scott Fitzgerald: 'The sign of a first class mind...is whether it can hold two contradictory ideas simultaneously - and still function.' Paglia's ability to mediate this creative tension is a good example of a way in which difficult outer planet aspects can be integrated constructively into the personality, though it also tellingly illustrates the outer planets' tendency to turbocharge or inflate. One also rather suspects that Paglia's fanatical pursuit of her Apollonian/Dionysian model of culture in Sexual Personae is, in part, the result of her writing her own psychic structures large upon history. With an imaginative world as lurid as this, I'm not surprised that she rejects forms of literary criticism and historiography which incline to a bourgeois, Protestant plainspokeness. She is certainly adept at trying on Neptune's shifting masks, for instance in the quotation at the top of the page, with its note of dissociative self-dramatisation--'the campy, semimythic diva...known as "Camille Paglia"'. She refers to Patrick Dennis' Auntie Mame as '...a study of multiple impersonations, the theatrical principle of western selfhood.' Western selfhood as it appears if you happen to have the Sun in strong aspect to Neptune, perhaps.
* * *
It's easy enough to look at a chart and link it up to aspects of the persona and writings of a public figure. But can the chart give us a more nuanced picture of their psyche? At this point we go off into speculation, but worthwhile speculation I think. Of particular interest is an account of Paglia by the sociologist and philosopher Gillian Rose, in her beautiful memoir of her own dying, Love's Work. Paglia, who is as generous with praise as she is liberal with criticism, has consistently described Rose's work as being 'at the highest intellectual level', and one intuits that she greatly respected her exact comtemporary's intensely humane learning. Rose mentions Paglia whilst describing their mutual friend James Fessenden, who taught with Paglia at Bennington College, Vermont. She wrote:
Camille was also an outstanding teacher and fraternised with her adoring students...Over the years, Jim and Camille appeared like a perennially happy and unhappy married couple. Emotionally dependent on each other, they would bicker and fight and compete in cunning vindictiveness; yet this was combined with genuine concern for each other. What they shared was a hyperactive erotic fantasy--one not necessarily reflected in their actual relationships--and an insatiable investment in the style of the aesthete. Intellectually, they diverged radically. Camille is a literary wordsmith, as voracious in her writing as in her reading. She is convinced of her originality and dismissed Jim's urgings that she read Lacan, to temper the archetypal patterns of Sexual Personae...If Camille served as the alazon, the Impostor, who boasts of more than she knows, the Jim played the role of the eiron, the Ironical Jester, who feigns ignorance and who knows much more than he reveals. Camille was impervious to the subtleties of Jim's compassion for her and her work. On many occasions, these two Old Comedians lapsed into irritable depression as a result of the pig-headedness of their trouble and strife--as each construed the other. -- (Gillian Rose, Love's Work, pp. 106-7)
This is quite revealing, especially in that it accents a natural emotional neediness in Paglia's makeup which she ruthlessly suppresses in her work. There's a lot of Pisces in Paglia's chart--Mars, Mercury, and the chart-ruler Venus are all in the sign. Tender, emotional sympathetic, and slightly flakey, this is, I suspect, the aspect of Paglia's being which those closest to her see. With all these Pisces planets in the 5th house, my sense is of an imaginatively prankish and playful side to Paglia's personality, and a penchant for exhilarating, rapturous enthusiasms and pashes which come and go but which completely transport her while they last. (See Paglia on Brazilian diva Daniela Mercury in this rather sweet video, in which she is positively tongue-tied and giddy, bobbing about whilst completely beside herself with excitement.) It also makes me wonder whether there isn't a vulnerable, slightly forlorn quality to her--a meltingly submissive Little Girl Lost under the fearsome armour. Drawing on some hints Paglia has dropped in interviews about her sexual preferences, the old phrase 'butch in the streets, femme in the sheets' comes to mind. Certainly her Mars in Pisces is a restless placement in the context of the rest of the chart. Trining Jupiter, it suggests to me that for all her monstrous, fiery, plutonian monomania, Paglia is actually fired by the ideal of devoted service to others and to knowledge itself (Jupiter) as much as to her own ego. It's an almost monastic aspect, 'Jesuitical' in the best sense of the word, echoing Rose's description of Paglia as an outstanding teacher.
Indeed as such Paglia is a notorious motormouth, famed for lecturing at unnervingly high speed: this isn't something I'd normally associate with Mercury in Pisces--although that placement might be read as being highly articulate (Mercury) about feelings (Pisces)--but Paglia's Mercury is supercharged by its conjunction to Mars and the tense, electric square to Uranus in the 9th--the house, amongst other things, of academia, of learning infused with a vision of deeper meaning. But wherever Uranus is placed in the chart there tends to be the impulse to rebellion, a sense of a different plan or perspective, a radical urge to break with or shake up the status quo; Paglia's broadsides against contemporary academic culture certainly fit the bill here. She is (as she has put it) 'contemptuous towards any educational authority that lacks a global perspective', and her prescription for the reform of the Humanities, with comparative religion placed at the heart of the syllabus, are a perfect expression of her 9th house Uranus. The planet also squares her virgoan Moon in the 11th, suggesting an urgent and instinctive sense of social mission. It's also true however that a square between Mercury and Uranus can be a sign of rigid thinking and doctrinaire self-righteousness. (I'm thinking espcially of Paglia loopy scepticism about global warming here.) As Liz Greene says, typically insightfully, '...[G]iven sufficient containment and commonsense, Mercury~Uranus can be marvellously inventive and open-minded, although often determinedly undisturbed by the burden of self-questioning.' (The Art of Stealing Fire: Uranus in the Horoscope, p. 138.) One recalls Rose's comment on Paglia's refusal to heed her friend's urgings about reading Lacan.
To conclude, I was intrigued by a comment of Harold Bloom's, which echoes Rose's gentle note of pity for Paglia's concealed vulnerability. Bloom was director of Paglia's PhD and clearly something of a mentor to her; he remarked recently that he felt that deep down she is a sadder and more pessimistic person than her stupendously energetic and zestful public persona suggests. In the chart, the signatures for this are squares from Saturn and Pluto to her Chiron in the 1st house. These are a very dark set of aspects indeed, suggesting a sense of disillusion and cynicism and a fundamental woundedness about her way of being-in-the-world. One wonders how painful, actually, were her travails as an ambiguously-gendered and aggressive girl of wavering sexual orientation in the conformist 50s, and again as a scholar--'convinced of her originality' as Rose says--who couldn't get her magnum opus published until she was 40. With all those sensitive Pisces planets, as well as Chiron in water, I suspect she found repeated rejection, that sense of being in the wrong body and in the wrong place and time, absolutely excruciating on an emotional level. But if there is a core of bitterness and rage in her, she seems to have made the best of it with commendable good grace and toughness, all things considered. (Interesting that Rose should mention Paglia's lapses into 'irritable depression'.) She has written, 'We must accept our pain, change what we can, and laugh at the rest' (SP, p. 39), and we should note that her Jupiter is trine Saturn, an aspect which might be aptly summed up as 'resigned laughter.' Perhaps her insufferable crowing about her own rightness is a compensation for a much more painful and humiliating sense of having always stuck out, of having always been awkwardly-angled against the world from an isolated childhood onwards. Paglia herself has asserted repreatedly that her view of life is ultimately a comic and life-celebrating one: '[t]o me, comedy is a symptom of a balanced perspective on life, and people who are going around, like gloomy gusses, in that Sontag style of intellectual, these people are suffering from something coming from their childhood, it has nothing to do with the proper intellectual response to life...' I find that I don't quite believe what she's saying here. Or rather, with that 1st house Chiron and all that Saturn/Pluto, I imagine that intellectual gloom carried over from some childhood trauma is something with which Paglia is, for all her zaniness and vamping self-promotion, intimately familiar.
* * *
*I knew instinctively from reading that quotation that Nietzsche must also have had a Sun~Pluto aspect, and looked up his chart. He did - Sun in Libra opposition Pluto in Aries.