Tuesday, 28 April 2009

The Astrological Eris



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.

(Genesis 3.17-19)


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. (Though see Laurel's kind comment at the end of this article.) 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, loath 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.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Brief note



A quick one, this: I've come across three books of heart-cheering excellence lately.

The first is Alex Ross's history of 20th century classical music, The Rest Is Noise. It is SUPERB. Not only is the technical content top-notch, the writing is completely assured almost everywhere, managing the Clive Jamesian feat of being simultaneously both relaxed and poetic, evocative and precise. Read it. Ross has his own blog and you can also read part of the first chapter here. I'm tremendously excited by it: it's not that often that one comes across an entirely new and vastly rich area of cultural life that one simply knows nothing about. It's like discovering poetry for the first time. (Next stop: dance.) I was never brought up to play an instrument or sing, and my knowledge of classical music is very sketchy indeed: I've got more idea of, say, Japanese literature than I do of 20th century classical music.

The second is Osip Mandelstam's The Voronezh Notebooks, which I did not know. Written during Mandelstam's gruelling exile in Voronezh, during which he endured repeated interrogations and torture, they are simply stunning. I can't think of anything in English with which I can legitimately compare them, but 'snowbound Lorca' comes close. (I'm off to Heffers to buy a bilingual edition so that I can pick through them in Russian.)

The third is Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez' Perfumes: The Guide, which is the kind of book you never realised you needed and then, once read, wondered how on earth you ever lived without. Beautifully produced in black and textured cream paper, it makes a stirring case that perfumery should be considered a culturally-weighty artform like music or poetry. It is splendidly funny and fanatical: alternately hilariously bitchy and exquisitely poetic. Like Ross' The Rest Is Noise, Perfumes is quite brilliant at describing a complex non-verbal artform in words. I had never considered, for example, the idea that a fragrance might be 'representational' or 'abstract', the first aiming to capture the essence of some earthly experience--evoking, say, a summer afternoon in Paris, or a Moroccan desert--and the second an altogether more mysterious and formless phenomenon untied to concrete things. I'd never thought about terms like 'top-note', 'chord', 'third movement', 'radiance' or 'evanescent' in relation to fragrances, or considered likening one to a Baudelaire poem. I'd always considered myself a bit of an old hippie at heart when it comes to perfume, generally preferring simple, one-note essential oils to complex fragrances, though I do wear Guerlain Homme if I'm off out. (I have a particular dislike of heavy, Opium-like oriental fragrances and the screechy, fruity florals which blowsy, well-heeled women tend to trail after them down the street, and which are like a stranger ambushing you and trying to stuff your head repeatedly into their handbag.) I now realise this was like saying artlessly that one prefers birdsong to Mahler. There isn't a necessary contradiction between the two things and I was being a bit of a dolt.

One reads Turin and Sanchez' catalogue of perfumes as much for the ones they loathe as for the ones they love. A few get very short shrift: Paris Hilton's effort is panned ('barf bag'); Elizabeth Taylor's 'Passion' merits nothing more than 'fog horn'. Estée Lauder's hideous 'Spellbound' is described as 'medicated treacle', and gets the four-point drubbing: 'Powerfully cloying and nauseating. Trails for miles. Frightens horses. Gets worse.' The unlucky 'Very Sexy Hot' by Victoria's Secret gets the mordant label 'Mango Raincoat'. One of my favourites is their acid review of Benetton's 'Pure Sport for Men':

This fragrance is so close to non-existence that you wonder what the compounding of the oil looks like: guys in blue overalls transporting invisible drums on forklifts and pretending to pour them into empty vessels before giving the air a good stir and carefully partitioning it into empty drums labelled Benetton while quality control takes a sample and makes sure the gas chromatograph tracing is completely flat.

I also like the following review of 'Muscs Koublai Khan' by Serge Lutens, which gets 4/5:

Beastly musk

No other perfume musk comes close to this potent animalic antidote to the laundered age, not even the obsolete and unavailable natural musk tincture. Back before I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb, I reviewed Muscs Koublai Khan as “the armpit of a camel driver who has not been near running water in a week.” The scent is the same but my horror is gone. The fragrance turns out to be a lost-world fantasy of firelit palaces, with the soupy, sleepy warmth of two beneath a quilt. The cozy animal smells of civet and castoreum, smoky balsams, and powerful synthetic musks all conspire to make you think of your lover in barbaric furs. On the blotter it seems rather frightening but on skin reveals an intimate, archaic smell of burnt beeswax candles, which is to this English major a more convincing Khan than Coleridge’s—who “on honey-dew hath fed, and drunk the milk of Paradise.”


Perfumes: The Guide is ravishing and entertaining. Go buy, go buy!

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

June Phelps



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 lived 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, a distorted, pathological version of her Taurus and Capricorn accent on the physical world and material security.)

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, abstracted 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 and surged. One of her favourite catchphrases was 'this too will pass', a motto of weary 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.

Friday, 3 April 2009

A Wicked Pack of Cards











* * *

Some years ago, when I was very deep into Archetypal Psychology, Alchemy and Jung, I came up with the idea of creating a personal tarot deck. The images would have been drawn from my own dreams, and there would therefore have been a potentially unlimited number. The idea was that I could thereby get in touch directly with the Unconscious using the cards, saving myself the incovenience of having to go to sleep. (For every deeply mysterious and profound dream one has, I find, there are always three about tramping round Tescos looking for custard, or getting on a bus being driven by a badger.)

I sat down and made a list of the images that would populate the cards. Some were drawn from the ordinary Major Arcana - Death, The Hermit, The Moon and The Star were obvious ones to keep. But others were odder, and I would be woken in the night suddenly desperately conscious that there needed to be a card called The Lark-Tamer (a green-hued young man surrounded by singing birds), or The Blind Mouth, The Madwoman, The River, The Creeping Thing, and so on. Some were drawn from literature (who could forget Milton's thunderous 'Blind mouths' bit in Lycidas?); one was called The Small Creature with Dark and Fiery Thoughts, which is from Susanna Clarke, and The Fiery Cat came straight from the medieval Irish Voyage of Máel Dúin's Curragh. But some simply emerged from my dreams - The Revenant; The Leaping Bull, &c. From John Crowley's wonderful novel Little, Big came The Bundle and The Fisherman.

Anyway, I have decided the time is right to revive the project. It fell by the wayside in part because there was no way I could find time to design 50+ cards and paint them. Instead, I've decided to use images drawn from elsewhere and to collage and photoshop them suitably if necessary. This revelation hit me when I looked at Janet Kaplan's Remedios Varo: Unexpected Journeys, and saw that certain of Varo's longer, thinner paintings already were cards for my personal tarot, in some mysterious fashion.

And the best thing about these future cards? Well, should any reader be moved to have a go at this idea as well, do bear in mind that they will only work for you. You won't be able to give anyone else a reading with them, because they will form your own intimate inner arcana, a private constellation of secret meanings.

Above are the ones I've managed so far. They are actually all the same size, I'm just not very good with computers. You'll see Projection, Discovery, The Hanged Man, Aged Fraud, The Tyrant and The Tamer of Larks. The come Fire in Snow, Harmony Born of Opposition, The Rose of the World, Greed, Order, The Bride, Prudence, The Tower, The Hermaphrodite, The Sea, The Devil, The Vestal Virgin, The Fisherman and The Descent, then The Muse, Death, Prayer, and The Madwoman (wasn't that a band?), followed by The Empress, The Minotaur and The Wise Man. Then come The Singer, The Magician, The Sanctuary, The Tree of Life, Memory, Riches and Dream, and then The Small Creature With Dark and Fiery Thoughts, The Sun and The Moon. Finally we have Hope, Fear and the Black Sun.
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