Quick Easy Answers that are Often Misleading
What could be more appropriate for our first Virgo issue of The Mutable Dilemma than a nit-picking discussion of a few of the formulas offered in most standard textbooks of astrology? Unfortunately, most of us are only too eager to find a quick and foolproof key to a horoscope, and it is very tempting to accept formulas which are offered in most books and by most teachers. Anything widely believed must be true. Right? Wrong! The motto on our masthead states that all theories should be tested. And the motto for all astrologers should be “When in doubt, ask questions and listen.” The only way to learn astrology is to do a lot of charts and to listen a lot.
So what are some of these pervasive and undependable techniques? For a starter, there’s left versus right half and top versus bottom emphasis in the chart. To question those generalizations is heresy? Behold a heretic. I have seen charts with most of their emphasis on the bottom, but in the 3rd, 5th and 6th houses, and their lives were highly public with little inclination toward introspection or the subjective. I have seen charts with almost everything on top in the 8th, 10th and 12th houses, and the natives were the most introverted and subjective people you will ever meet on the earth. I have examples of people with almost everything on the left whose lives have been almost totally outside of their control, and others with a majority of planets on the right who lived life very much on their own terms. One of the hospitalized schizophrenics in my collection has only one planet in the right half of the chart. Florence Nightingale, who changed the nursing profession for the world, has only two planets on the left side of the chart. She refused the efforts of her father and of society to force her into the homemaking role, the only one considered proper for a woman in her day—born May 12, 1820. Hedda Hopper, who played over 100 roles in the movies and eventually became a newspaper columnist on the stars, had all but two planets below the horizon. Amelia Earhart, famous woman flyer, also had all but two planets below the horizon, as did Adele Davis, well-known writer who shaped the eating habits of millions.
Yet, the generalization is not totally wrong; it is just too simplistic as usually offered. It neglects to mention that the houses may emphasize interpersonal relationships while the signs are focused into the transpersonal or vice versa; that water is the truly subjective element, and two water houses are above the horizon; that the 10th house, like Saturn, symbolizes the Law, the limits, the rules of the game, whether the limits are in the form of natural law, cultural regulations, authority figures, or our own conscience; and much, much more.
Our basic alphabet in astrology, the twelve sides of life, can be divided into three major sections; personal needs (to survive and to enjoy life on our own terms); interpersonal needs (adult, peer relationships which require some self-restraint in order to function effectively with others); transpersonal or impersonal needs (abstract truth, ultimate values, humanity, society, limits—what we can do, what we can’t do, what we must do). Since the interpersonal houses are on the right of the chart, and it is in interpersonal relationships that we learn self-restraint, self-discipline, respect for the rights of others, etc., it is obvious why the western side of the chart is associated with “events outside of our control”. But if the major emphasis of the chart is in houses 5, 6 and 9, there is a potential steam-roller of fire and earth, and if the individual is working creatively and voluntarily in a practical way, the life may be almost totally self-directed. A focus in 7 and 8, in contrast, indicates a major involvement in continuing peer relationships with the traditional implication of not being free to simply do what we please because we are interacting with others. But emphasis in the transpersonal area can also mean major inner or outer limits. One of the most boxed-in people I know is the institutionalized schizophrenic mentioned above, who has most of his planets in the 10th and 11th houses, with a smaller number in the 12th and 1st houses.
The top-half versus bottom-half is similarly misleading if one looks only at houses and ignores signs, yet again, there is a grain of truth in the tradition in the sense that we start with total self-will and personal desire with the first two houses, become increasingly socialized in the passage up through the 8th house, and become involved in the “big scene” with houses 9 to 12. Personal needs imply a focus inward, while interpersonal and transpersonal urges increasingly concentrate on others. But always air needs other people to spark the conscious mind, people with whom to practice communication. And all water; planets, signs, and houses, can vary from clutching for personal security to protecting and nurturing the world, depending on the degree of security of the individual. So the weak person with a water emphasis is likely to be almost totally self-absorbed, while the strong one will be taking care of everyone. It is important to be clear about this principle. Whether the emphasis is on Cancer, Scorpio or Pisces; 4th, 8th or 12th houses; or strongly aspected water planets (Moon, Pluto, Neptune); an insecure person will be self-absorbed; an individual with self-confidence and faith in a higher power will be caring for others. Moreover, I do not think one can be sure which type of action will occur until one looks at what the life is demonstrating. A profound religious experience can change a clutching victim into a giving savior.
Hemispheric emphasis through placement of the majority of the planets in half of the chart is similar to another traditional theory of emphasis on a planet that is alone in a hemisphere. One cannot assume that such a singleton is always an outstanding part of the character. I have seen singletons that were relatively unimportant when they were not strongly in aspect to the rest of the chart. Nor do two planets in the same hemisphere always have a “strong relationship” to each other, regardless of aspect contacts. A discussion of singletons leads one into the other planetary patterns which are equally undependable. I know individuals with “bundle” charts who are scattered all over the map, going in and out of marriages, jobs, hobbies, interests, etc. like a swinging door. Of course, such charts emphasize mutables, with a lot of air and fire. In one case, the planets were all located from the 7th to the 10th houses, and the woman was pulled between interpersonal relationships and transpersonal work commitments. A mutable emphasis indicates a person who lives much of the life in the head, and tends to be impersonal, regardless of the general horoscope pattern, and regardless of whether the mutable emphasis comes from planets’ aspects, or signs, or houses. Of course, assignment to a planetary type is open to several choices in many charts. If we know something about the person’s life, we can pick the pattern that fits. But for blind analysis, use the patterns with caution.
A far more damaging tradition that is still presented in many books is the assumption that any feature in a chart has to be negative. It is not true that intercepted signs are always unconscious; that intercepted planets are always hard to express; that the ruler of an intercepted sign can only be expressed after the ruler of the sign on two houses is developed. Intercepted signs frequently change when one changes house systems, so what you have intercepted depends on your choice of Placidus, Koch, Campanus, etc. I have noted the changes in intercepted signs as the chart is progressed, and could not see any correspondences in the life. It is possible that being intercepted adds a little intensity, but the difference is so subtle, I would not bet on it.
The assumption that retrograde planets will be negative is equally unwarranted. A recent chart of a very young and very successful Hollywood star has 6 retrograde planets. Kahlil Gibran, Angela Davis, Muhammed Ali and Annie Besant are other well-known figures with 5 to 6 retrogrades at birth. The theory that such people are inevitably “blocked” in their expression is obvious nonsense. Retrogrades may mean greater originality or creativity—the ability to draw from one’s own uniqueness. If the person is very insecure, he/she may block or delay the expression of the personal uniqueness, but individuals with faith in themselves or in life often express it early in the game. The theory that retrogrades always indicate past-life failures, hence a challenge in this life, is untestable until we have more horoscopes of successive lives. If retrogrades do indicate a special emphasis from a past life, it is quite possible that they indicate special talents which the person can carry forward. The same can be said of cases where the same sign occurs on the 12th cusp and on the Ascendant. Continuity from the past into personal action may indicate that positive talents from the past are being carried further in the present life. But theories of past lives remain highly theoretical until we can test them on cases of spontaneous memory in young children where it is possible to obtain charts from earlier lives.
The attempt to equate the four quadrants or quarters of the horoscope with Carl Jung’s four functions seems equally untenable. Proponents of this theory are presented with Edgar Cayce’s chart largely concentrated in the supposed quadrant of sensation with no planets in the quadrant of intuition. As indicated above, the 12 parts of life conceptualized in astrology move from personal needs (the child), through interpersonal relationships (adult to adult peer confrontations), to transpersonal needs (abstract principles based on faith, contacts with society as a whole, and with the rules of the game). Earth is close to Jung’s idea of sensation; air to the conscious mind and thinking; fire to feeling—”I like it or I don’t like it”; water to intuition—probing the depths behind the surface. But in astrology we have three signs presenting variations on these ways of relating to the world, and the astrological elements carry other connotations in addition to Jung’s functions, so there is no exact correspondence.
Planetary exaltations are another tradition that is still blindly perpetuated. The exaltations represent Arian Age ethics, and should have been left in the Arian Age, two thousand years ago. At that time, the male warrior was the prime value, so the person capable of running a sword through anyone who stood in his way (Sun in Aries) was much admired, while the person willing to see the other side, to talk it over and compromise (Sun in air signs) was disdained and considered weak. Similarly, Mars in Capricorn was desirable as key to the capacity to make one’s own will into law. In those days, women were possessions, like cattle and land; Cancer was the sign of marriage while Libra was more apt to be open enemies. Saturn in Libra offered the pleasant hope that the “great malefic” would “get” one’s open enemies, or the individual himself might gain authority over them. Jupiter in Cancer showed the ultimate faith and value placed on the kin group, the main source of security, or on land and possessions. What did the male warrior want in his women? His sex object, Venus, should be seductive, pliant, submissive, romantic—in Pisces. His wife, Moon, should be strong-backed to work in the fields and fertile to bear many children and easy-going, in Taurus.
The problem with perpetuating the exaltations is not just the outdated Arian ethics. Given our present psychological climate, these combinations are frequently a key to real problems in the character, and the assumption that all is well can lead to inability to deal effectively with the client. With our present approval of compromise, fair play, democracy, equality, etc., Mars in Capricorn today is often a key to a self-blocking individual; sometimes even a seriously self-destructive one. Saturn in Libra attempts to mix equality and authority, and often warns of a person who ends up marrying a father-figure or in a power-struggle in personal relationships. A Venus in Pisces idealist may be unconsciously attracted to victims, leading to disaster in associations meant to be equalitarian. Jupiter in Cancer may indicate a need for a larger God.
The general “rule of thumb” is that extra attention is advised for any planet in a sign or house which would be square, opposite, or quincunx the planet’s own sign or house. One can never assume that a combination will be handled well or poorly, but these types of mixtures do represent a challenge. Putting together parts of life which are naturally in conflict requires awareness and effort. A “one-ten” combination is present whether we have Mars in Capricorn or in the 10th house; Saturn in Aries or in the first house; Aries in the 10th; Capricorn in the first; the ruler of the 10th in the first or vice versa, etc. The combination may go into over-drive (playing Atlas or saying “my will is Law”) or it can go into self-blocking (I might fail or fall short so I won’t try). Such combinations are common in political leaders—Jimmy Carter, Nelson Rockefeller, Walter Mondale, and others. They are also common in illness, anxiety, repression and guilt. To repeat the basic principle again: It is outdated and destructive astrology to assume that any combination in a horoscope is positive or negative. Everything has both potentials, depending on how the person is handling that part of the character. The positive potential of the “one-ten” mixture is to know and to do what we can and what we must do, and not to attempt what we cannot or should not do. Naturally, there are times when we are not sure what those limits are, and we have to venture and learn from the consequences. Since letter “one” is action, and letter “ten” is consequences, based on the “LAW”, individuals attempting to mix them are likely to be learning a considerable amount—some of it the hard way.
If the “easy answers” are undependable, what do we have left? First, a clear concept of the twelve sides of life is essential, and secondly, we look for “themes” involving similar combinations of letters. The varied examples of “one-ten” listed above are such a theme. Or we might find a “one-four” mixture such as I have in my own chart: Moon in the first house; Mars in the fourth house; ruler of the Ascendant sign in Cancer. All of these blends connect identity and action to being a baby or a mother, dependency or nurturance. Integration, of course, calls for both—interdependence. Remember that although planets, signs and houses are not the “same”, they each in their own way do symbolize the same parts of life, the same motivational drives. Planets are always the most important, and I put aspects, houses and signs in descending order of importance or power. Themes in a chart may involve an emphasis on one quality or element, or on repeated combinations of two qualities or elements. My book Finding the Person in the Horoscope has discussed these basic mixtures. The chart may feature the signs or houses or strong aspects between the planets associated with one part of life, such as the mind (mutables and air), the aesthetic (letters 2, 7 and 12), mechanical skills (letters 1, 3 and 11), close relationships (letters 4, 5, 7 and 8), or many other mixtures. Be clear on the 12 principles; use logic in combining them; and watch for the repeated message. And when in doubt, ask questions!