Fritz Perls: Showman, Sensualist, and Tormented Savior

Zip Dobyns

As the founder of Gestalt psychotherapy, Perls has earned a niche in psychology’s Hall of Fame, and he is also well-known for a variety of personality attributes which draw mixed reactions. Unfortunately, we do not have a precise time of birth for him, so the chart used here has been rectified from events in his life, starting from an approximate time of “near dawn”. The events came mainly from a biography written by Martin Shepard, a psychoanalytic psychiatrist who first met Perls in 1968. The book seems objective, pointing out strengths and weaknesses, failures and successes.

Perls was always a showman, periodically involved with the theater from his teen years when he worked with Max Reinhardt, to his use of videotape as a teaching technique in his final years. He was “on stage” almost all of the time, frequently trying to upstage rivals, swinging between self-doubt and boasts of his genius. Shepard comments that he could never get beyond his own ego; that he always had to be center-stage. We can see this instinct for the limelight and natural showmanship in his first-house Leo planets, Venus and Mars, which are more widely conjunct Mercury in the second house. The only astrological combinations which can top the one-five combinations are the five-nine and the five-twelve, and Perls had those also to a lesser degree with Pisces in the 9th house and Pluto conjunct Neptune (ruler of 5 conjunct natural ruler of 12) and Sun in the 12th house (another form of 5-12), while Jupiter ruling part of the 5th house gives a bit more 5-9.

The combination of the ego with the search for the Absolute can produce a deeply spiritual person who dedicates his ego to a higher power, or it can produce an inflated ego, sometimes carried to the point of delusions of grandeur; sometimes living in a state of torment because the individual can never achieve the absolute. Unfortunately for Perls’ peace of mind, he never got beyond the ego. He remained an atheist, hostile to psychic phenomena and mysticism. Many individuals who were indoctrinated with the materialistic world-view of science were able to move beyond it with the help of L.S.D., but although Perls experimented heavily with that and other drugs, his inability to move beyond himself, to surrender to something higher, resulted in a great many “bad trips”, and months during which he was paranoid according to people who were close to him at the time. Any kind of emphasis on letter 12 indicates a potential for mystical experiences, but if the individual lacks faith in something beyond the physical world, there is usually anxiety, depression, inadequacy vying with grandiosity (as the individual swings between trying to be God himself and realizing he can not take on the job). Perls was subject to all of that, and more.

His mental genius is also suggested in the horoscope with the Sun in a close conjunction to Vesta and Ceres; with Neptune and Pluto closely conjunct and sextile Mercury; with Mercury more widely conjunct Mars and square Uranus (the mind of the debater and tongue like a sword, for which Perls was noted); with Chiron exactly trine Moon and Uranus opposite Moon. The aspects listed show both the high potential intellectual ability and the psychic openness. One of Perls’ most remarkable talents involved his capacity for grasping the essence of people after a seemingly casual inspection. Of course he looked at many small nuances of body language; posture, gestures, expression of the face, etc., and probably involved the psychic talents whose existence he denied.

In terms of element balance, earth is probably his weakest element. He lived as a member of the counter-culture most of his life, in rebellion against authority figures and the establishment. It is interesting that although he has quite a bit of air in the chart, the two lesson factors, Saturn and the South Node of the Moon, are both in an air sign, indicating that he was still trying to learn to be an equal with others; to take turns, to compromise, to “take things lightly”. One of his main themes in his psychotherapy was the need to live now and to accept things as they are, to stop being perfectionistic and living for the future. Of course, like all of us, he was preaching to himself. He was fighting his own perfectionistic urges all his life, never contented in any place, with any person, in any job, for very long at a time. Partly this is simply the mutable dilemma (Neptune-Pluto are square Juno and octile Ascendant, and the 12th house search for the absolute has been mentioned). Certainly, the Uranus opposite Moon and square the Leo planets add to the restlessness. Despite the Taurus and Gemini, his moments of contentment seem to have been few and far between. In the end, I think we must look to the tight Vesta-Sun combination in the 12th house as one of the major clues to this insatiable need to keep reaching for more.

In view of the Saturn in the 4th house and Moon in the 10th house, I am assuming a 10th house mother and 4th house father, but as is often true, the mother played both roles much of the time, since his father was a traveling salesman, as well as a noted philanderer. The conflict between the parents and frequent separations shows in the nodes of the Moon across the parental houses, and Perls’ conflict with both of them shows in his Ascendant square the nodes as well as the first-house planets square the Moon. He was much closer to his mother, with the Cancer rising, Ceres conjunct Ascendant, and Aries in the 10th house, but father was also a negative role model with Mars and Venus also keys to him (ruling both parental houses) and Mercury (another 4th house ruler) conjunct the first-house planets. Perls said that his first nine years of life were happy, but the rebellion began at age 10, and he became a “bad” boy. We can note that the Sun-Vesta-Ceres conjunction reached the square to the lunar nodes around that time, having come into the first house, solar arc Saturn squared the Sun combination, solar arc Moon squared Mercury, and solar arc Mercury squared Jupiter. The combination certainly invited action involving conflict and bad judgment. Other items from his childhood include a difficult delivery requiring forceps (first-house Mars) and an invalid sister (legally blind) with the Virgo in the third-house and the ruling Sun in the twelfth house conjunct the Virgo asteroids.

The combination of both fixed and cardinal T-squares is often indicative of a life involving power struggles, which can be constructive or destructive. The concern with his own achievement of power in the world, and resistance to the power of others is also suggested by the nodes of Saturn which fall on Perls’ Ascendant-Descendant. He also had progressed Saturn conjunct the south node of Mars through many years of his early life—another clue to the struggle of personal will against the limits of personal will, which ranged from extreme self-doubt and self-blocking at times, to defiance and over-drive at other times. These node aspects, in addition to south node of Jupiter square Saturn and south node of Neptune opposite Mercury, also reinforce the possibility of conflict between faith and materialism. All node aspects are exact within one degree. There were other node aspects which were also important, reinforcing the intellectual emphasis in the chart; North Mars conjunct Pluto/Neptune; South Mercury conjunct Mercury; South Uranus opposite Pluto/Neptune. As I wrote in the introduction to the Node Book, a sizable number of exact aspects to the planetary nodes often seems to mark the lives which are exceptional, whether high talents, major problems, or both.

Another variation on the power struggles which is connected to the fixed planets, signs, or houses, is the handling of sensuality, pleasure, possessions, etc. Perls seems to have been obsessed with sensuality through most of his life. His “bad” boy period started with the theft of a gold coin from his father at age 10. He was a chain smoker all his life, from the beginning of the habit during the stress of the German army in World War I. He concentrated on his food in silence and was vitriolic when people wanted to talk to him while he ate. He outdid his philandering father, eventually including sexual experiments with both sexes, groups, and innovative techniques. He was still looking for new conquests in his seventies. His need for pleasure, ego-gratification, and emotional reassurance seemed insatiable. His horoscope shows the potential for excesses in sensual indulgence with the fixed emphasis (Mars conjunct Venus in Leo and tied to the second (Venus) house by their conjunction to Mercury in it; Uranus, a fixed planet in a fixed sign in a fixed house, with its square to Mars-Venus and opposition to the Moon in Taurus). But the likelihood of excess is increases when the fixed factors are tied to the search for the absolute, so pleasure becomes God. Perls has Jupiter in Taurus; Pluto ruling the fifth house conjunct Neptune; Sun ruling the second house in the twelfth (Neptune) house; and Jupiter also rules the fifth house since some of Sagittarius is in the house. When we are looking for the ultimate, we have never arrived; we keep reaching for more. But he did not make Freud’s mistake of limiting the absolute to sex. Freud had Scorpio rising. Perls, with Cancer rising, recognized that the drive for food was even more primary than sex. He was ostracized at a psychoanalytic conference when he dared to offer a paper with this heretical view.

Perls was a true eclectic, with his Gemini in the eleventh house. He drew from many sources, and created a unique and highly valuable set of techniques to help people to become self-aware. His Gestalt Prayer is widely quoted and typically Aquarian (remember, this does not mean Sun in Aquarius which is a dilemma). But in spite of his partial expression of the air, he never really allowed people to be themselves. He needed the world to revolve around him and his own needs, and he went after his emotional needs with single minded commitment. He never considered faithfulness to anyone else, so his South Node-Saturn lesson remained unlearned. He also struggled with dependency all his life; hating his own emotional need for love and reassurance. He turned against his own daughter because she wanted an emotional response from him which he was unable or unwilling to give. The fixed cross and Vesta on his Sun and Ceres in Cancer apparently outweighed the nurturing instincts, and they manifested only in his psychotherapy. There he was a genius; frequently caustic and cruel, but amazingly effective in forcing people to look at themselves. And the will of the fixed signs showed to the end. He died in a Chicago hospital, after exploratory surgery, with a variety of tubes hanging out of his veins. Despite the medical tubes, he insisted on sitting up. The nurse protested “Dr Perls, you must lie down.” Perls replied, “Don’t tell me what to do!” and died.

In checking the accuracy of the rectified time, I also did house cusps for several of the locations where Perls lived. His Chicago cusps included natal Ascendant at 0 Pisces, so the progressed Sun was quincunx it; natal MC at 14 Sagittarius, so progressed Neptune opposed it; progressed local Ascendant square progressed Mars and natal MC (which Mars opposed); progressed local MC tri-octile (sesqui-square) progressed Saturn in the fourth house. He also had progressed MC quincunx progressed Venus and Uranus; progressed Moon opposite progressed Antivertex and quincunx natal Ascendant; progressed Ascendant square Neptune, among other aspects. Among the progressed Moon aspects that confirm the accuracy of the general time of day, we can note that his progressed Moon was just coming in to the conjunction with natal Juno when he married at the advanced age of 36 (note Saturn ruling the seventh cusp, indicating his fear of a close commitment), and the next time the aspect returned, at age 64, he met and became intimate with the woman he described as the one great love of his life—Marty Fromm. Yet, in spite of his declared passion for her, he left her after six months, only to return, and leave again. His heart belonged to his work (Vesta on Sun) and he never resolved the juggling act to permit a lasting love in addition to his work and his own needs—the personal signs, Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer plus most of the rest of the chart in the personal houses. In one sense, he was always a child, and proud of it. Yet many people loved him, and the world will remember his mental genius and forgive the self-centeredness. In a funeral oration after his death, a long-time friend said that resting in peace was not Fritz’ style.

“Fritz, you were definitely not a good boy, and frankly, it’s a bit puzzling to know exactly where to send this farewell note. You could be most anywhere. I imagine that typically you are shuttling back and forth between both polarities. You wouldn’t want to get stuck in either place. In any case, don’t rest in peace. Make trouble; stir up a fuss. Make as big a fuss as you made with us. Of course, you’ll hear a lot of squawks, but then as you yourself would say: when everyone truly does his own thing, the sparks are sure to fly. I bet you’ll see a brand of sparks that you can really respect. ... We, gathered here tonight, appreciate that you were with us, that we met and touched each other. And we say to you, farewell, Fritz, and thank you for being.” (pp. 196-197; Fritz by Martin Shepard)

Copyright © 1980 Los Angeles Community Church of Religious Science, Inc.

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