Thursday, 16 January 2014

The Astrology of 2014

This evening, at the Bath forum, we looked at the astrology for the coming twelve months, with a view to trying to get something of a handle on the sorts of planetary influences we might be facing, both globally and individually. The New Year's Day chart seemed like a good place to begin with, kicking off 2014 as it does with a potent, applying New Moon in Capricorn, forming a Cardinal Grand Cross with the Uranus/Pluto square we've been living with since 2010, a detrimented Mars in Libra and retrograde Jupiter in the 10th House for Bath.

This New Moon is effectively in conjunction with Pluto and Mercury – and it also happens to be one of this year's Supermoons – a lunation occurring at the perigee (closest point to Earth in the Moon's eliptical orbit). Coincidentally, the Earth is also at its closest orbital point to the Sun in early January – counterintuitive to us in the Northern hemisphere when we are in the depth of our winter, however northern winters are relatively short in comparison with the other seasons due to this astronomical fact. Coupled with an opposition to Jupiter retrograde in watery Cancer, which is in turn in a watery trine to Saturn in Scorpio, this all adds up to a watery and disruptive signature reflecting the unseasonably high tides and floods we are experiencing currently. Although widely understood that that lunar activity influences the tides, it is often forgotten that the same gravitational factors affect the Earth's groundwater, too – severe inland flooding in Worcestershire and Oxfordfordshire bear witness to this.

Although essentially a civil date, established in Roman times, and there is no apparent celestial reason for the date of January 1 for the start of the year, every year at midnight on December 31, just as the old year slips away and the new one begins, the fixed star Sirius – the very brightest star in the heavens at a magnitude of -1.4 – is at his highest point in the northern hemisphere. Sirius sits in the constellation of Canis Major and is also known as the Dog Star. Associated with the mouth of the dog – the most dangerous part – it has been viewed with foreboding by writers such as Homer and astrolgers including Manilus. The Egyptians gave Sirius much importance, while Ptolemy gave it the nature of Jupiter and Mars – elevating and active. At 14 Can 05, Sirius is just over 2 degrees from Jupiter in the New Year chart – and given the brightness of both bodies, it is tempting to allow a little more lassitude with orbs than normally given with fixed stars. Especially when there is a report about Snoopy Island in the news – a volcanic island rising from the deep off the coast of Japan in the shape of a cartoon dog... I love it so much that I'm revising my position on orbs (only slightly, mind, and only in exceptional circumstances, where cartoon dogs are involved) – a topic we visited later in the evening in the discussion on forecasting.
Snoopy Island: volcanic activity off the coast of Japan
caused the formation of a new island in early 2014
I couldn't locate this image on the night – go on, tell me it was worth the wait... Look, he's even smiling!

It was noted that both benefics – the lesser, Venus, and the greater, Jupiter – are currently retrograde. Jupiter went retrograde in early November at 20 Can 30 and Venus on the recent winter solstice (December 21) at 28 Can 57.9. That last decimal point is significant, as this station is so nearly at the end of Cancer...

The retrogades this year are interesting; the year starts with both benefics retreating, then in early March, the malefics take over the retrograde show with Mars going retro at 27 Lib 30 on March 2nd and Saturn at 23 Sco 19 on the 4th. It will be interesting to note the change in mood as this change unfolds.

For those who like lists, here are the retrograde periods (and shadow periods) for reference:
  • Jupiter Rx @ 20 Can 57 7/11/13  Dir 10 Can 26 6/3/14  (end of shadow period 6/11/14)
  • Venus Rx @ 28 Cap 58 21/12/13  Dir 13 Cap 33  1/2/13  (end of shadow period 5/3/14)
  • Mars Rx @ 27 Lib 31  2/3/14  Dir 9 Lib 01 20/5/14 (end of shadow period 22/7/14)
  • Saturn Rx @ 23 Sco 19  4/3/14  Dir 16 Sco 38  21/7/14  (end of shadow period 28/10/14)
  • Pluto is also retrograde this year between 14/4/14 and 23/9/14 with this shadow extending to 13/1/15; Uranus between 22/7/14 and 21/12/14, grinding through that ongoing cardinal square scenario which we will finally see the end of with the final contact on 17/3/15. This, of course, is massive big-picture stuff. Neptune – well, who knows what Neptune is doing? A change of direction happens on June 9th at 7 Pis 35. It's all, doubtless, going to be very mysterious.

    Not a huge amount has been written about retrogrades, and it's a subject I'd like to address later in the year, so please do let me know if you have any thoughts on the subject... The pairings of benefics and malefics, I thought, was interesting, with Jupiter retreating in his exaltation (an interesting perspective, potentially, on growth?) paired with Venus in her fall (does the retrograde motion emphasise or ameliorate this?) and Mars and Saturn in a grim mutual reception scenario... More of this later in the year when I've had time to do some processing (doubtless in a typical retrograde manner – two steps forward, two steps back), but all thoughts most welcome.

    We looked briefly at the two eclipse seasons: April brings a powerful lunar eclipse on the 14th – possibly the most potent accent-point of the year, with the eclipse axis overlaying the tight cardinal grand cross (Jupiter – by now direct – and Mars, still retrograde joining the heavyweight Uranus/Pluto combo, just seven days prior to the 5th of this ongoing aspect pattern's seven hits). A day to look out for (and possibly not in a good way), particularly for those with planets or angles at or around 13 degrees of the cardinal signs. In some ways, this could represent a tension release point for the ongoing Uranus/Pluto square.  

    The accompanying Solar eclipse at 8 degrees Taurus (as someone pointed out, the chart wasn't quite accurate – the exact degree of the eclipse is 8 Tau 52) seems somewhat less potent; the grand cross is still there, but mitigated by the eclipse degree making a trine aspect to Pluto with a sextile to Jupiter. Added to this, it's an annular eclipse at almost 20 degrees wide of the nodes (please someone explain this – these are the degrees in the ephemeris, but I understood eclipses to be impossible at greater than 18 degrees from the nodes). 

    Summer shifts
    Jupiter moves into Leo on July 18th, and Mars into Sag on September 14th (having whizzed through Scorpio in just over three weeks – you may not even notice if you're not paying attention between Oct 27 and November 15 – unless you have planets or an angle in Scorpio, and then you'll be firing on all seven cylinders...). When these two planets catch up with Uranus around the end of September/early October, the three planets will form a lovely fire trine, changing the emphasis in the heavens to something much more uplifting than all that heavy cardinal stuff... 

    October sees another couple of eclipses: the total lunar of October 8th is at 15 Air/Lib 07 – intense, and dangerously close to the dreaded cardinal square, which isn't showing any signs of going away, despite having been the most unpopular guest at the party for several years now... This is mitigated, however by the fire trine, which transforms the T-square (Sun now in mid-Libra) into a kite.

    This eclipse's partner – a partial solar at 0 Sco 24 – is much more scattered, and there are a couple of nice trines (Sun/Moon/Venus at 0 Sco trine Neptune at 4 Pis; Saturn at 19 Leo trine Uranus at 13 Air), which I can't help feeling looks like a significantly lighter note on which to head towards the end of 2014.

    Friday, 5 July 2013

    Pluto & the UK Sun

    Pluto crossed the position of the Sun in the UK horoscope in January this year for the first time since the planet's discovery in 1930, (February, if you are looking at the 1801 chart of the Union with Ireland), and is poised to make contact again this month, this time by retrograde motion – its third pass will not take place until December this year, making 2013 a key year for the UK. Incredibly, this most distant of our planets has completed less than a third of its orbit since it was discovered; it is not always the slowest-travelling planet, though: its highly eliptical orbit means that its speed through each of the signs varies enormously, and for around 20 years of its 248-year orbit – its perihelion – Pluto's orbit crosses and moves inside that of Neptune. A key aspect of this transit is the slowness of Pluto's progress; this is not about sudden events or dramatic happenings – although with the accompanying applying square to Uranus, this too can be part of the picture – but a long-term process with echoes of gestation and birth as what has been secretly brewing in the bowels of the earth gradually manifests itself.

    Mythologically speaking, Pluto was an agricultural god who also ruled over the underworld; he also wore a helmet that made him invisible. In symbolic terms, Pluto represents immense, often hidden, power with the potential to destroy and annihilate. As the modern co-ruler of Scorpio, Pluto has links with sex and reproduction, as well as regeneration, however in order for this regeneration to happen, things must be broken down to a fundamental level before they can be reconstructed in a new form. 

    Bristol astrologer Catriona Mundle's fascinating talk on the transit of Pluto to the position of the UK's Sun at Bath Astrologer's Forum on Monday July 1st offered plenty of food for thought about the significance of this momentous conjunction. Catriona looked at both the 1066 and 1801 charts; interestingly, both share the same Sun position (within a degree) as well as the same Pluto position – 3 Pis 52 in the 1066 chart; 2 Pis 43 in the 1801 chart. Yes, the 1801 Union with Ireland chart reflects 1066's Pluto return, which says something in itself.. Whichever chart you favour, the same fundamental dynamics are at work. As Pluto conjuncts the Sun – squaring the other trans-saturnian, Uranus, in an ongoing five-year stand-off which will not be over until after 2015 – transiting Neptune has also been quietly transiting our natal Pluto, in the watery sign of Pisces creating a potent outer-planet dynamic.

    Symbolically, the sign of Capricorn is about the land, law, status and tradition, whilst the Sun is very much about sovereignty and rulership. Pluto relates to that which is hidden beneath the surface: great wealth and deep, dark secrets. (Interestingly, while we were in Bath, there was a TV programme on that very night about the hidden finances of the Duchy of Cornwall; coincidently the Sun and Pluto were exactly opposite one another in the heavens...). The first chart (1066) is set for 12.00 while the second is set for midnight, reversing the  horoscope's axis, with the Sun in the 10th for rulership and governance in the 1066 chart, and in the 4th for 1801. This makes sense, with 1066 being about conquest and a new royal dynasty, whilst 1801 is more about matters connected with land. Both charts have an angular Sun, lending great weight to the luminary's significance in the chart   

    We looked at some historical transits: in the 12th Century (the 1180s), Pluto transited the 1066 Sun around the time of the Third Crusade, and King Richard I (the Lionheart) was kidnapped on his way home from Jerusalem – an event resonant with symbolic connections between the King, the Sun and Lions – and dark, mysterious Pluto. 

    Catriona pointed out associations between Pluto and the feminine – in many cultures (possibly all, to some degree), the feminine is traditionally regarded as negative and opposite to the positive male qualities, and Pluto with its associations with gestation and transformation also echo this. She mentioned that, since 1801, there have been more queens than kings in the UK – actually, it is probably earlier than that, with Mary and Elizabeth I in Tudor times, Queen Anne in 1702; Victoria reigning from 1837-1901, and of course our own Queen some 60 years into her reign and still counting. It occurred to me that our new royal baby (imminently expected at the time of writing) will have Pluto natally conjuncting the UK Sun – almost certainly cazimi (in the heart of the Sun), as the conjunction is exact on July 16 and remains within the magic 17 minutes of arc until almost the end of the month. Significantly, the legislation regarding royal succession was recently changed to allow a first-born girl to take precedence in regard to royal succession. Which may seem like a minor and long-overdue point in terms of equality legislation, however this is fundamental change to the British constitution and to a law which dates back centuries. 

    Interestingly, another Pluto/Sun conjunction occurred in the 1520s – coinciding with the seed point of the King's Great Matter, when Henry VIII first sought to divorce Catherine of Aragon precipitating the break between the UK and Rome, and the beginning of a new UK constitution. Pluto rocks the foundations of constitutional things, and much religious imagery – halos, for example, which were derived from Roman solar symbolism – with themes of light and dark; good and evil; power, empire and control.

    Recently, there have been many echoes of this time in the media, with Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies – both novels focussing intensely on this period in history – winning the Man Booker prize in subsequent years; much raking over Tudor history in television dramas (The White Queen, The BBC's recent Tudor series; the discovery of Richard III's skeleton buried beneath a car park in Leicester). Of course it makes sense to take the 1066 chart as the basis for these events, not simply because of the chronology, but because their themes are of monarchy, sovereignty and dynasty.

    The most recent conjunction of Pluto and the UK Sun was in 1766. George III came to the throne in 1760, and went mad, creating a power vaccuum – resonances with Pluto's symbolism of invisibility and a subversion of power. This was the time of the Enlightenment, and importantly the seed-point of the Industrial Revolution, when coal was discovered deep underground, providing the fuel for great technological advances – as well as planting the unknown seeds of climate change. England led the way in the industrial revolution, which really got underway in the 1780s, however I believe the symbolism still holds as Pluto's influence – quiet, invisible, buried deep within the earth – is a gradual process, the effects of which may not be felt until it is already too late. Although coal fuelled the industrial revolution, it was only able to do this by being transported – and the network of canals played a vital role in this regard. The UK Pluto in the watery sign of Pisces perfectly symbolises the symbiosis of water and coal, and this symbolism is once again echoed in current times by the threat of fracking here in the UK – vast quantities of water pumped deep underground for the purpose of releasing great energy in the form of shale gas (both Plutonic and Neptunian echoes there). Scientists do not fully understand the process – or even how much gas there may be locked deep within the earth beneath our country – however plutocrats, driven by hunger for resources to fuel our present energy-rich way of life, are prepared to take a gamble that the fallout will be limited; with the present planetary line-up I am not so sure...

    There was much more powerful symbolism: Catriona mentioned Ash Die-back – a mysterious disease affecting the tree whose name is synonymous with burnt wood; the unexplained decimation of bat and bee populations; huge numbers marginalised people and stateless refugees – a Philip Pullman-esque world of displaced ghost-people moving from state to state; the Jewish diaspora; banks and debt – a national debt numbered in trillions, a Pluto-esque immense black hole of unimaginable proportions...

    There wasn't time to cover everything – Pluto is not a planet to be hurried – and we were not able to cover the connection with the ongoing Pluto-Uranus square aspect. Although the current astrological line-up is global and there are several countries with planets and angles around the degrees highlighted, I think we can expect current events to have fundamental and far-reaching consequences for the UK. 

    Sunday, 14 April 2013

    Comets: Hairy stars, celestial scimitars, broom stars... and the death of princes

    Rising TV star (and infamous astrology sceptic) Brian Cox and his spacewatching colleagues tell us that this could well be the year of the comet; although Comet Pannstarrs, which visited our skies in mid-March (and I understand is still – just – visible) was not quite the scorcher some of us were expecting. This November, however, we are widely assured we can expect what could be the comet of the century: the catchily named Comet ISON aka C/2012 S1 is  confidently predicted to shine so brightly that it will be visible even during the day. It is thought to be related (although no one knows quite how) to the legendary Great Comet of 1680, which was instrumental in Newton crystallising his theory of what we now know as gravity. They are hedging their bets, though: comets like cats have long tails, but are not best known for their predictability, and there have been more than a few instances of red-faced astronomers and their comet predictions hitting the skids in recent years. Actually, I am hoping on this occasion they are not wrong. With so much gloom and darkness about, it will be nice to see something spectacular in our skies.

    Although for long largely ignored in the astrological community (for want, probably, of knowing what to do with them – comets do not conveniently confine themselves to the ecliptic plane of the zodiac, but can appear even in the circumpolar regions where no planet ever ventures), historically comets have have widely been associated with catastrophe. The Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh described fire, brimstone and flood with the arrival of a comet, Arab astrologers held that they heralded wars, earthquakes, disasters and plagues, while Chinese astrological texts dating from as far back as 1500 BCE associate what was known in the East as 'broom stars' with wars, famine, floods, drought, death, betrayal and mutation of fruit trees. In short, just about anything could be blamed on comets and usually was...

    In the Western astrological tradition, comets usually heralded 'the death of princes.'
    "When beggars die, there are no comets seen; The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes" warns Calpurnia to her headstrong husband Julius as he sets out on his ill-advised journey to the Theatre of Pompey on the Ides of March. (Although in point of fact, the Great Comet of 44BC almost certainly didn't appear until at least July that year – some four months after Caesar's death – but Shakespeare was never one for letting the facts get in the way of a good story). This is one of the earliest widely-recorded sightings of a comet in the West. According to the historian Suetonius, as celebrations were getting underway to mark the anniversary of Julius Caesar's birth (the month of July was named after him) "a comet shone for seven successive days, rising about the eleventh hour, and was believed to be the soul of Caesar." Never one to miss a trick, Augustus, Caesar's great nephew and heir adopted the comet which was to become a powerful political symbol, appearing on coins which would be sent out across the Roman empire. He suggested the comet symbolised  the soul of Caesar being borne off to heaven, fostering a 'Cult of the Comet' whose focus became the newly built Temple of Divus Iulius, in which was displayed a huge image of the emperor with a flaming comet affixed to his forehead. Edmund Halley studied this comet, which was also recorded extensively in the records of the Han Chinese. Contemporary scientific records suggest it was particularly bright – one of just five in the whole of recorded history known to have had a negative absolute magnitude*.

    Subsequent comets have also been associated with the passing of great rulers. The appearance of Halley's Comet in 1066 is recorded on the Bayeux Tapestry, coinciding with the succession of the English Saxon dynasty by the Normans, while the Great Comet of 1264 was associated with the death of Pope Urban IV who allegedly fell ill on the day the comet was first seen, and died the day it disappeared from view. It was said the "the prodigy of a hairy star had brought upon his illness and slipped away once the job was finished." Another spectacular visitation was the 1556 Comet, also known as the Comet of Charles V. Upon catching sight of it, the Holy Roman Emperor reportedly exclaimed: "By this dread sign my fates do summon me" and promptly hastened to the monastery of St Juste where he spent the rest of his life.

    Between 1664 and 1665, two bright comets appeared over London, and between them, an eclipse of the Moon. Such a triple omen was unique, and merited mentions by both the young Isaac Newton and diarist Samuel Pepys, amongst others. The astrologer John Gadbury notes that they were the brightest in living memory and visible across all Europe. "These Blazeing Starrs! Threaten the World with Famine, Plague and Warrs. To Princes Death; to Kingdoms many Crises: to all Estates, inevitable Losses." The Great Plague followed in 1665, and hot on the heels of that, the Great Fire of London.

    The most widely observed comet of our modern age was Hale Bopp – the comet that brightened our northern skies throughout the early part of 1997. The internet was a relatively new phenomenon at the time and numerous websites tracked the comet's progress, providing daily images and resulting in unprecedented public interest. Discovered independently of one another by both a Mr Hale and a Mr Bopp at different locations on July 23rd 1995, this distinctive comet with its somewhat chubby outline and two distinct tails was visible all over the Northern hemisphere – even in large cities with light-polluted skies throughout the spring of 1997.

    1997 was also the year in which Princess Diana died. As we now know, she was the most widely observed member of Royalty of our modern age. She was also a figure of whom daily images and heated speculation over her progress and conduct were also beamed around the world in this new global age. The eminent astrologer Maggie Hyde, drew up a chart for the comet's discovery. The comet's position is pinpointed at 10° Capricorn – an almost exact conjunction with the Midheaven Sun of the 1066 chart for the UK.** Diana's natal chart has her Sun exactly opposed to the UK Sun and thus symbolic of her transformative function within the Royal Family: she challenged what it symbolised and precipitated cultural change.

    November's comet has no such obvious links with the UK chart. Some astrologers, I believe, have linked it with the death of the Euro (ISON was discovered at the end of the constellation of Cancer, close to a star connected with the tail of Canis Major – the legendary dog set by Jupiter to guard Europa). I'm not convinced this symbolism is totally convincing for the death of a currency, but then again, you never know...

    The appearance of Pannstarrs, of course, has coincided with the passing of a Pope, the Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and the death of Margaret Thatcher. Whatever one's view of the Iron Lady (must check whether this comet has any correspondence with her chart or the planet Mars), one cannot disagree that she has left an indelible mark on our country. Whether or not her passing merits a comet fly-past, of course, is another question entirely...


    *The brightness of heavenly bodies is measured in magnitude – apparent and absolute. The lower the number, the brighter the object. Roughly speaking, bodies with an apparent negative magnitude are visible to the naked eye in daylight; for example, the bright planets Jupiter and Venus have magnitudes ranging from -2 to -4, depending on phase, proximity and angle. Absolute magnitude is the objective magnitude of an object measured at 1 AU (Astronomical Unit) from both the Sun and the Earth, an Astronomical Unit being equal to the distance between the Earth and the Sun)

    **Although there are several possible charts for the UK – many astrologers prefer to use the 1801 Act of Union chart, which also has the Sun at 10° Capricorn – I have always found the 1066 version works best, particularly in relation to the Royal Family. It is, of course, a Royal dynastic chart.

    Friday, 12 November 2010


    I happened to be watching Gordon Ramsay's Best Restaurant (or somesuch nonsense) last night - well, it was on - and just happened to catch the end of Nigella Lawson's programme this evening, which set me wondering what are the astrological significators for this breed of TV superchef? The commercial kitchen is uncompromisingly competitive, heirarchical, pressurised and - dare I say - male (I have a sneaking suspicion this may be down to the fact that cooking has long been seen as "women's work" and there's some kind of compensation deal going on), which obviously makes me think of Mars (knives, aggression, competition). But what are the other elements of this shrine to the worship of food? An emphasis on fire for the heat of the kitchen? Venus, earth signs - particularly Taurus - for the sensual appreciation of fine cooking?

    I thought I'd look at the charts of these two chefs to see if there were any themes coming up (I'm sorry, these are both flat charts - I'm afraid I don't have accurate birth times for either, and apologies for all the asteroids on Gordon's - ouch - definitely something going on with his feminine side here.


    I have actually met Gordon Ramsay. I had breakfast with him once (no, it's not what you think) and I have to say, with his craggy face, his just-got-out-of-bed hair and those eyes that seem to say "I'd shag you if I had the time..." (he didn't actually say that to me, by the way - I just have rather an overactive imagination) I'm not at all surprised to see that Sun/Venus conjunction in Scorpio. It's connected by sextile to a potent Moon/Pluto conjunction (hang on - does some of that sound a bit familiar?), beseiged by Uranus and Mars. This scary stuff is all in normally peace-loving, careful Virgo, however the intensity here is immense - this heavy stellium is directly opposite Saturn; the words "control freak" for some reason spring to mind, and I'm guessing Gordon isn't an altogether easy person to live with or be around unless you're doing exactly what he wants you to do. Scorpio and Virgo can work very well together - the precision and perfectionism of Virgo channelled through the focus and intensity of Scorpio can be a very productive combination, and earth signs have an affinity with food, the earth and natural produce. Characters with a lot of outer-planet emphasis, though, can be a bit scary, and there's a huge amount of volatile intensity here.

    His feminine planets, the Moon and Venus are both in trouble - Venus is detrimented in dark, spooky Scopio - masculine Mars's natural ruler by night - not really a place where nice girls go, while his Moon is surrounded by heavy outer planets as well as Mars, who has a natural antipathy to the Moon anyway, and opposed by Saturn. There's no way this bloke's every going to be seen doing anything girly - he's actually admitted the fact that despite having four children he's never changed a nappy. The fact that he managed to (a) have a nine-year affair and (b) keep it secret for so long doesn't altogether surprise me with that Sun/Venus conjunction in secretive Scorpio. There's an early Bob Dylan song with the words "I gave you my heart but you wanted my soul", which I think perfectly describes the energy of Venus in Scorpio - it's a bit vampirish. Fused with the Sun, doubly so. When the affair came to light in 2008, Uranus was transiting over his Saturn opposite his scary Virgo Moon stuff, breaking open wide the tight control-ly-stuff, at least for a while. But if anyone can handle a difficult outer-planet transit, it's an outer-planet person, and Ramsay's Moon is no stranger to ways of the big stuff. Call it Scorpio-survival instinct or whatever, true to form Gordon is back in control and on our TV screens, large as life and twice as focussed.

    I reckon Gordon is predominantly a businessman - anything he puts his mind to, he focusses on totally and doesn't settle for anything less than absolute perfection. Let's face it, with all that TV work, books, merchandising, etc, how much time can he actually spend cooking these days? And the swearing? I put it down to Mercury in Sag trine his larger-than-life Leo Jupiter (it's just over a degree of orb). Fanned by the flames of Hell's Kitchen, it looks like Ramsay will be sounding off on our TV screens for some time to come.


    I'm afraid I'm not altogether a fan of Nigella. It's all the simpering, the uneccessary expanse of soft, creamy decolletage and the way she licks the spoon languidly after beating the chocolate mousse ("robustly, but perhaps not too excitably," she suggests with a bit of a come-hither wink at the cameraman - just get on with it please, woman!) popping a plump strawberry between her pouting lips for good measure. That, and the drooling slack-jawed bloke on the sofa, completely ignoring me while I'm trying to do something creative with a marrow, still a bit muddy from the allotment, and some Halloumi cheese.

    Nigella is the opposite end of the spectrum to Gordon - she certainly has no problem showing her feminine side - although it's not really a feminine side I feel totally comfortabe with. She hasn't got any of Gordon's drive or precision edge - she's actually a bit sloppy and haphazard with her measurements, always licking spoons and letting things dribble over the side a bit haphazardly. There's no intense focus here, just a wonderful fiery grand trine mirroring her huge enthusiasm and hinting at the possibility that there probably weren't too many obstacles in the way of her meteoric rise to culinary stardom - the Lawson family connections and the marriage to multi-millionaire Charles Saatchi can't have hampered her too much in her career (although I know she has had huge personal tragedy in her life with the death of her mother, a sister and a tragically young husband, so let's not be too hard on the girl).

    She has the Sun not a million miles from Saturn in earthy Capricorn - this woman is a grafter. The irritating girliness I put down to that Venus in Sag, and the fact that it squares Pluto puts me in mind of a TV spoof of Nigella meets How Clean Is Your House where she langorously wields a loo brush (anyone see that?) - I feel her lascivious TV persona has more of the sexually-charged Pluto element than is strictly necessary before the watershed (although that's probably my Virgo Moon speaking...)

    But what about the Mars stuff? With Mars in Sag conjunct a dignified Jupiter and trine Uranus in Leo, there's certainly enthusiasm in spades here, but without the focus and intensity or very much earthy affinity with food shown, I'm not sure that Nigella would quite cut it in Gordon's kitchen.

    Sunday, 11 April 2010

    Don't Push It!

    I got together with a group of astrologers this weekend to see whether we could predict the winning horse in the Grand National. It’s been done before and plenty has been written on the subject, but tell me this – have you ever come across a wealthy astrologer? Apart from Russell Grant or Patric Walker, I mean? (And I don’t imagine either of them owes very much of their respective fortunes to revenue from horseracing.)

    None of us had been following form, or had any experience of horseracing – except perhaps for Susie, who had been looking at various astrological techniques for predicting winners – we were simply going to look at the chart for the race and see whether we could tease out the name of the winning horse from the symbolism.

    Susie cast a chart for the start of the race (10:04:10, 4.15pm, Aintree, UK). For some reason, she chose to use the Campanus House system - a method of dividing the horoscope’s twelve houses into equal sections of 30 degrees devised by a 13th-century astrologer which is seldom now used – it’s fine if you happen to be born close to the equator, but considered less accurate for charts based north or south of the tropics. This method was apparently used successfully by the 20th-Century astrologer John Addey. With Addey’s method apparently (and I’ll come clean now and say that it’s very possible – er, well if I’m honest, extremely likely, then – I didn’t quite get everything; a lot of the theory was very technical with various colours and virtually everything you could possibly think of assigned to a certain house, sign or planet – Mercury/Pluto, for example, represents an imbecile, although I have no idea why, or why my eye happened to alight on that particular example in the book… Actually, I do – I know someone quite well with a natal Mercury/Pluto, but I wouldn’t exactly say he was an imbecile. Not always very good at remembering to put the bin out perhaps…)

    It’s all to do with the 5th House cusp. Thus far, it seems to make sense: the 5th House rules gambling, games, competitions, etc. What you have to do is look at the 5th House cusp to see the next aspect it makes as the race develops.

    In this instance, the 5th cusp progresses to meet up in conjunction with Pluto – but this is where things get tricky: if the race starts seven minutes late, the 5th cusp will have already passed Pluto and be applying to a sextile with the Moon (I’ve never been great at maths, so I tend to stick to major aspects, although I understand Addey was into harmonics and midpoints and whatnot, which I’ve never been able to get my head round. I’m of the view that, if the astrology wants to communicate a message, it will do it in a language you can understand without recourse to a calculator. Quincunxes, sesquiquadrates and semisquares might be all very well for someone who doesn’t immediately get the urge to bury her head in the sand at words like “quadratic equation”, but my charts need to speak to me in plain English).

    Normally, when looking at a chart, the first thing you look at is the sign on the Ascendant (in this case Virgo) and its ruler (Mercury) – incidentally, because the Grand National is always run during the first two weeks of April, and always kicks off at the same time (4.15pm), the Ascendant will always be Virgo and the ruler will always be Mercury. Sadly, too, the Sun will always be in the 8th House – house of death – echoing the race’s grim history of death and injury to both riders and runners. I’m assured that this is now not such an issue; in more recent years following pressure from animal rights activists and the huge public outcry after graphic news coverage of the fall of the horse Dark Ivy in 1987 – a huge amount has been invested in on-course veterinary care: there’s more brush in the fences and the number of runners has been reduced to forty (which is still a heckuvalotof horses galloping full-tilt towards a five-foot fence). Eighty horses have ‘officially’ lost their lives during the history of the race – the actual total is almost certainly more. The largest number of horses to finish – out of 40 starters – is 23; the fewest is two. Yes, that's right: 2. I know.

    * * * *

    Anyway, back to the chart. The 5th House Pluto in Capricorn forms a Yod or ‘Finger of Fate’ – two Quincunxes (150 degrees) joined by a Sextile – with the Moon and Mars (coincidentally conjunct the Part of Fortune in the 11th) – an aspect pattern quite striking in itself without the business of the 5th House cusp. One of the runners was Black Apalachi – a reference to a now extinct Native American tribe; Both Pluto and Mars are associated with the colour black, and Pluto is extinction. Capricorn is also associated with mountains (although I’m really not sure whether the Apalachi tribe actually had anything to do with the Appalacian mountains – direct associations don’t always matter in astrology since symbols can relate to any number of things).

    The second horse I picked was Don’t Push It. There are a number of suggestions in the chart that point to this: Obdurate Saturn in close opposition to unpredictable Uranus right across the horizon of the chart seem to be saying don’t push it… to one another; chart ruler Mercury digging its heels in to sticky Taurus (normally associated with speed, Mercury is slowing down towards its station when it goes retrograde next week); even the dark Pluto in the 5th holding pushy Mars in Leo in a sinister quincunx seems to be echoing don’t push it…

    Of course there were others. A not-quite angular Moon in dreamy Pisces applying to a sextile of the Taurus Mercury hinted at Dream Alliance; The Package suggested Mercury the messenger, as well as mysterious Pluto in the 5th (although not sufficiently strongly for me, I have to say); Comply or Die – a strong favourite – could well have been compulsive Pluto and deathly Mars; Backstage – Pluto, with his helmet of invisibility in the theatrical 5th House; Nozic was in there, too – a right-wing economic philosopher who espoused the supremacy of market forces, who could easily have been Mars/Pluto. One of the astrologers liked Mr Pointment (sluggish Mercury in Taurus), but it turned out he wasn’t running (still somewhere on the road to Aintree, probably).

    * * * *

    In the event, the race started three minutes late – the 5th House cusp was closing in rapidly on Pluto as Black Apalachi established an early lead... As the race developed, they were all mentioned as contenders – Dream Alliance, Comply or Die, Nozic, Backstage – as well as Big Fella Thanks, who would have been Jupiter, which frankly – apart from being vaguely close to the Descendant – wasn’t doing much in the chart, but I guess you can’t expect to see everything in astrology.

    As they neared the finish – and the all-important 5th-House cusp moved on through and past Pluto – Don’t Push It, whose name had been written all over the chart moved through the pack of dark horses carrying Tony McCoy to victory.

    * * * *

    Yes, it was all there in the stars, but even before we put our bets on, it did make me wonder, is this what astrology is for? To my mind, astrology is a gift from beyond, something spiritual, something that offers insight, a brief glimpse of the unknowable, and perhaps a way forward – it’s not about making money. As I saw the phrase Don’t Push It again and again in the chart, I wondered whether the astrology was really saying to us, “Yes, I’ll show you it can work for this, but this isn’t what astrology’s really about. Don’t push it…

    * * * *

    We’ve decided to donate our winnings to a charity for retired racehorses.

    If you didn’t catch the race on Saturday or you want to see it again, here you go.

    Sunday, 1 November 2009

    Saturn returns...

    I don't know why we’re here, but I’m pretty sure that it’s not in order to enjoy ourselves.
    Ludwig Wittgenstein

    I’ve been spending a lot of time with Saturn lately. He always seems to catch up with me around this time of year, as the sun’s rays weaken, plants wilt and winter’s chilly mantle creeps over the northern hemisphere. And since he's in my Fifth house, he represents writers' block, a sort of party-pooping curmudgeonly approach to life and an inability to see the good in anything very much. He's Lord of Winter, the Greater Malefic – other guises include the Grim Reaper, Cronos and Old Father Time. I also think I’m going through a bit of a Saturn contact. It’s not much fun, but I maintain it’s pain for a purpose, like childbirth (although my other half maintains that's not as bad as the bad back he had recently. He's got that on very good authority from his (male) osteopath, so I couldn't possibly comment). What that purpose is often takes a while to figure out (a clever way of getting someone else to bring in the logs and produce supper on a tray perhaps?), but every so often, like Persephone, I reckon you have to go down into the underworld and eat a few pomegranate seeds or whatever it is.

    Saturn has never had much of a glowing press in the astrology world – a significator of boundaries, restrictions, discipline, fear, self-doubt, realism – and, obviously, death – and in the practice of traditional horary astrology he’s an indicator of impaired judgment if found in the Seventh House; he’s universally feared, shunned and regarded with suspicion.

    Life. Is. Difficult. This is the First Noble Truth of the Buddhist canon (although it's arguable whether the Pali word Dukkha translates directly as difficult – it has been variously translated as pain, struggle and simply suffering, and I can't claim any expertise in the realm of middle Indo-Aryan languages, but in broad terms, the message is: it’s not much fun). As a child, two of my favorite stories were Androcles and the Lion and Beauty and the Beast (I always felt so sorry for the Lion and the Beast – mind you, I also felt sorry for Rumplestiltskin, poor foolish Jack in Jack and the Beanstalk as well as the boy with the shard of ice in his heart in The Snow Queen... In fact I think I may have spent much of my childhood feeling sorry for one thing or another – I just felt so darned responsible). The point is, both stories entail something that’s initially feared or reviled, and after spending some time with that something and learning to understand the source of what we were originally afraid of, embracing and accepting it as a necessary part of us, and becoming the wiser (if sometimes sadder) because of it.

    Saturn is also about Time – there are no shortcuts or quick fixes. We need to genuinely confront Saturn, find out why he’s so glum or growly and find a way of accepting him as part of the richness of the universe. I really don’t think life was ever meant to be about pleasure-seeking, relaxing, enjoying – well, at least not all the time. The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers, as M Scott Peck suggests in his excellent Saturn-embracing tome, The Road Less Travelled.

    * * *

    We’ve all got Saturn lurking somewhere in our birthchart, so perhaps it’s about time we learned to get used to him. Mind you, it’s easy for me to say that – mine’s a nicely dignified Saturn, even though he’s party-pooping in curmudgeonly fashion somewhere it my Fifth house of fun, childhood, gifts, pleasure and love affairs, at least he’s not doing it in a whiny, grizzling Saturn-in-Cancer or bossy, hotheaded Saturn-in-Aries type of way. He’s just a bit sensible and serious and, let’s face it, not exactly a bundle of light-hearted fun and frivolity. By rights, I shouldn’t really have a sense of humour, but if I occasionally manage to see the funny side of things, it’s usually a bit sardonic or ironic – gallows humour is Saturn’s kind of humour.

    Saturn is about growing up, getting older, letting go of things past and facing our responsibilities. The Saturn cycle is roughly somewhere between 28 and 30 years and can be divided into quarters for each different stage of life. It’s about death, but it’s also about moving on. Saying goodbye to one stage of life always means you’re on the threshold of the next, and progress ultimately cannot be gained without letting go. Your first Saturn half-return comes round about the age of 14. It represents the loss of childhood, but it also represents the onset of adolescence; at 21 it’s about moving on to adulthood and facing up to a new set of responsibilities. The first full Saturn Return strikes around 28-30 and asks us to re-examine where we are and whether we’re traveling in the right direction. Ignore Saturn at your peril – he has a habit of hanging around underneath the surface of things and coming back to bite you at the next bit of the cycle if you don’t discard outgrown habits and confront the next phase your Saturn responsibilities. The permatanned youth culture of wrinkle-free skin, pert flesh and dewy radiance – well into our nineties – is just one example of Saturn-denial. Life is sometimes tough, we all get older, and hopefully a bit wiser – just get on with it.

    Where your Saturn is by sign, house and aspects dictates how he behaves and how you need to approach learning to live with him. Dignified in Capricorn, he’s determined, ambitious, often disciplined and practical with a strong sense of duty and a well-developed work ethic. Difficult aspects can have a restraining effect on other planets and there’s often a lack of spontenaity and a stern sensibleness that makes you, well, hardly the life and soul of the party (think limited singing ability and odd, random arm movements by way of dancing), however trines and sextiles harness that steady dependability. Saturn is also traditionally dignified in Aquarius, but operates slightly differently (you've got the Uranus effect going on there, too). Think strong ethics with an often humanitarian flavour, however there’s a high degree of independence which can err into obstinacy if Saturn is badly aspected. Aquarius Saturn people can often feel worried about not being in control, which can then bring out their bossy side – the key is possibly to try to let yourself feel comfortable in situations where there's absolutely no need for you to be in control.

    Exalted in Libra, this one of the least problematic places – a natural sense of justice tempered by human understanding and practical common sense. Badly aspected, though, this can make for rigidness or intolerance, or mistrustfulness. Try questioning your own conviction that your way is the only way, and understand that people with different views are not necessarily critisising you. Cancer is difficult for Saturn – there’s often an inclination towards worry, a huge need for emotional security or a tendency towards self-pity. Oh dear. Although I don’t have any personal experience of Saturn in Cancer, I would imagine the trick here would be to cut yourself a bit of slack and try not to be too hard on yourself. Yes, I know – easier said than done. Other positively aspecting planets can help a bit, and it depends which house we’re talking about. Ok – send over your details and I’ll have a look.

    Aries, too, is a bit of a tricky one – you get something of a push-me pull-you effect with the restraining cautious energy of Saturn pitted against the positive energetic quality of Aries. Try to relax a bit and understand that assertiveness and defensiveness are two sides of the same coin. Taurus is generally good, if a bit plodding at times, however there may be a tendency to worry unduly about having sufficient money or resources. Developing an ability to trust – in yourself and others – is key. Gemini – hmmm. Doesn’t strike me as a match made in heaven, however positive aspects can put a brake on the multi-tasking motormouth effect of Gemini, and this does bode well to being able to apply yourself to study. Try not to be such a doom-monger – healthy scepticism is fine, but try not to let this spill over into suspicion. Saturn can have a bit of a dampening effect on the sunny warmth of Leo. At worst, a Leo Saturn can be bossy and autocratic, however if it’s a steady kind of perseverance and drive you’re after, this combination could make for the ideal 1950s kind of husband. Just make sure you’ve got his slippers in the oven and some nice meat and two veg ready for when he pitches up home from the office. Avoid drifting into the shallows of self-importance and dogmatism; a certain amount of pride is good, but you need to keep this in perspective.

    What’s left – oh, Virgo. Great if you’re a routine-freak, like to keep an eye on the bank balance and there’s often lots of practicality there, too. There can be a bit of a perfectionist streak here, though, so try to keep things in perspective. Virgos are usually the worriers of the zodiac, and Saturn can exacerbate this. Try to relax a bit – it's good to have high standards, and to expect high standards in other people but sometimes you have to look at your priorities. Sometimes it’s just not possible to do everything totally perfectly. Scorpio’s always a bit of a dark horse with any planet. Think brooding intensity – I’m getting a sort of black-leather-jacketed Alain Delon-type with moody eyebrows and a gun in his pocket. Best not go there unless you're into a bit of murky subterfuge. And like your screen detectives mean, moody and determined... Obviously if you have a Scorpio Saturn, I’m afraid you’re stuck with it, so try to keep a lid on getting things out of proportion, seeing slights where none are intended and thinking everyone's out to get you. Really, they’re not. Well, at least not all of them. Sagittarius – expansion and contraction. A bit polarized, so think yo-yo dieting, yo-yo moods, a dab hand with a little sort of wheel thing on the end of a length of string – although, joking apart, this is actually quite a good placing for a philosophical outlook, depending on other aspects and whether Saturn or Jupiter has the upper hand. You make a great devil’s advocate, but don’t set too much store on being seen to be right all the time. Life’s just too short. Last, but by no means least is Pisces, where there can be plenty of empathy and humanity, however, this can spill over into pessimism and self-criticism giving you an unnecessarily hard time unless you can channel it into something creative. There can be a tendency to going over and over the past. Do your best to nip this in the bud whenever you notice it – at best there's a limited amount to be gained by raking over and over old coals.

    Brown Dog will be offering Saturn clinics between 10.30am and 12 noon on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Just bark over your details.

    Wednesday, 27 May 2009

    Mercury retrograde (and why you should never start anything under a new moon)

    Mercury goes retrograde around every three months. That’s at least three times a year, so you’d have thought we’d be used to him by now, but somehow he always manages to catch us out. Well, me, at least. Cars break down, wires get crossed, trains fail to connect and telephone and broadband connections inexplicably go up the spout. 2009 is a busy year for Mercury, which goes backwards and forwards no fewer than four times. This time, Mercury started travelling backwards on May 7th, and you’ll be pleased to know, he turns direct again on May 30th / 31st, depending where you are in the world. All will be well until September 7th, when he’s back to his old tricks again for the best part of that month.

    Mercury is possibly my favourite planet (well, I would say that – I’m a Virgo. Well, I’ve got a Virgo ascendant, which means I pretend to be a Virgo because everyone's always so afraid of Scorpio – oops, did I really say Scorpio?). Apart from when he goes retrograde, that is. He’s the fastest guy on the track – the winged messenger – and when he’s doing his fleet-footed thing, he can outrun the sun on a good day. He rules connections, communications, messages and journeys; the only god who can travel down to Hades, come back and live to tell the tale. He’s also the trickster, the silvertongued charmer who’ll slip through your fingers just as you think you’ve finally pinned him down...

    He never strays far from the sun on his travels – it’s hard to see him through the sun’s glare, even harder to pin him down. People get worried about retrograde planets, but there’s nothing heavy about Mercury. He’ll duck and dive, outwit and outclass you, but at the end of the day he was only having a bit of a laugh. Don’t believe you can outwit him, though – he’s still a god after all. He's fastest in air – think of all those Gemini characters who just love to argue the toss and talk the hind leg off a donkey. He rules Virgo, too – I think it's the mutability of the sign – and don't be fooled by the quiet, demure front, when they're not being complete control freaks, Virgos can be surprisingly – well, surprising. The only element he's not always comfortable in is water – not a great swimmer, you see. In water signs, he's said to be mute – I'm not convinced that's totally true. Brown Dog has his Mercury in Pisces, and he is tragically far from mute.

    When Mercury’s on his backward track, he’s quite a different character from the sunny, shiny chatterbox Mercury that skips and runs ahead of the Sun with his pin-sharp observations and bright ideas. Every three months or so, though, he needs to travel back down to the underworld, to revisit the darker realms where his quicksilver words will be lost in the deep, cool darkness – a profoundly different sort of place, but somewhere, nevertheless, where he needs to go to recharge those Duracell batteries. On his sunshine travels, he lives among writers, communicators, publishers and dreamers – Bob Dylan has the most powerful Mercury I think I’ve ever seen in a chart – but on his backward travels, wires get crossed, journeys interrupted and things fall apart. But it’s important to recognise that Mercury retrograde (just like almost everything else that’s irksome or annoying in astrology) is just another way of making us realise we can’t control everything – the only way to deal with a retrograde Mercury is to go with the flow; accept and take note. Retrograde Mercury is often about stepping back, recuperating, revisiting. Unfinished business is sometimes brought to the fore with a Mercury Retrograde. Sometimes something from the past will unexpectedly catch you on the back foot; unfinished business that has to be dealt with.

    I had a retrograde Mercury moment this weekend. I ran into a friend of a friend in the village who was staying here for the bank holiday weekend – coincidentally, a Gemini, it was his birthday the following day – and for some reason we got onto the subject of school days (not a favourite subject – I hated mine). It turned out this person had been at school with my brother. I haven’t spoken to my brother for several years. I’m not actually that freaked any more by these odd coincidences – as a Mercury person, they seem to always be happening to me. I once worked in an office where no fewer than four people had some kind of connection to my past (a bit spooky, as I turned out to be kind of related to one of them).

    Geminis and Virgos are particularly affected by the moods of Mercury. You’ll also feel it if Mercury’s station* touches a sensitive point on your own natal chart. The only way to deal with tricky or troublesome planets like a retrograde Mercury is to step back and try to tune in to what they have to say. Sometimes it’s hard when Mercury retrograde coincides with a communication breakdown, a broken promise or an interrupted journey, but trite as it sounds, it’s usually something that’s happened for a reason – unfortunately, that reason is often buried in the murky underworld and sometimes seems almost impossible to locate. Believe me, though, a Mercury message is much easier to tune into than a Saturn one – after all, he is the god of communication.

    Mercury retrograde do’s and don’ts

    Make any important, life-changing decisions
    Apply for that job
    Start a new diet
    Embark on an important journey
    Buy a new computer, telephone system, radio or tv
    Put your house on the market
    Start anything new – a job, a relationship, a house purchase
    Schedule a book launch, go live with your new website, make an important speech
    Book your car in for a service

    (If you have inadvertently embarked on any of the above, not realising Mercury was retrograde, don't fret. Any annoying difficulties and hold-ups should probably be just that, and all will sort itself out once Mercury goes direct.)

    Have a good clear out – that long lost photograph, letter or document will probably turn up
    Tackle that humungous pile of filing
    Return to unfinished projects
    Rekindle old friendships
    Mend bridges
    Repair, reassess, rethink, research…
    Basically, anything that feels like delving into the underworld.

    Unless you’re Barack Obama, of course, who seems to be an exception to just about every Mercury rule…

    I was going to talk about why you should never start anything under a new moon, but in typical Mercury fashion I’ve gone on too long and run out of time. Just take it from me – don’t.

    * When a planet is retrograde, before it can go direct it slows down and sits on its station for a while before turning. This ‘station’ point can often be a powerful trigger.