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.
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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).
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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.
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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…”
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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.