Monday, 26 May 2014

Pholus in the twentieth century and beyond

Pholus was next at perihelion at the start of the twentieth century, on 4 February 1901. The period he was in Saturn's realm – and the lid was on the jar – stretched from 1897 to early 1904. I'd found this part of his previous cycle very quiet, as if the lid were not just on, but firmly screwed down. The situation this time round couldn't be more different. You would need someone with the strength of Heracles to keep the contents in the jar, at least in the period following the perihelion. The reason for this – and the keynote for the whole of this Pholus cycle – was that on this occasion Pholus was dancing not with Neptune but with Uranus and Pluto. The result is a much darker experience of Pholus. It is not an exaggeration to say that, by the time he had passed from Neptune's and into Pluto's realm, Pholus was staring into the Abyss.

(Click to enlarge)
This perihelion occurred shortly before the first of several exact oppositions between Uranus and Pluto during 1901-2 which formed the backdrop to the scientific revolution that shaped the twentieth century. There were notable births and significant events in the years following Pholus' perihelion. The first was Werner Heisenberg, a theoretical physicist who contributed to early work on quantum mechanics and is best known for the Uncertainty Principle – a term which, though it refers to the behaviour of sub-atomic particles, could well sum up the entire century. Heisenberg was born on 5 December 1901, and exactly a week later (12 December) the first radio signal was sent across the Atlantic. Two years later, on 17 December 1903, aviation pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first powered, controlled and sustained flight and, shortly after Pholus left Saturn's realm, Albert Einstein published his Special Theory of Relativity (1905). We were not so much sailing into uncharted waters as cutting the ties that bound us to the planet.

Culturally, there was one interesting birth during this period, namely that of Eric Blair, better known as George Orwell, who was born in 1903. Gone were the fantasy worlds of Middle Earth and Narnia.  They were replaced by a gritty realism in which Orwell described experiences like being down and out in Paris and London, and fighting in the Spanish Civil War.  He also wrote perhaps the most famous of dystopias, 1984, the background of which is loosely based on wartime Britain. It's interesting to compare this with the other famous dystopia that was circulating round my class clandestinely in the mid-60s – Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. (Both were much more interesting than our set books and ever so slightly subversive). Huxley was born in 1894, during the decade of the Neptune-Pluto conjunction. Many astrologers point to this conjunction as the start of a new era because it's such a long cycle – nearly 500 years. Huxley's story is about a hedonistic, consumer-oriented society in which anything old is despised, whereas Orwell's is of a grim society in a perpetual state of war where your every move is monitored and even your thoughts aren't private. We used to speculate about which of these was the more likely to happen. Nearly fifty years on, we seem to have achieved the impossible and manifested both.

Moving on to the period when Pholus travels beyond Neptune, between 1934 and 1957 with aphelion on 9 July 1946, the first thing that struck me was that Pluto was discovered shortly before (in 1930) and as we know very quickly made his presence felt through the Great Depression and, in Europe, the rise of National Socialism. This has such a different feel to it from the previous period in the mid-1800s when Neptune was discovered, the utopian Communist Manifesto was published and the Fox Sisters were table-rapping – although once put into practice, Communism didn't remain utopian for very long (Orwell's Animal Farm is relevant here).

The early part of this period was one of rising tension as the war machine started to crank into action, embarking on a six-year period of wholesale slaughter which was finally ended by the dropping of atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. The technology that made these bombs possible had, of course, arisen as from scientific discoveries such as Einstein's earlier in the century. In my book, they have 'Pluto' stamped all over them, as does the Holocaust. Interestingly, the word itself means 'burnt offerings,' which again is very Plutonian, whereas in fact the many people who went to their death in Nazi concentration camps were gassed, which is very Neptunian.

While the image imprinted on the mind for the first part of this cycle is that of conflagration, that for the second is of cold and iron. As the world emerged from its period of temporary insanity, the Iron Curtain came down and the Cold War started. In fact, they continued for the remaining part of Pholus' cycle, as the world divided into two camps on one side of the Curtain or the other until the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991. The threat of nuclear war dominated this period, with many countries building up their nuclear arsenal and testing nuclear weapons, especially in the 1950s.

As Pholus once again returned to Saturn's realm in 1988, things began to change. It was as if the immense forces that were unleashed in the 1940s were finally settling down. It marked the end of the Reagan-Thatcher era, during which the Market Economy became established. A year later, the Berlin Wall fell and over the next few years the Communist bloc fell apart. By the end of 1991, only a few months after the Pholus perihelion, the Soviet Union no longer existed.

(Click to enlarge)
Neptune had not been a major player throughout this Pholus cycle, but it once again came to the fore as Pholus reached perihelion on 24 September 1991. Take a look at the chart, which is set for London. Two things stand out: the Pholus-Saturn opposition and the beginnings of a Uranus-Neptune conjunction, which is exact during 1993. Pholus left Saturn's realm again in 1994.

The major manifestations of the Uranus-Neptune conjunction to date are the Hubble telescope and its opening up of outer space, virtually back to the Big Bang, and the internet, which has made it possible to link up people all around the world. Wonderful though they both are, they're technological (hardly surprising with Uranus involved), superficial and deceptive (Neptune). What I mean is that the wonderful images we see from deep space are just that: images. They're not real. Even if we could travel that far out, we'd never see those abstract shapes and beautiful colours because they're not there, they're just computer-enhanced images. Likewise, though the internet might have spawned the beginnings of a global consciousness, it could also be likened to the experience of swimming in shark-infested waters. People on the net aren't necessarily who they say they are and there's a dark underbelly of very nasty stuff lurking not very far beneath the surface. 

It's also striking that, though we can now travel to the farthest reaches of the universe and link hands with our brothers and sisters around the globe, there's as much reluctance as ever to plumb the depths, both our own and those of the planet. People seem to be more obsessed than ever with surface stuff like looks, status and celebrities (the glamour of Neptune) to the detriment of values such as honour and integrity. And the disappearance of Flight MH370 has brought home only too well how little we know about the deep ocean depths.
A word about the Pholus-Saturn opposition: Juan Revilla, an astrologer and one of the pioneers of Centaur research, has pointed out that Pholus and Saturn remained in opposition (on and off) from perihelion until February 1999, when the last opposition occurred on the final degree of Aries ( He suggests that Saturn clipped Pholus' wings during this period but once the oppositions were over it left him free to fly. We're still in the early days of the 171 year long Uranus-Neptune cycle, so it remains to be seen how the rest of these cycles play out.  Those born at the start of them are barely into adulthood, for one thing.

Pholus, however, is now working with Neptune again, which suits his nature and has the potential to yield many rich gifts when he moves into the Unknown Region once again, a period which begins in 2023.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Pholus in the nineteenth century

I've been looking at, and musing over, the last two cycles of Pholus – which conveniently span two centuries. But they're so different, I've been asking myself where does Pholus fit in all this, if at all.

The answer may lie in the fact that Pholus is strongly linked to the imagination. He travels further than most of the Centaurs I've worked with, in the sense that he crosses the orbits of several planets. By way of comparison, Chariklo orbits sedately between Saturn and Uranus and she's the most 'steady state' of the Centaurs. Pholus picks up on more than most on his journey, and he spends more time in the region of Neptune and Pluto than he does around Saturn – so he's a free spirit for the greater part of his cycle.

If we look at the nineteenth century, this Pholus cycle encompasses two major Neptune conjunctions – the Uranus-Neptune in the early 1820s and the Neptune-Pluto at the beginning of the 1890s. Neptune too is strongly imaginative – our ideologies, world-views and so on arise from the mass consciousness that is Neptune. And even though we talk about living in the real world, or harangue people to 'get real,' we actually have no idea of what really is real, because what we call the real world is simply a mutually reinforced delusion which shifts and changes and eventually disintegrates when that particular version of reality no longer serves us. (And then the Uranian 'awkward squad' comes along and blows holes in the failing consensus of what's real – but that's another story!).

As well as being Keeper of the Sacred Wine Jar, Pholus is also Storyteller to the Gods. Storytelling, like fairy tales and imagination itself, has been relegated to the 'trivial pursuits' level in our bright, shiny, techno-world, but it's an ancient tradition which stretches back to a time long before Homer (who simply started writing the stories down). The storyteller was custodian of the tribe's traditions and also their memory. When storytelling comes from a deep source, the words spring from the visions, not the visions from the words. The storyteller's task was to bring the story alive for the whole tribe, so things like literary style didn't come into it.

All Centaurs are liminal figures, go-betweens, so Pholus in his role as storyteller can draw tales out of that vast, imaginative Neptunian ocean and bring them through into our consciousness. And that's what seems to be happening in the nineteen century, as some of the most imaginative writers – many of whom are still read and enjoyed today – were either born or published during significant parts of the Pholus cycle, or when Neptune was in one of its major conjunctions.

However, at the very start of Pholus' cycle in the 1800s – when the lid was firmly on the jar – there's no discernible Pholusian activity. The period that Pholus was within Saturn's realm extended from 1807 to 1813, with the perihelion on 3 March 1810. It was business as usual, namely War, Industry and Empire. I couldn't find any notable births nor marked signs of imaginative activity. For sure the lid was well and truly on.

 The period around aphelion is a different matter altogether. It extends from 1843 to 1868, with aphelion on 20 July 1855. Firstly, Neptune was discovered in 1846 – once again emphasising the Neptunian feel of this cycle. Events that followed include the rise of spiritualism (the Fox sisters' table-rapping), the foundation of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the publishing of the Communist Manifesto in 1848, all quite Neptunian. Also in 1848 – but perhaps more to do with the Uranus-Pluto conjunction that was building – was a wave of revolutions in Europe, though these fizzled out almost as soon as they began. Then in 1854, shortly before aphelion, the essay 'Walden' was published. Written by Henry David Thoreau (born 1817, shortly before the Uranus-Neptune conjunction) this is a reflection on simple living in natural surroundings which is often cited by environmentalists today. 

Then after the aphelion, we have a remarkable cluster of births ranging between 1859 to 1868. Many of them wrote imaginative fiction but there are others who used their imagination in other ways and many of their names are iconic. To give a few examples: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859) author of the famous Sherlock Holmes stories and also a spiritualist, Rudolf Steiner (1861) educationalist and mystic, Henry Ford (1863) who introduced assembly lines and mass-produced cars, Arthur Machen (1863) author and mystic, W B Yeats (1865) poet and mystic, H G Wells (1866) author and socialist, Marie Curie (1867) researcher of radioactivity and winner of two Nobel prizes (and the first woman to be awarded one), and Robert Falcon Scott (1868) leader of the ill-fated expedition to the Antarctic. Additionally, Jules Verne's imaginative work was first published during this period, including Journey to the Centre of the Earth published in 1864.  All of these individuals have Pholus contacts in their charts, with aspects to Moon, Venus and Mercury occurring frequently.

There are incidents associated with two of these writers so reminiscent of Pholus' 'genie out of the bottle' side that I just have to share them.  The first is the story of the Mary Celeste, the ship that was found abandoned. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a short story loosely based on this, but with fictional elements introduced, such as accounts that the ship was in an almost perfect state when discovered (when in fact it had been in heavy weather and was water-logged) and that all the life-boats were still present (when one was actually missing).  The fictional account then took on a life of its own.  Written as an eye-witness account, it subsequently appeared in the press as a true account of the event.  Even the fictional name Marie Celeste was the one that stuck in the public's mind.

The second is similar in that Arthur Machen published a short story called The Bowmen in the London Evening News in September 1914, following the British retreat at the Battle of Mons the month before.  It described how phantom bowmen from Agincourt, summoned by an English soldier, had destroyed a host of German troops.  Machen received several requests for permission to reproduce the story in parish magazines, and on one occasion was asked to give details of his sources.  When he replied that there were no sources as the account was fiction, he was told he was mistaken because the incident really had happened.  Again, The Angel of Mons assumed a  life of its own and acquired embellishments, including accounts of German bodies on the battlefield with arrow wounds. As Machen ruefully said, 'The snowball of rumour has been rolling ever since, growing bigger and bigger, till it is now swollen to a monstrous size.'

As Pholus' cycle drew to a close at the end of the nineteenth century, passing once again into Saturn's sphere in 1897, there was a final flowing of imaginative writers such as C S Lewis (1898) and Jorge Luis Borges (1899).  Indeed, the entire decade gave birth to  some impressive names, including J R R Tolkien (1892), Aldous Huxley (1894), Dane Rudhyar (1895) and Robert Graves (1895).  But once Pholus reached perihelion in 1901, things changed completely.  More of that later.

I'll end with a few lines by Walt Whitman, a poet born around the Uranus-Neptune conjunction of 1821, which suggest something of Pholus' journey:

 Darest thou now O soul,
Walk out with me toward the unknown region,
Where neither ground is for the feet nor any path to follow?
No map there, nor guide,
Nor voice sounding, nor touch of human hand,
Nor face with blooming flesh, nor lips, nor eyes, are in that land.
I know it not O soul,
Nor dost thou, all is a blank before us,
All waits undream'd of in that region, that inaccessible land.
Till when the ties loosen,
All but the ties eternal, Time and Space,
Nor darkness, gravitation, sense, nor any bounds bounding us.
Then we burst forth, we float,
In Time and Space O soul, prepared for them,
Equal, equipt at last, (O joy! O fruit of all!) them to fulfil O soul.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Pholus: lid on, lid off and in the Underworld

The Centaur Pholus has a very elliptical orbit which takes him from the realm of Saturn to that of Pluto, crossing the orbits of Uranus and Neptune as he goes. So he covers a lot of territory and has contact with several of planets on the way.

 Melanie Reinhart uses the phrase 'the lid comes off' for Pholus. That relates to him being the Keeper of the Sacred Wine Jar (given to him by Dionysus) which had been kept sealed for four generations – a reminder that all Centaurs have an ancestral dimension. The story of Pholus and his downfall is that Heracles came to visit one day and Pholus took the lid off the jar to give some to Heracles. Chaos ensued! The wild centaurs smelt the wine and became intoxicated. They came thundering to the cave and began to hurl rocks and tear up trees. Heracles got out his arrows and started to fire them into the centaurs.  They dropped like flies because the arrows had been dipped in the blood of the Hydra, which was deadly poison. The remaining centaurs fled with Heracles in pursuit. Pholus, left behind to clear up the mess, pulled an arrow out of one of the dead centaurs and examined it, marvelling at how such a tiny thing could fell such an enormous beast. However, the arrow fell from his grasp and pierced his foot, and he died instantly.

In 'Saturn, Chiron and the Centaurs' (pg 224) Melanie mentions the possibility that the brief period when Pholus is within the realm of Saturn – and so subject to more constraints than when in the realms of the three transpersonals – may be times when the lid should stay on the jar. This idea fascinated me and I've been mulling it over since the seminar. There are two things to consider here. Not only is there the matter of what difference it might make to mundane events and people born when the jar should be kept sealed, but also how does it change Pholus' expression in the period that he ventures out past Neptune's orbit and moves through Pluto's realm?

All Centaur cycles begin at their perihelion, when they're at their closest to the Sun. When they're at aphelion, they're at their farthest way from the sun and closest to Pluto's realm, which  is the Kuiper Belt astronomically and the Underworld mythologically . Some Centaurs go further into Pluto's realm than Pholus, but that doesn't concern us here.

To get an idea of how it might work in individual charts it's easiest to start with what was happening in the world when Pholus was at the extremes of his orbit, as that's the ground from which individuals emerge. And it's important to remember that Pholus isn't operating in a vacuum. In fact, Pholus seems to be linked in to the Uranus-Neptune cycle, as for the last couple of hundred years every other Pholus perihelion has occurred quite close to the Uranus-Neptune conjunction (understandable, as this cycle is around 171 years and Pholus' is about 92 years). There are also links with the Uranus-Pluto cycle, though these are more spasmodic.

Potentially there are six different phases in Pholus' cycle. The waxing phase starts at perihelion when the lid is kept on, then the main part (the lid comes off) and the period in the Underworld. Aphelion begins in the Underworld still, but with things now being brought back to the surface world.  This leads to another period of 'the lid comes off' when things spill out of the jar then, at the very end of the cycle, the jar is once again sealed.

 The sealed jar suggests a womb-like environment, where things can ferment or develop in the dark. It's like the period when the Moon is dark, which encompasses both the end of the old cycle and the beginning of the new. Using the analogy of the seed, it's released towards the end of the cycle and drops to earth. It beds itself down as one cycle ends and starts to germinate as the new cycle begins, which in this case is when Pholus is closest to the Sun. Or at least, it might – after all, not every seed develops. That's why the lid has to stay on – to provide a safe and nurturing environment from which new impulses can emerge. And what better place for things to begin to take form than in the realm of Saturn?

During the next phase – the lid comes off – we get the new shoots emerging and growing ever stronger. Pholus at this stage is like the genie who escapes from the bottle: once the cork's out, there's no telling what he'll get up to. It could be an inspirational and creative journey, or a disastrous one. Life's like that. There are no certainties, and uncertainty is very much part of Pholus' nature.

Pholus entering the Underworld is about encountering forces that are beyond our understanding, and beyond our control. They're cold and impersonal, like Pluto. You can't bargain with them, or do deals – this is not the realm of the mischievous but genial genie. What you encounter here are chthonic forces that are utterly indifferent to humans. And they can be terrifying. I think here of bumbling Uncle Andrew in C S Lewis' 'The Magician's Nephew,' who unwittingly lets loose the terrifying, titanic figure of Queen Jadis on Edwardian London – She who has spoken the Deplorable Word which destroyed her own world. We, of course, are Uncle Andrew.

Aphelion is the midpoint of the cycle, and from here we're bringing something back from the deepest part of the Underworld and letting it loose on the world. As Pholus once again crosses into Neptune's realm, the lid is off the jar again and who knows what will arise or where it'll lead us. Then, as the cycle draws to a close, the lid is shut again. This both closes the door on the old cycle and carries the seed of the new, which may well be something else that was brought back from the Underworld, but which hasn't yet  manifested.

I will pause there, and explain how this plays out in Pholus' recent cycles separately.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Nessus – revenge from beyond the grave

When I heard that Gerry Adams had been arrested and was being questioned about the abduction and murder of Jean McConville yesterday, my immediate thought was that there must be a Nessus connection. If you're unfamiliar with the story of Jean McConville's disappearance, you can read about it here:

Nessus was the third Centaur to be discovered a little over 21 years ago, on 26 April 1993, and, like most centaurs, he's an orbit-crosser. He travels between the realm of Saturn and that of Pluto, which gives you an idea of the kind of energies he embodies. He's about anger and resentment that smoulders and burns. It's also about the desire for revenge, which may well come from beyond the grave – so there's an ancestral or generational aspect to it. Nessus energy is visceral and indicates a place of deep, deep pain. Nessus manifests in other ways too – some of which are relevant to this story, such as being an outsider and being scape-goated – but here I want to focus on the timing of this event.

In mythology, Nessus was a ferryman on the river Evenus who was instrumental in the death and transformation of Heracles, a typical hero figure. The bare bones of the story is that when Heracles and his wife Deianeira came to the river, Nessus was captivated by Deianeira and offered to waive the fee for taking her across, so desperate was he to carry her. However, once he reached the other side his animal passions got the better of him and he violated her. Heracles took up his bow and arrow and shot Nessus through the heart. The dying centaur bade Deianeira to collect his semen and mix it with the blood flowing from the wound, as the elixir would act as a love-potion when Heracles' love began to wane. But the arrow that killed Nessus had been dipped in the blood of the Hydra and was deadly poisonous, as Nessus well knew. The inevitable happened, and Deianeira smeared the love-potion onto one of Heracles' shirts and sent it to him. As soon as he put it on, the poison burned into his flesh. Unable to remove the shirt, he ran wild trying to relieve the pain. In the end, he climbed onto a funeral pyre and was taken up into Olympus.

Nessus has a cycle of around 122 years so it goes well beyond the span of human life at present. That, and the proximity to Pluto's realm and Nessus' role as ferryman, suggest that he operates on a more collective level than Chiron or Pholus, the first two Centaurs. So the rage that comes screaming to the surface can often be ancestral. Possibly the most likely place to find ancestral rage in this small corner of the world is the island of Ireland, where the recent Troubles are only the latest in a long line that stretches back hundreds of years. So I looked at Gerry Adams' birth chart yesterday, well aware of his strong republican links that go back at least a couple of generations and also of the history of abuse in his family – which is another Nessus theme. I was rather disappointed to find that the only aspect to a personal planet was an opposition to Mercury and his South Node, which are both on 5 Scorpio. They express his role as a spokesman for the republican cause, with the South Node showing it was a role he assumed with ease – but it wasn't as visceral as I'd expected.

(Click to enlarge)
Then it came to me this morning: his Nessus is very close to the degree of the solar eclipse on 29th April. In fact the eclipse degree (8 Taurus 51) nestles between his North Node on 5 Taurus 2 and his Nessus on 11 Taurus 28R. Moreover, transiting Nessus at 0 Pisces 57 is opposite his natal Saturn at 1 Virgo 47. The latter suggests that the universe is saying 'time's up, Gerry – it's time to face the music,' especially as Nessus is in Pisces, the sign of the victim. Or, as Melanie Reinhart puts it: the buck stops here.

(Note: Noon chart as birth time unknown)

(Click to enlarge)
Jean McConville's date of birth is not in the public domain, but one of her sons said yesterday that she would have been celebrating her 80th birthday in the next few weeks had she still been alive. Because Nessus was near aphelion in the 1930s, and was thus moving at his slowest, it makes little difference whether she was born in early May or June 1934: in both cases Mrs McConville's Nessus was on the same degree as the Sun in the lunar eclipse of 15th April (25 Aries). Again, Nessus was at the very beginning of Pisces, having made his entry a fortnight earlier.

(Click to enlarge)
He also said that he knows who abducted his mother and still sees them as he goes about his business, but he won't divulge their names for fear of reprisals – he has young children. He himself, aged 11 when his mother disappeared, was taken away by the IRA some days after she was abducted and intimidated into silence. He said that every time he sees these people 'his blood boils' – which is Nessus speaking. Later yesterday Mrs McConville's eldest daughter said she's prepared to talk to the authorities and name names, regardless of the consequences.

(Oh, and the cherry on top of the cake is that Nessus, in the discovery chart, is conjunct Adams' natal Mercury and South Node in Scorpio).

It's as if this has been building up since the entry of Nessus into Pisces on 1st April, with the lunar eclipse releasing the pain and anguish of the murdered woman. This paved the way for the arrest of Gerry Adams at the solar eclipse, two weeks later.

One of the lesser known parts of Heracles' story is the prophecy that a dead enemy would be his downfall. We don't know what the outcome will be for Adams, but the chances are that this arrest has at the very least destroyed his political career in the south of Ireland, something he's been carefully crafting for a number of years. Over forty years on, the spectre of Jean McConville continues to haunt Gerry Adams, like Banquo's ghost.