So now we're at the point that hangs between the waning lunar and waxing solar hemispheres of Mercury's cycle. This is perhaps the deepest, most mysterious part of the process: a transition from a cold, lunar and somewhat Neptunian landscape to a fiery, solar, Uranian one. I've found several people who were born within a day or two of the conjunction, but very few that have had long lives.
I didn't find anyone who was born exactly on the conjunction, but I found one who was born later the same day. That was Jeff Buckley, the son of Tim Buckley who died from a heroin overdose at the age of 28. Jeff Buckley only met his father once, when he was eight years old; it was shortly before Tim's death. Both Buckleys trod their own musical paths and were known for their distinctive vocals. Jeff Buckley drowned when he jumped into a tributary of the Mississippi fully clothed one evening in late May to take a swim – something he'd done before. A tugboat went by and there was no sign of Buckley afterwards. His body was washed up some days later. He was 29 when he died. Some years ago I heard a programme called Soul Music on BBC Radio 4, in which people talked about what the aria Dido's Lament meant to them. One of the versions they played was of Jeff Buckley singing it. I can't remember anything else about the programme, but Buckley's rendition never left me. While I was putting together the presentation for the talk I gave at EAG, I had a hunt around online and found it! It includes the contribution from Philip Sheppard – who is now a professor at the Royal Academy of Music – in which he explains the effect one brief meeting with Jeff Buckley had on his life https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSVCL262gmU.
Rudhyar describes the mind that emerges from the inferior conjunction as one that has experienced 'a mystery, an initiation into a new realm of being' ((1) p 150). At this stage, the mind's too young to have a strong idea about where it's going to direct its energy. That might explain why so many of those born around this conjunction die young. Others I've found include Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space who died seven years later while on a routine training flight, aged only 34. Gagarin embodies the solar aspect of the new Mercury cycle, reaching for the sky (and remember that Uranus is god of the heavens). People born at this point seem to have a mythic quality to their lives – Buckley following in his father's footsteps, both in terms of his musical career and his early death; Gagarin achieving glory by being the first person to orbit the earth, only to come crashing down several years later. And perhaps the most mythic tale of all is that of Robert Johnson, the blues player. Legend has it that he went down to the crossroads at midnight and sold his soul to the devil because he wanted to play a mean blues guitar. Whatever the truth of it, he came to an early end after being poisoned by a jealous husband at the age of 27.
Moving on to the retrograde phase, this differs from the earlier retrograde phase in that while in both cases it's about going against the flow, in the waxing quarter there's an inventiveness and (sometimes low) cunning associated with those born during here. As ever, it depends on how the person applies the Mercury energy. It can be used selfishly, or to re-evaluate the way things are done and suggest new ways that will be of benefit to all. Among those I found in this part of the cycle were a couple of killers (Sid Vicious, dead from an overdose at 21 before he was tried for the murder of his girlfriend, and Ian Brady, the Moors murderer), a Pope (Paul VI, who continued the reforms initiated by his predecessor), an escapologist (such a Mercurial occupation!) and a musician who managed to make it through to his seventies. Paul McCartney's story is interesting because he came from a humble background and went on to amass a fortune worth hundreds of million of pounds. His musical style has developed over the years, ranging from pop and rock in the early days through to more serious pieces of music in later life. If you look at his progressed Mercury, it went direct when he was six and is likely to be direct for the rest of his life, as he doesn't reach his progressed station retrograde until the age of 102. It's as if he set his mind to escape his environment from an early age and he never looked back. (By comparison, John Lennon was born eleven days before the evening elongation and his progressed Mercury went retrograde when he was 23, which is when the Beatles became famous. It remained retrograde for the rest of his life – he died three years before it turned direct again. Lennon trod a much more tortuous – and often tortured – path than McCartney). The escapologist was Harry Houdini, by the way. He embodies the trickster side of Mercury – was he genuine, was he faking it – but again he died relatively young, at 52, in circumstances which are not entirely clear. He died of peritonitis following a burst appendix, but it's not clear whether a punch to his abdomen a couple of days earlier was a contributing factor or it was simply that he failed to seek medical help for the appendicitis.
Mercury moves forward again at the station direct, so people born at this point can project into the world the new vision formed at the conjunction and in some cases embody it themselves. The people I found born at this part of the cycle achieved notoriety: Charles Manson for his Satan's Slaves in the 1960s; D H Lawrence for the Lady Chatterley's Lover obscenity trial of 1961 – one of a series of events that paved the way for the Swinging Sixties in post-war Britain; and Christine Keeler, who became notorious for her role in the Profumo Affair in 1963. Maybe notorious is not the right world to describe John F Kennedy but he, too, ushered in a new era. He was young and charismatic, and then of course there was his tragic (and controversial) assassination, the circumstances of which are disputed to this day … not to mention the fact that people can still remember where they were when they heard that Kennedy had been shot. While Manson and Keeler are still with us, both Kennedy and Lawrence died young: Kennedy aged 46 and Lawrence at 43, of tuberculosis.
The next phase in Mercury's cycle is its period of greatest brilliance. Individuals born at this phase who burned brightly but briefly are Brian Jones, founder of the Rolling Stones and their first manager. He was a trendsetter, a multi-instrumentalist who experimented with exotic instruments. He was also an early fan of world music, bringing back tapes from his visit to Jajouka in the mountains of northern Morocco. Brian was also a fashion icon, and he and Anita Pallenberg were one of the first unisex couples. Another example is William Joyce, better known as Lord Haw-Haw – another Mercurial character in that he was too clever for his own good. Joyce was an Irish-American who for some reason best known to himself managed to blag a British passport so that he could travel to Germany, where he broadcast Nazi propaganda to the British. The fact that he was in possession of a British passport at the time of the broadcasts allowed the British to convict him of treason after the war, even though they knew he wasn't a British national and had no allegiance to the Crown. He was hanged for treason at the beginning of 1946, aged 39.
Finally we reach the end of Mercury's waxing quarter, finding ourselves at the days leading up to the morning elongation. I see this as the place of innovators and adventurers – it's the fresh-faced, eager young souls desperate to set out and make a name for themselves. And we have a veritable treasure trove here! Carl Jung, bringing back the riches he found in the Underworld as chronicled in the recently published Red Book, which we now know were the foundation of his psychotherapy; Dane Rudhyar, who modernised and transformed astrology in the twentieth century. Less fortunate was Paula Yates, a woman with a style that was all her own, but who succumbed to drugs and died aged 41.
But I'll end as I began with another US President, Bill Clinton. Yes, he and George Bush are literally at opposite ends of the spectrum where their Mercuries are concerned. Once again, there's a mythic quality to Clinton – the poor kid from a small town called Hope who went on to become president. Whereas Clinton emerged from scandal smelling of roses, Bush has been unable to shake off the legacy of the Iraq invasion. Clinton has an easy manner and could charm the birds off the trees, whereas Bush was known for his clumsy use of language ('you misunderestimate me') and his somewhat bemused expression. And while Clinton is still active in politics, especially as his wife launches her bid for the presidency, Bush has largely dropped out of the public eye.
And so my exploration of Mercury's retrograde cycle has come to an end, but I hope that others might feel moved to study it. There are plenty more riches waiting to be brought to light.
(1) Rael, Leyla and Rudhyar, Dane (1980) Astrological Aspects: A Process-Oriented Approach Santa Fe: Aurora Press