Thursday, 14 May 2009

Kurt Cobain: Terminal Figurehead

Sorry for the delay. Dental surgery and the advent of my mid-life crisis interfered for awhile.

Now. The late Kurt Cobain is something of a demigod to many of my generation (and others). The eruption of Nirvana and grunge in the very late 80s/early 90s shook up the music world. "Smells Like Teen Spirit", Kurt's anthem to a disenchanted generation, is, in my opinion, a brilliant piece of musicianship, even now, a decade and a half later.

Kurt committed suicide on or somewhere around April 5, 1994, after a long struggle with depression and heroin addiction. Looking at photos of him, or reading old interviews, you can see that he was a highly sensitive individual, almost delicate. He was also very, very pretty. Let's look at his chart. Out of the four musicians I'll be looking at, Kurt's is the only one with an accurate birth time (Rodden 'A' rating), which makes things easier!

The first thing I said when I saw his chart was, "Holy Smoke!". Intense and emotional, Kurt never had an easy path, and with a chart like this it was clear he had a hard row to hoe. His chart is completely dominated by Water signs, indicating a deep, almost painful sensitivity. Four planets (plus wounding Chiron) in Pisces, all opposed by Pluto/Uranus straddling his Ascendant, suggest that his entire life was filled with struggles between his own independence and Will, and other people's influences.

That Uranus/Pluto conjunction on his Ascendant would likely give him a 'difficult' personality: independent, perhaps cantankerous at times. He was diagnosed as being hyperactive as a kid. Uranian-influenced people are perpetually misunderstood; their live-wire energy is often too much for other people to handle. What this kid needed was stability and grounding and lots and lots of love. What he apparently got was Ritalin and sedatives to calm him down and help him sleep. Great parenting, that. God bless the Baby Boomer generation and Dr. Benjamin Spock.

He has a Grand Water Trine, and a kite formation, all linking together his emotionality and ability to translate feeling into music. He has a Venus/Neptune trine; easily the mark of an artist. In all four charts I look at, Neptune makes a connection with either the Moon or Venus: the musician's mark.

Interestingly, for all Cobain's sensitivity, his is not a 'weak' chart. His Moon is in domicile in Cancer, in an angular house, showing how important his relationship with his mother was, or should have been. Jupiter is in its exaltation in Cancer. Mars is in Scorpio, its own domicile; and it's interesting to note that Kurt was a bit obsessed with guns, a Mars-ruled thing. Venus is exalted in Pisces: a true romantic, but see that Chiron sits right next to Venus, in the house of marriage? It all opposes that Pluto/Uranus vibe, and we know now as we knew then that Courtney Love, bless her, was a train-wreck of a wife in a train-wreck of a marriage. Courtney's Sun AND Moon are in Cancer, so in theory they were a perfect pair. In reality, with an opposition like that in his chart, Kurt was never going to find relationships easy; either he would play 'the bad guy', or he'd find someone to do it for him.

I was looking for some clue as to the drug addiction: usually a hard Neptune aspect is a good indication of a proclivity toward drug use. What I do see is a very (very) wide square between the Sun and Neptune; and Neptune is in the 3rd, so his thinking patterns may have been erratic. They were certainly creative! Mars makes a hard aspect to Jupiter, indicating a tendency toward excess, or not knowing quite when to stop. I suspect if it hadn't been heroin that got to him, he would have found excess in some other way; some other way to medicate away the intensity of his chart.

We know that Kurt came from a broken home. His parents divorced when he was seven or eight, then he was farmed off to his grandparents for awhile (Jupiter in Cancer in the 11th). He noted in several different interviews that he never felt loved or 'safe' again. We know he struggled with depression, and as one article put it, he made a lot of bad choices. He took himself out of rehab; he kept going back to his druggie friends; he liked playing with guns. There was an element of self-destruction in him that he seemed determined to play out; and Uranus on the Ascendant, especially with Pluto, shows someone with a proclivity for playing Russian roulette.

The overwhelming influence of water in his chart suggests he found it very difficult to be anything but subjective; with only his Ascendant and the two generational planets in an earth sign, mutable Virgo, there was little there to ground him, or help him to be more detached, or to provide him with boundaries. His suicide note speaks of empathy for other's suffering, and his own mental and emotional overwhelm, and the burden of guilt he felt for being made to somehow represent the cultural zeitgeist of our generation. He simply didn't feel he was up to it. And in the end, he wasn't. Rest in peace, Kurt.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Genius and Junkies: Generation X in the Spotlight

The Generation X (or Gen X'ers) is a term given to my generation, the one born after the 'Baby Boomers': we are the children of the hippie generation, falling approximately into the birth years 1961 - 1981. In the next few entries I'm going to look at the natal charts of some of Generation X's more notable (or notorious) characters, focusing on music first and foremost, since every generation can be defined, more or less, by the music it makes as well as the drugs it takes.

There are plenty of people from whom to choose, but I'll focus on the charts of four of the more interesting (to me) musicians, two of whom have (so far) survived the ravages of fame and drugs, and two who didn't: John Frusciante (of Red Hot Chili Peppers), Scott Weiland (of Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver), Kurt Cobain (Nirvana, of course!), and the one I find the most wrenching, Layne Staley of Alice in Chains.

What interested me most in these four men, and what I will explore in their respective and collective charts, are the commonalities between them: music-making and drug addiction being the most obvious. The music business and drug-taking famously go hand-in-hand; this in and of itself is not surprising. What interests me is all of these men struggled openly with their addictions; their suffering was witnessed by a generation of fans. Two have managed to (sometimes) overcome the addictions; the other two succumbed. But what other things did they/do they share? Any differences or similarities in upbringing? Do these differences or similarities reflect on 'Our Generation' as a wider whole?

Three of them (Weiland, Cobain, and Staley) were born with Neptune in Scorpio; Frusciante's Neptune is barely in Sagittarius, at 0' 53". All of them share the generational aspect of Neptune sextile Pluto. How did this aspect influence these men? How did it influence all of us? Or did it?

This isn't intended to be an in-depth examination of any of their charts, or to become a treatise on addiction or generational aspects. All four musicians made or make music that I love; all four are or were colourful, complex people whose triumphs and tragedies happened to be played out in a vast public fishbowl. I am simply looking at this from a 'human interest' point of view, rather than making any hard and fast statements about the X Generation. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Horary Astrology: Tool or Crutch?

Horary astrology is a vast and complicated study: the art or 'science' of answering a specific question using a chart drawn at the exact time, place, and date of the asking, a 'birth chart' for a question.

Sceptics find it hard to believe that horary charts can answer questions ranging in scope from 'Will Chelsea win the cup this year?' to 'Where is my lost necklace?' (and everything in-between), but students of horary will tell you that it is almost spookily accurate, if you know what you're looking for.

Me, I've found wallets and keys and lost notebooks using horary; I've answered questions on matters of the heart, marriages, and by now, several hundred, "Does s/he love me?" questions.

An emerging problem I see with horary, as it becomes more popular and well-known on astrology websites, is that people have a tendency to use horary as a substitute for common sense. They ask a string of questions, all surrounding the same subject (often, a "Does s/he love me"-type question) without giving pause to consider what the first, original chart they cast, has told them.

I find myself getting very irritated with this sort of behaviour, although it is perfectly human and quite common; I have done the same thing myself! But after awhile, you get the feeling that people, by and large, don't want to be responsible for their own destinies and choices; they want a chart to tell them the exact moment their 'Great Love' will appear on the pavement outside the cafe window; the exact moment when the difficulties in their current relationship will work themselves out (not having done much work, in the meantime, to fix the problems); or to tell them 'Why' they just can't seem to find Mr. or Miss Right, when a little introspection and time spent understanding their own patterns of behaviour, may hold the key.

Astrology of any sort is a tool; a tool for self-understanding and blossoming self-awareness; this is especially the remit of natal astrology. Horary astrology, on the other hand, is an excellent way of finding out answers to questions in mundane reality where you just can't find the answer, no matter how much you search; this is why it's so great for finding the set of keys you dropped behind the cushions in the sofa last night, when you were sure you put them on the counter instead. Horary astrology can tell you, quite accurately, that you'll get a new job in June, but the pay won't be great; it's up to you, then, to decide if you actually stay at the job or take it in the first place. It can tell you that she doesn't love you, and will never marry you:- but asking several more questions about When will we get married, then? will not alter the fact that the first chart says she won't. This is where horary needs to be dropped as a crutch and used as a crucible for self-awareness.

People have a tendency to be pig-headed, and wear those famous rose-tinted spectacles. We tend to see only what we want to see, even when all the common sense in the world tells us differently. Unfortunately, horary astrology sometimes gets drawn into this, where we use it to prop up our own shaky beliefs instead of taking what the stars tell us seriously, trusting what the chart says, and making a self-aware, responsible choice to follow on from that.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Yes, you can/No, you can't: Jupiter Opposing Saturn

Jupiter (or Jove) was the top baboon amongst the Gods (Greek name: Zeus). He spent his time carousing, drinking, zapping people with lightning bolts, and changing himself into various animals so he could have sex with nymphs, goddesses, and hapless human women. He was the quintessential party animal. He was the Roman god of justice, law, and social order, which says a lot about Roman ideas of social order; nymph, anyone? 'Jovial' is still commonly used to describe someone who is jolly or optimistic. Naturally, Jupiter in a natal chart will describe where, and how, the individual has a 'do it BIG' mentality. Whether in the natal chart or in a transit to the chart, Jupiter expands whatever it touches, be that emotions, or money, or your waistline.

Saturn, on the other hand, was Jupiter's father. He tried to eat Jupiter when Jupiter was an infant, but his tricky wife gave Saturn a lump of rock wrapped in swaddling instead. Saturn, apparently, couldn't taste the difference. Eventually, Jupiter bested Saturn to become King of the Gods. Saturn has been grumpy ever since, probably because he's wondering what that lump is, rolling around in his intestines.

Originally, Saturn was the god of agriculture, but in astrological terms Saturn has a very different role: that of the Greater Malefic, the Limiter, the Bringer of Obstacles and Hard Times. He is a tough taskmaster. Whereas Jupiter's natural tendency is to 'overdo' whatever it is that Jupiter is doing (generally in an optimistic spirit of, "Whoo-hoo! Yeah! Let's do it!"), Saturn is the opposite: he brings us down to earth with a bang, he makes us wipe our collective noses and stand up straight ("Booo!")

Jupiter/Saturn aspects in a natal chart can tell us something of the conflicting energies of these two planets, and whether the conflict between optimism and pessimism can be worked out harmoniously or not.

In my natal chart, Jupiter is opposing Saturn. Whilst this might be seen to be an elegant description of the original mythology at play, the ramifications can be a little less elegant. Whenever an individual has Jupiter opposite Saturn in the natal chart, the inherent 'push/pull' conflict continues forever and ever. Because an opposition is considered an unstable aspect (balancing the two opposites), the individual tends to swing back and forth between the two sides, or at best finds an uneasy middle ground that can be knocked off-balance again very quickly. Often, people end up 'doing' one side more often than the other, and this becomes an habitual modus operandi.

The houses where you find Jupiter and Saturn in opposition will tell you 'where' in the arena of life this yo-yo-ing will take place. I have gloomy Saturn in my 3rd house: my 'thinking' box. Saturn is conjunct my Moon, so I have a double-whammy of feeling/thinking (emotional Moon in a cerebral house) and having the Gloom-meister in the same box. So you could say, in a nutshell, that my feelings and thoughts are repressed; or rather, that I keep a tight grip around my own subjective perspective. I am emotionally guarded; I keep my deepest thoughts to myself, and tend to not trust my feelings. Saturn in the 3rd tends to make people worry about being stupid, so they try very hard to either get smart, or at least appear smart.

Jupiter, on the other hand, sits in its 'natural' house, the 9th: Jupiter's house. Jupiter feels right at home there, the house of long distance journeys of the body and mind, the house of philosophy and law. I like this Jupiter placement. Jupiter in the 9th gives people a strong religious bent (or an interest in religion and spirituality): Beatle George Harrison had Jupiter here. We like studying. We like travelling. We like tripping the light fantastic. We like to do it often.

So what do you get when philosophy is in eternal conflict with garden-variety thinking? To put it simply: A Troubled Mind.

There is some evidence to show that Jupiter/Saturn oppositions can result in manic depression, now called Bipolar Disorder; but it isn't a guarantee of being or becoming bipolar. I had what I would term a 'manic episode' during a very long depressive phase, wherein I maxed out my student loans and spent the funds on shoes and clothes and beauty products. I don't have any of the shoes anymore (and one could argue that the beauty products didn't do what they said on the tin), but I still have the loans to prove I did, once upon a time, have a fine collection of shoes. Am I a manic depressive? Nope. But because I have my natal Moon so close to Saturn, this expand/repress action was manifested through an inappropriate expression of thinking/feeling. Shopping was a (costly) Band-aid.

The individual with this aspect will tend to swing from optimism to pessimism, and back again. They will dream Big Dreams and then Saturn will poke a pin into the bubble and ask to see the business plan. This can cause no end of disappointment and can sometimes lead to a chronic lack of faith in oneself; the optimism can never seem to get the upper hand on the pessimism.

My maternal grandmother also had this aspect. She was a Sagittarius like me, and coincidentally or not, had a Saturn/Jupiter opposition in the same signs that I do (Saturn in Taurus and Jupiter in Scorpio). She never knew her time of birth, so we'll never know for sure which houses Jupiter and Saturn were in, in her chart. But this doesn't stop us from seeing how it worked in her chart.

I always knew Gran to be supremely practical: from the Depression generation, she knew how to save a dollar, and to stretch one. One of her biggest disappointments, she told me, was that she was never able to travel as much as she had wanted to: that old Saturn made sure she stayed 'responsible', taking care of business and everyone else, so she lived her dreams of foreign travel through me, her ever-wandering grandchild. She even bought my tickets for me. There were times when I was sure that she wasn't allowing herself to have fun; she would turn down outings or going out to eat. Since when does a Sagittarius turn down either travel or food?

One of the last things she told me before she died was, "I guess I didn't have much fun in life," which besides being incredibly sad, is a testament to how difficult it can be to find the balance between Jupiter and Saturn. She never understood my depressions; in hindsight, I think it's fair to say that she was depressed a lot of the time, but never knew what to call it.

When Gran died, I took some of her ashes with me back to England, and cast them into the wind along the side of the M11, in a field on a hill. Gran didn't get to travel enough in life; but in death she got to travel at last. Her Jupiter would have been pleased.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Neptune on the MC: The Art of Self-Sabotage

Neptune on the Midheaven is a tricky aspect to have: it's a blessing, it's a curse. Neptune rules all things foggy and nebulous: dreams, drugs, and deception are its keywords. Okay, okay, so it has some creative, even prophetic, qualities too, but it doesn't take much to see the links between dreams and creativity, or drugs and prophesying. Just ask a former acquaintance of mine, who thought he was an orange. Yes, the fruit.

The Midheaven traditionally rules honour and glory; your career; the way you manifest yourself on the stage of the world; and your mama. Having any planet on or near the 10th angle gives this house and angle more 'oomph', or, in the case of Neptune, more 'oooh'.

You can see what the combination of Neptune, the planet of swirling mist and illusion, and the strongest angle in the natal chart, can do to a person. In one word: indecision.

My Midheaven sits in the sign of Scorpio, a mysterious, dark, watery, surgical sort of sign. Having Neptune (the planet of drugs) in Scorpio on the Midheaven strongly suggests either a career in medicine or the helping professions, some sort of 'glamourous' profession (like film or fashion or Art), or a job as a martyr of some sort. Joan of Arc must have had Neptune on the Midheaven, perhaps in a fire sign.

If only Neptune would let me settle! I have (so far) been interested in, and studied for: medicine (I did pre-med), nursing, social work, refugee work, and complementary medicine. I've also considered counselling, osteopathy, and massage. Note the element of sacrifice in all these careers: they all take a lot from the person, and give a lot back.

The problem being, of course, that just as soon as I decide on a path and take steps to study it more intensively (see my 9th house Jupiter), I change my mind; or rather, it changes itself, leaving me back at Square One.

I don't have many of what are considered 'bad' Neptune aspects: Neptune sextiles Pluto, so through my visions/imaginings, I am able to transform myself at a fundamental level. Neptune squares my natal Mars, and let this be a warning to anyone out there with this aspect: drugs are bad, very, very bad, for Mars squared Neptune people. Take care, even with ibuprofen. I had a minor surgery (Mars) under anaesthesia (Neptune) and not only woke up in the middle of it, but discovered that I couldn't breathe, either.

Regardless of the lack of too many hard Neptune aspects, I find this Neptune placement to be the most challenging part of my chart: it simply won't let me 'be' someone in a career for too long, before I find a way to scupper myself, change my mind, and try something else. This is fine when one is twenty and still discovering the world. At my age, it's troublesome, to say the least.

We are all made of stars

Okay, so that was the title of a Moby song, but it was hardly original even to him. Astrophysicists have traced our origins back beyond the dimmest memories, even beyond the Primordial Soup from whence we first emerged, and have concluded that everything - EVERYTHING - originated in the nuclear explosions of early stars. Before that, the only things in existence were a bunch of hydrogen and helium molecules, with a minute trace of the 'other elements' that would eventually clump together to form 'us'. How cool is that?

There still seems to be huge divide between science (evolutionists, say) and religion in terms of beliefs about 'where it all started', each one sitting in mutual mistrust of the other (apart from physicists and maybe mathematicians, who are getting close). It seems fairly obvious to me, however, that the real answers to life lie somewhere in-between them, that 'God' and science aren't mutually exclusive, but rather the two sides of the same coin. Of course, if any scientists were to admit that, they'd lose their research grants, real quick-like.