Final Paper for “Psyche and Cosmos” with Professors Rick Tarnas and Stan Grof at California Institute of Integral Studies, Summer 2003
Death Warmed over by an Old Flame
This was not an easy assignment for me. I naturally want to take on the more abstract philosophical metaconversations concerning astrology, perinatal matrices and how they map onto other philosophical, psychological and physics frameworks, so I was reluctant to choose a specific subject to focus on. But I know the rewards of deep understanding that came come from working with specificity so I pressed onwards. There wasn’t a subject that really jumped out at me as seeking to be analyzed astrologically. I knew I wanted to choose something from my own experience or creative production, but was having a hard time making the connections with and sorting through the complexities of astrology. Part of the problem seemed to be that I was trying to look at the transits first, and then trying to see how they manifested in various circumstances. This was rather unsuccessful and felt too contrived, like I was trying to make my experience fit the stars. It was only when my approach spontaneously changed that the connections opened up for me.
Instead of trying to grasp the significance of the transits from others descriptions and in isolation from my own experience and then to looking for those qualities in my experiences, I chose to look at my experience first. I chose to work with a particularly vivid and mythic dream I had back in February. Because I feel like I have a fairly good grasp of planetary archetypes I was able to immediately link characters and events in this dream to specific archetypes. Then I looked at my transits and see if those same planetary archetypes were activated by transits in the sky at the time of the dream, and sure enough they were! Here is the dream I worked with.
I’m a native person looking over a snowy pass to settlers on the other side below a waterfall at a lake – frozen, but beginning to thaw. A settler’s daughter (me) plays with friends around an ice hole on the lake pretending to hold a seance and accidentally conjures up a fireball spirit which shoots out from beneath the ice and into the darkened sky, released into the world. She is shocked and awed, not knowing her own power. Both the people and the spirit’s master, Black-Caped Death, are spying on each other and plotting for the fireball’s return. Death feeds the fireball with fireballs in the underworld.
On the day of its return we’re in three cars leading it somewhere we can fight it. How can we fight it we wonder? By imagining very cold things. The Fireball is after Kindra, whose car I’m in. I go back inside to go to the bathroom. Death comes to the door, his grim reaper silhouette in the glass. I ignore him, not wanting to answer the door. Some woman answers it and remembers some love affair she had with Death a while back. Death turns bashful, practically blushing. They are distractedly entranced with each other and that seems to be the end of it. Death warmed over by an old flame, is the punchline that left in my head. The fireball fed fireball doesn’t return.
Planetary Archetypal Analysis
There are some fairly obvious archetypal connections here which made it easy for me, as a beginner in the field, to get started. I connected characters to planetary archetypes then looked to see their relationship to actual transits. The conjuring children I associated with the Moon, because of the Moon’s connection to childhood and because their scene took place at nighttime with the moon overhead. The Fireball released from the depths of the earth through a hole in the frozen lake epitomizes a Uranus breakthrough in combination with the fiery power of Mars. “Black Cloaked Death” is characteristically Saturn, appearing as the harshest decree of time in the image of the grim reaper. And his “old flame” is another manifestation of Mars’ fire, this time combined with loving Venus.
I also felt that the themes of hot and cold deserved significant attention since they seemed to carry the cycle of the dream. Coldness creates, conjures, and feeds fire and fire melts coldness. The fire I felt quite comfortable attributing to Mars, but the coldness was tricky. It wasn’t just the coolness of watery Neptune. It was harsher. It was the most intense form of water, frozen, appearing as snow, the frozen waterfall, lake, and the coldness that would be necessary to defend oneself against the Fireball. I think of the Moon as a cool planet but the true intensity of frigidity seemed to come from Pluto in combination with something watery, like Neptune. Pluto, as the outermost planet is the coldest and the darkest, both aspects of this first scene of my dream.
As promised, the frozen world itself, which I couldn’t help but attribute to Pluto, reflected nicely a one degree from exact Pluto/ Neptune conjunction. What is water’s most intense form? Ice. When the intensity and death dealing tendencies of Pluto hits Neptune you get Antarctica. And ice was certainly the surrounding element of the frigid world into which the fireball was conjured by the children into a night lit by their moon.
I found the Moon transiting right over my natal stellium of Mars, Moon and Sun. Thus the activity of the warrior Mars, the emotion of the Moon, and the shining Sun were unleashed by the daughter of the Moon as she crossed my natal terrain. In addition, Uranus was within one degree of exact conjunction with Mars, the precise relationship I was looking for in correspondence with the birth of the Fireball as it broke through from another world, from beneath the lake, surprising the children with their own power.
I have an interesting intuitive feel that it may have been the past rupture with the old flame which sent Death on his rampage in the first place. Perhaps the birth of the Fireball into the world was Death’s flame leaving him alone in the underworld, the initial wound somehow instigated by humanity.
Saturn was also within one and two degrees of exactly squaring Mercury and opposing Neptune respectively, further isolating Saturn’s manifestation, as the character of Death, from Mercury’s communication with humanity and from Neptune’s immersion in the frozen watery world. He retreated to a cave in the depths of the earth to feed his Fireball, nurse his wounds, attempting to heal his separateness and plot his revenge on those who divided him.
Mars square Saturn manifests in a relationship between Death and the Fireball like that of any bad guy and his sidekick, abusive and more just using the other, rather than a partnership based on any sort of mutual affection. This purely external unfeeling relationship is also characteristic of pragmatic Saturn. So when the Fireball came scurrying back to Death for more fuel, nourishment, and the safety of the familiar relationship, albeit abusively unfulfilling relationship, they plotted together their revenge on those who had divided them in the first place.
Death had been feeding the fire that was still eating away at him, like a bad marriage. He was giving away his warmth (energy) for the purpose of building and sustaining a grudge which he could later release in revenge, until then growing colder and colder while the fire of hate burned hotter and hotter. The underworld’s growing potential energy of the square between Saturn and Mars/Uranus is palpable to surface humanity, the instigator of its division, upon whom the bull’s eye rests.
Venus Sextile Mars I probably would have ignored, but I was looking for her because of Death’s old flame. She is the key to dissolving the tension which has been building. Only when reunited and healed with his old flame, can Death/Saturn become a warm shadow.
I find it interesting that she cancelled out Death’s pet Fireball, as soon as she appeared, the Fireball, who had been close at his heels, just kind of dissipated. It’s like the actor who plays two characters, so they can never be on stage at the same time. So Mars, when manifesting as Venus – Death’s old flame, could not appear in his Uranus guise – Fireball. What is fascinating to me is how the Venus sextile Mars energy, which exercises significant power over Saturn, setting him back on his heels to keep him from terrorizing the neighborhood, is transformed out of the same fiery Uranus/ Mars energy which Saturn so cavalierly oppresses.
One of the two most exact transits in the sky at the time of my dream was Mercury square Pluto. The Mercury/Pluto combo didn’t show up in my archetypal analysis of the dream, but perhaps manifested in the intensity of the dream’s communication to me. My dreams are not always so clear, coherent and easy to remember. But the messenger of dreams was certainly empowered by his association with Pluto that night, even if it was in the round about way of a hard aspect. The dream also had something of a nebulous consciousness of its own, a sort of omniscience that each character, and I, as each character, knew things intuitively rather than by direct external communication, like we were acting out a story we already knew. Perhaps this type of communication and knowing can be attributed to Mercury as well.
So as I had appreciated this dream as a great story and interpreted it in other ways referencing my own life, the levels of complexity and insights into the character’s relationships that revealed themselves through a planetary archetypal analysis are unparalleled, not to mention, particularly intriguing because of their external validation in the actual activity of the stars.