I’ve been semi-obsessively watching and re-watching Albert Brooks’ gently amusing Defending Your Life, currently in heavy rotation on HBO. The film presents a vision of the afterlife in which the newly deceased are sent to Judgment City, a sort of cosmic Ellis Island where each spends four days in court viewing days from his or her life, defending the choices and decisions made on earth and examining his progress in overcoming his fears. A person who led a fairly fearful life might examine events from as many as twelve or fifteen days of his life, while the relatively fearless might only look at a few days. A defense lawyer helps the deceased “defend” his life, while a prosecuting attorney points out his most serious miscalculations. Finally, two judges rule whether he “moves on” or returns to earth to try to get a better handle on his fears.
Brooks, as we soon see through the filmed excerpts from his life, was fairly ineffectual at mastering his fears in life. His troubles continue in JudgmentCity, where he falls in love with the radiant and fearless Meryl Streep but limits his involvement with her out of fear he’s not “good enough” for her. It soon becomes obvious that even his own death was not enough to persuade Brooks to live his (after)life to the fullest!
To extend Brook’s allegory, one way of thinking about eclipses in astrology is to imagine an afterlife in which you will be asked to defend your life based on how you handled the most fearful planet or aspect in your chart. A tortured Sun? A debilitated Mars? How did you handle the challenges related to this planet and its stressful configurations? Imagine viewing scenes from five days of your life: The days on which, at 18 year intervals, solar eclipses conjuncted that planet in your natal chart. You were at a turning point in your development, struggling to overcome one of your darkest fears. What events defined these turning points, and how did you cope with them? How effectively did you handle your fear?
Eclipses, like those filmed scenes in Brooks’ imagined afterlife, throw particular complexes in our chart into bold relief through developmental crises. Eclipses closely conjuncting, opposing, or squaring your most stressed natal planet or aspect can coincide with dramatic external events — the death of someone close to you, an illness, a job change or relocation, a great romance, a divorce; or simply profound internal events, like depression. In any event these times are often marked by events so dramatic they seem to take place in a dream state of suspended animation; when we regain consciousness the entire landscape of our lives have changed.
Look to “personal” planets, particularly the Sun and Moon, in difficult aspect to the outer planets (Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto) to find your most sensitive planetary combination. My Moon/Pluto square, for instance, is extremely sensitive to eclipse aspects, inevitably heralding profound events which force me to confront my fear of loss. On the other hand, eclipses aspecting my fairly happy natal Venus (trine Neptune, sextile Pluto) usually presage fairly pleasant transitions. Unless an eclipse triggers a “high tension” planet or aspect in your natal chart, or one of the angles, you are likely to experience it as a subtle or psychological influence. About every nine years the pivotal planet will receive a solar or lunar eclipse conjunction or opposition, and each time you navigate this pivotal eclipse “season” you have another opportunity to face your fear — perhaps a fear of anonymity (the Sun), of disconnection (the Moon), of authoring your own life (Saturn), of sudden change (Uranus).
Not all eclipses are associated with what we think of as unhappy events. Many coincide with events which are joyous–a marriage, say, or the birth of a child. These eclipse events are in some ways more traumatic than tragic ones, because we don’t expect to be frightened or disoriented by them, and receive little support from others for our feelings (“For heaven’s sake, can’t you even enjoy it when something good happens to you?”). But the energy of eclipses is crisis, a crossroads, a turning point. Choosing something good for your life—a partner, a child, a high powered career—necessarily means closing the door on something else (life as a single person, total freedom, relative lack of responsibility). It’s normal to mourn loss, even loss that’s necessary to clear our path to joy.
Fears are nothing to be ashamed of; we all have them. But when you think of how many of our harmful and limiting choices in life are motivated by our fears, it soon becomes evident that we must make peace with them in order to “move on” to a fuller and happier life. Observing the cycle of eclipses awakening our fears with precision every nine years or so helps us identify these moments of truth when they come our way, and even perhaps to prepare to do battle with them when they appear on our astrological horizon.
At the end of his film Albert Brooks is condemned to return to Earth while the woman he loves is allowed to “move on” to the next level of evolution. It’s a defining moment, calling for desperate action. In the face of separation from his great love, Brooks musters the courage he lacked in life (and, until now, in death): He escapes from the tram taking him back to earth and jumps onto his lover’s speeding tram, suffering electric shock as he dangles from the moving vehicle, unable to get inside. Elsewhere, his judges and attorneys observe his desperate attempt to escape his destiny and be reunited with the woman he loves. Brooks’ defense attorney turns to the judges and asks softly, “Brave enough for you?” The judges smile and intone to some unseen force, “Let him go.” The door of the tram opens and Brooks slips inside, next to the woman he loves, hurtling alongside her toward the great unknown.
* For an in-depth examination of your natal eclipse cycles, order a copy of my exclusive eclipse report, “Followed by a Moonshadow.”
© 2001 April Elliott Kent
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