For my very first reading, a co-worker was kind enough to dig up his birth time and let me practice on him. Kevin and I weren’t close, which made this a good test of whether astrology could guide a meaningful conversation between us.
I saw that by transit, Saturn and Neptune were squaring his 7th house Moon. I considered the possibilities. Saturn can bring difficulties. Neptune can indicate confusion, loss, or moodiness. The Moon in the 7th can describe a man’s wife. Kevin was a newlywed. I asked him how he was enjoying married life. He shrugged and admitted that he and his wife were having a hard time. After I described what it meant to be in a Saturn/Neptune-to-Moon transit, the good and the bad, his mood brightened. “Thanks,” he said. “This helps spin my perspective on what’s happening at home.”
I also noticed that transiting Mars was heading for his Uranus/Pluto conjunction. I wasn’t sure how seriously to take this event, as its influence would last for just a day or two. Yet it looked volatile. Mars/Uranus, that’s accidents, right? And Mars/Pluto… collisions, fights, or explosions?
Of course I didn’t use such bold nouns with Kevin. I spoke in the language of the psychological astrology I’d been studying. Pluto was in Scorpio at the time, the sign of depth psychology; planet archetypes were enjoying new life as unconscious complexes in the psyche.
I talked with Kevin about his anger. I suggested he might feel pushed to an irrational impulsiveness. Mars, Uranus, and Pluto were a combustible trio. Perhaps, I ventured, there was some positive way he could use this burst of energy? “I used to practice karate,” he said. “Maybe I should head into the garage after dinner tonight and work out.” Perfect.
Two hours later he returned from lunch and announced that he’d just been in a car accident. There were no injuries, but his car was nearly totaled. Why hadn’t I warned him about a car accident?! It clearly fit the Mars transit. And Kevin’s Pluto did rule his 3rd house, which governs driving around town. If I’d looked hard enough I could have noticed this detail: the action a transit brings can occur in the house the transited planet rules.
While Kevin spent the afternoon on the phone with his wife, his mechanic, and his insurance agent, I sat with the reality that I’d blown it. I could have made a successful prediction and proven that astrology worked—which like most beginning astrologers, I was desperate to do. Over the next few weeks, I studied the charts of family and friends with new diligence. Perhaps I could see into the future after all, or at least, catch a few more accidents looming.
Accidents are by definition unplanned and unforeseen. There are happy accidents, like Fleming finding penicillin in the garbage, or Spencer noticing the magnetron was melting his candy bar, which lead to the first microwave oven. But more typically when we think of accidents, we imagine the unhappy ones that bring loss and/or injury. A hammer dropped, a foot poorly placed, a turn taken too fast on an icy road—one moment can have life-changing consequences; or at the least, it can lay us up, cancel plans, cost us money we didn’t have, and worst of all, shred the thin coat of security we’d been wearing just before the accident occurred. Accidents remind us that we’re not in control, a fact that keeps astrologers busy with clients. Who wouldn’t want to know when an accident was about to happen?
This is astrology’s special advantage over other ancient divination systems. If a haruspex priest wanted to learn the will the gods, he had to whisper his question into a sacred animal’s ear, then sacrifice the beast with the proper incense, tools and prayers in order to read the message the gods would inscribe on its liver. But astrology made past, future, and present more transparent. The sky offered itself as a heavenly scroll which the priests could roll forward or back in time without whispering any questions. Transits still grant this gift. Whether we’re looking for a favorable time for a wedding or wondering about the destiny implied when a couple first met, we can discover the forces at work by reading planet positions at the time.
It’s worth noting that the earliest astrologers viewed the future as fluid and changeable. To our Mesopotamian ancestors, ominous skies warned of fates that could be averted with the proper petitions, chants and rituals. We still share this view, but centuries of secular determinism have drained the gods from our thinking. Our best hope now to avoid transit troubles is to change our own behavior. We mark difficult dates on our calendars and try to cautiously tiptoe through them.
How are accidents written in the heavens? According to Rex Bills’ modern classic, The Rulership Book,1 these sudden and seemingly random events are ruled by Mars and Uranus, and often involve the 1st or 3rd houses. Centuries of traditional texts have given accidents to the malefics Saturn and Mars. Apparently Saturn hasn’t given up his role, as just last week I heard from a friend whose car was totaled when Saturn squared his Midheaven, Moon, and Nodes. Many times too I’ve seen Pluto drop the floorboards out from under someone’s feet. The truth is, when bad accidents happen, several archetypes may be involved. If we study accident horoscopes, we’ll usually find a few planets, with their midpoints, oppositions, squares and house rulerships all converging into one grand symphony of fate.
If it were only a matter of seeing these patterns ahead of time, all astrologers would lead smooth lives. But mystery isn’t so easily conquered. Being on good behavior during difficult transits doesn’t always succeed. Recently I ran into a colleague who’d been laid up for months with a dislocated shoulder. “It was a Mars/Uranus transit,” she said. It happened the morning she was supposed to embark on a long vacation visiting relatives in three states. Because of the transit, she gave herself plenty of time to get to the airport, not wanting to tempt Mars or Uranus with anything hectic. A generous two hours before she needed to leave, she descended the staircase with her bags, lost her footing, and fell. Her vacation ended before it began.
Knowing about transits doesn’t mean we get to avoid them. But it can help us to more intelligently meet whatever fate serves up. Charts can show which archetypes are currently on our altar. They can affirm whether we’re being called to a greater adventure, like the Fool on the Tarot card, brightly stepping off a cliff. The Fool’s card is ruled by Uranus. The Mars card shows people leaping from a burning tower—clearly, a very bad accident.
Good readers observe symbols off the page too. The accident itself is a symbol. Metaphysicians say that with accidents we sometimes punish ourselves for doing what we love (as in, “My life was going great until the accident.”). Through accidents, we may have to stop, meet our shadow personas, or discover resources we didn’t know we had. Accidents serve their purpose. They call us out of our routines and require us, in one way or another, to grow.
My chart was alarming. In the next week, Uranus would square my Mars just as Mars would conjunct my Uranus. Solar Arc Mars (in the 3rd house of driving and ruling my 8th house of death) was square to Pluto (in the 12th of hospitalization and ruling the 3rd of driving). Surely I would die. At the time I had a daily 70-mile freeway commute. I could envision a future in which I’d get sideswiped, lose control, my car would roll over, burst into flames, and I’d die.
The week passed without an accident. I was pregnant at the time and my hormones were wilder than usual. Recalling Mars and Uranus, I kept reminding myself to slow down, be patient, drive cautiously, and bless the old ladies going forty in the fast lane while I was late for work. My relationship with my baby’s father, however, suddenly acquired all the thrill and terror of a rickety amusement park ride. Mars and Uranus became the mad operators taking us to emotionally reckless and combative places.
The planets are audacious, alive, and infinitely creative. Trying to predict their effects with precision is a questionable enterprise. It took me years to learn this simple truth about forecasting: the lens through which we look forward is not ground as fine as the one that looks back.
Astrology’s backward view is so precise. We know exactly what we’re looking for: a wedding, a death, a tornado. The accuracy and elasticity of the planets make it easy to hunt down relevant archetypes and draw them into a compelling story. But the view through the future lens is blurry; these charts hold a broad potential of occurrences. We could make a case for one fate in particular, but that doesn’t mean it will happen. This is good news. Fuzzy futures allow room for our participation. We can show up ready and aware. Like the ancients, we can make our offerings and petition the gods to be kind.
On a quiet Sunday afternoon, a couple days after my challenging transits had passed, I was safely in a crosswalk heading across the street, when a distracted teenager in a lime Honda (agent of Uranus?) sped toward me and my unborn child. With what felt like the agility of an elephant, I narrowly lumbered out of his way.
I like to think that rather than just bringing this near accident, Mars, Uranus, and Pluto had also pumped me with the adrenalin to leap away. A week later, I took my car to the mechanic. “I can’t believe you made it here,” he said. “Your tires are so bald my fingers can almost poke a hole through them. I’m surprised you didn’t have a high speed blowout on the freeway.” Go figure. At an astrologically dangerous time, I’d unwittingly dared the gods to come get me. Sometimes what doesn’t happen is as interesting as what does. As I said, mystery isn’t so easily conquered.
“Why do people have accidents?” asks B James, a researcher writing for the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.2 At the risk of being “blindingly obvious,” James states that accidents occur because humans make mistakes—whether it’s the fellow who designed the plane, the meteorologist who missed the storm, or the pilot who forgot to check his altitude. James doesn’t mention astrology, but he’s clearly observing archetypes familiar to astrologers when he identifies the two ways human cause accidents: by having a level of arousal that’s too high for the needs of the time—or too low. Says James, until this distinction is made, we can’t help humans prevent their missteps.
A Dutch study on accidents translates this into sun sign astrology.3 Of the 1028 traffic deaths in Holland in 2003, the unfortunate leaders were Aries and Gemini with 106 each. Sagittarius and Pisces followed, each with a 100 traffic fatalities that year. The lowest were Libra and Capricorn, with 75 and 43 deaths respectively. Aries, Gemini, and Sagittarius are all capable of a high degree of arousal, of quick, enthusiastic, and ill-timed movement. Gemini, Sagittarius, and Pisces (all the mutables except Virgo) are also easily distracted and can miss the needs of the moment. Libra is amiable and aware of others. Capricorn is cautious. But of course we’re not just our sun signs. Whether someone’s Mars is too quick or too slow is important for us to keep in mind too.
Gary is a Gemini. The day before his appointment with me, his Toyota was hit by a sports car whose driver made a poorly timed left turn. In the sky at that moment, Mars was opposite Uranus; both planets were squaring Gary’s Moon. His Virgo Moon was always squinting at life, convinced of raw deals and vague conspiracies, one of which was that something was wrong with his car. Occasionally when he hit the brakes, the car would suddenly and briefly accelerate. He was convinced this had caused a previous accident and had prevented him from stopping this one.
Gary has a 12th house Mars, which the Moon was transiting at the time of the accident. Mars in the 12th can be a reluctant warrior, its confidence, motivation, and courage often buried or disconnected. It can emerge in ill-timed bursts, like the mysterious acceleration of his car. Gary wasn’t angry at the other driver, but he burned with rage at Toyota. He wanted to sue but didn’t know where to start.
We began by talking about his 12th house Mars. I asked him what happened when he got angry as a boy. I asked what he most enjoyed doing when he was a teenager and what projects currently excited him. The importance of his lawsuit fell away as we discovered the deeper and more important battles that he was being called to fight. Uranus transits can be frustrating and disruptive; they can also wake us up, propel us into motion, and spark our reengagement with life. The French sociologist Jean Baudrillard has observed that depression almost invariably leads to accidents, as these sharp events can help to break depression’s spell.
Belinda is an Aries. Doing a little over 60 in the fast lane, she was driving her daughter to daycare before heading to work. Behind her, an impatient driver was indicating she should pull over to let him pass. Figuring she was going as fast as anyone needed to, Belinda held her lane. The now irate driver passed on the right in order to cut in front. Belinda accelerated. Too late she saw the red brake lights of the car ahead. She slammed on her brakes, causing her car to spin three times and cross all four lanes of the freeway until it hit the guardrail on the other side. Her car was totaled, but miraculously, hadn’t hit another car.
Neither Belinda nor her daughter was hurt. Headstrong and volatile, Belinda has a Moon/Mars/Uranus conjunction that was being transited by Saturn. Could a prediction have prevented the accident? Actually, Belinda already “knew.” A gift of her Moon/Mars/Uranus conjunction is its intuitive flashes. Weeks before the event, she had a sudden premonition she’d be in a freeway crash.
As a moment in her hero’s journey, Belinda’s accident was certainly initiating her into the recklessness of her own Mars, and it’s in that light we found meaning. But it wouldn’t be the first time I’d learn an important astrologer’s lesson: words alone don’t change behavior. Six weeks later, a driver honked at Belinda. She tailed the woman for ten miles, just to scare her. Taming ourselves isn’t easy. That’s why we get a lifetime to master our charts.
Copyright 2013 Dana Gerhardt
1 Rex E. Bills, The Rulership Book (American Federation of Astrologers, 1971)