Originally published in “The International Astrologer”, Aries 2009 issue
Re-published in “Astrology Quarterly”, (Vol. 79, No 2)
“We are about to unfold the story of Frankenstein, a man f science who sought to create a man after his own image without reckoning upon God. It is one of the strangest tales ever told. It deals with the two great mysteries of creation—life and death. I think it will thrill you. It may shock you. It might even—horrify you. So if any of you feel that you do not care to subject your nerves to such a strain, now’s your chance to—uh, well, we warned you. . .”
With these words, Frankenstein, the movie was unleashed onto film audiences some 75 years ago, only a short time after the discovery of Pluto. Like the original novel of the same name, the movie raised ethical questions that continue to haunt us with its Plutonic themes of death and resurrection: is it moral for man to tamper with the so-called “spark of life”? How should we regard life artificially extended or even “created” in a laboratory through means such organ donation and in vitro fertilisation?
The original creator of the Frankenstein story, Mary Shelley, was only 19 years old when her masterpiece was published in 1818. The daughter of a prominent feminist, she centred her plot around an arrogant doctor, Victor Frankenstein, who dared to play God by creating human life but refusing to take responsibility for it. Disappointed with his creation for its appalling ugliness, he abandoned it—without even bothering to name it— and left it to fend for itself in a world that rejected it and condemned it to live a life of loneliness and isolation. It is a sad story of man who is labelled a “miserable wretch” by the very man who should love him the most: his creator, the man who brought him into the world.
Although we immediately recognise the story “Frankenstein,” the novel has the sub-title: “Or, the Modern Prometheus.” The qualities of Victor Frankenstein echo the characteristics of Prometheus and, perhaps even more exciting to astrologers, Richard Tarnas points out that these parallels resemble what astrologers may recognise as the effects of Uranus. As Tarnas noted:
“The more I examined the matter, the more I realised that every quality astrologers associate with the planet Uranus was reflected in the myth of Prometheus: the initiation of change, the passion of freedom, the defiance of authority, the act of cosmic rebellion against a universal structure to free humanity of bondage, the urge to transcend limitation, the intellectual brilliance, the element of excitement and risk.”
This article will expand on these ideas and explore the astrological connections between the charts of William Herschel (the discoverer of Uranus/Prometheus), the discovery of Uranus/Prometheus itself, Mary Shelley as well as other major scientific discoveries involving the creation, transplantation or prolongation of life whose controversies continue to reverberate, challenge and give us ethical nightmares from which it seems impossible to awaken.
Uranus: The “Accidental”
William Herschel crashed through the barrier upheld by sky gazers for millennia when he announced to the sceptical astronomy world that he had found something rather like a comet. He had not set out to discover Uranus. He was a passionate amateur astronomer unbound by the protocol of the professional and was free to explore the universe of his own accord.
Herschel was, by trade, a musician. The story goes that in his spare time, in between pupils, (or indeed, as is sometimes pointed out, in the middle of lessons), Herschel ‘reviewed the heavens.’ Because he was dissatisfied with the quality of telescopes available at the time, he began to make his own and, quite accidentally, became the world’s best telescope maker. Sometime in the late evening (Astrodatabank gives a time of 11:30pm) of Tuesday March 13 1781 in Bath England, Herschel discovered an object that was not on any star map he had in his possession. To get a better look, he used a technique that he had taught himself: he swapped the eyepiece to a stronger one so the object doubled in size. In itself, this act is one of invention, such as we would expect of the influence of Uranus. Herschel knew he was not looking at a star because a star’s distance is so great that it remains unchanged under the strongest magnification. He had assumed he had viewed a comet and immediately contacted Nevil Maskelyne at Greenwich Observatory who confirmed Herschel had found something significant. However, when Herschel’s ‘Account of Comet’ was presented to the Royal Society in London (because of the distance between Bath and London, Herschel was not able to attend), it stirred up both astonishment and scepticism because it referred to magnifications of 460, 932, 1,536 and even 2,010 times. The best the Royal Astronomer’s telescope could do back then was 270 times magnification. Eventually, mathematical calculations would prove that Herschel had indeed discovered a planet and on 30 November, he received the Royal Society’s highest award, the Copley Medal. The discovery of Uranus is the first, only and likely to be the last planet to have been located in this manner.
By sun sign Herschel was a Scorpio with his Mercury in wide conjunction, making it difficult to believe he was searching the heavens without a sense of purpose. The explanation that he was “just looking” through his telescope seems to fall rather flat on astrological ears. However, if we consider his sun’s ruler, Mars in Gemini, we can gain a better perspective of his need to initiate ideas and spread information. A sextile between Mars and Jupiter enhances this tendency. Sidestepping the traditional versus the modern astrological debate, (considering the outer planets had not yet been discovered when Herschel was born), Uranus, Neptune and Pluto add a certain amount of depth to the interpretation of his chart. Uranus conjunct his Venus-Saturn opposition adds an element of excitement to what is usually regarded as a significator of difficult relationships (and isn’t it wonderful to note that not only did Herschel make his discovery after his Uranus opposition but he also married after this important milestone?). Neptune opposite Uranus makes it easier to understand how a music teacher could just randomly search the heavens without a purpose only to make the biggest astronomical discovery in history. To add Pluto into the equation (by sextile to Uranus and trine to Neptune) emphasizes the profundity of the discovery. His own Sun conjunct the ascendant of his discovery confirms the fame he would eventually attain.
Herschel’s chart, inner chart; discovery of Uranus, outer
On the night he discovered Uranus, the moon was low on the horizon and conjunct Herschel’s natal Mercury. There was also a Mars-Saturn conjunction in opposition to Uranus itself. Though no one knew it at the time, this was a discovery that would break down all barriers between what could be called “classical” and what would be heralded as “modern.” Already there had been a movement towards experimental study in the universities of that day and politically, the revolutionary aspects of Uranus could be seen in France and the United States. By the way, the perturbation of Uranus (a sign that indicated there was another planet beyond it), meant that it would, for several years, become known as a “very badly behaved planet.”
Herschel’s discovery kicked off a race to discover more celestial bodies and it was during this quest to challenge the limitations of the heavens that Mary Shelley was born.
Frankenstein: The Waking Nightmare
Mary Shelley’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft (born 27 April 1759), was an education pioneer and radical feminist who wrote “A Vindication of the Rights of Women” which appeared the year following the discovery of Uranus in September 1792. The reverberations of this book are still felt to this day and many credit Wollstonecraft as being the first feminist, making it seem all the more tragic that she died just days after giving birth to Mary. Her death was due to an infection common in women who had just given birth but now curable through modern means. But here is Wollstonecraft’s legacy to her daughter: Her Pluto is opposite to the Uranus and conjunct to the Mars of the discovery chart. Mary Shelley’s Moon is conjunct her mother’s Pluto, echoing the effects of the discovery chart, leaving its indelible mark and adding an emotional depth even in abstentia. Before we consider the effect this would have on Mary’s creative output, let us first have a closer look at her birth chart.
Born on 30 August 1787, Mary Shelley was no ordinary Virgo. With her sun conjunct Uranus and Moon in Sagittarius, Mary was a lively, inquisitive girl who fell in love with and eloped with the poet Percy Shelley on 28 July 1814 when she was not quite seventeen. Not only would she have grown up without her biological mother, over the next few years she would experience the devastation of losing three babies, perhaps answering the question of why such a young woman might be drawn into the idea of creating life from death for who, in the midst of extreme grief, could prevent themselves from fantasizing about the possessing the power to resurrect the dead? We can see this tendency might be more tempting for Mary who had the Moon in Sagittarius in sextile to Pluto. Mercury in Virgo made in uncomfortable inconjunction to Pluto in Aquarius, metaphorically bringing to mind a descent to the Underworld against one‘s more analytical thoughts. Adding to this was her Venus conjunct the Neptune of the discovery chart, indicating her fascination with events of a Uranian nature.
Whilst on holiday with Percy, his friend Lord Byron and others, the party set themselves the challenge of writing ghost stories. Mary would be the last find inspiration but the only one to have successfully published the story from this encounter as can be seen by the Sun on her ascendant the day she began writing what would become Frankenstein. That night, on the 22 June 1816 in Geneva at approximately 11 pm, she had gone to bed but had a terrifying waking dream:
“My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bound of reverie. I saw–with shut eyes, but acute mental vision–I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together.”
We can use this time to create a chart for the story’s conception and perhaps we are not surprised to see Pluto in Pisces. Shelley’s vision was a disturbing one but perhaps one fitting for a young women recently bereft of her offspring.
During this time, Uranus was in Sagittarius, a sign noted for its connections with philosophy, religion and ethics and was at inconjunction with Mary’s Saturn in Cancer. Symbolically, this configuation seems to indicate that if Mary could not have a family the old fashioned way, she would, through the difficulties and grief she was experiencing, come up with a more innovative way of becoming a mother.
And so, Frankenstein’s creation (and we must not fall into the Hollywood trap of mistaking creation for creator) was born, fully formed from body parts collected from charnel houses. Frankenstein kept good notes of his progress but these secrets of his success were kept from the reader. All that Frankenstein needed to do was bring the body to life. As Shelley described:
“It was on a dreary night of November, that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet.”
In the chart of the “conception” of Frankenstein, we can see a trine between Mars and Uranus, a veritable “spark of being” between two fiery planets. Frankenstein had intended for his being to be beautiful and had collected the parts to be used in making it with great care but it was still a huge disappointment to him and he abandoned the being and left it to fend for itself in a world where it could never fit in. It is a pure astrological echo of Shelley’s Moon conjunct her mother’s Pluto. The creature was much larger than the average human (Sun trine Jupiter) because Frankenstein found it too difficult to work with finer parts. We can see Frankenstein’s romanticism in the conception chart’s Venus opposite Neptune and its rejection in Pluto, the apex of its T-square in the “conception” chart. This was a creature that was difficult to love as it lacked the adorable features of the typical newborn. As Shelley describes the creatures first moments of life: “I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.”
When Shelley’s vision (the conception chart) and the Chart of Uranus’ discovery are viewed as a bi-wheel, it can be seen that the Venus-Neptune opposition is conjunct the Uranus of the discovery chart and the apex of the T-Square of the conception chart (Pluto) is conjunct the sun of the discovery chart. It is as if these illusions (Neptune) of power (Pluto) and innovation (Uranus) are coming to light (Sun).
Further connections can be seen if we consider the subsequent movie Frankenstein.In the previous months, the planet Pluto had been discovered. What is remarkable about the bi-wheel of the discovery of these two planets is that they share the same degree for Venus and both have the Moon in Scorpio within two degrees of each other. Boris Karloff, the actor who played the monster was born with both Mercury and Jupiter in Scorpio within a few degrees of these Moons. The movie was unleashed to the public on 21 November 1931, as the Moon had just passed over Uranus, with a rather ominous warning delivered by Edward Van Sloan (who plays Dr Frankenstein’s professor in the film) who stepped from behind a curtain before the opening credits.
However, there is a further manifestation of these energies: Frankenstein’s refusal to accept responsibility or to show remorse. To his dying breath, he justifies his reasons for making his monster. “When younger,” said he, “I believed myself destined for some great enterprise. My feelings are profound; but I possessed a coolness of judgment that fitted me for illustrious achievements. This sentiment of the worth of my nature supported me when others would have been oppressed; for I deemed it criminal to throw away in useless grief those talents that might be useful to my fellow-creatures.”
Is this inability to show remorse due to the arrogant belief that one must overlook the horror of one’s actions in order to be useful to mankind? And is this arrogance a symptom of scientific advances?
Let us fast forward to the 20th century and examine the work of Dr Christian Barnard, the man who performed the first heart transplant.
The Modern Horror Show
On the afternoon of December 3 1967 in South Africa, Denise Darvell, age 24, was walking with her mother when the pair was struck by a car. The mother died outright but Denise clung to life and was declared brain-dead. Rather than simply pulling the plug, Dr Barnard asked the father’s permission to perform a heart transplant. At about 9pm, the medical team stopped working on the young woman and a surgical team made preparations to perform the groundbreaking operation. Of the recipient, 54 four year old Louis Washkansky, a diabetic and sufferer of incurable heart disease, Barnard later wrote, “For a dying man it is not a difficult decision because he knows he is at the end. If a lion chases you to the bank of a river filled with crocodiles, you will leap into the water, convinced you have a chance to swim to the other side.” Well, he never said crossing that river would be easy!! Nor did he promise the patient would be safe on the other side. After nine hours of surgery involving a team of thirty (including Barnard’s brother Marius), the operation was declared a success. Although the Washkansky only survived a matter a weeks, this surgery set a precedent which would benefit many patients deemed terminal.
Comparing the chart of Uranus’ discovery to Barnard’s chart, we can see that the doctor’s sun is conjunct the moon of the discovery chart. It is as if the powerful feelings (Moon in Scorpio) of the discovery are brought to life (Sun in Scorpio) by the doctor. The Uranus-Pluto conjunction that year are square to the Uranus of the discovery chart again highlighting the restorative and innovative powers of these outer planets—or perhaps challenging them and pushing them to their limits. The Uranus of the discovery chart was passing over the ascendant of the final minutes of Darvell’s life, throwing a square to the Uranus at the end of Darvell’s existence, seeming to indicate her fate as the spark of being necessary to bring life to another person. However, it must be pointed out, the elements needed to sustain life never left Washkansky. Through artificial means, his spark of being was preserved, perhaps due a well placed Saturn in the surgery’s chart, during the operation and he would emerge from the experience more or less the same person he was before it—but with a much healthier heart. Unlike Darvell, his life had never been deemed to be unsalvageable because the body part not working within him could be replaced, thanks to Barnard’s willingness to take a risk, by what had not been damaged in his donor. Unlike Frankenstein’s monster, Washkansky received a living organ from his donor’s body and so it would seem unfair to assume the chart of the surgery could represent his new life (though I’m sure under analysis it could be worked out why it wasn’t more successful). It should also be pointed out that Washkansky succumbed 18 days after surgery not because his heart had given out but because the immunosuppressive drugs he had been taking brought on pneumonia. Subsequent patients had a far better success rate and one recipient of a donor heart has survived for 29 years.
As an aside, following the ground-breaking operation, Barnard became know as the “Film star surgeon.” And isn’t it apt that the sun of the surgery had passed over his Venus on that day?
Following the success of the first human to human heart transplant, Barnard attempted xenotransplantation or a cross species organ transplant with extremely limited success. He was so discouraged and had become so emotionally attached to the donor chimpanzees that he decided he would give up attempting xenotransplantation. Some seven years later, however, Leonard L. Bailey, a 41 year old doctor in Southern California had found a patient who was an ideal candidate for xenotransplantation: a newborn baby with a heart defect so severe she was certain to die before reaching two weeks old. Dr Bailey had seen many babies die of the same defect. “People didn’t understand the importance of this;” he reflected after the event, “They weren’t watching babies die.” After an elaborate consent form was prepared, the parents agreed for Dr Bailey to carry out the procedure. Who can blame them? At this point, let us recall Mary Shelley’s probable (though sub-conscious) inspiration for writing Frankenstein: in the midst of grief who can prevent themselves from fantasizing about having the power to resurrect the dead (or in Baby Fae’s case, the certainly doomed)? And so Dr Bailey transplanted the heart of healthy seven month old baboon into a very sick human baby.
“Baby Fae,” as she became known, survived for twenty one days following the surgery, just about doubling her life expectancy. Remarkably, the times and order of the procedures are recorded for public information. At 7:30 am on the 26 October 1984, the surgery began and at 9:15, Dr Bailey descended three floors to the basement where he selected the baboon to be used for the transplant. At 11:35am, the surgery was finished and the baboon’s heartbeat was strong within the chest of Baby Fae.
So what do the charts say? Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Sun and Pluto are conjunct in the run up to the surgery with the probability they were exactly conjunct as Baby Fae’s parents signed the consent form. The ascendant and South Node for when the baboon is selected is exactly conjunct the Jupiter of the discovery of Uranus. This was a risky operation done under intense media scrutiny. We can also see that the Mercury of both the discovery of Uranus and the Mercury on the day of the surgery are within the same degree. It is a complete Pluto return in the chart of the discovery of Uranus—perhaps an explanation for antivivisectionist outcry against “a ghoulish tinkering” with human and animal life. A stellium of planets (Moon, Venus and Uranus) are in the first house, the combination of which seems to pretty much sum up the feelings generated for this tiny baby. The chart shaping—with a tight bundle on planets in Scorpio and Sagittarius opposing Chiron in Gemini in the seventh—seems to draw attention to the hope pinned on Dr Bailey and his desire to save the life of another child with a disease he could not bear death to claim.
What if the spark of life needs a little boost, as in cases of infertility? To examine this question, we turn our attention to Louise Brown, the world’s first test tube baby.
Until 1977, there was only one way to conceive a baby—as it happens, “the old fashioned way.” Drs Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards had been actively working on an alternative solution to conception since 1966—or as astrologers may note, nearly a complete Jupiter cycle. Their method was for Steptoe to harvest an egg from the mother, hand it to Edwards to mix in with the father’s sperm, and place it into a special solution to nurture the egg. Note that it is Edward’s who plays the most active role: he is the one who is the closest to the act of conception. Then they would wait until the fertilized egg divided into sixty-four cells before attempting to implant the egg in the mother’s womb. Up to this point, the pregnancies started in this manner had only lasted for a few weeks. As early as 1968, they were able to fertilize the egg but were not successful in transplanting it so it led to a full term pregnancy. However, the procedure was still at an experimental stage so the pair could alter the variables involved as they wished as they had no idea how this might alter the outcome.
On the morning of the 10 November 1977, Leslie Brown, after exhausting all hope elsewhere, entered Dr Steptoe’s office for the in vitro procedure in lieu of her and her husband’s ability to conceive naturally. Her egg was harvested and fertilized outside the womb as usual. But this time, the doctors decided to implant the egg back into the womb much earlier. On the day Louise Brown was conceived—without her biological mother or father in sight–in a test tube, there was a four-planet stellium in Scorpio and transit Uranus was conjunct the Mercury of Herschel’s chart and the Moon of Uranus’ discovery. This was an experiment of an experiment—and one that would cause all sort of moral outrage. Leslie Brown’s pregnancy progressed past the point where the other in vitro conceptions had failed but the ethical questions were just beginning: What if the baby had a severe handicap as a result of being outside the womb? What right did Steptoe and Edwards have to play God in this manner?
Louise Brown was born nine months later, in perfect health, with the Chiron of her conception conjunct her birth ascendant (just weeks after the planetoid was discovered). Pluto too was prominent between the two charts with the Pluto of her birth conjunct the N. Node of her conception. As there are so few people who are able to be certain of the day of their conception, it is difficult to tell if these factors are important in this type of event. To this day, some 1.5 million children are born due to IVF treatment.
If we isolate the moment of conception, we can see that the head of the sperm contains digestive enzymes whose functions are to breakdown the tough outer membrane of the ovum, allowing the haploid nuclei in the sperm to join with the haploid nucleus found in the ova. Or to put it into astrological terms, it is like the effect of Saturn (the barrier) and Uranus (which breaks through the barrier). No breakthrough, no spark of life.
Metaphorically, this process of breaking down a barrier is exactly what happened when Herschel turned his handmade telescopes to the sky and discovered Uranus: many astronomers had simply missed sighting Uranus but his invention allowed him to breakthrough the barrier of limited vision.
Both Edwards and Steptoe have remarkable connections to the discovery chart of Uranus. Steptoe’s Sun and Uranus are conjunct the Saturn and Pluto of the Uranus discovery chart respectively, making it seem likely he would become known for experimenting with the power of reproduction. Edwards has a Saturn/Venus conjunction in Scorpio which is in alignment with both the Moon of the discovery and the Mercury of Herschel. Perhaps even more significant, Edwards’ Uranus is conjunct the Sun of the discovery chart. He was made famous through experimenting with the creation of a human being. Though Louise Brown was close to Steptoe (she was said to be devastated when he died), Edwards, who took a more active role in her conception, has more remarkable contacts to her conception and birth chart. Without the actions of Robert Edwards, there would be no Louise Brown. Her Uranus is conjunct his Saturn/Venus conjunction, perhaps explaining why, though they were significant to each other, they weren’t particularly close. It had to be an uncomfortable relationship for not only Louise but for her biological father—after all he couldn’t impregnate his wife on his own. Louise’s North Node was conjunct Edwards’ Mars, perhaps an echo of the sexual energy he had usurped in her conception.
Two final examples of Frankenstein’s legacy are Isabelle Dinoire, the world’s first face transplant recipient and Gunther Von Hagens, the creator of “Body Worlds,” a display of cadavers given life-like poses.
One evening, Isabelle Dinoire passed out in her home due to a drug overdose. Her dog, unable to rouse his mistress, began to employ more desperate measures to awaken her: he began to bite her face, eventually—and horrifically—biting chunks of flesh from the bones of her jaw. The severely disfigured Dinoire was the perfect candidate for the ground-
breaking procedure of transplanting the flesh of a brain dead victim to the body of a living person.
On the day of the success of Dinoire’s surgery, the Mercury of the surgery was transiting the Jupiter of Uranus’ discovery chart. Here is the news (Mercury) of a risky (Jupiter) yet successful scientific breakthrough. The metaphor can be extended by considering the conjunction made by the sun of the surgery on the Uranus of Frankenstein’s conception chart, which seems to highlight the ghoulishness of the procedure—and maybe our inability to look away from the results!
Von Hagens, a hemophiliac, took an interest in medicine after a prolonged stay in hospital when he accidentally cut himself as a child. He was famously heralded as a modern Fr Frankenstein when he performed the first public autopsy in London in 170 years. Incredibly, as the news of the event broke, there was a five-planet pile-up in Aquarius (Mercury at 28 degrees 54 minutes was a near miss that would have made it six planets). Though Von Hagens rigorously denies being a “modern day Frankenstein,” one can’t help but notice their similar fascination with death and dead bodies. On the day of the autopsy, the Moon hovered around the Venus of both the discoveries of Uranus and Pluto and Venus that day was conjunct the MC and Pluto of Mary Shelley herself.
Are these successes just a natural progression in medicine? Would they have happened without the discoveries of the outer planets and the symbolism they bring to our consciousness? It seems these are very much like the “chicken or egg” question of our primary biology lessons. What does matter is that we learn from Frankenstein’s experiences: our man made, inferior creations have a nasty habit of turning against us and we realise–too late–that our successes aren’t worth what they really cost us. In the wake of the discovery of Uranus, came the Industrial Revolution–and with all the wonderful inventions that emerged during this time came pollution, global warming, an increase in diseases brought on by the unhealthy lifestyle only money can buy, nuclear disaster, a population explosion and our half-hearted attempts to reduce our consumption of the earth’s natural resources and reduce carbon emissions. Since the advent of the industrial revolution, the GDP index shows what should be an impossible exponential increase in the resources we have used. It looks like we’ve just found more creative ways of killing ourselves.
On a moral and ethical level, it would seem the sudden, spontaneous nature of Uranus combined with the transformative nature of Pluto is only concerned with human mortality rather than human morality. In the movie Frankenstein, Tesla’s coils were used for the scene when the monster was brought to life. Originally, at this moment, Dr Frankenstein shouted out: “Now I know what it is like to be God!” The line was quickly censured and drowned out by thunder and the crackle of electricity. It was a bit too much for the audience of that time.
We of course, as a more evolved society, have to tackle the boundaries set by traditional views on what seems like a daily basis. We have moved beyond natural selection and we humans–or shall I say a collection of experts–decide what is suitable for life through genetic engineering, DNA analysis, eugenics and other frightening means in order to ensure only the best attributes of our species will survive. Sperm banks encourage donors to leave a list of physical attributions so potential mothers can lower the odds of having a child with a disability or unwanted characteristics. Perhaps eventually, as in “Brave New World,” some inferior species will be allowed to survive so someone can be just about intelligent enough to clean up the mess the genetically superior have left behind. Does this mean we can look forward to an improved, flawless human race of pretty, super-intelligent people, all working together towards a perfect society?
Along with the excitement of achievement, such as Herschel’s discovery, there is also a terrible arrogance, irresponsibility and lack of remorse as demonstrated by Shelley’s Dr Frankenstein. And whether we like it or not, like Frankenstein, we are bound by the consequences.