Extract from Natal Volume: George Orwell
INSIDE THE WHALE: GEORGE ORWELL GETS SHOT
This is an extract from the collection of detailed natal studies that I’m preparing for publication later this year. This extract has been edited for magazine publication (published in the Astrological Association Journal, Jan/Feb 2014) but should give something of the flavour of the book to come.
George Orwell nativity: June 25th 1903. 11.30 am LMT. Motihari, India.
Spica is the most protective of the fixed stars, associated with Our Lady, especially in her role as stella maris, the Star of the Sea, protector of the sailor against the storm. It is not a veil of immunity, meaning nothing will happen: if nothing’s happening, we don’t need protection. But if something is to happen, it can save us from the consequences. Captain Bligh gave a fine demonstration of this. He was thrown off the Bounty into an open boat, and in a remarkable feat of navigation took himself right across the Pacific by dead reckoning, ending up almost exactly where he wanted to be. When this happened, his progressed Sun was on Spica.
The throat is shown by the 2nd house of the chart. So if part of your life-plan is to be shot in the throat, but you would like to survive this, having Spica on the 2nd cusp of your birthchart is a good idea. George Orwell was shot in the throat while fighting in the Spanish Civil War. Despite the rudimentary medical care available, he not only survived, but survived with his voice sufficiently intact to allow him to work as a broadcaster for the BBC. Spica on his natal 2nd cusp, while by no means a guarantee, is a good start in explaining his survival.
We don’t know the exact date on which he was shot. It was somewhere around May 20th, 1937. He was an enthusiastic diarist, which might have given us a definite date, but unfortunately his diaries from Spain are lost – quite possibly sitting in a KGB vault somewhere. It wasn’t in battle, just part of the weary flotsam of life in the front line. In Homage to Catalonia he wrote that the lines were so close he could hear enemy soldiers in conversation with each other. He lit his cigarette at the wrong time and got shot.
He’s being shot, so we might expect Mars to be involved in the astrological action. So he is: the progressed Ascendant was exactly conjunct progressed Mars and the progressed Moon was conjunct the natal Mars. This is, quite literally, textbook stuff: for both progressed Ascendant to Mars and progressed Moon to Mars, William Lilly speaks of the danger of gunshot.
The Solar Return
Solar return 1936
We are concerned with the ruler of his 2nd house, the house of his throat. In both the radix and the chart for the solar return under which he was shot, the Lord of the 2nd is Venus. He’s being shot, so we would expect Mars to be involved. In the solar return, Venus is conjunct Mars by antiscion – a conjunction that couldn’t be much closer. The 2nd/8th houses are emphasised by their cusps falling on the Ascendant/Descendant axis by antiscion. And Venus goes immediately to conjunct the Sun, which is on the South Node. This is not the best year for Orwell’s Venus, in one or other of the many roles available to it.
But more: Venus has just entered combustion. Venus being combust in a solar return is not significant: it often will be. It is the recent or imminent entering of combustion that is important. As soon as Venus changed sign, a little over a degree ago, she became combust. A major role of the Sun, in any solar return, is as ‘Me’. But it has other roles it can play. In both the nativity and the solar return it rules the 12th, the house of self-undoing. So there is a strong connection between 12th-house stuff and Venus here. Orwell was taller than most of his comrades, so standing as they lit their cigarettes in the darkness he would have made an inviting target. Or perhaps we can read this on the wider scale, of putting himself in harm’s way by going to fight in Spain.
We have a seriously unhappy Venus here, recently become combust to a Sun that is on the restrictive, limiting, South Node. The wound limited and restricted his throat, of course; but as Lord 2, Venus is also his possessions. He wrote that the first thing he remembered, as he looked back over the event while in hospital, was his comrades on the front line standing around him asking, ‘Can I have your gun? Can I have your binoculars? Can I have your cigarettes?’ Questions asked because they knew there was no point in him taking any possessions with him, as they would all be stolen the minute he reached hospital.
Mercury is in its natal position, which emphasises it, both in its accidental roles within the chart and in its essential Mercury-ness. Particularly important among its accidental roles is that of being natal Lord 1. So there is a big emphasis on ‘Me’ here – as well there might be if Me is being shot. But also his Mercury-stuff, which as Mercury is in Gemini is particularly mercurial Mercury-stuff, is powered up at this time. Not necessarily by writing, but by that other prime function of Mercury, gathering experiences and filing them away for future reference. The description of his being shot in Homage to Catalonia must be one of the finest passages in Orwell’s writings. The clarity and precision with which he describes the way mind and feelings work during trauma is that of Mercury functioning at its very best.
Saturn is exactly conjunct the natal Jupiter. This must be of significance, but while I could cobble together some tenuous explanation connecting it to the shooting, I can’t do that with much conviction. But there is no reason that there should be such a connection. The solar return chart covers a whole year, and more than one thing will happen during that year. We must resist the temptation to try to shoehorn every testimony into every event.
The Lunar Return
Lunar return May 13th 1937
Just to ram home the point: he’s being shot, so we might expect to find Mars emphasised in the charts for this time. The Ascendant of the lunar return chart falls right on his natal Mars. Big Mars emphasis! But if natal Mars is emphasised, this is not a standard-issue Mars. It is the particular kind of Mars that appears in this nativity. Orwell’s natal Mars is on the fixed star Vindemiatrix. It’s a Vindemiatrix-coloured Mars. Vindemiatrix is about presumption: the belief that it will turn out OK because I think it will turn out OK. I can stick my head above the trench in the darkness and light my cigarette: all will be well.
Natal Lord 2, Venus, is in its detriment. This has no significance: it is only changes of dignity that have significance in return charts, not how much dignity a planet has right now. What is important, though, is that it is on the star Baten Kaitos, the Belly of the Whale. This is the whale that swallowed Jonah. Not a pleasant experience for Jonah, nor for Orwell’s throat, as signified by Venus. But the important thing about the whale is that it did not chew up Jonah and digest him. It preserved him from the storm and saved his life. In this time of mortal danger, Orwell’s throat is protected again, as it was in the nativity.
Also important with Venus is its reception with Mars. As with dignity, reception in a return chart is of no significance – except when it changes. The reception here is about to change. Venus is ruled by Mars, and Mars, being retrograde, is about to enter the detriment of Venus. Mars-stuff does bad things to Venus-stuff. Orwell is shot in the throat. But he has that whale to look after him.
Uranus is on the 2nd/8th axis, but I’m hesitant to say anything about this, because whatever we say about Uranus tends to come out as something rather fatuous. There is a huge gulf in meaning between the cosmic role of Uranus as the sky-god, the image of infinite potential, of all possibilities being realised, and the common ideas such as ‘something unexpected’. The idea of ‘something unexpected’ doesn’t usually add much to the story. Cautiously I would suggest that this placement too is a protective testimony for Orwell’s throat. Uranus was castrated by Saturn, and from his sperm falling onto the waves Venus was born. So Uranus is associated with the birth of Venus, not her death – and Venus here is Orwell’s throat.
The plot thickens. As Orwell tells in his essay, Inside the Whale, he passed through Paris on his way to Spain. There he had his first meeting with Henry Miller, who told him ‘in forcible terms that to go to Spain at that moment was the act of an idiot’. Miller’s ideal was to be a disengaged passenger, carried passively through life. In an essay of his own, Miller exemplified this attitude by the writings of Anaïs Nin, whom he compared to Jonah in the whale’s belly. ‘However it may be with Anaïs Nin,’ Orwell continues, ‘Miller himself is inside the whale. All his best and most characteristic passages are written from the angle of Jonah, a willing Jonah.’
One minute Orwell is discussing the whale’s belly in Paris; the next it is coming to his rescue in Spain. It is almost as if the stars were following Hitchcock’s dictum that once a revolver is shown, someone has to use it. Miller had Baten Kaitos on the Ascendant of his nativity. But was his choice of the whale image deliberately self-referential, or was he speaking out his chart unaware?
Miller mentions astrology in The Colossus of Maroussi, written a couple of years after this meeting. Despite thinking Orwell’s high estimate of Miller’s prose more than misjudged, in the service of astrology I dutifully skimmed through this. Most of the few references to astrology smell like a cut & paste job, importing some high-flown BS he has heard from within an arcana of which he knows nothing. But late in the book he meets ‘the soothsayer’, who ‘had been instructed in the art of Arabian astrology’. Being highly skilled in the art of astrology, ye soothsayer was able to tell him that ‘I was approaching a new and most important phase of my life… that I had caused much harm and suffering to others’ and - hey! - ‘nobody really understood me, not even my closest friends’. A very fine astrologer.
But there are words, which I cannot help but feel Miller gives somewhat archly, that might suggest ye (or some other) soothsayer had taken at least a glance at his chart: ‘You have always miraculously escaped whenever a situation became desperate or unbearable… you will be saved. You are like a ship with two rudders: when one gives out the other will function… You can take flight when those about you must perish.’ Is that a reference to that protective whale, Baten Kaitos, on his Ascendant? If so, it is heavily overstated. If the guys with the machine-guns turn up, do not expect to escape the cattle-trucks just because you happen to have Baten Kaitos on your Ascendant. It says more about the approach to life than how the events in the life will turn out. How we approach life does, of course, have much to do with how the events turn out. But there are many events, such as the guys with the machine-guns turning up, in which our approach to life has little to do with the outcome.
Henry Miller nativity: Dec 26th 1891, 12.30 pm EST. New York, New York.