Originally published in The Mountain Astrologer magazine. Republished with permission.
Tolstoy once famously said that all happy families are alike, while every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. This provides us with clues when we look at family heredity. Gifts tend to repeat in straightforward ways, while difficult patterns twist into varying forms of expression. In this article, I look at a few of these patterns as a way of encouraging reflection on the myriad possibilities that connect us to our family of origin using an astrological context. When doing this kind of work, I pay most attention to similarities in individual horoscopes over generations — resonances shared by members of the same family. These may be house placements, similar aspects, or repeating signs, and will describe an inherited pattern which, once identified, can illuminate family dynamics. In this work, it makes sense to use wider orbs — up to 9° for conjunctions and oppositions, 8° for squares and trines, 5° for sextiles — since they describe a more inclusive connection between a large number of charts. When I venture further into individual compatibilities or entanglements, I look more closely at the charts’ inter-aspects, as one does in traditional synastry.
In family synastry, there are always other people involved, whether the others are long departed or very much alive. Conflicts may have their roots in preceding generations. There is usually more than one planetary pattern or thread running through a family. Not all of these are shared by every family member. A theme may become more insistent, more prominent for a particular individual, who becomes the nexus for several generations of tension. It can also be that one family member is an exception and lacks a dominant pattern; this, too, is noteworthy. It can mean their trajectory will be very different from that of other family members, and sometimes it signals something new — a departure from the family inheritance.
To get a better sense of the issues running through families, listen to the stories people tell. Some family members may have died decades before, but JUNE / JULY 2016 — 41 they are alive in the memory of those who remain, and their stories vibrate along different family threads. These often contain alerts as to character and key family themes. A helpful practice might be to write down three adjectives for each family member. Words like “distant,” “overbearing,” or “anxious” point in different planetary directions. Many of us have the “odd” uncle in the family tree, the “tightwad” grandfather, or the “kind” aunt. “Tightwad” draws our attention to Saturn, “kind” might be the Moon or Venus, while “odd” could be Neptune or Uranus.
Family V: A Jupiter–Saturn Thread
One family I know, both personally and as a consultant, has a highly defined Jupiter–Saturn thread, which is reflected in its position of social pre-eminence. Over several generations, there are marriages between tightwads (Saturn) and gamblers (Jupiter), or between wealth creators and wealth dispensers. Some stay hidden, and others would do anything to get attention. At times, there is a war between these opposites in the same individual. Within the personal sphere, this struggle elicits a tension between selfishness and generosity. In “Family V,” adjectives like “eccentric,” “brilliant,” “oversensitive,” “narcissistic,” and “withholding” run through the generations. A great, great grand grandfather was referred to as “Moneybags.”
A second thread, linked to the Moon, traces a countercultural pattern of strong feeling expressed by the men in the family, while the matriarch, Rita (all names herein are pseudonyms), was described as “icy,” almost metallic. The words “cutting” and “sharp” are often used in speaking about her. She was a powerful woman with exceptional intelligence, who could not abide fools. She would often attack what she perceived as excessive displays of sentimentality. One family member even described her as “reptilian.” Rita was trained as a scientist and became a successful businesswoman. At age 38, she began a business that went on to national and international success.
A cold or sharp intelligence is most likely a reference to Uranus, or to Mars linked to Mercury. And indeed, Rita has the Sun conjunct Mercury in Aquarius square Mars. (See Chart 1, below.) She also has Uranus conjunct the Moon in Pisces, in opposition to Black Moon Lilith.1 In keeping with Moon–Uranus, Rita was an original. The Moon opposite Lilith can describe a woman’s choice to walk into the wild and to disregard the good opinion of others. This combination often indicates a woman who will not be bound in her emotional life. Rita swore off relationships after a number of disappointments with men. She ran her own empire. She had Jupiter conjunct Venus in Pisces square Saturn inSagittarius.
While we wouldn’t normally associate a sweet Pisces Moon with cutting behavior, the Moon–Uranus conjunction can also function as an anti-Moon. Uranus has a tendency to express itself in opposition — to go against tradition — and often describes a pattern that runs counter to theaccepted model. Uranus has a tendency to express itself in opposition — to go against tradition — and often describes a pattern that runs counter to the accepted model. Part of the Uranian archetype is the cutoff, reflected quite literally in the myths associated with the Greek sky god (in the oldest Greek myths, Uranus is castrated by his son, Saturn). Moon–Uranus in a birth chart can be an emotional cutoff, a desire to break from the past, and even an inability to feel the emotions of those around you. Most of all, it is a determination to be free from emotional bondage. In a woman’s chart, it usually indicates a move away from the inherited feminine image, and this was certainly true of Rita. It could describe the black sheep of the family, the wild one, the odd one. However, if everyone in the family had Moon and Uranus in aspect, it would mean something very different.
Why, then, would we find a 12th house Moon in the chart of her son, Ricky, and one of her grandsons? The Moon in the 12th house often reflects emotions that are denied or unacknowledged. It may even symbolize a woman (Moon) who sacrifices her own needs for others. This certainly doesn’t seem to fit Rita. Most likely, the Moon in the 12th corresponds to a rejection of the feeling principle, the experience that there is no room for one’s true emotions. This was certainly Ricky’s experience of his mother. Whenever he expressed his feelings, he felt ridiculed, humiliated, and often shamed. To the outside world, though, Rita was charismatic and generous. An active philanthropist, she also paid for the schooling of many of her employees’ children. This admirable social generosity was at odds with her son’s experience.
The 12th-house Moon can also point to another type of female figure, one whose emotional suffering may need to be redeemed. Rita’s son Ricky had a paternal grandmother, Amanda, whose husband abused her and spent her money, and yet she kept going back to him. She was a beautiful woman in her youth, who died corpulent and diabetic. After being knocked down by a car, she spent her later years in a wheelchair. As a young adult, she was pulled between the clutches of her miserly mother and her gambler husband, whom she accused of being cruel, cursing, and striking her. Although we have no birth time for Amanda, she was born with a conjunction of the Sun, Jupiter, and Saturn in Capricorn. Her longing for a larger life was met with constraint. Her mother, Jessie, was a woman who amassed a fortune as a pawnbroker, but hoarded jewels, investing in land though not spending on herself.
So, it may be that in Ricky’s chart, the 12th-house Moon reflects this grandmother Amanda, a woman who stayed bound even when she finally divorced her abusive husband. She also had a litigious relationship with her own son and, despite her wealth, was frequently arrested for shoplifting. Her son, Otto, was Ricky’s father. Ricky and Otto perpetuated a fraught and difficult pattern of nurturing and conflict. Ricky’s father sued many people, including his ex-wife Rita.
Ricky felt that there wasn’t much room for his own feelings in all of this family turmoil. The rivalry and hostility he experienced with his brother, Jimmy, only made things worse. Ricky’s 12th-house Moon conjoins Venus; both are in Taurus and tightly square Pluto in the 4th house. (See Chart 2, below left.) Such a structure conjures up images of beauty and material comfort, trapped by the presence of an overbearing parent or a controlling, even claustrophobic family system. In addition, the Moon is conjunct Black Moon Lilith, picking up his mother’s Moon–Lilith pattern — a symbol of the rejecting feminine. Ricky was born with Jupiter in the 10th house opposite Saturn in the 4th. While one parent (his mother) made money on her own and was much admired, the other (his father) had a public profile that became something of a joke: adopting eccentric causes, dressing in costume, becoming the butt of political humor. Perhaps as a result, Ricky’s self-esteem tended to fluctuate. The Jupiter–Saturn thread speaks to the importance of social recognition; the opposition between these planets in the parental 4th and 10th houses describes a cringe-worthy split in parental images and values.
When one generation in a family experiences splitting or estrangement, the next generation may try to repair it. In the chart of Ricky’s youngest son, Rob, the 12th-house Moon pattern is slightly different. (See Figure 1) Rob describes his own mother as a martyr, always wrapping herself around someone else’s needs. Rob tends to follow a similar path, feeling that he has to take care of his older brother, Mike, who has been through turbulent emotional periods. Rob has even made professional choices that reduce the chances of rivalry with his sibling. He believes he needs to be his brother’s keeper, and this is reflected by the 12th-house Sun and Moon. Like his father Ricky, Rob also has Lilith conjunct the Moon in the 12th house. Rob’s story is in some ways a response to his father’s difficult sibling relationship. His father and uncle are estranged and barely speak, whereas Rob has felt the need to stay close to his brother. He is also close to his own mother — in a relationship with a very different quality of intimacy than that shared by his father and grandmother. His father Ricky felt rejected by Rita, even suing her at one point.
Ricky’s eldest son, Mike, has the Moon rising and five planets in Scorpio. (See Figure 2,) All these planets are in the 1st house, where the emotional power of the sign will not be denied. His Scorpio Moon is square Jupiter in Leo, heightening the need for expression. Moon–Ascendant individuals are magnets for feeling, and Mike is the one in the family who seems to be obliged to express his emotions, often to the point of being overwhelmed. In the past, he has had to struggle with depression. His family members are careful not to upset him, wary of the consequences. It is interesting to note that the tightest aspect to Mike’s Moon is a square to Black Moon Lilith, where feeling is out of bounds in some way. Moon–Lilith aspects can carry an intense rage that ends in destructive feelings. Both Rob and Mike were born at the New Moon with aspects to Lilith — these aspects are descriptive of their parents’ stormy divorce.
Their father Ricky and grandmother Rita share the Moon–Lilith signature, which creates a certain discomfort with intimacy. We might say that emotions can be demonized and rejected when this theme is present. One brother has the Moon in the 12th house; the other, in the 1st. Their birth charts ask them to break the emotional pattern in the family and to start over again. This can only be done by confronting the darker side of feeling that is symbolized by the Black Moon Lilith. When Lilith is acted out by one or several individuals, it can be quite frightening.
This family’s 12th-house/Moon– Ascendant inheritance follows a storyline. In one generation, the woman is sacrificed. In the next, emotions are sacrificed for feminine ambition — a sacrifice that leads to material success, but incurs difficult relationships and a disconnect between the masculine and feminine. As a result, the men are carrying a greater share of the emotional burden. In the following generation, one brother puts his own feelings aside and even redirects his ambitions to assuage the feelings of the other. The 12th house often requires a sacrifice for the greater good. But who is sacrificed and who is redeemed?
One more chart could be mentioned here: that of Ricky’s father Otto (not shown). While his Moon falls outside the 12th-house pattern, it resonates in other ways. Here, the Moon in Libra is part of a triple conjunction, caught between Saturn on one side and Jupiter on the other. In addition, it squares Pluto in Cancer. It pulls in the Jupiter–Saturn thread: a theme around recognition and accomplishment. One might imagine this as a reflection of the matriarch’s power; indeed, Otto was the favorite of his pawnshop grandmother Jessie and inherited a large part of her fortune. Otto never worked, but traveled and gambled, and became increasingly eccentric. At the same time, he was very tight with his fortune. His son Ricky says Otto would have been locked away on the funny farm if he hadn’t had so much money. Otto was able to avoid the responsibilities of Saturn while incarnating the puer of unlimited possibilities, represented by Jupiter. Ricky has been particularly interested in exploring these themes as a writer. Ricky’s Sun squares Saturn and opposes Chiron, which speaks of a certain woundedness, as well as an inner need to be of worth. Ricky is engaged in a number of well-thought-out philanthropic projects, reflecting his 10th-house Jupiter in Pisces. Since the death of his famous mother, his own brilliance has been expressed in his two recently published books, finally bringing him some of the recognition he has long sought.
Family J, Part I: A Mars Thread
Family J is full of powerful, independent women who strike out on their own, usually after experiencing unsatisfactory relationships. These women have strong Mars placements, whereas the men have a very different pattern. Let’s take a look.
Tip is a mythic figure in the family because of her creativity, her daring, and her willingness to take four children to the other side of the world and begin a new life. She has Mars in its ruling sign of Aries tightly conjunct Uranus and square Saturn in Capricorn, forming a t-square with Pluto in Cancer. (See Chart 3, below left.) This is a remarkable woman who was called to break through social norms, to step over boundaries. The Mars–Uranus conjunction trines her Leo Ascendant. Her three daughters — Teresa and twins Carol and Cath — all have Mars in Aries as well. In the next generation, Teresa’s daughter, Jen, has the Sun in late Aries in a wide, out-of-sign square to Mars in early Leo. Jen’s two daughters, Edie and Kayla, have Mars in Leo and Mars conjunct the Sun, respectively. The expression of feminine energy through Mars is clearly strong and individuated; there is confidence and will, daring and drive. Mars energy unchecked and unevolved goes to war, but integrated with the Sun, it will more often be of service to the higher self.
Teresa was initially vague about her father’s birth date and also unclear about the time of her grandson’s birth; it took several tries to verify their data. The women in the family are in sharp focus, while the men drift on the edge of awareness. Perhaps it isn’t surprising, then, that the men have Mars in very different signs. Teresa’s father had Mars in Pisces, her brother, Ted, and her grandson, Cole, have Mars in Libra, while her son, Noah, has Mars in Gemini in a wide opposition to Neptune. Here, the pattern of desire (Mars) is more elusive, harder to confront, highly adaptive, not so self-empowered.
Tip, Teresa, and Jen represent three generations of women raising their children on their own. Tip’s husband first left when Teresa was a baby, perhaps because he and Tip had had very different upbringings and values. He returned and left again when Teresa’s twin sisters were six months old. He was always referred to as a womanizer, but in reality he fell in love with another woman and remained married to her. Tip had the energy and confidence to raise her four children alone, and she transmitted that to her daughter, Teresa. Teresa chose a creative, angry man and described the marriage as two volcanoes colliding. In the end, she was frightened and left her husband when her son Noah was eight months old. It isn’t difficult to see that the inherited pattern of masculine–feminine dynamics in this family might override individual synastry. Families generate a field of their own, which can pull individuals into a dance that continues over several generations.
An awareness of these larger currents at work in families can change the way each of us understands our choices, our relationships, and the conflicts we engage in. While these repetitions may seem like fate, we can also imagine that they ask us to try again, to do things differently. Tip’s husband was an escape artist, befitting his Pisces Mars, who vanished from the life of his children. Tip was pushed out of her comfort zone — Teresa embraced it. Tip’s son Ted became a very different kind of man. He followed a 10th-house Mars in Libra path (see Figure 3), spending 25 years in the military. After a failed first marriage, he has stayed His wife has replaced his mother as boss. Ted was protectively close to his mother (he carried her bags as a child), and has worked to remain connected to the children of his first marriage, compensating for his father’s disappearance. One generation on, Tip’s granddaughter Jen recently separated from the artist– father of her children. Jen’s ex-husband, James, lives nearby and has become closely involved with his young daughters. The men in this family must learn to live with willful, energetic women — or leave. If they do leave, their task is to find a way to stay connected.
Teresa followed in her mother’s footsteps as a strong, independent woman with great confidence to take on whatever comes her way. Outspoken and direct, she works in community organization. This is a good fit for her Aquarius Ascendant and the Sun in Capricorn square Mars in Aries. (See Chart 4, following page.) Teresa also has the Moon in confident Leo conjunct Uranus. She makes things happen, brings people together, and enjoys the life she’s created. Watching her, you can almost imagine an animated Statue of Liberty with a torch in her hand. As a child, though, she often felt reproached for her demands and stigmatized for her anger. Her mother’s response was to lock her out of the house, or to stop speaking to her for four or five days. Her brother Ted, with Mars in Libra, adapted to his mother’s desires; he made sure he would be included.
We might ask why Teresa was shut out and given the silent treatment in the family. Tip and Teresa have Mercury retrograde, as do Teresa’s children, Jen and Noah. It’s easy to imagine a less-than-direct style of communication, where many subjects are avoided, where people wait to say what is on their minds. To my surprise, Teresa told me that she couldn’t communicate easily until she was older — in her late 20s. It was only with intensive work on herself that she was able to give voice to her feelings. She is the only family member without a major Neptune aspect to Mercury. While the others might not have an issue with leaving things unsaid, this is harder for Teresa and is exacerbated by her having Mars in the 3rd house, which brings added urgency to communication. Perhaps even more telling is the individual synastry between Teresa and her mother, Tip.
Tip was a great talker, a communicator and high school teacher of art, but she could not speak about feelings; when emotions became too strong, she would resort to silence as punishment. Teresa’s Mercury at 13° Capricorn is in an exact square to her mother Tip’s Mars–Uranus at 13° Aries. Most importantly, it conjoins Tip’s Saturn at 11° Capricorn. Without the softening influence of Neptune, one could imagine a child demanding answers now, hungry for certainty, and perhaps in competition for the role of authority. In addition, Teresa’s Moon is square Tip’s, an aspect that creates recurring emotional friction when two people live together, as though they fall regularly “out of tune.” As Teresa got older, her relationship with her mother improved, and she functioned as a co-parent to her younger twin sisters. “I was the Father,” she says. Her brother Ted has Mars at 15° Libra, and he played the role of balance for Tip — 15° Libra is the missing leg of his mother’s cardinal t-square. Often when a planet falls on the empty leg of another’s t-square, it can help to integrate or stabilize that pattern for the other. Ted seems to have been his mother’s substitute partner, replacing her husband — a not uncommon pattern for someone with a 7th-house Moon.
Teresa’s twin sisters, Carol and Cath, had each other, as twins do, so in some ways Teresa was the odd woman out. The twins have Mars in Aries in the 7th house, which can easily be projected onto others, either as strength or anger and sometimes both. The two are often at loggerheads and seem to naturally polarize. They also have relationship- loving Libra on the Ascendant. Carol is married to a wealthy man who takes good care of her; she has chosen a husband who successfully acts out her powerful Mars. Her sister Cath divorced ten years ago. Her ex is a barrister who has managed to avoid paying support for their children. Her Mars is acted out in the law courts, a field of battle where she is at war, and she blames others for her difficulties, all while asking her sisters for emotional support. Both Teresa and Carol have noticed that when Cath comes to visit, she likes to be taken care of. Cath has repeated her mother’s difficulties, doubly fueled by the abandonment by both her father and her husband. However, Carol has found a way to keep a man on her side. The twins have Saturn in Capricorn, like their mother, and are still carrying her Mars–Saturn square at an 8° orb.
Teresa’s son Noah has difficulty expressing his anger; as a child he would often close in on himself. This was so frustrating for all of them that, when he was ten, Teresa agreed to her husband’s request to take Noah to live with him. Noah’s sister Jen is a fiery Aries rising, with an Aries Sun and Mercury in the 1st house. While she and her mother clashed, Teresa finds it easier dealing with someone who can stand up to her and who isn’t frightened by a clear expression of feeling. Noah, with his Neptune rising in wide opposition to Mars, must have practiced avoiding the full blast of his admirable mother’s (and sister’s) attention. It is fascinating that he needed to be initiated into anger by his father, given his parents’ volcanic marriage. He came home to his mother after six months but left for good when he was 15. Natally, Neptune also opposes a retrograde Mercury. Clearly, Teresa and her son had very different communication styles.
Family J, Part II: A Mercury–Neptune Thread
Teresa’s family is full of Mercury– Neptune aspects: Her brother Ted has the conjunction, her mother Tip had an angular Mercury–Neptune square, her daughter Jen has a trine, as do her twin sisters. Teresa found herself with a son (Noah) whose communication style was similar to her mother’s. And Teresa believes that her mother’s early death from bowel cancer (at age 56) had to do in part with her inability to express profound feelings. Tip had grown up the daughter of pub owners, with an alcoholic mother; difficulties around communicating feelings are often found in the children of alcoholics. Teresa does have a minor aspect between Mercury and Neptune: a quintile (72°). This is reflected in her creativity. She trained as an artist and still works with color, form, and symbol. The artistic theme runs through the family: Tip was a teacher in visual arts and art history, Jen also trained as an artist, while Noah is a chef.
The more I looked at Teresa’s family, the stronger Neptune seemed. This woman is indeed independent and energetic, but she is also a dreamer — an intuitive who lives near the sea in a mystical environment. Neptune squares both her Moon and her Sun (the latter out of sign). Her mother had Neptune in the 1st house squaring Mercury. The Neptune emphasis is found in each member of the family: Teresa’s sisters Carol and Cath have Neptune in a sesquiquadrate (135°) to the Sun. Her brother Ted has the Moon square Neptune (out of sign), her son Noah has Neptune rising, and her daughter Jen has a fire grand trine between the Moon, Neptune, and Mercury, which brings in the Sun. Emotional and physical abandonment runs strong as an undercurrent, seen and not seen.
The Neptune thread continues into the next generation. Teresa’s three grandchildren all have strong Sun–Neptune aspects. Edie has the Sun square Neptune (out of sign), and her sister Kayla has the Sun conjunct Neptune and Chiron. As this kind of signature suggests, their father James has had serious problems with alcohol, as well as being a gifted artist (an echo of Tip’s origins). Sadly, Kayla has recently been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. It’s clear that she will need a redoubling of care and attention, which may very well serve to pull her parents into a closer relationship.
Noah’s son, Cole (Teresa’s youngest grandchild), has the Sun square Neptune with Mercury in trine. (See Chart 5, previous page.) He was born with his Sun at one degree from his father’s Mars at 14° Gemini. He will be expressing his father’s desires, drives, and aspirations either consciously or unconsciously. Like his great grandmother Tip, Cole was born with Uranus square Pluto, as part of a cardinal t-square. In his case, though, Saturn is not involved; instead, Uranus opposes Mars, making a more volatile yet oddly similar cardinal t-square. Cole’s Mars is not conjunct Uranus in Aries but rather is in detriment in quiet Libra. His great grandmother Tip left Australia when Uranus in Libra activated the empty space of her t-square during her Uranus opposition. She came back, with regret, after twoand- a-half years to take care of an ailing father. In Cole, the breakout pattern returns, along with an angular Saturn and his grandmother Teresa’s Aquarius Ascendant. Although he is still a toddler, it is clear from his chart that he brings in much of the daring and even more of the dreaming of previous generations.
In these family patterns, we see that each individual is part of something larger. The disappearance of a partner has a different resonance in each of the three generations. Every member of the family tries to feel his or her way through an impasse, using creativity to bridge the divide between words and feelings. They search for solutions, each in their own style, accumulating gifts along the way. And so do all of us, carrying both our own tasks and those of previous generations.
Chart Data and Sources All birth data are confidential, but their sources are mother’s memory, birth certificates, and other written records.
Note 1. The Black Moon is the empty focal point in the Moon’s orbit and is zodiacally the same as the Moon’s apogee. I am using the Mean position of Black Moon Lilith. For more information, see http://www.astro.com/astrology/in_lilith_e.htm
© 2016 Lynn Bell – all rights reserved