Christopher Nolan’s Inception

Another film that got a lot of attention this past year is Christopher Nolan’s Inception. The film is nominated for the Best-Picture Oscar, and today the Writers Guild Awards gave Nolan the award for best original screenplay. I loved the film, and I thought it was one of the most inventive movies that I have seen in a long time. I also hugely enjoyed watching the film from an archetypal perspective. I knew going into the movie that Nolan was born with a Mercury-Saturn-Neptune t-square, and it was remarkable to see how many different ways that that the film is an expression of that archetypal combination.

Inception is the science fiction story of a character named Cobb (played by Leonardo Dicaprio) whose job it is to use a form of consciousness technology to illicitly enter into another person’s dreams and then steal valuable information that is revealed in the dream-state. The film opens with Cobb attempting one of these dream-heists, but with him failing in the attempt. The person who Cobb tries to steal from (Saito, played by Ken Watanabe) turns the tables on him and then offers him another job. Instead of trying to steal information, this time Cobb is now tasked with inception: the implanting of an idea within the dream-mind of another person. Saito hopes to perform the inception so he can manipulate his victim for business purposes. This is an incredibly difficult job, but Cobb ultimately accepts it because the reward he is offered would allow him to return home from his criminal’s life on the run, and allow him to be reunited with his children.
As the story unfolds we discover that both Cobb and his wife Mal (played by Marion Cotillard) had become deeply engaged with the dream technology, and at a certain point they got trapped in a kind of dream-limbo that it took years (of dream-time) to escape from. They got so lost in the technology that they ultimately struggled to stay in touch with reality. Even when they were no longer trapped in the dream-world, Mal became convinced that they were still dreaming, and she concluded that the only way to wake up to reality was to kill herself (in what she felt was still dream consciousness). And so the film is pervaded with the profound grief of Cobb’s character who has tragically lost his wife to this technology, and is now separated from his children. I will assume from here on that everyone who is reading this has seen the film, and I won’t say anything more except that by the end of the film all of the above exposition is thrown into question, and the viewer is left feeling very much like Cobb and Mal in limbo, questioning what was real, and what was a dream.
This film is obviously very Neptunian, and we would expect the filmmaker to have significant Neptune aspects. Neptune, of course, is the planet that rules dreams, and it is Neptune that is the god who is present at the moment we drift from waking consciousness into sleep and dreaming consciousness. Neptune also rules consciousness itself, and it relates to altered-states and experiences of confusion and disorientation. In this case, Christopher Nolan has a t-square of Mercury, Saturn, and Neptune, and in this piece I want to especially explore both the Mercury-Neptune square that he is born with, and his Saturn-Neptune opposition.
I associate both the Mercury-Neptune archetype and the Saturn-Neptune archetype with people who regularly do dream-work of different sorts. You see Mercury-Neptune in the charts of people who like to write (Mercury) down their dreams (Neptune), and who are looking to find a communication (Mercury) from their unconscious mind within the dream (Neptune). In this film the Mercury-Neptune fits both the use of the dream technology (Neptune) to steal valuable information (Mercury), as well as the process of inception where an idea (Mercury) is planted inside the mind of the dreamer (Neptune).
Saturn-Neptune is associated with dream-work for different reasons. Saturn is the principle that has to do with discipline and hard-work, and so you see it in people who are disciplined with a dream practice, and who work hard to bring their dreams (Neptune) back into waking reality (Saturn). Thus the Saturn-Neptune archetype has something to do with the hard work of integrating dream messages into our everyday waking consciousness. In the film, Saturn-Neptune is consistent with the main character’s attempt at mastery (Saturn) over their own dreams, and the dreams of their target.
There are many other Saturn-Neptune motifs that are present in the film as well. The whole struggle with the nature of reality that is central to the film is a classic expression of the archetype. I’ve often heard Rick Tarnas refer to this combination as the “Is it real or isn’t it?” archetype. Saturn can be seen as the reality principle, and Neptune can be confusion, illusion, or delusion, and often when the two are in hard aspect you will get people who have moments where they struggle to stay in touch with reality. Thus it is an archetype that sometimes can relate to madness or grappling with insanity, and we see several characters in the film struggling to stay in touch with reality.
Saturn-Neptune also has a lot to do with grief and melancholy, and you often see it present when there is a significant mourning process (consider Elisabeth Kubler-Ross who is born with a Saturn-Neptune square and who wrote extensively about the grief process). In extreme cases, Saturn-Neptune is also an archetype that seems to relate to suicidality, or with people whose cosnciousness (Neptune) is consumed with death (Saturn). In this film we have characters who utilize death as a way to escape from their dreams, but in the case of Mal we have someone who is confused, and thinking she is still trapped in a dream, accidentally takes her own life.
Saturn-Neptune is also associated with illness and infectious diseases, and one of the great archetypal quotes that I love from this film is when Dicaprio’s character asks “What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient…highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate.” Saturn-Neptune is the infectious parasite, and with Mercury it is the idea that is infectious.
Saturn-Neptune also really fits the whole theme of dream-building in the film, where Saturn brings the architectural dimension to the dream landscapes that the characters have to construct in advance of their mission. It is also the archetype of sleep-problems, insomnia (note that one of Nolan’s previous films is titled Insomnia), nightmares, and the potential for becoming trapped (Saturn) in a dream state.
Another film that is archetypally similar to Inception is the 1998 Alex Proyas film Dark City. It is another case where you have characters struggling with the nature of reality and who have their consciousness manipulated while sleeping. It is directed by Proyas who is born in 1963 with Saturn square Neptune, and is released in 1998 under the next collective Saturn square Neptune (The Matrix also has some similar motifs and comes out under that same alignment in 1999). Note that there was a tight (within 2 degrees) collective Saturn-Neptune quincunx in the sky when Inception was released last July.
Mercury-Neptune is an archetype that has a big potential for mental (Mercury) confusion (Neptune), and this is a theme that is clearly explored here in this film (and also explored to great effect in Nolan’s earlier film Memento). Mental confusion is also a state of consciousness that many film viewers experienced both during and after watching the film. The film is so multi-layered (and the dreams are so multi-layered) that the viewer must struggle to keep track of what is happening. And thus the film induces in the viewer the feeling of the Mercury-Saturn-Neptune energy that Christopher Nolan is born with. Also consider how difficult (Mercury-Saturn) it must have been for Nolan to write this incredibly complex screenplay. I’ve heard that he had to construct diagrams (like the characters in the film) to keep track of all of the multi-levels of the dream realities in order to make sure all the puzzle pieces fit together.
The film is radically ambiguous, and many different interpretations are possible. It is conceivable, for example, that it is actually Dicaprio’s character who is the recipient of the inception process, and it is he who is being manipulated in the dream landscape from the very beginning of the film. But there is not a definitive interpretation, and like the nature of the poetic Mercury-Neptune archetype, we are left in a dreamy state of reflection in the end. Thus, the film performs a kind of inception on the viewer, and like the characters in the film we are left asking ourselves: what is the nature of reality, and are we currently awake, or are we dreaming?
Christopher Nolan birth data is from Wikipedia, no birth time, so chart is cast for noon.

The Word-Play of Edward Lear

Today I found a blog post written by Roger Ebert on the anniversary of Edward Lear’s death, and it peaked my archetypal interest about this man. I wasn’t that familiar with Lear’s work, but as I read more I saw that he is most famous for writing the children’s poem The Owl and the Pussycat, which I remember loving as a young boy, and that he popularized the limerick form of poetry in the 1800s. He delighted in made-up words, puns and word- play, and became known for his absurdist sense of humor. His first collection of limericks was called A Book of Nonsense.

All of this started to set off archetypal alarm bells for me. These are all classic symptoms of the Mercury-Uranus archetype. And when I looked up Lear’s chart I was pleased to find that he was born with Mercury in a tight opposition to his natal Uranus (and also configured with his Sun, which fits his really shining with the energy and being famous for it).
Mercury of course relates to language, words, and communication generally, and Uranus is the principle of invention, playfulness, the unexpected, the trickster. When people are born with Mercury and Uranus in major aspects you often get people who, like Lear, have a gift for language, a quick wit, a capacity for inventing new words. Rick Tarnas gives many examples of people born with Mercury-Uranus aspects in his book Prometheus the Awakener: Oscar Wilde, James Hillman, e.e.cummings, and John Updike, amongst many others, all famous for their inventive use of language.
I particularly like the case of Anthony Burgess (born with Mercury conjunct Uranus), who wrote A Clockwork Orange. Burgess invented an entire slang language for that book, called Nadsat, with words and phrases like “droog,” “gulliver,” and “the old in-out.” Another great example is radio broadcaster Howard Stern (born with a tight Mercury-Uranus opposition) who is famous for his quick-wit and trickster-rebel use of language.

There was a Young Lady whose bonnet,


Came untied when the birds sate upon it;


But she said: ‘I don’t care!


All the birds in the air


Are welcome to sit on my bonnet!’



My experience as an archetypal astrologer was that I first had to learn a basic foundational understanding of each individual combination (Moon-Pluto, Mars-Neptune, Sun-Uranus, etc.), and I needed to have another astrologer who had already developed a sophisticated archetypal eye (for me this was Rick Tarnas) describe the astro-logic for each archetypal tendency (like with this case how Mercury-Uranus often correlates with word play and inventive use of language). But most importantly I needed to be shown many examples of famous individuals born with each combination in order to bring that archetype to life.

There was an Old Person whose habits,
Induced him to feed upon rabbits;
When he’d eaten eighteen,
He turned perfectly green,
Upon which he relinquished those habits.


The astro-logic is important, but once I was able to connect a particular archetype to a real-life example (whether to a famous person, or to someone I knew personally, or to my own lived experience of a transit or natal aspect) then the archetype began to become an embodied form of knowledge. With each new example I experience a form of “archetypal triangulation” where I can look at the archetype from multiple angles and vivify a deeper awareness. With each new embodied encounter with an astrological synchronicity my archetypal eye grows wider and I am able to see and recognize a particular archetype with greater clarity.

There was an Old Lady whose folly,


Induced her to sit on a holly;


Whereon by a thorn,


Her dress being torn,


She quickly became melancholy.

This example of Edward Lear now goes into my personal databank of experience with the Mercury-Uranus archetype, and every time I encounter that combination in the future I will be able to drawn upon a richer understanding. I will be able to remember the playful energy of The Owl and the Pussycat and the archetype will be alive in my consciousness.

Edward Lear’s birth data comes from Rodden’s Astrodatabank and is rated B data (the time comes from Lear’s own personal communication).
The three quoted poems, and the images with them are Lear’s, and are from his A Book of Nonsense, 1862.

Bill Keller Reveals the Behind-the-Scenes Wikileaks Drama

I read Bill Keller’s excellent essay “Dealing With Assange and the Secrets He Spilled” in the New York Times Magazine today. Keller is the executive editor of The Times, and he describes the behind-the-scenes process during the period they were reporting on the Wikileaks story this past year. It also addresses the aftermath of the reporting and readers response to the release of such sensitive information. The essay gave me great insight into the power and responsibility of the press, and is also a fun read about a very dramatic news story. Keller describes what it was like for The Times to work with Julian Assange during the reporting process, and it is great to read about the secretive dealings with this fascinating man. Keller writes about what it was like after the newspaper was first contacted by Assange and offered access to the Wikileaks documents:

The adventure that ensued over the next six months combined the cloak-and-dagger intrigue of handling a vast secret archive with the more mundane feat of sorting, searching and understanding a mountain of data. As if that were not complicated enough, the project also entailed a source who was elusive, manipulative and volatile (and ultimately openly hostile to The Times and The Guardian); an international cast of journalists; company lawyers committed to keeping us within the bounds of the law; and an array of government officials who sometimes seemed as if they couldn’t decide whether they wanted to engage us or arrest us. By the end of the year, the story of this wholesale security breach had outgrown the story of the actual contents of the secret documents and generated much breathless speculation that something — journalism, diplomacy, life as we know it — had profoundly changed forever.

What is cool for me as an astrologer is how this essay provides insight into different dimensions of the Mercury-Pluto archetype, and it is striking to find all of the Mercury-Pluto connections to the story. Keller himself is born with a Mercury-Pluto opposition (with Mars), and this is classic for someone who must make the ultimate decisions regarding the responsible use of the power (Pluto) of the press (Mercury). He is describing the role of journalism in a democracy and how newspapers provide the balance between the governments natural impulse to try to control and keep certain information secret, and the people’s right to know how the government is functioning.
He describes what he sees as a healthy natural struggle for the power over the free-flow of information. This is a classic Mercury-Pluto dynamic: the struggle over dangerous and powerful secret information. It is an archetype that seems to have a lot to do with spying (in the case of Keller’s essay, both the spying government, and the government being “spied-on” by Wikileaks), and I have often heard Rick Tarnas refer to the combination as “The Spy Thriller” archetype. You see the combo in the charts of many spy thriller novelists (like Ian Flemming who has the conjunction or John Le Carre who has the square). Interestingly, Keller describes Julian Assange (who has a tight Mercury-Pluto sextile) as being like a character from a Stieg Larsson novel, and Larsson is born with a Mercury-Pluto conjunction.
Keller’s essay basically explores the dialectic between the naturally secretive government, and the powerful press that helps correct for the potential misuse of government power. Keller quotes the Supreme Court ruling on the Pentagon Papers situation during the Vietnam War: “The government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people.”
But Keller also explores how the press can misuse their own power, and he describes the great lengths that the New York Times and other papers went to protect the lives of people who might have been harmed by the release of the Wikileaks documents. Mercury-Pluto is an archetype that often brings an initiation into the power of words and the power of information, and it has something to do with how that power can either be used nobly or irresponsibly. The Mercury-Pluto archetype relates to how dangerous the Wikileaks documents could be (dangerous for the US government, dangerous for The New York Times, dangerous for Julian Assange, but especially dangerous for people whose names were contained in the documents), and Keller explores just how damaging they could have been if they were mishandled.
The most recent Wikileaks drama unfolded when The Times and other papers released the diplomatic cables documents on November 27th, 2010. There was a Mercury-Pluto conjunction (with Mars) in the sky at the time, and the conjunction has been operative the whole time that the story has been big in the news. We have had a particularly long Mercury-Pluto conjunction these past couple of months (due to Mercury stationing and going retrograde when it was in an exact conjunction with Pluto), and it is only now starting to move out of orb as Keller is publishing this essay (which is part of a larger book that is about to be released). Thus we have a classic Mercury-Pluto drama which has unfolded under a collective conjunction in the sky, and which is being described and reported on by a man who is born with a Mercury-Puto opposition.
Bill Keller’s birth information comes from Wikipedia. No time of birth, so chart is cast for noon.

Louis CK’s Hilarious

Louis CK has become one of my favorite comedians, and last night I watched his excellent new concert film called Hilarious. One of the things that stands out about CK’s comedy is his material about the challenges of being a parent. He has two young daughters, and he is extremely funny when he talks about how difficult it is to be a good parent to them.

CK has a Moon-Mercury-Saturn T-square (we don’t know his birth time, but because the alignment is so precise at mid-day, we know it is an operative configuration the whole day that he was born), and this alignment comes through again and again in the themes and tenor of his comedy.
We see it in a generally existential tone to his work, with many jokes about death, aging, and a sense of life as being mostly filled with suffering and banality. This is particularly related to his Saturn-Moon square which, when problematic, can be the “Life Sucks and then you Die” archetype (Jean Paul Sartre is born with the conjunction). It has something to do with the Saturn-Moon’s tendency to meet hardship (Saturn) when trying to satisfy one’s emotional needs (Moon). Often people with Saturn-Moon will have faced significant deprivation (Saturn) in their childhood (Moon), and this can be such a powerful imprint that it forms a kind of poverty consciousness. Interestingly, this archetype can manifest in a totally opposite way (as is often the case with archetypes), and it is also the combination you see in very emotionally mature (Moon-Saturn) people who have worked very hard (Saturn) to learn how to get their emotional needs met, and are able to take responsibility for those needs (rather than blame the world for not meeting them). But I digress…back to CK’s comedy.
In one very funny bit we see CK describing a conversation he has with his seven-year-old daughter. His daughter asks him “Daddy will the Earth always go around the Sun forever?” And before he can catch himself he responds “Well no, at some point the Sun is going to explode.” This of course is very upsetting to her, and she starts crying. In an attempt to comfort her CK adds “Oh honey, this is not going to happen until you and everyone you know has been dead for a very long time.” This is not helpful, and CK realizes too late that he has traumatized his daughter with the confrontation with her own death, the eventual death of everyone she knows, and the eventual destruction of the Sun (CK’s Sun-Pluto conjunction).
Note the many Saturn-Moon themes: the child’s innocence lost, the child confronting death, the sad little girl, the failure to protect the child from the existential dimensions of life, the parent making mistakes. It is also clear in this bit as well as other parts of the film that CK takes his responsibility as a parent very seriously, and that he feels the burden of that responsibility as a great weight. This is all classic Saturn-Moon material. When it is more positive, Saturn-Moon can be the responsible committed parent archetype: the hard-working parent willing to endure great hardships to protect and provide for their children.
It is also classic that CK’s conversation with his daughter would happen when she is seven years old. Seven years is of course a Saturn cycle, with Saturn moving ninety degrees every seven years. And it is classic for confrontations with the more existential dimensions of life to happen in coincidence with the Saturn cycle. The first Saturn square natal Saturn transit occurs around age 6 or 7, and it is very typical for a child to have their first really serious confrontation with the existential dimensions of the adult world at that age. The Saturn cycle can bring the experience of “forced maturation,” and here we have a story of a little girl forced to grow up too fast.
Here is a great clip from one of CK’s previous comedy films where he again explores some of the challenges of being a parent. There are many examples of CK’s Saturn-Moon here, but at the end of the clip we can really see the full T-square with Mercury coming through. CK is trapped in a conversation (Mercury-Saturn) with his child who won’t stop asking him questions. Mercury-Saturn can be the negative thought loop, the being stuck in a constantly repeating phrase, the experience of being unable to solve an intellectual problem. In the course of answering her questions he makes reference to many Saturn-Moon themes: his being neglected by his own suffering parents, his parents lost youth, the fact that we are all alone in the universe, that no one cares about us, and the inability to solve the ultimate existential questions of life.
CK does a lot of comedy bits where he is making fun of his own stupidity or someone else’s, and Mercury-Saturn is the combination of critical self judgement about one’s intelligence. With the Moon, it really fits how he makes humor out of describing what he sees as the stupidity of young children (and his own stupidity as a parent). In his new film Hilarious he describes a fight he has with his daughter who insists that Fig Newtons are actually called “Pig Newtons,” and again he is trapped in a meaningless conversation with a child having a stupid argument.
If we combine the Moon with each of the other planetary archetypes we get all of the various dimensions of what it can be to be a parent. CK is particularly possessed by and focused on the Saturnian dimensions of parenthood: the challenges, the responsibilities, the existential hard realities, but of course, there are many other experiences that being a parent can bring. Parents with the Jupiter-Moon combination might be more aware of the joy laughter and emotional richness that comes with parenting. Someone else who has Uranus-Moon might be particularly aware of the unpredictability of children, their disruptiveness as well as their precocious trickster playfulness. The Neptune-Moon parent might be more aware of the spiritual connection that can exist between parent and child, the sensitivities of children, the boundary issues in families. The Pluto-Moon parent might be particularly focused on the power dynamics that can exist between parent and child, the shadow dynamics within families, as well as the primal intensity of love that drives the parent-child bond.
The gift that astrology, and the archetypal perspective generally, can bring is the awareness of when we are trapped in a limited archetypal perspective. We can come to realize that we are possessed by an archetype, and then we can do work to move beyond the limits of that particular god’s point of view. As we move towards wholeness we are able to appreciate the full range of the human experience, and not limit ourselves to the projections of one narrow perspective. We may be born with a particular alignment (like CK’s Saturn-Moon) that has a very strong hold on us, but as we work with that energy and integrate the fuller range of its potential, we are able to move beyond the possession state and own the fuller range of archetypal potential that exists within each of us.
Louis CK’s birth data found on Wikipedia (no time, noon chart).
I don’t know how long it will be there, but the film “Hilarious” is currently posted on YouTube.