Astro Riff: Marie Curie

Photo: Title Unknown, Tekniska museet [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Title Unknown, Tekniska museet [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

When I was a kid, I loved to read biographies. One of my favorites was a tiny book about Marie Curie, a scientist famous for her work with radioactive elements. I was reminded of it recently when I stumbled on an article that talked about how her papers are radioactive and will be for another 1500 years. I've never been particularly interested in particle physics, but Curie has always been like a super hero to me because of her extraordinary powers of concentration.

Even as a child, she was known for her ability to focus on things that interested her. One afternoon while she was reading, some children decided to test it by sneaking into the room where she was reading, gathering up all of the chairs, and piling them up behind her. The whole time they were doing this, she didn't look up from her book, so they tried to get her attention by knocking them down. Still, she didn't seem to notice. Some time later, she finished what she was reading, got up, and noticed the missing furniture. Only then, by seeing the evidence, did she know what they had done. 

Thinking of this story, I wondered what it was that made her driven at such a young age and if it would be reflected in her birth chart.  

Marie Curie had a Scorpio Sun in the 9th House, a Pisces Moon in the 2nd House, and her ascendant was in Capricorn with Jupiter in Aquarius in the 1st House. This arrangement indicates great genius, a penetrating mind with a desire to understand the principles of the universe and an appreciation for its potential, beauty, and poetry. She loved the glow of the radioactive specimens she kept around her lab, saying they looked like fairy lights. 

A configuration like this might have had the potential to make her too cosmic for the tedious practical work required to extract tiny amounts of radioactive material from tons of rock, but any temptation she would have had toward over-abstraction would have been tempered by Capricorn's saturnine pragmatism. It was as if her ascendant was a lead shield protecting her from being bombarded by the power of her own vision. 

This arrangement alone does a lot to explain her ability to focus. Scorpio is mercilessly introspective, Pisces naturally mediates, and Capricorn is famously driven. But as an evolutionary astrologer, I couldn't let this chart go without looking at the nodes.

Curie's south node was in Pisces in the 2nd House, close to her Moon but not close enough for a conjunction. Since the south node corresponds to habits that create difficulty for us, my theory that her relationship with Pisces had the potential to create difficulty for her has added weight. The 2nd House is about resources, especially self-esteem. With Neptune, the ruler of Pisces, in Aries, I would have expected to see her struggle to manifest her potential in the world. As a woman working in the early 20th century, she did struggle. Her career is a cornucopia of firsts including two Nobel prizes. In spite of enormous effort and success, it was years after her death before her legacy emerged from the shadow of her genius husband (Uranus in the 7th House) and collaborator. 

So, what was she here to do? Her north node was in 8th House Virgo, which meant that she was here to learn to be grounded and empowered. She had a deep desire for useful work and to contribute to the world, and she needed to learn to value her own intelligence.

With Mercury, the ruler of Virgo, in the 10th House and square her nodes, it wasn't enough that she do all of these things privately and for herself. Visibility was important. After the relentless and public assault on her intelligence that she suffered as a woman scientist, she needed to succeed publicly. She needed to glow like the elements she loved. 

This is where her chart becomes so extraordinary. If you were Marie Curie, and you had been bombarded time and time again by assaults to your intelligence, and you had that Capricorn ability to put your horns down and charge through it, what would you do? You'd go, well, nuclear, right? You'd put everything you had into making sure that challenge was met and defeated once and for all. 

And she did.

If you use Placidus like I do, her 10th House is tiny, only 19 degrees wide. Yet, she has four planets stuffed in there. In my drawing of the chart, that house is so full, the software had to create a second row to fit them all. Mercury is there just like you would expect. Mars is there to add energy and passion and fight. Saturn is there--just in case Capricorn wasn't strong enough on its own--to add weight and urgency and grounding and purpose.

That's a powerhouse trifecta, but hanging out in that second row is Venus, an elegant refusal to pursue success at any cost, a refusal to keep beauty and aesthetics and femininity and relationship locked away in some dark corner of her chart. She met difficulty and succeeded, and she did it as a woman who saw fairy dust in bomb parts.

It seems almost inevitable, then, that when they named an asteroid for her (Curie, #7000) it would end up in her chart in Libra and the 8th House, the sign that swings in the balance between light and dark, an artist seeking power in the house of death.