Astro Riffs is an astrology series in which I look at the birth charts of famous dead people and talk about what I find interesting.
As a child growing up in New England, Emerson was one of those names that loomed like a bronze monument over the intellectual landscape, but whenever I asked most people who he was, they'd mutter something about Transcendentalists, and when I asked them about Transcendentalists, they'd sigh and look at the sky and say, "Something, something, Eastern religion. Something something Beetles."
It wasn't until I was in college that I could tell you anything more about him than that he was a friend of Thoreau, and it wasn't until graduate school that I finally sat down and read the essay that he's most famous for: "Self Reliance."
If you haven't read "Self Reliance," it's kind of the 19th Century essay equivalent of The Catcher in the Rye. If you can get past the uncomfortable-straight-back-chair language, it's exactly the kind of declaration of independence teenagers are hungry for. It's full of gems like, "To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius." And, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." Reading it as an adult made me giggle maniacally, and then I was quiet and pensive for three days, wondering what happened to my revolutionary spark and where all the time had gone.
So, what does the chart of Ralph Waldo Emerson look like?
Because I first scan birth charts from top to bottom, the first thing that stuck out to me about Emerson's chart was his Moon and Mars and South Node in 10th House Leo. In this case, I hit on the most interesting part of his chart right away.
Emerson had a history of having a regal public presence. He was comfortable there, and he had drive to stay there. It's no wonder, then, that the pulpit of his church--Did I mention that Emerson was a pastor?--wasn't enough for him. He wanted to be famous. Bolstered by that Sun and Mercury in Gemini, he became a famous orator.
But what does he talk about? The Sun is in the 8th House and Mercury is in the 9th, dividing that Mercurial curiosity and loquaciousness between the house of mysticism and the house of philosophy and religion.
He was a pastor and a mystic, curious, regal, articulate. All of this is in his chart. While there are a few tense aspects, Emerson seems to have constructed a persona that comfortably integrates the major aspects of his chart.
But it's my experience that lasting words don't often come without inner conflict, so is there anything in Emerson's chart to explain the long shadow of "Self Reliance?"
Looking at that South Node in Aquarius sheds some light on the situation. Aquarius is the sign of the genius and revolutionary. (Note how I pulled a quote that used the word "genius" back up at the top? That's because I'm writing from an outline.) His North Node is in the 4th House, which means that he would have been drawn to leave the spotlight and focus on developing his own inner genius. I would imagine Emerson being pulled between that 10th House in Leo, the drive to be famous and adored and wonderful in public, and the 4th House Aquarian drive to be his own person, think his own thoughts, quiet, meditative, exploring the depths of his consciousness.
We see that in his biography: Running away to Europe to hang out with the Romantics, studying Hinduism when barely anyone else in America knew what it was, the Transcendentalism.
Is it any wonder that a man like this continues to roar about self reliance down the corridors of history over a hundred years after he died?
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