Environmentalism, Yesterday and Today
We’ve seen this before and we’re seeing it now. Based on current scientific studies, a well-known public figure or group of specialists inform the American public about environmental impacts and health hazards of some feature of our standard “American way of life”. Are we talking about fossil fuels and climate change or tobacco or the diminishing ozone layer or processed food? No, back in the early 1960’s it was our use of pesticides.
What happened next is predictable: books fly off the shelf and in this case the book’s author becomes a household name. An opposition is organized, headed and funded by large corporations who stand the most to lose. The author is disparaged and ridiculed as an unqualified “spinster” (code for lesbian), a secret left-winger, a bitter person out to compromise the American way of life. Aided by their team of paid scientists, favored opinion leaders and politicians, the opposition gains the upper hand for a while. Yet, stimulated by an increasingly informed and concerned public, federal and state governments begin to fulfill their responsibility to monitor and regulate, and eventually – and incrementally – things begin to change.
Who Is Rachel Carson?
As early as 1945 Rachel Carson had become concerned about the environmental impact of various chemicals that were being used as pesticides, although there were clear advantages of these chemicals for eliminating disease-causing insects and for increasing agricultural production. She had then written a short article that was rejected by Readers’ Digest. Many years later, after she had become a best-selling author and spokesperson for the global world of nature, her attention turned back to the subject of pesticides and their environmental and heath impact.
This culminated in the book-length Silent Spring that was published in the autumn of 1962 after being serialized in the New Yorker. Although her work was controversial when it came out, it led to public awareness that led to further research, confirmation of her findings, and eventually a ban on DDT. Many years after her death merely eighteen months after Silent Spring was published, she won the battle.
In my view Rachel Carson also won the war. Her work was the first sustained message of environmentalism¸ the doctrine that human activity impacts the environment and public institutions need to accept responsibility for this. It brought forth a vision of nature as interconnection and that humanity is part of that interconnection, not superior to it. Since the publication of Silent Spring, environmentalism has been no longer just about conserving tracts of nature but has become a vision of the entire planet. Carson’s work started this and her influence will persist well into the future.
Carson’s Natal Astrology – The Inner Planets
Carson’s exact birth time is unknown we simply know “early morning”. I have taken the liberty of “rectifying” her chart to 2:15 AM that gives her an Aries Ascendant. Even with an uncertain time I will begin with the Ascendant and its ruler. Is the ruler of her Ascendant Jupiter in Cancer conjunct Neptune or is it Mars in Capricorn? My sense is that her strong self-discipline and ability to outlast adversity is more like Mars in Capricorn – her life was one of focused determination, much like Mars exalted in Capricorn. (Her Jupiter-Neptune combination plays itself out in other ways, as we’ll see below.)
It’s hard to imagine Mars in a stronger condition than in her chart. We can begin with it’s being in the Tenth place of career. Except for that of the Ascendant, the Tenth is the strongest place in the natal chart and Mars is further enhanced.
Mars being in dignity is further augmented by it being fully in sect – a nocturnal planet in a “feminine” sign and on the other side of the horizon as the Sun. How does Mars’s exaltation in Capricorn and in sect play itself out?
Since this planet’s problem is that often it has more energy and aggressiveness than situations require, being placed in saturnine Capricorn gives Mars given something to do, an agenda to fulfill, and can relate productively to its environment. As a nocturnal planet so well placed in her chart, she managed to embark on a successful writing career through many financial and family pressures; she also finished Silent Spring as she was suffering from cancer and, weakened as she was, she persisted.
Carson was from a poor but educated family and wanted to be a writer from an early age; she was supported financially by scholarships through college and graduate school. As a young adult, her new interest in biology gave her something to write about. Carson was a meticulous writer and held her publishers to the same high standards she held for herself. As ruler of her Ascendant, focused and ambitious Mars governed her external personality: she could present herself as competent but not particularly warm or easy to charm. Don’t bother trying to flatter her.
Mars is loosely conjunct Uranus, giving her an ability to stand outside the social and cultural mainstream. I don’t sense that Carson thought of herself as a pioneer, instead she took her work seriously and went where it led her. In her case Uranus-Mars (in Capricorn) would signify her determined and headstrong nature, but not that of a firebrand.
Moon is in early Sagittarius, a placement that probably kept her upbeat and hopeful regardless of career, personal, and public obstacles and reversals. Moon is applying to Sun conjunct Mercury in Gemini. Mercury in its own sign and is dispositor for her Sun. She was clearly a quick study and a quick mind, with an eye for detail and an awareness of the larger dimensions of her work.
Her independence of mind is amplified by her Lot of Spirit in Virgo. The Lot of Spirit, signifying the range of choices and independent initiative in life, is governed by Mercury in Gemini. Additionally, Mercury, Sun and Moon are all in places angular to this Lot – Sun and Mercury in Gemini are in the Tenth House from Spirit, Moon in Sagittarius in the Fourth. Her independence was not for its own sake by is the product of a pliable intellect and confidence in her own intelligence.
The Outer Planets and Environmentalism
Carson’s Jupiter/Neptune conjunction in Cancer opposes Uranus in Pisces. This general configuration is slightly more personal by Jupiter being dispositor for her Moon in Sagittarius.
It’s easy to see her environmental vision embodied in a Jupiter-Neptune combination in Cancer. Jupiter is exalted in Cancer, giving Jupiter a more personal and compassionate nature; Neptune universalizes and makes cosmic. Carson’s first encounter with the ocean as a young adult was a life-changing and, one could say, a mystical experience for her. It launched many articles and two book-length works before Silent Spring.
There is more, and here we bring in modern techniques for chart analysis to see this configuration more clearly, especially the role of her Sun.
Noting that her Ascendant is the midpoint of Uranus and Neptune, we could call its strongest manifestation that of being a “visionary agent of change”, or that she would be part of forces far larger than her that could signify the meaning of her life. Looking across the MC/IC axis at Pluto, we see that the midpoint of Jupiter/Pluto and of Neptune/Pluto is her Midheaven. This helps give these a transformative planetary context and a personal one.
For even more about Jupiter-Neptune let’s note some planetary distances: Jupiter and Neptune are thirty-six degrees from the Sun and Pluto is in between, eighteen degrees from both positions. This is relevant because eighteen and thirty-six are divisors of seventy-two, the number of conjunctions in a Fifth Harmonic chart – they divide the circle by five. Bringing these numbers together in Carson’s chart, we see that is a T-Square connecting Jupiter/Neptune with Sun and Pluto! The Fifth Harmonic chart forms a portrait of a person’s individual skills and intellectual strengths, as well as possible obsessions. Carson would appear to be an ordinary person if you met her on the street or in the library, yet her astrology points to an extraordinary talent and a unique connection with history.
Saturn and Venus
These two planets appear not to be doing much, since neither has major aspects. Yet Venus in the ruler of her Seventh House of relationships and it is dignified in Taurus. Carson never married and may have gone on one date in her life, yet she had a strong loving friendship with a woman who she met when she moved to Southport Maine, and most of their communication was at a distance, yet Dorothy Freeman was at her bedside when Carson died in 1964.
Saturn is in the Twelfth House that is traditionally that planet’s house joy, mostly because it’s cadent from the Ascendant. Although her strong Mars in Capricorn gives a sufficient amount of Saturn in her life, I add to that the possibility that Saturn is symmetrical to her Ascendant, the midpoint between Saturn and the Ascendant being the Aries-Libra axis itself. Since Carson seemed to have many of the virtuous qualities of Saturn – patience, humility, hard work, contemplation – placing these two positions symmetrically may be appropriate. Of course, this simply my speculation.
Now we begin to use astrology’s predictive indicators in retrospect to better understand the events toward the end of her life. Here we compare a variety of indicators, traditional and modern.
Prelude to 1962
We begin with Carson’s secondary progressions that move the chart one day of calendar time for each day of a person’s life, with the progressed Ascendant and Midheaven moving about a degree a day. (There are different ways to measuring the movements of these points.) We mostly look at planets changing signs, changing directions, and (progressed to progressed) aspects becoming exact. Secondary progressions do not present us with discrete events as much as phase shifts that gradually manifest in a person’s life.
Except sometimes. In 1951 Carson had a progressed New Moon at 17 Cancer, an eclipse. A few months beforehand, the New Yorker magazine began a serialization of her upcoming The Sea Around Us that later became a best seller and won its author a National Book Award. Alongside a revival of her first book Carson could now afford to build her own home on the coast of Maine and soon met Dorothy Freeman. This progressed New Moon had a specific event alongside but one that would carry into the next several years of her life.
Fast-forward seven years and her progressed First Quarter Moon was in September 1959, following the Sun in conjunction with Jupiter by progression and Mars conjunct Uranus. It was during this time that Carson’s consuming interest turned toward the effects of pesticides and she began investigating scientific studies and beginning Silent Spring. These progressions tell us, respectively, about a decisive shift of focus, her beginning articulation of environmentalism, and her first jousts with the institutional and corporate opposition.
Now for something truly amazing. Astrologers are used to “the rule of three” – three thematically-related indications across different predictive techniques to give a forecast with certainty. For Rachel Carson in 1962 we have a rare duplication of symbols across methods.
1962 Solar Arc Directions
Solar Arc directions, used more for predicting discrete events, takes the distance of the progressed Sun from the natal Sun – the “solar arc” – and moves all positions according to that number regardless of natural motion in the sky. Since the Sun moves 360 degrees in 365.25 days, the progressed Sun’s motion will be slightly less than one degree a year. The directed planets will always have the same distances to one another but will form conjunctions, squares, and oppositions to natal positions.
Carson’s chart has a very close opposition between Uranus in Capricorn and Jupiter in Cancer. In Carson’s fifty-sixth year of life – in 1962 – those positions will have moved about fifty-four degrees. We cast a solar arc chart for that time, put it around the natal chart, and voila, this opposition between Jupiter and Uranus closely squares her natal Sun.
How this happen? Look once more at Carson’s natal positions and remember that Sun is about thirty-six degrees from Jupiter. An additional fifty-four years later, relating to the Sun’s progressed arc in 1962, gives us ninety degrees! Looking at the other side, if you add the same number to Uranus’ position at twelve Capricorn you are now at four Pisces, exactly ninety degrees from the natal Sun.
The interpretation is easy – Uranus is about the unusual or innovative or rebellious, Jupiter about the larger picture, and the natal Sun about one’s conscious purposes in life. By this time Carson was a person of considerable importance in the United States and an unwitting rebel with a noble cause.
Unfortunately, her health began to get worse through the following year. Solar arc Neptune was in square to her natal Sun in the autumn of 1963. Although we sometimes rhapsodize about Neptune’s spiritual possibilities, this planet also weakens the body.
Hold Jupiter-Uranus in mind and we’ll look at her transits.
1962 Transits: Here Comes the Weird Part
Her transits from mid-1962 shows Jupiter transiting early Pisces in square to natal Moon in Sagittarius and then natal Sun in Gemini; the latter transit was close to exact when Silent Spring appeared in the bookstores. During this time Uranus in Virgo was also in square to Jupiter. Once again transiting Jupiter and Uranus were in square to her Sun, this time by their natural motion in the sky interacting with her natal Sun position. Solar arc directions and transits are the same!
Here’s what I just wrote from her solar arcs: Uranus is about the unusual or innovative or rebellious, Jupiter about the larger picture, and the natal Sun about one’s conscious purposes in life. When we have such an example in an astrological department of redundancy department (thanks Firesign Theater) we know we’re onto something important and unique.
There’s even more: transiting Pluto was closing in on a square to Mercury, possibly increasing the effectiveness of her thinking and communication, perhaps bringing her to the darker side of American political discourse.
Let’s Go Traditional
The ancient style of profections – advancements — is to move everything one sign per year of life without subdividing it into degrees. If you’ve worked with rotational systems in Chinese or Tibetan astrology, this should be familiar to you.
Her profections for her fifty-sixth year, beginning at her birthday in 1962, moves everything eight signs or zoidia (fifty-six minutes the next lower multiple of twelve, forty-eight, gives us eight.) and for Gemini rising it is Scorpio.
This brings her Sun and Mercury into the Tenth place, that of career and governed by an exalted Mars in Capricorn. Interestingly, advancing the Midheaven and Mars brings Capricorn to her natal the Fifth House Leo – governed by Sun.
There’s another way to work with profections, focusing on the profected ruler of the Ascendant in the solar return chart for a year. Set for Southport, Maine, Mars in Aries is conjunct the Midheaven and is the planet culminating, depicting one’s personal relationship with the larger world.
Decennials, rotating not signs but planets within years (general periods) and months (specific periods), give us Mercury/Jupiter for this time. The second planet being more important for predictive purposes, one would note that Jupiter is angular and exalted. When Carson died, Jupiter had given off to Moon, which would emphasize more matters of the body.
The US government banned DDT in 1974 although others continued to be used, and the struggle continues to this day. Her posthumous recognitions give us a sense of her continuing impact.
In 1980, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom; postage stamps have borne her portrait and there’s a bridge named after her in Pittsburgh near her birthplace. There are conservation areas and the large auditorium of the Environmental Protection Agency’s building bears her name. In Norway, there’s a prize for women scientists named after her. This is but a beginning.
However her most important legacy does not carry her name. It is the idea and cause of environmentalism, the recognition of the interdependence of all forms of life on this planet and that human beings have a great responsibility not to violate life on this planet. Regardless of bad politicians, insidious special interest propaganda, and temporary setbacks, her thinking is here to stay.