Stephen Fry - light entertainer, national treasure, famous gay and guardian of our liberal values - has recently spoken of last year’s attempt (at least his 3rd) to kill himself.
And here is what he has said about astrology:
Astrology is absolutely and without reservationthe bullest of bullshit that ever there was… I hate astrology with a fervour that is almost frightening.
But first, a look at his chart. I easily find written chart interpretations boring, like a sort of worthy list, so I’ll try not to do that!
This is a midday chart (no birth time). He has Virgo Sun and Leo Moon. I have always put him down as a Libra Rising (with Venus-Jupiter in Libra close by) because of his pronounced charm and considerateness and general reasonableness and knowledge of culture. Also his tendency to put on weight! (Jupiter Rising/conj Venus). And his strong beliefs – as the above quote suggests – again suggestive of Jupiter Rising, or at least 1st House.
Early in his career Scorpio John Cleese (of Monty Python) said to Fry: “Politeness will be your downfall.” This is Libran.
Like Libra, Virgo Sun also has the self-effacing quality which is so noticeable in Fry. But also he has Leo Moon. Being the Moon, it is not so obvious in his manner, but he has managed to be in the limelight ever since he left university 30 years ago. So there is a hidden drive/need there.
Which we also see in Sun conjunct Mars/Pluto and square to Saturn. Beneath the urbanity and modesty (Virgo-Venus/Jupiter) this is a chart of a man with strong drives. Sun conjunct Mars gives an ability to know what he wants and to get it (a very masculine quality), while the square to Saturn means he wants to reach the top, to master what he does, and that however much he does, it will never feel like it is good enough.
Sun in Virgo is a self-critical sign, and if you add in the conjunction to Mars-Pluto and the square to Saturn, you have at worst an aggressive (Mars) self-hatred (Virgo-Pluto) based on self-doubt (Saturn/Pluto) that can be suicidal (Pluto).
Moon conjunct Uranus gives a separation from his feelings, an emotional instability, which is also the source of his original wit. This separation from his feelings, in the sense of what genuinely nourishes, is reflected in behaviour earlier in his career, where he used to stay up most of the night playing computer scrabble while consuming large quantities of vodka and cocaine – he says he did not realise at the time that this was not normal behaviour!
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I think Saturn in its square to the Sun is a bit of a key to Fry’s chart. Sun-Mars-Pluto in Virgo will usually tend to have troubles around self-hatred and disempowerment, and at best this stellium propels the individual into an inner journey of facing demons and finding deep resources within. Saturn at best can help with this journey, for Saturn is a guardian of solitude, he is the walls of the hermit’s cave.
But Saturn seems more naturally associated with the world, particularly in a society such as ours, where it is activity rather than contemplation which has the highest value.
With Sun square Saturn it is very hard not to think of oneself primarily in terms of one’s place in the world and to value oneself according to that place.
Fry is known for his relentless hard work which, in my opinion, is not associated with an artistic quest for depth, which could redeem him. Broadly speaking, he seems happy standing still: being the same sort of light entertainer over decades, and driving himself very hard at it.
Here is a guy who is unusually talented and cultured, but who I always feel is skimming over the surface of himself, avoiding depth both personally and artistically.
So I understand his Saturn as providing an escape route, through hard work and success, from his own demons. It is textbook, and as an astrologer you see it all the time. A classic example is the US, which also has Sun square to Saturn. Here we also see the almost overwhelming drive to work hard and ‘succeed’. But the inner dimension of its Cancerian Sun is hard for it to access: look, for example, at the struggle the US has had with healthcare, looking after its own people, in a way which in Europe we take for granted.
So in the case of Fry, as with many Sun square Saturns, the escape from oneself through work and reputation leaks. Others can see it. And in Fry’s case, it’s as if the whole enterprise is always threatening to collapse. As he said, he can be presenting the TV programme QI quite affably, while underneath he is feeling “I want to fucking die.”
About 7 years ago Stephen Fry made a 2 part Documentary in which he spoke about his manic depression, what is nowadays called bi-polar. He was very open about it, it was a moving documentary and I’m sure did a lot for people who suffer from the condition. He talked about the ‘mania’ on the one hand, how it was like being with the angels, he could stay up for nights and be tremendously productive and creative. And then the suicidal depression, looking at himself in the mirror and abusing himself verbally - piece of shit, cunt etc, that is what he calls himself. And he had one guy there (who had also tried to kill himself) saying that he wouldn’t want to give up his manic depression, because all the years of terrible despair are worth it just to experience those moments with the angels.
I wrote about it in one of my early blogs, and it was noticeable how Fry thought of his condition purely in bio-chemical terms. There is, it is said, something wrong with the chemistry of his brain that needs fixing. That may be the case, but it doesn’t exclude other ways of looking at it. Look at how much of his condition I was able to draw out of looking at his chart. Regardless of brain chemistry, there seems to be a dimension to this problem, involving escaping from his demons through work and reputation, that seems obvious from his life and his chart.
And from his transits. I know of 3 of his suicide attempts (for a Virgo, he doesn’t seem to be very good at it!) from when he was 17, 1995 and 2012. When he was 17, in 74-75, Neptune was between 6 and 10 Sagittarius, hard aspecting his Sun-Pluto-Mars-Saturn complex. In 1995, Pluto was entering Sagittarius, again making the same hard aspect. I’d been wondering since I wrote my last piece on Fry in 2006, what would happen when Neptune entered Pisces and again made a hard aspect to those planets, and then I read about his suicide attempt from last August.
So on each occasion of attempted suicide either Neptune or Pluto has been hard-aspecting Fry’s Sun-Pluto-Mars-Saturn, activating his ‘demons’ – if you like, a call to consciousness, a call to go into those depths. And each time it seems to have overwhelmed him.
Until he was in his late 30s, Fry used to describe himself as ‘asexual’. With Sun and Mars in Virgo, the virgin, a sign of celibacy and ‘purity’, this could have been for real, except for the square to Saturn, which suggests inhibition around his sexual drive (Mars). He seems to have been sort of gay all along, and the guy who played Robbie Ross to Fry’s Oscar in the 1997 film Wilde reckoned playing that part awoke Fry to his real nature – a film which in my opinion emphasised the sexual side of Wilde’s life at the expense of his artistic side. But the word ‘gay’ doesn’t seem to suit Fry, it’s a modern word and he’s kind of a not-quite-camp throwback who likes making dirty jokes about lubricants.
The sign of Virgo can be both restrained/inhibited and moral/moralising on the one hand and excessive/orgiastic on the other. (Virgos make great hypocrites!) Fry has both of those sides. Virgo is also a sign of health. And Fry has mental health issues in which he swings between depression and mania, in a way the 2 sides of Virgo.
Personally, I am ambivalent about the diagnosis ‘bi-polar’. There’s probably something in it, but I also think mainstream psychiatry is a pseudo-science that has been additionally corrupted by the profit-motive of the pharmaceutical industry. These diagnoses are a cover for the fact that psychiatrists don’t really know what is going on (but which some people nevertheless seem to wear like a badge), and into this cocktail of ignorance are mixed drugs whose chemical effects are far from understood, but which we are persuaded produce more acceptable behaviour.
As an astrologer, I’d suggest that Fry needs to find some way of being with his demons, understanding what’s behind them, and I know that would be far from easy, and I’m not sure I’d succeed myself if I was him. But the chemical approach of dampening it all down seems to me like the opposite of a solution, unless you see the problem in terms of correcting faulty brain chemistry. I’m sympathetic to drugs providing relief from an unbearable mental condition, but I think it de-humanises and diminishes us to see the problem as primarily one of chemistry.
So now for Fry on astrology. I will quote again:
Astrology is absolutely and without reservation the bullest of bullshit that ever there was… I hate astrology with a fervour that is almost frightening.
So first of all, I’m going to try not to take this personally, and remember that I quite like Stephen Fry. I’m interested in the statement on 2 levels: (1) The way in which it is OK to dismiss astrology, which is cultural (2) the vehemence behind it, which is personal to Fry.
If I was to dismiss light entertainers or gays the way Fry dismisses astrologers, people would rightly think I had issues. But if I lived in a Taleban-ruled country, or even Puritan England of a few hundred years ago, light entertainers would be banned, and gays would probably be hung. Fry is also of part-Jewish descent. In another society, he could so easily be vilified for a number of reasons, and he must be aware of this.
I expect Fry is proud of his tolerance and decency towards minorities, but when it comes to astrology, the mob mentality towards anyone different seems to take over. It’s Lord of the Flies stuff. And I expect he is quite unconscious of this.
I’m trying to remain calm.
Astrology was vilified by the Church as a competitor in earlier centuries, and nowadays it is vilified again as an insult to the God of Reason. Fry is a creature of the 18th century 'Enlightenment', whose “purpose was to reform society using reason, challenge ideas grounded in tradition and faith, and advance knowledge through the scientific method. It promoted scientific thought, skepticism and intellectual interchange and opposed superstition, intolerance and some abuses of power by the church and the state.”
In Fry's words: “At a time when the achievements of the Enlightenment are questioned, ridiculed, misunderstood and traduced by those who would reverse the progress of mankind, it is essential to nail one’s colours to the mast as a humanist.”
There’s his Jupiter again!
It is this movement which informs many of today’s values, and from which comes the modern opposition to astrology. As an astrologer, I can see both sense and limitations in that statement of the Enlightenment’s values. But as ever, it is not the ideas themselves that are the issue, so much as the way people hold them.
And in my view, the modern belief in reason is often held just as blindly and intolerantly as the medieval Church’s belief in God and the Bible. Ironically, the ability to doubt is found today more within religion than in science. Look at the Church of England!
The universe is not rational, it just IS. Rationality is something which we use to describe the universe, but which we easily also ascribe to it: the idea that the Universe is rational is a superstition, no less than a literal belief in God and the Bible. Just look at quantum physics, the universe at its most basic, a place where reason breaks down.
So the modern position of thinking we are open and tolerant and reasonable, unlike the close-minded, intolerant, superstitious medieval mind is full of ironies, because in its own way the modern mind is just as closed and intolerant and superstitious.
And one of those intolerances is for astrology (and homeopathy, animism, psychics, the paranormal, Uri Geller, fairies, tarot…) which offends the idea of a rigidly rational universe. If it wasn’t these things, it would be something else. It’s the nature of the rigid mind-set to have things you are dismissive of.
It is hard to see this intolerance unless you are on the receiving end of it. What Fry says about astrology, vehemence aside, may seem quite reasonable and not intolerant to a lot of people. Rather like the Sunni friend who said to me in a calm and reasonable way that Shias aren’t real Muslims. Intolerance is often hidden behind a reasonable, decent civilised manner. It wouldn’t surprise me if the members of the Spanish Inquisition were rather like Stephen Fry: learned, considerate, well-meaning people who were sincerely trying to save heretics from eternal damnation. Richard Dawkins also comes to mind.
But identifying yourself as on the side of the good is a dangerous thing. It makes you feel like you are one of the good guys, but it also sets you against what you consider to be not good. A lot of policemen are like this, you can see it in the way they are.
What I think we are dealing with is the collective shadow, in this case of the Enlightenment mentality. The collective always has a shadow, and if you are part of it – which we astrologers and other minorities are – then you are in a privileged position to see it, or at least certain aspects of it.
Progress in consciousness is not about becoming one of the nice guys that Stephen Fry aspires to be: it is about seeing the shadow in the collective and more importantly in oneself as part of that collective. Only then can individual consciousness emerge. Establishment figures like Fry and Dawkins tend to be blind to the shadow or they probably wouldn’t be part of the Establishment.
And in this case it is the shadow side of reason and science.
So I think Stephen Fry is an upstanding member of the church of reason, which has its own fears of the irrational. But he is also a fundamentalist within that church. And just look at him: he swings between mania and depression, keeps trying to kill himself, and then opposes astrology for being irrational!
Incidentally, I found another quote by him which I think is very revealing: “The Greek myth of Prometheus, who stole fire from heaven and who gave to his favourite mortal: man. In other words what the Greeks were saying is that we have divine fire, whatever is divine is in us, as humans. We are as good as the gods. The gods are capricious and mean and foolish and stupid and jealous and rapine and all the things that Greek mythology show us that they are.”
I don’t know where to start in unpicking this twisting of the myth of Prometheus. But the whole point around it is hubris, the hubris of Prometheus who was scornful of Zeus in his stealing of the fire. And that what we have is a gift from the gods, from unseen powers, and astrology teaches us this and more, that we need to honour the powers of the unconscious. And this is exactly what Stephen Fry cannot do, he says the fire belongs to the humans not to the gods, that we are masters of our destiny. And that in a way is why he continually finds himself, like Prometheus, chained to the Caucasus having his liver pecked out.
What’s fascinating is that it’s as if his own unconscious has shown him a myth that can redeem him, even though for now, being a very clever man like Prometheus, he has twisted its meaning into its opposite. And it’s a very Enlightenment interpretation, one that I don’t think the text justifies.
*As Quentin Crisp, who wrote ‘The Naked Civil Servant’, referred to himself.