Full Moon Rising
The Stations of Kerouac’s Cross
The following article is adapted from an Astrological Appendix to The Awakener: A Memoir of Kerouac and the Fifties. It was published under a slightly different title in Memberletter, the newsletter of the National Council for Geocosmic Research (NCGR) and is posted here with their kind permission. The NCGR is an astrological organization dedicated to education, research, and professional ethics and standards. For further information go to their website at www.geocosmic.org.
In Doctor Sax Jack Kerouac writes: It was in Centralville I was born. . . on Lupine Road, March 1922, at five o’clock in the afternoon.
A birth time on the hour is always regarded with suspicion, so when I began work on this book in 1990 (yes, it’s been in the works for nineteen years: an eclipse cycle!), I hired astrologer Laurence Ely to rectify the time. After extensive study of a vast number of events in Kerouac’s life I supplied him with, he confirmed the five p.m. time.
Kerouac’s chart is dominated by a Full Moon in Virgo opposite a Sun in Pisces lying across the Ascendant-Descendant axis and forming a Mutable Cross with a Gemini Midheaven and Mars in Sagittarius at the I.C.
When planets in all four of the mutable signs form a Grand Cross in a chart the result is a major configuration that implies a life of service that is often devoted to some form of communication. All those squares and oppositions provide both conflict and motivation, but unlike the T-square, the Grand Cross has no focal point; hence, there is a greater tendency for its conflicting energies to be polarized. I believe the Cross is relatively rare, and in the few cases I have seen, there is a strong sense of purpose or destiny.
The Mutable Cross: the astrological term takes on new meaning in the light of Kerouac’s Catholic upbringing, his tormented life, his belief that writing was his mission on Earth, and his lifelong obsession with death and impermanence.
The Moon rising: ever since the groundbreaking work of French statistician Michel Gauquelin (Cosmic Influences on Human Behavior, 1973) we are aware that writers are often born with the Moon rising or culminating. By using the biographies of writers Gauquelin arrived at a tentative description of the lunar temperament. Some of the terms that kept cropping up: originality, inventor of forms, bohemian, eternal nomad, improvisation, dreamy, imaginative, prolific, moody, changeable, unstable, poetic, widely known, shy, adaptable. In short, the lunar temperament has a rather elusive, pliable, chameleon-like quality.
Not only is Jack Kerouac’s chart a classic case of Gauquelin’s findings on the charts of writers, but the terms Gauquelin found to be associated with the lunar temperament provide an eerily accurate description of his personality.
Gauquelin found that sports champions were most often born when Mars was rising or culminating. In discussing the Mars temperament, which was very different from the lunar temperament, Gauquelin noted, “The variability of the lunar temperament can be a handicap for champions.”
Astrologers, of course, consider planets on all the angles, and with his Mars in Sagittarius at the I.C. and opposing the Midheaven, Kerouac scored a winning touchdown as the star running back of the Lowell football team and won a football scholarship to Columbia. Had he not been primarily a lunar type personality, he might have gone on to fame as an athlete, but bad feelings between him and Columbia coach Lou Little caused the moody, erratic young athlete to walk off the field in disgust.
To Gauquelin’s list of lunar traits astrologers would add extreme receptivity: Kerouac took in and remembered everything that ever happened to him; that was his burden and his gift. With the Moon rising in Virgo, his was a shy, private, discriminating nature. The Full Moon will be exact before the sun rises the next day, so there is all the tension and intensity of the approaching aspect, the building toward the maximum illumination and release of the Full Moon.
Now to the poetic, dreamy, unstable quality of the Moon rising, is added a Pisces Sun conjunct Venus in the extreme 29th degree of Pisces, the sign of her exaltation, as well as Uranus and the Part of Fortune also in Pisces–a stellium in the sign of the poet, martyr, dreamer, mystic, musician–and alcoholic. Revolutionary, creative, non-conformist Uranus in the sign of Pisces suggests a kind of universal rebelliousness that was in the air during the roaring twenties of Jack’s childhood, the Lost Generation to which the Beat Generation he fathered was later compared. With Uranus in Pisces opposing his Moon-Ascendant conjunction, this zeitgeist is channeled through Kerouac’s chart in a very personal way.
The Uranus in Pisces generation created a revolution in poetry. Jack’s friend and fellow poet Allen Ginsberg’s taking his clothes off at poetry readings and declaiming his wild prophetic Howl is an apt metaphor for this new poetry with its credo of utter nakedness and candor, its throwing off of academic timidity and classical forms, its insistence on using the language and rhythms of everyday speech. The Uranian revolution that was the Beat Generation prefigured the social movements of the sixties and the expansion of consciousness that opened the way for eastern ideas in the West and helped to usher in the constellation of values loosely termed New Age.
Ginsberg’s Pisces Moon, Mars, and Uranus all lie over Kerouac’s Uranus/Fortune, Sun, and Venus like spokes of a wheel in three close conjunctions whose mathematical precision suggests that these men were destined to work together: one of the most striking examples of the validation of synastry I’ve ever seen.
Speaking of synastry, I’ve always been struck by the fact that not only Jack and Allen, but my friend Helen Elliott (who introduced me to them) and I are all connected by close conjunctions in Pisces, the sign of poetry, spirituality, and drugs. (Helen and I were living together in Greenwich Village when Jack and Allen, whom she’d known at Columbia, landed on our doorstep in need of a place to crash one Sunday in November, 1956. Jack moved in later that day.) Helen Elliott’s birthday was just two days after Jack’s, and her Pisces Sun-Mercury conjunction is within orb of my Pisces Ascendant and Allen’s Mars, as well as of Jack’s Sun.
Jack and Helen were drinkers; Jack, Allen, and I all experimented with drugs, all wrote poetry, and were all attracted to Buddhism in varying degrees.
Not only was my Pisces Ascendant conjunct Kerouac’s Sun, but it opposed his Virgo Ascendant within four and a half degrees. Opposites attract: for Jack and me, it was love at first sight. All things being equal, our Ascendants in opposite signs might have made a good foundation for marriage, but all things were not equal. Jack’s Moon was heavily afflicted. Its square to Mars in Sagittarius and its opposition to Sun, Venus, and Uranus in the mutable sign of Pisces made it difficult for him to have healthy relationships with women or to remain with one woman. With that Mars in Sagittarius opposing the MidHeaven, his first priority was always his writing: his “long novel explaining everything to everybody.”
The problems weren’t only on Jack’s side. My ambivalent Venus-Mars square is not a good omen for lasting relationships either; my Uranus rising in the first house in close semi-sextile to the Ascendant is the signature of a rebellious, independent nature; and many signifiers of loner tendencies in my chart (dig that elevated Saturn, the only planet above the Ascendant) all counteracted that initial attraction. Living with Kerouac wasn’t easy and eventually I asked him to leave, but we remained friends.
Astrologers have much to learn from studying the charts of geniuses, because geniuses are extreme beings and tend to live their charts to the full. Kerouac was an incredibly complex person, full of contradictions, paradoxes, and extremes between which he alternated, finding resolution only in the one constant activity in his life: writing, and in the one relationship he was able to sustain: his bond with his mother.
Born to French Canadian parents and raised in a Franco-American community in the mill town of Lowell, Massachusetts, Kerouac spoke French until he was six. He was both fiercely proud of his ethnic roots and conscious that the patois he grew up speaking was regarded as inferior to Parisian French.
He idealized and romanticized the Lowell of his boyhood, celebrated his life there in his books, and always wished he could return to it, but while living there, he dreamed of escaping its provincial confines and becoming a great writer in the world beyond.
After he left Lowell for New York City and met the men who would be his friends and teachers–Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and Neal Cassady–Jack began a ten-year pattern of alternating between traveling across America and staying home with his mother. His life on the road was a frenzied kaleidoscope of drugs, alcohol, occasional women and endless conversation with his friends in New York, San Francisco, Denver, Mexico, and points between. When he had had enough excitement and stimulation, he would retreat to a hermit-like existence with his mother and write down everything that happened.
He invented a technique of composition he called spontaneous prose, using words the way a painter uses paint or like a jazz musician blowing a riff. Yet, his masterpiece On the Road went through at least four drafts: the master of improvisation did revise.
An easterner, he was drawn again and again to the West, literally following the setting Sun of his nativity. The Full Moon lying across the horizon of his chart was the cosmic signature of his restless shuttling across America.
Pisces is the sign least at home on this planet. From the time his beloved brother Gerard died when Jack was four years old, he lived haunted by a profound sense of impermanence. At ten or eleven, he saw a man holding a watermelon drop dead of a heart attack on the Moody Street Bridge. At age twenty-four, he watched his father succumb to cancer. His father’s death helped him to focus on and complete his first published novel, The Town and the City. He decided that “the only true subject of poetry was death.”
When he was writing, the Pisces visionary was grounded by the Virgo workaholic who knew that “life is in the details.” And the alcoholic whose consumption of liquor was so prodigious that it was a miracle he survived for forty-seven years carefully recorded how many words he wrote each day and kept his manuscripts and correspondence neatly organized in impeccable files.
Kerouac was a deeply spiritual person, and nowhere is the fundamental duality of his nature more apparent than in the question of his Catholicism vs. his Buddhism.
In the late nineteenth century the English poet Rudyard Kipling wrote: “Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet, Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat.” Fifty years later the American poet Jack Kerouac, to settle an argument about reincarnation with his friend Neal Cassady, went to the San Jose Public Library and checked out Ashvagosa’s Life of the Buddha.
The Buddhist model of the bhikkhu, or holy wanderer, helped to assuage Jack’s guilt for the aimless lifestyle his relatives found irresponsible. Jack read and studied voraciously the few Buddhist texts that were available in English at that time and even translated sutras from the French. His understanding of the Dharma was immediate, subtle, and profound, and he was able to distill its essence in works like Mexico City Blues and The Scripture of the Golden Eternity.
He introduced Buddhism to Allen Ginsberg, who said that Jack “chanted the refuge vows in a voice like Frank Sinatra.” The impact of his books earned him a respected place in the American Buddhist lineage.
Jack’s Buddhism was authentic, but his Catholicism had been instilled in him from childhood, and eventually he returned to it. Catholicism, a religion based on an ideal of sacrifice, triumphed over Buddhism, a philosophy based on a practice: Pisces and Virgo again.
William Blake wrote, “Without contrarieties, no progression.” The multiple contrarieties of Kerouac’s Mutable Cross, which he carried for us, motivated him to explore the limits of his being and to turn his experience into art. Kerouac’s struggle with opposites was a rich source of creativity. We reap the fruits of his struggle.
The title of my book, The Awakener, came to me the day the planet Uranus, once again in Pisces, was conjunct my Ascendant to the minute. But later I realized that the word “Buddha” is Sanskrit for “awakened.” Allen Ginsberg, in his dedication to Howl, called Jack Kerouac the “new Buddha of American prose.” Jack’s biography of the Buddha is entitled Wake Up!. Though he may or may not have been fully awake himself, for many others Kerouac served as an awakener.