The Astrology of Idealism- Dreaming On the Ground
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
“Idealism marks the place where grief is so very often felt.” – Noel Tyl
Daniel has turned 56 now, living in a cramped house in a small city in southern Ontario.
Day-old donuts sit on the coffee table, a copy of Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs splayed face-down on its surface. His hair is unkempt as the stub of a cigarette clings fearfully to his fingers, its fire extinguished long ago. An engagement ring- for someone, sometime- sits on the kitchen table, its faded gold grasping for the sunlight. The open window tells him that traffic rolls by.
Only two hours away in another small town, Lynn stands at the foot of a largely-empty theatre, yet the stage is brightly lit with a large ensemble on stage in full dress rehearsal. A man behind a piano in the corner sets the mood. An artistic electricity courses through her and the actors feed off her direction as if she were their only means of sustenance. Soon, weeks and weeks of hard work must give way to two hours of the grand show. Soon, ideas will see expression for 700 people a night for four consecutive weeks.
The birth and expression of an idea is indeed a beautiful thing- but they aren’t always easy for us to manifest. Each of us has known this painful truth at some point in our lives. But some of us have more than the average difficulty in concretizing our inner visions, of capturing our thoughts in a realistic template of potential action.
Idealism is defined in most any dictionary as that which we externally perceive is about an idea, first and foremost. When we are idealistic, we treat our imagination and our ideas as if they were real. In addition, there is an acute sensitivity for pleasing others.
But what happens when we fail to anchor idealism? What happens, developmentally, when we trigger the sublime without fastening it to something that is tangible? Are we destined to express expectations and goals that fail each year with the cruel passage of time? Or, can we learn to ‘dream on the ground?’ Recognizing these patterns- making idealism more manageable and potentially rewarding either for ourselves or for our clients- must be the realistic goal.
In astrology, we look at the world through Sun-centered lenses. It is without question the Sun that keeps astrology popular with the masses, yet it is also the heart and soul- the furnace- of the horoscope from the astrologer’s perspective, too. Its heat is pervasive in its starring role, engulfing the spirit of the chart within its application of becoming something- of manifesting. Just how this manifestation is realized is tied tightly to its relationship with Mercury and Venus, our mind and social antennae respectively. (1) These are the components, firstly, for our understanding of idealism through the astrological modality. Next, the condition of Neptune and Jupiter must be considered strongly as well, distilling these soft but important energies for meaning based on house placements, rulership dynamics and midpoints.
In our story from the beginning, ‘Daniel’ is at a crossroads in his life. Pulled from my private case files, Daniel has been, with all honesty, a clear example of idealism gone wrong. He would be the first to admit that. As you can see from the accompanying chart, our first impression of Daniel’s horoscope (southern hemispheric emphasis) is that this is someone who is easily pushed around by circumstances in the world- someone who lets the environment fashion a life for him, rather than the other way around.
Our next immediate impression is that he is a double Pisces, with both the Sun and the Moon in the last sign of the zodiac. We see how the Sun-Moon blend alone corroborates our first impression, this potential feeling of disorganization, inner chaos and…idealism. A potential listlessness and lack of focus within the personality is also generally expected with any New Moon birth, let alone the conjunction occurring in Pisces. Certainly, this describes Daniel. The Cancerian Ascendant (more water!) is no counter influence here, and then we appreciate that his ruling planet is the Moon in Pisces. A glance at the elemental make-up of the chart will also tell us there is no earth here. So, in three or four easy-to-spot measurements we are certain that this is someone who is not grounded, but we don’t know why yet.
The midpoint picture is also startling for its idealistic thrust. We have Mercury = Sun/Venus, Neptune = Saturn/Asc, Pluto = Mars/Neptune, Venus = Jupiter/Asc, Moon = Jupiter/Neptune and Saturn = Sun/Neptune! Please feel this dissolution of energies.
Saturn is in the 11th House, always a sure bet of a tremendous need for love, and Mars is conjunct Saturn. We need to know why that great need for love exists, and we simply ask about it during the consultation hour. Did a lack of love growing up, for instance, create the need press for him to find love at all costs- thereby setting up the great potential for a failed ideal? Yes. That was indeed part of the difficulty with Daniel’s expectations about relationships.
Perhaps fittingly, Daniel has been a financial planner his whole life, both in private practice and with the government. We often see the absence of an element (in this case earth) create a driving need to prove oneself in whatever ‘arena’ is missing. He was also pushed into ‘something respectable’ by a demanding stepfather. He never met his real father (who left when he was very young) and had a mother who ran the show (seen through the tight opposition to the Nodal Axis by Venus).
Daniel graduated from university with a degree in economics in his mid 20s, showing great talent and an extremely high IQ. As he got older and worked in his field, Daniel always had trouble getting along with others though. Or, when he did get along with them, the relationships took a turn toward his own victimization (and we’re back at Square One with the hemispheric impression!).
During our consultation, Daniel talked at length about an ex-business partner who bilked him for so much money he was forced to live the way he was at the time of our consultation- with little disposable income from an early pension cheque. He hadn’t worked in years and felt he wanted to do so again, at least part time, for he was only 57 at the time of our appointment. This failure to get along smoothly with others is seen through developmental tension through the Cadent Grand Cross (houses 3, 6, 9 and 12), where we primarily measure our ability to cooperate with others.
This is the most active of the three crosses in his chart, with Jupiter, ruling the important 6th House in terms of getting along with people in a work environment, making a 165-degree quindecile (2) aspect to both the Sun (ruling his 2nd House of self-worth) and Venus (in the 7th House, ruling the 11th, love received) and the intercepted 4th House. Venus is also quindecile the Ascendant and therefore shows identity formation problems and concerns with the appearance. Indeed, throughout our consultation he would make self-deprecating comments about his age and his look.s
The Sun rules the 2nd House (self-worth) and the 3rd House and is under high developmental tension overall, so we immediately are alerted to a burning point of focus with esteem issues. This is a man who is an alcoholic, but Daniel hasn’t drank in eight years. But, he had been out of the work loop for over two years and wanted to ease back in the game but couldn’t get his bearings- he really didn’t know how to do so any longer. What confidence he did have had dissipated under the failed ideals he was barely holding onto. As astrologer Noel Tyl says, it is “hard to handle the embarrassment of the defeated ideal. Idealism often marks the place where grief is so very often felt.” (3)
Daniel had certain ideas about how the world should work. He would meet the perfect woman in everlasting love, the children would be marvelous and his career would soar. And, not to be diminished, the world itself would become a magnificently better place within his lifetime. Remember, Daniel was 21 in the middle of the 1960s. Drug-enhanced idealism reigned and God help any ‘establishment’ ideas that said it would not! Daniel chose an establishment profession in financial planning, but it was later on in life when he would get it going- and he never did lose sight of the perfection that always seemed so close at hand. This was the problem, of course. Perfection is not a commodity that we can usually make manifest. He lost sight of himself by always living for tomorrow. In the process, ‘today’ was gobbled up by the cruel passage of time.
Also in the beginning of our story we were introduced to ‘Lynn,’ a client who is a stage director of high caliber- one of the ‘who’s who’ in professional Canadian theatre. She has also directed many plays in the United States. A former television comedy star in her native country, Canada, today she mainly directs stage productions across the country.
Recall the importance of the fusion of Mercurial and Venusian energies within our understanding of idealism. Lynn, incredibly, has the Aries Point at the midpoint of Mercury and Venus! (AP = Mercury/Venus). The Aries Point (meaning 0 degrees of all cardinal signs) is a strong point of public projection potential. (This is so because 0 Aries, Cancer, Libra or Capricorn are all square or opposing one another, indicating the basis of developmental tension). So, when we consider this person is a high-profile idealist- someone who lives in her head so to speak- we can appreciate the power of the Aries Point bringing this idealism forward to audiences each week. In addition, Neptune is in the 1st House ruling the public 7th. Mercury, as part of the idealism profile, rules the 10th and is square Neptune!
This is an example of idealism that breathes. It is a formed thing of beauty, alive not only in her mind’s eye but on the ground where dreams are made. All the images and expectations that dance about her head are given the opportunity to be experienced, shared and ultimately, judged. So very many idealists do not want to be judged; they shun the spotlight if it gets too bright, for the light will eventually burn those who are unwilling to do the work to make ideas happen. As far as Lynn’s relationships go, she has been married to a radio/theatre personality for 25 years. They support each other’s lifelong visions in their quest to be true to themselves and work hard to maintain the ideals they have long held.
It should be noted that idealists find one another instinctively. This is what identifies sub-groups, which can be completely dysfunctional. (4) For Lynn, theatre is full of idealists and not all of them are as successful as she. Actors who are not stars often wander the continent, searching for their next role, and they, in turn, often play the role of the victim if the real world doesn’t meet their talent half way, as so very often happens.
It is important to realize that within our understanding of idealism, we must know that it has the potential to dominate life (as in the case of Daniel). Its reach is so extraordinarily all-encompassing that it is impossible to separate it from the person. In fact, idealism can only be modified, not extricated. The counseling astrologer (or any other counseling professional) should never attempt to remove the strains of idealism that permeate the personality of the idealist. It is there for good, for better or for worse. And, certainly, there is a ‘better’ side to idealism!
If idealism is when we treat our imagination- our ideas- as if they were real, one can appreciate how this has the potential for great creative productivity and for great deeds to be done in the name of something larger than oneself. It can be inspirational in its ability to inspire and uplift the life to some great promise. On the other hand, idealism can also manifest as great practical difficulty when the real world fails to hold up to our notion of the way things should work. In the idealistic personality there would be a pervasive sense of what should be…and therefore, what can be with effort.
For Daniel, he has spent at least the last two years hanging out with strippers and prostitutes and men in trouble with the law on one level or another. His association with the downtrodden and his reigning need to help others ‘wronged’ by society is idealism at its worst; this is a groping attempt to find purpose by setting oneself up to fight the ‘big bad world.’ In reality, there has been acute failure within the scope of his past. He was unable to frame the life he saw for himself, family and society many years ago. In between, his marriage failed, his children do not associate with him any longer (because “she made it that way”) and self-esteem issues that began in early childhood crept to the forefront of consciousness and threaten to derail him. And society? Society doesn’t cooperate for the idealist either because there is too much Saturn in society and not enough Neptune.
Noel Tyl explains that “idealism most often serves a defensive function in life development; it explains the frustrated personal position, defines identity with a supposedly noble teaching or sub-group activity and defines freedom. In short, idealism makes one feel better about one’s self; but is the idealism practical? To what extent has it developed in your client’s life? Where did it come from?” (5)
Knowing Daniel was an extreme idealist, I knew the entire consultation had to be even more practical than usual. There would be no discussion of philosophies of life except in the very beginning to establish the context of the idealism. As well as a consulting astrologer, I also am the editor of a business-to-business magazine. I used what I knew here to suggest a plan of action for Daniel, whose background was in the financial services field. This plan included getting in touch with his local Chamber of Commerce in his city and joining them. It included an agreement that he begin to advertise his services in a business-to-business publication in his area. We also agreed that he would attend at least one business function per month (such as a breakfast meeting with a guest speaker to polish up his networking ability.)
He had much renewed confidence and a desire to get out and see the world he had been missing. I felt good because I sensed I had really made a difference in someone’s life with a plan that wasn’t unreasonable. He called back happily at the end of the day to tell me he had already booked himself for the next Chamber meeting and had spoken to their president. The president assured my client he would introduce him to a number of players in the community and his confidence began to be restored.
So do we need our idealists?
Absolutely. Mikhail Gorbachev changed the world because he believed — and conceptualized that belief- into something greater than himself for his nation.
The rapid demise of the Soviet Union, the cessation of the Cold War and the wounding of Soviet-style communism all helped usher in this new world. Such a world includes the globalization of finance, the information age, and the rise of the Internet.
Mohandas Gandhi, another idealist, had an immediate objective for political freedom for India. Yet, for all his social activism, he never lost sight of a higher goal for himself and his people- the quest for divine truth and justice with human dignity and integrity. Sometimes idealists ignite revolutions (Gorbachev, Gandhi). Sometimes they create wonderful art forms (Lynn). But sometimes they lose their families and their very sense of self in their unrelenting quest for perfection (Daniel). If idealism sounds difficult, that’s because it is. It is challenging to live with ideals and just as challenging to counsel them with responsibility and empathy.
1. As mentioned earlier, do not attempt to extricate the positivism from your clients. It is there for good.
2. Keep all suggestions on a practical level, as with Daniel’s example. The idealist doesn’t need broad, brush-stroke advice during the consultation. He or she does this in their sleep! Instead, the idealist needs specific suggestions which are attainable.
3. Encourage your clients to disclose their deepest anxieties. In so doing, they disentangle themselves a little more from overt expressions of idealism.
4. Encourage small practical steps and have your client report back with their progress. The report back needn’t take up too much of your time but your interest will encourage measurable goals to be reached.
Astrological Notes On Idealism
1. If we involve Mercury and Venus with the Sun (no matter the aspect), automatically we know mental faculties and our sense of relating is being highlighted. In particular, Mercury and Venus within the same sign as the Sun is a powerful statement of positivism with perhaps an unreal edge. As the most personal of the inner planets, Mercury and Venus offer an extremely intimate perspective of the psyche, especially when understood in tandem with the Sun. (The Moon, of course, is very important but is a separate, special consideration. The Moon is more ‘gut’ oriented and instinctual. It has little to do with becoming and much more to do with what we are, from a needs perspective.) The fact that, astronomically, Mercury and Venus cannot be very far away from the Sun speaks volumes about their collective role in the drama of our lives. Thinking and relating- or perception and sociality- are linked strongly with who we are .Our perception of self hinges upon these astrological signatures- or lack, thereof. Mercury with the Sun suggests idealistic thought. Venus with the Sun suggests idealistic feelings about social behaviour.
2. The Sun or Jupiter within Scorpio may often impart a sense of rightness, self-sufficiency and great strength in oneself. Consider a classic astrological pattern that shows idealism- like the Sun, Mercury and Venus in the same sign. When we blend this idealism with such a strong belief in oneself (Jupiter in Scorpio for instance), we can feel the potentials of such a mix. One such manifestation could be a sort of fanaticism, depending on the rest of the horoscope.
There could be an overriding faith to the dismissal of other ‘points of view’ in the life. Or, conversely, there could be a rejection of any reward as a sort of personal vindication.
3. With Sagittarian energy we may get a similar result but from a different point of view. The religiosity, the philosophical and the opinionated quality of the ninth sign of the zodiac tends to color perception, particularly when the Sun or Jupiter is involved. Here we may see grand faith that emanates not so much in oneself as it does for something ‘larger than self.’ Yet this may serve the same purpose in the end. However, the inherent theological and higher-minded overtones are important to consider.
Idealism, at its finest, is a woven tapestry of faith and belief in oneself and ones’ concepts that also has a place in the practical considerations of the world. It is realizing goals and igniting dreams. It then becomes real, and it is ultimate reward. We saw this in the case of Lynn and we saw it dramatically in Mikhail Gorbachev of the former Soviet Union and Mohandas Gandhi in his singular stand for freedom from Britain.
But we can’t always be successful in counseling idealism. I know I haven’t been. I believe it is important to share failure, too, because it is illustrative of just how deep the strains of idealism take us as we attempt to guide others through the mazes of their lives.
I thought Daniel and I had had a breakthrough- an understanding that life needn’t be the way it was for him. I thought we had created a practical path that just might lead to some degree of clarity. I told him the spring of 2002 could yield a whole new direction- a chance to do more, anchored on strong planetary Returns and many Solar Arc measurements. More than anything, though, I anchored it on his apparent willingness to build his life back up again. For a couple of months, I think he did build on that path. But sorrow is an alluring companion in the recesses of the idealistic mind. There were a number of frantic phone calls after that two-month period of success- he began to get mired in bad business relationships and then a financially-draining relationship with a woman who professed love for him but seemed only interested in money. The clarity began to slip through his fingers once more.
During the writing of this article, my last understanding of Daniel’s whereabouts was that he was in a mental health institution getting additional help, including medication for depression. Our astrology can only go so far and then it rests preciously on the edge of reality, a neutral companion after all.
I hope Daniel is once again retracing the steps of his life to see where reality gave way to something far more seductive- the promise of the failed ideal.
1. Noel Tyl, Editor, Communicating The Horoscope, St. Paul, Minnesota, Llewllyn Publications, 1995, p. 4.
2. If you have not worked with the quindecile (165 degrees), an aspect of unrelenting motivation and obsession, I strongly recommend you add this powerful measurement to your arsenal. Use an orb of 2-2.5 degrees only.
3. Conversation with Noel Tyl.
About The Author:
Roderick Benns is an internationally-respected astrologer, accredited through the Canadian Association for Astrological Education (CAAE). Roderick is a member of Astrology Toronto, Inc, and a regular contributor to Dell Horoscope Magazine and has also been published in American Astrology Magazine.