Scorpio Zodiac Tale: Beauty and the Beast
Fairy tales, like signs of the zodiac, are paradigms of wisdom and guidance that can teach us how to more profitably live with ourselves. Combine signs and stories and they will speak to both the adult and child within – each of whom we must enlist whenever making a major change or psychological adjustment. The deep gift of good astrology and good stories is that they can help us to write good stories for ourselves.
Scorpio gets a bad rap. We tend to expect something wicked or a little perverse with Scorpio, but I think that’s unfair. Even so, I can’t resist sharing the following story. It happened to a friend in a Pluto period, when Scorpio’s ruler was transiting her 5th-house Moon. As transiting planets meet natal planets, we can find ourselves in a real-life encounter with someone expressing the energy of that planet or sign, as though the astrological symbol had come alive. The 5th house may stage romantic experiences, and sure enough, on the day the transit was exact, Wendy met a man who earnestly tried to romance her. He said he worked at the coroner’s office, spending his days cutting into the dead. Nights he dabbled in black magic. He claimed he could fashion a little voodoo doll that would make her crazy to have sex with him. His eyes, Wendy recalled, were deep and intense, like they wanted to bore right through her. You guessed it . . . he was a Scorpio.
But I don’t know too many Scorpios like that. They may be out there, but the majority are about as twisted and diabolical as the average surgeon, therapist, or tax consultant. So when a Scorpio comes somewhat defensively into my office, mumbling “All I know is I’ve got the same sign as Charlie Manson and a lot of what I read sounds creepy and not like me . . . ,” I nod in commiseration. The cliches about any sign can be misleading. The 15-second sound bite on Scorpio is that it’s vengeful and controlling; it’s jealous, secretive, power-mad, and overly sexed. The irony (or is it the method in its madness) is that this sign that rules hidden things should also conceal its weightier gifts. A world without Scorpio would be a poor world indeed.
I most like Scorpio for what it’s not: it is not superficial. Of all twelve signs, Scorpio commands the greatest passion and depth. As a water sign, like Pisces and Cancer, its energetic base is emotional. Emotions and water can take many forms. If sentimental Pisces floats like mist, and Cancer is comforting and constant as a small-town creek, then Scorpio is ground water, powerful and sustaining, yet unseen. Much of where it goes must be inferred. Zodiac logic has Scorpio trailing graceful and harmonious Libra, that charming mistress of beautiful appearances, doyenne of the good-looking surface. Then comes Scorpio, fascinated with what lies underneath. It is intent on shadow material. It will turn over the rock and examine the worms. Scorpio touches what people don’t talk about; it trades in the things people like to deny or hide. This is why Scorpios can make such good therapists, surgeons, and tax consultants, not to mention detectives, researchers, claims adjusters, and mystery writers – and yes, serial killers and devil worshippers.
Of course, a sign is not just a string of career possibilities, nor even a personality type, though it’s easy to make that mistake. People born with a particular Sun sign will tend to showcase its qualities. They’ll work at it. But there’s plenty of room for innovation. Despite our fondness for the metaphor, a horoscope is not genetic code. A truer understanding of signs may be as twelve energetic possibilities, with each, in some measure, available to any of us. The more we aspire to wholeness, the more we can find ourselves in any sign; each is a mode of being, a style of perception, another angle on the truth. Like the cycling planets, the more skilled among us will shift smartly through the zodiac, adjusting our mode to the time. So whether we do or don’t have planets in Scorpio, its process has something to teach us. This is especially true in the house where Scorpio falls in our chart; and in our 8th house, Scorpio’s natural home; or whenever, by transit, Pluto wrenches us into the underworld by our heels.
Unnerved as we may sometimes be by Scorpio’s intensity, it can be a fine antidote for whatever is flimsy or flighty. If we could but summon its energy, we might revive a project weakened by slack focus or a fickle heart. Consider what’s slipped through our fingers over the years, and we might agree that tenacious Scorpio is a style worth cultivating. Yet, like the overreaching magician’s assistant, who falls victim to the very forces he hopes to control, we should know what we deal with in Scorpio. Its power can run to extremes. Its focus can sharpen into obsession or ruthlessness. Or so the stories go. When Gaia learned that Orion was planning to slaughter her beloved wild beasts, out of all her myriad creatures, she chose the scorpion to go after him. Orion high-tailed it into the ocean. Then it was Artemis who feared Orion’s mayhem. She killed the mighty hunter – some say with an arrow, but others claim it was the scorpion that did the deed. Eventually the goddess repented and tearfully immortalized Orion in the stars. But there was the scorpion waiting in the constellations, still on the case. Rising as Orion sets and setting as he rises, Scorpio scuttles through the heavens, forever in pursuit.
Whenever we are seized with Scorpio’s determination, we might well wonder what got us there. In myth, gods send scorpions on their missions. For us it may be the same. An invisible power seems to lurk behind our obsessions – irrational urges, things felt but not seen. What really drives the jealous lover to violence? What nails the detective to that 20-year-old murder case? The stalker’s passion for a famous stranger may not be so different from the novelist’s, gripped by that murmuring world demanding it be written into existence. The jealous lover, the driven detective, the novelist writing for days on end – these may seem like exceptional cases, not like us. Yet if we were to withdraw behind our own curtains and quietly observe ourselves for a day or two, we might be surprised at the passions, stirred by fantasies and suspicions that anyone else would find peculiar and obsessive. We might not feel so strange about Scorpio after all.
I remember an afternoon in college. It was during one of those times when I seemed to be living at the library. I’d shifted venues to my boyfriend’s house, hoping to renew my concentration. But after my boyfriend and roommates had gone, I could focus on nothing but the stillness of the house. Then, like a draft of wind that suddenly comes, still carrying the faint scent of some distant geography, (or, now I wonder, was it the distinct prompting of some god), I was startled into motion. Without the slightest idea why, I made a beeline for my boyfriend’s closet, and digging behind his hiking boots and tennis racket, I pulled out the stack of letters I didn’t know he had written to the girl he had been seeing behind my back. The letter on top was from her. She said she was returning his love letters because he lacked the courage to act on them. It might have consoled her to know that he was saving them, and that they held more poetry than anything he had written to me.
Scorpio keeps secrets, but so do we all. It hunts for others’ secrets, and so do we. Such digging for an invisible something is regular and natural as a root tip poking darkly through the dirt, or the worm feeling its way to the rotting corpse. As surely as the leaves above reach for sun, Scorpio probes below for its nourishment. It thrives on the riches of the underworld. And I don’t mean that place of screams, clanking chains, and creatures tortured on racks. That version is fostered by those who either don’t or pretend they don’t go down there, who are afraid of what you or they will find. It takes courage to poke after mysteries. The underworld stretches from the whispers of illicit lovers, to the petri dish in a researcher’s lab, to that earthy place where corpses lie, and where gems, oil, and ores are formed. There is truth down there. And wealth. It’s not for nothing that lord Pluto, god of the underworld, is also the god of lucre.
Scorpio likes the power wealth can bring, and it appreciates what forms under pressure. Hence the psychotherapist and oil tycoon share a common bond. Yet whatever Scorpio unearths will generally need refining. Before one can cash out the treasure, transformation is required. Stones are split, the gems are shaped and polished, oil is refined, ores are smelted and hammered. Arduous as this work might be, it is perhaps easier and more straightforward than the refinement of ores from that inner world in which most of us toil. What is this stuff we dive deep inside ourselves for? ThereÕs memory, desire, the images of dream, our neuroses and complexes, all of which weÕre told are bound-up energy and power. How do we make riches of it? Into this private underworld, most of us land with equal confusion.
On the therapist’s couch we might unpeel the secrets of this world and find that it is soft and easily hurt. “The general rule in nature,” writes Annie Dillard, “is that live things are soft within and rigid without.”1. Of the water signs, the fish perhaps is an exception, living as it does in a more supple medium. But the crab and the scorpion know the wisdom of armoring. Life is so sharp against our soft insides. It pierces us. The Buddhists call this inner soft spot “bodhichitta,” our good heart. It is our naked tenderness and vulnerability, the inner raw material for what’s best about us. This psychic ore of the underworld, when refined, can become the great love and selfless compassion of a bodhisattva or saint. Yet in its raw form, this tenderness will more commonly inspire great defensiveness. Ironically, protecting our soft spot is how we generally develop our indifference, or even hatred, of the world. It goes a long way toward explaining the scorpion.
I think of a few bad-ass Scorpio risings I’ve known. They sport looks that refuse to give themselves away, that just dare you to guess what they’re feeling. But stay with them long enough and there will come a moment when the cover drops, and inside their usually indifferent eye, you’ll find something soft and unprotected. It is a pool of sadness, a deep and silent record of some early vulnerability and torment. A horoscope’s rising sign represents that first covering of personality, the psychological skin grown to suit one’s early environment. I suspect the Scorpio-rising child was perhaps more naked than most, wearing its soft spot like a target; such vulnerability may have made them the first among us to learn the arts of defensive covering. I think of this Scorpio sensitivity every year at the annual bikers’ toy drive during the holidays. There are hundreds of bikers, tattooed, bladed, pierced, bearded, greased, defiant, the kind of people you wouldn’t want your family to meet on a deserted highway. Yet on this day every biker carries a plush bright bunny or frog or teddy bear – sweet offerings for the children, as those interviewed on the local news each year tearfully explain, showing the soft spot underneath their leather and chains.
Like a piece of god’s own heart inside of us, this divine tenderness may be just too much voltage to control. Like a live wire dancing on the pavement, most of us don’t understand what courses energetically through us, and, not knowing how to reconnect the circuit, we dance fitfully, hurt, jealous, vengeful, raging. How do we ground ourselves? Such is the human mystery. Such too is the Scorpio project, achieving right management of this more-than-human power. Failures along the way send us all to the underworld, which is reason enough for great personal humility and widespread compassion, particularly for those unfortunate travelers currently on sojourn there. Such is the case with the characters in “Beauty and the Beast,” which makes their tale an appropriate Scorpio story.
Any astrologer will tell you that “Beauty and the Beast” is about a Pluto transit. What naturally comes in the Northern hemisphere’s Scorpio season as the Sun wanes and heads for winter -the sniff of death, stirrings of loss and sorrow – can distill in a Pluto transit as though in a deadly vial, fermenting for some into an elixir of torment, then transformation. It goes hardest for those who’ve thrown their hearts after possessions or earthly love, confusing Scorpio’s underworld project with that of its upperworld counterpart, Taurus. Who can be blamed for wanting to smell flowers instead of manure, for wanting a little comfort and security? Yet forget the true wealth inside that wants spending, and something will whistle for Pluto to come strip us down. And so it happens for a wealthy merchant, who suddenly finds himself as vulnerable as Persephone skipping through the flowers right into Pluto’s hands. He loses just about everything he has. But that’s only the beginning.
The merchant and his three daughters move to a small house in the country, with neither servants nor much other means. Two of the sisters, who had enjoyed annoying everyone in town with their finery and social status, are beside themselves. The third sister, Beauty, is also sad, but then decides to learn about housework, cooking, and gardening. After a few months of this newly strenuous activity, she finds she rather enjoys it. Her rosy cheeks grow even rosier, while her sorry sisters sleep till noon every day. They wander the grounds and bemoan the loss of their fine dresses and wealthy suitors, resent their sister, and complain how they will soon die of their boredom.
After weathering the initial shock of a Pluto loss, we might be forgiven for congratulating ourselves too soon. Maneuvering to cheat real transformation, we may simply pine for quick reversal of our bad fortune. So it happens with the merchant and his family. Word comes that one of his lost ships finally comes in. Joyfully, the girls’ father sets off to recoup his losses, promising to bring back fine dresses for the sisters and a rose for Beauty. The ship comes in – along with lawsuits and new creditors. The merchant heads for home as poor as when he left it. The transit wasn’t done with him after all. Dejected, he loses his way in the forest.
In fairy tales, the forest is that wild place, beyond our habits, where transformations can occur. Yet things generally fall further apart before they turn for the better. Still a taker and a faker, the merchant plucks a rose for Beauty, enraging the Beast in whose garden it grows. So kill me, the merchant thinks, could things get any worse? No doubt struggling with his own karma, the Beast offers a deal. The merchant must promise to either return to the Beast’s castle in three months and be killed, or send whichever daughter willingly agrees to stay with the Beast instead. The Beast gives the merchant a fine meal, a good night’s sleep, and a chest full of gold. Thinks the merchant as he drags himself home, could things get any worse?
I may make more of the Beast’s chest full of gold here than it deserves, but I take it as a pointer to the real currency of the story. It’s a stand-in for that true wealth in the human chest, that cache of golden power in the heart. This is where Scorpio must send its lower-chakra energies to be refined. Of course, to save her father, Beauty quickly agrees to go to the Beast. This is more than mere sweetness or love. It’s heart-chakra love fueled by the lower chakra’s regenerative courage. It’s an unflinching acceptance of fate. It’s a no-nonsense shedding of those other futures we might have dreamed. It’s surrendering into that live wire inside ourselves and sparking forward, not stopping at our desires. It’s Scorpio at its highest expression – the willingness to throw ourselves open to change after change, and to know however much we shift, we carry divine power inside.
But, as the Beast understands, humans more often go for outer chests of gold and forsake the inner. Most of us think power means controlling the flow, making things happen, getting people to do what we want, having things go our way. The paradox is that such thinking actually sources power outside ourselves. Without the outside going well, we’re nothing. Look at Beauty’s sisters. Without their dresses and daddy’s money, they had zilch. Even daddy, without gifts to bring his girls, who was he? Jumping ahead to the end of the story, Beauty’s jealous, manipulative sisters eventually transform – into stone, becoming their very resistance to change. Daddy is left all alone and the sisters are gargoyles at Beauty’s castle, condemned to ogle forever their sister’s good fortune. Negative Scorpio always stings itself in the end. But the deeper tragedy is that those who throw themselves away for outer gold have been sleeping on something far richer all the while, like the miser who dies with millions in his mattress. The negative Scorpio strategies – jealousy, revenge, control – represent the ultimate in spiritual poverty.
How do we learn proper management of our more-than-human power? Shedding old skins is only the beginning. Returning to the story, there is more to learn. It’s about that soft spot, and really opening it up to someone, for Scorpio rules intimacy too. We have a beast and a girl living together for the very first time. As a good fixed sign, the girl sticks to her bargain. She’s slow to warm to her new companion, like many a Scorpio, but given her capacity to see below the surface, she eventually discovers he has many fine qualities. They get along so well that the Beast asks her to marry him, several times. Always her answer is no; she refuses to give him her heart.
As a child, the relationship between Beauty and the Beast seemed mighty peculiar, even for a fairy tale. Few tales actually show relationships – the drama lies in getting to them, a feat that’s rewarded with one swift, uncomplicated sentence: “They lived happily ever after.” But in this story, Beauty wanders the Beast’s mysterious castle by day, with magical servants on hand for her slightest wish; by night she stays with the Beast, where he quietly waits for real love. So there’s a castle, plenty of money, even a shared bed, enough to make Beauty’s sisters wild with jealousy. But we know better – it is lonely, lonely. What keeps the lovers apart? Each gives the other a half-gift and secretly hopes that’s enough. It’s how two defended hearts live apart together. As an adult, this relationship doesn’t seem so peculiar. Many an 8th house, that magic place where boundaries might dissolve into a passionate merging, is just as lonely and haunted. What can break the spell?
In the story, what moves the couple beyond their netherworld is meeting the truth about each other in the underworld. The Beast lets Beauty return to her dying father – for one week only, which is all his thin trust will allow. Beauty’s still got a thing for her father. And the Beast has this unbearable soft spot for roses and Beauty – lose them and he’ll either kill or die. Beauty’s sisters make her forget her promise, and childish, beastly as it is, he does begin to die. An odd flicker in her heart tugs Beauty’s attention past her father, and she recognizes her true feelings for the Beast. She rushes back, gives him a kiss, and the transformation occurs: he is, of course, a handsome prince. Her betrayal and his beastliness have forged an authentic union at last.
You might think it was true love that caused the magic; that’s the Disney version. But anyone who’s taken an honest drink from Pluto’s vial knows it’s not sweet. Relationships that survive have generally been strengthened by the hard stuff. Loss, betrayal, death – these are acquired tastes, but, altogether, not a terrible brew. Who hasn’t been hurt or betrayed or known death? These things happen – not because people are inherently bad or untrustworthy, or that life sucks. The hope that we will never hurt or die is a childish one. It’s a kind of prison, this illusion, that makes us want to constantly protect ourselves from a harsh outer world, like Beauty and the Beast, silly in their castle. When Pluto shakes our innocence, there’s a rip in the fabric, a gap where we could wake up. We could discover that underneath our soft spot is a more-than-human strength that can actually live with the world as it is. We might even learn to live with ourselves, with the rock and the worms underneath.
by Dana Gerhardt
References and Notes
1. Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, New York: Harper & Row, 1974, p. 91.
Dana Gerhardt, M.A.,is a practicing astrologer in Valencia, California.