When looking at the Composite chart, what I am, in essence, doing is looking at the expression and purpose of the relationship. There are ‘messages’ about the nature and purpose of each relationship embedded in the makeup of the Composite.
However, I don’t use a Composite for every relationship, particularly new ones (as in, “We haven’t even met yet, or, we’ve only known each other as friends buuuuut…. I think I love her/him.” No.). Composites work best for relationships that have stood the test of time, including siblings and parent/child relationships.
There are times, however, when a Composite is the best chart to use to see what it is the two people are going to work on together, whether they like it or not. Perhaps this is their karma, for the nature of the Sun and other planets in the Composite sometimes point in a direction that otherwise makes little sense.
The requirements of the Composite 4th house have to do with family: lineage, inheritance, and ancestry; but the reason for this lies on a foundation stone that I believe is important to accept, otherwise the 4/10 axis becomes very confusing.
Evidence that it is confusing stems from declaring that these houses somehow represent ‘either’ one parent ‘or’ the other, when in fact they represent both, for parents function as a dyad. The ‘shadow’ parent of the 4th house exists just as much as the parent standing in front of you. One wouldn’t be there without the other, unless you were grown in a petrie dish.
I never ascribe a single parent to the 4/10 axis. This argument (which house belongs to whom) has gone on for too long in modern astrology, to the point where it’s overwrought, and ignores reality. Everyone gets two parents, whether they know them both or not. Both parents are present at all times in the chart, for one has inherited their DNA, for one thing. Besides, assigning one specific gender to a parent misses the point, particularly nowadays, when parents can be the same gender.
Instead, parents have roles, more than genders. These roles are, to some extent, assigned by society; then there are biological urges to behave “like” a mother or “like” a father, as we construct those roles. This is what the 4/10 axis means; it’s just that up until now, we’ve been forced by societal norms to always assume that one or the other parent is meant by one or the other house. Doing this as we continue as a species will prove to be pointless.
Then there’s the Hellenistic perspective, which thinks of this house as a kind of ‘graveyard’, where we all go to die (and where events end; in a mundane chart, or horary, it is still absolutely necessary to use this house as a way to see the conclusion of an event). You can even see a relationship coming to an end if certain transits occur or put pressure on the 4th house, either through synastry or in the Composite.
But in the natal, or most of the time for relationships, having a 4th house Sun can make you ask yourself if your relationship or your life is due to end soon, and that’s not a helpful way of looking at what this house is about.
I see the Imum Coeli (which has become, over time, conflated with the 4th house cusp) as the base of the spine, the backbone of the chart, which leads to the Medium Coeli, Midheaven, or 10th house cusp. Squeezing the metaphor until it shrieks, the “top” of the chart is the top of the spine, let’s say, the connection linking to the brain and the head, the most visible part of the person and her life. The Midheaven is not responsible for your reputation for nothing, and keeping your spine straight is good for you.
As the ‘base of the spine,’ then, I expect a lot out of the 4th house. I expect it to show me the individual’s fundamental identity, the nature of their family at birth, and the nature of the family mythology, the story you carry about how your family behaves and what it believes.
You hear this family cri de coeur all the time on Game of Thrones, a series that sums up the 4/10 axis focus on family, ancestry, and family-inspired myths, versus social reputation and behavior: “A Lannister always pays his debts.”
If you hear yourself say this kind of thing, you know your family myth has taken over. The thing you have to ask yourself once you become an adult, though, is does this habitual way of thinking about you in relationship to your family serve you as an individual?
Cold Comfort Farm, a funny satire on British rural sensibilities in the 1930s, reveals the limitations of these kinds of family-inspired beliefs. The characters unconsciously repeat the line “There have always been Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm,” a mantra based on a family myth that binds them to a place they hate. (If you can’t or won’t read the book because you’re ornery, by all means, see the movie; it’s very good.)
However, it’s been my experience that the family myth doesn’t have to be expressed in words, or as overtly as it was for the Lannisters. Often, this myth is just an idea you have in your mind about the way you’re “supposed” to behave (or not behave), and you only think it when you find yourself living outside the box of your family’s expectations.
In the 4th, you see not just behaviors, but also attitudes (beliefs, bias, prejudice) about tradition, ancestry, and societal rules (this stems from the association between the 4/10 axis with Cancer and Capricorn, Moon and Saturn). At some point, when you’re assessing your houses, take a look at which have Cancer and Capricorn on their cusp, and then where Saturn and the Moon fall.
Another question that can be answered by the sign on the cusp of the 4th is, what is your essential identity? There is a family mythology that you inherited; to what extent do you fit in with that mythology, and to what extent are you different? What is it you are so sure of about your identity that you don’t even question where the idea came from, or what do you question about your identity? In other words, as the Caterpillar famously asked Alice, Who Are You?
The sign on the 4th house cusp is only part of this picture; the rest comes from the sign’s ruling planet and how it is aspected, particularly what other houses it pulls in. Let’s say you have Aries on the IC/4th house cusp, with Mars falling in the 8th, aspecting both Jupiter (by trine) and Neptune (by square); Mars also trines the Ascendant.
This is not someone who is likely to see himself as anywhere near as aggressive as would someone whose Aries’ ruler Mars conjuncts Pluto and squares the Moon. The two have the same Aries 4th house cusp, but have very different identities and beliefs about themselves and where they come from.
So where do you come from? The 4th house, even untenanted, gives us a primal, wordless, inchoate, sense of belonging (or disconnection) to or from our ‘tribe’ or family of origin. In the Composite, the 4th house speaks to the tribe itself, the family one creates, rather than the one you’re born into.
Now, on the surface, this makes it sound like the 4th house Composite Sun “must” be about creating a home, settling down, and having children, but I’m trying to make the argument that underneath all of those (primal) urges is something much deeper, much more profound a truth about humanity itself, which is the need to come from someone and something, to give your name to someone and something, to be part of the continual string of evolutionary survival statistics that leads to the family that gives you your identity.
Identity is not only about your name and material objects we inherit from the previous generation, it’s also about DNA and what you pass on to subsequent generations. Sometimes this means having children and a family, and sometimes the effects are harder to classify than creating an actual family, with mother/father/children.
I also have to add that the 4th house as a family/DNA/inheritance house must be seen in combination with the other ‘water’ ruled houses, the 8th and the 12th, since together they convey a strong message about where we come from and who we are in toto.
If there is a ‘danger’ in looking to one sign or house to answer a very big question, that potential danger is ameliorated, in my opinion, by using the trick Hellenistic astrologers gave us of connecting the dots of the chart through elements and modalities.
Although Hellenistic astrologers saw this as the “bottom” of the chart, indicating all that remains unseen about ourselves, nowadays the common consensus seems to be pushing the 12th house into that role.
The Hellenes saw the IC this way because they associated the unseen with Hades, not the happiest of places. I think most people now believe the 8th house belongs to Hades’ realm, since Pluto is a ruler of Scorpio.
Also, the 4th, associated as it is with the IC [and its job as an angle, ed. note], implies initiation into the next phase of life, and although I know that endings are traditionally associated with this house, I’ve found that the reality of people’s experiences are much more about fragility, vulnerability, and being influenced by others, especially their parents, who have the most power over us
at this fragile time of life. when we’re young.
I don’t think we should entirely abandon the Hellenic astrologers’ philosophy, because their view is quite illuminating, no pun intended, when speaking of the darkest part of the chart. Hellenic astrologers perceived that everything beneath the earth lay in darkness, so since we can’t see it and can’t even acknowledge it, it becomes fertile psychological ground when Freud and Jung come along later.
The 4th house is therefore also ‘about’ the unconscious and the shadow. That the 4th house is connected to the sign of Cancer, as its ‘natural’ house ruler, augments the message that in this house, we’re dealing with primal emotions, the kind that are connected to a fundamental human need for survival, empathy, family, belonging, and care-taking. Without these, society dies.
Did you know that Manilius (1 A.D.), who wrote The Astronomica, was the first astrologer we know of to associate signs with houses (which he called ‘temples’)? Interestingly enough, when he gave planetary rulers to each house, he assigned Saturn to the 4th house.
Saturn is, of course, now associated with the 10th house, as is Capricorn. The story of Saturn, who, in the form of Kronos the Greek god, had been cast out of Mount Olympus after its overthrow by Zeus and his siblings, has long been a parable for the violent removal of the old in place of the new, remembering that Kronos had attempted to eat his children, and they were merely getting revenge.
If you find it confusing that Manilius associates Venus with the 10th house, consider that at the time he was writing, Aphrodite (Venus, for the Romans) had long been associated with marriage in Greece. It was Aphrodite to whom who you prayed if you wanted a good marriage. Marriage was not conducted for the reasons it is today; instead, it was considered a social contract, entered into to keep the polis (the city-state) alive, and to perpetuate one’s tribe and, perhaps most importantly at the individual level, one’s lineage.
Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Godwin Shelley
I almost don’t know where to start with these two, because on the surface, little of their reputations as the most brilliant writers of their generation, their public selves, seem to acknowledge the 4th house themes I’ve been discussing. Yet once you pierce the romantic veil, so to speak, you begin to see how it all makes sense.
What we think of as “private life” can often be summed up by the doings of the Imum Coeli and 4th house, just as one’s public life is represented by the Midheaven. The problem for famous people, both during the Romantic period and now, is that attempts to remain private are undermined by their fame. As with all oppositions, the 4th house “fights” with the 10th for supremacy; but this time, it’s one’s private life that is on display, and that’s hard on any relationship, let alone a marriage.
Not all of the Shelleys’ fame comes from the happy accident of being renowned writers in the Romantic era. To become famous in the first place, it helps to have certain dynamics going on in your chart. To be famous in the Romantic period, it helped to be “romantic,” though the Shelleys behaved outrageously, doing things that would still get you noticed even today.
When I think of ‘outrageous behavior,’ I automatically look for Uranus, a planet you kinda don’t want to find associated with the 4th house. And therein lies the beginning of the problems for Percy and Mary, neither of whom brought emotional stability to their marriage, but were also, it must be said, hounded by bad fortune, not all of it their doing.
Mary and Percy were born at the beginning of what I would call the Uranian era, a scientific age of experiment and expanding ideas about life, rejuvenation, and the uses of electricity. Uranus was discovered in 1781, shortly before Mary and Percy were born.
Ten years later, Italian doctor and philosopher Luigi Galvani became involved in experiments in what was known at the time as “medical electricity,” applying electricity to the human and animal body and assessing the effects. He published his results in 1791, when Percy was 6 years of age, and Mary was 1.
With Sun conjunct Uranus in both natal charts, Mary and Percy were each, independently of one another as well as in collaboration, fascinated by Galvani’s research. Science had become interested in the idea of applying electricity to human flesh as a method of curing various illnesses, and Percy is known, as a child as young as 10, to have applied electricity to his sisters after hearing a scientific lecture at his boarding school. Eccentricity is another Uranian characteristic; as a boy, Percy was called “Mad Shelley” for his odd mannerisms and behaviors.
Mary’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, the famous early feminist philosopher who wrote The Vindication of the Rights of Woman, died shortly after giving birth. Though Mary’s extraordinary mother was gone, she was nonetheless surrounded by literature and literary aspirations from an early age, and loved writing stories best. Interesting to me is that her Part of Happiness fell in her 6th house, the house of work. Her most well-known piece of writing, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, was written at the tender age of 18.
She wove her personal values into Frankenstein. In spite of her Sun/Uranus conjunction, her politics and anti-religious feelings were nowhere near as radical as Percy’s, for she did not claim to be an atheist, as he did, but instead questioned the hubris of a scientist who would try to usurp the role of God.
In her natal chart, North Node in Gemini falls in the 12th; its ruler Mercury, planet of writers and writing, is inconjunct Anaretic 29˚ Pluto. Moon in Sagittarius at 27˚ falls within 7 degrees of the South node in the 6th. The subject that made her famous, reanimating the dead and giving a creature life, was based not only on the occult (an arguably Plutonian subject), but also the scientific idea of galvanizing the dead flesh of a corpse—applying electricity to flesh, just like Galvani had done some twenty-five years before.
Percy’s nodal structure is reversed, but their nodal axis is another similarity they shared. His North node in Virgo in the 6th is also Mercury-ruled, with Moon also in conjunction with the South Node. Imagination is the gift with Moon on the South node in the chart of writers.
Her Mercury at 28˚ Virgo fell in conjunction with Shelley’s North Node at 24˚ Virgo; his Mercury at 5˚ Virgo fell in conjunction with her Mars/Sun/Uranus conjunction. The Composite has Gemini on the Ascendant, appropriate for two writers. Though ruler Mercury is not abundantly aspected, it does conjunct Venus in the 5th and trine Jupiter in the 9th, house of publishing.
I know you want me to look at their ‘romantic’ planetary combinations, but this story is not about conventional ideas of romance; it’s about Uranus and the effects it has on love.
But I will say this: Percy’s Sun/Uranus/Venus Leo stellium fell in Mary’s 3rd house (not specifically romantic, because the attraction is intellectual more than emotional). Her Mars fell in his 5th (romantic) but her Sun/Uranus conjunction fell in his 6th (not romantic, a house of work).
Her Venus/Chiron conjunction at 3˚ and 5˚ Libra fell close to his North Node (romantic in the sense that her Venus love-nature pulled him along on his North node path, although I think the planet person has their work cut out for them with the nodal axis person, who usually resists planetary energy sitting on their North Node).
What is romantic is that his Mars/Neptune/Jupiter conjunction fell in her 5th. That’s probably part of why he fell in love with her “at first sight,” that and the romance of being a young Leo, combined with the innate romance of Moon in Pisces in the 12th. Unfortunately for Mary, his ‘falling in love’ had less to do with her, and more to do with his fundamental nature. Their marriage was ‘falling apart’ the summer he died, in my astrological opinion because they each had too much of a burden to carry to keep this marriage going.
I can explain the Shelleys’ initial attraction to one another pretty easily, from an astrological perspective. There are many astrological facets they shared that made them compatible and drew them together.
Both were “free thinkers,” which at the time marked them out as Romantics as that era defined it. While this mostly just means that they rebelled against traditional values, their mutual Sun/Uranus conjunctions were always going to represent some of the energy like kids today who are ‘goth’, tattooed, or multiply-pierced.
Are they ‘bad kids’? No, they’re just expressing a different vibe than people around them. And consider that Percy was 22, Mary 16, when they met, and only slightly older when they eloped. This is very much a story about young people reacting against the restrictions of the society and time in which they lived (including their families’ stodgy values).
Sun conjunct Uranus is always going to carve out its own unique path. Because of this need for a unique, and often upsetting, personal expression, both Mary and Percy got in trouble with their individual families. In each case, both were effectively disowned—a very 4/10 axis theme—for going against their parents’ wishes.
It is well known that Percy contacted Mary’s socially radical father before the poet met the family. He offered William Godwin, a renowned political philosopher, access to his family’s wealth, in exchange for Godwin’s mentorship. By this time, Percy was bored in his marriage to Harriet Westbrook, a friend of his sisters’ he “rescued” after an infatuation with his cousin, another Harriet, failed. At the age of 19, he ran off with, and married, Harriet Westbrook.
In a story Jane Austen could have written (she died only a few years before Percy), Percy, now married, carried on a platonic, epistolary relationship with a muse-like figure, Elizabeth, a teacher with “advanced ideas.” Enter Mary Godwin, who replaced not one, but two women in Percy’s life.
Behind all of this lay a great deal of money, for Percy was in line to a baronetcy. His father cut off his allowance when Percy ran off with Harriet, although a maternal (Irish) uncle paid off Shelley’s debts and his father reinstated his money eventually. Shelley’s experience with his uncle inspired him to write a radical political treatise about British oppression and misuse of the Irish, his first foray into political polemics.
Percy’s interests lay in revolution and overthrow of the government. “Address to the Irish People,” intended to “open their eyes” to their mistreatment, was considered an act of aggression against his own government, who kept their eye on him, one of the reasons he kept on the move.
When Percy finally met Mary, who was considered “brilliant,” and who had been (informally) educated in Scotland, it was love at first sight (for him). He threatened suicide if Mary would not return his love (which his wife, Harriet, had also done when Percy did not seem to return her love early on in their relationship). Percy was still married to heavily pregnant Harriet when he abandoned her and ran away with Mary, age 16, and her step-sister, Claire, also 16, to Switzerland.
As the short years they had together went by, the trio continued to live a peripatetic life, mostly together; it is rumored that Percy and Claire were lovers. Mary and Percy believed in “free love,” so although Percy’s affair annoyed her, she also had her side interests.
Meanwhile, three out of four of Mary’s children with Percy died, plunging her into depression. Another sister of Mary’s committed suicide, as did Harriet, Percy’s by now ex-wife. When Percy tried to gain custody of the children from that marriage, however, he was deemed morally unfit, even though he had married Mary specifically because he was told that marriage would make him look better in the eyes of the court.
Today, their behavior would not have seemed unusually provocative for the rich and famous; in the mid-1800s, though, they lived lives of scandal, outraging their families; while Percy’s father cut him off financially, Mary’s father wouldn’t speak to her until the two finally married.
A painful ‘twist’ is that Mary’s Chiron in the 5th is conjunct 4th houseMercury and 5th house Venus, but is also square Saturn at the Ascendant, which just adds insult to injury. Melanie Reinhart’s Chiron and the Healing Journey says that 5th house Chiron represents ‘suffering’ due to one’s children, and Mary most certainly suffered due to the deaths of her children (although it has to be said that children did not survive at the rate they do now, so death and illness shadowed pretty much everyone until antiseptics and antibiotics were discovered).
Personally, I’d draw a larger net, and say that both Mary and Percy, with his natal Chiron in the 4th, were wounded by, and wounded, their family of origin (Composite 4th house Sun/Uranus/Chiron conjunction with Chiron Anaretic at 29˚), as well as exposing their children to sicknesses Mary herself complained her children would not have suffered if the Shelleys had remained in England.
Although we are quick to blame parents, we forget that (most) children grow up, and bear some responsibility for the way they treat their parents. Perhaps the emphasis on the 4th house is also a lesson for two people with such instability at the core of their beliefs and behaviors to learn how to be better children to their parents.
Even so, I suspect both were in a certain amount of inner turmoil over their decisions to think and act outside the box of Regency England’s morality, for both had Saturn close to the Ascendant, Percy a Taurus ASC, with Saturn one degree away, and Mary’s Cancer ASC, with Saturn 7 degrees away.
She was known to be ‘sickly’ all her life, suffering frequent depressions, whereas Percy died quite young, during his Saturn return. Saturn tends to be a planet that punishes transgressions of man-made law, at the same time it can make life fairly miserable on a day-by-day basis.
Little things and big things go wrong when your Saturn is this close to the Ascendant. For two people so determined to live outside social norms, traditional Saturn is an almost cruel reminder that there are bills to pay, including one’s karmic debt. One’s relationship to society can be fraught with Saturn in this position; there are a lot of rules that Saturn demands attention to, and if you refuse to do the work, Saturn in any sign at the Ascendant has a way of kicking you in the teeth. The lifetime is not “easy,” let’s just put it that way.
As always, we look to see what energy the two bring to their Composite, and what potential issues this means they would have to deal with individually, as well as as a couple.
Mary Shelley’s natal 4th house was more tenanted than Percy’s. With Mars, Sun, Uranus and Mercury in the 4th all posited in Virgo, with a 27˚ Leo IC, it’s my opinion that she technically had more to lose in their relationship. She brought more 4th house skills, but she also brought 4th house issues and expectations to their relationship. To have houses tenanted does not mean that the person has these issues all figured out; usualy, what you’re seeing is a lifetime spent dealing with the issues the house brings.
This seems especially true when you consider that her rising sign is Cancer, natural ruler of the 4th, and her Mars/Sun/Uranus conjunction in Virgo opposes 29˚ Pluto in the 10th, indicating power struggles that leave one in tatters (Uranus opposition Pluto is wide but powerful nonetheless because Uranus is tied to Sun and Mars; on its own, I would put less emphasis on its ability to do real damage to the psyche).
Percy’s Sun/Uranus/Venus also opposes Pluto, but from the 5th to the 11th, augmenting the message of his Sun in Leo conjunct Uranus, which, though grand and creative to the point of brilliance, would have been uniquely selfish in expression as well. There are endless examples of Mary’s Virgoan self-sacrifice up against Percy’s self-absorption, which in true Virgo/Cancer fashion, she complained about vociferously.
Mary gave birth to four children, three of whom died. She lost another to miscarriage. As a pragmatic Virgo, she earned more money than Percy in her lifetime, but the emotional losses added up, taking their toll, which was paid in depression and almost constant illness.
Aspects to both her Moon and Saturn are mixed, some ‘easy’, some hard, but the overall signature of her chart is one of a gentle, compassionate soul attached to a radical mind in a somewhat fragile body—Cancer Ascendant is not the strongest body type to be born into, for it puts the labile Moon in charge of the chart.
Emotions are often Cancer rising’s undoing, since emotions control the body’s responses and are the filter through which the native sees the world. Emotions are hard to ignore or deny if the rest of the chart shows certain forms of fragility (such as Mary’s Saturn on the Ascendant in Cancer, North Node in the imaginative 12th in Gemini, and Moon in the 6th on the South Node).
Her Cancer/Capricorn axis is intercepted. The ‘common wisdom’ about interceptions is that they reduce power or slow you down. Now, that was certainly not true with her writing; she wrote what is arguably one of the most influential works in the modern era, and it was acknowledged in her lifetime.
Instead, I’d suggest this axis, which formed both her 1st and 2nd houses, influenced not only her health, but also her wealth. That Percy’s Chiron in Cancer fell in her 2nd house seems to underline the fact that his (mis)fortunes were tied to hers; they travelled constantly to evade his creditors, and he was usually in debt.
I think a lot of her resilience came from Leo on the IC, for Sun ruling the 4th house helped her tremendously, as did her Virgo planets (Virgo being a mutable Earth sign is very helpful in difficult circumstances, because the urge is to work when things get hard, and that on its own can rescue some people from true despair).
Add to that her Sun/Mars conjunction in opposition to (Anaretic) Pluto conjunct the Midheaven. Anaretic Pluto brings crisis at some point (which I think can be seen in her multiple losses, including Percy’s untimely death at age 29). Though family equals loss, there is also personal strength, both as a response to loss, but also in the form of the comfort family can bring.
Percy, on the other hand, had only Chiron in Cancer in the 4th (the specific degree conjunct Fixed Star Pollux), with Cancer on the IC; ruler of Cancer, the Moon, in Pisces in the 12th, in opposition to Mercury, ruler of the North Node, in the 6th. Neptune, ruler of the South Node, was close to the Descendent, but also in the 6th. Ruler of the North Node conjunct an angle gives strength to the node.
Percy was plagued, if you will, by his unwillingness to bend, particularly in his relationship with his father, who had broken faith with him after he and a friend were thrown out of college for refusing to deny authorship of their anti-religion, atheist tract “The Necessity of Atheism.” Leo Sun conjunct Uranus with a Taurus Ascendant is hardly a flexible combination, and will not back down from a challenge, but will dig his feet in even more staunchly.
This inflexibility ties into the problems the rulers of the 4/10 axis bring with them, because if you get into a lifetime argument with your parents, it erodes the foundations of your existence, and Saturn and Moon become important symbols in your inner psyche.
Percy’s Saturn and Moon were in semi-square, from the 12th to the 1st houses, while the Cancer/Capricorn axis fell on his IC/MC. Moon as ruler of the 4th and Saturn as ruler of the 10th but in semi-square, an unpleasant but not irremediable combination, means that his parents would have profound power over his life, which his father enforced through his pocketbook, denying his son funds from time to time, but never actually disinheriting him.
Percy’s mother apparently sided with his father against him, another indicator that the 4th house represents not one, but both parents at once, since they work as a dyad in your life, even if your relationship with one is better or worse than the relationship with the other.
For Percy, Saturn has only one “easy” aspect, a trine to Mercury; all the other aspects are “in the red,” so to speak, meaning they are hard aspects, and therefore, cause a lot of emotional turmoil.
What does Percy’s Chiron in Cancer in the 4th house bring to their synastry and Composite chart? We are told to think of Chiron as representing one’s wound or ‘woundedness’, but I have written before about expanding that idea to include Chiron’s ability as a teacher. Percy, five years older than Mary, certainly functioned as a mentor and collaborator for her.
Her writing, its inspiration and style, blossomed with Percy’s attention. His Chiron falls in the 2nd house of her natal chart, indicating that both his ‘wounds’ and his ability to teach would have affected her materially, in such a way that her physical being (her health, her material wealth) was affected for better or for worse.
They moved almost continuously, their lives plagued by illness, lack of funds, and difficult family relationships. They also lived in constant fear of losing custody of their own children due to their insolvency. Mary had already lost one child shortly after birth. Moving from England to Italy, because it was thought Percy’s health would improve in the warmer climate, two of their older children then died of malaria.
Through all of the upheavals, they found time to write, even though their personal lives were about as unstable as one could imagine. Mary wrote partially to help her father’s fortunes, and to alleviate her grief at the loss of her children. She was also generally unhappy with Percy’s frequent absences and infidelities. They seem to have never been able to travel alone together; they always had her sister Claire with them, or one of Percy’s many followers—usually a woman, but Lord Byron features prominently too.
North Node in the 4th house of the Composite chart reifies the purpose of this relationship as that of two people coming together (let us call it their ‘soul contract’) to work toward how to be in a family. For Sun/Uranus types, this would not come naturally, and this is why this relationship is particularly poignant, because the urge to be together contradicts each person’s essential nature, leading to a certain kind of ego destruction that seems inescapable. For two people who sought freedom, the bonds they formed bound them together, and they certainly suffered together.
Sun conjunct Uranus is an undeniably creative combination; the two people are bringing an almost overwhelming amount of intellectual energy to the relationship. At the same time, the energy is divisive (Uranus, no matter the sign associated with it or the house it falls in is always divisive in a relationship) fomenting instability and even turmoil. Uranian energy often isolates the individual; first from him- or herself, then from others; finally, in some cases, the individual is separated from society altogether.
Obviously, this energy is too strong for a relationship; throw out the notion of ‘equals’ and equality—that’s for Aquarius, not Uranus. Uranus in the 4th house of a Composite is, ultimately, an energy that separates two people, particularly if their natal charts already point to division. Uranus in synastry is very much a “me first” disavowal of the entire concept of “union,” constantly pulling two people apart (even if that’s not their conscious intent).
Uranian energy is not “romantic” in any way; instead, it serves the purpose of the mind. It is a great energy to find for two collaborators, and in this way, it served the purpose of fomenting the Shelleys’ intellectual interests, including their radical politics.
The composite, of course, shows other energies: Venus, Mercury and Mars, all falling in the 5th house of creativity and children. Even so, Chiron and Uranus from the 4th conjunct Venus in the 5th, bringing even more disruption to their love life; the 5th house, as the house of lovers and romantic relationships (rather than family or marital unions) disrupts their romantic feelings for each other. Essentially, Uranus just simply foments too many schisms, too many breaks in routine, too many emotional upsets.
Of course, the ultimate disruption to a marriage is either divorce or death. In a Composite Sun/Uranus marriage, divorce is rarely necessary, since the two find it so hard to settle down with each other in the first place. The relationship is rarely stable enough to inspire a desire to sever the relationship permanently, for so much space is already built into the Sun/Uranus and in this case Uranus/Venus conjunctions. One could say there is almost too much freedom in the Shelley marriage.
I have to reiterate that Percy only married Mary because doing so, creating the appearance of stability rather than actual stability, made it more likely he could retain custody of his children from his marriage to Harriet. That motive for marriage does not represent the essence of romance, and speaks to the Uranus/Venus conjunction in the Composite.
Three pieces remain to discuss; one is of interest to me, the other two someone will question, so I will address them. Chiron in the Composite falls at 29˚, which means it’s at a ‘crisis’ point; continuing with these behaviors, whatever they are, bring about a crisis. Most of the time people with 29˚ planets or points in the chart are never going to change their behavior, so quit trying to get them to do so; you’re wasting your breath.
But when you see a 29˚ planet or point, you’re looking at a buildup to some crisis or other. To a greater rather than lesser extent, Mary drew this drama to her; her natal Mars/Pluto opposition, with Mars conjunct the IC in opposition to Pluto at 29˚, conjunct the MC, represents a man (Mars) with, at the worst, emotional issues (usually anger) at the same time it is an inner, psychological force that Mary herself would have had to manage the best she could.
Oppositions in one’s natal indicate not only a psychological strain between the energies; they also represent how those energies will manifest in your life. Unless you find a way to acknowledge your own inner need for control, you’ll eventually lose your sense of control to someone who will wrest it from you—these two energies are locked in a power struggle from birth.
And then, a Mars/Pluto opposition also indicates a violent accident, but it’s an opposition, which tends to lean towards the accident occurring outside the self. It happens “to you” through someone outside of you, usually a spouse or family member.
Mary didn’t make Percy get into the boat, nor did she even want him to go boating. But she definitely drew in a man with the kind of energy who would express both ends of that opposition, since the only other way she could express them was through her fiction (Frankenstein is a violent story on many levels).
We really should be looking at three different charts to discuss Percy’s death and its resonance for Mary. On June 16, 1822, just prior to Percy’s death by drowning on July 8, while they were staying at a villa in Italy, Mary lost another baby, this time to a miscarriage that almost killed her.
Mary’s Part of Widowhood at 2˚ Gemini fell directly on the Ascendant of their original Composite. In the progressed Composite, Saturn at 6˚ Gemini now conjuncts her Part of Widowhood, which falls in the 12th. Transiting Venus (which I see often at the time of death) forms a conjunction with the Part of Widowhood in the 12th of the progressed Composite.
Finally, given the power of Uranus for this couple, transiting Uranus sits exactly on the Descendent of the progressed Composite, indicating a schism or some form of disruption for the relationship.
Percy, who apparently could not swim, drowned, along with two others, on a boat during a sudden storm on July 8, 1822. Sun and Mercury were both transiting close to Percy’s natal Chiron, activating its opposition to the natal Part of Tragedy at 20˚ Capricorn. Mars was transiting over North Node. Mars is important because, when in aspect to Pollux (which Percy’s Mars was, by square) the native is at risk:
Violent, murderer or murdered, high position but final ruin, violent death by suffocation, drowning or assassination especially if the Moon be there also. [Robson*, p.187.* Fixed Stars and Constellations in Astrology, Vivian E. Robson, 1923.]
North Node was transiting within a few degrees of natal Pluto at 22˚ Aquarius, while natal Pluto was in opposition to natal Uranus at 18˚ (being transited by South node). The disturbing thing, though, is that Percy’s Part of Journeys by Water fell at 18˚ Aquarius, within a few degrees both of natal Pluto, and transiting North node. At the same time, his natal Part of Accidents fell at 9˚ Scorpio, in opposition to his natal Saturn at 2˚ Taurus (conjunct the Ascendant).
Transiting Uranus and Neptune were sitting on the cusp of his progressed 8th house (sudden storm/death). Uranus itself was posited, alone, in the 4th, in opposition to Pluto at the MC (a mirror of the Composite Uranus/Pluto opposition). Transiting Node is now over progressed Pluto, a combination one sees frequently at the time of death, since the “path” is now down into “Hades,” Pluto’s realm.
Transiting Mars was over North Node in the 5th. The 6th and 12th houses were in aspect, with retrograde Saturn at 1˚ Taurus (forming a conjunction with Percy’s natal Saturn/Ascendant), in opposition to progressed Saturn and Neptune in the 6th.
This is a pileup of bad aspects; as an astrologer, you just see “clouds looming” on Percy’s horizon. The fact that progressed Saturn is conjunct the Ascendent of the natal, but just a hair shy of the Ascendent, and in the 12th, is pretty awful, combined with all these other indications of trouble and endings. Mars for violence; Cadent houses, turbulent planets Neptune and Uranus travelling together, Saturn…. it doesn’t get much worse, really.
It is of interest just how many indicators of water and sudden or unexpected death could be found sprinkled through Percy’s various charts. 17th century astrologer William Lilly associated the 4th house with death by drowning, burial, tombs, fathers, inherited wealth (not money, per se, but what one inherits from one’s ancestors, which I link to DNA).
After Percy’s death, Mary continued on, pragmatic as Virgo/Cancer is, preserving her husband’s writings, raising the one son who lived into adulthood. She never remarried, but had minor romances here and there. It is obvious to me that the similarities between Percy and Mary were so strong that it was as though they were meant to be together, no matter how much difficulty and turmoil they were forced to endure together.
The similarities between their charts and their personalities bound them together in a way that a simple 5th house romance never could, and I think that’s another testament to the power of Saturn, particularly when you see it on the Ascendant of a Composite. This combination seems to force people to stay together, in a certain amount of misery, really, for the karmic purpose of becoming responsible adults, which picks up on the theme of the 4th house as well.
Saturn might very well have dominion over the 4th, particularly when, as in this Composite relationship chart, you see Saturn exactly aspecting the MC/IC axis at 5˚ Gemini/Leo/Aquarius. In this case, Saturn at the Ascendant reifies the serious and even negative messages of the 4th house, given that Saturn squares the Imum Coeli cusp.