Asteroids Damocles and Nessus: Our Difficult Time

by Boots Hart, CAP on September 1, 2010

The Sword of Damocles, by Felix Auvray

There are two myths intertwined in this discussion. The first concerns Damocles, the courtier who thought he could do the king’s job better than the king could…so why all the lordly, kingly fuss?

Hearing of this muttering, said king decided Damocles could do with a learning. So he offered him the job—how about you take the throne for a while? Show me what you’ve got, Damocles!

So Damocles takes on the ol’ throne-for-a-day routine, and no sooner has he settled his derriere in yon plush royal cushions than the looks up and sees a sword suspended directly overhead. Yes, point down. And it’s hanging by a literal human hair.

This is a whole lesson about the dangers of power along with those of assumption. We can’t really know what someone else is facing until (as the saying goes) we walk a mile in their shoes. Or in this case, take their place on the throne.

Astrologically, where we see Damocles in the natal chart is an area of our life through which we learn these sorts of lessons. In aspects to a planet, axis or nodal structure—we would see those attributes or venues as the avenues involved (our “throne,” if you will). There is some degree of danger in the Damocles description; the “human hair” described as the sole thing holding up the duly sharp and heavy sword gives us a very clear description of our ability, yea verily perhaps even our tendency to take ourselves right to the edge before we recognize the blithe arrogance of our choices which have led us to such a…(dare I say it?)…point.

The other tale to consider here is that of Nessus. Nessus is a centaur, and centaurs are a merging of animal (beast) and (higher thinking) man. Though softened in modern animation, the original Greek centaur joins the human body at the genitals to the horse’s beating heart, giving us the obvious challenge of whether we will use the great strength of the horse to empower thinking man or whether mankind will live a life of “genital instinct.”

The next thing to know about Nessus is that he is the son of ungrateful Ixion and (of all personages), Nephele, the cloud which Zeus (Jupiter) conjured up and molded into the image of his wife Hera when he realized that Ixion—a guest in Zeus’ house who had just been pardoned by yon King of Greek Gods for heinous crimes—that Ixion had no sooner been forgiven and shown kindness than he set his lustful eyes on Zeus’ wife.

Ixion with Nephele (a copy of Hera), Pierre Paul Rubens (1615), Musée du Louvre, Paris

Ixion with Nephele (a copy of Hera), Pierre Paul Rubens (1615), Musée du Louvre, Paris

It was an act of unbridled, incomprehensibly malignant, lustful ingratitude towards one’s host. And it proved Ixion’s ultimate undoing. He took Nephele (the cloud woman) and Jupiter dealt with Ixion accordingly. Yet as happens in Greek myth (and human nature, unfortunately) the nature of the son fell not so very far from maligned father. Nessus grows up and goes about his centaur business only to fall in heated lust with Deianira, wife of Hercules (or Heracles, if you prefer). Cut to the moment when things are tough and danger threatens—Nessus is called upon to carry Deianira across a river. Evidently thinking one large body of water is enough of a margin, no sooner does Nessus trot ashore than he attempts the foisting of self on said spoken-for beauty.

Stories vary on whether Deianira liked Nessus, loved Nessus, was an innocent who knew not what she was doing and so on, but all the various versions of this tale unite on Hercules taking grave exception to any centaur messing around with his wife. Being Hercules, he does what a hero husband does, too—he sends a herculean arrow hurtling across the river straight into Nessus’ heart.

Nessus Fleeing

Guido Reni, Abduction of Deianira, 1620-21, Louvre Museum

As he lay dying, Nessus pretended to repent, telling Deianira to take his blood-stained cloak and throw it around her husband—that his blood would make Hercules impervious to all harm.

Well, sort of. Nessus’ blood was poison—certainly to Hercules. When Deianira throws the cloak around her husband’s shoulders the poisonous taint of the centaur’s jealousy and desire for vengeance kills Hercules. So yes, the cloak did make Hercules impervious to all harm but did so by inflicting death upon him, removing Hercules from the perils of life.

We all have Nessus in our chart. Wherever that point is, that is the area of life in which we are prone to experiencing this sort of “poisonous jealousy,” either as the object of someone else’s craven feelings or because we’re all human and there’s darkness inside each and every one of us. To be sure, we can resist it. We can discipline ourselves and hold ourselves to standards. But those who think that they are outside of or beyond these mortal attributes are just kidding themselves. A good astrologer can sit down with your chart and look at where Nessus is and delineate by house, rulership, aspects, Sect and any number of other means how that Nessus operates. You may be someone who fights against such abuse. Or you may be someone who in completely disavowing the energy draws it to you. Energy is energy and none of us is exempt—and the number of times that any astrologer has heard the question “is that in my chart too?” makes us all incredibly aware of the fact that every human alive wants more of the good stuff and less of the bad.

If we had a chart for Nessus, undoubtedly we would see great longings for love. We would see a vulnerability to many things. We’d probably see deep wounds stemming from childhood since according to the myth, Jupiter condemns Ixion to everlasting punishment not merely for intending to violate the bonds of husband/wife (and thus by implication, the bonds of family and societal standards) but also because Jupiter had just forgiven Ixion for past crimes.

And because Ixion was a guest in Jupiter’s home. That gift of generosity, of welcoming someone into your home, is not merely the physical gesture of having someone over for dinner or some such—though it is that, certainly. But it’s far more than that. The metaphor is also about the opening of one’s spirit, making yourself vulnerable to someone else when you welcome them into your hearth of heart. That they should the take advantage of you? If there is such a thing as sin—totally apart from religion, meaning “sin” as a mortal and willful transgression against another human being—it is the knowing that something is hurtfully harmful to someone else and doing it anyway.

Because of Ixion’s bad choices, his son Nessus had to grow up without his father. We can only imagine of course, but it would seem likely Nessus would have known that the King of the Gods (Jupiter/Zeus) had found his father so wanting as to condemn him to eternal torment. How many people know some form of this story in their own life? And considering that Nessus’ mother is defined as a “cloud”—a vapid personality which takes one form or another as found useful in any divine (cosmic, karmic) situation?

This isn’t outstanding parenting—certainly not to a being defined as a centaur. How many of us fall away or towards carnal or totally intellectual lives because one of our parents was a monster and the other merely a cloud? Or maybe it was a teacher. Or someone else.

So these are the two myths involved, which are hard enough apart and when taken together bring us to a point of “danger without, dangerous within”—a situation which many people can relate to in a world which has come to feel more problematic and perilous in recent years.

To the mythic portion of this contemplation, astrology would then add astronomical data, which in this case starts by defining Damocles as a long-period comet with an orbit of 40.74 years. If you’re an astrologer, that number (40 years) immediately summons images of the three famous “mid-life crisis” transits (Pluto square Pluto, Uranus opposition Uranus and Neptune square Neptune) which from generation to generation vary a little, but all of which mark the thirties-into-the-forties transition that so many people find so “threatening” as a life marker.

And what it is that is threatened? Their sense of personal power. The reality of this is that the raw power of youth is at this time transitioning into the greater and for many, longer-lasting potential of maturity and human creation/creativity over pure biological essence. We know also that many folks fail go totally haywire at this time. We’ve all heard of the guy who at 40 throws over the wife and kids for the 20-year-old and a sports car, but there are a thousand different ways that people act out.

More on Damocles is the fact that at its outermost orbital point it cycles beyond Uranus—and that at its innermost point it plays footsie with assertive-versus-aggressive pro-active Mars…which brings up a whole other point with regards to that very pointy sword. Damocles—as the story suggests—would seem to be what we do (Mars) with changes (Uranus) over which we have no control (all celestial objects orbiting beyond Saturn being by definition, “beyond our grasp’).

As for Nessus, Nessus is wholly beyond our control; its orbit takes it beyond Neptune (at its farthest) and inside Uranus at its closest. Thus a sort of “loop” is drawn between the Neptunian (fantasy versus acceptance of/surrender to reality; ego against mercy/victim-martyr against guru) and Uranus—planet of breakthroughs, anarchy, liberation, destruction, idealism, tyranny and universalism versus elitism.

In other words, Nessus is wholly about motivation and our ability to grapple with what drives us. And when we don’t, or perhaps to the degree that we don’t—or if we are wholly canted in one direction or the other (the pure victim, the utter tyrant, etc.), we attract Nessus in another in order to “jar” us out of complacency or internal leniency or whatever else is causing us not to get hold of ourselves in whatever psycho-dramatic way.

So why care about this—specifically now? Because Nessus and Damocles are running in tandem. As we gaze out into space (astrology being a very geocentric science) we see them both moving through Aquarius—sign of society, social systems and in general, all things Uranian.

They came into joined connection in September 2008—just about the time the economic collapse happened. With both symbols then in emotional degrees of Aquarius, this suggests both a set of dangerously poisonous causes and equally devastating potentials and effects.

By November 2009, Nessus and Damocles were no more than a degree apart. Moving through the latter section of Aquarius’ emotionally social second decanate (degrees 10-19), life itself began to manifest Nessus-Damocles situations which in turn polarized many, turning some into tyrants and some into victims.

In May 2010, there was some flirting with movement into Aquarius’ third (worldly) decanate: things which had been “under cover” or hidden from view began coming to light or becoming public. Because of retrogrades, this has waffle-waffled back and forth and we should not expect any real “nailing down” of situations until 2011 when on February 8, Nessus moves into the Aquarian third decan, to be followed by Damocles doing the same thing on February 18.

In our personal lives, in our experience of life, in our watching and listening to worldly doings, we are going to get an earful of unpleasantries for some time to come as Nessus and Damocles will continue running close enough together that the connection between them will not break until late January of 2013. And that’s a long time.

Yet while the temptation may be to “play it safe” and hunker down, it’s also to be remembered that there is no escaping our Self. This is about each one of us. We each have a Damocles in our chart. We each have a Nessus in our chart. The energy we do not use is still energy, which leads to that thing which gets said in so many places and in so many ways: those who will not help solve a problem, become the problem.

Did I forget to mention your natal chart has an Ixion too?

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