On June 4, 2003, domestic doyenne Martha Stewart, clad in an innocence-suggesting off-white rain coat with white umbrella, appeared in Federal Court in New York City. There she was indicted on nine felony counts of securities fraud and obstruction of justice related to her sale 18 months earlier of roughly 4000 shares of ImClone stock. She sold ImClone's stock just one day before the FDA refused approval of its cancer drug, sending the stock price plummeting.
Martha netted some $228,000 from the sale, but accusations of insider trading which broke almost a year to the day before the indictment sent her own stock spiraling out of control. Martha, whose 61% ownership of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia had once made her a billionaire on paper, found her personal wealth dwindling to a comparatively paltry $300 million.
Ironically, on June 6, 2002, the very day the scandal broke, Martha's appointment to the Board of the New York Stock Exchange was announced, ushering in the high water mark of her career at the very instant the Fates pulled the rug out from under her. To add insult to injury, the same week the indictment was released, European studies with ImClone's cancer drug were released which show that the drug does, in fact, work, and ImClone's stock soared again.
Martha is an amazing American Phenomenon, a self-propelled entrepreneur, some might say juggernaut, who rose from extremely modest roots in a second-generation Polish immigrant family in Nutley, New Jersey, to become a household word and a brand name at one of the country's leading retailers. Born Martha Kostyra on August 3, 1941 (1:33 PM EDT, Jersey City, NJ), she attended Barnard College on a partial scholarship, where she helped support herself as a fashion model, married publisher Andy Stewart in 1961 (the couple acrimoniously divorced in 1990 after a three-year separation), gave birth to her only child, daughter Alexis, in 1965, and became a successful stock broker in 1967.
When the bear markets of the early 70's hit, Martha retired from business temporarily to renovate Turkey Hill Farm, a dilapidated Westport, Connecticut, property which is now one of five homes she owns. In 1976, she began a fledgling catering business which became a million-dollar proposition within ten years. But this was barely scratching the surface of her potential.
Her first book, Entertaining, published in 1982, was an instant success and led to her eponymously-named magazine and TV series, Martha Stewart Living. The series began in 1993 as a weekly half hour on cable and mushroomed into a daily hour-long cooking and homekeeping extravaganza in 1997, when Martha's website also premiered. When Martha's company went public in 1999, she caught the tail end of the biggest bull market in American history, cashing in to the tune of a billion dollars and inaugurating a full line of domestic doodads marketed nationally through an exclusive contract with K-Mart.
Martha Stewart's unstoppable rise and meteoric fall have been fodder for the media for over 20 years, and she has been described as the single most influential individual to ever impact the American domestic scene.
What is it about Martha that stirs our deepest passions? You either love her or hate her; there is very little in between. The domestic diva (who turns 62 this August) has captured a unique place in the annals of the do-it-yourself genre. Martha's genius lies in making the difficult look simple, encouraging us that with just a bit more effort, we, too, can have perfectly manicured lawns and gardens, throw exciting dinner parties with exquisite self-prepared cuisine we grew ourselves, and acquire and maintain all the household gadgets, staples, and raw materials needed to live the truly good life.
From gardening to collectibles, cooking to homekeeping, Martha has the domestic bases covered. She has built a formidable media empire (books, TV, magazine, Internet, retail and mail order) out of the ability to do many things well, with style, taste, and a bit of creative inspiration that still brings surprises to her devoted fans after 20 years, long after most do-it-yourself gurus have begun recycling their old ideas.
How does she do it? How does she suck us in every time, convincing us that the particular patented brand of anal retentiveness allied with sophistication and culture which she markets is just the thing we need to make our lives "a good thing?"
The answer may lie in her birth chart. Martha Stewart is a veritable case study in the considerable persuasive abilities and potential for manifestation inherent in having a nativity with strong Deep Space contacts. Martha's Sun at 10 Leo is conjoined a Black Hole, one of those intriguing stellar remnants whose collapse into a virtual pinpoint creates an anomaly with gravity so intense that not even light can escape it, hence its name.
A Black Hole sucks in whatever matter falls within its space-time boundary, the "event horizon," much in the same way Martha sucks in anyone within the sound of her voice; having heard the siren call of either, we cannot return to the Light World unchanged.
A Black Hole's infinite gravity creates tears within the structure of space-time as we know it, and may afford passage to parallel universes, or act as an interlocutor with alternate realities, just as Martha may provide glimpses into that parallel reality we sometimes term "the good life," where there is always time for every task and a separate scissors to perform it. (One episode of the TV series "Martha Stewart Living" has Martha expounding upon the necessity of maintaining separate and labeled scissors, providing one for each task, be it cutting fabric, paper, vegetation or food. Not for her the half-closed kitchen drawer crammed with all-purpose cutting implementsshe even shows us how to keep the edges honed with a whetstone.)
Black Holes further act as points of energy drain or absorption, and at times it seems clear Martha feeds off us as much as we do off her certainly, to become engaged with our domestic lives to the extent that she espouses would be to have our energies completely consumed by them. Even the name she has chosen for her company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, has a voracious, all-consuming Black Hole quality to it.
In addition to the Black Hole, there is also a Pulsar which contacts her Sun exactly. Pulsars are rapidly rotating stellar remnants which emit X-rays and radio signals, or "pulses," every few seconds. They are informational in nature, and this one is the seeming source of the endless flow of domestic trivia which spouts from Martha's lips like so many pearls cast before adoring swine.
This potent Sun/Black Hole/Pulsar combination lies in Martha's Ninth House, very near the Midheaven. Success in Ninth House matters such as writing and publishing is assured, with the accent on improving yourself through knowledge; the Midheaven contact puts her efforts out there for all to see.
But there are other factors which have contributed to Martha's phenomenal success. Her 25 Sagittarius Moon conjoins both Ceres and the Galactic Center, inviting exploration and a hearty appreciation of mixing in and getting your hands dirty, as well as an eclectic, multi-ethnic approach to cuisine. Moon/Ceres indicates a strong focus on the domestic/nurturing arts, while the Galactic Center contact shows the universality of Martha's message: everybody has a home life and deals on some level with the issues she raises. Her Aries Mars refuses to hold back, but leaps ahead into the domestic fray with all the enthusiasm it can muster, which is considerable. If Nike didn't already own the phrase "Just Do It," it would be Martha's.
Media savvy is shown in a tight semisquare (45 degrees) from Martha's food-and-family-oriented 25 Cancer Mercury to her 9 Virgo Venus (also conjoined a Black Hole, and the source of her love for the fastidious and mania for organization and detail). She loves the camera and it loves her (remember that among her early career ventures was as a fashion model while attending Barnard College).
Venus is in the Tenth House of Career, perfect in two respectsnot only establishing Martha as an arbiter of good taste, but indicating via the conjoined Black Hole the vast amount of energy she channels into her career (often up before that old laggard, the sun, by the time normal office hours have begun Martha has already put in a day that would put most people to shame). It is also reflective of her six-year stint in a brokerage house before embarking on her culinary career. Venus in the Tenth delights in showing others just how beautiful a thing can be, and Martha's professional focus has always been on the aesthetic appeal offered by the lifestyle she endorses.
Her first book, Entertaining, which debuted more than 20 years ago, led to a PBS special; the PBS special; the special and successive books led to a magazine, the magazine led to a series, while online services and a mail-order catalog tie it all together, and her exclusive merchandising contract with K-Mart has put her name all over the shelves of one of America's top retailers). Now you can prepare yourself for the daily lesson (TV series) by first reading the syllabus (magazine), then referencing the course text (books) and if things still aren't clear you can buy the kit mail-order, or the finished product retail, which is almost as good as having Martha show up on your doorstep to do it herself.
Her Gemini Jupiter allied to the Leo Pluto which conjoins her Sun generates a philosophy based on empowering yourself through acquiring information and aggressively actualizing your own unique creative spark: better living through homegrown style, with a resolution to the ages-old duality of materialism and spirituality. For Martha, the material is spiritual, if you apply just enough elbow grease.
The core of her success and appeal, however, may be found in a tight Saturn/Uranus conjunction at 27 and 29 Taurus, straddling a Maser at 28 Taurus, trine her 25 Virgo Neptune, inconjunct her Moon/Ceres and the Galactic Center at 25/26 Sagittarius, and quintile (72 degrees) her 10 Leo Sun.
Saturn/Uranus combined with Maser energy produces a volatile mix, and is the undoubted source of her seemingly boundless energy and pushing-the-limits style (never one to do things by halves nor omit any detail, an early book included a recipe for a six-foot Buche de Noel, a traditional French holiday dessert, and in a classic episode of the series Martha imparts the secrets of a well-made bed, including hospital corners).
Masers, which may be likened to a cosmic cattle prod, produce bursts of intense, sometimes disabling, energy, which is all grist for the mill to Martha's Black Hole Sun. Essentially, this celestial linkage describes a highly energized (Maser), high-tech (Uranus) career (Saturn) focused on her unique persona (Sun) and the ease (trine) with which she romanticizes and glamorizes (Neptune) the uncomfortable (inconjunct) task of getting our domestic (Moon/Ceres) lives into the hyper-order within which Martha revels (and to which every true Martha-ite aspires). This mandate for maintenance receives universal (Galactic Center) notice and finds universal appeal.
If there is a fly in this domestic ointment (made with herbs she grew herself in her own private medieval knot garden) it is the 10 Scorpio Ascendant. Scorpio Ascendant folks often sting as much as they empower, but by-and-large Martha keeps her uncharitable thoughts to herself, though you can occasionally catch a glimmer of what those around her must contend with when an on-air guest steps slightly out of line or utters a sentiment Martha doesn't quite agree with. You'd need high definition television to actually see the hackles raised, but you can feel them. Even here, though, in her Achilles heel, Martha has been luckyat 10 Scorpio the Ascendant exactly squares her Sun, providing a strong, energetic link which focuses her persona and sends it out forcefully to the public.
Martha's successful use of her Deep Space and planetary contacts enabled her to rise to the top of her profession, like the cream in the many rich desserts she creates for us on screen and in the pages of her magazines and books. There appeared to be little doubt that her influence, already felt among her loyal fans, would extend even further afield in the energy-hungry quest for raw materials which her Black-Hole-conjoined Sun engenders. Whether it be covering your kitchen chair leg ends with carpet rounds to prevent scratches on the floor, or drilling minute holes in several hundred pinecones so they can be strung into a holiday garland, Martha was never at a loss for the practical, no-nonsense hint or the flamboyant, over-the-top statement. She was an American Phenomenon on her way to becoming an American Institution, and a truly "good thing."
And then the ImClone scandal hit. Run by Sam Waksal, a personal friend who formerly dated both Martha and her daughter Alexis, ImClone is a small company which was attempting to market a new cancer drug. FDA approval was pending, and due in late December of 2001, but there were problems with the report, Waksal learned, which might deny licensing. On the 27th, after conferring several times with Merrill Lynch broker Peter Bacanovic, who also counted Waksal among his clients, Martha precipitately sold 3,926 shares of the company. The next day the FDA officially rejected ImClone's proffered drug, sending its stock plummeting, and in June of 2002 Waksal, who had also sold shares the day before the report, and had prompted his daughter to do the same, was arrested on charges of insider trading.
When the story broke, Martha had just been coronated to the Board of the New York Stock Exchange. She and her broker agreed that the sale had been prompted not by Waksal's tip-off, but by a standing commitment to sell the stock should it dip below the $60 mark, which it did on that date.
The public and federal investigators seemed unconvinced. Shares in Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, which had just crested the $19 mark in early June, fell steadily all summer as Stewart and her lawyers jousted with the House Energy & Commerce Committee's requests for information and documents, dramatically dropping to a low of $5.26 per share in early October 2002 when her broker's assistant turned state's evidence and Martha felt compelled to resign her newly-acquired NYSE Board seat. At the end of that month, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia posted a 42% drop in third-quarter profits, followed the next quarter by its first-ever loss.
Just as her potential and phenomenal rise can be charted by Deep Space contacts, so, too, can her fall. Key moments occurred with the sale of the ImClone stock on December 27, 2001, her simultaneous NYSE Board appointment and the breaking of the ImClone scandal story on June 6, 2002, her resignation from the NYSE Board on October 3, 2002, and her indictment on June 4, 2003.
At the time of the ImClone stock sale, the Sun, Venus and Pluto were clustered within 20 degrees of Martha's Moon in the Second House of Finances. The Sun at 5 Capricorn was exactly conjunct a Black Hole, and Venus at 1 Capricorn exactly squared one; Venus rules the thousands, and Pluto the billions (in an attempt to save the former, Martha squandered the latter). Pluto at 15 Sagittarius also opposed natal Jupiter, the third of the 'financial planets,' ruling the millions.
Mercury at 18 Capricorn was also conjunct a Black Hole, often an indicator of faulty decision-making processes, while Neptune at 7 Aquarius was tightly opposed the midpoint of her Sun/Pluto conjunction, lending an air of self-sabotage and confusion to the proceedings. Saturn at 9 Gemini retrograde was criss-crossing the cusp of the Eighth House (governing, among other things, both scandals and investments), conjoining her Jupiter, which rules speculation, and exactly squared the Tenth House Venus.
When the scandal broke simultaneously with the NYSE Board appointment on June 6, 2002, Mars had come to 5 Cancer, conjunct a Black Hole in the Eighth House and exactly opposed the Sun for the ImClone stock sale, while Venus at 19 Cancer now opposed the Mercury/Black Hole placement for the sale. Pluto at 16 Sagittarius was still opposing natal Jupiter at 14 Gemini, now conjoined by both the transit Sun at 15 Gemini and transit Saturn at 18 Gemini, and Neptune had moved to an exact opposition to Martha's natal Sun from 10 Aquarius.
When Martha resigned her NYSE Board seat on October 3, 2002, Jupiter was conjunct her Sun and just cresting the Midheaven, an odd-seeming circumstance until one reflects on Jupiter's tendency to bite off more than it can chew, and the King of the God's resentment of mortal hubris and individuals who get above themselves. (All in all, Jupiter has not been Martha's friend of late; all the significant moments in the recent debacle have seen Jupiter prominent, natally, by transit, or both.) Transit Pluto still opposed natal Jupiter, and transit Venus at 14 Scorpio was exactly inconjunct; Mars at 22 Virgo and Mercury at 29 were straddling Martha's natal 25 Virgo Neptune, an apt image of the disappointment the resignation must have caused her.
When the indictment was handed down on June 4, 2003, the Sun at 13 Gemini had returned to conjoin natal Jupiter, while transit Jupiter and Neptune exactly opposed one another at 13 Leo and Aquarius, highlighting the MC/IC axis, and with Jupiter again conjunct Martha's natal Sun. Jupiter exactly conjoined a Maser, and Neptune exactly conjoined a Black Hole.
And what about that indictment? Now there's a handy piece of Black Hole double-speak, if ever there was one. The Justice Department felt it had not enough evidence to proceed with a charge of insider trading (though the accompanying civil suit, where the burden of proof is lower, does contain that charge), so the case, in the words of US attorney James Comey, "is about lying." Essentially, Comey contends that Martha did this heinous thing, and whenever she went on national TV or radio or in the Press to deny it, it was in an attempt to bolster her own company's stock, thus giving rise to the charge of securities fraud, and that when she repeated these protestations of innocence in voluntarily interviews with investigators, which were not under oath, she committed obstruction of justice.
So basically what we have here is a prosecution for lying about a crime which the government cannot prove occurred. It can be confirmed that Martha knew the Waksal family were bailing out of ImClone stock, but not that they themselves told her why, or encouraged her to follow their example. That information probably came to her in an ethically-suspect manner through their mutual broker, Bacanovic, but does the mere fact of being aware of a public stock sale constitute insider trading, or merely savvy guessing? And even if the former, if there is not enough evidence to charge, let alone convict, how can she be charged with lying about it? One is, indeed, tempted to conclude, in the words of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, that there is "more to this than meets the eye."
What's next for Martha? Trial, apparently. On the day following the indictment, she stepped down as CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, but remains on its Board, and her lawyers contend she will not plea, but take the case to court, fighting for acquittal. In an attempt to disassociate the person from the company, Martha also set up a new website, www.marthatalks.com, to air her opinions of the matter, wherein her lawyers question the government's actions towards her while major offenders such as CEOs for Enron and WorldCom remain uncharged. The site received more than 2 million hits in its first 18 hours online.
One of the most intriguing aspects of individuals with strong Sun/Black Hole contacts such as Martha's conjunction, is that they have a chameleon-like ability to be all things to all people. Just who is Martha Stewart, in this situation? Just which twist of the prismatic Black Hole kaleidoscope are we to believe?
Is she the pitiable figure whose humble, financially challenged immigrant roots were so psychologically scarring that she is now unable to prevent herself from clinging to even this insubstantial sum, despite the risks, unable to accept that success and prosperity are hers? Is she the grasping, demanding, steamrollering bitch counting out each penny in her tastefully appointed castle keep? Is she the truth-telling, innocent naïf caught in a web of circumstance whose unfortunate timing only appears to be damning in hindsight? Or is she the self-righteous target of a government official out to make a name for himself, or to provide a highly public scapegoat for the corporate shenanigans of the past two years which have gone largely unpunished?
Although I've taken more than a few potshots at Martha in this piece, a thing which is admittedly easy to do, on the whole I tend to think of her as a "good thing," and am indebted to her for a wealth of inspiration in my own creative projects. Her impact on the American domestic scene has been astounding, and an incredible example of how much one determined individual can do. My sense of justice is stirred, also, by the apparently trivial case being presented against her. If this can take down Martha, no one is safe. And so I echo the sentiments of New York Times columnist William Safire in his June 12 op-ed piece: "Fight it, Martha."
[Portions of this article appeared previously in the December 1996 issue of Horoscope Guide magazine.]