Life Changes

Transit Cycles and Astrological Theory

The year was 1876. A scientist was being born. In March Sigmund Freud, a promising young scientist, was awarded a travel grant to pursue a between-semesters research project, his first, at the university’s new zoological research station at Trieste, Italy. His task was to identify the testes of the eel! Despite his budding interest in science, practical considerations had led young Freud in the fall of 1873 to enter the University of Vienna as a medical student. Thereafter he had religiously followed the curriculum prescribed for doctors-to-be. But during the summer of 1875, under the impact of an obscure urge, he had begun a survey of the sciences. Now he studied zoology proper, not “zoology for medical students”. He dissected and studied under the microscope 400 eels during the spring of 1876, trying to confirm Syrski’s suggestion that a certain small-lobed organ found in immature males (no one had ever found a mature male!) was the missing testes. His analysis of the organ’s structure tended to support Syrski’s idea, but he was disappointed that his results were not more conclusive. His professors, however, appreciating his cautious and thorough approach, were favorably impressed. They thought the young biologist would go far.

The year was 1883. Freud’s career focus was shifting. Soon after his initial research effort he had been accepted into the research lab of a famous scientist, where he spent six happy years. In the summer of 1882, however, he had fallen madly in love and been forced to confront the reality of his situation. He would be able to marry only after he had established a secure income, and he wouldn’t be able to make a living as a pure scientist for years to come, if ever. He would have to leave the lab and enter the general hospital, spend several years as a resident physician in order to complete his training, and then enter private practice. Science would have to become a sideline, a bitter pill to swallow. As the months went by and he moved from department to department, he began to feel a need to specialize. Neuropathology, the study and treatment of disorders of the nervous system, attracted him. It fitted in with his current research interests – he had begun doing research on the human central nervous system – and he was turning out to have a knack for clinical diagnosis. By September 1883 he had definitely decided to become a specialist in neuropathology. His diagnostic ability promised a bright future as a physician.

The year was 1890. An interest in psychopathology was emerging. During the four years he had been in private practice, Freud had seen few genuine cases of nerve damage or disease. Instead, like most of his colleagues, he frequently saw patients with vague physical complaints traceable to no ascertainable physical cause. Was it all in their minds? He was beginning to think so. The previous summer he had visited an hypnosis clinic in France to perfect his technique, and the demonstrations he saw gave him the impression that powerful unconscious forces were at work. At about the same time he tried out an approach he had learned of seven years earlier, when his friend and mentor Josef Breuer told him of the curious case of Anna O., the girl who, under hypnosis, relived her trauma and relieved her symptoms. But Freud wanted to do more than merely banish symptoms through hypnotic suggestion or catharsis. He wanted to know where the symptoms came from. How could mere thoughts cause physical symptoms? How could a person have “memories” that affected her life but were inaccessible to her? What could these things tell him about the functioning of the mind? He began to doubt the validity of the therapeutic models he had been taught and the theories on which they were based. He realized he was at square one, that he would have to laboriously build up an understanding of the human mind based on the raw material of his patients’ experiences. Freud, the rejuvenated scientist, began to look forward to these oddball cases, these “neurotics” from whom he was learning so much.

The year was 1897. Modern depth psychology was being born. In June of that year, reeling under the shock of his father’s death and his reaction to it, Freud had begun probing the depths of his own psyche. Concurrently, he had begun reconsidering a cherished insight. In every case in which he had psychoanalyzed an hysteric, he had uncovered the memory of an early childhood seduction. Never one to shrink from a repugnant truth, he had for several years maintained that all cases of hysteria involved the seduction of an innocent child by an adult. It was a universal truth and he had been the one to discover it. But now, on September 21, 1897, he began a remarkable letter. “Let me tell you straight away the great secret that has been dawning on me in recent months,” he began. “I no longer believe in the neurotica.” He went on to explain his doubts, the sheer implausibility that so many fathers could be sexually molesting their daughters. However much it might have been his discovery, the theory simply was not true. Yet he wasn’t depressed: “Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askalon, in the land of the Philistines, but between you and me I have the feeling of a victory rather than of a defeat.” And he was right. With the mental block of his erroneous interpretation removed, and aided by his self-analysis, he was now able to view his accumulated findings in a new light. He began to realize he was seeing cases of infantile sexuality, not infantile seduction, other insights began to break through, and he was at last able to begin writing his masterwork, The Interpretation of Dreams.

The year was 1905 . . .

The idea of recurrence, of a recognizable effect repeating itself at regular intervals, is a central theme of the preceding biographical sketch. It’s also a key research concept. As astrologers we almost invariably analyze each event in isolation from all others. We look for an event, decide it’s a Jupiterian event, and then look for configurations involving Jupiter, Sagittarius, the ninth house, the ruler of the ninth house, etc. And we regularly succeed, because there are so many ways of finding what one astrologer refers to as the ninth letter of the astrological alphabet, and our success invariably causes us to feel that astrology has, once again, proven itself. But that conclusion is mistaken. If we had decided at the beginning that the event was Saturnian, we would just as easily have found Saturnian indications. In such cases our reasoning is circular. Our assumptions are arbitrary, based on tradition, and our methods are such as to confirm any arbitrary assumptions we might make. There is, in fact, nothing observable about any event taken in isolation that can enable us to logically designate it as Jupiterian, Saturnian, Uranian, whatever.

If we want to derive our interpretations and rules from observation rather than the authority of tradition, if we truly want to use “what works”, we will have to go beyond the traditional astrological habit of considering each event by itself. A single given event, such as cutting your finger to the bone while working in the yard, can on the basis of observation alone be attributed to anything that happens to coincide with it in time: transiting Mercury conjunct natal Mars in the tenth house, a black cat walking across the yard, a car going down the road. On the basis of a single event considered by itself, not a single concurrent event can be eliminated from consideration as the predictor of the observed “effect”.

By considering a regularly recurring effect, however, a pattern, we automatically eliminate all predictors except those that fit the pattern. Freud experienced a recurrent effect during 1875-76, 1882-83, 1889-90 and 1897. What astrological configuration, we should ask, recurs at seven-year intervals? There are several conceivable possibilities, but the most relevant observation is this: Saturn transits conjunct, square, or opposite a given point every seven years. We now note that Saturn was, roughly speaking, between 20º Aquarius and 5º Pisces between the summer of 1875 and the summer of 1876, and in comparable areas of Taurus-Gemini, Leo-Virgo, and Scorpio-Sagittarius during the other transition periods. According to Freud’s data he had natal Mercury at 27º49′ Taurus. Thus, we can tentatively conclude that the transition periods described above were timed by a series of hard-angle Saturn/Mercury transits. Indeed, subsequent transitions, and subsequent Saturn/Mercury transits, occurred during 1905, 1912, and 1919.

[NOTE: For Freud’s birth chart, see the author’s article “Astrological Correspondences: The Patterns in Our Lives” at:]

This brings up a subtle but important point. Astrologers, when they speak of predictable occurrences, aren’t usually thinking of transition periods. The events we “predict” are usually, at in principle, timeable by a stopwatch. They also fall into certain well-defined categories: births (of our children), death, marriage, divorce, sudden fortune or misfortune, things that happen to those we care about, things that intrigue or otherwise affect us. In short, we assume we already know what kinds of events are predictable, and ask ourselves only: How can we predict these things? That attitude, however, presumes not just that the universe is orderly, but that it is orderly according to our specifications.

This latter presumption is debatable, and is in fact one of the major mental blocks that have impeded astrological progress. When we analyze a biography we shouldn’t use it to simply pick out events according to preconceived notions of what an event is. Rather, we should approach life stories with an eye for pattern. We should look for evidence of rhythm per se, on the assumption that that which is predictable is that which is recurrent. Given this approach the identity and duration of the predictable “event”, as well as the means of its prediction, emerge together in the course of the analysis. If we are to use life stories as a means of obtaining knowledge, and not simply as a means of illustrating what we think we already know, we have to realize that what needs to be discovered is not only how something can be predicted, but also what that something is.

That’s the real point of my Freudian sketch. From chapter headings in Jones’s biography – “The Neurologist 1883-97”, “Early Psychopathology 1890-97” – and other indications we can recognize the existence of distinct seven-year phases in Freud’s research orientation, and we can then infer the existence of transition periods between them. We can further note, through close-grained analysis, that the transition periods resemble one another, that they seem to refer to a recurrent mindset that came to the forefront at regular intervals and caused Freud to question and change his ideas about reality. That’s the “meaning” of Freud’s Saturn/Mercury cycle, and by juxtaposing Freud’s rhythm with those seen in other lives we can discover more generally what this cycle is about.

In many ways astrologers resemble the medieval forerunners of modern science. Medieval philosophers, like astrologers today, asked big questions: Why do rocks fall to earth? Why does fire rise towards the heavens? To say that a rock falls because the earth is its natural place, and that it falls faster as it gets closer to the earth because it gets more and more excited as it gets closer to “home”, sounds strange to modern ears, but it was the best that could be done by minds that were seeking absolute answers to absolute questions. Galileo, in contrast, did something revolutionary. He asked a limited question. He asked not why rocks fall, but how. He found order in that simple phenomenon by noticing that the rock accelerates towards the earth at a constant rate, and was thus able to express a mathematical truth. All of the sciences, in fact, have matured as they’ve become capable of expressing their insights in mathematical form. Astrologers, too, although we hardly know it, possess a keen mathematical scalpel with which to ask our own limited questions. Rather than ask why a given event occurs, we should simply ask what happens regularly at what intervals.

-by Dale Huckeby