On Shame

Before I begin today’s article I want to thank everyone who has commented, emailed or written to me over the last couple of weeks to express their support. I can happily report that Teddy can see, albeit (we think) not very well. His eyes have stopped wandering so much, and he certainly recognises faces now, providing they are a few inches only from his nose! We are therefore very hopeful that it is just a slow development. We have an appointment with the ophthalmologist at the end of this month when we hope to have a better understanding of the situation.

Many years ago I knew a man who went by the name of Pete Woolly-Hat. I have no clue as to his birth name, but he was so known because he wore a woolly-hat wherever he went, rain or shine, winter or summer. He was a musician and probably (at that time) in his thirties, but I could not be any more precise than that. He was not a close friend of mine but I saw him regularly enough because of our shared musical interests, we were both members of moderately successful local bands and through arranging gigs at various venues we had come to have this association. As he learned to relax in my company, he became more open and communicative, he was a shy and quiet type upon first meeting, and then, one day, after many months of acquaintance, he finally removed his woolly hat in my presence.

To reveal a completely hairless top of the head. I was surprised, but only because the dark hair that protruded from under the band of his woolly hat suggested a profusion of follicles that the hat’s removal immediately disavowed. Pete was mostly bald. Personally, he looked to me to be just fine without his hat on, but it clearly did not appear that way to him. Somewhere in the journey of Pete’s life he had learned about shame. Shame is so powerful that it can distort your entire apprehension of life; indeed, in Pete’s case, he was quite literally identified with his shame: he was named for it. Pete felt so uncomfortable with his baldness that he became named for his method of hiding his shame. I feel a frisson of compassion for him even now as I write this, because he was a truly gentle and kind man.

There is an inversion of this exact theme that is germane here. Last weekend I was staying in a hotel at the foot of Snowdon, one of Britain’s highest mountains. The hotel was busy because the Saturday morning saw the start of the Snowdon marathon, a race in which extremely motivated people run up and down the mountain competitively. As I made my way to breakfast on the Saturday morning I was passed by a great procession of grim-faced individuals in running gear. One young man bounded down some steps past me and he had the most incredibly muscular legs I had ever seen; his thighs were enormous. The vast majority of runners had donned clothing appropriate to the cold, rainy and windy Welsh weather: they wore lycra leggings, tracksuits, technical fibre body stockings and so forth; this man, almost exclusively wore uncomfortably small seeming running shorts. One simply could not fail to notice his powerful and muscular legs. Later that day as I visited a local town I passed another man with very powerful biceps. He had obviously been ‘working out’ quite a bit. He wore a vest-top even though the day was cold, wet and blustery. At the same time, a woman walked along the street in a short skirt, she was drawing male attention from all around with her long, slim legs.

All of these people understand shame.

That may seem like a strange statement to make, because (one might argue) surely it is good to take pride in your ‘good’ features? That is part of being strong and confident? I think actually that the opposite is true; much as in classical psychological thought a superiority complex is simply an inferiority complex that has turned in on itself, so are these statements of ‘physical pride’ nothing more than expressions of inverted shame. Jimmy Carter said:

A strong nation, like a strong person, can afford to be gentle, firm, thoughtful, and restrained. It can afford to extend a helping hand to others. It’s a weak nation, like a weak person, that must behave with bluster and boasting and rashness and other signs of insecurity.

A truly confident person would be content to know that they had ‘good legs’ without needing to display them to the world, because at this point the legs become a statement that requires the attention of others to have positive feedback, it is a validation of sorts that is reflected in the astrology.

I have struggled over the years to get a rounded sense of the variegated shades of archetypal male energy that is heralded by the placements of both Sun and Saturn and I have arrived at one’s relationship to shame. Whilst this might appear, superficially to be a simplistic or even bizarre conclusion, I nevertheless believe that it has this fundamental import. In a spectrum of male teaching, which ought to be passed from father to child, Sun is self-belief and Saturn is shame. A strong Sun is required to counterbalance a strong sense of shame and a strong sense of humility is required to counterbalance a fragile ego, which are respectively the most positive and negative of those fundamental male energies.

I have considered this extensively. I have never been especially comfortable with the dichotomy between traditional and ‘evolutionary’ astrology. I was recently labelled an ‘evolutionary’ astrologer by another astrologer whom I greatly respect and I had not the first clue what it meant (I now understand it to mean a person influenced by the Jeff Green approach to the transformational process view of astrology). I am not at all comfortable with rejecting though (for example) the import of traditional methods of dignity and debility: indeed it is one of the first things I look for and I believe it to have truth. I also believe that we can transform our astrology and become better, more rounded and more intrinsically spiritual beings, through application and effort to (primarily) Buddhist methods of self-development, right-living, right-livelihood and so forth.

So when I read that a person has an essential dignity score for their Sun placement of +5, then I consider that person’s father to have done a good job with them. (It is a self-fulfilling scenario and actually this ‘philosophy of dignity could rightly fill a book, it is that nuanced, and I don’t pretend to have got it all yet). When a baby is born they attract power according to these very scores: I truly believe it, in fact I see it! I actually see people responding to the astrology of a baby, because (clearly) a baby has no power to express their nature at this early stage. Teddy (my lovely boy) has a Sun score of +1 and a Saturn score of +9. Because Sun has no exaltation, unless you’re born a Leo, then it’s quite tough to get a good essential dignity score for your Sun. Teddy was born with Saturn in its exaltation, its triplicity and its term: hence the very high reckoning of essential dignity. These scores both rise to +3 and a whopping +23 respectively when accidental dignities are factored in. Let me tell you a remarkable thing, when people meet Teddy for the first time, they treat him with the greatest respect; he simply commands it, even though he behaves no differently to any other well-cared for baby in the world.

That is the innate power of planetary dignity. It is a little like being a superhero, you are born with certain ‘powers’, and they are just there, helping you to be super. (The same can be said for debility, but that’s a different discussion which is so fabulously fascinating, but I don’t have time to write that today). Now in my own situation, I have essential dignity scores of +3 for both Sun and Saturn (and those scores rise to +8 with accidental dignity factored in) even though they are both in fall; what’s more, they are opposing each other, with Sun rising precisely on the Ascendant. Now my father abandoned me (and my mother) when I was a few days old, but by the time I was three and a half years old, at precisely the month that my Saturn opposition Sun perfected by Solar Arc, I was adopted by the man who became my father. He was a gentle and loving man who missed no opportunity to give me confidence in myself. Indeed, because of him I never learned what shame was.

Throughout my life therefore I have struggled time and again against people who have determined that I should be ashamed of who I am. Sun is identity, and that essential dignity score reflects the innate reality that I simply do not believe people when they try to tell me that I am shameful, or that I should be embarrassed about who I am or what I do. These are both important components of identity and my Saturn opposition brings me up against people who test my innate belief in myself by trying to give me their shame. That is Saturn, you see, shame.

Pete Woolly-Hat understood shame, he had accepted it, subscribed to it. He had learned, either directly from his father or due to his father’s unwillingness or inability to protect him from it, that he had to be ashamed of who he was. More basically even than that, he had a low essential dignity score for Sun, or an over strong Saturn with no counterbalance from the Sun. The Sun protects, it gives innate confidence, it creates an immunity to shame, that is its super-power and the source of the question which came first, the high essential dignity score or the good father?

Chicken or eggisms aside, our sense of identity and our sense of shame are connected. If we are confident in what we are then we don’t need to agree to be shamed by others, nor do we need to attempt to shame others in our interactions with them. We don’t need to hide our baldness under a woolly hat, nor do we need to show the world that we have good legs or powerful biceps. We just are as we are, take it or leave it. That does not mean that we do not make mistakes, or take responsibility for our mistakes, but getting it wrong need not be connected to shame, and when somebody insists that the two concepts are connected, well, they are speaking through a kind of existential Sun-Saturn opposition. It is not how it should be. Mary Pickford said:

You may have a fresh start,
Any time you choose,
For this thing we call failure,
Is not the falling down,
But the staying down.

If somebody insists that you must stay down, then respectfully decline.

The Sun projects what we believe ourselves to be, and over a lifetime we might eventually conform to that inbuilt expectation: if our father told us that we are perfect just as we are, then we won’t need to wear a woolly hat or really small running shorts. If on the other hand he told us that we were not good enough, that we don’t measure up, then (usually if we are female) we are going to put on that short-skirt and stride down the high-street in our high-heels and try to bolster our sense of self-worth with some male attention. Those projections say more about what we believe ourselves to be than any overt “I am” statements we might care to make. Maybe it is even worse for a woman with an ashamed father, because then she marries an ashamed man and calls him husband. Sylvia Plath realised her mistake when she wrote in Daddy:

And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look
And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.

Sometimes, when we wear certain clothes, adopt certain postures or profess certain beliefs, then while we might believe that what we are doing is simply ‘being ourselves’ or asserting our individuality, what we are unconsciously engaged in is the business of expressing our shame. Most people with low Sun scores do this and usually, by their late 30s or early 40s they have begun to understand that they learned this pattern from a weak father figure. (The only exception to this in my experience are those who have strong Sun-Neptune contacts; these people seem to misinterpret the paternal script even in the opposite direction; they might have ‘good fathers’ as reflected by a strong essential dignity score, and yet they think their father failed them.) If our father taught us that we should be ashamed of what we are then, by all means, the situation is far from hopeless, we can remedy this unquestioned identity crisis, but the first step in this process must be to reject the notion that we should be embarrassed about what we are, or ashamed of ourselves, providing we live according to a sound spiritual philosophy, another important component of the Solar script incidentally, indeed, Sigmund Freud, in Totem and Taboo (1953) wrote that:

The psychoanalysis of individual human beings teaches us with quite special insistence that the god of each of them is formed in the likeness of his father, that his personal relation to God depends on his relation to his father in the flesh and oscillates and changes along with that relation, and that at bottom God is nothing other than an exalted father.

I am not a Christian, but my father did me a good service, and his own job well, when he knelt at the end of my bed every night next to me and we said our prayers together. His faith was not judgmental or punishing, it was forgiving and warm. It made me feel very close to him and it made me feel that the Universe made sense, because my Dad, through his actions, expressed a loving and gentle faith in the Universe which has stayed with me. My god is not punishing or judgmental, because my father was not.

I am lucky in that respect (you should see my Moon score though!) but it is not the same for everyone. Some people experience a father that professes to love unconditionally, and yet that same father criticises them relentlessly, or espouses a judgmental and punishing spiritual philosophy that leaves their child’s core identity damaged. Other fathers fail through no fault of their own. Their marriages fail and they cease to be able to be effective in protecting their children from people in their lives who demand that they be ashamed. And too, the job of protecting identity is not – in totality – a father’s remit, Saturn’s shame can be experienced through any important authority figures, older relatives, people in positions of responsibility within that child’s life, but a father has unparalleled power to armour his children against these assaults.

If you are a father, the message of astrology is simple. Never tell your children that they are not good enough. It’s a parent’s duty to lovingly guide their child when they have made mistakes, but the day you tell them that they don’t measure up is the day that you have damaged them, perhaps beyond repair. That is the day that you have taught them shame.