In my view, this is an uncomfortable pairing in the extreme. Mercury’s rather whimsical predisposition to flightiness suffers inordinately under the implacable dictate of Orcus, and considerable work is required to mitigate the brutal tendency toward ‘plain-speaking’ that this pairing engenders. Even plain-speaking may be entirely too understated. Orcus’ implacability applies to the Mercurial, so very often there is genuine ruthlessness in speech coupled with a lack of compassion for the listener’s sensitivities, but also desire for knowledge and communication.
The British comedian Tony Hancock provides an excellent case study for the contact between Mercury and Orcus. Hancock had a close conjunction of Orcus with Mercury in Taurus and the 10th house, squaring Neptune rising in Leo. His mistress, and later wife was quite familiar with his Mercury-Orcus square to Neptune:
“Freddie Hancock tried everything – suicide included – to stop her husband drinking, only to be rewarded with a barrage of verbal or physical abuse… Snappy one-liners are Freddie’s forte. Had the right opportunities come along she would have flourished as a comic, the same profession as the man she married: Tony Hancock, the genius of Hancock’s Half Hour. Not that Hancock would have allowed it: obsessed with success, ruthless in his ambition, he brooked no competition. Not even from her. “There will be only one comic in this family,” he told her many times. “Only one star: and it will be me.”
With Orcus in the 10th, he was obsessed with success, and with Orcus quincunx Jupiter and square Neptune there are various pressures relating to status here, we can envisage Orcus – Jupiter in quincunx as a never-sated drive for creative/artistic status, (Orcus/10th, Jupiter/5th) and the square to Neptune is where the tension is expressed, through drinking. Hancock was hailed as a comic genius, but his wife understood the double edged sword this represented to him:
“Tony was the kindest, most gentle, most thoughtful man I have ever known . . . when he wasn’t drinking. When he was . . . that was a very different Tony. He was a tortured man, a man who would dwell upon the slightest error he had made. He would lie awake at night worrying that the audience’s laughter would stop. When he was like that, no one could help him. No one could convince him of his ability.”
It seems that Hancock’s introspection and self-doubt was ultimately his nemesis. In early 1960, Hancock appeared on the BBC’s Face to Face, a half-hour in-depth interview programme conducted by former Labour MP John Freeman. Freeman asked Hancock many searching questions about his life and work. Hancock, who deeply admired his interviewer, often appeared uncomfortable with the questions, but answered them frankly and honestly. Hancock had always been highly self-critical, and it is often argued that this interview heightened this tendency, contributing to his later difficulties. According to Roger, his brother, “It was the biggest mistake he ever made. I think it all started from that really. …Self-analysis – that was his killer.“
In another intriguing homage to this placement, Hancock read extensively, in an attempt to ascribe meaning to his existence. He read philosophy, religion, politics and sociology almost ceaselessly.
We see here the structural themes of Mercury – Orcus with startling clarity:
- A voracious appetite for reading, learning and communication.
- A tendency to harsh, even brutal, speech.
- A propensity to ceaseless worry.
- A sense of intellectual isolation.
- Deep and uncomfortable introspection.
- An obsession with the themes of Orcus’ house, coloured by close aspecting energies, thus status (10th) as a creative, comic (Jupiter/5th) communicator (Mercury). The result was a kind of divine discontent, as is often the case with Jupiter quincunxes.
These are easily gleaned observations too, underlining once again the accessibility of Orcus in the chart. At the time of his death (from a drink and drug overdose – square Neptune), Hancock’s Orcus had transited precisely from a waxing to a waning quincunx to Jupiter.
Another good example of Mercury-Orcus energy is provided by Clint Eastwood, who also has a close conjunction of Orcus with Mercury in Taurus. It provides that rather implacable voice tone made famous in many of his roles, from the taciturn hero of many westerns, to Dirty Harry whose immortal line “do ya feel lucky punk?” is delivered with typically Orcan deadpan style.
In the sign Aries we find Stewart Granger, an overtly leading man, with myriad Arian qualities. His roles were typically Martian, romantic and swashbuckling both, neither of which are qualities easily reconciled with a classically peregrine 2nd house Taurus Sun. Mercury conjunct Orcus (by a mere 8 minutes) ruled by a 1st house Mars, trine its ruler Neptune (providing the charisma) and square Pluto, adding in a little danger and menace, seems to tell the story more succinctly. Once again we feel the quality of Orcus under the rulership of Mars when we examine the underlying themes of a life. His determination to be authentically swashbuckling was so great that when he was preparing for his roles in The Prisoner of Zenda and Scaramouche! he took lessons with a retired Olympic fencing champion and wore out “a dozen or so pairs of fencing shoes.” In Granger’s case the Mercury – Orcus conjunction applies to the 2nd house cusp, so we see Venusian themes, too, brought into play, and Granger’s love affairs were notorious. He said himself that this was an area of weakness: “I don’t know which was the greatest disaster: my career or my wives,” and “I made King Solomon’s Mines and I became popular because Quatermain was a mysterious man with a leopard skin around his hat. It was Africa romantic. Deborah Kerr and I made love up a tree. I said to Deborah — I had a six month affair with her — that we should never have come down from that tree.” So here we see the Venus-influenced, Mars-ruled Mercury paired with Orcus. It’s bold, rather ‘plain’ and direct speaking, forthright, ardent and concerned with affairs of the heart.
Moving into Gemini, we have the case of Brian Wilson, founding member of the Beach Boys, who lost many years battling drug addiction and mental illness. He famously spent three years locked in his bedroom sleeping, taking drugs and overeating. Wilson has a Gemini Sun tee-squared from a Neptune-Ceres opposition, ruled by an otherwise unaspected Mercury conjunct both Orcus and Terpsichore . Mercury, unaspected, retrograde, a final dispositor and rising is a very big deal however you want to cut it, and here he is conjunct Orcus. Years of drug abuse (Mercury opposes Panacea!) left Wilson with serious difficulties:
“[W]hen circumstances required Brian to have face-to-face contact with old friends or family members, they often came away dismayed to discover that he could no longer remember some longtime friends and would often lapse into incoherence or even fall asleep in mid-conversation. Brian had also taken on some disturbing facial tics which were often accompanied by shaking hands and a visible trembling in his legs. Some observers concluded that he had suffered a stroke or was showing the latter-day side-effects of the mountains of cocaine and rivers of alcohol he had ingested in the 1970s and early 1980s. But when Brian made a surprise appearance at a Beach Boys’ fan convention in the summer of 1990, it didn’t take long for Peter Reum, a longtime fan who happened to work as a therapist in Colorado, to realise something else. Reum had met and spoken to Brian on several occasions during the previous fifteen years, and so he knew that the man standing before him in San Diego had changed in distressing ways. Given his professional training, Reum suspected that Brian’s twitching, waxen face and palsied hands, pointed to tardive dyskinesia, a neurological condition that develops in patients whose systems had become saturated with psychotropic medications…”
Every astrologer knows that Mercury and Gemini are restless, nervous, fidgety and rule such issues as tics, nervous conditions and disorders and the arms, hands and gesticulatory movements. Here, Orcus combines with Terpsichore (physical movement and coordination) and Panacea (prescription drugs) to create – through isolation and withdrawal – a difficult and transformative process of inner change. The tee-square to the Sun receives pressure from a Neptune – Ceres opposition, so themes of drugs and food are part of the dual-identity problem (Wilson was incorrectly diagnosed with schizophrenia), and he “began most of his days with a dozen eggs and an entire loaf of bread,” and though he hardly produced any new musical material during this solitary period, he could be lured “to the music room with a sack of McDonald’s hamburgers and a few grams of cocaine.” The tension received by the Sun therefore manifested into his identity as a clichéd rock star, and via Mercury’s rulership, that same tension eventually manifested into tardive dyskinesia, which is very much the opposite condition to that of Parkinson’s disease which results in chronic immobility, since sufferer’s cannot help but be constantly on the move. It is the most Mercurial of conditions, and it caused Wilson to become singularly isolated and withdrawn.
Moving into the sign of Cancer we have another fascinating example, this time manifesting through the medium of the aforementioned converse condition to that of Brian Wilson. With Michael J. Fox, we see a close conjunction of Mercury with Orcus in Cancer, and his battle with exceptionally early-onset Parkinson’s disease is well-documented. Fox’s Mercury is conjunct Orcus, Bacchus and Cupido. Bacchus has association with wine (alcohol, drugs and addiction issues in general), while Cupido concerns itself very much with looks, physical appearances and attractiveness:
“After he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but before he started writing books about optimism, Michael J Fox went through a period of seeing himself as he thought others saw him. ‘Peculiar,’ he says, was the overall impression. ‘Funny looking. [Parkinson's] makes me squirm and it makes my pants ride up so my socks are showing and my shoes fall off and I can’t get the food up to my mouth when I want to.’ Fox had been a movie star for five years when he was diagnosed, and was used to being stared at. But of course this was different. ‘I hate the way it makes me look,’ he thought. ‘That means that I hate me.’”
The Bacchus connection manifested through a hard-drinking lifestyle in his twenties, a mode of living to which he ascribes his later difficulties:
“’I have a lot of compassion for my younger self. It’s funny. I wouldn’t have an appreciation for the things I do now if I didn’t have those experiences. I was so… it really is a course correction – at that point in my life, when I got Parkinson’s, I had to look at the way I was living: the drinking. It wasn’t like a little warning sign at the side of the road. It was a big caution in flashing lights. I don’t know that I would have the family that I have now, the life I have, the sense of purpose, if none of this had happened.’
After he was diagnosed in 1991, Fox’s drinking got much worse. The alarm call came a year later, when he woke up on the sofa one morning, stinking of booze, with his baby son crawling on him and half a can of beer on the floor next to him. When he opened one eye to see his wife looking down at him, she didn’t seem angry or disgusted, but, worse, indifferent. Fox made arrangements that day to get help with his drinking and hasn’t touched alcohol since.”
Hearing Fox describe his subjective experience of Parkinson’s disease is singularly compelling and heartbreaking, and much of his narrative is focused on the frustration and dislocation of the symptomatic communication blocks and challenges that are associated with Parkinson’s disease:
“When I’m ‘off,’ (medication) the disease has complete authority over my physical being. I’m utterly in its possession. Sometimes there are flashes of function, and I can be effective at performing basic physical tasks, certainly feeding and dressing myself, as well as any chore calling for more brute force than manual dexterity. In my very worst ‘off’ times I experience the full panoply of classic Parkinsonian symptoms: rigidity, shuffling, tremors, lack of balance, diminished small motor control, and the insidious cluster of symptoms that makes communication, written as well as spoken, difficult and sometimes impossible.
My ability to form thoughts and ideas into words and sentences is not impaired; the problem is translating those words and sentences into articulate speech. My lips, tongue, and jaw muscles simply won’t cooperate. What words I do smuggle through the blockade can be heard, though not always comprehended. Try as I might, I can’t inflect my speech to reflect my state of mind…
These impediments to self-expression are not the most painful or debilitating features of Parkinson’s disease, yet they madden me more than even the most teeth-rattling full body tremor. When the meds are “off” and P.D. has already rendered me a prisoner in my own body…”
This is a fascinating account that describes with absolute clarity the juxtaposition of Mercury with Orcus, the nervous system has made a prison of the body. His first symptoms appeared in 1990, just as a series of Orcus-Neptune squares came to a conclusion and Jupiter opposed natal Orcus by Solar arc.
Intriguingly, the same conjunction is found in the chart of the A list actor, Tom Hanks. I am reminded of his various film roles like Cast Away, which fairly abounds in Mercury/Orcus themes, he plays a postal service worker, who when travelling by plane is stranded alone on a remote desert island, which effectively becomes a prison. He won an Academy Award for his portrayal of a gay lawyer dying of AIDs in Philadelphia, another profoundly Orcan role.
This discussion posits the question as to whether or not the contacts of Mercury with Orcus are a primary indicator of nervous system diseases. Muhammad Ali has a close trine between Mercury and Orcus and my own stepfather has Parkinson’s and a close conjunction between Mercury and Orcus. The key indicator though has to be Mercury, ruler of the nervous system. The televangelist Billy Graham, another Parkinson’s sufferer, has no contact between Orcus and Mercury, but Mercury is the focus of a tee-square from a Saturn-Uranus opposition, which denotes enormous internal tension of course. Orcus alone lends so much implacable and pitiless energy to whichever point he contacts that he does the job of a Saturn-Uranus opposition single-handedly!
One other intriguing observation about this combination: Orcus appears to affect the voice markedly. Many singer-songwriters of note have this contact, very often their voices have a cracked or broken quality, or some other notable vocal ‘style’ which is not considered ideal, but which somehow adds a plaintive or compelling quality to the voice-tone, and other notables with a distinctive voice quality frequently evince the contact. Consider the following examples:
- Karen Carpenter (trine).
- Ray LaMontagne (partile conjunction).
- Billy Bragg (opposition).
- David Byrne (sextile).
- Belinda Carlisle (sextile).
- Patsy Cline (square).
- Sean Connery (trine).
- Aretha Franklin (square).
- Cary Grant (sextile).
- Goldie Hawn (opposition).
- Dustin Hoffman (square).
- Whitney Houston (sextile to Mercury conjunct Pluto: supercharged).
- Janis Joplin (trine).
- Annie Lennox (opposition, Mercury cazimi!)
- Madonna (sextile).
- Willie Nelson (semisquare).
- Olivia Newton-John (trine).
- Edith Piaf (square).
- Diana Ross (sextile).
- Tina Turner (opposition).
- Tom Waits (opposition).
Especially intriguing is that one can discern the quality of the voice according to aspect, from smooth trines and sextiles (Sean Connery, Karen Carpenter, Diana Ross) to the more edgy, cracked squares and oppositions (Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Tom Waits). Fascinating!
- Laugh at Tony? I very nearly died, Olga Craig, the Daily Telegraph, 10 Nov 2004
- Wikipedia entry: Tony Hancock
- http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001289/bio (Stewart Granger)
- For more on Terpsichore refer to the discussion of Carl Lewis page on page 54, Terpsichore was the muse of dance and body movement.
- Catch a Wave: the rise, fall & redemption of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson (2006), Peter Ames Carlin, Rodale books, p.271
- It’s the gift that keeps on taking by Emma Brockes, The Guardian 11th April 2009
- Lucky Man: A Memoir (2003), Michael J. Fox, Ebury Press p.255