As originally published in the October 2009 issue of
Dell Horoscope, the World’s Leading Astrology Magazine
by Sister Ray the Astrologer
©Gail Lawson Clough
This article is the property of Dell Magazines and is not to be copied or reproduced without permission.
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Master of Horror!
Gothic Author H.P. Lovecraft
Born in Providence, Rhode Island, at 9:00 a.m. on August 20, 1890, the last decade of the Victorian Age, Howard Phillips Lovecraft was a man out of time. H.P. Lovecraft, as he is known, was a kind, gentle, highly intelligent man with an acutely sensitive temperament. He did not fit in with the modern world, so he created an imaginary one full of frightening monsters and fantastic extraterrestrials. He was a man out of time, a misfit and visionary genius who foresaw the discovery of the most distant planet in the solar system, Pluto, and the biggest fresh water lake on Earth, Lake Vostok. Denied the recognition he deserved during his lifetime, he is now regarded as one of the great American Gothic writers and has influenced several generations of horror and science-fiction writers from Robert Bloch and Fritz Leiber to Stephen King and Clive Barker. What made this extraordinary man tick?
The maternal side of his family traced its roots in America to the year 1630. H.P. Lovecraft ("HPL") had a controlling, over-protective mother, who was extremely high-strung and what we would refer to today as a "drama queen." Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft was obsessed with her only child’s looks, telling him repeatedly that he was ugly. This says a lot about her because he resembled her strongly. She successfully undermined him even into manhood, checkmating his desire to serve in the Providence National Guard by insisting that he was unfit to serve. Susie also spoiled her only son, allowing him to indulge in sweets, stay up all night, sleep all day and generally do whatever he pleased, including staying home from school on a regular basis. This resulted in HPL being completely unprepared for adult life. She must have loved him fiercely. One wonders if his two aunts spoiled him as well. In 1919, Mrs. Lovecraft was institutionalized, and died two years later after complications from gall bladder surgery.
Male role models were scarce in HPL’s youth. His grandfather, wealthy industrialist Whipple Van Buren Phillips, died when he was thirteen, and he barely knew his father. HPL’s father, Winfield Scott Lovecraft, became violently insane when Howard was only three and was hospitalized until his death five years later in 1898. After his father died, Howard and his mother moved into his grandparents’ spacious Victorian home at 454 Angell Street in Providence where his patrician grandfather helped raise him. H.P. Lovecraft had the demeanor of an old-world aristocrat. This was mostly instilled in him by his mother and his two aunts, and, to a lesser degree, his grandfather. The most important male role model in young Howard’s life was his grandfather. HPL learned to love the horror genre from Whipple, who used to pantomime original stories for his grandson’s entertainment, setting him on the path to his destiny as the American master of horror, fantasy and science fiction. His grandparent’s extensive library of two thousand books was the main source of HPL’s education, as his attendance at school was repeatedly disrupted by nervous breakdowns. He learned astronomy from his grandmother Robie’s collection of books (astronomy was her specialty at Lapham Seminary, where she was educated). Unfortunately, she died when Howard was just six and never had the opportunity to teach him the constellations herself.
The fourth and tenth houses clearly indicate HPL’s parental influences. Saturn, the ruler of his fourth house, represents his grandfather; retrograde Jupiter in the unpredictable sign of Aquarius in the fourth house represents his father. They are quincunx, a disruptive aspect of uncertainty. Both his grandfather and father suffered from sudden attacks which led to their demise -- in the grandfather’s case, a stroke, and in the father’s case, an attack of insanity. There was much uncertainty and suffering in Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s life. The planetoid of suffering, Chiron, his most elevated celestial point, symbolizes his domineering, overprotective mother who taught him self-loathing and paralyzed him socially by hiding him from the world. Jupiter and Chiron oppose each other, symbolizing his parents’ relationship -- they were at odds with each other, and both suffered nervous breakdowns. Chiron in the tenth house is in Cancer, which is ruled by the Moon, symbol of the mother. The planetoid of suffering symbolizes Howard’s mother well, for she was a person who suffered much in life, and she made her son suffer along with her. With Chiron’s quintile to Venus, art was his refuge, and HPL transformed his angst into art. There is a curious, childlike optimism in his work, despite its morbid themes. He never lost his innocence. This is partly the result of being over-protected and sheltered from the world, so his mother’s influence was a double-edged sword, harmful for his social development, but perhaps beneficial for his development as a literary artist. HPL was a complicated person, and it shows in his chart.
Interlocking Angles and Unaspected Mercury
HPL has a T-square that involves a pair of conjunctions, one of which (Neptune conjunct Pluto) is also part of an interlocking Grand Trine. This interlocking configuration involves almost all of his planets. The eleventh-house Sun-Saturn conjunction makes a T-square to Neptune-Pluto in the eighth house and Mars in the second house, blocking his ability to find a way to fit into society. Deprived of his family home and much of his inheritance because of incompetent management of his grandfather’s estate, he was stymied in solving the mundane challenges of life, such as finding a marriage partner and establishing a career. He suffered from nervous exhaustion and chronic depression. The Moon conjunct Uranus in cardinal sign Libra exacerbated this condition with its effects of rebellious, unpredictable, unsettling emotions. With cardinal signs on his cardinal points, he had a drive to achieve, but did so only despite overwhelming odds. Poverty, isolation, and low self-esteem handicapped him, as did his unusual upbringing, which led to neuroses and psychosomatic illnesses. With Venus rising in Libra, he was an ethereal aesthete who did not fit in with the Lost Generation or the Roaring Twenties. The Grand Trine between Venus in Libra in the twelfth house, Jupiter in Aquarius in the fourth house and Neptune-Pluto in Gemini in the eighth house tried to rescue him from the T-Square, transforming its negative energy of escapism, neurotic self-deprecation and morbid preoccupation with the dark, hidden realms of the universe into art. Venus, ruler of the Ascendant, was the funnel through which the cosmic power of the Neptune-Pluto conjunction was poured. She formed a psychic partnership with her neighbor in the twelfth house, Mercury, the messenger and hermetic master, who orchestrated this power into a symphony of mystical, macabre stories the likes of which have not been equaled by any other writer before or since. His prose is musical. Each sentence is rhythmically crafted, every paragraph builds up to a crescendo. HPL is like the conductor of an interstellar orchestra of hyperdimensional creatures, scary monsters, phantasmagorical beings, and eldritch extraterrestrials. HPL admired and emulated Edgar Allen Poe, and it could be said that the student surpassed the teacher, for Poe’s wondrous vision did not encompass extraterrestrials or interstellar travel!
The key to HPL’s chart is his unaspected Mercury and how it relates to his interlocking Grand Trine and T-square. Mercury forms no major aspects to any planet or the two luminaries. It is exalted in Virgo, the sign Saturn is in, surreptitiously taking charge of the Sun-Saturn T-square. Mercury also rules Gemini, thus dispositing Neptune-Pluto in the eighth house. Eighth- and twelfth-house issues such as death, the occult, inherited curses, secrets, the subconscious, the unknown, and that which is hidden permeate his work. Gemini is a double sign, the sign of the twins, and two faces, a central theme in HPL’s life. Gemini is also the sign of writers, and HPL was a prolific writer. A highly intelligent, precocious child, he could read at age three, and wrote almost from the time he could hold a pen, writing his first poem at age seven. Besides the Gothic horror stories for which he is renowned, he wrote poems, scientific pamphlets, a newsletter for the United Amateur Press Association, and an estimated one-hundred-thousand letters (some of them thirty-forty pages long), making him the most prolific literary letter-writer in American history.
That he wrote so many letters says something about him. Letters were his main social interaction. He hid from the world, a symptom of his unaspected, exalted Mercury in the house of hidden things in the shy and insecure sign of Virgo. His mother reinforced his Virgo shyness by sheltering him from the world. The unaspected planet is a source of both great talent and great insecurity. This is certainly so with HPL. He was very insecure about his writing, especially that for which he is most beloved, his prose. It was the encouragement of his writer friends (eleventh house) like Clark Ashton Smith, Frank Belknap Long, Robert H. Barlow, August Derleth, E. Hoffman Price and Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian, that helped him overcome his self-doubt and produce wonderful stories like "The Silver Key," "The Whisperer in Darkness," "Beyond the Wall of Sleep," and so many others. Despite the whacky upbringing, despite the poverty, despite the neuroses and illnesses, despite his alienation from life and the world, he created something great.
The Hermetic Ascetic
Mercury rules the twelfth, the house of the subconscious, secrets and self-undoing. Mercury secretly dominated his life. It is in Virgo, the sign of the worrywart and critical perfectionist. With unaspected Mercury placed in this house, he worried himself to death in secret. His intellect was so high-pitched and intense that it literally burned him out. In general, he led a hermetic, even ascetic lifestyle, eating only two meals a day and living mostly on canned food in the winter. Trickster Mercury gave him the compulsion to hide from the world, and HPL spent long periods confined to his home recuperating from nervous breakdowns, of which he had several. The longest one lasted from 1908 to1913, when he lived in complete seclusion, speaking only to his mother and rarely leaving their apartment. This was a time of crisis for HPL, when he could not face the prospect of adulthood and didn’t know what to do with his life. He was a devoted student of astronomy, and had hoped to pursue an academic career in this field, but was thwarted because he had difficulty mastering the higher mathematics required to earn a degree in the subject. Then, he took a correspondence course in chemistry, but abandoned that field after a few years of study and practice because he hated inorganic chemistry.
The transits for his birthday 1908 were very stressful, with Transiting (Tr.) Neptune exactly conjunct his MC at 16˚ Cancer and opposing Tr. Uranus at 13˚ Capricorn. He could not find a way to make a living. His upbringing dictated that a gentleman did not work for a living, but his financial condition dictated otherwise. Tr. Uranus three degrees from the Nadir in Capricorn disrupted his perception of himself, energizing his inferiority complex. Tr. Uranus in Capricorn squared Tr. Saturn in Aries, and was disposited by natal Saturn, setting off his natal T-square. Tr. Mars, Mercury and the Sun were exactly conjunct his natal Sun at 27˚ Leo, with Tr. Jupiter two degrees away at 25˚ Leo, putting further stress on the natal T-square. The transiting Leo stellium occurred in the eleventh house, governing society and what is expected of us from others. Transiting Saturn was applying to his seventh house of partnership and marriage, stressing the need to find a suitable marriage partner, an impossible undertaking for HPL, who was dominated to the point of suffocation by his mother, and to a lesser degree, by his aunts. They would all have to approve of his choice of spouse, Judging from the fact that he didn’t marry until three years after his mother died, and the fact that he informed his surviving aunts of his marriage by letter, he surely dreaded their judgment of his choice of a spouse. Transiting Saturn also opposed his natal Venus in Libra. Libra is the sign of relationships, and a Saturn opposition would put restrictions and heavy burdens on any relationships. HPL felt trapped, and responded by withdrawing completely from life. Saddled by his strange upbringing, beleaguered by difficult and challenging transits, and caught in the oppressive trap of high expectations surrounding him, it is no wonder that HPL fell into a deep depression. What lifted him out of the darkness?
The Artist as Reporter
During his five-year hiatus from life, HPL spent much of his time reading and writing poetry. He read lots of magazines, one of which was The Argosy, the same magazine that helped launch the writing career of a future prophet, Star Trek’s Gene Roddenberry. HPL was very puritanical, not surprising, considering that his bloodline could be traced back to Puritan times in America. He was prudish and developed an intense dislike of a particular writer of romance stories published in The Argosy, Fred Jackson. The subject of romance in an action/adventure magazine offended HPL’s sense of propriety and he wrote a 1,300-word letter to the editor ridiculing Jackson. This led to a year-long dialogue in the magazine in a special letters-to-the-editor section called, "The Log Book: Fred Jackson, Pro and Con." Many correspondents attacked HPL, whose witty letters (some of which were written in verse), got a lot of mail. His letters were noticed by Edward F. Daas, an editor for the United Amateur Press Association ("UAPA"). Mr. Daas contacted HPL in 1914, and invited him to join the UAPA. This gave HPL some direction in life, and helped lift him out of his debilitating depression. To earn money, HPL began accepting editorial and ghost-writing jobs, which marked the beginning of his collaboration with, and mentoring of, other writers. Joining the UAPA may have given his life purpose, but it also took time away from his own literary efforts.
The literary establishment scorned HPL, and doesn’t include him as a member of the Lost Generation, despite the fact that themes dear to that group such as alienation, isolation, estrangement, and loneliness, permeate his life and work. All of the most famous American Lost Generation writers, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, Lewis, London and Lovecraft, incorporated the reporter’s technique of objectivity into their literary style. Lovecraft’s Virgo Saturn and Mercury indicate a natural ability to be objective and coldly rational. HPL describes the classic Virgo profile in his own words: "Whatever I produce must be the somber result of a deadly, literal seriousness, and almost pedantic approach. The "art" atmosphere is never in my best stuff – instead, there is an impersonal, unsmiling, minutely reporting quality somewhere. I have to see a thing or scene with clear-cut visual distinctness before I can say anything whatever about it – then I describe it as an entomologist might describe an insect. Prose realism is behind everything of any importance that I write – a devilish odd quality, when one stops to think about it, to exist in conjunction with fantastic taste and vision! But I am a paradox anyway – for there have been periods when astronomy, geography, physics, chemistry, and anthropology meant more to me than any form of pure literature or aesthetics."
Art v. Science
H.P. Lovecraft loved art and science equally. Both are interwoven in his stories, as in his life. For example, in chapter seven of, "The Whisperer in Darkness," the narrator describes the mechanics of human interplanetary travel. In "The Colour Out of Space," there is a sophisticated discussion of the chemical composition of a mysterious, luminescent meteor that brings death and destruction to the quiet New England village of Arkham. In, "Beyond The Wall of Sleep," HPL weaves a real-time nova in Caput Algol into the story. The two faces of art and science converge in H.P. Lovecraft’s work. Once again, we see the influence of Gemini and its two faces -- and Mercury’s dual rulership of Virgo and Gemini. Unaspected Mercury exalted in Virgo, Saturn in Virgo and the Gemini Neptune-Pluto conjunction dominate his chart, easily eclipsing his Leo Sun. Saturn in Virgo symbolizes the pure scientist, and the Sun in Leo, the melodramatic storyteller. He synthesized these two aspects of his character beautifully in his work. He loved astronomy, which he began studying when still a boy. In 1903, he self-published a newsletter called The Rhode Island Journal of Astronomy, which came out weekly, then monthly, for four years. From 1906 to 1918, HPL wrote a monthly astronomy article for The Pawtuxet [Providence] Valley Gleaner. If HPL had had more of an aptitude for higher mathematics, he might have realized his dream of an academic career as an astronomy professor at Brown University, and the world never would have received the gift of his literary efforts and original, unique vision. He was a true visionary who predicted the discovery of Pluto and Lake Vostok.
Prophetic Dreamer – Pluto and Lake Vostok
One of the first pieces formally published just days after he turned seventeen was a letter dated August 25, 1906, that HPL wrote to the editor of Scientific American magazine. From his observations, he suggested that a large body might exist approximately 50 astronomical units from the Sun due to the number of comets that clustered around this point. He was right, and lived to see the official discovery of said large body, Pluto, which he called Yuggoth, the setting for inter-planetary trips to and from Earth in "The Whisperer in Darkness." In this story, written in 1930 (the year Pluto was officially discovered), HPL envisioned a way by which human beings could travel through interplanetary space on the backs of their extraterrestrial sponsors by having their brains removed and surgically implanted into metal cylinders with electronic hookups for sustaining perception. This is symbolic of HPL’s attitude toward his own body, and his material incarnation. He may have wished he could have been one of those brains in a cylinder, and not have had to worry about his physical body. The theme of Gemini and the two faces comes into play again -- would such an existence have been devilish or divine?
The plot of his 1931 novella, At The Mountains of Madness, involves the discovery of an ancient city and underground sea beneath the ice sheets covering the continent of Antarctica. While on this fictional geological and archaeological expedition, scientists uncover an underground cave that contains remains of strange, winged, barrel-shaped, starfish-headed extraterrestrials, several of whom awaken after the disruption of their millennia-long hibernation. HPL gives a rational, detailed, scientific description of the star-fish creatures as though he were seeing into the future and reporting his observations.
In 1977, forty years after H.P. Lovecraft’s death, the largest fresh-water lake in the world, Lake Vostok, was discovered by airborne radar under the ice near the Titan Dome Ridge in East Antarctica. Magnetic anomalies detected on the shore of Lake Vostok could be the remnants of an ancient city, such as that envisioned by Lovecraft in At The Mountains of Madness. A series of mysterious medical emergencies put a stop to the project in 2001, and it was scaled back indefinitely because of concerns over contaminating the Lake.
How did HPL manage to see into the future? Maybe he got some of his ideas from dreams. One of his best-loved works, The Dream Quest of Unknown Kaddath, which was not published in his lifetime, is a magnificent tale of a complex adventure in dreamland that has been compared to Frank L. Baum’s Wizard of Oz. The vision is so clearly enscribed that in reading it, one forgets that the hero, Randolph Carter, is in a dream. The dream takes on a life of its own. HPL took dreams seriously, suggesting that they might have an objective validity. In his own words: "From my experience I cannot doubt but that man, when lost to terrestrial consciousness, is indeed sojourning in another and uncorporeal life of far different nature from the life we know, and of which only the slightest and most indistinct memories linger after waking. . . .Sometimes I believe that this less material life is our truer life, and that our vain presence on the terraqueous globe is itself the secondary or merely virtual phenomenon." Once again, we see the influence of magic Mercury at work. Unaspected Mercury exalted in Virgo rules HPL’s ninth house of dreams and disposits Neptune-Pluto in the eighth house of death and the occult. As previously stated, it occurs in the twelfth house of the subconscious, which it also rules. Mercury is the magistrate of all the mystical zones in HPL’s chart, the eighth, ninth and twelfth houses. Neptune, planet of dreams and visions, and the natural ruler of the twelfth house, conjunct Pluto, planet of transformation and death, and the natural ruler of the eighth house. The two planets reinforce each other and occur in the sign of the writer, Gemini. HPL was a natural-born writer and brilliantly expressed the astrological symbolism that so surely marks him as a prophetic thinker and writer. Interestingly, he had nothing but scorn for the science and art of astrology (which he considered a pseudo-science and occult art), but this is not surprising as astrology was barely out of the Dark Ages, and there probably weren’t a great many quality books or teachers available to the public – the revival of astrology by Helen Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society was only just beginning when he was born.
The Magic Pentacle
As previously stated, Venus is the funnel through which the cosmic power of Neptune-Pluto was channeled by Mercury through HPL’s monstrous intellect. She is at the head of an elongated pentacle in HPL’s horoscope that traverses Venus trine Neptune-Pluto, which opposes Mars, squares Saturn, which quincunxes Jupiter, which trines Venus. All of HPL’s planets participate in the magic Pentacle: Venus is twelve degrees from the Moon-Uranus, but they are in the same sign, pulling them together by reference; Venus and Mercury are nineteen degrees apart, but they share the same sign and house, and form a psychic partnership. The Pentacle begins in the twelfth house, goes on to the eighth, next to the second, then to the eleventh, on to the fourth, and back to the twelfth,
(12 č 8 č 2 č 11 č 4 č 12), thus linking the issues governed by those houses as follows: the subconscious (12); drew from the well of the occult (8); giving it form and producing income (2); with the support and encouragement of a wide circle of devoted friends (11); who became his surrogate family (4), which helped him transcend his unusual childhood (4); finally coming to rest back in the subconscious (12) where the Mercury/Venus psychic partnership transformed all that energy into an original, unforgettable legacy.
H.P. Lovecraft, the intellectual provocateur genius who was keenly in tune with his subconscious mind, found therein a vast universe far beyond the imaginations of ordinary mortals. With his prodigious intellect (Mercury) he turned dreams (Neptune-Pluto) into art (Venus), gaining a loyal following among his fellow writers (Sun-Saturn) and achieving a legacy unparallel in the annals of fantasy, horror and science fiction.
An American Treasure
The last ten years of Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s life were his most productive -- and also his most difficult. He lived in poverty and suffered from malnutrition. His beloved Aunt Lillian died in 1932. His close friend, Robert E. Howard’s, suicide in 1936 troubled him deeply. In 1937, a lifetime of poor eating habits and worry finally caught up with him. He was in constant pain during the last year of his life, but he hid the serious nature of his illness from his friends, none of whom saw him before he died. On March 15, 1937 at 46 and one-half years of age, he died from intestinal cancer without ever having published a book, and believing that his work would pass with him into obscurity. What he believed did not come to pass. Thanks to August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, HPL’s work was preserved through Arkham House Publishing Company, which they established after Charles Scribner’s Sons rejected a collection of HPL’s stories. Arkham House is still in existence, with HPL as its star author. His literary legacy supersedes Poe and Hawthorne in its depth and originality. To my fellow stargazers who have not yet read any of HPL’s stories, all I can say is that something special awaits your attention (Sister Ray recommends starting with, "Beyond the Wall of Sleep.")
The triumph of Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s legacy is supreme. As already stated, his work influenced several generations of writers. Twenty of his stories were published in the legendary Weird Tales, the premiere magazine of horror, fantasy and science fiction that showcased the work of the most popular writers of the time. His work influenced such popular television shows as "Dark Shadows," "Night Gallery" and "Babylon Five," and cult movies like Alien, The Last Wave, and The Thing. To this day, movies are being made from his stories, including director, Guillermo del Toro’s long-awaited adaptation of Lovecraft’s At The Mountains of Madness (which is on hold until completion of The Hobbit). There are even plush toys modeled after HPL’s Cthulhu monster!
Howard Phillips Lovecraft was a sensitive, ethereal aesthete who suffered terribly in his time on Earth. He was a man out of time, a gifted artist whom few understood. His fellow writers were, and continue to be, his greatest supporters. Horror is part of the American literary tradition, but HPL’s fantastic themes were considered adolescent and his exquisite prose overbearing. American academia scorned him. The literary establishment failed to understand HPL’s gothic blend of horror, science fiction, mysticism and the supernatural. The Salvador Dali of horror fiction, he was almost not of this world – no wonder so few could understand him. A rare American treasure, Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s legacy is cherished by a modern audience appreciative of its magic, mystery and awe before the wonders of the universe.
Cannon, Peter, H.P. Lovecraft, Boston, Tweayne Publishers, a division of G.K. Hall & Co., 1989.
De Camp, Lyon Sprague, Lovecraft: A Biography, New York, Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1975.
Houellebecq, Michel, H.P. Lovecraft: Contre le Monde, Contre la Vie, New York, toExcel, Éditions du Rocher, 1999.
Lovecraft, H.P., At The Mountains of Madness, New York, Ballantine Books, 1971 (published by arrangement with Arkham House).