I am diving back into Chris Brennan’s book, Hellenistic Astrology, and have become fascinated by how much we can learn from a chart using just the seven traditional planets, the angles, and the lots, as Hellenistic astrologers did 2,000 years ago. Looking at the chart of a famous “Helen” in history, Helen Keller, I found so much of her story could be told through her Hellenistic chart.
Born healthy, with her Sun in Cancer, Helen at 19 months was struck by a mysterious illness (later thought to be meningitis) and nearly died in this era of high infant mortality rates. She survived but was left both blind and deaf. We see that her Sun is exactly conjunct the South Node, which ancient astrologers called “the descending node,” diminishing or making unstable the life force represented by her Sun. The Sun is also in a sign based square from the malefic Saturn in its detriment in Aries in the 6th house of illnesses – and Saturn is in the superior position. The damage from the illness would lodge in Helen’s head (Aries) and would overcome her Sun’s power to function in the world.
The Sun does have help, though. The benefic Venus is also in Cancer, and is applying to a conjunction with the Sun, suggesting that Helen’s family had the resources to provide her with the medical care she needed. And we can see from the essential dignities chart that Venus has the greatest dignity in her chart, being in both its triplicity and face. The gifts of this Venus will also come into play later on in Helen’s life.
Also helping the Sun is its position by house. The Sun is in its joy in the 9th house, that time of day when the Sun has passed overhead and is now stretching its brightness towards the west. This is the house of distant horizons, travel, other cultures, higher learning, philosophy and religion, politics, and our world view. We can wonder if tiny Helen sensed the wonders of the world waiting for her as she struggled to survive, and that this power within her would lead her to become a world renown writer, lecturer, advocate for the disabled, and shining light for what a human being can accomplish in the face of overwhelming odds.
But initially, she would not thrive once she recovered from her illness and was left blind and deaf. In the ruler of her Sun and Venus, the Moon, we see another story. Helen later writes that she remembers those early years as being lost in a fog. Her Pisces Moon not only indicates an emotional awareness that knows no boundaries, but that Moon in her chart is void of course, being unmoored and disconnected from other planets. Helen lived the earliest years of her childhood as a wild and unmanageable creature, unable to learn from those who were nurturing her.
What saves the Moon is that it is in the house of pleasures and creativity. It can “see” the Ascendant by trine, and the promise of the chart is that she will find her way to an emotionally rich and joyful life. The Moon also benefits as the ruler of the Sun and Venus because it is in the superior position of a sign-based trine, demonstrating that she will find someone who can reach her and nurture her growth. When Helen was seven, Anne Sullivan became Helen’s teacher, and through touch, was able to open up the world of language for Helen, tapping into Helen’s great thirst for knowledge and that 9th house desire to expand one’s horizons. This brings us back to the dignified Venus, showing love and connection (Venus) to a teacher (9th house). It is interesting that Venus is also “under the beams” of the Sun, dominated by it. Anne would always be in service to Helen, the one who was Helen’s eyes and ears as Helen went on to earn a college degree, write books, travel internationally to give lectures, meet US presidents, and eventually become one of the most famous women of the 20th Century.
And what in this Hellenistic chart promises fame and world renown? With her Ascendant is Scorpio, Helen has the ruler of her chart, Mars, in the 10th house of career and reputation. Its house placement gives it accidental dignity. This would indicate someone who is destined to live a public life. While Mars has no essential dignity, it does have the qualities which make it effective, being visible, direct, and moving quickly. As a nocturnal planet, it also does better rising behind the Sun. But the greatest boost her Mars experiences is being in trine to Jupiter in the 6th house. Jupiter is in the superior position, indicating that Helen’s heroism in overcoming her illness and disabilities (6th house) would be the impetus that would bring her to world recognition.
Helen’s 10th house also contains Mercury, moving quickly and visible, and in a sign-based trine to Jupiter. She would learn to communicate through touch, and eventually would learn to read, write, and even speak. Mercury also rules Helen’s Virgo Midheaven in the 11th house, giving her the ability to reach an audience to advocate for the many ways life could be improved for people on our planet. Both Mercury and Mars are powered by her impassioned 9th house Sun. Helen’s influence grew not just as an inspirational figure, but as a political philosopher and an advocate for those left behind by our society. Her Pisces Moon was given full scope as she fought for the causes that awakened her empathy.
Also powered by Helen’s 9th house Sun is her Part of Fortune in the 10th house. Ancient astrologers saw this point indicating an area of life where luck or good fortune could come to us serendipitously. Nestled between Helen’s Mercury and Mars in the 10th house, the Part of Fortune does tell us that while the respect Helen earned as because of her intelligence and hard work to overcome her disabilities, luck certainly played a role in vaulting her into international acclaim.
Her mother’s inquiries for a teacher for Helen led to a string of people who just happened to recommend someone who knew someone who knew someone else – that eventually brought Anne Sullivan to Helen. A reporter just happened to hear about Helen when she was a child and wrote about her – then the story was picked up across the country and then President Grover Cleveland asked to meet her. All along the way, Helen was able to connect with just the right person who could help her with her endeavors. She lived a full, rich and inspirational life for 88 years, and brought hope and belief in the human spirit to millions of people.
But my greatest takeaway from studying Helen’s chart is that we are given these planets in houses and in aspect as signposts only. What we do with them is determined not by the planets but with that inner spark of life we cannot see in the chart. Choosing deep within our soul to ignite the promise of our chart determines our path in this life.