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  • Writer's pictureLelia

An Imaginary Astrology Reading for Joyce Carol Oates: Part I

A completely unrelated photo from the Minnesota State Fair.

Imagine that Joyce Carol Oates*—who does not seem the type to sit with an astrologer, but let’s pretend—came to see me for a New Year’s 2008 reading of her transits and progressions. Not being given to making predictions or gifted with second sight, I would not have warned her that her husband would be dying in February of that year. But what would I have seen in her chart? As I read A Widow's Story, Ms. Oates's memoir of the 2008 death of her husband of 47 years, I got curious about the potential purpose such a painful event might have held for Ms. Oates. What questions and themes were arising for her at that time?

The big theme in her chart at that moment was relationships: her evolving relationships and her evolution through relationships. Venus, Libra and the 7th house—the relationship-oriented planet, sign and house—were all being triggered at that time. Oates’s progressed Sun was in the 7th house, progressed Venus was in Libra on the cusp of the 8th house; her natal 7th house Neptune was being stimulated by Uranus; Saturn was transiting through her 7th house; and two of her 4th house planets were being triggered, suggesting changes in her home/family life.

I would have started her reading with the progressed Sun, which had entered her 7th house in 2005. This event is called a progressed Sunrise. After a lifetime of her core identity being below the horizon—her natal Sun is in Gemini in the 4th house—she’d arrived on a larger stage. Of course this is Joyce Carol Oates who’s been publishing novels since the 1960s. She’s been on a larger stage. But now, with her Sun having progressed into the 7th house, it’s time for her to turn her attention toward mining that inner, subjective world of her 4th house Sun in order to make a difference in her community.

Traditionally, the 7th house is the House of Marriage, but we now expand that arena so it includes partnerships, friendships and long term relationships of all stripes. With her progressed Sun here, Ms. Oates’s connections with other people have become paramount in her life. She’s learning who to trust and how. Relationships are teaching her about interdependence and will be a significant source of evolution for her for the rest of her life. Her natal sun in the 4th house tends toward inwardness and deep connection with a few members of her soul-family, so this new focus is asking for more extroverted interaction with others.

This 7th house focus makes progressed Venus’s position significant. Venus, which rules the 7th house and Libra, was progressed into Libra on the cusp of the 8th house, the House of Death, Sex and the Occult. Venus in Oates’s natal chart is already intimately bound up with these darker themes because it’s conjunct Pluto. So her relationship drive and artistic drive (Venus) are fused with the Lord of Hades, the shadow-realm which drives us to look with fierce honesty at the psychologically scary parts of life and of ourselves. One of the ways we learn these lessons is through our most intimate relationships. When we walk hand-in-hand with another through the shadows of life, intimacy can be a great teacher. With progressed Venus entering the 8th house, Ms. Oates’s ability to return to equilibrium (Venus) is evolving through experiences with the shadow-realm. It’s a time when exploring Venus’s methods of finding inner harmony will become very important—friendship/relationship, the arts, time in nature are Venusian paths to restoring harmony, finding peace and equilibrium, even through the darker vicissitudes of life.

As it enters the 8th house, progressed Venus is also opposing natal Saturn in Aries on Ms. Oates’s second house cusp. Her natal Saturn suggests that Ms. Oates’s great work in life is to courageously prove herself to herself, to be brave enough to take the actions that give her a sense of security and support her self-esteem. It also combines the archetype of the Hermit (Saturn) with Aries’s warrior energy. So Venus, opposing Saturn, is triggering that Hermit Warrior energy in Oates’s life. Her relationships and art are evolving through the influence of Saturn’s seriousness, need for alone-time, stern ability to do hard things. Saturn-like people who are competent, serious, disciplined are good allies at this time. There’s a tension here between Venus’s relationship-drive and Saturn’s need for time alone. It would be helpful for her to recognize the importance of both solitude and companionship and the calming effect both can have.

So, already there’s a strong relationship theme developing. And we’re seeing that the kinds of people who will be most significant in supporting her at that time would be Saturn types (stable, serious, dutiful) and adept at walking the 8th house territory of death, psychological wounds, the shadowy valleys of life.

With so much emphasis on Venus and the 7th house, we would look at her natal Venus as well and point out again that conjunction with Pluto: her relationship and artistic function have always been fused with the Lord of Hades. This is something she knows how to do. And in Cancer in the 6th house, comforting routines, the duties of the nest, creating a familiar, comfortable oasis for herself would be helpful when her equilibrium is upset and she needs to return to harmony.

With natal Neptune in Virgo in the 7th house, Ms. Oates’s spirituality and poetic vision is developed through relationships with visionary perfectionists. Or, said another way, Ms. Oates was learning to be a poet/visionary mentor through her relationships. In early 2008, that poet-mentor archetype was being triggered by Uranus transiting through Pisces in the 1st house opposite Neptune. Uranus is the god of lightning, thunderbolts and sudden change. I probably wouldn’t say that to any client, because most of us—or maybe it’s only me—are terrified of the idea of sudden change. But I would have said that unexpected events were going to challenge Ms. Oates’s spiritual beliefs. There would be a tension between the need to make unilateral, autonomous decisions (the genius Uranus in the 1st house) and her partnership drive. It would be a time to trust that surprises would cause her to question her spiritual beliefs as a means of taking her deeper into the mystery of life and honing her ability to mentor others’ imaginations/visions/mysticism.

Transiting Uranus is also squaring Ms. Oates’s natal Mercury in Gemini in the 4th house. Natal Mercury’s position tells us that Ms. Oates’s mind and intelligence are stimulated by her curiosity about her roots, family, feelings, inner world and home. Uranus is shaking up her thinking about home/soul-family at the same time that synchronicity will ensure that the information she needs to update her understanding is available. It’s important that she resist a sense of despair as she reevaluates her opinions, trusting that she must speak about the new truths she’s discovering, even if her new views aren’t popular.

In yet another event occurring in the house of Relationships, Saturn is moving through the 7th house opposite Ms. Oates’s 1st house Pisces Jupiter. Saturn in the 7th house suggests a need to mature relationships. Long-term, stable relationships can be dulled by routine and habit, so it’s time to deconstruct the habits and preconceived notions that keep us from really seeing the person we’re spending our lives with. Steven Forrest (my favorite astrologist and astrology teacher) points to this as a time when relationships need to mature or end because we have outgrown them in some way. As Ms.Oates’s relationships mature (or end), she’s maturing the dreams and ambitions of her natal Jupiter. In Pisces in the 1st house, Jupiter urges Ms.Oates to take a stand as a spiritual/poetic/visionary leader. The maturing experiences that take place within her relationships will allow her to deepen her dignity and aplomb as a poetic leader.

So again, there are themes developing in which Ms. Oates is being given the opportunity to mature as a visionary/creative leader while stepping into the spotlight through her progressed Sunrise, making a difference within her community.

The final, yet very important, astrological event that I would have mentioned in early 2008 is Ms. Oates’s progressed moon in the balsamic phase. This is the dark of the moon marking the end of a nearly 3-decade long cycle, bringing to a close certain chapters in her life. Endings can create sadness, grief and uncertainty, but they are also clearing the way for a new phase. The path forward is through letting go, accepting endings even as she mourns them. (Easy to write, more challenging to live.) At the end of September 2008, Ms. Oates would enter the New Moon phase. This shift into the new moon phase would not mean sudden clarity. The moon is still dark, but seeds are being planted, a new phase of life is preparing to germinate. I would urge her to accept that she may still feel wobbly and unsure because beginning again is a naturally wobbly and uncertain time—this is the time of the newborn foal on unsteady, ungainly legs. But there’s also a new magnetism to someone at this time—just as everyone is filled with a sense of promise and hope at the sight of a wobbly foal, people sense a new promise in a person during their new moon phase. I would urge her to trust that promise. It really is there.

*Joyce Carol Oates's natal chart can be found at


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