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Libra and the Path of Persuasion

By Dana Gerhardt

libra"It's the wrong Moon!" I was walking across the lobby to pick up a fax when my water broke. A circle of anxious coworkers gathered round and quickly jumped into action. They decided who would take me to the hospital and who would follow in my car, while I was focused on a single issue: "My baby can't be born with a Libra Moon!"

I'd been a professional astrologer for just three years, which means what I knew came mostly from books and the handful of charts that confirmed them. My books said that a child's Moon sign indicates the personality of his/her mother. Libra is a lovely sign, diplomatic, socially adept, artistic, refined, and relationship-oriented. But, moi?! I was a clumsy Sagittarian who liked her freedom and spoke her mind. My picture of a Libra Moon mom was framed in lace and smiles, as I imagined her fluttering around trying to keep everyone happy. If my son was going to be sitting in a therapist's office one day complaining about my flaws, it wouldn't be that I was too sweet, superficial, or vacillating. I was relieved when I finally saw Branden's chart. His Libra Moon was conjunct Jupiter-ah, there's the Sagittarian mother. Plus it was in the 10th house-yes, there's the unfortunate influence of my own anxious and ambitious Moon/Saturn square.[1]

My faith in the heavens was restored. But astrology is filled with memes to inspire a new mother's dread. One day I learned that Libra Moon children incarnate in order to bring harmony to their parents. Yikes. His father and I had always hung together by a thread. Between my pregnancy hormones and his dad's Gemini dual mind about fatherhood, my womb often sloshed with discord. No wonder Branden's soul went flipping through the ephemeris searching for a Libra Moon, though I pitied the impossibility of my little one's assignment. Before Branden was three, his father and I split up.

Then I found this nugget: "The mothers of Libra Moon children are idealists and romantics who are often terribly disappointed by their relationships." Ouch. I come from a long line of women who've been bitterly disappointed in their men. I picture my ten-times-great-grandmother milking a cow and spitting as her fine-hatted husband rode out the gate. But a romantic? Me? Never!

Truth be told, astrology's maxims are as often false as they are true. So why do we keep circulating them? They do a good job of initiating astrologers into a conversation with the archetypes. At first, the less we know the more we cling to our cookbook sentences ("Of course it's accurate... astrologers have observed this for thousands of years!"). Then experience seasons us and we realize that nothing is always true. Eventually we discard generalities altogether in favor of a living relationship with the archetypes. This is the real pleasure of astrology, observing the infinite creativity of planets and signs, as they show up in ways that are precise for each person. What makes the planets we serve so compelling is that they're never fully exhausted or revealed. Particularly in a child's chart, we should regard the natal placements as empty chairs at a celebration, waiting for the chart's honored guests to arrive. The gifts they bring will be revealed slowly over time, including the curse from that inevitable uninvited guest, bringing the thing we didn't see, which of course keeps the story interesting and full of gods.

waage symbolOver the years, I've kept a loose eye on my son's chart, waiting for the moments his deities wanted to appear. When Branden became very particular about the cut and colors of his clothes at eight, I applauded his refined Libran tastes. Now he's a rugby player who immerses himself for hours in video war games. But his Libra Moon regularly redecorates his den and occasionally tunes in episodes of the romantic reality show, "The Bachelor." When solicitors come to the door, his Moon ducks behind the couch. It can't bear that awkward moment of saying "No, I'm not interested." Not once has his Moon left for school without saying "I love you Mom." As for harmonizing his dad and me, Branden's Moon has succeeded at that too, for we've been quite cordially united as his co-parents.

The first gift I got from Branden was a small magnetic toy depicting a boy and girl balancing on a see-saw. From his preschool gift table he'd selected the perfect facsimile for Libra's glyph. Only now do I know what he was really doing. He was signaling me that my training in Libra was about to begin, for now that he's 17, I find myself all sweetness and lace, buying treats, bringing him snacks, and holding my tongue just to keep the peace. So here's another meme about Moon signs we might circulate: Our child's Moon is a warning; it predicts the kind of Mom that he or she will require us to become!

The Balance of Heaven

Ruled by beautiful Venus, Libra is charming, harmonious, and sensitive. It's often said that Librans need relationships. Yet it's easy to find as many Libra Suns who live alone as those who are actually partnered. Consulting an astrology book often adds to the solo Libran's misery: "It says I can only find myself through others... my drive is for relationship. So what happens if I don't have one?"

For such a people-oriented sign it's strange that Libra is the only zodiac sign whose emblem is inanimate. Why didn't the ancients see in Libra's constellation something like the partnered twins of Gemini or Pisces' fish yoked back to back, an image of relationship? Instead its stars shimmer with an instrument, an object used for weighing things: a scale. Sumerians called this constellation Zib-ba An-na, meaning "the balance of heaven." Back then the autumn Sun rose in Libra when night and day were in equal measure, inspiring the belief that Libra was about, not partnering, but balance. Today we no longer view the Sun against its constellations, and even if we did, we'd find the autumnal equinox has precessed out of Libra. So how should we honor this sign? Where Libra activates our chart, should we endeavor to partner, balance, or to weigh things?

goddess maatSuch wondering back and forth, like a balance beam tipping up and down, is of course very Libra-like. This is a sign that can quickly jump around to multiple points of view. It also seeks to find what's fair and just and true. This is the mythological heritage of Libra's scale, which the Egyptians saw as the sacred Scale of Ma'at. Ma'at was the goddess of balance, justice, truth, and order. It was She who kept the universe from drifting into chaos. At death, a human's heart was measured on Her scales against a feather, to determine whether the individual had lived harmoniously with natural laws and could move on to the next realm. Souls too heavy were immediately devoured by demons.

The capacity to weigh something as delicate as souls and feathers is also a Libra gift. In fact, this uncommon sensitivity is the center pillar of Libra's balancing. Librans are profoundly aware of, and affected by, life's objects. Listen to how alive the world is for this woman with Venus in Libra:

"Soft, silky fabrics are a must. I buy things based on how they feel. I love things that sparkle and shine. I have lots of stones all over the house and see incredible beauty in them. I always have fresh flowers. I like candles but am careful with scents because my husband and I are both easily overwhelmed by anything too strong. Too many people overdo it. My back is my most sensitive erogenous zone. And less is more when it comes to touch. I like light feather touches."

It's understandable why Libra's delicate nature often seeks the soothing caress of beauty and harmony. Another name for its sensitivity might be "aesthetic sensibility," as Thomas Moore defines the term: "Aesthetics in (its) primordial sense involves sensing the things of the world in their particularity and being affected by the many ways things present themselves."[2] In other words, it's the capacity to feel deeply life's fabrics, scents, and stones.

princesspeaThe fairy tale which best describes Libra's sensitivity is Hans Christian Andersen's "The Princess and the Pea."[3] One stormy night a beautiful stranger knocks on the castle door, requesting shelter. The Queen decides to test her. She measures her gentility with a bed of twenty mattresses underneath which she places a single pea. The girl tosses and turns. She climbs down after a sleepless night full of bruises, proving to the Queen she's actually a real princess (or someone with a stellium of Libra planets!).

We could say that Libra's mission is to send its sensitivity into a diversity of things. As it measures, it knows. As it comes to know the particular nature of what it meets, it joins with it. Sensing the nature of things promotes not only intimacy, but an appreciation for beauty, harmony, natural order and law. Clearly we confine Libra when talking about human relations only. Given how much there is in the world to sense, the objects of Libra's relating are surely limitless.

A Libra yoga teacher might be single, but still enjoy fulfillment by bringing a vibrant sense of balance to her own and her students' bodies. A Libra biologist may actualize herself by discovering the harmony in the bacteria of Petri dish. A recording engineer might come alive at the sound board, listening with his Libra sensitivity for the moment one track should enter and another one fade. Ultimately, this aesthetic practice leads the Libran to the Soul. Writes Moore again, "The human soul longs for union with its matrix..." and a "vital, sensitive aesthetic sense is the means by which the human soul finds (its) reunion, (its) intimacy to the world."[4]

Seen this way, all our relations might become the means for self-discovery. Not the small self of ego, but the larger Self, the Anima Mundi that joys to meet itself in varied forms. An artist friend tells me of a sculpture class she once took. All eyes were trained on the same model, yet later the teacher showed how each had in some way sculpted features from his own face. We long through Soul to find ourselves in others, because on some level we understand that we are one with all. When we allow our aesthetic sensitivity to truly touch the world, we heal our soul's painful separation. We are at last in harmony.

Delicate Libra has its shadow too. It can compromise too much. It can befuddle itself with indecision. All air signs can get lost in their thoughts. Like air, thoughts can travel far; they can also equivocate and skip right past Libra's aesthetic mission. The mind can facilitate the understandings that good relationships require, but it can also fabricate projections and abstractions, concepts that inhibit genuine relating. In Andersen's fairy tale, before that stormy night when the princess arrives, the prince had traveled the globe searching for a real princess. He never found one. Possibly his mind was in the way, overwhelming his capacity to sense authentic presence in others. This reminds me of a man I know whose Sun is in the 7th house, Libra's natural home. Paul is in his mid-thirties, has never been married, and for as long as I've known him has been "looking." Earnestly. He's taken out ads in the personals columns, joined internet matchmaking sites, gone on speed dates, and taken several workshops on relationships. He's gone on plenty of dates, but they never seem to work out. "Her breasts were too small," he tells me. "Her eyes were too eager," or "She doesn't like Fellini," or "The way she danced was strange."

Airy Libra inspires our visions of prince or princess Charming, our "ideas" about relationship, but without the passion of fire to send us into the other's arms, or the emotionalism of water to bond us in all our vulnerability, Libra can sit in the netherworld of indecision for a long time. A friend with a Libra Moon is always wondering if she's really in love, if this one's The One. "How do you know?" she keeps asking me. For a Libran it's sometimes hard. One downside to Libra's perpetual weighing and balancing is the inability to settle its mind, not just about relationships, but about many things. My father has a Libra Sun, Moon, and Jupiter in his 10th house of career, and now in his eighties, he's still not sure what he wants to do with his life.

Dad married an Aries, my mother, who more often than not took the lead, establishing the goals and agenda, but for every new adventure she launched, my Libra father tugged from the other side. His way of bringing balance to the relationship was to match her optimism with his pessimism, her commitment to this plan with his sudden desire to do that one. She acted, and he reacted. He resisted her like crazy, but followed wherever she went. The agreeable, dependent, peace-at-any-price Libra is one way to partner, but a reactive, argumentative Libra may be just as deeply bonded. The Librans who push others away are no less sensitive than the ones who draw them near.

Hercules' Libra Labour

erymanthian boarBut we've stayed away from Hercules too long. This is his series after all! What can his Libra labor teach us? Our hero must capture the Erymanthian Boar, a terrible beast that crashes around the slopes of Mount Erymanthus, attacking men, gouging animals, and ravaging the forest with his tusks. It's on this mission that Hercules makes a drastic mistake: he shoots the fateful arrow that leaves immortal Chiron with an incurable wound. It happens during a visit to his centaur pal Pholus, who lives in a cave on Mount Erymanthus. Delighted to see his old friend, Pholus serves Hercules roast meat and eats his own meat raw. Soon both are thirsty for wine, but Pholus is reluctant to open the cask as it belongs to all the centaurs. "Aw, go for it!" urges Hercules. "They won't mind."

But the forest centaurs catch the scent of wine and are quickly furious. They rush toward the cave armed with rocks and trees. Hercules grabs his bow and shoots down a few, then chases a small band heading towards Chiron's cave. Hercules sends a barrage of arrows into the group. An arrow passes through one centaur's arm and stops in Chiron's knee. On discovering this, Hercules is aghast. Chiron had been his teacher. In fact the very poison on the arrow's tip was an ingenious formula Chiron had developed. Hercules pulls the arrow out and applies one of Chiron's balms to the wound, though both teacher and hero know this is futile. The pain will go on forever for the immortal centaur. Meanwhile a curious Pholus has picked up the lethal arrow. It slips from his fingers and pierces his foot. Instantly he's dead.

We might have hoped that Libra's story would be more genteel! Shouldn't our hero have been required instead to attend Aphrodite's Charm School for lessons in manners and dance steps? In our Libra house we want life to be light, harmonious and joyful, but this labor reminds us of another reality. Often enough when we open our sensitive Libran hearts, we meet discord and pain. Somebody does something stupid. Or we do something stupid. Sharp words are exchanged. Somebody gets hurt. This happens often in relationships; even so, it's still widely believed that true love never hurts. Only in the realm of ideas can we love without ever suffering.

As John Welwood reminds us in his Journey of the Heart, "A relationship that has any depth and power at all will inevitably penetrate our usual shield of defenses, exposing our most tender and sensitive spots, and leaving us feeling vulnerable - literally, 'able to be wounded.'"[5] It's what we do after getting hurt that most shapes our capacity to love. The desire to retreat and harden our hearts is understandable. But Chiron, a master teacher, models a different response. He forgives Hercules, accepts his wound, and offers to exchange places with Prometheus, who for the crime of bringing fire to mankind is chained to a rock with an eagle pecking at his liver. From one pain, Chiron is willing to step into another! Zeus is so impressed with Chiron's open-heartedness, that he releases Prometheus and sends Chiron into the heavens to become an immortal light and inspiration for mankind. What's the lesson from this master class? That love's pain can be transformative.

But Hercules still has his labor. With a heavy heart, he buries Pholus, leaves Chiron, and begins to track the Erymanthian Boar. Hercules tracks many wild beasts on his zodiac labors. Each is a useful clue for what must be mastered in the particular labor's sign. Why a boar for Libra? We could smile and conjure a pun between "boar" and "bore" or "boor" - two dinner guests that socially refined Libra cannot abide. But the real relevance of this beast lies in his back story. Erymanthus was a son of Apollo; Aphrodite blinded the boy after he saw her bathing. In grief and anger, Apollo sent the Boar to kill her beloved Adonis. This tit-for-tat could have gone on forever, as it sometimes does for Librans too. But Aphrodite spared the beast, leaving him to roam and ravage Mount Erymanthus, a symbol of the damage that wounded hearts can do.

libra"In truth," writes Wellwood, "the heart can never break, for it is already by its nature soft and receptive. What actually breaks open is the defensive shell around the heart that we have constructed to try to protect our soft spot."[6] Learning to live from the heart without defensiveness may be the real aim of Hercules' Libra labor. After the death of Pholus and injury to Chiron, Hercules decides to meet the Boar without his bow and arrows. He is undefended and vulnerable. He wants to capture the beast without further violence. He follows it at a distance, then sensing opportunity, chases it into a snow drift where it sinks from its own weight. The snow cools the beast's heat and it willingly submits to the hero's chains. Hercules has become a master pacifist. He has tamed his own aggression and learned how to skillfully work with another's. On his journey, he's met his own flaws and life's harsh realities, but he's kept his heart open. This is genuine balance. In your Libra house and with your Libra planets, may you enjoy the same success.

  1. Jupiter is the ruling planet of Sagittarius so conveys many of its expansive, optimistic, and freedom-loving qualities when it's in aspect to the Moon. The natural ruler of the 10th house is Saturn. When the Moon is in the 10th, it carries some of the same pressure and responsibility as a Moon square Saturn.
  2. Thomas Moore, editor, A Blue Fire, Selected Writings by James Hillman, (Harper, 1989), pp. 290.
  3. Hans Christian Andersen, The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories, translated by Erik Christian Haugaard, (Doubleday, 1974), pp. 20-21.
  4. Moore, op. cit., p. 291.
  5. John Wellwood, Journey of the Heart: The Path of Conscious Love (HarperCollins, 1990), p 75.
  6. ibid, pp. 78-79.

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