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The Oracle and the Family Curse

by Liz Greene


Apollon, December 1999

In 1969, when Senator Edward Kennedy faced the collapse of his Presidential hopes after Chappaquiddick, he asked whether there was a curse on his family. Over the decades, a great many people have asked the same question, privately and in print; the history of this extraordinary clan does make one wonder whether some daimon of misfortune dogs its members. The recent death of John F. Kennedy Jr. has once again roused speculation about why the male Kennedys seem to be picked off like wooden ducks in a fairground booth, not to mention the drug-related hospitalisations, virulent divorces, and other human messes which, although more private and less florid, are perhaps no less tragic for those involved. No generation of this powerful family has remained unscathed. Naturally, the Kennedy horoscopes have John F. Kennedy Jr.been pondered by astrologers from every perspective. Anyone who has studied them can recognise factors in each individual birth chart which might reflect, at least in part, the tragedy of that particular life. Yet here is a sequence of tragedies which are strangely coherent in their continuity. Can we link these astrologically? Do they make sense psychologically? Are we looking at what the Greeks meant by a family curse? Are we looking at the products of a lethal but very human mixture of ingredients - a dysfunctional family driven by obsessive ambition and habitually involved with echelons of power and corruption that, sooner or later, would involve danger and possibly violent death? Are we viewing coincidence? Or, as Ian Fleming would have suggested, is it "enemy action"? And if so, what, and where, is the enemy?

The word "curse" conjures up images of witchcraft, black magic, Dennis Wheatley novels, and B-grade films about reanimated Egyptian mummies. It is a word which, understandably, we do not like to use these days, and any mention of the Curse of the Kennedys tends to provoke uneasy laughter. But the ancient mythology which underpins our Western culture and permeates our Western psychology took the concept of the family curse very seriously indeed, and did not associate it with witches or malevolent occult rites. The English word "curse" has obscure origins, but my etymological dictionary suggests that it derives from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning "wrath". The first known example of the word occurs in the 11th century: Goddes curs, the wrath of God. A curse is thus something inflicted by a wrathful deity in response to human wrong-doing. Its roots lie in the past, but it predetermines the future. Most of us do not think in terms of our families being "cursed", whatever difficulties we experience with and through them. Some families exhibit clearly repetitive patterns, but these may involve gifts and good fortune as often as they involve misfortune and pathology. But there are some families which seem to bear more than their share of tragedy, albeit on a less grandiose scale than the Kennedys. Repeating generations of broken marriages, alcoholism and drug addiction, suicide, financial ruin, and functional disease dog many families. Sometimes these patterns are deeply disturbing in their consistency and precision. Lynn Bell demonstrates, in her excellent book, Planetary Threads, the ways in which particular attitudes and experiences, embedded in the family psyche, can unconsciously dominate behaviour over several generations, sometimes emerging only when each individual reaches the precise age at which his or her predecessors themselves re-enacted the ancient story. Family therapists call this "the anniversary syndrome". Astrologers, accustomed to the cyclical nature of transits and progressions, can map it with precision, but its meaning may be more elusive.

An important question for the astrologer is whether family tragedies can be seen in nascent form in the birth chart, and counteracted before they have a chance to repeat. For if we take seriously the possibility of a destructive psychological inheritance, we are forced to consider the implications for astrological prediction. A family curse, in myth, demands an expiation of some kind, without which it continues to unleash its wrath on subsequent generations. The future of an individual, in this context, is dependent not on his or her conscious choices, nor even on his or her birth chart, but on something from the past which lies buried beneath the surface of life and influences or conditions future choices and consequences. John F. KennedyIn other words, the family curse makes us live the placements in our individual charts in particular ways which are not entirely our own. Our special pattern of planets and signs and aspects, so unique and so full of individual potential, becomes the unwitting vessel for a larger, older, and often inimical collective daimon. John F. Kennedy, before he went to Dallas in November 1963, was reputed to have received many warnings, amongst them several from astrologers who did not like the look of the configurations being triggered in his birth chart. He chose to disregard these warnings. John F. Kennedy Jr., before he took his fatal flight in July 1999, was warned not to attempt it in the prevailing bad weather conditions, especially in light of his inexperience and his injured foot. He chose to disregard this warning. Is "chose" perhaps the wrong word to use here? Later I will look very briefly at John Kennedy's chart, as well as those of Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., Robert Kennedy, and John F. Kennedy Jr. First I would like to explore in greater depth just what the Greeks might have meant by the family curse, and how this could be relevant to us psychologically and as a pattern of destiny within a family.

The family curse in Greek myth

In Greek myth, the family curse is presented as a punishment inflicted by an angry deity on the descendants of an individual who has offended that god. The curse or punishment is also intimately connected with Apollo's oracle, and most of the family curses in myth involve one or another member of the family consulting the oracle for help or a revelation about the future. The curse, although a legacy from the past, is also a destiny, and involves prophecies of what is to come. It has the power to overrule any potential individual development, rendering the person a mere vehicle for the unfolding of the curse. Only in understanding the words of the oracle, accepting the fate decreed, and performing expiation according to the god's will, can the curse be lifted or neutralised. Inevitably, the figures of Greek tragedy neither understand nor accept the oracle, nor do they perform the expiation required. Each person is either ignorant of the curse or feels he or she is exempt, and thus meets a destiny which is both imposed and chosen - inherited consequences interwoven with present choices to create a predetermined future.

For example, the curse imposed upon the mythic house of Thebes begins with King Laius, who manages to offend both Apollo and Artemis, the divine protectors of children, by raping a noble youth who is the son of his friend. Laius is warned by the oracle of the god he has offended that, should he have a son, he will meet his death at this son's hands. The wrathful deity, although ready to inflict punishment, also simultaneously offers the possibility of expiation through that punishment. Since every human must meet death one way or another, and given the nature of Laius' offence, the expiation might be seen as just. Laius, however, will not accept the sentence. He interprets the oracle as a warning rather than an opportunity for expiation, and attempts to avoid the punishment by avoiding intercourse with his wife. But his shame makes him secretive, and he neglects to tell her the reason for his sudden aversion to the marital bed. Because Jocasta is ignorant of the real cause of the rejection, her feminine pride is offended, and she seduces him while he is drunk. She becomes pregnant, and when the child is born, Laius again tries to cheat the oracle by leaving the newborn boy on a hillside to die. The deities' wrath is thus compounded, and the entire city of Thebes now comes under their curse in the form of the monstrous Sphinx.

The child is, of course, Oedipus, whose name means "swollen foot" because his father,Oedipus and Sphinx determined that he should die of exposure, has nailed his feet to the ground with a spike. But Oedipus is rescued by a kind shepherd and survives, and spends his youth believing he is the son of the King and Queen of Corinth. Then he, like his father, consults Apollo's oracle, which informs him that he will become his father's murderer and the husband of his mother. The possibility of expiation is no longer offered. Because Laius has exacerbated the gods' wrath by compounding his crimes, the curse has crystallised into an irrevocable future. Oedipus, like his father, tries to flout the oracle, flees Corinth, and runs straight into the arms of his destiny - a destiny which is both irrevocable and self-architected. Here is a strange blend of hubris (an arrogant effort to cheat the gods), innate character (he kills Laius on the road in a fit of uncontrollable temper because the unknown older man has blocked his way and spoken to him in an abusive fashion), heroism (he courageously confronts the Sphinx and breaks the curse imposed on Thebes, thereby winning both the kingship and, unwittingly, his mother, as a reward), and a genuine wish to remain a decent human being. Yet even Oedipus' terrible expiation does not alleviate the curse, for after he blinds himself and dies outcast, the curse moves on to his children. It is only when every member of the House of Thebes is dead that the curse is at last spent. This mythic family inheritance is shocking in its relentless brutality. Yet we can see that individual choice and individual consciousness are as relevant to the outcome as the workings of deity and the predeterminants of the past.

There are certain consistent features which appear in every myth about a family curse. In a way, they form the criteria for what defines a family curse. These features may help us to understand what we are looking at psychologically.

  1. The individual who first activates the curse is invariably royal, descended from a god, and blessed or gifted by a god. He or she is never merely ordinary, but has received some special boon from the deity. The wrath of the deity is thus linked not with mere human trangression, but with the abuse of a god-given talent or advantage. In other words, the curse is not a curse from the outset, but begins as something positive and creative which has been misused or distorted through arrogance, greed, or cruelty. Since the gift of a god is a symbol of the god's nature translated into human form, the curse is really an inversion of something divine within, an abuse of that which is a property of one's own soul.
  2. The individual is afflicted by hubris - a disrespect for mortal limits and the conditions and requirements for living imposed by the gods. Hubris is, in effect, arrogance of a special and deadly kind. Although it contains elements of courage and heroism, it is nevertheless a repudiation of that deeper religious sense which acknowledges with humility the gifts and benefits which life bestows.
  3. The curse is usually linked with the abuse of children. We need to view this symbolically, as the abuse of creative potentials, although it may also be relevant literally; every sociologist and social worker knows that child abuse within families tends to have long-lasting repercussions over the generations. In the myth, Laius rapes a youth, and then exacerbates the curse by exposing his own son to die. Tantalus, in the myth of the curse of the House of Atreus, cuts up his son and serves him as a meal to the gods, merely to test them. His sons, Atreus and Thyestes, in turn destroy their own children as a means of revenge upon each other; and Agamemnon, the son of Atreus, in turn destroys his daughter in order to gain victory in the Trojan War. Each subsequent generation of this tortured family is involved in some form of calllous injury to or destruction of a child or young person.
  4. The members of the family who inherit the curse exacerbate it through their own hubris. Each generation has the opportunity to expiate the curse by accepting the punishment, but each generation fails to do so because the individual cannot resist indulging in greed, anger, or desire for personal vengeance. The curse therefore becomes more powerful and more all-encompassing. What is really inherited is a particular set of attitudes which the individual does not wish to relinquish or transform, resulting in a blind wallowing in instinctual responses and a refusal to make necessary sacrifices or impose internal limits - even when warned by the god. It is, in effect, putting the self before the Self when the chips are really down.
  5. The oracle always warns the perpetrator or inheritor of the curse about the consequences, but the terms of the oracle are wilfully misunderstood, or there is a determined attempt to avoid the prophecy. The attempt to cheat the oracle paradoxically results in the fulfilment of the oracle.

In viewing psychologically inherited patterns from a mythic perspective, I am not attributing some literally supernatural agency to the kind of repeating sorrows which so often plague families. Rather, I am thinking symbolically. The features listed above suggest that the family curse is a psychologically predetermined set of behaviour patterns which require consciousness and inner struggle if any kind of transformation or expiation is to occur. We inherit not only our ancestors' genetic blueprints, but also certain deeply entrenched emotional and mental perspectives. Perhaps we also inherit certain complexes - inherent "stories" or archetypal enactments which are not, in themselves, malevolent, and may involve gifts and talents of a special kind. These inherent family perspectives and archetypal patterns are not difficult to trace in the horoscope. We can glimpse their outlines in the parental significators in a birth chart, and in the repetition of signs, planetary aspects and house placements which are so common in every family. These patterns are not in themselves suggestive of a "curse", but anything in the birth chart can behave like a curse if it has been handled destructively or wilfully suppressed for many generations. It is not clear just how we inherit these things. Dedicated geneticists would suggest that human character, like the human body, is a matter of DNA, and if alcoholism or depression runs in our family, we stand a good chance of becoming alcoholic or depressed because it is in the genes. At the other extreme, archetypal psychology postulates the reality of the family unconscious and the unity of the collective psyche of which every individual is a part. Perhaps the truth lies in a combination of the two. But whatever the means of inheritance, physical, psychic or both, something seems to pass down the generations in response to the repeated abuse of some natural law. This "something" appears to have a morality of its own, whether we attribute this morality to God, the psyche, the Self, the instincts, Nature, or life itself.

The Curse of the Kennedys

A brief summary of the Kennedy tragedies can help us to see how aptly the suffering of this family fits the criteria for the Greek family curse. The patriarch of the family, Joseph P. Kennedy, rose to a position of enormous power and wealth during the 1920's and '30's, much of which was acquired through bootlegging and other questionable means. Glenn Richter, in an article written after the death of John F. Kennedy Jr., suggests that the Curse of the Kennedys is simple arrogance, exhibited in equal quantities by each generation. His assessment of Joe Kennedy is damning: "...All it took was a little help from his good friend FDR and plenty of nerve, something Papa Joe had in abundance. How else could he keep consorting with crooks and stilJoseph P. Kennedyl hold his head high in high society? How else could he keep callously canoodling with sexy screen sirens while his wife stayed home cranking out more Kennedys? Papa Joe was not exactly what you'd call a nice guy." Here is the gifted individual of Greek myth, favoured by the gods with a heady mix of audacity, determination, charm, and political brilliance. However, "Papa" Joe was clearly afflicted with hubris in the best Greek sense. His eldest daughter Rosemary, born in 1918, was a happy and good-natured child. But she was mildly retarded, and was a source of enormous social discomfort to her father. He seems to have been incapable of accepting her as she was and counting his many blessings. In consequence he ordered a lobotomy performed on her in 1941, when she was twenty-three years old. The operation went badly wrong. This once contented and sweet-tempered girl emerged severely retarded, and was consigned by her embarrassed father to an institution for the rest of her life. The deities of Greek myth do not appear to concern themselves with garden-variety transgressions such as bootlegging and adultery; after all, they indulge in such pastimes themselves. But if these were characters in a Greek tragedy, we would be told in no uncertain terms that Joe Kennedy, in destroying his daughter, set something in motion which would have terrible consequences down the generations. Perhaps equally destructive was his obsessive ambition to produce a son who would be President. On a subtler level that, too, is a form of child abuse, for his children were given no opportunity whatsoever to become themselves. Obsessive ambition, already overweening long before Joe Kennedy was born, ensured that every individual's unique potentials were swallowed up by the family daimon. I do not pretend to know whether the cosmos truly carries such a stern morality as the Greeks believed in. In the context of our more simplistic and highly personalised Judaeo-Christian morality, the Greek conception of the universe may seem shockingly impersonal. But if we consider the list of features of the family curse I have given above, it is clear that Joe Kennedy faithfully met Criteria Nos. 1, 2 and 3.

Does this really mean that his "sin" would inevitably be "punished" down the generations? I am not suggesting this, nor do I personally believe life is that simple. The world is full of extremely nasty pieces of work who live long and destructive lives and die self-satisfied in their beds, while many good, decent people encounter terrible experiences which neither they nor their ancestors have merited. Moreover, not all tragedies form part of a repeating ancestral pattern. When they do, however, we need to sit up and take notice. Let us bear in mind Criterion No. 4, and consider in brief the unfoldment of the chain of tragedies which has afflicted the Kennedy family. This short list does not include issues such as divorce, adultery, alcoholism, and other family pastimes which are sufficiently common not to merit the term "tragedy" except, perhaps, to the individual participants.

  • Joseph P. Kennedy Jr, Joe's eldest son., the great hope of his father for the American Presidency, is killed in a plane crash in 1944, aged twenty-nine.
  • Kathleen Kennedy, Joe's second daughter, dies in a plane crash in 1948, aged twenty-eight.
  • John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the US, is assassinated in Dallas in November 1963, aged forty-six.
  • John F. Kennedy's son, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, born prematurely to the President and his wife in 1963, dies three months before his father's assassination.
  • Robert F. (Bobby) Kennedy, Joe's third son, is assassinated in June 1968, aged forty-two.
  • Edward M. (Ted) Kennedy, Joe's youngest son, drives a car off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island in July 1969, after a party. His aide, Mary Jo Kopechne, is found dead in the submerged car. His political career has not survived the speculation surrounding the incident.
  • Bobby Kennedy's son Joseph is involved in 1973 in a car accident which leaves a female passenger paralysed for life.
  • Ted Kennedy's son, Edward Jr., has his right leg amputated in 1973 because of cancer.
  • Bobby Kennedy's son David dies in 1984 of a drug overdose.
  • Ted Kennedy's son Patrick is treated for cocaine addiction in 1986.
  • Ted Kennedy's nephew, William Kennedy Smith, is acquitted of rape in 1991.
  • Bobby Kennedy's son Michael is killed in a skiing accident in December 1997, aged thirty-nine.
  • John F. Kennedy's only surviving son, JFK Jr., dies in a plane crash in July 1999 (exactly thirty years after Chappaquiddick), aged thirty-eight.

Even given the fact that there are a great many Kennedys and that therefore, statistically, their chances for a list of tragedies such as this are greater, the males in this family do seem to have suffered more than their share of catastrophes and early deaths. Could all these people have been afflicted, with Criterion No. 4 - with hubris, a refusal to alter the inherently destructive or arrogant attitudes which are part of their psychological inheritance? We could certainly say this about some, if not all, of them. Even JFK Jr., who eschewed the political limelight and seems to have been a well-liked and relatively innocuous individual, insisted on flying his plane with a broken foot and in weather conditions that would daunt even an experienced pilot. It John F. Kennedyis unnecessary to elaborate on the kind of world in which John F. Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy moved; one does not need to postulate family curses to recognise that members of the Mafia tend to shoot people when they are crossed and, just possibly, so do members of the American military, the FBI, and the CIA. And ambition, power, and great wealth can generate their own kind of curse. We do not need to imagine some dark ancestral daimon to understand why cocaine addiction or alcoholism might afflict a member of this family. Taken individually, each tragedy is explicable in its own, very human terms. Taken together, they present a rather more disturbing picture.

The horoscopes

If I were to peruse a horoscope for traces of what I understand as a family curse, I would consider first of all the presence of planets in those houses concerned with inheritance from the past. Until we have some insight into the complexes belonging to the larger matrix from which we have emerged, we are liable to suffer from unconscious compulsions and behaviour patterns which may reflect our own characters only in part. Family complexes underpin all the buried feelings which colour the psychic atmosphere in childhood, and as determining patterns they form part of our ancestral inheritance. My analytic work has taught me that nothing is quite as powerful as a family secret nursed in the darkness for many generations, accruing energy and "wrath" in proportion to the ferocity with which it is blocked from conscious awareness and expression. Family ghosts may not take the form of dead Uncle Fred speaking through a medium. But they are very real and very powerful, and they can haunt us as relentlessly as the Furies did Orestes. Astrologically, planets in the 4th, 8th and 12th may suggest energies, patterns and qualities which are inherited but which need individual consciousness to release their most positive dimensions. Left unconscious, they may release more destructive dimensions, impelling the individual into compulsive behaviour which results in events which feel "fated". The parental significators - planets placed in the 10th or 4th or conjuncting the MC or IC from the 9th or 3rd - may also be important in understanding the family inheritance. And I would place considerable importance on the position of Pluto in the horoscope, paying particular attention to Pluto on an angle, placed in the 4th, 8th, or 12th, or in strong aspect to the Sun or Moon. This planet seems to reflect that "Law of Nature" for which the Greeks had so much awe and respect - a kind of instinctive natural justice which serves the survival and evolution of the species, the group, and the creative daimon of the family. If a family curse involves some violation of natural law by earlier generations, we may expect Pluto be strong in the horoscope, demanding that the individual face and make peace with an inheritance from the past which requires reparation. Until this challenge is met, the individual's own potentials may be partially or even entirely subsumed by issues that began long before one's birth.

Joseph P. Kennedy Sr.
6 September 1888, 7.06 am EST
Boston, Massachusetts
Joseph P. Kennedy
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In "Papa" Joe Kennedy's chart, bearing these factors in mind, I would view the full 12th house as significant, and also the placement of Chiron in Cancer at the MC. This chart can obviously be approached from many different perspectives. I am concerned here not with a character analysis so much as the indication that Joe Kennedy was himself the vessel for unresolved inherited psychological issues. The interpretations which follow are therefore unavoidably brief and focused on this single point. To me, any planet placed in the 12th describes some impetus, drive or daimon within the ancestral psyche which has not been sufficiently or fully lived, and which turns that planet into a kind of medium for what has been left unfinished from the past. The individual's expression of the planet is therefore coloured by what previous generations have or have not done with it. "Left unfinished" does not necessarily mean "destructive"; a painting may also seem unfinished to its creator although complete in the eyes of the viewer, and it could be argued that no creative endeavour is ever really complete in terms of its ultimate potential. The designs of the family daimon take much longer to unfold than one individual life. Everything depends on how the individual handles that unfinished business.

Joe's new Moon placed in the 12th house, with the Sun widely square Pluto in the 9th, suggests an inheritance involving complex religious issues as well as an overwhelming drive toward individual expression and achievement which has somehow not found sufficient expression in the family background. We may need to go back to Joe's Irish Catholic ancestry and the years of the Great Hunger to understand something of what he may have been carrying. Although it would be easy to view Joe Kennedy as the initiator of the difficulties of the family, it would seem that he himself was the inheritor of family complexes which drove him compulsively toward personal power and achievement. It is as though the voices of long-dead ancestors, starving and persecuted, pushed him along, demanding that he and he alone be the redeemer of the family past. Chiron in Cancer at the MC suggests a wound in relation to his standing in the world, a wound inherited through the maternal line and linked with his family's social status. Chiron placed here implies that he suffered from a profound sense of himself and his family being unacceptable and inferior in the world in which he moved. The compensation for this kind of wound is often obsessive ambition - although the real motive is not material gain, but an attempt to assuage a much deeper emotional suffering. We may also view his treatment of his daughter in the light of this Chiron placement, for she must have seemed to him the living proof of his family's inferiority. That Joe Kennedy was determined to father the first Irish Catholic President in a nation which tends to like its Presidents unambiguously Anglo-Saxon and Protestant sheds light on how desperately important the religious issue must have been. What I believe this chart does not show is how Joe Kennedy elected to use the talents and energy he had at his disposal, nor with what ethics - or lack thereof - he attempted to fulfil the ambitions which were fuelled by something so much older and vaster than his own personal Virgoan dreams. Here is choice rather than destiny, and arrogance rather than an honouring of the enormous talents and life-force at his disposal. In light of this chart, the Kennedy family curse appears to have begun not with "Papa" Joe, but in the collective struggle of Irish against English, Catholic against Protestant, and the tragedy of the Great Hunger a century and a half before this man was even born.

John F. Kennedy
29. May 1917, 03.00 pm EST
Boston, Massachusetts
John F. Kennedy
click to enlarge...

In John F. Kennedy's chart it is the 8th house, rather than the 12th, which carries the emphasis. This is, to me, no less a house of family ghosts. But the ghosts do not quietly and surreptitiously possess planets in the 8th; their haunting is more precipitous and often enacted through ferocious compulsions and dramatic events. Here, too, is portrayed the unhappy family inheritance carried through the maternal line, reflected by Saturn in Cancer at the MC conjunct Neptune in Leo. This echoes Joe's 10th house Chiron in Cancer, and implies an enormous unease in terms of worldly position and acceptability, as well as a powerful messianic need to be the redeemer of his family and country. We might wonder how such an apparently confident and well-loved man could ever have ever worried about being inferior and coming from inferior stock. But what do we really know about him? And what did he really know about himself? We are told that he was sexually driven, that he could not resist flirting with some of the darkest criminal elements in American society, that he could be ruthless and manipulative like his father, and that, whether he wished to or not, he was driven from the moment of his brother's death to aim for the Presidency and the fulfilment of the family dream. I do not interpret planets in the 8th as indicators of a "violent death". I have had too many clients who have lived to ripe ages with full 8th houses to interpret the subtleties of Pluto's world on such a literal level. But planets in the 8th suggest powerful unconscious forces of an impersonal or nonpersonal kind, usually linked to secrets in the family past, which erupt into the daylight world in the form of compulsions and crises which demand a relinquishing of control and an acceptance of the invisible dimensions of life. The 8th can convey great power, strength, and insight, if the conscious attitude is humble. But if there is too much arrogance and a refusal to look within, then planets here may sometimes behave like avenging Furies - or like "enemy action". Like his father, John Kennedy was disinclined to do any relinquishing of any kind, let alone engage in the kind of introspection the 8th house requires. Like Atreus and Thyestes, he followed faithfully in the family footsteps. We do not need to think in terms of a family curse to see that JFK's political activities would win him virulent and powerful enemies. But we may need to think in these terms if we wish to understand why he was driven to such activities. The Sun conjunct Venus in Gemini, with Libra on the Ascendant and the Moon in Virgo, all suggest a flexible, refined, and easy-going nature. This chart makes me think of a wolf in sheep's clothing; but the wolf is not the man himself. Rather, it is the family inheritance.

Robert Kennedy
20. November 1925, 02.48 pm EST
Brookline, Massachusetts
Robert Kennedy
click to enlarge...

Bobby Kennedy's horoscope presents us with Pluto in a position of power, virtually exactly at the IC in Cancer. Here it is not diffuse ancestral ghosts so much as father writ large and archetypal - a dark Plutonian inheritance coming down through the father's line. The 10th house is heavily tenanted, but by a benign stellium of Moon-Venus-Jupiter. Bobby was probably far more comfortable enjoying money, power, and status than his brother and father. But Jupiter and Venus oppose Pluto, suggesting a ferocious inner struggle between his individual nature and his inheritance which turned him into a fanatical crusader against evil in the world. One wonders whether the dark forces he hunted in society, and which ultimately destroyed him, were really the dark forces at his own roots. On some level I believe Bobby Kennedy deeply hated and feared his father, but projected this Plutonian figure onto the criminal elements he perceived gnawing away at the roots of American society. Uranus and Chiron are in the 12th, although Chiron is close to the Ascendant; bitter family wounds as well as messianic family ideals drove him from within. More importantly, the Sun is close to the 8th house cusp, telling a tale similar to that of his brother. His individual nature and aspirations were constantly invaded by the unconscious compulsions of the past. Insight and humility are required for the Sun to shine its light from the 8th. But a Kennedy upbringing does not usually encourage insight and humility. As a Scorpio, Bobby may also have been driven by a spirit of personal vengeance, and this craving for vengeance, common to so many figures in Greek myth, is not conducive to making peace with a wrathful deity or easing the strictures of a family curse. But most of all, it is the angular Pluto which suggests the intrusion of the ancestral past into the present. Had the father not appeared as a figure of such compulsive power in this chart, much might have been different. Politics might well have been Bobby's choice as well as his family's. But he might not have invoked the enemy without quite so virulently if he had understood better the nature of the enemy within.

John F. Kennedy Jr.
25. November 1960, 12.22 EST, Washington, D.C.
John F. Kennedy Jr.
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Finally, we can look very briefly at the chart of John F. Kennedy Jr. No compulsive flirtation with the darker echelons of power appears to have afflicted him; it seems he truly did not want to follow in his father's footsteps, but was content to live the pleasant Jupiterian life of a playboy and dilettante. The 10th house is empty; evidently he did not feel impelled to change the world or make his mark on it in any mythic way. We might well hope that, in relinquishing the voracious demands of the family daimon, he might have avoided that courtship of a tragic end which destroyed his father and his uncle. Yet he had a tragic end anyway. What in the world made this man choose to risk his life, and the lives of three other people, in such a blind and foolish way? We cannot ever know what was in his mind - or perhaps more to the point, what was at work on the unconscious level - when he made this decision. Uranus and Pluto are placed in the 12th, with Pluto close to the Ascendant and conjunct the north Node. Once again the family ghosts make their appearance, colouring his perceptions of the outer world with the compulsions of the past. Pluto is also square the Sun, which is in the 3rd but conjunct the cusp of the 4th. It seems that even this likeable and exuberant puer aeternus was required to grapple with his Plutonian inheritance if he wished to fulfil his individual potential. Glenn Richter states in his article that JFK Jr's fatal flaw was arrogance. No doubt that is partly true; he, too, fits Criterion No. 4. But there are other factors in this chart (particularly Venus conjunct Saturn, Mars opposite Saturn, and Moon and Chiron exactly conjunct) that describe considerable inner pain, loneliness, and struggle - perhaps not entirely conscious, but all the more destructive for being so carefully denied.

Pluto was transiting back and forth across JFK Jr's natal Sun in the year before his death, and it was square its own place and very close to the IC at the time of his death. Something inescapable was hunting him from within. The progressed chart is also eloquent; progressed IC was exactly conjunct progressed Jupiter, suggesting that the puer spirit longed for a way out of the conflict between his own personality and the inexorable demands of his inheritance. What is more peculiar is that this progressed MC-IC axis was in 14º 28' of Cancer-Capricorn, precise to the minute on his uncle Robert's natal Pluto at the IC - as though some strange identification was occurring between the living nephew and the dead uncle. Those who believe in simple tragic accidents may no doubt feel anger at the suggestion that there might have been something voluntary, something chosen about this sad death. I am not implying, if there were indeed a choice, that the choice was conscious. But the precision of such astrological contacts makes me wonder whether the family daimon - one dimension of which seems to reveal itself in the family charts through the Cancer-Capricorn axis - was at it once again. This repetition of planets falling within a few degrees in the same signs in so many of the family charts does not suggest a family curse. Rather, it suggests a family inheritance of a potentially creative kind, involving not only political shrewdness, tenacity, and leadership abilities, but also the profound emotional nourishment provided by close family bonds. However, it might also be said that the gifts of the Cancer-Capricorn axis was sorely misused in every generation of the Kennedy family. Global ambition that subsumes the personal happiness of individual family members, and a tyrannical clannishness that permits no freedom to move beyond the family circle emotionally, intellectually, professionally, or spiritually, may be interpreted as abuses of god-given talents. The Cancer-Capricorn axis, at its best, epitomises those values which preserve the loving container of the family as a basis for the structures of a lawful and stable society. If I were an imaginative ancient Greek, I might think of the goddess Hera, protectress of family and social bonds, incensed beyond bearing because her gifts were bestowed so freely and then used so irresponsibly.


The family curse is, when all is said and done, an inversion of a family blessing. That is what emerges from thinking long and hard about how the Greeks portrayed it, and I am convinced that they knew far more about this unfolding of patterns over generations than many orthodox schools of psychology do today. Psychoanalysis and analytical psychology have, of course, always recognised the reality of the unconscious and the continuing power of family secrets. Family therapy acknowledges the generational repetition of critical events on specific dates and at specific ages; the analytical family therapist knows, too, that the "identified patient", like Orestes, is the recipient and mouthpiece, rather than the perpetrator, of a conflict much older than the individual. From a reductive perspective, the family curse may seem like a doom imposed on the innocent. Yet our own small family curses, whatever florid or subtle form they take, may be viewed, not as a future in which we are fated to re-enact the tragedies of the past, but as an opportunity to redeem something which was once the gift of a god, but which has been deformed over time through arrogance, stupidity, malice, or wilful unconsciousness. When patterns from the past make us shape our futures compulsively, we will solve nothing by either passively anticipating disaster or believing ourselves to be exempt. Any individual with a powerful Pluto or an emphasis in the watery houses is the potential recipient of enormous power and insight built on a profound comprehension of the past and the inner world. But there is no such thing as a free lunch, and one must find the courage to make the heartbreaking separation from the matrix of the family psyche in full consciousness, emerging as an individual - lonely, unique, and attuned to the needs of one's own soul. The luxury of blind identification with the family, or with any collective, is not an intelligent option for anyone with such placements in the birth chart. There is no room for either naivety or arrogance when the chart reveals the participation of family ghosts. One needs to reflect on the past as carefully and deeply as possible, for one is, in the most profound sense, a medium for the unlived gifts of the family psyche and a vessel for all the energy and life that have been denied or abused and are now longing to be expressed in new creative forms.

© Liz Greene, Apollon / Astrodienst AG

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