Neptune was first sighted in 1846, although there has always been some confusion about who actually discovered it. From the behaviour of the orbit of Uranus, it was known that another planet existed outside the orbit of Uranus and two mathematicians, the English John Adams and the French Urbain Le Verrier, both predicted the correct position where it would be found. The planet was named after Poseidon-Neptune, god of the sea.
The mid-nineteenth century saw the emergence of mass movements of a humanitarian nature and the development of organisations concerned with the institutionalised care of the masses. To some extent this movement can be seen as a reaction to the suffering caused by the radical advances occurring at the time of the discovery of Uranus. There began to be a new collective awareness that, for example, people should not be allowed to just die on the streets. The welfare of the poor became a matter of public concern, and hospitals and 'poor houses' for the needy were set up. Slavery was abolished in the US in 1861, the same year that the bond labour of the serfs in Russia came to an end, and mining legislation was introduced in the UK. The rise of socialism led to the formation of trades unions and workers cooperatives, and in 1848 Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto was published. We could say that Uranus and Neptune symbolise right wing and left wing ends of the political spectrum.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century there was a remarkable growth of interest in the occult and in spiritualism, and all over Europe people were holding séances, conjuring disembodied entities, table-rapping, manifesting ectoplasm and goodness knows what else. Naturally, many of these phenomena were deliberate illusions and tricks, which is appropriate to our theme, since Neptune rules prevailing fashions, dreams, fantasies, illusions and deception. On the other hand, Neptune's function is to dissolve the boundaries between our ordinary lives and other realms of existence. The theosophical movement established by Madame Blavatsky was only one example of the growing resistance to the rationalism and materialism of the previous century. Two major features of the theosophical movement were the telepathic communications of a mystical Tibetan brotherhood working for the salvation of humanity, and the search for the new avatar or saviour who was presumed to be living somewhere in India.
Although Neptune and Pluto were unknown as planets in the 17th century, this alchemical image, from Escalier des sages (1689) by Barent Coenders van Helpen, portrays Neptune (right, with Pluto on the left) representing the watery darkness of the primordial substance. Jupiter appears in the form of a swan, bringing the whiteness to the tincture which heralds the advent of the Sun; the horses of the solar chariot are already in sight.
This was also the time of the Californian and Australian gold rushes, in which thousands of people were gripped by the collective dream of amassing great personal wealth. Wherever Neptune is involved, it is the dream and the fantasy which has us in its grip, rather than the actual reality. The gold rushes subsided on a tide of disillusionment almost as quickly as they had emerged, leaving a trail of ghost towns in their wake. The music and art of the nineteenth century tends to be fluid, romantic and dreamy. If you think of the music of Debussy and Chopin, the art of Fragonard, Constable and Turner and the poetry of Wordsworth, you can easily conjure up the atmosphere of this period.
Neptune rules everything that is atmospherically powerful but physically invisible or intangible, such as the steam which was increasingly being used to generate power for industry and transport, and the gas which began to be used for lighting. New drugs were being discovered and anaesthetics were being introduced to reduce pain. As a general rule we could say that Neptune's function is to take our pain away, by whatever means. Neptune rules religion. It is the anaesthetic which relieves the pain of separation and isolation. As Neptune rules the sea, its colours are soft greens and blues. It rules plants that live in or by the water, all marine life, fish and fishmongers. It rules people who create illusions, such as photographers, film-makers, dancers and actors and film-makers. In the mundane world, Neptune rules hospitals, prisons and breweries, oil and floods, drugs, poisons, biological weapons and alcohol.
Audience: What about psychics and mediums and people who do divination? Presumably these are Neptunian things, but are they really channelling information from other worlds?
Clare: This is an interesting question. How do we know if they have just lost the plot or if they are truly in touch with some kind of higher level of knowledge and wisdom?
Audience: But what is the answer? How can you recognise the difference?
Clare: I think that it is very, very hard to answer that. Neptune teaches us that there are parallel realities and other worlds, and who is to say which of the worlds is real? Where Neptune is concerned, we cannot judge which of us are mad and deluded, and which of us are sane. The point about Neptune is that the truth is whatever you want it to be. There is no doubt that the world is full of charlatans and confidence tricksters, people whose whole living is based upon creating false illusions. On the other hand, the world is full of beauty and meaning and experiences of the divine which can inspire extraordinary devotion and acts of tremendous compassion and kindness.
Neptune in the birth chart
Neptune is the principle of devotion, transcendence, refinement, redemption, surrender, enchantment, glamour, longing, disillusionment, chaos, deception and escapism. In the birth chart, Neptune describes how and where we long to merge with and dissolve into something greater than ourselves. Neptune is where we give ourselves away and where we refuse to acknowledge boundaries. It also describes where we are likely to be unrealistic, unfocused and evasive, where we deceive ourselves and others, where we can end up feeling betrayed and disillusioned.
Neptune's urge is deeply religious and mystical. It is our capacity for unconditional and joyful devotion, compassion and empathy, our ability to give of ourselves without wanting anything in return. It is where we have access to magical worlds of perfect enchantment, and where we can become channels for the expression of overwhelming beauty and divine ideals. Neptune connects us to the sublime. Think of composers such as Mozart or Bach, whose music poured through them and gives people immense joy. Neptune can describe our service to mankind, for the benefit of the collective. Without Neptune in our charts we would have to live without our fantasies or dreams, which would, of course, be unthinkable.
Audience: Did you say that Neptune rules drugs and alcohol?
Clare: That's right. Addictions are a way of escaping from the hard edges of the world.
Audience: So we can never find satisfaction where Neptune is?
Clare: I think we can find satisfaction provided we don't want anything for ourselves. Neptune describes a genuine connection to something greater than us, but if we try to benefit personally from this connection, then we will never feel satisfied because we always want more. This is the basis of addictions, because the more we have the more we want, and we are always unsatisfied. This is where Neptune can be literally self-destructive.
Audience: So it is an unfulfilled hunger.
Clare: Exactly, to the extent that we want something for ourselves and to the extent that the ego has an agenda. But if we can find the right relationship to this planet, its more destructive expressions of inflation, dissatisfaction and addiction to our own suffering, do not have to become a feature in our lives.
Audience: Isn't it dangerous to have no boundaries?
Clare: There is an understandable fear that we will lose ourselves altogether if we give of ourselves unconditionally. But this is the ego's fear. Provided we have a strong, well-developed personal container, or ego structure, then we will not be overwhelmed by the forces of the outer planets because we have a choice. There is all the difference between Neptune living us, and us living Neptune, if you see what I mean. If we actually make a personal choice to devote ourselves unconditionally to something, then we don't have to be drowned or dissolved, used, abused and burned out. It is the ability to choose which means that Neptune doesn't have to drain the life force out of us.
Audience: So if you really know your chart and you have a good sense of who you are, then you are able to give where Neptune is.
Clare: Yes. Let's go back to basics. If we can fulfil our own basic needs (Moon) satisfied, if we know our own minds (Mercury), if we are basically fulfilled and having some fun (Venus), if we have the ability to assert and defend ourselves when necessary (Mars), and engage fully and successfully with the world around us (Jupiter and Saturn), then we will have developed a good, strong ego-structure which protects us from being taken over by the collective forces symbolised by the outer planets.
Audience: But it can be incredibly difficult just to develop a good enough ego.
Clare: That's right, and I think that it is our major task, as psychological astrologers, to work on redeeming and empowering the seven traditional planets in our own charts and in the charts of our clients. The outer planets can take care of themselves. For example, it is a hopeless task to try and get our personal gratification through Neptune. But we can certainly get this through Venus. And we will always be vulnerable to being overwhelmed by collective forces until we have consciously integrated Saturn, which will keep us safe on a personal level.
Audience: So until then, you are not really equipped to handle the outer planets.
Clare: At the end of the day we are all muddling along, trying to make the best of our lives and, using an astrological approach, learning to take responsibility for ourselves so that we can make a positive difference in our own lives and in the lives of others. But I think it is true to say that, since the discovery of Uranus, the old rules and certainties have started to break down. People's lives are no longer defined or safely contained within church, state and family in the way they used to be. Society used to be a container for the individual, but we now have to become our own containers. We have become so collective tonight that we are in danger of losing ourselves, which is something that always happens when Neptune is evoked. Things get clearer and easier to manage when we put Neptune into the birth chart and link it to the other planets. Then we can begin to get a handle on the way Neptune is likely to express itself in an individual's life, which can have a wide range of expression all the way from an immense sensitivity to beauty and perfection, to spirituality, to addiction and self destructiveness. We need to ground Neptune into a birth chart in order to make progress with it.
Aspects to Neptune
Sally has a Neptune-Sun aspect, so we would anticipate that her father (Sun) was in some sense elusive, out of reach, physically or psychologically absent (Neptune). This can set up a longing (Neptune) for the father (Sun), an unrealistic idealisation (Neptune) of the masculine (Sun), and unrealistic expectations (Neptune) of herself (Sun). Unless she has a strong enough ego, Sally may be prone to confusion and evasiveness, a lack of personal boundaries and a refusal to commit (Neptune). She may find that she is constantly exhausted and overwhelmed (Neptune) by the demands of the world and of others. Ultimately, however, she is a sensitive, gentle and compassionate soul (Neptune) who can find fulfilment and joy (Sun) by channelling her talents and natural capacity for empathy into creative artistic expression or by devoting herself to the needs of others.
David's Neptune makes aspects to Mercury, Venus, Mars and Saturn. The Neptune-Mercury aspect describes a poetic and imaginative (Neptune) mind (Mercury). To the extent that Neptune is in control, he may find it difficult to concentrate (Neptune) or to think clearly (Mercury), preferring to live in a fantasy world of his own making. His thinking process (Mercury) may be confused and chaotic (Neptune), and he may become evasive or deceitful (Neptune) in order to avoid having to face up to the truth. He may even deliberately manipulate others by spinning illusions and fantasies (Neptune) and making promises (Mercury) which he has no intention of honouring. On the other hand, if he has a strong enough sense of identity, this contact is extremely imaginative and poetic. David could be a wonderful storyteller (Mercury), musician or artist (Neptune) with the gift to inspire people by taking them into magical worlds of fantasy.
Neptune-Venus can indicate an unfulfilled longing for or addiction (Neptune) to love (Venus) which is never satisfied. If Neptune is in control, David could be evasive and deceitful (Neptune) in relationships (Venus), unable to feel fulfilled and always thirsty for and longing for something or someone more perfect (Neptune). He will be unable to relate realistically (Venus) to himself or to others and could become addicted to his own suffering (Neptune). With a good enough ego structure, this contact is immensely gifted and artistic (Venus), and David will have a heightened appreciation (Neptune) of beauty and peace (Venus), the ability to touch the divine (Neptune) and to serve with unconditional devotion (Neptune) and joy (Venus).
Neptune-Mars can describe the ideal or illusion or fantasy (Neptune) of strength and potency (Mars). Unless there is a relatively well-formed ego structure and a well developed personal Mars, David may feel extremely vulnerable and weak (Neptune), afraid of being attacked (Mars), easily intimidated and unable to stand up for or defend himself. The positive expression of Neptune Mars is the ability to use his energy (Mars) with sensitivity and subtlety (Neptune), to navigate the waters (Neptune) in a skilful and effective way (Mars). The combination of sensitivity (Neptune) and focus (Mars) can be immensely effective, and is often found on the charts of racing yachtsmen, artists or dancers.
A Neptune-Saturn aspect brings together two very different principles, since Saturn describes boundaries, containment and practical reality, and Neptune has no boundaries, is uncontained and not of this world. As long as the ego structure remains diffuse and unformed (Neptune), Neptune is likely to undermine and dissolve (Neptune) any sense of safety or containment (Saturn), and overwhelm the ego (Saturn) with unrealistic dreams and expectations (Neptune). Working positively together, Saturn can turn the highest principles and values of Neptune into reality, give shape and form (Saturn) to the divine (Neptune), enable an individual to work (Saturn) for and serve the greater good (Neptune) and to ground (Saturn) their dreams and ideals (Neptune) so that they can be made manifest in the world (Saturn).
Copyright ©2005 by Clare Martin.
More Information about the Book.