Fernando Pessoa: (1888-1935) poet, author, astrologer, modernist and metaphysician of the soul
Where do you begin with a man who claims he is nothing and has nothing to say? Therein lies the paradox that is Fernando ‘Pessoa’, a word that means Person, so here we have a Mr. Person who is a Nobody who wrote ‘The Book of Disquiet’ which was first published exactly 47 years after he died – double his actual life span. One time I actually thought this book was entitled ‘Diary of a Nobody’ which a flippant title that does not do justice to the epic style, but it is true in the way he expresses his attempt to disappear to himself. It is a book that is cross genre neither fully a diary nor a novel, more akin to a series of ‘thoughts,’ the metaphysical ruminations of a flaneur around the labyrinthine city that is Lisbon, apparently written by one of his heteronyms, Bernardo Soares.
It is possible to think then that 1982 was Pessoa’s ‘twin’ birth which makes perfect sense for a Gemini, born June 13th 1888. He made efforts to disappear from his own life and now he is everywhere from the time he existed when he was alive – dead to himself. The moon in Leo would lend dramatic flair, and Scorpio rising would have made him secretive, enigmatic and ultra-controlled. He remains an enigma who had many doubles but who is now regarded as one of the great modernist writers of the early 20th century. A glance at his astrology is revealing as he was himself a competent astrologer and he even did a Horary chart with none other than occultist Aleister Crowley(Libra) when they met in Lisbon in 1930.
US translator, Richard Zenith believed that Pessoa was like a child who never grew up. But I think there is a more astrological explanation to the suggestion that Pessoa had a mental health condition such as manic depression or cognitive disassociation. He appeared to be lonely, withdrawn, almost indulging in a profound sadness as he wandered the cafes and bars of Lisbon whose buildings and streets seem tinged with those poetic qualities of ‘Saudade,’ a near-untranslatable word that is like nostalgia but is where love, longing and melancholy are fused together strongly. Some powerful conjunctions point to this with Neptune conjunct Pluto in Gemini, but also the conjunction of Saturn with the Moon in Leo, which might be a stoical suppression of that inner child who failed to grow. Fun is not a word that comes to mind here. They key is to examine what his chart shows; that he was a disembodied person, with an almost complete lack of earth in his chart and a stellium of planets in the Air sign of Gemini in the 8th house which is where all hidden and mysterious things reside.
Gemini is ruled by Mercury and this was clear because learned many languages rapidly, even excelling at English. This is typically Mercurial, though Pluto is the overall ruler of the chart and there is a concentration of planets in the 8th where Pluto is in his own kingdom. He went as far as learning Elizabethan English so that he could rival Shakespeare’s command of words, and he tended to write more freely about sex in English. ‘Antinous’ was a homoerotic poem that he wrote in English 1918, but also wrote heterosexual poems such as ‘Epithalamium’ in 1921. ‘Antinous’ depicts Hadrian spookily making love to the beautiful dead body of his ‘boy love.’ Pessoa’s very last words before dying were also in English.
The word ‘heteronym’ he coined to differentiate it from ‘pseudonym’- so he took it to another level altogether – a heteronym for Pessoa was an entirely created alternate ego, with a birth date and time, and horoscope, so in effect a fictional character writing in his own style – interestingly none of these alter egos were female. The writing style is also fragmentary and sequenced differently in different versions, as if to suggest anyone could tune in to those thoughts – the order is the one you choose to read them in- and you could imagine you thought them too, while sitting in a dismal café watching passers by in any city in the world. He has Uranus conjunct Mars in Libra in the 12th suggesting that these ruminations and flashes of insight erupted deep in his unconscious and from his dreams, perhaps even with a violence. Mars however is a tad suppressed in Libra and in the 12th less able to reveal its warrior tactics than usual. Both these planets are square to information junkie Mercury in Cancer in the 9th – and while he was a lover of unconventional wisdom, there may also have been a tendency to become dogmatic.
What really stands out is that he was not much of an earthbound soul. In fact, there are no planets at all in earth signs in his chart – only Taurus on the Descendant. It has a predominance of Air and Fixity which is striking. Richard Idemon (2010) in ‘The Magic Thread’ compares natal charts to labyrinths. He says people who have a missing function – in Pessoa’s case Earth – can become a dominant force, and there is compulsion for it to manifest. Marilyn Monroe, who also had no earth in her chart, once said to Idemon in a taxi that ‘when you don’t know who you are, every city is a lonely city’ – a statement that could easily have been taken from Pessoa. Plus, there is a tendency to manifest problems in the body. The natives need grounding and have a love of alcohol and Pessoa loved to drink wine in local taverns. He did also say that ‘ I make a holiday of my sensations’ meaning he turned them all inwards to strengthen the reality of his imagination like an inner muscle. Idemon’s method is very likely right and we could ask what did Pessoa do with this disembodied style, ‘how did he relate to food, sex, and everyday objects? With great awkwardness, one might say ‘discomfort’ and anxiety with that Moon/Saturn, it would seem. Did he repress, deny, project or sublimate this lack of earth?
The work of writing his opus almost unknown during his lifetime, became his ultimate expression, so perhaps sublimation was his chosen mode. These voluminous pages of notes were all buried in a trunk found upon his death. Later they were assembled into the book that was first published in 1982- all very 8th house. Not that it matters, but there is no definitive evidence of any personal or sexual relationship with anyone even though he was aware that others had a preference for male or female, but seemingly he opted for neither – that indecisive Venus in Gemini. Perhaps he was squeamish about actual physical contact as even the thought of travelling made him ‘physically sick’. He wrote both hetero and homo inspired poetry. He did meet a woman called Ophelia ( playing to his Hamlet?) and they took the yellow street cars together. It appeared to be romantic, but it was probably never consummated. She loved him, and he wanted to love her, but he loved his writing – that temple he had erected to his multiple inner selves – much more, and so the relationship ended.
Bolstering this view of him as unearthly is the fact that there is a singleton planet Jupiter in the first house, but there are zero planets in any other, personal/social houses. So, quite literally, the chart is lopsided; the action begins with Neptune in the 7th and the rest of the planets reside in the 8th-12th houses, with the 11th house empty as well. This points to his trans-personal ‘otherness’ and solitary nature and experience of alienation in this 3D reality quite neatly. He was intensely secretive with Pluto, Venus, the Sun and Chiron in the 8th house of transformation- let’s say for him this resulted in the desire for multiplication of his identity into fragmented alter egos. Some say he suffered from depression. He didn’t want to be conventional; when meeting admirers he would appear as one of his ‘other’ selves and not as Fernando Pessoa, as if wearing a mask, so they would be disappointed and confused. No one could claim they knew him well.
Pessoa had also very early on attempted automatic writing and mediumistic practices, with various characters such as Joseph who could be malicious, and a character called Henry Moore from the 17th Century coming through. Pessoa combined his ‘modernist’ devices in literature with astrology. I know of no other writer who when creating an alter ego to use as a persona from which to write made horoscopes for each character. Writers make notes, yes, but to create a birth chart goes much deeper into creating that alter ego as a real entity. Their charts would give these characters a life of their own independent of its creator. Pessoa made individual charts for his heteronyms, giving them complete life trajectories. He studied gnosticism, esoteric traditions, magic and spiritual philosophies from around the world- Mercury in the 9th. For a while, he exchanged letters with Aleister Crowley, and in September 1930, Crowley wrote in his diary that Pessoa was ‘a very nice man’. Pessoa introduced Crowley to another esotericist, Raul Leal, who wanted to be initiated by Crowley. But Crowley did not like him as much as Pessoa.
According to Marco Passi (2012)together they examined the chart of Crowley’s young lover, Hanni Jaeger-a Virgo. They discussed a Horary question chart and something happened that involved these 4 people – it is not clear what, but for Pessoa it produced an erotic poem. Pessoa and Crowley together conspired to create a hoax suicide- technically called a ‘pseudocide’ – which was Crowley’s faked death at a beach called Boca do Inferno – the mouth of hell. Most news stories assumed it was in order to guilt trip Janni, who had become troublesome, but Passi says no one quite knows why they did this, but the death of the old self to make way for the new is common in soul development.
Now for a little detour into not even the typical asteroids as there is a message here which to me is important. For a while I have been studying muse asteroids. They are not essential for some people but they add a singular quality that catches my attention. There is a connection with Pessoa in this current Full moon in Sagittarius on the 17th June. It is almost as if he is coming through strongly right now, because the muse asteroid Urania, the asteroid of Astrology, in his chart is at 26 degrees of Gemini. At this full Moon, Urania is at 28 degrees of Gemini. This just happens to be conjunct the Sun in Gemini at 25 degrees. At a full moon, the two luminaries are opposite each other. So that means the moon is in Sagittarius opposite the sun in Gemini. The moon is at 25 degrees of Gemini and – this is the magic of astrology – that is where muse asteroid Kalliope just happens to be right now in 2019, 23 degrees of Sagittarius. To top it all off, his natal moon is conjunct Kalliope, the muse asteroid of Eloquence and Epic poetry. It is a symbolic symmetry on a grand scale that would appeal only to writer/astrologers. The fact that 23 degrees of Sagittarius is the degree of my own sun only adds to the pointedness of the symbolism and the reason why I have reconnected to Pessoa so much right now.
In his chart that Moon is also conjunct Saturn, explaining the sensitivity and the intense melancholy weight to his words, that ‘saudade’, the depth, the seriousness, but Kalliope – said to be the wisest of the muses-would have added to the beauty and depth of his writing. Many people experience this feeling when they read ‘The Book of Disquiet’. Some readers also say that the fragmentation and kaleidoscopic structure of insights makes this book the type whose pages are a river that you can dip into at any page to find insights, almost as if it were a Portuguese ‘I Ching’ thebook of changes.
To quote Pessoa is to read an endless sequence of insights that emerge with astonishing frequency, but this where he says ‘Woe to who is one and never will be two’ – this gets to the heart of a Gemini best; its dual almost hermaphroditic nature. But one of my favourite utterances of his and more well-known is ‘In every corner of my soul, there is an altar to a different god’. This is the ultimate gnomic statement not just for his inherent diversity of self, but it is very astrological how each of us has planetary energy, gods, goddesses, archetypes all jostling for attention within us – that they have a mini shrine will definitely be good for Venus, Mercury, Mars and the rest of the crew.
To return to ‘The Book of Disquiet’; it is a book of dreams of the daytime that question your link to reality and of the metaphysical ponderings of the nighttime that risk your Neptunian loosening of any connection to the self. For some it might seem like a litany of depressive or lonely states of mind. Yet, great art is never depressive, it cuts through the darker feelings beyond that into light and inspirational thinking. There is smooth flow of meditations a threaded throughout ‘The Book of Disquiet.’ They drift in on every page and then drift out like clouds in the sky. Here are just a few: ‘The only thing I’ve desired is what I could not even imagine;’ ‘The masturbator is the perfect logical expression of the lover; he’s the only one who doesn’t fool himself’; ‘Irony is the first sign that our consciousness has become conscious’; ‘I’m not a pessimist, I’m sad’; ‘To Live is to not think’; ‘To read is to dream guided by someone else’s hand’ and this last we are doing today. He actually spoke prophetically to what he called his ‘true family’ – that is whoever reads him in the 21st century and feels his spirit still wandering around, those who would read him, connect to his thoughts and feel a kinship.
His last words in English before he died were “I don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” but somehow you feel that even this too was a lie. He really did know in that oracular way of his, and he probably passed with a certainty of his posthumous recognition. The joke is that there are 4 great poets writing in Portuguese- all of them Pessoa. Whether he haunts the streets of Lisbon today, or not, I don’t know. He is celebrated by a statue, a museum, and visible still on street art. But from today’s vantage point his reputation continues to grow as one of the greatest modernist writers and the great poet and presiding spirit of Lisbon.
©Proteus Astrology, June 2019
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