The Thorn Bird: Maria Callas, a Butterfly on a wheel.

No, my dear reader, it is not a hallucination; you’ve actually read the name Callas on this blog. Fear not, I’m still a dedicated Led Zeppelin fan! A few days ago I bumped into a marvelous biographic film about her and then to another documentary in her honor. I thought that I should at least try listening one or two samples of her work just to make sure I didn’t miss something important. I’ve certainly been missing… something! Despite my newly found interest in her voice or to be more exact in her interpretative talent, there was something else that drew my attention: a set of eyes that could tell a story. After all, the saying claims that the eyes are the mirror of the soul. 

That look in her eyes reminded me something of the book ‘Thorn birds’: those mythical birds that search all their life for the perfect thorn. Once they find it, they impale themselves, and sing the most beautiful song ever heard, as they die. In many ways I believe Maria resembles a thorn bird, as she gave all of her being in every role she performed, as if it was her last. There are some people who claim that the fact she didn’t handle her voice more gently instead of pushing it to its limits on every performance was one of the reasons which contributed decisively on her later vocal ‘decline’.

First things first, though. Maria was born in Manhattan, New York, at 1923. She was a Phlegmatic (Cold and Moist, the Watery temperament) and a very troublesome one, as she didn’t have any water in her chart, but a Phlegmatic phased Moon, in an Airy sign.  Phlegmatic people are motivated by desire, they want to feel, this is their fundamental nature. They want to experience intense feelings, even if they are painful and to experience things to their fullest depth and height. Not an easy task, as one can imagine. 

I believe that her Moon worked as the general agent of her Phlegmatic nature, used as the focal point through which all her desire and feeling was flowing into the world. Her situation should resemble that of an emotional Ferrari that wants to ‘run’ at crazy speed but is constrained in a narrow side street (only a Phlegmatic phased Moon). So it revs up at the same spot until it burns its tires out and finally harms the engine or when it’s got the chance, runs like hell and inevitably lands to the next ditch. Both should be unpleasant.

Another important point about her chart is that the Moon and Mercury - which traditionally are what we call significators of Manner – have different motives. The Moon is Phlegmatic in Libra; a Cardinal Airy sign, so it is filled by desire and it approaches that through thinking/communicating ways. Mercury on the other hand is in a fiery sign, he wants to create, to act. How could one combine those two? 

Apparently she found the best way: she fulfills her desire by communicating it in a loud voiced way (Libra is a loud voiced sign) and at the same time through this she manages to fulfill also her need for creating and acting. Her job was the meeting point of those important factors of her chart. And it is not a surprise that some of her friends claim that when she was finishing her work she was feeling sad. Those times probably were times of internal friction, unhappy times. One can imagine how painful it should have been for her not to be able to perform as she wished at her later years. 

Saturn is the most influential planet in this chart, placed in his exaltation, at the last degrees of Libra. How influential this planet was becomes really clear when in one of her interviews she mentions Duty being the most important thing in life. One, she believed, must strive to be a good citizen … ‘we must do our duty …and be worthy of the life we are given’. Saturn is Lord 3 in this chart, and this house is connected with the way a person lives its life: she lives by Duty and dignity. I honestly couldn’t think anything more saturnine than this. However, there is more of that. 

Saturn is at last degrees of his exaltation (in a separating conjunction with Mars - a debilitated kind of Mars being in its detriment) and is in a strong Mutual Reception with Venus, but his being at the very last degrees means this M.R. will soon be broken. Obviously Saturn does not want to move, because he likes being in his exaltation. Here we find among other things the persistence that she had especially in her work, despite the many difficulties she had to face and overcome in her career – having in mind that she lacks fixity (no fixed signs in the chart). She considered herself to be a fighter but what kind of a fighter was she? She was the kind that doesn’t give up easily. Saturn not wanting to move is a good indication of this quality. And again there’s more.

We know that Saturn signifies by nature, among many other things, structures, lasting things, the letter of the law, integrity, justice, solitude, loneliness etc. Maria wasn’t the kind that aims for the ephemeral. She wanted whatever it was that she was doing, to last; she wanted to hold on the things (and people) she had. Those along with the exaggerated sense of duty she had, reveal to my view, the ‘core’ of her personality. And then those strong saturnine qualities, pointed me to something of a ‘heavy burden’ concept about her. That because as we’ve seen her foundation is watery; a stormy sea, while Saturn is about ‘heavy loads’. 

To the question whether this effort (being so dutiful) implies loneliness she answered that it has to. She believed that ‘it is in this loneliness, which is sometimes the hardest, that you sometimes find yourself; …being surrounded by confusion brings confusion; so it has to be loneliness’.  ‘…Sorrows? I have plenty. But I’m kept buoyed up by my admirers, friends … So let’s be joyful and full of gratitude’

Considering her nature, and putting those words in an astrological context, the burden is a happy burden because she carries it with love; sometimes it works for her like a boat helping her to arrive safely to the harbor. Sometimes it works like an anchor and that might not be pleasant, if what one truly wants is to drift towards the deepest and most intense stormy waters and give everything else up. But as she stated, she always knew very well what had to be done. This is how she moves in the world.

Her Moon is really fond of this Saturn and this is not to be taken lightly. Her emotional nature has some high ideals about how she and everyone must live their life. She strives all the time to become better, she works to exhaustion to make sure she can come as close as possible to perfection: duty, hard work, persistence, being in control, being worthy, integrity, honesty, her heart exalts.  And saturnine concepts are also manifesting in her repertoire: she carefully chose the characters she would play, again with the politically correct view he stands for. It is obvious that this planet has a profound impact in her general outlook, which inevitably suggests a pattern of choices, actions and reactions generated by it, for better or worse.

Another planet that has a very important influence in the chart is Mars. In contrast to Saturn, this one really wants to move: at 29 Libra (just met with Saturn which took him into detriment) and just a breath away from the promised- land named Scorpio! He really wants to quickly leave that nasty place and enter his home. So, Mars here is really motivated to move ahead, to gain dignity. If Saturn worked like a brake, Mars worked as an accelerator.

Mars being Lord 1 is a strong indication of a native that wants to move forward in his life and gain dignity, to go higher (from detriment to its own sign) so it is very ambitious. The Moon placed in Mars’ detriment is an indication that her emotional world harmed/thought ill of herself as Lord 1, hence the fact she often stated that she feared she didn’t have a real talent and that she wasn’t something out of the ordinary. In regard with her fighting spirit, not giving up and constantly trying to do better Mars also gives an indication. Lord 1 can see that it will be soon dignified, so it must keep trying to move ahead and leave the bad things behind. Lastly, Mars, despite being in detriment and about to enter its sign, is at the moment in a loud voiced sign. It is about to enter a mute sign. Were you Mars and were you an opera singer what would you do just before you entered a mute sign? Sing your heart out!  - Exactly what she did on each of her performances.

Her unique vocal range that reached - as some emphatically said - ‘stratospheric’ high notes, could be found in Lord 2, Jupiter. A very happy Jupiter, in Sagittarius – a wide ranged really huge voice. Some said that the so called Callas sound (must be great to have a sound named after you!) was ‘composed’ by ‘three voices’ and mastered passages from one to the other. The reason for this was that she could sing with equally full sound from middle to high notes. Jupiter in itself indicates a full grandiose voice, with remarkable potential being dignified and accidentally strong. And Jupiter is also her Lord of Geniture; her best qualities. 

Venus falls on 2nd cusp by antiscion. This Venus is moderately dignified (in triplicity) and rules the Moon, Saturn and Mars. She too is very important. She is in Saturn’s sign and in Mars exaltation, so in mutual reception with both of them. This placement of Venus on the cusp, colors her voice in a unique way. It brings along the mutual receptions she has with Saturn and Mars, with all the potential an exalted Saturn and a detrimental Mars would share with her. So now except the extraordinary range and grandeur in her voice indicated by Lord 2 Jupiter and the harmony or sweetness a Venus can indicate we can add some endurance, solidity, discipline suggested by Saturn, and passion, something impetuous about it, indicated by Mars. There is some kind of sharpness, something impatient about the voice which helped her express herself in such a dramatic, emphatic way. A combination of a controlled passion that you think that will break its ties at any given moment, but never does. Furthermore this is where Jupiter as a vocal potential met Saturn in another way: she may have had the talent, but, she would have never mastered her voice and her so called ‘flaws’, if she didn’t work as hard as she did.

Maestro Antonino Votto said about her: ‘She was not just a singer, but a complete artist. It's foolish to discuss her as a voice. She must be viewed totally—as a complex of music, drama, movement. There is no one like her today. She was an esthetic phenomenon. 

At least to my view and taste, this is very true, so I’ll follow his suggestion! What was that special something that earned her the title La Divina and mesmerized the audiences around the world –  most of all, what is that something that made even someone like me, who could be found in the exact opposite of an opera house (whatever that is) to be inspired, to watch and listen to her performances? (Yes, my dear reader, I was also afraid this sentence was never going to end… Phew!)

As always the way we perceive people and things is always colored by our subjective point of view and personal taste. Some would find that ‘something’ in her voice, some in her character, face or personal life and public image. Astrology on the other hand has rules and it is objective. One would expect me at this point to make an extended reference to her dramatic personal life, her relationship with Aristotle Onassis or her career, her relationship with her mother and the rest of these matters – which the kind reader is welcome to explore: there are many interesting testimonies derived by the cusps, the receptions with the relevant Lords and from the imminent change of Lord 1. But I’m not going into those here. The reason is that, intruding or analyzing her personal life will not help me find what I’m looking for, that which I call ‘something’: an understanding of her essence. I believe that this was the element that makes her so extraordinary – at least to my view. If I am to intrude and get personal I will aim straightly for the most personal bit of her, the soul, because in the end I believe that this is where her essence could be found. 

In this attempt to understand her essence I constructed some Parts. Her Part of Spirit – called also Part of the Sun and Part of ‘plenty’ in contrast to Fortuna, the Part of ‘hunger’, falls at Aquarius. While Fortuna shows what we are hungry for, consequently what’s missing, the Part of Spirit shows the opposite, where there’s abundance. (1) The Part of Spirit falls on a fixed star called Altair, the Eagle, and this is when things became really interesting for me. This star is connected with the myth of Jupiter carrying Ganymedes, the most beautiful of mortals, to Heaven. Its Lord is Saturn- which importance is already discussed earlier, and now is put under its ‘essential’ perspective: becoming a ‘beauty’ worth being lifted to Heaven, this is the ideal with which she lives her life. And this Part falls close to her Asc by Antiscion. So it is really playing a significant role here in a more tangible way. The 1st house is the house of the native, in contrast to the 7th which is the house of ‘other’ people. Having this Part – with the potential we’ve seen earlier - falling close to the Asc, could manifest as abundance to be found within the ‘self’ and this carries the Altair potential, being carried to Heaven. It’s not a surprise that she was named with the honorary La divina, The Divine.  She was going up in the world, however, she wanted to be worthy of that. The heights she was aiming for were beyond the material world, beyond what eyes can see. 

There are more interesting points found in her Parts, like the opposition among Moon which is the Lord of Part of Necessity (all that is missing) to the Part of Love (the ‘ultimate’ abundance) and Sun (seen as ‘Me’) to the Part of Necessity by antiscion; both suggesting that making hard choices was a significant part of Maria’s life: ‘hunger or plenty’ dilemmas are brought to the stage as a major theme. I can’t help but wonder if this is the story her eyes were trying to tell.

She said that she was happy to achieve her goal which was to express herself in music and ‘…to find among the notes the truth…’ Maria was singing her way into Heaven. This is why she was able to spiritually uplift her audiences and that’s why she was one of a kind. At the same time this is how she transcended this life of hunger and reached for a world of abundance even if that abundance lasted as long as each performance. Meanwhile, she had to confront the reality of life: choosing; the everlasting battle between what one desires and what must be done, between comfort and integrity. Maria didn’t compromise her principles. As she said ‘I’m free because I make no concessions’

Music, to my view, is one of the most important things in life. I consider it to be a universal language, but one that speaks of things that cannot be expressed by words. So despite the fact that my brain is 50% lyrics (the rest is astrology and coffee) I believe that it’s not required to understand the words to perceive the Meaning. Music can create pictures, it can inspire, it can tell stories, it can take us to magical places we’ve never been before; it can prize our darkest emotional depths. And it can lift our spirits to Heaven. Maria, to me, is synonymous to Music.

In Greek mythology – and in many other cultures around the world – Butterflies were called Souls, as they were considered to be the Souls of the deceased. They were connected to the myth of Jupiter giving eternal life to Psyche (Soul) which is often represented by a butterfly. The way a little worm transforms itself in such a beautiful creature is indeed inspiring even nowadays; it leaves all that which hold it to the ground and becomes the most it can be. In my mind, this chart’s story is very much like a Butterfly’s story.

This is why I think Madame Butterfly is the play that matches best - even in a symbolical way -her case. The story ends with Butterfly being ‘crushed’ under the weight of (reality and) honor, as she uses a sword with the inscription ‘Who cannot live with honor must die with honor’ to take her life. I think her Saturn would appreciate my choice. Here is a beautiful and more hopeful aria of the play, called ‘One fine day’.

(1) Teachings of John Frawley on the nature of Parts – you can read more on his facebook page

The Callas Conversations, available on Youtube

Maria Callas: Today interview with Barbara Walters (New York, April 15, 1974), available on Youtube

Wikipedia, Maria Callas
The Fixed Stars and Constellations in Astrology – Vivian Robson
The Real Astrology Applied – John Frawley