Neptune’s Scribe lays down her pen

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from Melancholia by Lars von Trier

REEF has closed and my residency is officially over, so I’m a little sad, yes . . . but although hosting the Sea Changers event felt like cresting a wave, I wanted to say my final farewell from Neptune, where I’ve spent so many fascinating hours these last two months.

As Neptune’s scribe, I first want to share some of the other writers I discovered, or read in a new light, for my fiction workshop at the gallery. Okay, okay, Homer – or the woman we think of as Homer – was a poet, but one who composed immortal stories best known in English in prose translation, so I felt no qualms about including The Odyssey: quite apart from his elemental omnipresence in this epic sea voyage, Poseidon makes a crucial cameo in the story, cursing Odysseus for blinding his son, the Cyclops. Purists may like to seek out Judith Kazantzis‘ pamphlet poem of the scene; I confess that I didn’t reread Ulysses to find how Joyce rendered it, but moved on instead to science fiction – Stanislaw Lem’s classic Solaris, with its gelid ocean of delusions; and a short story, ‘The Star’, by H.G. Wells, which places Neptune on a collision course with Earth, and reinforces Wells’s reputation as a visionary humanitarian, awake to the pleasures and sufferings of people all over the world.

When it came to literary fiction, though planet and god proved elusive, Neptunian themes of deception, addiction and dissolution abounded. As a Brightonian, I didn’t have to go far, presenting a section from Bethan Roberts’s brooding psychological drama My Policeman: a chilly swimming lesson near the pier, in which all is not as it seems. I also returned to John Banville’s Man Booker prize-winning The Sea – not as plotless a book as some reviews make it out to be, but in fact a series of carefully submerged mysteries. And I discovered ‘Walking on Water’ a lyrical flash fiction by Iranian writer Payam Feili that explores the power of namelessness and allowed me, with my focus on testy Neptune, to also address the traditional association of the sea with motherhood.

Finally, I had the privilege of hearing workshop participants read the first drafts of pieces that I hope they will one day add to Neptune’s archive. Though I have to move on to other projects now, I am leaving that temple door wide open  . . . my Neptune residency has been good for me, a chance to openly express aspects of myself that in the past have felt separate, even secret – teaching and astrology, poetry and science fiction, politics and spirituality – and I’d like to continue to find ways to integrate these parts of my private and public personas. Perhaps one day I’ll develop these posts into a longer study, but in the meantime I’m on the look out for more examples of Neptunian art. Last night, responding to a recommendation by a workshop participant, I watched Melancholia, Danish director Lars von Trier’s lush take on ‘The Star’, in which two wealthy sisters confront the destruction of Earth by a looming blue planet. von Trier, as his recent perplexing outburst in defense of Hitler demonstrated, is no Wellsian artist-activist; but having endured the gynocidal orgy that was his previous film Antichrist, I was intrigued to discover that Melancholia had a strong feminist subtext. Emotionally at least, it is the women who survive the crisis because, unlike the alpha males around them, they are able to live with their own fear and grief, in part for the sake of a child.  Perhaps, I wonder, von Triers’ stated dismissal of the work as ‘a woman’s film! . . . a wrongly transplanted organ!’ reflects the difficulty he may have accepting his own severe depression. (He does at least accept his ill-considered remarks at Cannes were highly offensive to many people, and immediately apologised for them.)

But let me not leave you on an even slightly contentious note. May we all continue to care for each other and tread lightly through our darker sides . . . I wish you all rich voyages into 2015, and perhaps, the gods willing, I’ll see you next summer at Neptunalia – the Roman festival, traditionally held July 23rd, a time of licentious merrymaking spent in huts in the woods, drinking springwater and wine. I don’t know yet where I’ll celebrate it, but having had my fill of drunken youths in Brighton, I suspect its more likely to be in Ashdown Forest than Benidorm!

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Neptunian Revellers (rehearsing for their marathon performance of The Odyssey, I am sure).

 

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An Ode to the Sea Lord: Neptune & the Poets

PlatoAtlantis

After all my musings on the astronomical and astrological Neptune, it was fascinating to explore the sea god’s literary lineage in two evenings at Fabrica Gallery this month, the first dedicated to poetry, the second to prose. Though Neptunian themes of illusion, fear, chaos, spirituality and transcendent beauty overlapped both nights, the poetry I found mainly explored submerged and interior worlds, while the prose pieces I chose also took us out into the heavens. Let’s begin with the poems.

In homage to the Greeks, who still defiantly call Neptune Poseidon, I started with the Homeric ‘Hymn to Poseidon’. This ancient song opens by acknowledging the earth shaker’s desolate domain, but ends with a trusting appeal to his better nature:

 

You are dark-haired
you are blessed
you have a kind heart.

Help those who sail upon the sea in ships.

from The Homeric Hymns (Penguin, 2003)
translated by Jules Cashford

 

Is this really a hymn to wishful thinking, Neptune’s powers of illusion, the remarkable human ability to see what we want to see in difficult people or tyrannical autocrats? Or did Poseidon in fact harbour a secret tenderness for us poor humans he had lost by the time the Romans got hold of him? Classicists, please enlighten us!

Contemporary odes to Neptune were harder to come by, but divine intervention ensured I found one that mentioned him by name. One of the highlights of my recent trip to Odesa, discussed here on the blog, was a visit to the literary museum, which houses a small collection of Anna Akhmatova’s work. The statuesque Russian poet, melancholic lover and resolute witness to the Stalinist terrors, was born near Odesa and spent her childhood summers in the region. The display included a palm-sized booklet of the long poem ‘Close to the Sea’, or as my host translated, ‘very close’: an intimate relationship. I looked it up in The Complete Poems when I got home and assumed it must be ‘By the Edge of the Sea’. The ballad of a fierce young woman willing the arrival of her beloved from the waves, the poem was too long for the workshop and extracts would not do it justice. A shame, I thought, setting down the 950 page book, which promptly fell open to:

 

In Vyborg
to O.A.L.

A huge underwater step
Leading to Neptune’s kingdom ―
There Scandinavia chills, like a shade,
All of it ― as a single shining apparition.
Song falls silent, music is dumb,
But the air burns with their fragrance,
And white winter, on its knees,
Observes everything with reverent attention.

Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966)
translated by Judith Hemschemeyer

 

Workshop participants were arrested by these lines, spending some time discussing  their ambiguous fusion of land and sea, silence and scent, pagan and Christian imagery. Perhaps all poems require us to take that ‘huge underwater step’ into a world of fluid associations – powerful enigmas also wash through ‘Convoy’ by Charles Causley, the Cornish poet and schoolmaster whose early work reflects his first career in the Royal Navy:

 

Convoy

Draw the blanket of ocean
over the frozen face.
He lies, his eyes quarried by glittering fish,
Staring through the green freezing sea-glass
At the Northern Lights.

He is now a child in the land of Christmas:
Watching, amazed, the white tumbling bears
And the diving seal.
The iron wind clangs round the ice-caps,
The five-pointed Dog-star
Burns over the silent sea.

And the three ships
Come sailing in.

Charles Causley (1917-2003)

 

Here the bright Christmas miracle merges with a cold sea tragedy – or many tragedies. For the anonymous drowned man evokes the Unknown Sailor, remembered in Odesa by a coastal obelisk – built to honour the sailors who attempted, on land, to defend the city from the 1941 Nazi invasion:

 

A small but rich poem, in two deft strokes ‘Convoy’ alludes to both Shakespeare’s Full Fathom Five and Auden’s ‘The Old Masters’, which famously ends with the image of a ship sailing serenely past the drowning Icarus. Causley’s three ships evoke the joyous Christmas carol, triumphant vessels that, in the poem, may have survived a human tragedy but in the cold eyes of commerce or war arrive complete. Or perhaps the paradox suggests something more consoling – the acceptance of loss, and the renewal of faith in life’s abundance after a harrowing bereavement.

Emotional loss was also the subject of the night’s last poem, Sylvia Plath’s ‘Lyonnesse’. We discussed the complex nature of the Lyonians’ god – no lusty Neptune, but a bored, cerebral giant, lonely and weary, in a moment of sensual langour abandons those who, the poem’s opening lines suggest, depend on him for their very existence. While compelled by the poem’s mythological grandeur, and not wanting to sink into a shallow autobiographical reading, we also wondered if it might be possible to interpret it as a metaphor for a family governed by a self-absorbed, absent father. Two Plathian scholars give their view here, but I’ll leave you with the poem, and perhaps, like me, with a desire to visit the Seven Stones reef between Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, said to be the site of a beautiful land with 140 churches, lost to an earthquake and tsunami on the night of November 11th, 1099 . . .

 

Lyonnesse
No use whistling for Lyonnesse!
Sea-cold, sea-cold it certainly is.
Take a look at the white, high berg on his forehead-
There’s where it sunk.
The blue, green,
Gray, indeterminate giltSea of his eyes washing over it
And a round bubble
Popping upward from the mouths of bells

People and cows.
The Lyonians had always thought
Heaven would be something else,

But with the same faces,
The same places…
It was not a shock-

The clear, green, quite breathable atmosphere,
Cold grits underfoot,
And the spidery water-dazzle on field and street.

It never occurred that they had been forgot,
That the big God
Had lazily closed one eye and let them slip

Over the English cliff and under so much history!
They did not see him smile,
Turn, like an animal,

In his cage of ether, his cage of stars.
He’d had so many wars!
The white gape of his mind was the real Tabula Rasa.

All poems copyright the writers and translators, reproduced here and at the workshops for educational purposes and free of charge.

 

 

 

Odesa: Neptune’s Stately Ghost Hotel

So where does Neptune, Lord of the Sea, Tempestuous Ruler of Ideals, Dreams, Delusions and the Masses, stay when he needs a little break from the incessant waves? Any seaside town can put up a blue plaque in his name, of course –and if you’ve ever veered up Queen’s Rd on a Saturday night, you’ll know that Brighton offers much to tempt the King of Addiction. Having just returned from a week in Ukraine, however, my vote for the sea god’s favourite earthly hotel goes to Odesa. This is no light-hearted accolade: the distinction is not necessarily one to covet and I’m bestowing it on Odesa because its short history embodies both extremes of the astrological Neptune’s immersive yet turbulent nature.

Odesa (Оде́са in Ukrainian; Оде́сса in Russian), a city of just over a million people, is located on the coast of the Black Sea on a site once settled by the ancient Greeks and later the Tatars. Founded in 1794 by Catherine II, herself a German; laid out by a Spaniard, José de Ribas, whose design paid homage to the site’s Hellenistic roots; and first governed by a Frenchman, the Duc de Richelieu, the city epitomises Ukraine’s precarious footing on the fault line between Russia and Europe. As Alexander Pushkin – who spent a year of his youth here in a descending series of hotels – famously said, ‘Odesa smells of Europe’, and even the city’s name has a apocryphal whiff of French perfume about it. Though chosen to pay homage to the ancient Greek city Odessos (Catherine insisted on a feminine ending), according to local legend the name derives from an early hydrogeological report claiming ‘Assez d’eau’ (there is enough water’) – when this proved false, de Ribas neatly reversed the phrase.

To quote an English poet, ‘Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink’: the astrological Neptune’s trade in illusions is present right from Odesa’s start. And yet the city’s founding is also steeped in Neptunian idealism. From the beginning the city advertised itself as a beacon of freedom, progress and multicultural cooperation. Labourers flocked here for the opportunity to live as paid workers, not serfs, while Richelieu’s establishment of a world-class theatre, Lyceum and library attracted a worldly assortment of artists, writers, scientists and entrepreneurs. As my charming guidebook has it, Odesa was the city that ‘became famous from the cradle, where people of more than a hundred nationalities found bread, shelter and a new homeland, the city that always preferred gold to lead . . .’ The Milton Keynes of the Tsars is known in Russia as the Pearl of the South; the city’s own citizens dubbed her ‘Odesa-mama’ and, in thanks to her fertile steppes, appointed Ceres, the Roman goddess of the harvest as her presiding spirit.

From an astrological point of view, this rulership neatly corresponds to Odesa’s sun sign, Virgo the Empress, and rising sign the maternal Cancer. But Odesa-mama is no dour peasant matriarch: depicted in an old city mural as ‘Ekaterina’, she rests her arm on the cog of industrial revolution, and flaunts a winged rod, symbol of Mercury, god of commerce and quick wit – as the de Ribas story suggests, Odesans are also known for their lively word play. This famous sense of humour is also said to owe a debt to the previously large Jewish population – at one point in the early twentieth century nearly 45% of the city’s inhabitants were Jews. That population now stands at 6%. For Neptune lashes at Ceres’ shores, and for complex historical reasons –  that cannot and must not be reduced to a sea god’s jealous tirades –  this butterscotch bastion of creativity and tolerance has also been the site of some of the modern era’s most infamous crimes against humanity.

Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Odesan Jews triumphed against sustained persecution, being subject to a series of pogroms from 1821 to 1905, the latter committed with the support of the Tsarist military. In 1905, as well, Tsarist forces fired on demonstrators in the city, anonymous deaths immortalised in 1925 by Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein in his silent classic The Battleship Potemkin. Eisenstein staged the massacre on the monumental Richelieu Stairs leading down the cliffs to the port – now known as the Potemkin Stairs, though in fact, in a Neptunian twist of illusion, innocent of the killings.

Still from The Battleship Potemkin

But as the pogroms demonstrate, there is no need to fictionalise atrocities in Odesa. In the thirties the Holodomor, the Soviet-created famine that killed between 3 and 6 million Ukrainians, made a corpse-littered nightmare of the city streets. And in 1941, after heroically helping to defend the city for 73 days, Odesa’s Jews were massacred in one of the most exhaustive slaughters committed by the Nazi regime: over a period of three days Romanian and German forces, aided by local authorities, shot or burned alive at least 25,000 Jews. 35,000 others were sent to perish in the camps, and over the next months nearly all of the remaining Jews in the city were exterminated. At the museum I was told that only 600 people survived the events of 1941-2. While the population did grow somewhat after the war, many Jews understandably washed their hands of Odesa forever, settling largely in America or Israel. But while the worst, the Nazi atrocities were not the last of Odesan massacres. On May 2 this year, painful memories of the Holocaust were evoked when 42 pro-Russian separatists were killed in the firebombing of the Trade Unions building – a terrifying and still highly controversial event, sparked by earlier street clashes during which pro-Ukrainian marchers were killed.

The historical Jewish presence in Odesa is still felt through its tragic absence – even the shuddering of the old train stock down from L’viv seemed to echo the fear of tens of thousands of people packed into similar carriages and sent to the death camps. But at the same time, the current Jewish population is prominent and proud, operating tours and maintaining the small but well-tended Odesa Jewish Museum. When I visited, the young guide was adamant that the Trade Unions fire did not reflect the atmosphere of a city in which people still live in communal blocks of flats, sharing space and facilities with their neighbours. Anti-Semitic leaflets from as recently as 2007 were on display, but our guide declared that these vile attempts at rousing old hatreds were rare, and that she feels safe here today.

Or at least as safe as any Odesan. For with a majority of Russian-speaking inhabitants and Crimea just down the coast, the city feels the cold eye of Vladmir Putin roving over it. But Russian speaking does not equate to Russian separatism: though tensions can run dangerously high, the city as a whole accommodates its mixed population and historical ties to Moscow well – many people are bilingual at least, and since gaining its independence from the former Soviet empire, Odesa has acknowledged its debt to Russia with a new statue of Catherine and her lovers. Most of the Ukrainians I met suspect that separatist sentiments here, as elsewhere, are in fact stoked by Moscow. On-going investigations into the Trades Union fire have already included the arrest of several Russian nationals; if these people are truly provocateurs, this is a grave violation of Ukrainian sovereignty – any grievances of Russian-speakers must be aired in a proper democratic manner, free of the militaristic interference that is causing the current devastating war in the East.

Astrologically, war is ruled by Mars, the belligerent strategist. Neptunian violence may be triggered or enabled by war, but is of a different nature – irrational outbursts of fear and rage, the depths of human darkness engulfing militants and masses alike. In a certain light, Odesa is like a stately ghost hotel, haunted by the shades of those who have perished in the bloody storms that periodically wash through its elegant streets. For both good and ill, Neptune maintains a luxury suite here, the replica statue of Laocoon outside the Museum of Archeology a warning reminder of his powers: a Trojan priest of Poseidon, Laocoon enraged the god by making love to his wife in the temple, for which act of impiety he and his sons were killed by sea serpents. But after my all-too-brief visit, my hope is that Odesa-mama may yet curb the sea god’s temper, and continue to nurture his creative and spiritual nature. All astrological speculations aside, this extravagant city’s founding commitment to freedom, multiculturalism, humour and beauty deserves a chance to fully bloom.

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The Odesa Opera House

                                                                                                    

The Astrological Neptune: the Great Dissolver

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKing Neptune by Paul diPasquale, Virgina Beach USA

Now at last in this blog’s long voyage to Neptune, we reach the deep translucent waters of the planet’s astrological significance. These depths cannot be plumbed with the cables of logical explanation; rather I hope that today’s plunge into the world of symbol and myth may offer the reader some not-too-slippery insights into the blurred lines between dream and vision, solitude and addiction, chaos and revolution . . .

But let me not swim ahead of myself. Named for the Roman god of navigation and his Greek predecessor Poseidon, Neptune’s astrological symbolism also draws on the planet’s astronomical attributes, as well as wider poetic imagery of the sea. The planet, as notorious arch-mage Aleister Crowley pointed out, is aptly named for Lord Oceanus, ‘the great river that girdles the whole earth’, not simply for its entrancing aquamarine shade, but also its outlying orbit – when discovered, and again since Pluto’s demotion, the furthest planet from the sun. Astrologers relate the remote gas giant to nebulous and elusive states of mind and situations: Neptune ‘the Dissolver’ represents dreams, creative inspiration and psychic abilities, but also confusion, illusion, escapism and addiction.

The old gods bring additional turbulence to Neptune’s metaphorical significance: Poseidon, though married, fathered many children from secret affairs, and like their sire, his offspring were famed for their wildness and cruelty: when angered the god would cause storms and shipwrecks. Neptune also represents, therefore, deception, trickery, deceit, chaos and fear. But we always have the choice to rise above these temptations: the planet’s blue-green colour is considered to represent spirituality and healing, and Neptune as Visionary represents wisdom, compassion, sacrifice and universal love.

So there we are: Neptune as a vast blue ball of violence and serenity, implacably rolling through our psyches. While these qualities may seem diametrically opposed, in his usual inimitable fashion Crowley explains that they are in fact inseparable. For:

Is not the sea at once infinitely calm, and infinitely angered? Does not the sea take strange shapes, break up the light into a myriad fantastically coloured flaws? Illusion and art, chameleon and dragon; that is the sea! Is not the sea now tender, now adorable, sun-kissed, now terrible in its torment, a whirl of insatiable desires?

In addition, the demands of spiritual seclusion on weak, undisciplined natures will inevitably result in dissolute ruptures. ‘How spiritual, how star-pure, must then be the secret thoughts of such a one, the hermit of the solar system?’ Crowley asks, ‘How indomitable, how lonely, how refined must be his moods.’ But such solitude is a heavy burden, and those with strong Neptunian influences in their charts must, Crowley asserts, be warned:

. . . it is not in the Neptunian nature to reach harbour. He longs for love and friendship; did he gain them he would retire. For nothing can satisfy that thirst of things infinite; there is no goal attainable. Neptune is man’s boundless spirit; heaven itself is too narrow for his desires. So into his nature comes the gay coquettishness . . . He knows that love is unattainable; and so he plays at love . . . His true nature, thrilled through by the wisdom of the stars with whom he holds such raptured communing . . . leads him to mystic trances, to visions of deity, to mysterious marriages with elements beyond our system. For he, the Ishmael of the planets, never turns his face towards the Sun.

But if he be not steeled to endure exile, to attain the snowy summits of omniscience and bliss by means of the wise eremite, then the false nature mocks the true. In revels, fantastic and fond, in comedies bitter at the core, in the use of strange drugs or of perverse delights, in soulless and neurotic waking dreams, he seeks to satisfy his soul.

Ah, Neptune is the soul!

Back on Earth after that admittedly ornate detour into the psychology of planetary perversity, Myrna Lofthus tells us that Neptune rules toes, feet, malformations, leakage, toxic conditions & infectious organisms; also secret affairs, submarines, drugs, fraud, liquor, spiritualism, psychic research, fog and mist, while the people represented by this planet, are the masses and, appropriately for REEF, divers. Astrologers also believe that the planet’s movement reflects the process of gradual but profound change for the better in the human realm: the ‘sea changes’ that I have taken as the theme of my Fabrica residency.

In this regard it’s important to note that due to Neptune’s turtle-slow orbit of 164 years, it is considered to have mainly a generational influence on human affairs. For example, Neptune was in Scorpio, the sign that governs sex and addiction, during the sexual revolution of the sixties, and in Aquarius, the sign that governs innovation and intelligence, in the late nineties and noughties, when the information revolution arguably consolidated its effects on the world. Since 2012 Neptune has been moving through its home sign (and mine), Pisces. Early stages of a Neptune transit can bring chaos and confusion, and from an astrologer’s perspective the planet’s entry into Pisces, sign of spirituality, makes sense of the current violent upsurge in global religious conflict. But the Arab uprisings, the Occupy movement, and increasing grassroots climate change activism also reflect Neptunian themes. Neptune’s passage through Pisces could also represent a profound positive change in human consciousness: the rise of the enlightened masses; the People Power Revolution.

In the meantime, Neptunian processes do also subtly affect us as individuals, working at slow unconscious levels to dissolve old patterns of self-interest in our search for universal wisdom. Getting technical, the planet’s house placement in a chart; natal aspects to other planets; and transits (the relationship between the current movement of Neptune to planets in our natal chart) will indicate when, and in what area of our lives, these personal sea changes will most affect us. If you’d like to know more about Neptune’s placement in your own chart, and to use this information to inspire some writing of your own, please do come to one of my Neptune Nights in November. As the event page indicates, if you send the gallery your date, time (exact as possible) and place (city/town) of birth, I can draw up a chart beforehand and give you a short, basic reading on the night.

In any case, I hope that my explanation today has not been afflicted by Neptunian nebulousness, and, if not entirely convinced, you may have emerged intrigued at least, by the astrologer’s view of the distant blue giant and his role in human affairs. Finally, I’m also curious to know what you make of current sea changes in national and international affairs: the Savile inquiry and related disclosures of institutional child sexual abuse; this summer’s world protests against the Israeli assault on Gaza; increasing extreme weather events and related protests against the fossil fuel industry and other environmental polluters. Revolution, End of Days or la plus ça change: what’s your interpretation of our turbulent times and how to survive them?

Sources:

A Spiritual Approach to Astrology by Myrna Lofthus (CRCS Publications 1983)
http://www.cafeastrologer.com

Blue Mover: the Astronomical Neptune

Neptune,_Earth_size_comparison

REEF is giving me much to contemplate. The exhibition raises fascinating questions about the Earth itself as an art space, and more troubling ones about the human impact on the sea. There’s also the opportunity to explore the show’s connection to the Brighton Photo Biennial which, with its theme of Community, Collectives and Collaborations, is fuelling my interest in dissolving boundaries between art and politics. But I’ve had a request for more about Neptune, and reflections on my guiding star seem a good place to start my journey. So as not to immediately frighten anyone off, I’ll begin with the astronomical facts. They are poetic enough in themselves, but be warned: this post ends with a flash of my astrological license!

To begin, though, with sober statistics: over fifty seven times the volume of Earth, but only seventeen times greater mass, Neptune is classed as both a gas and ice giant. For all its great size, it rotates quickly; while it takes 164 Earth years to orbit the sun, its ‘day’ is just 18 hours. Largely atmosphere, the planet is composed mainly of hydrogen and helium, traces of methane absorbing red light and lending the planet its luminous blue colour – though it is speculated that an unknown chromophore is responsible for the tint of the clouds. Invisible to the naked eye, this lustrous behemoth was discovered by mathematical prediction: the erratic orbit of Uranus suggested the gravitational pull of an outer planet, and thanks to the calculations of French astronomer Urbain Le Verrier, Johann Galle located the culprit on Sept 23 1846, from his observatory in Berlin. In fact, Galileo had first observed Neptune in 1612, calling it ‘the blue star’, but as he didn’t twig it was a planet, is not credited with discovering it. (Here I simply must insert a little joke I heard at a talk last week by Israeli peace activist Ruth Edmonds – when asked how she refers to Israel-Palestine, she said ‘Pluto’, after the small planet of highly disputed status . . . ) Sorry about that – astro-politico geek moment over, we can return to Le Verrier, who initially suggested naming his new planet for the Roman god of the sea. Successfully locating a gas giant must have gone to the astronomer’s ego though, for he was soon campaigning to instead christen the planet after who-else-but-himself. In the end, the Parisian had to settle for the slightly less immortal recognition of a medal from the Royal Society: Neptune, and its various global translations, was adopted by consensus – though be careful how you go in Greece, where the ‘Sea King Planet’ is defiantly known as Poseidon.

Governed by extremes, Neptune is a planet of exorbitant beauty and power. Its fiercely cold surface is whipped by the fastest winds in the solar system: if there isn’t a Mod badge for Neptune, there ought to be – one of its prominent cloud formations is known as ‘the Scooter’ for its speedy circumnavigation of the planet. Elsewhere, goths and Oya worshippers will be pleased to note, rage storms large enough to engulf the Earth. Beneath this turbulent veneer, Neptune’s foggy atmosphere is thought to eventually merge with an icy mantle, though the technical term is misleading – the planet’s middle layer is in fact a hot dense fluid composed of ionised water and ammonia. Smelly and scalding it may be, but Marilyn Monroe and Eartha Kitt would have loved it: close to the planet’s 5000 °C heart it is conjectured that diamond crystals rain like hailstones into a slushy diamond sea, sailed by massive diamond-bergs. At the centre of this dazzling ocean is the planet’s rocky core, a jagged furnace of iron, nickel and silicates, thought to be slightly larger than Earth. As for rings, Neptune has six thin ones, plus a slender necklace of moons. For over a century the planet was thought to have just one satellite – Triton, the coldest known world in the solar system – but as of 2013 thirteen more, much smaller moons have been counted, the last still unnamed, the rest suitably honouring Greek and Roman water deities.

Life as we know it cannot exist on Neptune, but the planet has long animated the human imagination, not least that of astrologers. At the time of its discovery – and now again since the controversial demotion of Pluto to ‘dwarf planet’ status – the blue giant was the last planet of the solar system (and in any case, Pluto’s eccentric orbit means that sometimes Neptune outlies it). This fringe existence caused infamous occultist Aleister Crowley to call Neptune ‘a lonely sentinel patrolling the confines of our camp’. Crowley associated Neptune’s solitude with psychic abilities and perverse undoings, but I will reflect on his characteristically astringent theories in a future post. For now, having staked my astrological flag on thoroughly dubious soil, I will leave you safely in the marvellous gravitational field of Derek Jarman.

For naturally, upon encountering the magnificent word ‘chromophore’ – suggesting a kind of cosmonautical sign language of hue – I reached for Jarman’s lyrical autobiography, Chroma: A Book of Colour – June ’93 and, like Triton by the giant, was immediately captured by the iconic British artist’s meditations on blue:

 

In the pandemonium of image
I present you with the universal Blue
Blue an open door to soul
An infinite possibility
Becoming tangible.

 

Absent by name in the chapter, Neptune is wholly present, to me, not just in such lucid invocations of its spiritual associations, but a moment of uncanny prophecy – losing his sight and his life to AIDS-related illness, Jarman, ever the visionary campaigner, asks:

 

What do I see
Past the gates of conscience
Activists invading Sunday Mass
In the cathedral
An epic Czar Ivan denouncing the
Patriarch of Moscow

 

Perhaps Pussy Riot read Chroma – why not, Jarman loved punkbut the weird personal resonance with my residency event, Sea Changers, bringing three artist-activists to the vestry of St Paul’s Brighton, is currently giving me the scootery shivers. I need to immediately seek out Jarman’s classic films Blue and The Tempest and watch them wrapped in a duvet of warm clouds –  more from Crowley and other blue angels next time.