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?


A Spiritual Approach to Astrology by Myrna Lofthus (CRCS Publications 1983)


Blue Mover: the Astronomical Neptune


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.