Tuesday, 4 February 2014

An Astrological Tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman

Philip Seymour Hoffman
born 23 July 1967
Fairport, New York
Birth time unknown (chart set around sunrise)

When the spirit moves you... it's important to respond (or so I believe). Like many people, I felt shock at reading about the death at age 46 of talented actor and film director, Philip Seymour Hoffman.  This post is one little tribute among hopefully many that will appear over the coming days and weeks and focuses on a birth chart drawn for around sun rise.

He "lit up the screen" - is the way that British film critic, Jason Solomons, described Philip Seymour Hoffman (BBC website).  That sounds rather like Jupiter in Leo, symbolic of the larger than life star and his Leonine mane of blonde hair.  There is also a close square (90 degree connection) in the birth chart, between the Moon, symbolising shadowy light and reflections, and Neptune, planet of illusion; he had a talent for playing offbeat, somewhat conflicted characters, so well described by the Moon in Aquarius.

That same Moon signifies another quality of his, also mentioned by Solomons: "He'd take the weirdest parts and give them a human element."  Aquarius may capture the quirky, off the wall side of life. It also connects powerfully with humanity in general.  With this 'Moon square' in play, the boundaryless planet Neptunian, with its out-of-focus picture lets us see the fuzzy, ragged side beneath any glittery illusion.

Hoffman may have been a Hollywood star, and some of his characters may have been attracted to glitz and glamour; a lifestyle of 'living it up' (like Freddy Miles in The Talented Mr Ripley) but we know that Freddy Miles could see through Tom Ripley's phony front - and Philip Seymour Hoffman was well aware in his roles that he was portraying an illusion yet he may have appeared very convincing.  Of his experiencing of acting he has said: 

"I'm probably more personal when I'm acting than at any other time. More open, more direct. Because it allows me to be something that I can't always feel comfortable with when I'm living my own life, you know? Because it's make- believe." (IMBD website).

Philip Seymour Hoffman is thought to have died from a heroin overdose and was known to have had a history of substance abuse.  As anyone with more than a passing interest in addiction recovery may know, it's not necessarily the death of on/off addicts that is surprising; it is the fact that they have managed to live as many days as they did, given that every single day can be a battle.  Are Hoffman's demons and his struggle with alcohol and other drugs shown clearly in his chart?  The Moon/Neptune square suggests a struggle with dealing with feelings, with a strong pull towards just wanting to escape from them, to transcend the feeling state.  Neptune is linked with chemicals and the Moon/Neptune pairing represents a desire for a pink, fluffy float along life's emotional path, not wanting one's feet to touch the ground too easily.

We should not forget that Neptune is a planet linked with creative inspiration and imagination, as well as the ability to shift, chameleon-like, into the 'feel' and spirit of another person.  Neptunian types are often psychic and can imagine what it is like to be in another person's world.  Every little helps with a job such as acting! Sometimes, creative, Neptunian types need some special access or protection to stand in that bridge-like place between two worlds; to lose themselves and temporarily take up the space that others would usually inhabit, whether fictional or real - dead or alive.  We can only guess at how that may have worked for this particular talent, since whatever links to the Moon is private and personal whilst paradoxically the Moon can also be a symbol of how we connect to others in public life - and of popularity with the public.

Something probably needs to be said about the Venus/Pluto/Uranus conjunction in this chart, in the sign of Virgo.  Philip Seymour Hoffman famously said, of his appearance: "A lot of people describe me as chubby, which seems so easy, so first-choice. Or stocky. Fair-skinned. Tow-headed. There are so many other choices. How about dense? I mean, I'm a thick kind of guy. But I'm never described in attractive ways. I'm waiting for somebody to say I'm at least cute. But nobody has." (IMBD).  Traditionally, in astrology, Venus in Virgo is considered to be a 'fallen' or 'debilitated' planet - not a very nice word, maybe, but, as the planet most associated with physical attraction, it does rather well describe the struggle of a lack of nice compliments about appearance.

This orb of the triple-conjunction of planets is on the 'wide' side.  That is, when we look at the distance between planets (the orb of aspect), here, the 'orb' between the first two planets (Venus and Pluto) happens to be a little wider than the accepted norm for a conjunction (8 degrees)  Some astrologers will allow 10 degrees, though and this conjunction is at 9.  I personally think it's a fairly accurate astrological signature for an on-off struggle with substances.  Venus is linked to appetites - with the Moon possibly implicated, too, because that relates to our need for food, nutrition, water, etc - the stuff of daily, physical survival through taking care of the body and brain.  But, as many a person who has become informed about addiction will know, with drug taking of various kinds (in which we could include misusing alcohol, food, prescription drugs, illegal drugs etc) none of it is usually about a real need for physical survival.  It relates only to the addict's distortion about what feels or seems like something necessary for survival - because drugs interact with the pleasure and reward centres in the brain and that person's brain is not functioning in the same way as a normal person's brain (a detail that is often overlooked in stories about addiction problems). New medical research has revealed that the usually peaceful, mellow, confident mode that a perfectly healthy person may experience much of the time is somewhat missing for the addict. This means that, like it or not, he/she has an inbuilt drive to look for something to compensate for this - because it is a normal reaction for the body and mind to look for ways to find balance.

Unfortunately, an addict may develop an appetite for something that soon becomes destructive; at first the substance (or in some cases process) may seem to bring the desired balance and all is well.  But fairly soon the constant usage means that the balance is not achieved and a higher 'dose' is needed.  It isn't too long, then, before the addiction has hold of the person rather than the other way around. The tastes of the demon - the starved pleasure/reward centre - have now taken over.  Typically, in media portrayals, the addict is seen as seeking pleasure, euphoria, peace, calm, fun, excitement, or thrills - some sort of sensory experience over and above the usual, everyday, up and down feelings and moods that go with life (pain, shame, fear, boredom, guilt, etc).  What is often overlooked is that, due to an inborn problem involving chemical imbalance, the addict experiences those usual, everyday responses and moods at a far more intense level than a person who doesn't have that default setting in the brain nor related, different hormone reactions.  Ironically, the down phase of drug withdrawal and the misery of being caught up within an addiction cycle will make all of that even worse - but by the time an addict discovers that, it's often too late!  The destructive cycle has begun.

What has all of this to do with astrology and the chart of Philip Seymour Hoffman?  Well, Venus in Virgo represents a taste for certain 'medicines' (the planet is located in a sign related to health). Venus keeps company here with the decidedly un-jolly planets Pluto and Uranus; this little band of fun looks horribly like "Trouble with the Sweet Stuff" (nodding to Billy Idol).  Pluto is the equivalent of Hades, the god of the underworld in Greek mythology.  Nobody saw Pluto/Hades coming; he was an abductor.  I don't know if he used ether or its equivalent at the time, but he could easily have done so.  He could take someone hostage, threaten them, abuse them and generally remove their power, eventually taking them over.

A Uranus quality can make a person feel like an outsider - which the Moon in Aquarius can sometimes also represent.  The person with a powerful planetary aspect to Uranus (like this) may temporarily imagine that they don't have any friends, that nobody would want to hear from them even if they did - and that nobody will understand their experience or their pain.  With these two outer-planet rogues, Pluto and Uranus, chasing down a person's thought process, it wouldn't be a great surprise to see them retreat into a world of pain and try to find some way to sweeten any bitter pill that had to be swallowed, or to try to find a way to obliterate the usual messages of the senses - to reach a stage of blackout for a while.  Rather like the film reel, once the image stops projecting, the story is over for that showing.  The characters can rest.  The villains stop chasing the good guy.  The fact that he's slumped over, unconscious and not looking terribly attractive in that position is - well, just another Venus in Virgo type thing.

Philip Seymour Hoffman knew that he was in serious trouble with substances as early as the age of 22, when he stopped drinking alcohol.  Bearing in mind that, for some people, this might not be far off the age when they begin imbibing, he had had a head start with his particular addiction struggle (his parents had divorced when he was 9 years old and he and his siblings were brought up by his mother; the sense of abandonment experienced by the lack of a father in his life from there on in might have had something to do with where things went for him, since modern research has linked addiction with the lack of a stable father figure in a child's life.  To an extent we can only surmise, of course).

A characteristic of addicts is that they often feed their addiction in solitude.  People may have come across stories about Hofmann's last days being spent drinking at the counter of a bar, whilst taking frequent 'breaks' in the bathroom.  Clearly he wasn't interacting a lot with other people.  Interestingly, he is quoted, in happier days, as saying:

"My favorite thing about acting is being alone and going through the scripts and working on it and getting ideas and asking myself questions, looking outside myself for them and researching and getting to the bottom of something and being creative with it as an actor and how to express it in a creative fashion. That's my favorite part. And,the actual acting of it." (IMBD)

That all sounds rather a lot like Venus in Virgo with Pluto and Uranus!  Virgo can be shy and introverted; Pluto is linked with the underworld (the bottom).  Uranus represents being/looking outside oneself. Venus can of course be creative.

I also found the following quote to be appropriately descriptive of these outer planet connections in the chart - of Neptune with the Moon and of Pluto/Uranus with Venus:

"On my down time I do a lot of nothing. I just kinda read, run and hang out with friends because I haven't had a lot of it lately. I just try to do a lot of nothing. ...when you stay home you really don't want to do too much because you've been going out and getting up early and staying out late all the time. So you just do very little." (IMBD)

The Moon, Neptune and Uranus are all at 21 degrees in Hoffman's chart.  The day that he died the planet Saturn, in the sky, was at 22 degrees of Scorpio, conjunct Neptune, square the Moon in Aquarius and sextile (60 degrees away from) Uranus in Virgo (the planet that rules over Aquarius).  Saturn represents boundaries.  You could say that Hoffman struggled with the boundary with heroin (Neptune) that day.  Some people say that death is the ultimate boundary.  Saturn in Scorpio can mark the point of no return for some people.  For an addict it might well represent a 'bottom' - a place of rock bottom, where things can't feel much worse and, quite likely, where the addiction feels completely out of control.  The Venusian appetite and the abductive quality of Pluto may have been drawn in that day, due to those planets' proximity to Uranus. Not that happy heights of creative inspiration reached then, sadly - just the struggle of someone caught in a vicious circle, who knew that this Saturn in Scorpio end was in sight.  Scorpio is said to have a destructive or healing quality, depending on how the person uses its energies.  Perhaps the line was just very hard to find for this relapse period of Hoffman's life. Only a few weeks before, when his partner had drawn a boundary about him no longer living at home with the children, and he had checked into rehab, he had confided in a friend that if he didn't beat his addiction that time, it would kill him.  It's a big loss when Saturn and Pluto take charge - to the film going audience as well.  With the Sun in Cancer, he would have had a deep desire to do right by his family, which would perhaps have informed his decision to accept the request to leave the family home and get clean.  But the Sun in his birth chart was square Mars (at a 90 degree angle) which suggests the family 'stuff' was also a source of conflict for him.  Perhaps that simply made him human.  RIP Philip Seymour Hoffman.

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