Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art …
— John Keats
One of my favorite ways to practice astrology is to go outside. In February, for example, the steady rain and emerging blooms told me it was Pisces season. The sight of Venus in the early dawn told me she had emerged from under the Sun’s beams and was ready to begin her morning star phase.
However, it is the night sky that continually holds my attention. If I’m lucky, the Moon will be out, and perhaps a planet or two. But as long as the sky is clear, there’s always stars.
For thousands of years, the fixed stars have had a prominent role in astrology, rekindled in the last few decades due in large part to the work of Bernadette Brady. In this article, I invite you into relationship with the stars as I discuss why fixed stars are unique in astrology and what sort of wisdom they can offer us.
To begin, what are the fixed stars and how do they connect to the natal chart?
Understanding Fixed Stars
It’s important to note that the sky depicted in the natal chart is not what the sky actually looks like. Instead, the astrological chart focuses on one small band, i.e., the ecliptic, or the apparent path of the Sun as seen from Earth.
To understand the stars it is helpful to understand them in relationship to the whole sky, not just in relationship to the ecliptic. Parans, or paranatellonata, which describe the stars’ placements relative to the whole sky, can be traced to Ptolemy (2nd century CE) A paran occurs when a star conjoins one of the “angles” of the sky at the same time a planet does. The angles here are analogous to the angles in a natal chart, i.e., rising = Ascendant, culminating = Midheaven, etc. Any time a star is rising, culminating, setting, or reaching the nadir while a planet is also at one of those angles, a relationship, or paran, is formed.
I give examples of fixed stars and parans further on; for now, since the stars are beyond the planets, let’s look at the stars as they connect us to the heavens above.
Connecting to the Soul
We have long associated stars with the concept of the soul. Plato said that a soul begins in the heavens and is created from a less purified version of the “cosmic mixture.” God divides this substance among all the stars in the sky and “assigns each soul a star.” (1) Afterward, he showed each soul “the nature of the universe, and declared to them the laws of destiny, according to which their first birth would be.” Ananke, fate personified, brings these souls down to Earth, where they promptly forget what they had seen among the stars.
This story illuminates some of the characteristics of the soul: it is transcendent, connecting us to a life that exists well beyond our earthly experience. The soul also holds our essential purpose, one that we may have forgotten, but that precedes our current incarnation. Psychologist James Hillman writes: “Soul appears as a factor independent of the events in which we are immersed” [on Earth]. (2)
There is something “pure” about our soul, it cannot be touched or adulterated by earthly matters (though it can be buried by them). Hillman also identifies the soul as the “unknown component which makes meaning possible,” and “turns events into experiences.” (3) But Hillman, like Plato, skirts around giving the soul a concrete definition. “We cannot know what exactly we are referring to,” Hillman explains, “because [the soul’s] nature remains shadowy revealing itself mainly in hints, intuitions, whispers, and the sudden urges and oddities that disturb your life and that we continue to call symptoms.” (4) The soul, in other words, cannot be grasped by the mind.
The fixed stars illuminate what purpose or archetype these hints and intuitions are pointing toward; they help us give shape to our souls.
Let’s look at an example: Billie Holiday was born with the fixed star Pollux at an angle. (5) Alongside his brother Castor, Pollux is part of the Gemini constellation representing working with duality, e.g., how we create stories or narratives out of the contradictions of life. Pollux, however, shows a penchant for the darker side of life and will tend to focus on painful truths. Holiday was known for her blues-inspired sound and she often sang about dark subject matter. We can point to difficult situations in her life as contributing to this focus, but the stars tell us that, regardless of her life circumstances, Billie Holiday would have always sung the blues.
In considering the fixed stars touching our charts, we may have a deeply felt, or even divine sense of meaning in our lives. Though a planet may help us understand the material manifestations of a life, looking to the stars speaks to who we always are and always have been. They show us how we make meaning, and how we view the world. Whenever I speak to the fixed stars in a client reading, I notice how deeply their stories resonate; they also create all sorts of uncanny synchronicities. Fixed stars also allow us to add greater nuance to chart interpretation.
Stars and Planets
Except for two stars — the heliacal rising and heliacal setting stars — every other star that “claims” us is connected to us through some planet or angle in our birth chart.
According to Aristotle, there were eight celestial spheres surrounding the Earth, one for each of the visible planets and the final, most distant one belonging to the fixed stars. Since the fixed stars are farther out than the planets in our solar system, when a soul makes the descent they move from their star through the spheres of the planets, finally incarnating on Earth.
The word “planet” translates to “wandering star.” While even the slowest planets are always moving, fixed stars maintain the same spot in the sky year after year (not counting the slow drift of precession). Plato sees this observable phenomenon as indicative of the fixed stars’ intended purpose: “to be divine and eternal animals, ever-abiding and revolving after the same manner and on the same spot.” Planets, on the other hand, “reverse their motion and are subject to deviations of this kind.” As Brady writes: “The planets were singled out as the timekeepers, and it was thought that the souls moved from the fixed stars to these wanderers, and from the wanderers their power was translated onto earth as the souls of men.” (6)
Since the planets are closer to Earth, they speak to our material, bounded existence. But the seed of our planetary manifestations originates in the stars: in looking at the fixed stars, we look at the true root of the native’s life.
On a more practical level, looking at the parans connected to the planet in a chart allows me to be more accurate in my prediction of how a planet will behave.
Let’s look at an example:
Nina Simone and Billie Holiday are singers with Mercury in Pisces in the 2nd house. (8) The similarities between them are apparent: one of Nina’s most well-known songs, “Strange Fruit,” is a cover of Holiday’s original, but no one would mistake one for another.
The fixed stars in paran to Mercury in their respective nativities help us understand those differences.
Simone was born with Mercury in paran to Fomalhaut, one of the four Royal Stars of Persia. This star has a mystical, otherworldly quality whereby Fomalhaut natives might not feel truly at home in this world. Simone also has a paran to Alphecca, star of the Corona Borealis constellation. Alphecca indicates success or a change in status due to love or luck — often with a price to pay or a dark period to follow. Simone did achieve success through her voice, but also suffered with the notoriety it brought. Mercury is also in paran to Scheat, a star in the Pegasus constellation. Scheat demonstrates a love of the intellect and the desire to break with conventional thinking; her words are marked by the love of freedom and the striving for independent thought. Simone engaged in activism and often used her voice to speak to countercultural views.
On the other hand, Holiday had Pisces Mercury in paran to Sirius. As the brightest star in the sky, Sirius serves as a “a marker of great deeds,” namely through the mundane becoming sacred. (7) But, due to its extreme brightness, it also may burn up the individual in the quest for immortality. Holiday’s Mercury blessed her with outsize talent but with the potential to be overwhelmed in the ascent to fame. She began drinking at a young age and died in her 40s of cirrhosis of the liver. Bellatrix — in the left shoulder of the Orion constellation, the arm holding the protective shield — is associated with the feminine warrior. Holiday had a paran to Bellatrix, which indicates success, but only after facing the difficult parts of one’s personality. Although she is still remembered for her great talent, much of Holiday’s fame is related to her early death and various tabloid scandals. Algol, head of the Gorgon and indicative of the creative destruction of a scorned feminine, is also in paran to Mercury, making her a “passionate, intense writer or communicator” despite the usual softness of Pisces. (9) She was known for her raw, unadulterated singing style that often explored the difficult aspects of life.
In Timaeus, Plato praises the importance of sight: “The sight in my opinion is the source of the greatest benefit to us, for had we never seen the stars, and the sun, and the heaven, none of the words which we have spoken about the universe would ever have been uttered.” In order to make meaning of the universe, we first had to witness it. The original astrologers came up with their meaning for the planets and stars based on their observable traits: rise and set dates, brightness, the swiftness or slowness of their movement, their color, etc. Plato goes as far to say that the “sight of day and night” gave us “a conception of time, and the power of enquiring about the nature of the universe.”
As software has made knowledge of astronomical phenomena and direct observation unnecessary to cast a chart, we have lost our connection to what is primarily a visual art. While there are a handful of invaluable books and resources about the meaning of the fixed stars, I believe so much can be gained by simply witnessing them. The fixed stars invite us to use our direct experiences to make meaning rather than the other way around.
As I spend more time stargazing and becoming familiar with the layout of our sky, the more I begin to notice the particularities of the stars. The other night, I observed that the twin stars of Gemini form a straight line in the sky. They seem secluded from the other stars, somehow, like they prefer to keep to themselves. As the stars rotate through the sky, it almost looks like Castor is pulling Pollux along, though at times it seemed like Pollux was pushing Castor from the rear. Though I can’t yet say what these observations mean, I trust the meaning is in the looking. With fixed stars, we have the opportunity to interact every night, testing our knowledge with our actual experience of the celestial bodies. The fixed stars connect to our direct experience, helping us bring our astrology into the here and now, where insight truly lives.
The Poetry of the Stars
As quoted by James Hillman above, the soul cannot be perceived directly but only through “hints, intuitions, whispers, and the sudden urges and oddities that disturb your life.” Similarly, the truths of the fixed stars are best understood through this sort of slant. I tend to find the stories of the stars most eloquently expressed through the creative works of individuals who have a paran with it. It’s uncanny how much an artist’s work directly speaks to the stars that mark their life.
As humans, we connect strongly to stories, images, and narratives. I have seen time and time again that fixed stars want to express themselves through our creative work. If any of your clients are artists or creatives in any way, speaking to their fixed stars will be invaluable to help them understand their practice. Furthermore, as you study the stars in the charts of your favorite writers, musicians, artists, etc., you will begin to make connections between the stars and their work.
Astrology works best when it is not lived solely in the mind. In addition to being rooted in tradition and study, it thrives when we twist it into new shapes or combine it with our direct experience. The fixed stars represent something fundamental about us that precedes our current incarnation. They reconnect us with the full night sky and invite us into a direct experience. Though they can greatly increase the accuracy and specificity with which we approach a chart, they also add the soul to the picture, the part of us that is not bound by matter or circumstance. Beyond being deeply resonant to the client, fixed stars open us up to the soulful part of our lives, what can only be defined by poetry, feeling, or intuition.
As I continue my own practice of astrology, I am always trying to increase my accuracy without sacrificing nuance and creativity. The stars let you do both. If you, too, want to begin getting to know the stars, it’s simple. Just step outside.
Illustration: Karl Friedrich Schinkel, set design for Mozart’s The Magic Flute; Berlin, c. 1816.
(1) Plato, Timaeus, 360 BCE, trans. by Benjamin Jowett. (All quotes from Plato herein are from this source.)
(2) James Hillman, A Blue Fire: The Essential James Hillman, edited by Thomas Moore, Harper Collins, 1989, p. 35.
(3) Hillman, A Blue Fire, p. 29.
(4) James Hillman, The Soul’s Code: A Search for Character and Calling, Random House, 199, p. 31–32.
(5) AA data: AstroDatabank: Billie Holiday.
(6) Bernadette Brady, Brady’s Book of Fixed Stars, Samuel Weiser, Inc, 1998, p. 51.
(7) Brady, Brady’s Book of Fixed Stars, p. 144.
(8) AA data: AstroDatabank: Nina Simone.
(9) Bernadette Brady, Star and Planet Combinations, The Wessex Astrology Ltd, 2008, p. 98.
Chloe Margherita is an astrologer, tarot reader, poet and artist living on unceded Cowlitz and Clackamas land in so-called Portland, OR. “I study the language of the stars because I want to help re-enchant our relationship to our inner and outer worlds. I want people to have trust that they live in an intelligent, watchful universe that mirrors their own inner life. I want people to see their innate wholeness and beauty; that they are divine exactly as they are.” Find her at chloe-margherita.com. Email: email@example.com.