A Time to Die: Death Charts as Cosmic Obituaries

A Depiction of the Moment of Death by Alex Grey
To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, a time to die...” -Ecclesiastes

As astrologers we agree that the moment of birth reveals the character and destiny of that which is born, be it a person, a nation, an organization, or even an idea. For the most part we study the lives of people, and the moment of birth is the root from which all our investigations proceed. We may disagree on many things as astrologers, but the vital significance of the moment of birth is the one thing about which there is no dispute.

But what of the moment of death? Could it be that this moment, too, is pregnant with meaning regarding that which has died and the life that has been lived? Could it be that we have neglected to study this important and inevitable end-moment of every incarnation precisely because it is so shrouded in mystery? After all, we don’t know with any certainty where or what exactly death leads us to. We fear death, prefer not to think about it, since it is the antithesis of our very existence as living beings. We’re in perpetual denial of our mortality.

It is true that death has indeed been the subject of astrological scrutiny and speculation over the centuries, but this has almost invariably been limited to an attempt to gauge approximate longevity, and somewhat controversially, also to predict the precise date of demise. But what if the moment of death reveals what a life has actually achieved? Could it be that the death chart is indeed a kind of Cosmic Obituary?

This musing led me to study several death charts; the results of which have been startling! I posted some of my initial observations on social media, and many of my most learned and thoughtful astrologer colleagues responded with affirmative enthusiasm, encouraging me to continue this line of research.

While I’m aware that this is a rather bold and experimental hypothesis, thus far I have found that the most conspicuous planetary configurations present at the time of death consistently describe, often to an uncanny degree, the life of the person that has died.

Charles Manson

In fact, I believe it was the death of Charles Manson that first piqued my curiosity.

Charles Manson- unrepentant Mars-Pluto

Charles Manson, the leader of a murderous cult that was responsible for a number of high profile killings in the plush suburbs of Los Angeles, died under a near-exact Mars-Pluto Square and also, interestingly enough, while the Sun and Moon were both in Sidereal Scorpio. I found this Mars-Pluto signature strikingly apt from the start, but when I discovered the actual time of death (20:13) and was able to calculate the complete chart, I was astonished to find Pluto a mere degree from the Descendant, with Mars less than degree from exactly Square the Ascendant! This very tight engagement of the Mars-Pluto Square with the horizontal axis brings it right to the fore.

Although, even without a time of death one can almost invariably see the person’s life narrative at a glance written in the Aspect patterns on the day of death, when the time of the event is incorporated, the picture tends to become even more precisely ‘accurate’; just as we find with birth charts.

The Death Chart of Charles Manson
Viewing the moment of Manson’s death through the lens of an astrocartography map makes the prominence of this Mars-Pluto Square all the more graphic

Hugh Hefner

The lascivious Hugh Hefner died on the 27th of Sept 2017 while Venus and Mars approached a Conjunction (in the sexy Purva Phalguni Nakshatra), both in close Opposition to Neptune. In fact, Neptune is within a single degree of the Venus-Mars Midpoint, reinforcing the configuration.

Hefner with two Playboy Bunnies

The way that symbolism sums up his life is in fact where this idea really dawned on me for the first time that perhaps your death chart will say no less about your life than your birth chart.

The Death Chart of Hugh Hefner

Neptune’s association with film and photography, combining with sexy Venus Conjunct Mars (in Purva Phalguni), gives you all the elements of Playboy magazine, his ‘life’s work’, right there, neatly summed up. The boisterous social participation, the libido and the creative vitality of Venus Conjunct Mars in regal Leo is locked into an intoxicating dance with bliss seeking Neptune; this can make for art, eroticism, ‘sacred relationships’, ‘sacrificial relationships’, and also an indiscriminate misdirection of life force and lust in a big party. Venus-Mars-Neptune easily yields to sensual temptation, and there’s often a victim somewhere; the euphoria is fragile; hangovers.

The fact that Jupiter and Uranus are in partile Opposition further embellishes on Hefner’s unconventional life: it describes a person who is ever ready for fun and adventure; it’s all one big exhilarating adventure with others; a person with their own unorthodox, liberal and individualistic moral code. Jupiter in cahoots with Uranus can literally manifest as wealth gained through unorthodox projects, lucrative bold ideas, and feeling perfectly comfortable with defying common social taboos. Astrology would almost seem to be saying this person is pretty ‘open minded’, and that’s quite a good thing, because it’s liberating and you see possibilities where other don’t. If Venus-Mars makes for creative vitality, Jupiter-Uranus is the lucrativity and fecundity of bold ideas; this is a lucky rebel.

If we are to delve into zodiacal symbolism at all, it’s tempting to reflect on the possible significance of him dying while Saturn was in Sidereal Scorpio- the same sign it occupied at birth (tropical and sidereal).

The Natal and Death Charts of Hugh Hefner

Saturn in Scorpio can paint a sinister picture in its potential indication of materialistic exploitation of others, and literally sex. There’s no free lunch with Saturn in Scorpio. Beneath the jolly veneer of happy bunnies and good times all round at the Playboy Mansion, the view through the prism of Saturn in Scorpio intimates that the underbelly of this perpetual party at Hugh’s house is not far removed from a type of sexual slavery. It’s worth adding that the same is implied in his natal chart by both the Ladies of the planetary family, Moon and Venus, occupying the 6th House of servitude.

The Natal Chart of Hugh Hefner

Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin died on Christmas Day of 1977. This very famous man, this joker and delightfully silly entertainer died under a Full Moon which was Conjunct Jupiter in sidereal Gemini, opposite the Sun Conjunct Venus and Mercury in sidereal Sagittarius. This is a Full Moon that ties all the merry benefics together, sidereally, in signs that are fond of mirth- and Gemini in particular gives an aptitude for mime and mimicry. Yes, we could probably dig a whole lot deeper, and there are bound to be gems if we were to probe into his life story, but in this Sun-Moon Opposition, this Full Moon that engages all the benefics in mobile, nimble, jovial and clever Mutable Sidereal signs, we have almost the whole of his story synthesized in a neat package; his Cosmic Obituary seems to be declaring eloquently that this person must have been a lot of fun; bright and conspicuous on a canvass of light; seen by all.

The Death Chart of Charlie Chaplin

John Fitzgerald Kennedy

The Cosmic Obituary of John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, is one of the relatively rare cases where we have a time of death, and the finer detail here is intriguing.

In particular, the way it places the Sun close to the Midheaven, and in any whole sign system, tropical or sidereal, the chart contains Saturn in it’s own sign in the 1st House; a clear description of high authority, social status and even quite specifically a political career.

The personable Moon in the 1st House, Sextile both Mercury and Jupiter, shows him as hugely popular, a convincing and effective speaker who inspired hope and faith in the general populace (comparable in fact to the triangle formed between these same planets in the natal chart or Barack Obama, who also has Saturn in Sidereal Capricorn in the 1st ). The trine between Mercury and Jupiter at the time of his death was a mere 4 minutes from exact! He brought a rare degree of honesty to the world of (sidereal Capricorn) politics. In fact, beyond the popularity shown in the rising Moon, we can see in the Conjunction of Venus and Mars in his death chart, again less than a degree from exact, a further description of his disarming personal charisma, not to speak of a virility that is implied in his affair with Marilyn Monroe, for example.

Saturn Square Neptune in JFK’s Death Chart

The nefarious Square of Saturn and Neptune speaks of the hidden devils lurking behind the scenes which he may have prodded too hard with his threats to dismantle covert structures manipulating American politics.

This theme of conspiracy that surrounds his death, and indeed his role as a figure of ‘transpersonal destiny’, is further underlined by the Sun’s Semi-Square (within an impressive 15′ of exact) to the Neptune-Pluto midpoint. The Sun is also within a degree of Conjunct the Saturn-Pluto Midpoint.

The Saturn-Neptune Square is also a potential description of chronic and crippling health problems. JFK was beset with several serious medical conditions that caused him considerable pain and suffering. Saturn’s location in the 1st House, Conjunct the Moon, can indicate physiological vulnerability all by itself, and it serves to link the Saturn-Neptune Square for clearly and directly to the physical body and physical health.

During his time in the White House, despite public indications of continuing back difficulties, Kennedy enjoyed an image of robust good health. But according to the Travell records, medical attention was a fixed part of his routine. He was under the care of an allergist, an endocrinologist, a gastroenterologist, an orthopedist, and a urologist, along with that of Janet Travell, Admiral George Burkley, and Max Jacobson, an émigré doctor from Germany who now lived in New York and had made a reputation by treating celebrities with “pep pills,” or amphetamines, that helped to combat depression and fatigue. Jacobson, whom patients called “Dr. Feelgood,” administered amphetamines and back injections of painkillers that JFK believed made him less dependent on crutches …”

Marilyn Monroe

Marylin Monroe the Sex Symbol

Speaking of Marilyn Monroe, she died when Jupiter and Neptune were within a thin sliver of an exact Trine; that’s a world of glamourous illusion; mountains of money for nothing; a fragile utopia that can also easily evaporate. Film and fantasy. Sweet and kind, and yet a little unrealistic and careless. The Moon was close to Venus in Sidereal Virgo; she may have been the object of everyone’s desire, but romantic fulfilment eluded her. Venus in Virgo can be a ‘sexual servant’ and, in more extreme cases, can point to prostitution or the exploitation of sexuality, while showing little actual gratification. The Sun-Neptune Square in the death chart indicates loss of identity, addiction, disorientation, a sense of drowning in deep waters. You don’t have to look too far here for appropriate symbolism.

The Death Chart of Marilyn Monroe
Marylin Monroe with JFK

To top it off, there is a curious ‘coincidence’ in terms of the principles of astrological synastry that stands out at a glance when you compare the death charts of Marilyn Monroe and her lover, JFK: The Moon in JFK’s death chart is nearly exactly opposite the Sun in Marilyn Monroe’s! If these were regular birth charts it would be a perfect description of mutual attraction and chemistry.

The Death Charts of JFK and Marilyn Monroe revealing a tight Sun-Moon Opposition

Diana, Princess of Wales

Princess Diana died dramatically in a car accident with her lover, Dodi Fayed on the 31st of August 1997.

To be more precise, he was declared dead at the scene of the accident, whereas Diana died some time later in hospital, at 4:00am, in Paris-that’s how it’s recorded.

How apt that the Mother, the ‘Queen of Heaven’, the Moon, should be in the 1st House in her own Sidereal sign, Cancer. Not only does this mean the the Moon is strong (by sign and by house), the 1st House itself in this situation has a very powerful lord; it’s a common feature in the natal charts of famous people to have lord of the 1st House in the 1st House. It gives you a strong personality or persona.

That this queen would be well liked, a ‘queen of hearts’ as it were, is reflected in the very tight Sextile of the Moon and Venus, the powerful engagement of the Moon and Jupiter through Opposition, along with a Trine of Venus and Jupiter. This is social grace and heartfelt generosity and goodwill.

Jupiter in the 7th House, supported by Venus Trine Jupiter, may give you a royal spouse (apart from Prince Charles’s pedigree, Dodi Fayed came from a rich Jupiter in Capricorn family), but the debilitation of Jupiter in the in the 7th indicates some frustration and disappointment also. A cold and formal marriage, a needing to please and serve all the time, is shown in debilitated Venus in Virgo being tightly opposite Saturn. Saturn is close to the Midheaven, which can be a bit like having a strict old crone for a boss.

Mars in the 4th House is worth a mention, inasmuch as the 4th House on a psychological level is your ‘internal foundation’; Mars in the 4th implies the person is internally courageous, a defiant warrior even. Mars in the 4th House speaks of arguments in home and unruly family affairs. This may or may not be taking things too far, but inasmuch as the 4th House in Jyotish relates to cars and vehicles, Mars in the 4th House might even depict car accidents. The essential point here though is that Mars in the 4th House resonates well with Diana’s almost hidden underlying forcefulness, and this certainly became quite a hallmark of her life and career later on, when she became openly defiant towards the oppressive rigidity of her ancestral and matrimonial traditional binds.

That she would non-the-less be an attentive and caring mother is shown in the strength of the Moon, and it’s close aspects to benefits. With such a powerful Moon motherhood was indeed a key to her ‘dharma’. The real difficulties lay elsewhere.

Swami Vivekananda

The famous guru, Swami Vivekananda, to those who know his story, recall that he pioneeringly brought Indian philosophy and religion to the west, starting with his address at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in Sept 1893.

The Death Chart of Swami Vivekenanda

He died on the 4th of July 1902- I don’t have a time for the event. There is a conspicuous triangle between Jupiter, Uranus and Pluto; Uranus and Pluto are in exact Opposition, respectively Sextile and Trine to Jupiter. Jupiter is also tightly Sesquiquadrate Neptune. Yes, he was indeed, in terms of the story of his life, a pious and idealistic religious revolutionary!

Paramahansa Yogananda

Paramahansa Yogananda, founder of the Self Realization Fellowshipand author of the spiritual classic Autobiography of a Yogi, was born under an Opposition of Jupiter and Saturn and died when both these planets simultaneously returned to their natal positions. These simultaneous Jupiter and Saturn Returns were both a strikingly tight 1 degree from exact!

We know that there is a tradition of prophets and great souls being born under Jupiter-Saturn Conjunctions, and I believe it is reasonable to consider much of this potential to be present in an Opposition of these great Elders of the planetary family also. At their best, Jupiter-Saturn types become pillars of society. They energize or become founders of organizations that preserve the social order through education, or through political and economic activity that promotes general social well-being and security. Furthermore, an Opposition of Jupiter and Saturn can describe a partnership (the Opposition is a 7th House aspect) between a ‘priest’ and a ‘materialistic business person’; a partnership between Jovian philanthropic idealism and the clear-eyed stony pragmatism of Saturn.

As Above, So Below: Portly Jovian Yogananda exchanges a glance with James J. Lynn, his Saturnine disciple and benefactor

Indeed this very narrative played no small part in enabling Yogananda, through the help of his disciple, millionaire James J. Lynn, to purchase the near palatial estate in California where Yogananda’s Self Realization Fellowship could take root and blossom in the West. Through the lens of his death chart as a Cosmic Obituary, this reiteration of the Jupiter-Saturn Opposition seems to be a testament to the success of his life’s endeavour: to be an agent for the perpetuation and transmission of ancient wisdom, in the real world; Saturn giving the endeavour a solid form and structure, while a strong Jupiter ensures the essence of the teaching and philanthropic inspiration remains unsullied- at Yogananda’s birth, as well as his death, Jupiter was dignified by it’s location in sidereal Pisces.

Edwin Steinbrecher

Edwin Steinbrecher

Another extraordinary case is that of astrologer Edwin Steinbrecher, author of The Inner Guide Meditation, a book far more interesting and profound than its title initially suggests. The premise is that our entire experience of the outer world, or what we would think of as ‘objective reality’, is the product of our inner world and the primal archetypal forces that operate there. The Inner Guide Meditation presents a method for contacting and engaging with the archetypes via a specific method of visualization, or ‘active imagination’. The Inner Guide Meditation draws on the symbolism of tarot, astrology, kabballa, Jungian archetypal psychology, the I Ching and Taoism.

Finding your true ‘inner guide’ is a crucial first step in that process, and, it may be of interest to mention in passing that according to The Inner Guide Meditation, one of the various ways to establish the veracity of your inner guide is to check for a suitable ‘fit’ through the lens of your 9th House; in Jyotish terms, the house of the ‘Guru’.

The Death Chart of Edwin Steinbrecher

Astro.com’s biographical notes on Steinbrecher mention that:

‘Though he loved Santa Fe, he moved to Los Angeles where his work and teaching could reach more people. With master classes, lectures and personal interviews, he reached and touched the lives of thousands, unfailingly generous and caring.’

It is quite moving to read that he was ‘unfailingly generous and caring‘, and to see that he died under Moon Conjunct Jupiter tightly Quincunx a Conjunction of Sun, Neptune, Mercury and Venus. This symbolism can effortlessly translate as ‘generous spiritual service’. More specifically, with the Conjunction of Sun, Mercury and Neptune, there is a powerful focus placed on the realm of the invisible, mystical and otherworldly, the realm of imagination and visualization. This is a world in which most people get utterly lost and confused, but, see how Saturn and Neptune are within a quarter of a degree of an exact Trine! You will not look far to find interpretations of Saturn Trine Neptune in astrology books describing something like a capacity to ‘keep a balance between fantasy and reality’. Sun and Mercury Trine Saturn is the perfect antidote to the danger of succumbing to Neptunian spiritual delusions; Saturn wants things to work, and if they don’t, Saturn doesn’t want it.

Edwin Steinbrecher worked tirelessly to get as close as possible to the core of reality; that place where the forces that lie behind the symbols we study in astrology reside, and to find a conscious and deliberate way of building a firm bridge between that elusive inner dimension and the place we perceive as ‘reality’, and ‘self’. He died when the heavens described a noble, knowledgeable and articulate person (Moon Conjunct Jupiter in Sidereal Gemini), a person profoundly receptive to subtle influences and realities (Sun, Mercury and Venus all tightly Conjunct Neptune), but with his feet solidly rooted on earth as is possible under these circumstances (the Trines to a rising Saturn Conjunct the Ascendant). As astrologers we might disagree on Zodiacs and House Systems, which is why for the most part I’ve emphasized the Aspect patterns in this exploration of ‘Cosmic Obituaries’, which more often than not speak clearly enough on their own, however, for what it’s worth, at the moment of Edwin Steinbrecher’s death the Sidereal/Whole House chart contained a fitting Parivartana Yoga, or Mutual Reception, between the lords of the 1st and 9th Houses (with a distinct concentration of planets in the 9th House); surely the signature of a ‘true guide’, no?

In Conclusion

From the very first charts I looked at (many of which I’ve shared with you here) since my interest in the astrology of the moment of death was piqued, and in practically every case I have subsequently studied, the Death Chart seems no more difficult to read than the birth chart of the native. It seems the Death Chart is no less descriptive of the person’s life and character and can be read pretty much as you would a natal chart. This seems to be due to one of two reasons; either the time of death does indeed contain more information than we normally as astrologers accord to it, or one can get a fairly convincing reading of a person’s life from more or less any random moment using common astrological logic.

I recall Robert Hand once said that ‘I’ve never cast a chart that was wrong that worked better than a chart that was right’. Random or incorrect charts are almost invariably far harder to read than those that are correctly calculated, and many astrologers will attest to having first hand experience with this, when it happens perchance that one has wrongly entered data, or if the information supplied turned out later to be inaccurate. The consistency of the affirmative results of my initial investigations into Death Charts as Cosmic Obituaries compels me to continue expectantly with this line of research- these charts are just so easy to read and ring true to my astrological ear. That said, this is an unorthodox concept that leads us into the ‘uncharted’ territory of the nature and significance of death, not to speak of questions of astrological technique and the yardstick we use to determine whether an astrological idea or methodology ‘works’.

While aware of the technical and philosophical ambiguities regarding how death charts should be read, and what they reveal, if anything, I offer you these speculative musings as food for thought and to invite further astrological inquiry into the significance of that mysterious moment when we exit this world.