Pholus was the second centaur to be discovered after Chiron. In mythology he uncorks the wine that is 4 generations old which leads to a riot. As well as ancestors, his influence relates to cults.

 

Pholus in astronomy

Orbit of Pholus against orbits of outer planets

  • One of the class of solar system bodies known as centaurs. The second to be discovered after Chiron.
  • Discovered 9th January 1992 at Kitt Peak National Observatory, Arizona.
  • Orbit highly eccentric, crossing the orbits of Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
  • Distance from the sun varies enormously from 32 (Aphelion) to 8.7 Astronomical Units (Perihelion).
  •       1 Astronomical Unit is the average distance from Earth to the Sun. 93m miles / 150m km.
  • Steep inclination to the plane of the ecliptic of 25 degrees.
  • Orbital period 92 years 1 month.

Pholus in mythology

Pholus was a centaur, half-man, half-horse one of a tribe which inhabited the mountains and forests of Thessaly in Greece. In general, they were a pretty wild bunch, well known for their battles and drunken debauchery; in particular the fracas that occurred at the wedding of the king of the Lapiths. But there were a couple of centaurs who were rather more civilized, Chiron being one and Pholus the other.

Pholus was a good friend of Hercules. And one day when Hercules was passing by on the way to one of his labours, he popped into Pholus’ cave to visit his friend. Pholus offered him something to eat. There was a flask of wine that the god Dionysus had gifted to the centaurs for safe keeping. One version of the story is that Hercules persuaded a reluctant Pholus to open the flask. The wine was, after all the sacred legacy of the centaurs and Pholus was its guardian. In the second version Pholus uncorks the flask to offer some wine to Hercules. The third version has Hercules ignoring Pholus’ protests and opening the wine himself.

In any case, the result was that the pungent fumes of the wine wafted out of Pholus’ cave and soon all the centaurs, intoxicated by the smell, wanted a taste and rushed to Pholus’ cave causing a stampede. Hercules reacted by firing off a volley of arrows. But these were poisoned arrows. The poison was from the blood of the Hydra, the beast that Hercules had killed in his first labour.

Pholus was fascinated that such a small thing as an arrow could kill such a large creature as a centaur. He picked one up to examine it. It slipped through his fingers and stuck in his foot where the poison rapidly killed him. Hercules buried Pholus on the mountain Pholoe.

Astrology of Pholus

There are a number of aspects of this story that inform the astrological influence of Pholus. As guardian of the legacy of the centaurs. As instigating a riot. And whose intellectual curiosity led to his death.

I want to focus on the second of these, the intoxication that led to the riot.

The ecstasy of panic. For many people, this expression is an oxymoron (as when Andy Warhol described himself as ‘deeply superficial’). Ecstasy has a meaning of transcendental pleasure, total bliss. Panic is sudden fear. How can the two words possibly go together?

Ecstasy originally meant to stand outside oneself. It comes from Old French estaise (‘ecstasy, rapture’) which comes from Latin ecstasis, which in turn comes from Ancient Greek ékstasis, from exístēmi, ‘I displace’, and ultimately from ek, ‘out’ and hístēmi, ‘I stand’.

When we are in a state of ecstasy, we are outside of ourselves. Outside of our rational faculties and self control, outside of our moral sense and the social conditioning that guides our behaviour… We are literally out of our minds.

Detail of statue of St Teresa by BerniniThe modern use of the word ecstasy is to do with the ultimate pleasure of sex. It’s also the street name for the hallucinogenic drug MDMA, also known as E. Then there is the ecstasy of the mystics which is depicted in this 17th century sculpture by Bernini of the ecstasy of St Teresa of Avila.

 

“I saw an angel beside me toward the left side, in bodily form. He was not very large, but small, very beautiful, his face so blazing with light that he seemed to be one of the very highest angels, who appear all on fire. They must be those they call Cherubim…I saw in his hands a long dart of gold, and at the end of the iron there seemed to me to be a little fire. This I thought he thrust through my heart several times, and that it reached my very entrails. As he withdrew it, I thought it brought them with it, and left me all burning with a great love of God. So great was the pain, that it made me give those moans; and so utter the sweetness that this sharpest of pains gave me, that there was no wanting it to stop, nor is there any contenting of the soul with less than God”. (St. Teresa, Life…Chapter 19).

If you want a musical example, listen to the second symphony of Sibelius, in particular the last movement.

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But the word ‘ecstasy’ has changed meaning over the centuries. In Shakespeare’s time it was more negative, referring to a violent emotion or distraction of mind; excessive grief from anxiety; insanity; madness.

More recently, in the poem ‘Dulce et Decorum’ by the first world war poet, Wilfred Owen an attack of poisoned gas and the panic among the soldiers desperately trying to get their gas masks on is described in a terrifying image as ‘an ecstasy of fumbling’.

Panic displaces us as ecstasy does. Puts us outside ourselves. If you’ve ever been in a panicking crowd (may this never happen to you) you will know what I mean. The sudden fear overwhelms all rational thought. We are outside of ourselves, outside of all our social conditioning. Operating in fight-or-flight mode, in a state of sheer animal survival.

Girls screaming at Beatles concert
Mystical ecstasy at a Beatles concert

As well as fear, this state can come about through intoxication (alcoholic or otherwise) or through religious / mystical agency. The cause may be different, but the effect is the same. The herd instinct takes over. The panic spreads from animal to animal, from person to person. The mass mind takes over. The group becomes a wild horde, a stampede. We are no longer rational individuals. Even the most centred and aware of us are susceptible.

Another example of this ecstasy is the feeling in a crowd at a public execution. A beheading, a whipping, a stoning, a crucifixion even. The crowd is intoxicated, high on bloodlust. They have lost all civilised sensibilities and have become worse than animals for, as far as I know, animals only kill to eat.

If you want to understand the ecstasy of panic from a safe distance, without surrendering your soul, then listen to ‘Panic’ for saxophone, drum kit and orchestra by Harrison Birtwistle which was a succès de scandale at its first performance at a Prom concert in 1995.

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The generational influence of Pholus is more difficult to ascertain. The flask of wine that was opened at Hercules’ behest had been given to Pholus by the god Dionysus 4 generations previously. It was the sacred legacy of the tribe. The fumes that escaped when the flask was uncorked bore the family memory of 4 generations. For us that would be our great-great grandparents. But given that the centaurs also operate in Uranian symmetrical time, we also need to consider the legacy we bequeath to our great-great grandchildren – 4 generations hence,

For those who have family records or memories that go back four generations, it may be possible to divine the connections. This is an area that requires further research.

There is also need for further research into the symbolism of Pholus’ death, when he picked up the poisoned arrow which slipped, stuck in his foot (or hoof rather) and killed him. The dangers of intellectual curiosity…

Case Studies

I’m starting from the premise that the influence of Pholus can be seen both in the charts of leaders or instigators of cults and in the charts of their followers. However, from the point of view of historical record, it’s easier to find the birth details of the former who often achieve celebrity if not notoriety while the latter disappear into anonymity.

That being said, the most likely place to find the significance of Pholus is in the charts of cult leaders, the majority of whom have had a negative impact.

Jim Jones, the leader of the cult that culminated in a mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana in 1978.
Birth data: 22:00, 13 May 1931, Lynn, Indiana.
Pholus exactly on the ascendant in Capricorn. Sun conjunct Chiron in Taurus, Jupiter conjunct Pluto in Cancer.

When a planet or other celestial body is exactly on the ascendant, the native embodies the energy of that body. So, we can say that Jim Jones embodies Pholus. He was a powerful charismatic leader under whose influence 909 cult members (304 of whom were children) committed suicide.

In addition, Jupiter as the spiritual leader was backed up by powermonger Pluto in Jones’s natal chart. This conjunction can go either way. Either providing followers with a deep transformative healing experience, or in this case, manipulating them with a promise of resurrection and leading them to actual physical death.

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L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of The Church of Scientology that many suggest operates like a cult.
Birth data: 02:01, 13 March 1911, Tilden, Nebraska.
Pholus exactly conjunct Jupiter in Scorpio.

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Charles Manson
Birth data: 16:40, 12 November 1934, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Pholus in Capricorn exactly sextile to Jupiter in Scorpio.
Manson never set up a mass movement as Jones or Hubbard did. His cult was a murderous family who he held in thrall with the aid of the hallucinogenic drug LSD.

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Donald J. Trump
45th President of the USA.
Birth data: 10:54, 14 June 1946, Queens, New York
Pholus in Capricorn exactly opposite the midpoint of Venus and Saturn in Cancer.

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A milder, more beneficent side of Pholus can be seen in the following charts:

J.K. Rowling,
the author of the Harry Potter stories that have gathered a cult following.
Birth data: 21:10, 31 July 1965, Yate, England.
Pholus in Aquarius in a wide conjunction with the ascendant.

Edith Piaf
French singer who had a cult following during her life.
Birth data: 05:00, 19 Dec 1915, Paris, France.
Pholus in Sagittarius opposing the Moon in Gemini. (2 degree orb)

I also checked the charts of some recorded riots. The riot at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels at the match between Juventus and Liverpool on 29th May 1985 which led to the deaths of 39 people shows an exact trine between Pholus in Taurus and Neptune in Capricorn. Trines however, are easy angles that do not normally cause stress. Secondly, Pholus and Neptune are two slow-moving bodies so this aspect would have been in orb for a long time and without the trigger of a faster moving planet there is no justification for ascribing the influence of Pholus to this tragedy.

The riot at the premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in Paris on 29th May 1913 shows no planetary connection to Pholus unless the event is given the time of 6pm which gives Pholus rising. This is unlikely as the evening began with a performance of Les Sylphides with the premiere of the Rite being second. For that reason I don’t feel confident in ascribing the influence of Pholus to the event.

At the time of writing there are riots going on in several American cities. These were in response to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25th May 2020 coinciding with an exact conjunction of transiting Pluto with Trump’s natal Pholus. Trump’s skills as a rabble-rouser and fearmonger are considered by many commentators to have fuelled the endemic racism in US society which emboldened the murderer.

Hosea 8:7: “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.”

Pholus keywords

Follows the herd

Prone to panic

Ancestral agenda

Loss of self

Ecstasy

Mass hysteria

Freak out

Intoxication

Addiction

Euphoria

Fearmongering

Cults

 

Ben Belinsky

May 2020

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