Simone Weil (1909-1943): Sublimity and Affliction

Simone Weil (pronounced like “Vey”) died at the age of thirty-four in the middle of the Second World War, leaving behind an extraordinary number of writings ranging from the political to the spiritual, only some of which were published during her lifetime.  Depictions of this women have ranged from the hagiographic to the clinical: to some she was saintly and brilliant and prophetic, to others she was emotionally tortured, self-destructive and made life difficult for those around her.  In fact, she possessed all these qualities.

The astrology of Simone Weil is truly amazing. Astrological techniques from ancient to modern, from psychological to modernist to spiritual, all reveal a wealth of insight about her. Similar to Wolfgang Mozart who died at roughly the same age, one could study her works onto old age. For these reasons reading this profile will take longer than an accompanying beer or a cup of tea, so hunker down for a long ride.

Simone Weil (1909-1943)

My initial inspiration for this profile began from reading an item in the Washington Post entitled “This French intellectual diagnosed America’s political malaise — in 1943.” It was a depiction of her article “On the Abolition of All Political Parties” written in the last year of her life but published after her death.  This inspired me to find and read the article and then was led to learn more about this woman and her work. 

The year is 1943, in the middle of the Second World War when France was occupied by the Nazis. London was the base for the official French resistance. Weil, whose occupation had been as a philosophy professor and occasional writer for leftist periodicals, was working a desk job for them. She had wanted to parachute into France to help behind the lines, but this was rejected – probably because of her unrealistic expectations and her fragile physical condition.  She has also made a proposal for a nurses’ corps along with front lines that was also rejected. Charles de Gaulle, the head of the French resistance movement, thought her to be crazy, although they probably never met. This was a time of amazing productivity for Weil; she may have surmised that she had not much longer to live.

By the beginning of 1943 it had become possible that the allies could defeat the Nazis and her country be liberated, and it was time to think of a reconfigured France. Political divisions within the resistance community were emerging along the same lines as were in France before the Nazis.  Weil had dreaded the creation of a new Gaullist party, feeling that would replace one authoritarian regime (the Nazis) with another.

A Feast for Astrologers, Not for the Native

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Her response was an article advocating that all political parties be legally abolished.  I’d like to share this article by quoting extensively from it, so the reader encounters Weil’s voice directly, albeit in translation (trans. Somon Leys, 2013). You may find her prose to be dense but eminently quotable.

Let’s Abolish All Political Parties

 “Political parties are a marvelous mechanism which, on the national scale, ensures that not a single mind can attend to the effort of perceiving, in public affairs, what is good, what is just, what is true. As a result – except for a small number of fortuitous coincidences, nothing is decided, nothing is executed, but measures that run contrary to the public interest, to justice and to truth. If one were to entrust the organization of public life to the devil, he could not invent a more clever device.” p. 24

Political parties have three essential characteristics:

  1. “A political party is a machine to generate collective passions.”
  2. “A political party is an organization designed to exert collective pressure upon the minds of all its individual members.”
  3. “The first objective and also the ultimate goal of any political party is its own growth, without limit.” (p. 11)

As to the first characteristic, Weil cites the eighteenth-century political thinker Rousseau who held up the idea of the “general will”, that if truth and justice are unitary but passions individual, collective effort could cancel out the differing individual passions and the collective will could be derived from reason alone.  Today, however, we are left with collective passions that are expressed and amplified by political parties.

For the second characteristic, Weil indulges in a little thought experiment. Imagine, she writes, any politician today saying, “Whenever I shall have to examine any political or social issue, I swear I will absolutely forget that I am the member of a certain political group; my sole concern will be to ascertain what should be done in order to best serve the public interest and justice.” Such words would be incomprehensible.  Instead, she argues, it’s more likely that somebody would say, “As a socialist…” or “As a conservative….” and thus short-circuit activity that is truly based on thinking (p. 17).  She likens political parties’ enforcement of conformity to the previous efforts by the Catholic Church to stamp out heresies; indeed, a political party is “a small secular church that wields its own menace of excommunication.” (p. 26)

As for the third characteristic, a political party’s vision, after it has established itself, is kept quite vague, for that would limit what by nature becomes a desire simply for its own expansion and increase in power. We have recently seen that a political party can change fundamental positions as long as the motive for increased dominance continues.

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Toward the end of the article Weil discusses our tendency to substitute thinking for merely being for or against something.  “Nearly everywhere – often even when dealing with purely technical problems – instead of thinking, one merely takes sides: for or against. Such a choice replaces the activity of the mind.  This is an intellectual leprosy; it originated in the political world and then spread through the land, contaminating all forms of thinking.” (p. 34) That was written over seventy-five years ago.

On how to remedy this situation, Weil is far less convincing.  She makes an appeal to direct democracy and a true marketplace of ideas together and outright outlawing of political parties. My view is, in the present United States, we’re all stuck with political parties we have, but maybe we could first abolish the one that more closely matches her assessment of them all.  (We can do a similar procedure in the U.K.)

There’s More in This Short Article

By 1943, however, the scope of Simone Weil’s thought had gone beyond the solely political.  I was initially startled to read a discussion of political life that uses words like “truth” and “justice”, resulting in positions beyond particular viewpoints or to anybody’s immediate advantage.  For our era cursed by all kinds of intellectual and ethical relativism, it was shocking and refreshing to hear from this convinced Platonist.

The Christian thinker in her also comes out.  She evokes Pontius Pilate asking Jesus what truth is.  Weil replies: “Truth is all the thoughts that surge in the mind of a thinking creature whose unique, total, exclusive desire is for the truth.”  (p. 21) She opposes this to “truth plus something else.”

When I turn the page, she tells us how to pursue truth: “It is when we desire truth with an empty soul and without attempting to guess its content that we receive the light.  Therein resides the entire mechanism of attention.” (p. 22, italics mine).  She continues on the following page:

“True attention is a state so difficult for any human creature, so violent, that any emotional disturbance can derail it. Therefore, one must always endeavor strenuously to protect one’s inner faculty of judgment against the turmoil of personal hopes and fears.”  Although one could trace her emphasis on “attention” to Descartes, its contemplative tone has a Zen or otherwise-Buddhist feel to it.

What’s the alternative to attention?  “A [person] who has not taken the decision to remain exclusively faithful to the inner light establishes mendacity as the very centre of his soul. For this, punishment is inner darkness.” (p. 19) If the nature of the human is to seek for and speak from an inner light, our mendacity makes us less human.

She had a tough-minded intellectual and moral vision and her view of our world is not an optimistic one.  There is no progressing accomplishment for humanity, we’ve not gotten better or worse over the centuries, yet amid our blunders and afflictions there are possibilities of grace and love – and truth.

Her Life “Far from the Hot Baths”

There’s not much “normal” about this woman – in a clinical sense or otherwise.  To make my legion of Exemplary people it’s best if you aren’t.  But we need to go further with her and invoke “There is No Sanity Clause” for her. In many respects her life and even her thought reflect the diagnosis of anorexia nervosa, an illness she may have had since childhood. 

Her time in London was miraculous, in a literary sense, but ended her life. Some consider this her best work.

At the time of writing “On the Abolition of Political Parties”, Weil had been in London only a short time, after having been for a few months in New York. She desperately wanted to get back into the action of resisting Nazism in her native country. During this time she also wrote voluminously, including the book-length The Need for Roots that, like almost all of her writings, were published after her death.

Concerned that those in German-occupied France were facing starvation, Weil frequently refused to eat more than the rations assigned to those in her occupied country. This continued into the spring, even after she was admitted to a hospital for a lung condition, where she also refused medical treatment.  Her end was in August, the cause of her death listed as starvation and pulmonary tuberculosis, and “the balance of her mind was disturbed.”

The French-Jewish Wunderkinder

Older brother and younger sister, about 1915

Her early years were remarkable. His father was a well-off doctor and her parents, both Jews from the Alsace-Lorraine region, had fled to France after Germany annexed that area.  Simone was born in 1909, three years after her brother André who would go on to become one of the century’s eminent mathematicians.  (Think TV’s Sheldon Cooper without the comic overlay.) They were both precocious and learned classical Greek together as children. He taught her mathematics and they acted Racine plays together. The siblings were raised in a religiously agnostic but supportive and intellectually vibrant – but perhaps over-controlled — environment.   As a teenager, Simone became depressed that she couldn’t be as smart as her older brother.  Although they often lived apart as adults, they were close throughout Simone’s life. (André died in 1998.)

 It is alleged that their mother was preoccupied with cleanliness and played out her career frustrations by raising two exceptional children.  During her lifetime Simone’s parents frequently helped out when things were most difficult for their daughter. One could easily imagine them imploring her to take better care of herself, even to be a little more normal.  During the last months of her life, Simone misrepresented her conditions to her parents who at the time were living in New York City. After she died her parents never visited their daughter’s grave site but spent years sorting through her writings to present them to the world.

The First World War broke out when Simone was six, her father was drafted, and the rest of the family followed him on his assignments.  Simone, becoming aware of rations that people were forced to live on, went without sugar.  This early sign of empathy would result in similar actions, including those that may have ended her life.  She may have also developed OCD symptoms, obsessed with cleanliness and avoiding physical contact outside her family.  They will also accompany her throughout her life.

Academic Life

Toward the end of the First World War Simone entered a public high school and junior college for girls, and, to nobody’s surprise, performed exceptionally.  (At the age of 10 she also attended her first trade union meeting.)  She was strongly influenced by a philosophy professor who was also a social activist who referred to her she was also the “Martian” because she was clearly from a highly intelligent species from another planet.  In 1919 she declared herself a Bolshevik, although later she would renounce her association with them as Communists became authoritarian and then totalitarian.  Around this time, she began to have severe migraines, another difficulty that would remain throughout her life.

Weil began studying philosophy in the mid-1920s and placed first in the entrance exams for the Ecole Normale Superieure (Simone de Beauvoir was second.)  Her faculty advisor less charitably referred to her as the “Red Virgin” for her involvement in leftist causes and her prudishness. As expected, she continued to advance and perform brilliantly but frequently fought with school authorities. Her teaching career began in 1931 when she was twenty-one, yet she also continued as a political activist, which caused some difficulties with her superiors.  She always lived very simply, donating much of her income to political and charity causes and, especially toward the end of her life, maintaining a most austere lifestyle.

The Professorial Activist

Weil visited Germany in 1932 just before Hitler took power and noted that the leftist political factions would be no match for the brand of resentful nationalism espoused by the Nazis.  She was widely thought to be a communist and an atheist, yet she never joined the communist party and a spiritual life would take off later.  Aside from being involved in the trade union movement in France, she also also sharply criticized her country’s role as a colonial power.

During the early 1930’s her interests expanded to include sociology and political philosophy. After much work advocating for workers’ rights and writing her first major work “Oppression and Liberty” that was also not published until after her death, she decided to experience working conditions for herself.  Her desire to experience the suffering of other, not just think and write about them, was a distinguishing characteristic of this woman.

 Consequently, at the end of 1935 she took a leave from her academic “day job” and applied to work in a factory.  (Famous for never wearing women’s fashions, she was given a make-over for a job interview.  Evidently that was the only time ever that she dressed up conventionally.)

During this time there was much Jupiter activity, but note that Jupiter is in Virgo natally.  By secondary progression, Sun in Pisces opposed Jupiter at this time; transiting Jupiter was in Libra, transiting her cardinal positions, and at the end of the year, in Scorpio, was in square to her Sun. Additionally, Neptune was in Virgo, being engaged with Jupiter during the autumn of 1934 and the first half of 1935.  Only in her twenties, Weil’s world view had expanded to encompass more and more of the difficulties she saw around her.

Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times (1936), a favorite movie of hers

Factory-work was a difficult for Weil, she was dismissed at the first job for working too slowly, but she spent the summer working at a Renault factory assembling cars.  She was neither physically nor emotionally up to this kind of work, yet this helped her develop insight into systemic oppression and soul starvation; she considered the lives of the factory workers to be like slavery in the ancient world.  In May 1935 her decennials changed from a militant Mars-Mercury to a more sobered Mars-Saturn.

Weil resumed her day-job teaching philosophy but was soon on her way to another cause. 

In 1936, the Mars-Saturn decennial continued; Saturn in Pisces, Neptune in Virgo, and Jupiter in Sagittarius would all transit her natal Mars in Sagittarius. Time to go beyond her own borders and attempt to be a soldier.

At this time she endeavored to join the Spanish Civil War for the Republicans, posing as a journalist; although a pacifist, wanting to enter the fighting. She joked that because she was so nearsighted she probably wouldn’t hurt anybody (I’m not sure her fellow soldiers were as sanguine as she.) 

She had joined an anarchist group that was in combat but, due to the nearsightedness, she accidentally stepped into a pot of hot oil and injured her leg.  She was treated for this wound but left Spain with her parents after only a few months.  She also departed disenchanted with her leftist comrades, having witnessed atrocities by her compatriots and feeling that their proposed solutions were too narrow or were counterproductive. “Revolution”, she wrote, “is the opiate of the people” — not religion, as Karl Marx wrote.

Religious Conversion – On Her Terms

The cathedral in Assisi

Her health deteriorating further, Weil took leave from work to recuperate and to travel.  Mid-1937 brought her to Assisi, visiting the chapel famous for being where St. Francis prayed.  At that time, she had her first religious/spiritual/mystical experience.  (Her Astrocartography map has the Neptune-Descendent line through that area of Italy. She had an experience of God being present with her.)  Other experiences like this would happen during her lifetime as her interests turned toward matters of spirituality.

The chapel in the cathedral in Assisi

Although attracted to Roman Catholicism and spending much time in their places of contemplation, she refused to be baptized, even on her deathbed.  She didn’t want to inhibit her mental objectivity by joining anything, and strongly questioned the Church’s teaching that only those baptized in the Church could be saved.  Additionally, she never forgave their persecution of those designated heretics, particularly the Cathars in Southern France.  She felt that many religions contain essential truths, not just Roman Catholicism.

Exile and Final Years

Weil’s life has an accelerating quality, an arc of increasing intensity to her death: her final years were her most productive and most influential after her death.  In 1938 her headaches had become worse and she took a leave from her teaching position (she would never return).   

She began spending time in a Benedictine monastery and her writings took on more spiritual dimensions.  Her interests in spiritual traditions included eastern traditions: she studied the Bhagavat-Gita and endeavored to learn Sanskrit. Later researching in the New York Public Library, she read with interest about the Tibetan Buddhist sage Milarepa who had a proclivity for an austere life style (and a diet of nettles).  Even though spiritual traditions had their validity she opposed combining them, for they would lose their individual wisdom and potency.

During this time Uranus in Taurus was forming a square to her Sun, promoting new lines of thought and self-identity, and transiting Jupiter was in the same degree of her natal Mercury in Aquarius.  Promoting her new appreciation of Christianity was her progressed Venus entering Pisces at the end of 1938,bringing out for her a more devotional side; additionally,  in July 1939 progressed Sun was in exact trine to Neptune.

The winds of war were also beginning to gather.  Weil endorsed the idea of compromising with Hitler and supported Neville Chamberlain’s efforts, but when the Nazis entered Prague in the spring of 1939 she renounced pacifism, for there was a larger and more insidious enemy in Nazi totalitarianism.  Later she would feel enormously guilty about her previous position.

At the end of 1939 her decennials entered a fertile Mars-Jupiter phase that corresponded with her conceiving and writing “The Illiad as the Poem of Force”, a seminal article that will conclude this essay.

Weil, and many others, took lightening-quick defeat of France by the Nazis in 1940 as a national and personal insult

In May 1940, France was defeated and then occupied by the Nazis, an event that she and others felt as a shock and lingering national disgrace.   Now fearing for their lives as a Jewish family living in Paris, she and her parents moved to Vichy-governed southern France, and later in the year from Toulouse to Marseilles. 

Her final years as a wartime exile began with transiting Saturn in Taurus, later joined by Jupiter in Taurus, square to her Sun in Aquarius. 1940 also ended with her decennial major ruler changing from Mars in Sagittarius to Venus in Capricorn.

In Vichy-held Marseilles, her being of Jewish ancestry prohibited her from formal teaching positions. She spent her time researching, writing, and distributing anti-Nazi literature for which she was detained several times but let go.  She also befriended the head of a Dominican monastery there, who send her to find work on the farm of Gustave Thibon, north of Marseilles.  There she worked on the grape harvest, contemplated and studied (especially Indian philosophy) and engaged in long discussions on philosophy and religion.

When she left Marseilles she left behind many notebooks that were compiled by Thibon into the book-length Gravity and Grace that was published after her death.  The beginning of 1941 was also her progressed Full Moon denoting a time of increased understanding and perspective.  It seems no coincidence that the last three years of her life were her most intellectually productive and complete.

By 1942, as the scope of what would become the Holocaust was extending, life for her and her family in southern France was becoming untenable.  She and her parents left for Morocco from where they go to the United States; Simone had no desire to move to the United States, but her parents wouldn’t leave unless she did.  She considered New York City merely as a springboard to return to Europe. After six months living with her parents on Riverside Drive, connections got her a role with the French Resistance, she moved to London by herself and spent the last year of her life in England.  

As she was getting ready to move to London, progressed Mars was in trine to progressed Jupiter and, five days later, Pluto had gone stationary direct by progression.  Transiting Jupiter in Cancer was transiting her cardinal positions from the autumn of 1942 until mid-1943, by which time her productivity had ended due to illness. These progressions and transits, together with a Venus-Sun then a Venus-Mercury decennial, accompanied her months of frenzied work, frustrated involvement with the Resistance and its leadership, and her terminal illness.

Appropriately, Simone Weil’s grave site is between the Jewish and Catholic portions of the cemetery

If you’ve been attending to Weil’s astrological chart alongside this short depiction of her life, you’ve certainly noticed Sun and Mercury in Aquarius that goes well with the ideal of a dispassionate and impersonal search for clarity and truth and a strong interest in the large-scale cultural and ethical dimensions of our lives.

 Ancient astrologers might also note the Sun and Mercury being in the “Place of the Moon Goddess” in the Third House.  This would attest to her later spiritual leanings and her inclination to a contemplative way of life.

Probably you have also also noticed Moon in Cancer strongly connected to both Neptune (conjunction) and Uranus (opposition), and there’s much to say about it. 

Whole Sign Houses and Simone Weil’s chart

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When Simone Weil was born, her Ascendant was in the last degrees of Sagittarius, at the ecliptic’s most southern area of the sky, close to overhead on the latitude of the Tropic of Capricorn. In the Northern Hemisphere, the distance between the rising degree and the culminating degree (the Midheaven) is small, especially forty-nine degrees north of the equator, and in Weil’s chart the distance is a bit less than sixty degrees.  In this case, using Whole Sign Houses, in which the entire sign Sagittarius is the First House and so on in the order of the zodiac, results in planet placements very different from “quadrant” house systems such as Placidus or Koch.  My work over the years has shown me that Whole Sign Houses give a clear and accurate picture of what one carries into a lifetime.  This is especially so when we look at this woman’s astrological chart.

Mars, in the same sign as the Ascendant in Sagittarius, is in the First Whole-Sign House even though it’s fourteen degrees preceding the Ascendant degree and would be in the Twelfth in a quadrant system.  Additionally, Jupiter in Virgo is far from the Midheaven degree but is in the Tenth Whole Sign House.  The resulting angular configuration of Jupiter and Mars is wholly appropriate to this woman’s astrological chart. 

My Favorite “Martian”

We begin with the perspective of ancient astrology.  Mars is in sect in Weil’s nocturnal chart and is also oriental and in close sextile to the Sun.  Mars looks ahead to the Sun and is in a dominant position.  Together with her Ascendant in Sagittarius, this attests to a fierce woman who needed to supplement her academic work with action in the world that, she hoped, could make a difference.  We also note the polemical Mars-like nature of much of her writing. In spite of a sometimes saintly demeanor, Weil could be argumentative and difficult, especially with authority figures and those who loved her. 

The South Node of the Moon is also very close to her Ascendant degree and a traditional reading of the South Node may point to her physical fragility and, in Sagittarius, her fabled clumsiness.  Otherwise, there was nothing particularly unusual about her interactions with others: she had some close personal friends and many with whom she exchanged correspondence.  From what I can gather, her sometimes pessimistic outlook didn’t interfere with close engagement with others and may have enhanced it. She was known to try to teach Plato and Greek philosophy to people working on a farm with her, and I tend to think that others appreciated her oddness. 

Jupiter in Virgo governs her Ascendant and is the planetary dispositor for Mars.  Although in the powerful Tenth House, Jupiter here is wholly out of sect (a diurnal planet in a nocturnal chart, in the “feminine” sign Virgo), and is in detriment in a sign known for fussiness and shortened conceptual horizons. Ancient astrologers would note a dominating square from Jupiter to Mars, signifying that the large planet calls the shots over the red planet. This effect would be stronger for Jupiter being in the Tenth House.

Jupiter’s placement in Virgo does give unusual possibilities.  We can think of the Mercurial nature of Virgo, tending toward sharp analysis and intensely disliking shallow or unreflective opinions.  Her Platonism never veered into fantasy but remained wholly in touch with the day-to-day circumstances and difficulties we all have.  Like a few others in my legion of Exemplary Individuals, Weil continually asked herself what she could do about the injustices and situations of deprivation she encountered.  Although there were major themes in her thinking and writing, she never established a “system” but remained inquisitive to the end of her life — although there were some blind spots. Finally, it’s difficult not to think of refusing food for political reasons as a fine example of Jupiter in Virgo.

Although Weil’s compassionate attitude is evident from her life, her writings, and abundantly from her chart, her combination of Mars and Jupiter in Sagittarius and Virgo didn’t exempt her from being judgmental.  This is particularly evident in her treatment of historical periods, where she likens the Roman Republic/Empire to the “Great Beast”, the medieval Catholic Church corrupted by Romanism, and that Hitler’s Fascism was mere an extension.  She contrasted the “true” renaissance of medieval southern France (before the suppression of the Albigensian religion) to the “false” renaissance that began in fifteenth-century Italy. 

Most startling of all, considering her Jewish family background, was her dismissal of “Hebraism” as a form of religious nationalism. She tried, mightily to bind the Christian revelation with Greek philosophy, to sever create a distance from its Jewish roots. (I also add that Jupiter in Virgo is the ruler of Weil’s Fourth House of the “father’ – the ancestral as well as familial legacy.)  Her attitudes toward Judaism have been a source of controversy about her, especially in the light of the Holocaust that was developing around her during her final years.  Yet, like Malcolm X whose thinking was also evolving when he was tragically killed too young, Simone Weil’s views were a work in progress interrupted by her death. Yet this remains a limitation: there are no “mulligans” after you die.

To strike an ancient pose, two of the Hellenistic Lots (later called “Parts”) based on the Lots of Fortune and Spirit are prominent in her chart.  The Lot of Nemesis uses the arc from the Lot of Fortune to Saturn and denotes exceptional difficulties that are usually the result of overreaching pride.  The standard symbol for this Lot is the planet Saturn within a circle, and you see that it’s the same degree as her Jupiter! 

Conversely, the Lot of Victory is derived from Jupiter to the Lot of Spirit and that’s the same degree as Saturn!  If you look at her essay on the Illiad that will close this essay, her vision of the human condition of suffering and affliction is unparalleled and worthy of the poet of the Illiad.  At the same time her austere style of life happened within a context of participating in a larger world with a larger vision (Lot of Victory?)

Note the partile conjunctions of Jupiter to the Lot of Nemesis, Saturn to the Lot of Victory

Mercury – or is it Hermes or is it Thoth?

For one whose way of life centered around thinking and writing and whose works have a prophetic dimension, Mercury must be important.  It’s in late Aquarius and in sect (following the Sun in Weil’s nocturnal chart). Mercury is in its own triplicity here and thus has a measure of essential dignity – it’s comfortable being itself.  Mercury is not only the dispositor of Weil’s all-important Jupiter but that of the Lot of Spirit in Gemini. This Lot concerns itself with one’s stance toward life and the world.

Ptolemy’s Tetrobiblos likens Mercury stationary retrograde in a nocturnal chart to Mercury on the MC.  (See my Astrological Roots, p. 183-4).  This would give Mercury further prominence although in a night chart and may have an enhanced introverted contemplative dimension.

Mercury is in a partile (to the degree) sextile to Weil’s Ascendant degree (A 5 AM birthtime could be rounded off, yet the French were meticulous about these things and Weil’s father was a doctor.)  In its close sextile to the Ascendant, Mercury in Aquarius becomes part of how she presents herself to the world.  Since for Aquarius the personal is often the political and the political often the personal, the aspect to the Ascendant seems to contribute to her presentation in the world. We also note Pluto adds its dark coloring to Mercury. 

Moon and its Accompanying Planets

Moon is in and governs the Eighth House of death.  We need not get too morbid about this placement: the Eighth House, like the Sixth and Twelfth, are in signs disjunct from the sign of the Ascendant: if the rising degree and House represent the vitality and personal advantage of the native, then these three places denote what can impede vitality and advantage. In this woman’s case, the contrary activity was her urge to sacrifice herself. Yet there is something quite direct about the Moon’s House placement and her manner of death. 

According to our normal understanding of Moon in Cancer, it’s difficult to imagine somebody whose life was so frugal, could refuse food and who had no hesitation about putting herself in harm’s way when she felt the cause was just. Moon’s conjunction with the Lot of Fortune signifies this planet’s importance to how the world presented itself to her.

Can a person with anorexia have Moon in Cancer?  This illness comes with a fascination or obsession with all matters of eating and food in its plenitude — and/or its lack. Moon in Cancer can also have an emotional theatricality that sometimes accompanies anorexia.  (We may also factor in her Saturn in Aries, in fall, that may tend toward being too strident in self-discipline, yet she maintained her austere life-style from youth.)

An essentially dignified Moon, also wholly in sect, may correspond with Weil’s desire to experience the lives of others, not just to think or write about it.  This brought her to activity beyond her physical or emotional tolerance level – as a factory worker, as a soldier in the Spanish Civil War, and, unsuccessfully, to propose to parachute into Nazi-occupied territory, even be a front-line nurse on the battle front.  To use Tennyson’s line about Ulysses, she endeavored to become part of all that she met. 

Her demonstration of compassion was not to write checks or sign petitions but to suffer in parallel with others. It’s an odd but not contrary expression of Moon in Cancer, especially when you consider the influence of the outer planets on it.

Neptune’s conjunction with the Moon and Uranus’ opposition emphasize her politically minded asceticism – although there are many people with similar configurations without these qualities. Neptune with Moon, at its best, can bring out a kind of impersonal compassion, a mystical nature and diminishing of the self (not an unmixed blessing for many); the Uranus opposition brings out unpredictability, out-of-the-box responses, and willfulness. Indeed, to normal people like her parents who just wanted her to stay alive longer, she must have been very difficult for them.

Venus in the Caboose

Moon’s applying aspect is to Venus in Capricorn, further tied to the Moon by also being in the Moon’s triplicity.  This is a deliberate Venus but made unorthodox by its conjunction with Uranus. As is likely obvious by now, Simone Weil didn’t exhibit much of a nature we would call sexual: no marriages or boyfriends or girlfriends, not much longing that we know of for normal sexual activity. 

Instead, Weil was a great admirer of Plato’s Symposium with its depiction of love that transcends the worldly into the eternal. She was also greatly inspired by the Christian revelation – the world’s creation, incarnation, and crucifixion – that were, according to her, expressions of God’s universal love.  She also appreciated the medieval troubadours’ love poetry as pertaining to “impossible love”, as opposed to worldly romance.

Weil had a strong eye for and unique perspective on literature and art.  Yet these seemed subordinate to her ethical vision – she expected great art and literature to educate and ennoble, not just entertain.  There is a stream of this attitude throughout the Western tradition beginning with – wait for it – Plato.

There’s Even More: Let’s Go Modern

Anything you throw at this woman’s astrological chart reveals more about it.  It’s useful to look at her astrological chart multi-dimensionally.

Mars and Neptune are in contra-antiscia: they are symmetrical to the Aries-Libra axis or the “Aries Point”.  If you look at the Mars-Neptune planetary pair from my favorite astrology cookbook, Reinhold Ebertin’s Combination of Stellar Influences, the author lists physical difficulties of irritability, weakness and lack of energy and a state of feeling unsatisfied. Under “psychological correspondences” we find the control of feelings and passions through mental attitude or spiritual aspirations or failures due to lack of planning or lack of energy.  I again add the self-sacrificing nature of this planetary combination.

Midpoints that involve Neptune include its being the midpoint of Sun and Mars (now we’re getting redundant!) and that Sun is also the midpoint of Jupiter and Neptune that could be visionary or dreamily idealistic. (We’ll discuss their aspect configurations below.)

Of the non-Ptolemaic aspects, the quintile and its divisions seem to be quite important.  Modern astrologers will look at planetary relationships that divide into seventy-two degrees as denoting ability to combine factors that seem disparate from one another, to fashion something new out of materials already existing. 

Weil’s chart tuned to divisions of 5 (72 degrees of the circle)

The accompanying chart is the same as before, except the aspects are all “fifth harmonic” or divisions or multiples of seventy-two.  You’ll notice that Mars and Mercury are exactly seventy-two degrees apart and both planets are configured with the Moon.  Both planets are 144ﹾ (seventy-two times two) from the Moon, forming a powerful configuration that brings together mind, emotion, and activity and testifies to her peculiar genius.  In a Fifth Harmonic chart, Mars and Mercury would appear in conjunction and Venus in opposition.  (In such a chart we’re not concerned with sign or house placement – only aspects.)

You may also notice that Venus is thirty-six degrees from both Mercury and Mars (what’s called the decile, one-tenth of the full circle).  Venus adds to the mix her love for art and literature and a love for love – if the love isn’t too physical. 

With clients as well as historical figures, I often also look at the ninth harmonic aspects and harmonic chart: as three times three, the trines of ease and comfort can become cubed into transformative inspiration.  This becomes very interesting for those who have psychic abilities or strong spiritual inclinations. 

Allowing the readers to figure out the arithmetic for themselves, Simone Weil’s ninth harmonic chart reveals two potent factors.  Mercury and Uranus are conjunct, revealing a love for thinking and for ideas without reference to convention or received opinion.  Combining many of the themes of her radical astrological chart, Moon, Jupiter, and Mars are all in trine to one another, bringing together perspective, personal responses, and inspired activity.

A “Karmic” Lifetime?

All lifetimes are “karmic’, strictly speaking, although some seem more blatantly so than others.  What follows are features of Weil’s chart that I do not use in my client work but may be of interest to others.

An aspect configuration – or grouping of planets in a geometrical relationship – can show some overall characteristics of the natal chart and the person’s life, and the “yod” or “Finger of God” is considered particularly karmic.  Weil’s chart contains two of them, and both contain the planet Neptune – associated with higher consciousness, devotion and self-sacrifice, and delusion.

The Sun is related by quincunx (150 degrees or 5/12 of the circle) to Jupiter and Neptune (in sextile) and we have previously spoken of the importance of both planets in Weil’s chart.  It is commonplace for astrologers to call Jupiter “religion” and Neptune “spirituality”, and it’s clear that she tried mightily to synthesize both into something true to her philosophical background and her personal experience of the divine nature.  We can also look at this combination, as Reinhold Ebertin does, as indicating physical weakness and self-delusion, yet he also depicts this combination as “a love of humanity, idealism, mysticism, an interest in art.”

Note the two triangular figures called “yods”

The second yod involves Neptune, here at the base of a Sun-Mars combination.  One could interpret this clinically, depicting weakened energy and will to live, yet the fiery nature of Weil’s Mars is evident from her polemical writings and from all who knew her personally. We can also see a person’s life energy channeled through Neptune’s blurring of personal boundaries creatively into a heightened sense of suffering of others and a desire to do something about it, even if it meant suffering in the same manner – or attempting to.

For ideas of evolution through lifetimes, some astrologers look at the Lunar Nodes and/or Pluto. Since this style of astrological analysis is somewhat popular at this time, it’s important to give it a look.

The Lunar Nodes signifying the places of trauma from previous lifetimes or habitual patterns in this lifetime (South Node) and of evolutionary arc or path of growth (North Node).  From this point of view the conjunction between her South Node and Ascendant in Sagittarius could signify a dogmatic or overly conceptual point of view that she imposed on others (note the closeness of Mars), yet the North Node is in Gemini conjunct Pluto that is more fluid but driven.  Nobody could dispute the intensity and self-destructiveness of this woman.

Pluto conjunct the North Lunar Node, from Jeff Greene’s Pluto: The Evolutionary Journey of the Soul: “The individual has been working to transform the area represented by the house and sign locality of conjunction within the last few lifetimes and is meant to continue in that direction.  Every other contributing factor in the birth chart will be channeled or focused through the North Node conjunct Pluto.  The principle of Pluto’s polarity point does not apply in this particular condition.” (p. 18)

How might she have lived in less destructive times than the first half of the twentieth century? I suspect she would have continued to find people whose burden in which she could participate, to ask fundamental and very uncomfortable questions, and, to quote Tennyson’s Ulysses, to “drink life to the lees (the last drop or dregs).”

I will leave Weil’s Chiron placement (22 Aquarius) to others better qualified to discuss this planet.

A Wartime Classic

 I close with an account of her masterful article,” The Illiad or the Poem of Force” that she wrote as World War Two was beginning.  It displays both her strong sensitivity to the universality of human suffering and the shafts of light that also belong to us. Warfare simply provides us the most clear image of the triumph of force and its consequences.   Let’s look at the article’s opening, sentence by sentence.

“The true hero, the true subject matter, the center of the Illiad is force.”  Immediately Weil takes on the standard interpretation of the poem as a glorification of the hero.  She immediately spots the fact that what we call heroic valor and endurance is in truth a temporary intoxication by force that will not relax its grip and will eventually turn back on the “hero” himself.

She adds, “The force that men wield, the force that subdues men, in the face of which human flesh shrinks back.”  Warfare embodies the most blatant and literal application of force, yet it is an extreme degree of all kind of oppression and its tendency to intimidate and to subdue.  She includes the submissive attitude of the suppliant who is begging for his life at the mercy of the victor standing over him, and the condition of the slave whose body is an object of use and whose soul withers inside.

“The human soul seems ever conditioned by its ties with force, swept away, blinded by the force it believes it can control, bowed under the constraint of the force it submits to.”  Application of force diminishes both parties, the subdued one only more obviously.  Force, as she says later, “petrifies the souls of those who undergo it and those who ply it” (paragraph 62).  Over and over again, the victor is victorious only for a short while, the moment of triumph turns into fear, and eventually even Achilles will fall victim. 

“Those who have supposed that force, thanks to progress, now belongs to the past, have seen a record of that in Homer’s poems: those wise enough to discern the force at the center of all human history, today as in the past, find in the Illiad the most beautiful and flawless of mirrors.”  Weil defeats the idea that we’re better than in the days of Homer, that force is not only back then but is with us today, with the same dynamic and the same consequences.  Weil’s excursion into literary criticism is also an indictment of the modern age and our illusions of progress.

She continues: “Force is that which makes a thing of whoever submits to it.  Exercised to the extreme, it makes the human being a thing quite literally, that is, a dead body.”  Consider the Greek word anima that meant soul, the principle of being alive.  We also know that being “alive” means far more than just not being dead. When Weil was working in a factory, she noted that the assembly line made people into machines, that workers eventually became weak and submissive and petty; when one country makes a colony of another, one country subdues the other with the same consequences.  Homer’s poem is a beautiful and flawless mirror of this basic human condition.

“In wielding their power they never suspect that the consequences of their actions will affect them in turn.” (paragraph 34)

Toward the end of her article Weil reveals the possibilities of openness and compassion.  She mentions the only character in the Illiad who seems to transcend the indifference and soul-numbing effects of force; Achilles’ best friend Patroclus.  For the most part these possibilities emerge only briefly but, toward the end of the epic, they will have a final word. 

She begins: “A tedious gloom would ensue where there not scattered her and there some moments of illumination – fleeting and sublime moments when men possess a soul.” (paragraph 63) These moments are during fleeting moments of self-deliberation when facing mortal danger, moments of love between relatives, a purity of marital love, regard and reciprocity between a guest and a host, love between comrades in arms, and between mortal enemies as in the poem’s conclusion.  There is no form of pure love among men, Weil states, that is not found in the poem. 

Yet in the background all the victors will become vanquished, the city of Troy will fall, and things will turn out badly even for the conquerors: such is the background of the story of the Trojan War that Homer drew upon.

Yet force – and the force of necessity – are part of the human condition and are even prerequisite to a transcending love.  “It is impossible to love and to be just unless one understands the realm of force and knows enough not to respect it.” (paragraph 82) 

On the last pages she expands her horizons.  She speaks of “pitiless necessity” and how it afflicts the soul and that virtue and grace can preserve it, but how easy it is to lie or minimize or devalue the naked reality of our affliction — and sell ourselves short.  She states that “nothing is more rare than a just presentation of misfortune.”  She has found this in Homer and also in the Christian Gospels, especially in the passion of Christ, in the “revelation of human misery in a being at once divine and human.” (paragraph 82)

The Illiad’s sublime conclusion as enemies reconcile — for a moment


Weil concludes her essay by noting the rarity by which the human condition is truly presented in literature in the modern era, but Europe has never produced anything matching its first poem.  She ends with these words: “They will perhaps rediscover epic genius when they learn to believe nothing is protected from fate, learn never to admire force, not to hate the enemy nor to scorn the unfortunate.  It is doubtful whether this will soon occur.”  These four conditions appear to help us survive our own humanity, perhaps to flourish.

As in the article on the “Abolition of All Political Parties”, we stop at the gate of her spiritual and theological writings. They fiercely apply intellect and compassion to questions of fundamental concern.  Her brand of Christianity brings us back to the schools of Christianity that were alternative to what would eventually prevail, having a strong connection with Gnostic teachings and, as mentioned above, with that of the medieval Cathars.  I invite the interested reader to explore them on his or her own.

Afterward: No Sanity Clause

After her death her parents and friends strove to preserve and edit the vast treasure of writings she left behind, her works have been published in the decades after the War, and this has spawned a cottage industry of evaluations of her work and her character.

There is a tendency to ignore the more pathological aspects of her character or to reduce the brilliance of her teachings to the outpourings of a mentally ill individual.  There is the possibility, however, that the extremity of her mind, imagination, and emotional make-up allowed her access to the human condition more immediate and more profound than we will accomplish in this lifetime. 

I can accommodate the image of Simone Weil as a disturbed individual and a profound thinker and human being. I hope my reader can also do so.

Forever the master of the contrasting and the paradoxical
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