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Book Review: Chiron-Healer and Wholemaker by Zane Stein

When contacted by Zane Stein to write a review for his book on astrology’s Chiron I was hesitant: I replied to him, “I use Chiron only when it jumps up and yells at me.”  Although familiar with the mythical background for Chiron, I find it difficult to apply its astrology to my clients and in other interpretive work.  Perhaps, I thought, this book could help mitigate my Chiron-challenge.

What arrived later that week was a thick book, more a reference book than one to read cover to cover, perhaps more about Chiron than you want to know.  Usually the books I receive for review are complex and difficult but thought-provoking, and this one is no exception.  I am grateful for Zane Stein’s discussions of trauma and woundedness, healing and wholeness, for they have greatly stimulated my own thinking on these important matters.  

What is Chiron for? 

Or, as Stein would ask, “Why do we need Chiron?” 

The Introduction discusses some psychodynamics of early childhood to include more recent neurological investigations of trauma.  I will say more about the Introduction later.

At the end of the Introduction, Stein states: “Chiron will show us where the wound is, where the break occurred, and then, what the person must do to see the true reality, begin to heal and to focus on becoming whole.” (p. 31) Stein looks at Chiron tells us of our woundedness or trauma, our paths of healing, and also brings in the idea of a “bridge” or “doorway”.  

The realities of our lives seem more complicated. Chiron cannot be in every sign and house, nor can it aspect every planet. Is there but one kind of wound that is signified by Chiron or is woundedness and healing biproducts of our essential vulnerability as human beings on this planet? 

The following chapter presents the chart of Shirley Mason, better known to us as “Sybil” with sixteen discrete personalities. (Fragmentation and dissociation, as standard responses to trauma, fits in nicely here.) Within this chapter Stein tells us this about Chiron’s movements through the signs of the zodiac, as manifesting in astrological charts of individuals born under these signs for Chiron:

“As Chiron passes through each sign, it shapes the nature of crises that must be dealt with, and there is an urgency about the issues that arise. People are highly focused on problems that cannot be put aside because they need an immediate solution.  In varying degrees, everyone is trying to solve problems, overcome blocks, and keep things from falling apart in areas represented by Chiron’s current sign.” (p. 38)

No Stone Unturned

The strongest feature of this book is its wealth of information about the astronomy, the nature of its discovery and the sources of related mythology, Chiron cycles and transits, applications to mundane and horary astrology, depictions of Chiron through signs, houses, configured with other planets and points and asteroids, an ephemeris of Chiron’s nodes, and concludes with a series of previously published articles on the Centaurs.  When Stein discusses Chiron through the houses, he includes midpoints between two angles. When he discusses aspects of planets and personal sensitive points with Chiron, he includes eighth harmonic aspects (including semi-squares and sesquiquadrates) and aspects involving fifth, seventh, and ninth harmonics. 

In his endeavor to transmit as much knowledge of Chiron as possible, Stein provides many example charts of contemporary or historical figures, including the cast of “Monty Python.”  (I assume this one was a labor of love.)

Another strong feature of this book is its engaging and conversational writing style.  It is well-suited to our current age of reading through scrolling, and some authors – like me – could do well to write closer to his style.

Some Problems

Stronger connective tissue is needed between chapters.  The Introduction does not mention Chiron or even astrology until the very end of the article. Chapter One presents the astrology of “Sibyl” and an artist born at the same time. What follows is a discussion of the astronomy of Chiron and its discovery, then Stein continues with “surrealism”, a “super realism” that is also of the nature of Chiron; subsequent chapters are about alternative healers and then there’s a discussion of the mythological background to Chiron.  The reader is left not with a unified picture but different sets of possibilities.  For somebody “Chiron-challenged” like me, this creates difficulties discerning what this planet/asteroid/comet is really about. For the Chiron-cognoscenti, however, it may open up new possibilities. 

The formatting and page layouts leave much to be desired.  There are no headers to help the reader thumb through the different chapters, variation of style and size of typeface are minimal, and the charts depicted may require a higher intensity of reading glasses or a magnifying glass.  In the discussions related to mundane astrology, the maps provided are unreadable.

Stein’s exhaustive “cookbook” treatment of Chiron in aspect to planets and positions uses so many different possibilities that, based solely on arithmetic, everybody has important Chiron aspects in their natal charts. The best astrology cookbooks are wonderful devices to learn astrological symbolism in application. If the fundamental ideas are clearly stated, their depictions allow the astrologer to clarify his or her own thinking and come up with relevant applications specific to the situation at hand.  Although occasionally Stein “nails it”, I was left dizzy and overwhelmed.

Sampling a Chart Illustration – C. J. Jung

Stein devotes an entire chapter to Jung’s background, his use of the symbolism of the “wounded healer’ in psychotherapy, a depiction of Chiron in Jung’s natal chart and the influence of the Chiron cycle in his life. Since so many of Stein’s potential readers will be familiar with the life and work of Jung, his would be an appropriate chart through which to illustrate the ideas and language employed in this book. This will give a flavor of his content and style.  

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Stein begins the chapter discussing Jung’s childhood conflicts with a father with an “unhealable wound” and a subliminally frightful mother and continues Jung’s application of the archetype of “wounded healer” to the work of a psychotherapist.  The natal analysis begins with much discussion of Jung’s Chiron placement in the 3rd House.

“People who have Chiron in the 3rd house have a deep wound when it comes to how they think and communicate.  Perhaps they were castigated for not “thinking right” or for the way they expressed themselves.” (p. 145) Then, invoking Fritz Perls (a founder of Gestalt Therapy), he depicts this House as having to do with the boundaries between oneself and the environment, what Gestalt Therapy theory calls the “contact boundary.”

This gave me two difficulties, corresponding to these respective depictions of the 3rd House.  Stein interprets the Houses attributes qualities to a planet in the 3rd that, at least to me, rightfully belongs to Mercury.  Although not as talented a writer as his former mentor Freud, Jung’s Mercury in Cancer in felicitous sextile to Moon in Taurus gave a personal and sympathetic style to his communication – something his former mentor did not possess.  The depiction of so many Gemini-like characteristics to the 3rd House make me suspect that he has not quite escaped the influence of the so-called Twelve-Letter Alphabet.

I also wonder about the attribution of the boundary of contact to the 3rd House: at least to me, this more appropriately belongs to the Ascendant and 1st House.  For it is the horizon axis through which one encounters the world as a participant. Then I looked at his depictions of the 1st, and on page 174 we read that the wound here is of “personal identity” and that issues of realizing that one is a maverick and self-acceptance is essential. To me this feels too intrapsychic although others may be fine with it.

Jung has Chiron in Aries. Depicting this placement for Jung, Stein states that this is about self-expression and controlling one’s aggressiveness and that of others.  This seems fine – maybe too Mars-like, but how does it apply to Jung and his natal chart, since he also has Saturn in Aquarius in the 1st?  Some synthesis seems appropriate here.  (Mars is in Sagittarius with sextiles to both Jupiter in Libra and Saturn in Aquarius: aggressiveness would not appear to be an issue.)

What piqued my interest was Stein’s discussion of Chiron opposite Jupiter, as this aspect is also in my own natal chart (in different signs). Stein emphasizes one having a broader perspective, “that its natives can usually develop an incredibly complete insight into the nature and doings of some particular kind of person, or the workings of a particular philosophy.” (p. 149)

Stein may be overstating the possibilities of this aspect, but it does apply nicely to Jung. Yet there seem to be more possibilities.  I think of Jung’s conflicts over his native religion and his psychologically oriented spirituality that is of a 3rd-9th House nature (Jupiter is on the cusp of the 9th in Koch houses.)  I also think of his break-up with Sigmund Freud that occurred when Jung deviated too much from the teachings of his mentor.

Stein’s depiction of Chiron sextile Saturn seems a bit too Uranian for me, depicting “changing structures of things and society, rectify imbalances.”  As a more traditional astrologer, I see a great deal of strength in Jung’s Saturn in Aquarius, being in its own domicile, that Jung was more for building a new system than in changing an old one, and he proceeded on this journey with saturnine thoroughness (and alone-ness).  Chiron also has membership with Jung’s very positive Saturn-Mars-Jupiter combination, these planets also tied together by reception. Again, Chiron in synthesis with other chart factors would have been more helpful.

With outer planets squaring the luminaries, the inner planet sextiles and the three-planet configuration cited above, we can account for Jung’s fragmentation of identity (Neptune square Sun), his occasional movement toward altered states of consciousness (Uranus square Moon), and his personable even charming nature (the planets in Taurus and Cancer.)  Using the asteroids – I rarely do – one can even see his introversion with the close conjunction of Sun with Vesta.

So far Stein has not been able to convince me of the importance of Chiron in Jung’s chart.  Perhaps Chiron is not necessary after all, but perhaps it can be helpful in interpretation.

Attempting to apply Chiron and Stein’s book, I pulled out some of my profiles I wrote over the past few years.

Zane’s description works very well here

Fred Rogers was a longstanding host of a well-known children’s TV program who became reputed for his wisdom and kindness.  Here’s what Stein says about his Chiron sextile Mercury: “You are able to see the potential in everyone, do not put people into “classes” and find you can greatly appreciate people whom others consider ‘not normal’…You could be an excellent teacher, teller of tales, comedian, because you can see things that enable you to communicate with people on their level.”  Bingo!

 In the chart of Malcolm X, one of the luminaries of the civil rights movement in the 1960’s, I found Chiron in Aries conjunct the Moon in the 4th house.  In keeping with a 4th House placement for Chiron, Malcolm’s father was killed in an automobile “accident” – probably perpetrated by white supremacists – and his mother was confined to a mental institution a few years afterwards. His search for positive racial identity and a different kind of spiritual inclusion is easily connected with family circumstances when Malcolm Little was young.  

In the natal chart of Dorothy Day, an important Catholic activist of the last century, Chiron accompanies Sun, Mercury, and Mars quite closely, all placed in Scorpio in the 6th House.  Much of Day’s early life was in search of a meaningful way to connect with the suffering of the sick and impoverished.  Reading her biography, I found not any kind of childhood woundedness but an early dissatisfaction with this world governed by domination and injustice along with a desire to do something meaningful about that.

Trauma and Healing

As we all know, Chiron is typically associated with “wound” or “wounded healer”.  A wound (the Greek is trauma) could take place in a moment or in an accumulated fashion and requires convalescence and recovery, full or partial.  In my view, these events do not necessarily qualify within the modern usage of “trauma”. Instead, woundedness is simply part of our vulnerability in human bodies on this planet, within the common range of human experience.

This book’s Introduction discusses early development, emotional memory, trauma, and stress.  By erroneously stating that implicit memories are governed by the brain’s amygdala, Stein conflates routine nondeclarative memory with emotional memory that could include the long-range effects of early trauma. He potently describes different kinds of negative experiences that children can undergo and discusses childhood anxiety well, yet says nothing about the factors of soothing (and eventually self-soothing) that helps mitigate the different kinds of anxiety that we all experience from an early age.  As we all undergo anxiety and stress at an early age – we all have an amygdala – we also have growing mechanisms of self-regulation and effect on adults that help keep us intact. In fusing the effects of early trauma with our inbuilt fear and stress responses – and compensations — that are all necessary for survival, Stein seems to portray our human condition in a primordially afflicted state. 

We all have suffered our “lumps and bumps” as children at play or from others and we have all have had our minor or major injuries as adults. We also have gotten sick – sometimes in life-threatening ways, sometimes they are seasonal and ordinary. In our adult lives we also have experienced psychic injuries – from bad romantic relationships, toxic bosses or work situations, unforgiving family members, accidents and external “acts of God” and the like.  In all these circumstances there are times of taking care of the wound, some convalescence and eventually a recovery of function. There may be physical or emotional aftereffects from these experiences that eventually flatten out or become part of the landscape of our lives.  All this is what we bought into when we got into this human body on this planet.

In the last few decades we have become more sensitive to the extremes of these necessities of life and we call that “trauma”.  We have more clearly heard the voices of those who have undergone childhood abuse, violence of wartime, torture, sexual and physical and emotional abuse. Those who have suffered these events can long afterwards live in a state of hyper-vigilance, emotional instability, dissociation, as relationships, careers, friendships, and sense of their own body are fundamentally altered.  The effects can cripple the body and diminish or even kill the soul.  Recovery occurs upon physical re-synchronization, the gradual reconstruction of a new narrative for one’s life, and a desire to extend oneself to those who have been afflicted in similar ways.  These people have often suffered great damage, but their severity is outside the realm of the experience of most people, including most clients of astrologers.

Psychologically minded astrologers have adapted to the new emphasis on trauma in different ways.  They have sometimes used difficult natal placements (like Pluto in the Twelfth House) to indicate possibilities of being abused, and often they have been dead wrong.  Evolutionary astrologers sometimes construct a narrative that depicts trauma from previous lifetimes – with a mixed record of helpfulness.  Stein appears to use the extreme versions of trauma and recovery to apply Chiron to the lives of all those fortunate enough not to have suffered in these ways.  All this feels outside the realities facing most of my clients.

One morning last week, after immersing myself in Stein’s book, I woke up wondering whether a depiction of “Chiron through the signs” instead describes the life struggles and possibilities inherent in the Sun.  Simply using standard sun-sign astrology, Leo must climb out of the “trauma” or woundedness of humiliation, Capricorn of alienation or ostracism, of Aquarius of not being understood, of Aries of powerlessness, of Virgo with its own tendencies to fall short.  We can go much further than Sun signs. Perhaps the ordinary symbols of astrology are sufficient to mirror the ordinariness – and account for the occasional extraordinariness – of our lives.

Whole-making

Except in the context of Sybil with sixteen discrete personalities, Stein does not venture far into the nature of “Whole-making” or “Wholeness”.   Working with schizophrenics, the young Carl Jung was well-acquainted with the dynamics of fragmentation and the need for these people to recover their sense of being themselves.  For most of us, however, the situation is different: we encounter many features of ourselves that emerge in different situations and relationships and at different times in our lives.  Is this fragmentation or creative response?

Natal astrology “works” because it usually mirrors the diffusion of ourselves into our worlds and how balances change over time.  We cannot exhaust all our possibilities, just like our astrological charts can show us different ways and circumstances in which we manifest who we are.  Even those of us with a strong self-definition, like young athletes or religious devotees, encounter their diversity constantly. Sometimes this is very inconvenient, yet often it reveals to us the marvelous complexity – but not chaos – in our lives.

Recovery from trauma or illness or even a difficult time may not make us more whole but can reveal to us the multiplicity that is also who we are, can bring forgotten aspects of ourselves to the surface, and reveal to us that we too contradict ourselves. Our lives and our worlds give contradictory possibilities and place contradictory demands on ourselves.  Maybe this is fine just the way it is.

Final words

If you are already knowledgeable about Chiron and want to know more, or at least ponder a wider range of possibilities, this is probably the book for you.  If you want to challenge yourself to assess the entire range of natal astrology, as I just did here, this book is quite valuable.  However, if you need an introduction to Chiron with clear applications, I advise you to go elsewhere first, then circle back if you wish.

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