Columbus as a hate figure, Columbus as a hero, Columbus the flawed individual, Columbus the man, Columbus the symbol of all that is evil about colonialism, Columbus the navigator. It is hard to write about such a flawed and mythologised figure. Columbus Day in the US has been re-named Indigenous People’s Day, which seems right, because whatever the truths, bringing Western European racism, misogyny, torture and cruelty (as organised by the Catholic Church and their Inquisition) devastated and destroyed a (mostly) peaceful peoples who were quietly minding their own business.
What of the man? We have a horoscope for Columbus, but I don’t know its provenance, however as astrologers we can work with what we are given and see if it answers our questions or in astrology-speak is the chart is radical?
Luckily for us, Columbus kept a diary, or ships log, as befits someone who (perhaps) had a Saturn, Mercury and Mars conjunction in Libra. So we have dates and places and sometimes times of events from his life. We would expect to see major events hitting parts of his chart. We do of course, have to deal with his equivocal relationship to the truth. Early on in his diary Columbus alters the distance and direction his ships took, so no one could find their way home, or sail to the ‘Indies’ without him.
Columbus set sail half an hour before sunrise on the 3rd of August 1492 from Palos, Granada, Spain. What that time gives us is the Sun coming up to conjunct the Ascendant (sunrise) at 19’ Leo, which, coincidentally conjunct Columbus’ natal Ascendant of 16’Leo. Now Columbus knew astrology and knew how to cast a horoscope, as many educated people of his time did. He may have chosen the date and time deliberately, but it is surely quite a coincidence. On that day Saturn was at 16’ Aquarius (the Water Bearer) so opposite the Sun and conjunct his descendant. This was not such a good election, Saturn conjunct the descendant absolutely describes his relationships with his sailing companions, vexed, autocratic, and pessimistic. Arguments, betrayals, fear, all were present, they were holed up in tiny ships (there were three) for months on end, not knowing if they were going to fall off the edge of the world (as some people believed). There were endless arguments and fallings out between the captains of the three ships.
In the departure chart, are there any significators for the ocean or exploration? There are. The Moon was in Sagittarius, the sign of long-distance travel and Uranus (which of course had not been discovered yet) was opposing Columbus’ exploring, optimistic, bid idea Jupiter at 27’Capricorn.
Columbus landed in the Caribbean at 02:00 on the 12th of October 1492 on the tiny island of Guanahani. That day, he might have wished he had turned back, as his crew were pleading him to do. Pluto at 4′ Scorpio was conjunct his Sun and his IC at 6’09 Scorpio which predicted the massive power struggles and death to come. The North Node also at 4’ Scorpio suggested a fated irrevocable decision had been taken.
At the same time, Venus at 17’ Scorpio had moved to conjunct his Mercury. Mercury in Columbus’ chart ruled the 11th of joint enterprise, which surely represents the voyage, its three ships and the men and supplies within them, as well as his hopes and wishes. Mercury also rules the 2nd, indicating the gold Columbus was hoping to find to restore his fortune, and of course, Venus represents money. This voyage, despite the later hype, was a last ditch for the man, he was broke and had lost his patron. Whatever was subsequently written about Columbus’ mission to evangelise the people he met, this was not his true motivation. Mercury in Scorpio reveals this, symbolising among other things; other people’s money, theft, secrets, power struggles, underhand motives, cruelty, sexual abuse, death. All of which transpired.
Interestingly, the time of 02:00 hours gives the Moon at 15’ Cancer. The next day it would move to conjunct his natal Uranus and oppose his Jupiter. The symbolism of this opposition is a key element of Columbus’ chart. Uranus in Cancer shows breaking through (Uranus) the sea (Cancer) opposed by a greedy (Jupiter) in power hungry Capricorn. Jupiter is in fall in Capricorn and can show the worst kind of greed and social climbing. Uranus in Cancer may also show the schism/ rupture (Uranus) of the cosy notions of home (Cancer) and our place in the world. Because of course, there is always cross fertilisation when two cultures meet, however, bloodily. Our language reflects this, the Taino words, huracan, barbacoa, tobaco, hamaca, canoa, bear witness to the ‘cultural exchange’.
On Columbus’ fourth voyage we see the decline and lonely end of our protagonist. Having been stripped of his command of the colony (and the revenue which went with it) and forbidden to land on Hispaniola by the Crown and the then governor Ovando (who was responsible for many of the heinous crimes committed on the island), Columbus was forced to sail around the northern coast of what was later called Central America. He was caught up in several hurricanes and had to beach his broken down ship in Jamaica. Unlike the cosy picture above of a nicely turned out Spaniard, Columbus was sick and raving, possibly suffering from Reiter’s Syndrome (reactive arthritis) and issued orders from a pallet onboard his beached vessel while his half-starved crew ran amok in the countryside, raping and pillaging whatever and whoever they came across. Like the majority of the indigenous people Columbus came across, the chief of the local tribes at first welcomed the shipwrecked men and brought them food and water. Eventually, as with all places, they became exasperated with the behaviour of the sailors and announced they would no longer feed them and wished them gone.
Knowing his astrology, Columbus saw that there was to be an eclipse on the day of the leap year. Eclipses have been marked and predicted since the time of the ancient Babylonians and possibly before then. Eclipses are calculated in the Soros cycle which comes from the Greek saru (σαρω) which means to sweep (as in sweeping the sky for eclipses). The Antikythera mechanism (150-100 BCE) shows this calculation using the Greek letters ΣΚΓ outlined in red. This was the instruction document accompanying what is believed to be a device for computing eclipses and lunation, probably designed by Archimedes (d 212 BCE).
The Saros cycle is around 18 years and 10/11/12 days (depending on leap years). Lunar eclipses occur on the Full Moon. Astronomers know that a Full Moon will be a lunar eclipse when the Sun and Moon fall close to the North and South Nodes, within an orb of 3.5-6 degrees.
Abraham Zacuto (1452-1515) was a mathematician who designed house tables and the use of a solar astrolabe which allowed navigators to plot the latitude near the equator, where the Pole Star was no longer visible, which previously had been the main navigational aid. These calculations revolutionised Spanish and later Portuguese navigation. Zacuto, a Jew, fled to Portugal from persecution in Spain in 1492, where it is possible the Columbus brothers met him. Columbus used Zacuto’s ephemeris: Almanach perpetuum.
In his diaries, Columbus wrote he retired to his cabin in the rotting boat and in candlelight made his calculations. He deduced the eclipse would be visible around sunset on the 29th of February.
As you can see, the Sun is within 4’ of the North Node, this close, Columbus could guarantee there would be a total eclipse. Notice also that Mars was conjunct the MC suggesting the eclipse would colour the Moon red, which it did. Columbus summoned the local leaders, caciques, and warned them that because of their ill treatment he would turn the face of the sun away in punishment. Knowing the time of the eclipse, Columbus sent for the caciques just before sunset. And in due course the eclipse occured.
In the eclipse chart, the first thing to notice is the degree of the eclipse, 20’ Virgo is exactly conjunct the Moon of Columbus’ birth chart at 21’Virgo. This was a life and death issue for him, the eclipse fell across Columbus’ 2nd and 8th houses, if it failed to convince, then he would starve to death. The eclipse Moon falls in the 12th house of witchcraft , and certainly some of Columbus’ sailors thought he was a necromancer. Predicting an eclipse could be seen as sorcery by non-astrologers. Jupiter, Mars and Saturn were conjunct on the MC, showing the issue was about food, and safety at home (Cancer) as well as the threat of violence (Mars rules the 7th of open enemies) by the local people.
The trick worked and food supplies were restored. Astrology did save his life and that of his crew. Eventually Columbus was rescued and made his sad way home to Castille to die unmourned in obscurity, because as we know there is no honour among thieves.