In early July of 1861 the brightest comet in half a century appeared in the region of Ursa Major – the Big Dipper. It stretched for 100 degrees across the sky, with both head and tail visible simultaneously in broad daylight. At the time Thatcher’s Comet was widely regarded as an evil omen: the New York Herald reported that people “regard it with fear, looking upon it as something terrible, bringing in its train wars and desolation.”
Since Fort Sumter had been fired upon three months previously (although as yet no major battle had been fought), this interpretation required no great prescience. The question which arises for us astrologers is, that assuming that the comet indeed augured the American Civil War, what is its astrological correspondence with the United States? As is usual in such cases (where we have an indubitable coincidence between celestial and terrestrial events), nothing is very clear-cut.
To begin with, is it reasonable to suppose that Thatcher’s Comet indeed corresponded with the American Civil War? Geoffrey Dean would argue no, that “such correspondences are quite unconvincing because the kind of events quoted (major disasters) occur every year somewhere in the world.” And to assume, because we are Americans, that a major comet which appeared coincidentally with the beginning of the major tragedy in American history symbolized that tragedy, does seem somewhat chauvinistic. On the other hand, if ever a comet did portend a major national trauma, this one has got to be it (quite possibly there was also at this time a major upheaval in Fiji or some such place; or among the lemmings or something; but this doesn’t contravene the theory. If comets have astrological effects there’s no reason to suppose they will affect everyone on earth equally).
There are two points in a comet’s path which are intrinsically demarcated: it’s perihelion and the point at which it becomes visible. Thatcher’s comet reached perihelion on June 11, 1861, about 21 degrees of Taurus; it became visible the first week of July, while traversing the signs Cancer and Leo.
According to Alan Leo’s Mundane Astrology, “Comets are regarded as invariably malefic. They bring trouble upon countries ruled by the sign of the zodiac in which they first are visible to the unaided sight.” There is some question about which zodiacal sign rules the U.S.A., but Charles Carter, in his Introduction to Political Astrology, suggests that it is Gemini, not Cancer or Leo. Somehow, this does not seem like a very fruitful line of investigation.
With regard to the perihelion point, of 14 popular USA horoscopes listed by Richard Nolle in Dell Horoscope Magazine for July 1989 – including charts for the Declaration of Independence on 7/2/1776 and 7/4/1776; Constitutional ratification on 6/21/1778; Constitution in effect on 3/4/1789; and presidential inauguration on 4/30/1789 – none of these charts has any planet or ASC within 8 degrees of the perihelion point of 21 Taurus. Therefore, unless the actual horoscope is something other than one of these, the perihelion point of Thatcher’s Comet provides no useful correspondence.
It may still be the case, however, that the comet has an extrinsic effect, i.e., by transit over a zodiacal point important to the astrology of the U.S.A. Obviously such a transit can’t indicate the outbreak of the Civil War, since this occurred previously (4:30 am LMT on April 12, 1861, at 79W53, 32N42). In the chart for the firing on Fort Sumter, the planet closest to 21 Taurus is the moon in 16 Taurus. Ramus’ ephemeris for Thatcher’s Comet does not commence until the end of May 1861, so it cannot be ascertained where the comet was on April 12th, but it doesn’t seem likely to have been near 21 Pisces (the ASC in the Fort Sumter chart).
Thatcher’s Comet appeared during a lull, when war had broken out but both sides were still mobilizing, and no actual fighting had taken place (except for local riots here and there in the border states). The first major engagement of the war was the Battle of Bull Run, fought on 7/21/1861, when Thatcher’s Comet was in 7 Libra, and moving about a half degree of longitude per day. Two of the charts listed by Nolle have Libra on the ASC – one a 7/4/1776 chart with 14LI35 on the ASC, the other a 6/21/1788 chart with 12LI15 on the ASC. These seem a bit off.
However, a Declaration of Independence chart for July 2, 1776 given by Julian Armistead in the same July ’89 issue of Dell Horoscope as the Nolle article, has 10 Libra ASC, so for this chart at least Thatcher’s Comet crossed the ASC within 3 days of a significant event. It might be worthwhile to give further study to this chart: Armistead gives a good argument in favor of it since the Declaration of Independence was passed by Congress on July 2nd; it was merely signed on July 4th.
Insofar as Thatcher’s Comet is concerned, if there is an astrological correspondence involved it is not readily apparent. What could have (and perhaps should have, if there’s anything to astrology) been a good example of the effectiveness of our technique has once again proved as nebulous as a comet.
Bob Makransky’s Astrology Corner © 2001