On Shame

Many years ago I knew a man who went by the name of Pete Woolly-Hat. I have no clue as to his birth name, but he was so known because he wore a woolly-hat wherever he went, rain or shine, winter or summer. He was a musician and probably (at that time) in his thirties, but I could not be any more precise than that. He was not a close friend of mine but I saw him regularly enough because of our shared musical interests, we were both members of moderately successful local bands and through arranging gigs at various venues we had come to have this association. As he learned to relax in my company, he became more open and communicative, he was a shy and quiet type upon first meeting, and then, one day, after many months of acquaintance, he finally removed his woolly hat in my presence.

To reveal a completely hairless top of the head. I was surprised, but only because the dark hair that protruded from under the band of his woolly hat suggested a profusion of follicles that the hat’s removal immediately disavowed. Pete was mostly bald. Personally, he looked to me to be just fine without his hat on, but it clearly did not appear that way to him. Somewhere in the journey of Pete’s life he had learned about shame. Shame is so powerful that it can distort your entire apprehension of life; indeed, in Pete’s case, he was quite literally identified with his shame: he was named for it. Pete felt so uncomfortable with his baldness that he became named for his method of hiding his shame. I feel a frisson of compassion for him even now as I write this, because he was a truly gentle and kind man.

There is an inversion of this exact theme that is germane here. Last weekend I was staying in a hotel at the foot of Snowdon, one of Britain’s highest mountains. The hotel was busy because the Saturday morning saw the start of the Snowdon marathon, a race in which extremely motivated people run up and down the mountain competitively. As I made my way to breakfast on the Saturday morning I was passed by a great procession of grim-faced individuals in running gear. One young man bounded down some steps past me and he had the most incredibly muscular legs I had ever seen; his thighs were enormous. The vast majority of runners had donned clothing appropriate to the cold, rainy and windy Welsh weather: they wore lycra leggings, tracksuits, technical fibre body stockings and so forth; this man, almost exclusively wore uncomfortably small seeming running shorts. One simply could not fail to notice his powerful and muscular legs. Later that day as I visited a local town I passed another man with very powerful biceps. He had obviously been ‘working out’ quite a bit. He wore a vest-top even though the day was cold, wet and blustery. At the same time, a woman walked along the street in a short skirt, she was drawing male attention from all around with her long, slim legs.

All of these people understand shame.

That may seem like a strange statement to make, because (one might argue) surely it is good to take pride in your ‘good’ features? That is part of being strong and confident? I think actually that the opposite is true; much as in classical psychological thought a superiority complex is simply an inferiority complex that has turned in on itself, so are these statements of ‘physical pride’ nothing more than expressions of inverted shame. Jimmy Carter said:

A strong nation, like a strong person, can afford to be gentle, firm, thoughtful, and restrained. It can afford to extend a helping hand to others. It’s a weak nation, like a weak person, that must behave with bluster and boasting and rashness and other signs of insecurity.

A truly confident person would be content to know that they had ‘good legs’ without needing to display them to the world, because at this point the legs become a statement that requires the attention of others to have positive feedback, it is a validation of sorts that is reflected in the astrology.

I have struggled over the years to get a rounded sense of the variegated shades of archetypal male energy that is heralded by the placements of both Sun and Saturn and I have arrived at one’s relationship to shame. Whilst this might appear, superficially to be a simplistic or even bizarre conclusion, I nevertheless believe that it has this fundamental import. In a spectrum of male teaching, which ought to be passed from father to child, Sun is self-belief and Saturn is shame. A strong Sun is required to counterbalance a strong sense of shame and a strong sense of humility is required to counterbalance a fragile ego, which are respectively the most positive and negative of those fundamental male energies.

I have considered this extensively. I have never been especially comfortable with the dichotomy between traditional and ‘evolutionary’ astrology. I was recently labelled an ‘evolutionary’ astrologer by another astrologer whom I greatly respect and I had not the first clue what it meant (I now understand it to mean a person influenced by the Jeff Green approach to the transformational process view of astrology). I am not at all comfortable with rejecting though (for example) the import of traditional methods of dignity and debility: indeed it is one of the first things I look for and I believe it to have truth. I also believe that we can transform our astrology and become better, more rounded and more intrinsically spiritual beings, through application and effort to (primarily) Buddhist methods of self-development, right-living, right-livelihood and so forth.

So when I read that a person has an essential dignity score for their Sun placement of +5, then I consider that person’s father to have done a good job with them. (It is a self-fulfilling scenario and actually this ‘philosophy of dignity could rightly fill a book, it is that nuanced, and I don’t pretend to have got it all yet). When a baby is born they attract power according to these very scores: I truly believe it, in fact I see it! I actually see people responding to the astrology of a baby, because (clearly) a baby has no power to express their nature at this early stage. Teddy (my lovely boy) has a Sun score of +1 and a Saturn score of +9. Because Sun has no exaltation, unless you’re born a Leo, then it’s quite tough to get a good essential dignity score for your Sun. Teddy was born with Saturn in its exaltation, its triplicity and its term: hence the very high reckoning of essential dignity. These scores both rise to +3 and a whopping +23 respectively when accidental dignities are factored in. Let me tell you a remarkable thing, when people meet Teddy for the first time, they treat him with the greatest respect; he simply commands it, even though he behaves no differently to any other well-cared for baby in the world.

That is the innate power of planetary dignity. It is a little like being a superhero, you are born with certain ‘powers’, and they are just there, helping you to be super. (The same can be said for debility, but that’s a different discussion which is so fabulously fascinating, but I don’t have time to write that today). Now in my own situation, I have essential dignity scores of +3 for both Sun and Saturn (and those scores rise to +8 with accidental dignity factored in) even though they are both in fall; what’s more, they are opposing each other, with Sun rising precisely on the Ascendant. Now my father abandoned me (and my mother) when I was a few days old, but by the time I was three and a half years old, at precisely the month that my Saturn opposition Sun perfected by Solar Arc, I was adopted by the man who became my father. He was a gentle and loving man who missed no opportunity to give me confidence in myself. Indeed, because of him I never learned what shame was.

Throughout my life therefore I have struggled time and again against people who have determined that I should be ashamed of who I am. Sun is identity, and that essential dignity score reflects the innate reality that I simply do not believe people when they try to tell me that I am shameful, or that I should be embarrassed about who I am or what I do. These are both important components of identity and my Saturn opposition brings me up against people who test my innate belief in myself by trying to give me their shame. That is Saturn, you see, shame.

Pete Woolly-Hat understood shame, he had accepted it, subscribed to it. He had learned, either directly from his father or due to his father’s unwillingness or inability to protect him from it, that he had to be ashamed of who he was. More basically even than that, he had a low essential dignity score for Sun, or an over strong Saturn with no counterbalance from the Sun. The Sun protects, it gives innate confidence, it creates an immunity to shame, that is its super-power and the source of the question which came first, the high essential dignity score or the good father?

Chicken or eggisms aside, our sense of identity and our sense of shame are connected. If we are confident in what we are then we don’t need to agree to be shamed by others, nor do we need to attempt to shame others in our interactions with them. We don’t need to hide our baldness under a woolly hat, nor do we need to show the world that we have good legs or powerful biceps. We just are as we are, take it or leave it. That does not mean that we do not make mistakes, or take responsibility for our mistakes, but getting it wrong need not be connected to shame, and when somebody insists that the two concepts are connected, well, they are speaking through a kind of existential Sun-Saturn opposition. It is not how it should be. Mary Pickford said:

You may have a fresh start,
Any time you choose,
For this thing we call failure,
Is not the falling down,
But the staying down.

If somebody insists that you must stay down, then respectfully decline.

The Sun projects what we believe ourselves to be, and over a lifetime we might eventually conform to that inbuilt expectation: if our father told us that we are perfect just as we are, then we won’t need to wear a woolly hat or really small running shorts. If on the other hand he told us that we were not good enough, that we don’t measure up, then (usually if we are female) we are going to put on that short-skirt and stride down the high-street in our high-heels and try to bolster our sense of self-worth with some male attention. Those projections say more about what we believe ourselves to be than any overt “I am” statements we might care to make. Maybe it is even worse for a woman with an ashamed father, because then she marries an ashamed man and calls him husband. Sylvia Plath realised her mistake when she wrote in Daddy:

And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look
And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.

Sometimes, when we wear certain clothes, adopt certain postures or profess certain beliefs, then while we might believe that what we are doing is simply ‘being ourselves’ or asserting our individuality, what we are unconsciously engaged in is the business of expressing our shame. Most people with low Sun scores do this and usually, by their late 30s or early 40s they have begun to understand that they learned this pattern from a weak father figure. (The only exception to this in my experience are those who have strong Sun-Neptune contacts; these people seem to misinterpret the paternal script even in the opposite direction; they might have ‘good fathers’ as reflected by a strong essential dignity score, and yet they think their father failed them.) If our father taught us that we should be ashamed of what we are then, by all means, the situation is far from hopeless, we can remedy this unquestioned identity crisis, but the first step in this process must be to reject the notion that we should be embarrassed about what we are, or ashamed of ourselves, providing we live according to a sound spiritual philosophy, another important component of the Solar script incidentally, indeed, Sigmund Freud, in Totem and Taboo (1953) wrote that:

The psychoanalysis of individual human beings teaches us with quite special insistence that the god of each of them is formed in the likeness of his father, that his personal relation to God depends on his relation to his father in the flesh and oscillates and changes along with that relation, and that at bottom God is nothing other than an exalted father.

I am not a Christian, but my father did me a good service, and his own job well, when he knelt at the end of my bed every night next to me and we said our prayers together. His faith was not judgmental or punishing, it was forgiving and warm. It made me feel very close to him and it made me feel that the Universe made sense, because my Dad, through his actions, expressed a loving and gentle faith in the Universe which has stayed with me. My god is not punishing or judgmental, because my father was not.

I am lucky in that respect (you should see my Moon score though!) but it is not the same for everyone. Some people experience a father that professes to love unconditionally, and yet that same father criticises them relentlessly, or espouses a judgmental and punishing spiritual philosophy that leaves their child’s core identity damaged. Other fathers fail through no fault of their own. Their marriages fail and they cease to be able to be effective in protecting their children from people in their lives who demand that they be ashamed. And too, the job of protecting identity is not – in totality – a father’s remit, Saturn’s shame can be experienced through any important authority figures, older relatives, people in positions of responsibility within that child’s life, but a father has unparalleled power to armour his children against these assaults.

If you are a father, the message of astrology is simple. Never tell your children that they are not good enough. It’s a parent’s duty to lovingly guide their child when they have made mistakes, but the day you tell them that they don’t measure up is the day that you have damaged them, perhaps beyond repair. That is the day that you have taught them shame.

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20 thoughts on “On Shame

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  1. I always read your posts but don’t often comment but I just wanted to say how much I enjoy your writing and how valuable I believe it to be.

    I especially enjoyed this post, it made so much sense to me in observing both myself and others. Thank you. πŸ™‚

    (I have a leo sun and a capricorn saturn and had a very good father, and like you, a faith in the universe that stems from it.)

    1. Thanks Susannah,
      You have a very fortunate combination of Sun and Saturn there, and it will probably get better for you as you go along too.
      Thank you for your kind words.

  2. Fascinating post.

    As you know, I do not profess to have any detailed knowledge of astrology – however I am a keen observer of the human condition. If another person should wish to sugesst that your behaviour is shameful, it is almost inevitably a sign that the person making such an assertion is extremely narrow minded or at best has a closed sense of perspective.

    In my own spiritual search, I have discussed how one approaches a subject as big as divinity with many learned souls and have given the whole matter a great deal of thought. I found that others would present their views in one of two ways – one of which I respected greatly and one of which was less welcome. I struggled with any presentation which was loosely based on the idea of ‘this is THE way to look at it’. This can apply to all manner of religious convictions, the most famous of which is the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I have a lot more time for presentations predicated on either ‘this is A way of looking at it’ or ‘this is THE way for ME, which MAY be something you might like to consider’. I have come to the view that whatever the true nature of the divine might be, He – or She is far more likely to want followers who have freely decided to follow that conviction as opposed to those who have been either scared, bullied or brainwashed into it.

    You may wonder what this has to do with the subject of shame. I think that shame is just one aspect of a more general problem. My personal religious convictions are eclectic and would certainly be regarded as relatively unconventional. I do not hide them, nor do I ram them down the throats of others. That does not stop them having been accused of being shameful by many. I feel no shame in them and indeed am proud of them.

    On a similar vein I am also proud to be a Freemason. Again, according to some, I am apparently approaching the AntiChrist school of thought. However, not one of the critics has chosen to do any objective research, relying instead on regurgitated cant instead.

    Other experts place great importance on the need for ‘proof’ before allowing anything to be possible – needless to say this is most frequently applied to the existense of divinity. Those who do not follow this idea are portrayed by them as having a shameful level of naivety. As I pointed out to one such person a while back, there was a time when it was ‘scientific fact’ that the earth was flat and that you could sail off the edge.

    Even astrology suffers from this phenomenon. There is no shortage of its narrow minded detractors who view it as weird at best and downright wacko at worst.

    All of which points to the true problem. A general arrogance/lack of humility to accept the idea that any individual might just not know everything yet. We’ve come a long way since the invention of fire, but the simple fact exists that in the bigger scale of things, even in this day and age fuelled by the wonders of the microchip, we might only be at the very start of the process. In the view of those living in say 2099, today’s “certainties” might be regarded at patently ridiculous. Had someone told me in 1973 when I saw my first computer that would have easily filled my lounge, that a much better machine would become available that was less than the size of a briefcase, I too would have questioned their sanity.

    We all need to have the humility to question our own ability to perceive. Perhaps the concepts to understand something are simply beyond our understanding. It would be like asking me to explain nuclear fission – I simply don’t have the expertise. At the very core of this is the essential need to accept that something is NOT impossible just because we do not understand how it works.

    Scientists will tell you that they understand roughly 10% of the human brain’s function thoroughly and roughly another 15% vaguely. When they actually figure out the other 75%, you never know …ESP, mind reading and even telepathy are all quite possible. I actually have had my mind read once. It is an incredibly strange feeling.

    It occurs to me that even the most closed minded of scientists should be able to perceive the irony of their situation. After all, what is scientific experimentation but an effort to prove a theory – a belief that something might be true. The ability to conceive that the unproven is possible is in fact at the heart of their profession.

    And you know, maybe it is OK if those who do finally wake up to this feel a little ashamed at their own closed mindedness.

    The most learned person in the world has actually only trodden an infinitesimally small step down the path to total knowledge of everything. It occurs to me that perhps ‘understanding everything completely’ is actually one of the best definitions of divinity I have come across – however, that is simply MY view, as is all of the above.

    1. Mark, I wanted to reply to this at length, but I think we will just have to get together for some beers over Christmas. I will email you soon (I have sooo many emails to write just now it’s actually silly).
      I especially, especially enjoyed your astutue observation “The ability to conceive that the unproven is possible is in fact at the heart of their profession”.

      And scientists aside, I become bored with the unspoken premise that in all things of debate, a lack of proof is equivalent to a disproof. We think alike.

      Beer soon.

  3. I’m glad Teddy’s condition has improved and hope with you and your wife that the next appointment will also bring positive results.

    This is another great post on a intriguing subject. It was indeed fortunate that you found such a wonderful father figure.

  4. Hi again! Another great topic! My therapist and I were just discussing this very same topic only a few weeks ago. It’s true that the way people often arrive at feelings of shame is because of the things their father/parents did to them; however, I wanted to add that another way children/people often arrive at feelings of shame is through neglect. I am not sure where I would look for neglect in an astrology chart but, I think I would start with either the Moon and/or Neptune.

    Unfortunately, my son has the kind of father who appears to be involved, loving, etc but all the while is extremely judgemental, critical, and demanding. My son has Saturn involved in a Grand Fixed Cross. Saturn in Taurus in the 12th House opposes his Moon conjunct Chiron in the 6th. Completing the other legs of the Grand Cross are Neptune in Aquarius on the MC and Mercury in Leo on the IC. I do what I can to support him and show him the kind of compassion and unconditional love that leads to good self-esteem but, I think boys especially need the same from their fathers.

    1. Hello dear Juliet,
      Your observation deserves considerable thought. Neglect suggests a form of shame and it is extremely damaging, because it hits at the heart of self-worth. I guess the 2nd house and the 5th/11th axis are big indicators here, and the ruler of the 2nd is bound to be intriguing in this respect. A bad Moon starts the rot though as you rightly suggest, here there is a maternal script which gets off on the wrong foot and (without blame) there is a reason why the child cannot get the basic nurturing it wants. That creates a flawed model of nurturance which needs very careful constructive work to remedy, learning to nurture yourself when your Moon is in trouble takes a conscious effort most especially in going against that preconscious instinct, all the messages that you absorbed before you can begin to remember how you were nurtured.
      This grand cross certainly does describe a problem as you say, and Moon – Saturn intimates a measure of childhood responsibility brought about most likely because of Saturn sq Neptune, a weak and distant father figure. He has taken on some responsibility that limits his perspective about how to be free in these early years. But that is his script for sure.

  5. There is so much wisdom here. And it is so accessible in so many ways and on so many planes. You have great gifts, Jeremy, and great courage too. Your son is blessed, methinks.
    Allusions to others’ wisdom pique my ego(?!) as I’m a Canadian (Ms Pickford), a sometime poetess (Ms Plath), and an always discerning feminista (Herr Freud). I understand the basic principles of astrology but until I read your explications, have had little success with synthesis of them. I reiterate, you have what must be a (Mercurial?!) gift and I am thankful for your willingness to share so much of yourself with all of us ‘out here’.
    Whatever or however we can pray, meditate or simply wish, our thoughts are with you, and Alice – of whom much has been left unsaid, but not unconsidered nor unloved – and your lucky little son/sun person.

    1. Thank you Sabina, all of my knowledge is only borrowed from some overarching source, so I feel a duty to put it out there. My book is nearing completion though, so I am hoping that will bring me some support in return for the understanding that I have been gifted. It sounds almost unreasonable put in that way, but I have to live, so there we are. I don’t choose the bizarre rules of this material plane. But I know what they are good for.
      Take care.
      Alice has her own astrology journal which takes a different and probably more easy-going perspective on our lives at http://alicestrology.wordpress.com, go and say hi.

  6. I hope the book is going well and that you’ll be able to post more soon (and catch up with emails!). Also of course that Teddy’s sight turn out to be better than you feared.

  7. Great article! I was touched by the story of Pete and the shame he fostered towards his (perceived) imperfection. With Moon conjunct Saturn in the 7th house (square Pluto), this is not an unfamiliar territory to me. The recurring question for me would be … how can an astrologer help a client like that? Understanding where the shame comes from (judgmental father, childhood neglect, etc) is one step – but how to undo the shame feelings, which sometimes run very deep? Meditation? Therapy? Any other form of healing? There must be a way of reclaiming a healthy selse of self … any recommendations? Thanks you!

  8. Just forgot to tell my heart goes out to you and little Teddy. He’s got a very special gift … the unconditional love of his parents. This can make a huge difference to life, whatever the challenges. Rejoicing in the improvement and wishing you more good news soon, Alice

  9. I enjoyed this tremendously. With a Mars/Chiron conjunction septile my Saturn shame is something I’ve spent considerable time grappling with. For myself, I have to disagree with you about the motivations to display one’s self always being about shame, though. It is, in fact, my experience of getting through and past my shame that has given me the confidence to display myself without fear. I don’t do it for anyone else. It just makes me feel good. Perhaps it is in part my Venus in Aquarius in the 2nd, but adorning myself in beauty and some of the trappings of idealized femininity, feeds something in me that feels joyful. It’s not something I feel required to do everyday or I can’t leave the house. But on the right day high heels and a little cleavage is auto-erotic.

    This view of Saturn, as you note, has to do with the masculine aspects of the chart. But what about the feminine energy of Venus that chooses whatever it chooses from the authentic Self?

  10. So I am a 32 year old woman with….

    an unaspected Sun at 28 degrees Scorpio (11th house) – if i am doing this correctly, it also has no essential dignity = peregrine sun. No mutual reception (not sure if outer planets count as “mutual reception” so as to make planet not peregrine, since outer planets excluded from essential dignity calculations. my pluto is in libra and mars in sagittarius so doesn’t seem to matter in my case.)

    Saturn at 12 degrees Virgo (8th house) – other planets aspect it, but it has no essential dignities, does that mean it is peregrine too? no mutual reception (mercury in sagittarius)

    I just looked up accidental dignities and it seems I might get +9 for Saturn and +4 for the Sun. (can’t say that’s accurate as i’m not an astrologer, I just like to learn it from the internet, and i don’t know what some of the items on the list mean)

    and I also have Saturn square Neptune.

    (actually, according to the table at the bottom of this page http://www.auxmaillesgodefroy.com/essential_dignity ALL my planets are peregrine, except possibly venus in scorpio/pluto in libra if pluto counts)

    I know about my life experiences, but I am curious to see what you will say about a person with the above!

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