Death and the Maiden
|Death and Life, Gustav Klimt 1911.|
Death catches up with us all – but in what guise. As a virus? A car crash? Will it come slowly or will it be sudden? Are our days numbered from the moment we are born? Medieval astrologers certainly believed they could foretell the hour of your death.
|The Renaissance German|
artist Hans Baldung painted many
versions of death and the maiden.
I think it would be dangerous to do that now. But they lived closer to death back then. A human lifespan was shorter, a child’s survival into adulthood a small miracle. They lived at a time when Europe was ravaged by plague, war, flood and famine. The horsemen of the apocalypse cut down the young and the old; the beautiful, the good, the wicked and the sinful – without discrimination. So perhaps they were more comfortable with death than we are.
But still we remember: death visits everyone – even the fairest. This is a motif in our collective unconscious that juxtaposes horror with beauty. The story of a young woman’s untimely death recurs in art, myth, music and literature – from Persephone’s abduction by the god of the Underworld to the seamstress Mimi’s death in La Boheme to Lucy Westenra’s spoilation by Count Dracula to the quiet passing of Beth March in Little Women. (If you fancy a good cry, link to Mimi.)
|Made by Hans Schwarz in about 1520,|
this carving shows death embracing
a young woman.
In astrology, this is described by the passage of Venus through the sign of Scorpio; and echoed when she encounters the planets Pluto or Saturn. This year, Venus has spent an uncomfortably long time in Scorpio. Right now she is in the final few weeks of this difficult transit, having spent months going back and forth here.
The ancients said Venus was in “detriment” in the sign of the scorpion, by which they meant that she struggles to express her nature well. But I think you could say that she expresses her nature in a way that we find shameful, disconcerting or ugly; in a way that we would prefer to keep secret.
|Kali, goddess of death,|
dancing on her
mate Shiva as he sleeps.
|In this powerful film, which|
perfectly exemplifies several Scorpio themes
a torture victim gets her revenge.
Weaver has her Venus in Scorpio.
Click here for the trailer.
Another, Scorpio theme is truth.
Some astrologers argue that a planet in detriment may act strangely at first, but if the person who has this configuration works with it, what at first seems to be a weakness can be turned into a strength. In the case of death and the maiden, the story can be turned on its head. There is another powerful motif in many cultures which is death as the maiden.
She comes as an avenging angel sometimes, as in Ariel Dorfman’s powerful play about torture and brutality in Chile, Death and the Maiden (1990). Or perhaps she comes as death itself. In the 19th century, when the sexually transmitted disease, syphilis, cut a swathe through the haute and demi-monde, death was often portrayed as a young woman. Death and sex became associated. Schubert’s string quartet, Death and the Maiden (1824), was written when he knew he was dying of syphilis. To hear it click here.
|David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986)|
explores the perverted
underbelly of small town life.
Isabella Rossellini is both victim
Oblivion can be seductive. In Beyond the Pleasure Principal (1920), Freud outlined his theory of a death drive. That is an unconscious urge towards death. Death lures us, whispers to us. We are fascinated and afraid. We take risks with death in order to feel more alive. When Venus is in Scorpio, we flirt with death – and sometimes we come out alive.