Terrorism, the Discovery of Chiron and Great Art

Monday October 17th 2016
Richter, Gerhard (b. 1932): Man Shot Down (Erschossener 1), from October 18, 1977 (1988). New York, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) Oil on canvas, 39 1/2 x 55 1/4 (100.5 x 140.5 cm). The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection, gift of Philip Johnson, and acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest (all by exchange); Enid A. Haupt Fund; Nina and Gordon Bunshaft Bequest Fund; and gift of Emily Rauh Pulitzer. 169.1995.g*** Permission for usage must be provided in writing from Scala. May have restrictions - please contact Scala for details. ***

Man Shot Down (Erschossener 1), from October 18, 1977 (1988) Gerhard Richter. This painting is from a newspaper photograph of the body of Andreas Baader.

Chiron, the erratic asteroid that weaves between Uranus and Saturn, was discovered on November 1, 1977 on a photographic plate that had been taken on October 18.

That second date might just ring a bell for you if you happen to be interested in contemporary art – because it’s also the collective title of some of the most famous works of art about terrorism ever made. Gerhard Richter’s weird, grungy pictures grouped under the title 18. Oktober 1977 reimagine the demise of Germany’s notorious Baader-Meinhof gang.

On that day, three members of the gang were found dead in jail — as depicted in Richter’s compellingly creepy series. Officially it was suicide, but the circumstances have always been murky.

Baader-Meinhof, or Red Army Faction (RAF), was the ultimate 1970s far-left euro-terrorist group, grabbing the headlines throughout the decade with a string of murders, kidnappings, spectacular arrests and hunger strikes. This was the era of the Weathermen and the Black Panthers in the US, the Red Brigade in Italy and many other less well-known groups. In the 1960s, young people demonstrated, in the 1970s, they took up arms. It turned out, much later, that the Baader-Meinhof gang had financial and logistical support from the Stasi, East Germany’s infamous secret police.

Time cover from October 17, 1977

Time cover from October 17, 1977

This day, October 18, was a critical one in the story of modern Germany. It was in the midst of the so-called

German Autumn — 44 days of terror, which began on September 4 with the kidnapping of the German industrialist Hanns-Martin Schleyer. In the weeks that followed, harrowing pictures of Schleyer were released to the media, putting the country into a state of nervous horror. Then a Lufthansa plane was hijacked by allies of Baader-Meinhof, a Palestinian faction, the PFLP — on October 13. On October 18 — the same day as the prison deaths — a special task force stormed the plane, by then grounded in Mogadishu, and rescued most of the crew and passengers — although the captain had already been murdered. The following day, when they heard that their comrades had died, other members of Baader-Meinhof killed Schleyer in the back of a car in Mulhouse, France. The Autumn was over.

This ugly episode in the history of modern Germany haunted the country’s collective imagination. Did Baader-Meinhof represent some flaw in the German character — an inevitable attraction to nihilism and the dark? Schleyer himself had actually been an SS officer during the war. The gang, for some Germans, seemed to be acting out the self-hatred felt by many Germans after World War 2. Although Germans like Richter were too young to have been implicated in the holocaust, their parents were inevitably involved. The violence of Baader-Meinhof felt like a purge.

Wounds in a family or a nation take generations to heal. In fact when Chiron was discovered — between the time the picture was taken and the discovery was made — the maverick asteroid was in stable Taurus Rx, a sign where he had not been since Hitler came to power in 1933.

Chiron is known as the “wounded healer”. In Greek mythology, heroes were sent to Chiron in his cave — out in the wild on Mount Pelion, away from humans — to be taught medicine and astrology, archery and music. Astrologically, he is associated with outsiders, damage, medicine, teaching. (During the same fortnight that he was discovered, smallpox was officially eradicated. This was the first disease to be entirely wiped off the face of the earth thanks to vaccination, human intervention.)

Greek centaur

Greek centaur

The irony of Chiron’s story is that, despite all his learning, he could not heal himself when he was poisoned by the hydra’s blood. This is a lesson for all healers, of course: you cannot fix everything.

One of the central parts of the Chiron story is — intriguingly — a story about a violent riot. Heracles, while visiting another civilised centaur, Pholus, opens a jar of wine, the vapours from which drive the other centaurs wild. During the ensuing melee, Chiron is wounded by a poison arrow from Hercules bow.

Chiron symbolises the tension between the civilising arts and the wild animal within each of us. He is the point at which these two natures meet but maybe cannot blend perfectly. There will always be a gap and through that gap between beast and civilisation, what slips?

We are reminded of this gap regularly, collectively and individually. No matter how civilised we believe ourselves to be, we are bodies, we are animal, we are here on this earth.

Chiron eventually gives up his immortality. He chooses to die. He is here on this plane with us — not with the gods.

Richter is a towering figure in contemporary art. Not only is he technically brilliant, his work often has the

Gerhard Richter’s Betty

Richter’s magical portrait of his daughter Betty, made in the same year.

emotional impact of a punch (Moon, Venus, North Node in Pisces). He was born in 1932 — when Chiron was in Taurus. So during the German Autumn, Richter was approaching his Chiron Return — a period in everyone’s life when we must reconcile ourselves, or at least encounter, our psychic wounds. These wounds may not actually be wholly personal, they may belong to us through the collective — as with the German guilt for WW2.

Richter said this about the painting at the top of this page, comparing it to the original newspaper photograph: “I’d say the photograph provokes horror, and the painting — with the same motif — something more like grief. That comes very close to what I intended.”

Richter, through art, exorcises German demons of nihilism and guilt, which had recrudesced through Baader-Meinhof.  In creating 18. Oktober 1977, he acted as a shaman for his nation. Turning horror into grief, murder into sacrifice. These paintings are confession and absolution: the nation is shriven.

Data courtesy of astro.com

Data courtesy of astro.com

Richter made 18. Oktober 1977 in 1988. The Berlin Wall came down a year later — one Jupiter cycle exactly after October 1977. This started to heal the wound that had torn Europe apart. That moment of hope and faith in the future seems a long way away now, but the wheel will come round again. Chiron was conjoining the planet of faith and expansion, Jupiter, when the Wall came down and opposing the famous triple conjunction — Uranus (awakening), Saturn (wall and border), and Neptune (idealism) in Capricorn. On the day the Wall came down, Venus (love) joined that powerful stellium.

Chiron is a shaman. He beats the drum for the collective, taking us on a dance to the other side. He weaves from Uranus to Saturn and back again. Look at the power in Richter’s Chiron. It’s at the point of both a T-square and a mini Grand Trine. Chiron in Taurus makes things real, makes them manifest on the material plane — artworks. He looks into the mirror across the Zodiac — into Scorpio’s underworld, into the face of death. He lends us his compassion. And for Richter, the personal is political — look at Sun in Aquarius opposite Jupiter in Leo on the axis of self and other.

The corpse of Andreas Baader and the asteroid Chiron were photographed on the same day. There is no such thing as coincidence.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. Jackie Taylor says:

    Close friends of the family had a daughter who joined Baader-Meinhoff when she found out that her father had beenGestapo

    • Eleonora says:


      Very interesting. You probably already heard about the NSU (National Socialist Underground) in Germany, which was active between 2000 and 2006, murdering Turks and Greeks, and robbing the banks all across the country.

      Just a few days ago, it turned out that at least one member of the gang, could be somehow involved in the abduction and murder of the 10-years old girl Peggy Knobloch from South Germany. And she may not be the only infant victim.

      Now, the gang-member in question was born on October 1st 1977. That Chiron in Taurus aspects (Quincunx) Pluto-Node in Libra.

      You made me think about how significant Chiron really is. It may not be as significant as the sun or moon at the first glance. But you know, even if your little finger is aching (let alone a tooth), you concentrate more on that pain, then on your heart or your brain. The Chiron in our natal charts can at times be more dominant than other planets. And Chiron in Taurus is very painful, we are very vulnerable in this sign. It’s not only our existence, but our basic sexuality and our values. Wounded bull is very dangerous at times, even irrational – and it’s an wounded infant.

      @Jackie Taylor
      You should search other friends.

      • Christina says:

        Very well put & I hadn’t articulated it quite like that.

        The other shamanic act of the time was the release of the Sex Pistols only album on October 28, 1977. UK Punk was a kind of howl of disgust also… & a certain amount of self-harm.

    • Christina says:

      Terrible. Baader-Meinhof seemed to think they were expiating the guilt of the Nazis on one level.

  2. mike says:

    The late 1980s may have contained some hope and faith, but the Irish National Liberation Army gave way to the Irish People’s Liberation Organization in 1986. 1988 contained the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing over Lockerbie. Al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah took over from the early 1990s. And so it goes. It will be interesting to see the effect of Chiron crossing the world axis in late 2018 into 2019, at the same time that Uranus enters Taurus.

    “What is the definition of a civilised society? That is a big question now and it is not a question that is asked, as we assume we live in one, whilst not questioning the criteria.” Leigh Oswald

    • Christina says:

      What a coincidence! I had lunch with Leigh last week after not seeing each other for several years — a fascinating conversation & I agree with her about almost everything, including this point.

  3. mike says:

    Chiron was in Aries from early 1968 through early 1977, which coincides with the concept of international terrorism:

    “International terrorism became a prominent issue in the late 1960s, when hijacking became a favored tactic. In 1968, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine hijacked an an El Al Flight. Twenty years later, the bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, shocked the world. The era also gave us our contemporary sense of terrorism as highly theatrical, symbolic acts of violence by organized groups with specific political grievances. The bloody events at the 1972 Munich Olympics were politically motivated. Black September, a Palestinian group, kidnapped and killed Israeli athletes preparing to compete. Black September’s political goal was negotiating the release of Palestinian prisoners. They used spectacular tactics to bring international attention to their national cause. Munich radically changed the United States’ handling of terrorism: “The terms counterterrorism and international terrorism formally entered the Washington political lexicon,” according to counterterrorism expert Timothy Naftali.”

  4. eggcup says:

    Any thoughts on the December 2016 Chiron/Saturn square at 20 degrees?

    Looks very active with Uranus stationing direct at 20 Aries opposite Jupiter at 20 Libra. Plus the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Pluto will all be in Saturn ruled signs on the 28th-29th.

    Saturn and Chiron should perhaps play nice given they are both currently in signs ruled by Jupiter, and Jupiter is in Libra, which is the sign of Saturn’s exaltation — but who knows with Uranus as a spoiler!

    Maybe it’s about an unexpected opportunity to confront our wounds around boundaries, cultural differences and how we relate to each other? Or USA starts WWIII in earnest.

    • Christina says:

      So many factors to consider — but you are right to bring up this aspect. It’s important. 29 Dec 2016, 17 April and 2 November 2017. So it’s going to be quite a long process.

      Some people would argue that Chiron belongs to Sagittarius also — which would put a further spin on what you have already laid out here.

      I have never been certain about Chiron’s rulership — or whether we need to assign rulership — but the Sagittarian one would fit better with this terrorism thread we’re following here.

      It is possible that other powers will take advantage of the in-between-presidents/christmas holiday feel of late December.