Magnified, Sanctified: Leonard Cohen
A poet, a mystic, a lover, a joker — a man. Leonard Cohen, who died last week at the age of 82, wrote complexly layered lyrics, with deceptively simple tunes. His songs coil and then unwind, as images and fragments of stories twist freely into your imagination.
“There is no God in Heaven
And there is no Hell below
So says the great professor
Of all there is to know
But I’ve had the invitation
That a sinner can’t refuse
And it’s almost like salvation
It’s almost like the blues”
— from Almost Like The Blues
Cohen’s works are crafted like intricate jewellery, golden chains of words, studded with precious stones of earthy sensuality, black pearls of wit and despair, and diamonds of immortal longing.
He was born at daybreak on September 21 — so his Sun, at 27’58° Virgo, sits right on his ascendant. Everything is personal, everything is real. Virgo Ascendant-Gemini on the MC: a wordsmith’s signature. He always intended to make a living from writing — and so he did, but some way along the line the music crept in.
His Virgoan perfectionism and attention to detail is evident in every poem and every song. Some, like Halleluljah, took him years to write. Virgo is also an earth sign, a very physical sign, but it’s part of a beautiful stellium in the 12th house of the infinite. His personal experience transmutes into the collective. His personal desire becomes a desire for god.
You say I took the name in vain
I don’t even know the name
But if I did, well really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah
— from Hallelujah
Cohen was blessed with an exact conjunction of Neptune (music) and Venus (beauty) in Virgo — and there we begin to hear the first note of his guitar. This conjunction is less just one minute apart — extraordinary. In a way Cohen’s whole story — the one we know — is there, because that conjunction is opposite his poet’s Pisces Moon, and now we can hear his music. Here is the island-life on Hydra, the withdrawal to a monastery (12H), the love of beautiful women — and the eternal search for god, the desire to lose oneself.
Like a bird on the wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free
— from Bird On A Wire
Cohen’s recurring themes are god and love and purity, the infinite void, the point of life or pointlessness, sacrifice. He was a mystic in the manner of John Donne: sacred and profane mingle. These are 12H matters, Pisces-Neptune matters. Venus adds art and beauty.
Then there’s the Chiron in Gemini which turns the opposition into an energetic T-square. And the energy comes from words — and the wound. The image of something broken but beautiful recurs through Cohen’s work right from beginning to end.
“You can add up the parts, but you won’t have the sum
You can strike up the march, there is no drum
Every heart, every heart to love will come
But like a refugee
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in”
— from Anthem
This song describes the effect of Chiron exactly — “a crack where the light gets in”. If you’re not broken, you can’t get to god.
As well as his meticulous way with words and his musical ear, Cohen was blessed with an extraordinary voice, a voice that got deeper and gravellier with each album, so that now, when you listen to Songs from a Room, you think “Who is that boy singing?” He can’t really sing by the end. He often kind of recites his songs, letting his backing singers do the music. He brings the songs to earth — reminding us that his Sun, Neptune and Venus are in Virgo. But there’s much more going on than that. Cohen’s Mars is important:
“If you want to strike me down in anger
Here I stand
I’m your man”
— from I’m Your Man
His voice is testosterone, coming straight from Mars in charismatic Leo, conjoining the South Node. For him, that voice is natural and easy. The North Node is in the house of theatre, number five, along with Saturn, the planet of the old man — and, famously, his stage career went on and on. Saturn brings longevity, and here he is in his own sign. Again, Saturn gives an earthy power to his performance.
“If you want a lover
I’ll do anything you ask me to
And if you want another kind of love
I’ll wear a mask for you
If you want a partner, take my hand,..”
— from I’m Your Man
And, Cohen was a lover. His experience of love and loss was so keenly expressed in his work. Neptune-Venus must have meant he was always searching of the ideal love, the love in which you lose your identity in another, whether that’s love of god or of flesh. His planets in Libra — Mercury to find the right words, and Jupiter to give him an appetite for love — make an airy Grand Trine with Chiron in Gemini and Saturn in Aquarius. He loved to talk about love. (Libra in the first: an elegant man.)
But Cohen’s best work is metaphysical. Listening to his final album is a really intense experience — a religious one, if you like. And it’s a blessing that we have had two such great “death” albums in 2016, from very different artists: Bowie and Cohen. I believe this has something to do with the South Node and Neptune transiting through Pisces. The South Node in the very last sign of the Zodiac is the gate into the next world, a gate into the infinite.
The North Node has just passed over his Neptune-Venus conjunction in the 12th. The music has gone home, absorbed back into the velvet darkness.