Astrology in Moby Dick
” Halloa! here’s signs and wonders truly! That, now, is what old Bowditch in his Epitome calls the zodiac, and what my almanac below calls ditto. I’ll get the almanac and as I have heard devils can be raised with Daboll’s arithmetic, I’ll try my hand at raising a meaning out of these queer curvicues here with the Massachusetts calendar. Here’s the book. Let’s see now. Signs and wonders; and the sun, he’s always among ’em. Hem, hem, hem; here they are–here they go–all alive:–Aries, or the Ram; Taurus, or the Bull and Jimimi! here’s Gemini himself, or the Twins. Well; the sun he wheels among ’em. Aye, here on the coin he’s just crossing the threshold between two of twelve sitting-rooms all in a ring. Book! you lie there; the fact is, you books must know your places. You’ll do to give us the bare words and facts, but we come in to supply the thoughts. That’s my small experience, so far as the Massachusetts calendar, and Bowditch’s navigator, and Daboll’s arithmetic go. Signs and wonders, eh? Pity if there is nothing wonderful in signs, and significant in wonders! There’s a clue somewhere; wait a bit; hist–hark! By Jove, I have it! Look you, Doubloon, your zodiac here is the life of man in one round chapter; and now I’ll read it off, straight out of the book. Come, Almanack! To begin: there’s Aries, or the Ram–lecherous dog, he begets us; then, Taurus, or the Bull–he bumps us the first thing; then Gemini, or the Twins–that is, Virtue and Vice; we try to reach Virtue, when lo! comes Cancer the Crab, and drags us back; and here, going from Virtue, Leo, a roaring Lion, lies in the path–he gives a few fierce bites and surly dabs with his paw; we escape, and hail Virgo, the Virgin! that’s our first love; we marry and think to be happy for aye, when pop comes Libra, or the Scales–happiness weighed and found wanting; and while we are very sad about that, Lord! how we suddenly jump, as Scorpio, or the Scorpion, stings us in the rear; we are curing the wound, when whang come the arrows all round; Sagittarius, or the Archer, is amusing himself. As we pluck out the shafts, stand aside! here’s the battering-ram, Capricornus, or the Goat; full tilt, he comes rushing, and headlong we are tossed; when Aquarius, or the Water-bearer, pours out his whole deluge and drowns us; and to wind up with Pisces, or the Fishes, we sleep. There’s a sermon now, writ in high heaven, and the sun goes through it every year, and yet comes out of it all alive and hearty.”
So speaks Stubb, the pipe-smoking second mate of the whaling ship Pequod.
The book is, of course, full of prophecy and portents, foreshadowings, doublings and doom –– fittingly the realm of Neptune and the 12th house astrologically.
It was published in 1851, a year, like this one, when Uranus was in early Taurus — and Neptune was in Pisces. That decade, the 1850s, was the last time Neptune, the great lord of the sea, was in his own sign, Pisces, before our own decade, and for most of that time Uranus was also in Taurus.
Destiny, perhaps, in the shape of the North Node, was in Cancer, a sign, like Pisces, also associated with the sea and sailors. From November, the North Node will again be in Cancer, so we might look back — a little — to 1851-2 for our own signs and wonders.
The captain of the Pequod, Ahab, is one of the great characters in literature. In the chapter quoted (99), he has nailed a doubloon to the mast of the ship and explained to his crew that this is no ordinary whaling voyage, but a mission of vengeance. He will kill the great white whale Moby-Dick in revenge for the loss of his leg.
The story is a tale of what happens when a man plays god (among other themes).
Ahab is, of course, delusional, mad, charismatic, leading his whole crew to its death.
Makes you think doesn’t it.