The planet Neptune rules the astrological sign Pisces (February 19 – March 20).* It is named after the Roman god Neptune (called Poseidon by the ancient Greeks) who had dominion over the sea. And like the sea, the god Neptune’s mood fluidly changes from tranquil to turbulent without warning. In keeping with the principles of AstroMythology (where the behavior of those born under a particular astrological sign is the same as the behavior of the mythological god [planet] that rules that sign) Neptune is an appropriate ruler for moody Pisces. Correspondingly, the beautiful, sapphire-colored planet Neptune is surrounded by a tempestuous sea of moving, roiling gases, heated by the planet’s core. Winds of over one thousand miles per hour churn the ocean of clouds into turmoil. The stormy personalities of both Neptunes, the planet and god, are identical.
In myth, Neptune is one of the three Olympian brothers (Jupiter/Zeus, Pluto/Hades, and Neptune/Poseidon) who share rulership of the Earth. Jupiter rules Earth’s surface and the heavens that surround it; Pluto rules the Underworld or Earth’s interior; and Neptune rules all the waters that flow above and below Earth’s surface. In mythological symbolism water is associated with feeling or emotion, and when Neptune is disturbed he uses his totem weapon and scepter, the trident, to stir up the sea. Neptune is also known as “Earth Shaker” and “Lord of the Earthquake”, because he causes earthquakes to destroy those who have angered him.
Homer’s tale, The Iliad, tells us that Neptune is ultimately responsible for the fall of Troy, though most remember it as a Greek victory. And some believe that the ‘Trojan Horse’ is a reference to Neptune’s totem animal, the hippokampos (a horse with a fish tail) which moves with a wave-like motion over the sea. The hippokampos may represent the destructive tidal waves that accompany earthquakes as well as the wave-like motion of the Earth itself during an earthquake. This is particularly interesting because there is archeological evidence of earthquake destruction as well as warfare damage at the archaeological site at Hissarlik (Turkey) which is thought to be the site of ancient Troy. So the ‘Trojan Horse’ that breached the walls of Troy may well have been Neptune’s horse, the hippokampos, an earthquake, that brought down Troy’s fortifications.
Pisces people are much like their ruler Neptune in their unpredictable mood changes. They can fluctuate between easy-going kindness and angry retaliation. The pacific side of the Piscean nature is gentle and compassionate, and Pisces people are frequently involved with charitable work, helping those who suffer, or those who are lost and neglected. But when something upsets them, Pisces people can strike out at others in shockingly cruel ways.
Pisces rules the natural astrological chart’s Twelfth House** which has dominion over prisons, hospitals, places of confinement, as well as those who have been forgotten. The Twelfth House is known as The House of Self-Undoing; and things related to Pisces are often found to contain an element of self-undoing. One might consider Neptune’s son, Polyphemus, the Cyclops, as a model of self-undoing. (Please note, in mythological symbolism the ‘child’ represents an aspect of the parent’s nature, so Neptune’s son, Polyphemus, represents an element of the Pisces nature.)
The classical tale, The Odyssey, recounts Odysseus’s effort to return home to Ithaca (Greece) after the fall of Troy. During the journey Odysseus and his shipmates encounter the Cyclops, Polyphemus. Polyphemus is huge, and, like others of his kind, has only one eye in the center of his forehead (which can be understood as having an enormous focus on one thing alone). Living by himself in a cave, Polyphemus does not farm; but instead lives off the bounty of the land and the milk of wild goats and sheep. When Odysseus and his men venture onto his shore, Polyphemus finds them waiting for him in his cave. But, instead of behaving in accordance with the prescribed laws of hospitality, the Cyclops grabs two sailors, brutally kills and devours them, and traps Odysseus and his remaining men for a later feast.
In order to free himself and his crew, Odysseus devises a scheme to outwit the Cyclops. He gives Polyphemus a gift of wine which he drinks greedily, and when the Cyclops falls into a drunken stupor, Odysseus and his men blind Polyphemus with the sharpened, fire-hardened end of a club. The crew eventually escapes from the cave by cleverly tying themselves to the undersides of the Cyclops’ sheep as they are sent out to pasture.
Understanding that Odysseus has repeatedly tricked him, the grievously injured and enraged Cyclops cries out to his father – praying that he will punish Odysseus. Neptune hears Polyphemus and answers his prayer. However, in truth and in all fairness, it is not Odysseus but rather Polyphemus’ own dreadful behavior that has caused his undoing. Just as it is Odysseus’ arrogant boasting, in telling the Cyclops that it was he who blinded him, that caused his own undoing through Neptune’s retribution.
This tale seems to parallel the more primitive elements (we all have them) of the Piscean nature. Inclined to be socially withdrawn (e.g. living alone in a cave) Pisceans often wish to have someone or something (e.g. pets, sheep?) nearby to keep them company providing they do not make too many demands. Pisces people tend to have reduced initiative or energy. Like Polyphemus (who lives off the windfall of the land, rather than making the effort to sow and reap), Pisces people husband their resources well, and are very careful with their possessions, money and energy. In the same way, Polyphemus seems to represent a single-minded focus on maintaining a comfortable, undisturbed existence while expending the least amount of energy possible.
Difficulties arise when ultra-sensitive Pisceans are overstimulated, or when too much is asked of them (as when Polyphemus cannot respond appropriately to the pressure of providing the hospitality to Odysseus that is required by Jupiter’s law). Stressed by demands that run counter to their nature, Pisceans struggle to get back to their comfort zone. In their frustrated efforts they often punish those who have disturbed them. This usually involves intuiting someone’s sensitive spot and using it to wound them.
To understand the Piscean nature more fully we should consider the two fish (that are tied together but swimming in different directions) that are associated with the Pisces constellation. This image refers to the mythological tale of Venus and Cupid’s escape from the monster, Typhon. In the story Venus and Cupid dive into a river and transform into fish in order to escape discovery; they also tie their tails together so as not to lose one another. Venus and her child, Cupid, are connected with the physical and romantic aspects of love; however, the astrological sign Pisces, in whose milieu of feeling they swim, is attuned to another aspect of love… compassion (which means ‘to suffer with’).
More than any other sign, Pisces people are able to feel the suffering of others. Like fish, they are totally immersed in the current of feeling. And without the protective claws, shell, or stinger of the other water signs (Cancer and Scorpio), Pisceans have only a few ways to protect themselves from being overwhelmed by pain. They prefer using the natural camouflage of social withdrawal; but when no escape from pain seems possible, Pisces people strike first to drive others away, or resort to self-preserving diversionary tactics such as humor or ridicule. To escape pain, undeveloped Pisceans often resort to avoidance behaviors which can include substance abuse (e.g. using alcohol and other drugs). Ultimately, this strategy is not successful because it ensnares them in ever-increasing stress and suffering. More evolved Pisceans quietly accept their own and other’s suffering, and are often attracted to rehabilitation work that helps victims of some form of self-undoing. With the ability to ‘feel suffering’ as the axis of the Pisces experience, the two fish, connected, but swimming in opposite directions, is an apt symbol for the two poles of the Piscean response.
Pisces people are usually physically well-coordinated and remarkably graceful; many are gifted dancers and athletes. Because of their sensitivity they can be remarkably intelligent too, as they go beyond ordinary understanding and grasp subtle nuances in thought and feeling. Their subtle perception also gifts Pisceans with an excellent sense of humor. Pisces people may be very beautiful as well, but, for both Pisces men and women, this often has its price – vanity.
During the Age of Pisces the image of a fish was used to symbolize followers of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. In the Bible’s New Testament we learn that Jesus chose his first disciples from fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, and showed them that he could walk upon stormy waters. Is there a parallel in this detail from the life of Christ and the detail of Neptune, riding the Hippocampus, above the turbulent waters?
Does it suggest that one must be able to rise above, or master, the ever changing and often turbulent movement of one’s own emotions?
Was “turning the other cheek” meant to be an opportunity to practice this.
*Some astrologers feel that Jupiter rules or co-rules Pisces.
**See: the natural chart in Older Posts – “Libra – At Home in the Seventh House”