Neptune: Myths and Ancient Stories

Neptune, Calming the Waves
Neptune, Calming the Waves

Neptune: Myths and Ancient Stories


Anne Beversdorf

When you live too close to something, sometimes it’s hard to see it… especially when that “something” is Neptune. I come from a Neptunian family of musicians–and fittingly Neptune is conjunct my South Node. So after a day of hot-air ballooning and wine-tasting in Napa Valley, I figured I was “immersed” enough to give the god of his due.

The problem is, when we look at the god Neptune (or Poseidon), we don’t necessarily find the story astrologers might expect. Yes, he was god of the sea, the watery element, the “deep”. Old sailors would talk about “the drink” in reference to the ocean’s watery depths. Poseidon was brother to Zeus (Jupiter) and Hades (Pluto)–pretty powerful characters, all. Interestingly, Poseidon was mainly a war god. Most of the stories of Poseidon talk about his waging war on other gods in order to take their territory–usually by flooding or by drying up springs and rivers. This may connect to Neptune’s association with loss of boundaries–water, after all, can only be contained by Saturnian limits, and Poseidon, the war god, was rarely contained at all. Poseidon was known for creating great sea storms around his enemies so they would become confused and get lost, and he was also known to blind his enemies. In fact, a strong and afflicted Neptune is associated with vision problems.

Jung connects the ocean to the emotions and to the collective unconscious, and wherever Neptune appears in a birthchart is where one is most likely to be aware of the deeper substrata of the group subconscious, whether that is expressed in positive terms, through connections to the ideals, dreams, and visions of the times, or through negative terms, through addiction to drugs, alcohol, or other escapist activity. But I’m not sure Poseidon’s mythology is sufficient to explain the gamut of the “space-cadet”, the mystic, the musician, the dramatist, the dancer, the idealist, the drunk, the confused, or the addictive behaviors astrologers associate with Neptune.

Ken Johnson and Ariel Gutman, in their book Mythic Astrology, make a strong case that the astrological Neptune’s secondary archetype is Dionysus. Dionysus was god of wine and ecstasy. Dionysus introduced the cultivation of the grape, so farmers also revered him. (In fact, one story about Dionysus links his parentage to Demeter, goddess of grain and the fruits of the earth.) He was patron of the dramatic arts, and comedy and tragedy are directly associated with Dionysian theater. His mystery religion was idealistic, full of rich ceremonies, ecstatic and orgiastic rites, and it promised salvation and liberation. Dionysian festivals were accompanied with drinking, abandonment, as well as frenzied and emotive dancing. According to most accounts, Dionysus, himself, was a child of Zeus (Jupiter) and Semele, but his mother was killed as a result of Hera’s jealousy. As a result, Dionysus was raised by his aunt, who disguised him from Hera by dressing him as a girl. Through Dionysian imagery, we can connect Neptune to drama, the arts, music, idealistic, spiritual, and mystic religious experiences. The outrageous behavior of Dionysian worshippers led his religion to being banned in many places in Greece…and even today, highly “Neptunian” individuals are frequently “suspect” and unwelcome in traditional society.

As with all the other outer planets, there is a particular fear associated with Neptune. Neptune’s placement in a birth chart indicates where one fears the loss of one’s ideals–and is where one is subject to disillusionment. It is, in part, the attempt to reckon with this fear that leads to excesses of “spaciness”, confusion, and escapist activities: If you idealize something, the threat of that “something” being exposed as less-than-you-hoped can lead to despair or addiction–or, on the other hand, to transcendence. Using keywords associated with each of the houses and signs of the birthchart, one can identify the particular Neptunian fear in a given chart. For example, Neptune in (or Pisces ruling) the seventh house would be fear of losing your ideals about the “significant other” in your life, and would be associated with behaviors such as being “blind” to the other’s offensive characteristics. This “blindness” actually demonstrate just how “deluded” one is about the situation.

It seems fitting to talk about Neptune near the approaching Christmas season. Astrologically, we link Neptune to idealism, to spirituality, to mysticism, to divine love and sacrifice of selfish aims. We also link it to delusion, illusions, confusion, deception, addictive behaviors, and to disillusionment. Neptune is the planetary ruler of the sign Pisces. The Christian era was born with the Age of Pisces and, in fact, the fish is still the symbol of Christianity. Some early Christian sects, including the Cathars, used the symbol of Pisces–the double fish, one swimming up, toward spirit, and the other swimming down, toward matter–as the symbol for their faith. Coincidental with Christ’s birth, the bellicose Ariean Age–which glorified war and aggression–ended, and the Piscean Age began. And, in keeping with the new, Piscean ideals, Christ introduced the previously unimaginable concepts of universal love, of self-sacrifice, of “turning the other cheek” toward aggression. In these late years of the Piscean Age, after two millennia of lip-service to these ideas, it is hard to realize how revolutionary they were at the time. But as we near the end of the Piscean Age, and begin to compare the concepts of simple, direct faith and selfless personal service to the new, Aquarian ideals of collective responsibility and group service and action, we can begin to understand the magnitude of the shift made 2000 years ago.

Neptune is also an appropriate planet to consider for the Christmas season because of the peculiar approach of contemporary society to this holiday. Americans tend to romanticize Christmas. This is a holiday where our dreams, our ideals, are of family togetherness, harmony, and unity. For those who are caught up in this illusion, any flaws in this perception can be devastating–the disillusionment of the American holiday tradition can lead to substance abuse, family fights, depression, and even suicide. As we look toward our own reactions to the holidays, it is useful to keep in mind both sides of Neptune. At best, there is selfless love, deep religious spirituality, and harmony–but these are reached only after recognizing and accepting that our expectations may be impossibly idealistic. Since the connection of Neptunian ideals with disillusionment is so strong, we must exert extra caution so that the normal imperfections of the season do not lead us into the darker side of Neptune. By remembering that there are two sides to Neptune’s symbolism, and recognizing that the Christmas holiday season is a particularly Neptunian time, we can allow the imperfections and “flaws” in the ideal picture to become part of our holiday tradition. In this way, we have the chance to realize the spiritually transcendent nature of the symbolism of this religious holiday. … So with these cautionary words in mind, I’d like to wish everyone a realistic, transcendent, nearly ideal holiday season!
Myths and Ancient Stories