Mary Shelley: modern myth-maker

(If you would like first of all to read the preceding five-part series “The Moon’s Nodes in Action”, click HERE.)

Not many people can be said to have single-handedly created an enduring myth. Mary Shelley did, by  writing “Frankenstein”. Full title “Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus”,this famous book was conceived in a ghastly waking dream in the early hours of June 22, 1816, two months before her 19th birthday, and published to great acclaim in 1818.

Mary Shelley offered us a warning of  what the consequences of  humankind stepping over moral limits in the pursuit of scientific discovery might be. This warning has resonated down the centuries; it is more relevant than ever as we engage with a new millennium, and the pace of technology-led progress leads us fast into dangerously uncharted physical, emotional, ethical and spiritual territory.

Mary Shelley’s horoscope fascinated me for years. Here is my analysis of it, with an emphasis on the significance of her Nodal Axis.

Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley

source: her father, present at her birth

The North Node falls in Gemini, the South in Sagittarius. This denotes a life path centred round the conceptualising and disseminating of information and ideas. Sagittarius on the South Node shows philosophy, education and learning, and the developing of an ethical base for life as well as a desire to proselytise from that base, as a fundament  to Mary’s life.

Love of learning, a restless, questing, travel-oriented spirit, and an appreciation of the perspective which comes from exposure to different languages, cultures, and a broad knowledge base, all characterised her inherited gifts – and the cultured context from which her journey through life began.

It also suggests, taking the wide conjunction to the Moon to back this up, a longing from the beginning for a “grand”, adventurous life – for a life infused with vision and the possessing of a big canvas upon which to paint a vivid picture. Her political and artistic context was the aftermath of the French and American revolutions and the impact they would have on the fabric of her time – along with the Romantic movement in art and literature into which her nature fitted so well.

Also indicated in this linking of South Node and Moon is a distaste for the restrictions of the ordinary and mundane, and the potential for arrogance through conviction of one’s own rightness. Blake’s famous line “ the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom” (i) also comes to mind.

Playing Big Momma Benefactress to a bunch of gifted but feckless, frequently penurious fellow writers seemed to take up an extraordinary amount of her time and resources throughout her life – one can see her penchant for this role in the South Node in Sagittarius conjunct the Moon in the 6th House !

The North Node in Gemini conjures up the image of a thrust towards taking the gifts she was given and putting the inspiration provided therefrom into words –  getting her ideas out into the world. It also denotes frequent changes of environment whilst attending to this core task – and sibling issues playing an important part in the whole scenario. Indeed they did, with her step-sister Jane/Clare/Claire Clairmont (who liked changing her name!) dogging Mary’s footsteps for much of her life.

Restless movement and frequent change were very much part of Mary’s and her poet husband Percy Shelley’s being – perhaps the North Node in Gemini demanded this as a way of shaking free her ideas.

When contemplating the location of the North Node, in the 12th house in one of the Gauquelin plus zones (ii), the image of the Big Picture comes in again, from a different perspective. Here is someone the thrust of whose life path demands an offering of her ideas in such a way as to reflect the hidden, unconscious currents running beneath the surface of her time – perhaps a sending out of images which would be borne on those currents to provide insights to generations as yet unborn.

The location of the South Node and Moon in Sagittarius in the 6th House,opposite the North Node in Gemini in the 12th, conjures up a picture of the visionary writer, in touch with the currents of the collective unconscious of her time through the 12th house Node, having to struggle to extract her vision from the mire of the mundane which was forever besetting her. The contradictory 6th house location of the glamorous South Node conjunct Moon in Sagittarius shows this all too clearly.

The nuts and bolts of ordinariness – of the body, of routines, of maintenance tasks which keep the main thrust of life running smoothly, strike me as a major provenance of the 6th House. Mary had trouble with ordinariness all her days – until he died Shelley protected her from the sharpest edges of their constant financial troubles.

She regularily moved her goods and chattels, relatives, friends and children around. Her health was always delicate, childbirth drained her, and the deaths of three of her children made it impossible for periods of time to dredge up any inspiration to offer through the 12th house North Node.

Looking at the planets aspecting the Nodal axis offers further sharp images of the nature of  her life’s path and her struggle to actualise it. Mary had a strong masculine side which her horoscope clearly portrays.

Jupiter is retrograde in Aries in the 11th House, exactly trine the South Node, sextile the North Node. A quote from E.W. Sunstein  sums this up :

“Aspiration, enthusiasm, challenge, active mind and spirit, and optimism were among her cardinal qualities………. it was her incapacity for resignation to cold reality that eventually wore her down.”  (iii)

The location of Jupiter, ruler of the Moon and South Node, in Aries in 11th shows how group associations, frequently involving famous men, usually encountered at home, shaped her life’s path. Jupiter’s falling on the southern side of the Nodal axis, trining/sextiling the Nodes, indicates gifts from the past  which could be used productively by Mary in actualising her full potential – as indeed they were.

There was her father the renowned social philosopher Godwin and his salon, which brought Mary in contact in her youth with eg Coleridge. Hearing him reading from “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” had a profound impact on her which came out much later in some of the imagery in “Frankenstein” (iv).

She met her husband Shelley through Godwin when Shelley was a young acolyte. She met the famous – and notorious! – poet Byron through Shelley. It was in the company of Byron and others that she was challenged to write the ghost story which became “Frankenstein”.

Perhaps Jupiter in Aries – retrograde – shows an early leap to fame (with transitting Jupiter conjunct her Moon when “Frankenstein” was published) which was never to be replicated, although she remained in the public eye as a writer, editor and critic. I think it also shows the arrogant and unrealistic side of her optimism. For example, by eloping with the still-married Shelley in her teens in the early 19th century, and having an illegitimate child, she flouted the conventions of that time to such a shocking degree that she was never ever accepted back into the mainstream of society, despite her expectation that this would eventually happen. This social ostracism caused her great pain all her life although she eventually learned to live with it.

Uranus (ruling MC and dispositing Pluto) in the fourth house in Virgo, squaring the Nodal axis, is the most vivid significator for her unorthodox inheritance, her own defiance of convention, her connection with Shelley, and her authorship of Frankenstein” which assured her place in literary history.

The significator is strengthened if we extend it to include the Uranus /Mercury midpoint, Sun/Venus midpoint, and Mercury/Sun midpoint – all square the Nodes between 18 and 20 degrees of Virgo. This major T-square is powerfully linked with  key individuals in her life who challenged her to grow, and with events critical to the unfolding of her destiny.

“Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus” is the full title of Mary Shelley’s first and most famous book. In the myth of Prometheus lie core images of Mary’s own origins; the times in which she lived; the essential nature of Percy Bysshe Shelley born like her with Sun conjunct Uranus; the way in which she defied convention; the price she paid – and, most of all, in the central theme of her masterpiece.

In essence, Prometheus in Greek mythology was a Titan who stole some of the fire of knowledge from the gods and gave it to humanity to help them in their development. For this hubristic act the gods punished Prometheus savagely. He was chained to a rock, and during the day an eagle came and pecked out his liver, which grew again during the night so that he could be subjected to the same pain the next day, ad infinitum.

The myth of Prometheus speaks most vividly, dynamically and poignantly of the human condition. We seem driven by an unceasing restless quest to push back the frontiers of knowledge, thereby defying  our limits as mortal human beings chained to the programmed lifespan of the body and the inexorable cycle of birth, growth, flowering, decline and death which governs everything in existence.

It remains extraordinary that Mary Shelley, at such a young age, should have become through her writing the vehicle for  a modern re-framing of the myth of Prometheus which endures and is relevant to this very day.

References and Notes:

(i) from “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”  by William Blake. ‘Proverbs of Hell’ – Plate 7, from Collins Dictionary of Quotations, editors N.Jeffares & M. Gray, HarperCollins 1995.

(ii) Gauquelin Plus zones re the 12th house – c/f Written in the Stars by Michel Gauquelin, Aquarian Press 1988 p120.

(iii) Emily W. Sunstein MARY SHELLEY Romance and Reality p 402.

(iv) Muriel Spark Mary Shelley,  p159.

NOTE: My long essay ‘Mary Shelley: Frankenstein’s Creatorwhich offers a vivid and detailed case study of Mary’s authorship of Frankenstein, including all the charts of key people eg her mother Mary Wollstonecraft who died 10 days after Mary’s birth, appears in Volume X1X 3 (August -October 2004) of “Considerations” Magazine 1983-2006, now archived on the Web and a wonderful resource of articles by a wide range of accomplished astrologers.


1600 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2011
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page