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Walter Breen’s Sherlock Holmes’s Horoscope

Walter Breen’s Sherlock Holmes’s Horoscope

“Knowledge of astronomy. – Nil.”

– A Study in Scarlet (STUD)

Walter Breen's SH Horoscope
Sherlock Holmes’s Horoscope, as drawn by Walter Breen

For the illustrious Sherlock Holmes, as for few other characters whose exploits have been celebrated in fiction and legend the world over, we have unusually full biographical information. More or less as a matter of curiosity, following no doubt in the footsteps of many previous Baker Street Irregulars, I jotted down the birth data given by Dr. Watson for Holmes, then in a spare moment check them against the 1854 ephemeris. I expected to find that either Conan Doyle had chosen some ludicrous impossibility of a day, or the possibly you might have made a lucky guess – in which one could speak of an amusing coincidence.

The one thing I was not prepared to find was that the birth data describes Holmes accurately, even to many progressions and transits for dated events of his later life. Probably any dyed-in- the-wool Irregular, committed (for the sake of the game) to the belief that there was a real Sherlock Holmes, will shrug and say ‘of course Holmes’ horoscope would fit him.’

The chart shows Sagittarius rising, with Mercury (sextile MC); Sun conjunct Jupiter in Capricorn, square Moon in Aries – and trine Uranus in conjunction of Venus- Neptune in Pisces, Venus being sextile Pluto and Ascendant, and at the midpoint between Sun and Moon. Saturn in Taurus is part of a Grand Trine in Earth, with Sun and Mars.

Mercury rising in Sagittarius, but without serious affliction, fits beautifully the picture of a gifted dilettante. Holmes, despite two brief periods at Christ Church College, Oxford, and Caius College, Cambridge, never stayed long enough to take a degree. As one might expect from Sagittarius rising, he had numerous hobbies and game – like pursuits, but at the same time – like every basically self-educated man – his education had serious gaps. Though he could do the Bernard Berenson trick of identifying old Masters from the style of brush strokes on paintings, or in spare time (1896) learn enough about medieval and Renaissance music to write a monograph on Orlando di Lasso’s motets, he never became more than a gifted amateur in any of the arts. Artistic interest came naturally enough through his mother’s connection with the Vernet family (French painters). Musical ability as indicated by his Venus- Neptune conjunction, but as this is obscurely placed and afflicted by Mars, we have ample reason for his not going further.

Holmes, despite his offhand disclaimers, had considerable athletic ability, which again he kept in the hobby class, not even bothering to try for a place in any of the teams when he was in college. Mars trine Uranus goes with strength; Moon in Aries confirms it – and athletic interest – but denied him staying power. Like many Sagittarius-rising people, he had a wiry rather than a brawny physique; the Braun which heavy Earth sign emphasis should have conferred was again denied by Moon in Aries. As it was, he developed considerable ability as an amateur lightweight boxer, swordsman and singlestick fighter – all these being dependent more on quick reflexes than on overwhelming strength. ‘Amateur sport,’ said he, ‘is the best and soundest thing in England.’

At college, even as in later life, Holmes was a loner, making acquaintances but few friends, preferring to occupy himself with this diversity of intellectual interest. Already a few of these were being pursued strongly enough to become potential professions; others were to remain hobbies, so others were dropped. Holmes thus learned enough about ancient scripts to write a monograph on their use in dating documents (anticipating methods today in use); enough about organic chemistry to do later research in coal-tar derivatives (ancestor of today’s multimillion-dollar dye, food-colour and plastic industries); enough about human morphology to anticipate the methods of modern criminology in his monographs on the form of the human ear (an identification technique only now beginning to be fully exploited); enough about certain byways in botany and geology to write of tobacco by analysis of the ashes, and to recognize at sight samples of soil as from particular locales. But he knew or cared little or nothing about religion, politics, economics, or even much of world literature, aside from certain favorite authors.

Is most deeply pursued interest did share one feature: minute attention to detail and what could be deduced therefrom. ‘Concentrate yourself on details. You know my method. It is founded on the observance of trifles,’ he told Watson. This automatically points to an unusual Virgo emphasis. His chart shows an elevated slow-moving Mars in Virgo in High Focus – making it by far the strongest planet, and, throwing it sign into unusual relief; the more so since Mars (near the 10th cusp) is also the focus of a Grand Trine and a major opposition, and in aspect to everything else in the chart except Mercury and Venus. Now in more ordinary charts Mars in Virgo goes with craftsmanship of one or another kind; but here the craftsmanship is primarily mental (Moon in 3rd house, Sagittarius rising with Mercury), and we have already seen the evidence.

All this adds up to a cluster of interests and abilities which would have me detective work a natural choice. The Capricorn emphasis is obviously not only connected with a concern for law and order, but with patient assembling of materials, and an unusual reliance on logical methods, plus ambition to the be the best of his kind. A Uranus- Pluto near conjunction near the IC – 4th house by Placidus, 5th by Equal House – guarantees extraordinary originality (Jupiter exactly trine Uranus) in situations or risk. (This and his Aries moon near IC also account for his frequent shifts of residence in childhood.)

Since it is a 5th house conjunction, we may anticipate something very odd in his choice of love objects. (Venus is sextile Uranus, for confirmation.) A life-long bachelor, like many British Sagittarians of his generation, he distrusted women but manifested only the highest courtesy to them in practice; and they confided in him. He was, in a real sense, married to his profession. And for him, there could be only one woman – the mysterious ‘Irene Adler’, sometime opera singer, sometime antagonist, his soul match among the women he met in the course of 26 years of professional life. (Baring-Gould suggests that he met her again in Montenegro in June 1891 and left her pregnant with a son who inherited his own extraordinary abilities, and who pursued a somewhat comparable though more sedentary life under the nom de guerre of Nero Wolfe.) For the kind of love and companionship most people see, in a wife – a 7th house matter, not a 5th – Holmes found Dr. Watson, early January 1881, when transiting Venus conjoined his natal Venus, transiting Mercury conjoined his Jupiter, and transiting Saturn sextiled is Ascendant.

In the ‘Irene Adler’ affair, Holmes uses remarkable gift for impersonation. This shows in his chart: Neptune is at 11 ½ Pisces, at a degree-area commonly occupied in charts of actors; further, the Virgo-Pisces emphasis (Mars opposed Neptune) confers the actor’s ability not only to take a variety of roles, but also to make minutely crafted details contribute to the illusion. Nevertheless, acting was a blind alley for Holmes. During the summer of 1879, while his progressed Moon conjoined Neptune, Holmes – then impecunious – joined a troupe of actors, appearing as Horatio in Hamlet in London, to excellent notices (transiting Jupiter conjoined Neptune), departing for the USA five weeks later with the troupe. But clearly he realized, before the year was up, that his first love would never be acting, as it afforded him new outlet for his deductive abilities.

His Mars-Neptune opposition proved his weakness, despite all his Capricornian endurance. Holmes’s tremendous exertions in spring 1887 left him a very sick, debilitated man (transiting Mars opposite natal Moon; Saturn opp. Natal Sun), and he resorted to cocaine, later also to morphine, neither than being illegal. This must have seemed like just what the doctor ordered (progressed Moon trine Neptune, transiting Neptune conjoined natal Saturn), but naturally it left him addicted, and he is known to have remained so until the year 1896, when his ‘kicking his habit’ left him with little energy for anything else say for his monographs on cryptography (Secret Writings) and on Orlando di Lasso’s motets.

It is possible to follow the Baring-Gould chronology of Holmes’s exploits and vicissitudes, and find appropriate planetary transits or progressions or both for most of them. This holds true even for such things as his being beaten up in the summer of 1887 (transiting Mars over 7th cusp, then opposing natal Jupiter-Sun, square natal Moon; transiting Uranus sq. Jupiter), or Watson’s return to Baker Street about 30 December, 1887 (progressed Jupiter conjunct natal Sun, transiting Sun over natal Jupiter!), And many more. But one of the strongest tests is that of the Reichenbach Falls episode, where Holmes and Moriarty were locked in a death struggle, for May, 1891. On that day there was a close conjunction of Mars, Neptune and Pluto, in early Gemini, squaring his Mars-Neptune opposition, closely sesquisquare his Midheaven; progressed Sun had reached the square of Saturn, but as his progressed Moon was without serious affliction, any astrology both could have spotted that Holmes was not dead. And so it proved. Deceit and illusion were definitely at work space (prog. Moon reaching opposition to Neptune), and nobody but his brother Mycroft and Col. Sebastian Moran knew he was still alive.

Holmes is said to have visited Tibet and other remote places in the ensuing three years. Two months after the Reichenbach Falls disappearance, Watson began placing short stories about Holmes’s exploits in the Strand Magazine; this was an immediate source of funds for Watson, and potentially also for Holmes space (Jupiter stationary sextile natal Sun, prog. Mercury trine MC, etc.). And on 5 April, 1894, Holmes returned to Baker St., when progressed Sun sextiled Mercury and prog. Moon trined Saturn – i.e. ‘vacation’s over now’.

For the rest, a month-to-month recital of events and planetary correlates would be dull reading – though doubtless Holmes would have approved of an investigation of such thoroughness. Suffice it that at Holmes’s death (placed at his 103rd birthday in 1957 by Baring-Gould), progressed Saturn squared his Venus-Neptune, prog. Moon trined Saturn (happy release), prog. Sun was applying to conjunction with Pluto. The impression this leaves is that by now his connection with Earth was tenuous indeed, his work done, death not feared but to be met with equanimity.

All of which raises a number of curious questions. The most important of these, perhaps, is that suggested by the curious event sworn to by Basil Rathbone, who long impersonated Holmes in the movies – a conversation with an aging British beekeeper, on a park bench, in which details of Rathbone’s impersonations were gone over, odd scraps of Holmesian memories brought up, etc., leaving Rathbone (after his departure) with only one possible conclusion as to the man’s identity.

Even if this be dismissed as allusion or practical joke (pointless like many British jokes), we are still left with a documented fact that the very birth data provided for Holmes fit the character incredibly closely. When Conan Doyle recorded Holmes’s exploits, he was not as yet preoccupied with spiritualism, and he is not known to have been an astrologer. But even if he had asked an astrologer friend for a possible birth date for Holmes, how on earth could so perfect a choice have been made, where Holmes solely a figment of common Doyle’s imagination? For in the 1890s, the rôles of Uranus and Neptune were not as yet well understood in astrology, and Pluto was not yet discovered. Nobody then would have had the insight to connect a strongly emphasized Mars-Neptune opposition, stimulated by transit, with a cocaine addiction. The Venus-Neptune conjunction was not yet known to be relevant to music. And so forth – many of the modern principles of interpretation herein used had not yet been devised.

It would be simple for a sceptic to claim that the interpretations are ambiguous enough to apply to almost anyone, or that they could have been easily applied after the fact. A ready way to test that comes at once to mine: show the chart, ‘blind’, without the name, to any astrologer and get his interpretations. You’ll be surprised.

The remaining alternative, then, is that whoever Conan Doyle had in mind in writing about Holmes must have had not only these extraordinary characteristics (like the author himself and Dr. Joseph Bell of Edinburgh University Medical School) but the same birth data. Here we at once reach a situation like that of the Bacon-Shakespeare controversy, which was resolved by a wag who said that it wasn’t Shakespeare who wrote the plays but ‘somebody else of the same name.’ So let it be with Sherlock Holmes.

This post was originally published in the January 1971 issue of Sybil Leek’s Astrology Journal.

Walter BreenWalter Breen was one of the more controversial numismatists of the 20th Century. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University, Breen received his Master’s degree from the University of California-Berkeley. An author of many numismatic monographs and articles, his magnum opus is Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, published in 1988. Breen died in prison in 1993.

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