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Evolutionary Astrology & -"The Man in Black"

Johnny Cash

Some of my earliest memories are of  "the Man in Black." Born February 26, 1932 at 7:30 am in  Kingsland Arkansas -he was named J.R. Cash by his parents, John R. by the Air Force, and dubbed 'Johnny' by Sam Philips of Sun Records who gave Cash his big break in the music industry. In particular, I remember vividly a TV show where Cash chronicled the history of the Railroads. Having 'ridden the rails' in my own hobo adventures, perhaps this is why the first thing I notice in Cash's chart is the elemental distribution: 5 planets in water, 3 in fire, and one each in earth and air. Water + Fire = Steam 'the power behind the locomotives that populated so many of Cash's early compositions. Another thing that stands out for me is the three distinct periods of Cash's professional life, punctuated by progressed Mercury.[i] In accordance with this theme and out of respect for the man as an artist, I will formulate my astrological analysis in three parts: Love, God, and Murder.[ii]


'Love is a burning thing.' This line, penned by the love of Cash's life, June Carter (born June 23, 1929), should tell you where Cash's Venus resides: the cardinal fire sign Aries. Venus'1st house placement, conjunction to Uranus,[iii] and closing trine (Sag) to 5th house Jupiter in Leo complete and accentuate the fiery element. Venus in Aries and Venus conjunct Uranus can be very impulsive, perhaps explaining why Cash was said to joke he was gonna marry June when he first met her backstage at the Grand Ole Opry in 1956. He brought her and her famous family on tour with him in 1962. They must've fell in love right away, because June's veiled confession of illicit love 'Ring of Fire' was a big hit for Cash the next year. It wasn't until 1968 that the couple's obstacles (including marriages to other people) cleared. Johnny proposed on stage and they soon wed on March 1, 1968.

Both Venus in Aries and Venus conjunct Uranus can find relationships stifling, which is exactly why June was the perfect woman for Johnny. Her spunky temperament (she had the guts to tell prisoners to look at her face while she sang), and professional independence insured that she was no ball and chain. Though June would eventually surrender most of her career ambitions, the two scored Grammy's with 'Jackson' in 1967 and one of my favorite love songs of all-time, 'If I were a Carpenter,' in 1970.

The relationship's professional beginnings and cementing quality for Cash can be seen in the completion, by sign, of Cash's 'ring of fire' (Venus/Uranus trine Jupiter) by Carter's Saturn in Sagittarius. Carter's Sun/Saturn opposition fills the empty part of Cash's chart 'aligning with his MC/IC axis and forming a grand cross with his nodal axis. Carter's Mercury and Jupiter fill Cash's void as well, Mercury at the mid-point of the fire trine and Jupiter at the mid-point of his Solar opposition. The t-square formed by Carter's Jupiter to Cash's Sun/Neptune symbolizes her role as a gateway back to his gospel roots. In a curious twist of fate, 1968 saw the death of Cash's guitarist, Luther Perkins, in a house fire. Two of the sons of his next door neighbor, Roy Orbison, died in a separate fire. This, along with June's influence, led Cash away from drugs to detox and religion.


With the empty 3rd, 4th, 9th and 10th houses, Cash's chart would have to be considered a 'see-saw.'[iv] Jones notes a temperament which exists 'in a world of conflicts, of definite polarities'capable of unique achievement through a development of unsuspected relationships in life'but also apt to waste its energies.'[v] This describes succinctly both Cash's genius as a storyteller and his nemesis 'a lifelong struggle with substance abuse. At the heart of this pattern is the Sun/Mercury/Mars Piscean stellium's opposition with the Virgoan Neptune. The sign placements are reinforced by house -12th to 6th. Virgo and Pisces are both about endings. Virgo is the ending of the 'personality building phase'.[vi] The personality must develop a utility, a practiced proficiency that will enhance or maintain the collective strength and therefore gain it entry into the society building phase. Pisces is the ending of the 'society building phase'.[vii] The society must establish some universal connection, a theological reasoning for the utility of the ending of its members. This means a tradition or culture that will link its members through space and time ('will the circle be unbroken''') and through which they may pass their collective strength and thereby gain entrance to an afterlife 'or the universe itself ('I'll fly a starship''). Cash's status as an American icon, one of only four men to be inducted in both the Country and Rock & Roll Hall's of Fame, is due to his universal (Pisces) genre-bending themes and compassion 'particularly for the working class (Virgo).

'The Man in Black' image is symbolized by Pluto's octiles to the Virgo/Pisces Solar opposition. Sun/Pluto often symbolizes experiences of both tyranny and loss. Cash's father was abusive and he grew up the son of a poor sharecropper, working in the cotton fields by age 5. It was about this time the 'Big River' flooded the family farm 'inspiration for Cash's 1959 hit 'Five feet high and rising.' This was to pale in comparison to the loss of his older brother in 1944 to a woodshop accident. This echoes another Sun/Pluto[viii] theme I have found in several charts (including my own). Psychologist's who analyze birth order call this the 'ghost-child' placement, where the sibling born after the one who is lost becomes swallowed up in the shadow of sadness, questions, and guilt. Though plagued by survivor's guilt (he'd gone fishing that day), the introspective energy also saw Cash beginning to write poems, songs and stories. Cash also took vocal lessons and was told after only three sessions to never take another lesson and never change his natural voice. Traditionally the throat, and therefore the voice, is ruled by Taurus. Cash does not have any placements in Taurus or the 2nd house, but has an important opening semi-sextile (Taurus) by the ruler of the 2nd, Mars, to a well-dignified Saturn.

The strong Solar aspects to outer-planets mark Cash as a Shaman. Rudhyar's 'great man' was the 'flower and fruition of his tribe or race, a collective expression brought to the point of structural perfection' the conscious focalization of a higher collectivity'Such a man became mediator between Heaven and Earth.'[ix] Cash's role as the voice of collective conscience was clear in his 'Ballad of Ira Hayes.' He told the story of a Pima Indian who helped raise the flag at Iwo Jima, yet died in ditch 'neglected by the country for whom he had risked all. The song was a # 3 hit, despite being shunned by many radio stations 'probably due to Cash's preference for the raw truth (he stated the Indians had their water stolen by the government). Cash took out a full-page ad in Billboard magazine denouncing country radio 'a move that would be repeated later in his career.


Cash's lack of deference, raw honesty, and bad boy image did not enamor him with the music industry. Cash was born at the superior conjunction of Sun/Mercury. The mid-70's (after progressed Jupiter's station and as progressed Mercury Rx made the inferior conjunction to the Sun) through the early 90's (until progressed Mercury's direct station) saw a slow decline in his commercial success. The final cap to this slide was Columbia's decision to drop his contract and a short unsuccessful stint with, ironically, Mercury. Cash's life would close in a ten year flurry of creative success, however, where he won 8 of his 14 Grammy's (5 were won 1967-70). The crucial factor in this reversal of fortunes was rap and hard rock producer Rick Rubin's support. After their second album together won a second Grammy, despite being ignored by country radio and Nashville, the two took an ad out in Billboard with a picture of Cash displaying his middle-finger.

Cash's obvious defiance of taboo subjects and acts is probably what gave him such empathy for inmates. Cash seemed to have a very firm understanding of 'there, but for the grace of God, go I.' Cash saw that the ultimate taboo, murder, was a line that was not so hard to cross to a person pressed by circumstance and that a person's life can change forever in the blink of an eye (as his did when his brother died). Examples of such compositions include 'I hung my head' and 'Don't take your guns to town.'

Cash's prison concerts remain unprecedented to this day. In the decade leading up to Pluto's progressed station direct, Cash performed free prison concerts. The first of these saw a young Merle Haggard in the audience. Haggard was inspired and went on to be a successful performer himself. After Pluto's station, he would see his dream of a live prison concert album made real with live albums from both Folsom Prison and San Quentin.

One of my favorite Johnny Cash songs demonstrates the fundamental struggle of Sun/Pluto. The comic nature of 'A boy named Sue' indicates that he had come to terms with his childhood long ago. This song chronicles the death wish of a boy for his dead-beat father 'who gave me that awful name.' After a knock-down drag-out fight, the boy pulls his pistol before the father can get to his. The father proceeds to tell him that 'you got the right to kill me'and I wouldn't blame you if you do.' The father then tries to explain that, knowing he wouldn't be there, he had named the boy Sue to toughen him up and that he ought to indeed, thank him! ('fer the gravel in yer guts and the spit in yer eye.') From my experience, this turnabout is so typical of the Plutonic tyrant that it is indeed comic, and although the twisted justification in real life would be insulting, it does contain a germ of truth. Through the struggle to overcome the bleak circumstances of his early life, he was indeed strengthened, but it was in spite of this rather than because of this that he was successful.

The true miracle is that he not only survived the struggle mostly intact, but retained his dignity and compassion. This capacity for compassion and empathy for -'the poor and beaten down' -the prisoner' -those who've never read' -the sick and lonely old' -the restless ones whose bad trip left them cold' -the lives that could've been'[x] - is perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of Cash's personality. One must wonder -where does this familiarity come from' Why did he feel so close to those who so many would condemn -perhaps because he had been on the other side of that condemnation? Certainly Cash worked through issues of substance abuse during his career -but he was never in jail more than briefly. Cash's collaboration on 'Highwayman' contained obvious references to the idea of reincarnation. Is this man working off the karma of being a killer? By using the techniques of evolutionary astrology we may be able to get a more informed answer to this question.

In my own practice of evolutionary astrology, I prefer to start with Richard Strauss' system laid out in Life Challenge Astrology.[xi] The basic idea is that the evolution of the individual exists on a continuum or developmental axis. On one end of the continuum is the unresolved karma which reflects where the soul has been and is symbolized by unconscious chart factors. At the other end of the continuum is the potentiality which is a reaction to the excesses of unresolved karma, and represents where the soul is going 'symbolized by the conscious chart factors. As you might guess, indicators of unresolved karma include the Moon, Saturn, South Node, and squares. Indicators of future potential include Jupiter, retrograde planets, North Node, conjunctions and oppositions.[xii]

Cash's unresolved karma is symbolized by Scorpio (Moon), Virgo (S Node), Aquarius (Saturn), and Aries (squares). This is quite obviously a conflicted past. His future potential is largely defined by Pisces (Sun, N. Node, oppositions, conjunctions) with Leo (Jupiter), Virgo (Rx Neptune, oppositions), Cancer (Rx Pluto), and Aries (conjunctions) 'again conflicted. If we take out the elements common to both (Aries/Virgo), then on a continuum, Cash's 'karmic compass' looks something like this:


Scorpio, Aquarius


Pisces, Leo, Cancer

The challenge then seems to be healing (Pisces) a collective conflict (Scorpio, Aquarius) by performing (Leo) universal themes (Pisces) of family and country (Cancer). The collective conflict most likely symbolized by Scorpio/Aquarius would be the 'wild West.' This period was somewhat characterized by 'frontier justice' and what were essentially vigilante (Aries) actions by common people (Virgo). This sort of retribution is bound to carry a karmic toll, even if at the time the action seemed 'justified.'

My initial hunches are confirmed by using the more specific techniques of the two pioneers of evolutionary astrology, Jeff Green and Steven Forrest. Forrest primarily uses the South Node and Green uses Pluto. In this instance the two converge. The planetary ruler of the South Node (Mercury), said to 'correlate with a pivotal chapter in the emerging tale of the prior lifetime,'[xiii] is conjunct the Sun and shares the closing sesqui-square aspect to Pluto.

Green describes this aspect as a crisis where 'the individual must learn about 'rules, laws, and taboos before the evolutionary purpose can be established.'[xiv] This phase is echoed three times by Sun/Pluto, Mercury/Pluto, and Mars/Pluto. If we return to the nodal theme, we can see perhaps why this is so necessary. The major planetary aspect to the S. Node is a trine from Saturn. Forrest says this indicates 'how the person could have been supported in folly.'[xv] Saturn in Aquarius being dignified could indicate that the act of 'frontier justice' was supported by the authorities and the individual could act without fear of punishment 'at least in this lifetime. Perhaps the act which garnered the retribution was in fact an accident and the soul is haunted by the guilt of having committed an equal wrong through hasty judgments. Perhaps this is why the Soul had to suffer the loss of a loved one to an accident again, this time with the possibility of retribution removed.

Some prominent astrologers have argued that evolutionary astrology is a step backward from psychological astrology because the assertions of evolutionary astrology cannot be shown to be 'true.' This is not the point. The sense of 'personal evolution' gained from considering these possibilities is incredibly valuable to many. What we are doing is tracking individual growth along a universal continuum. Whether or not there exists a past or future for the soul is really not the point. Elucidating a unique perspective of individual growth, a sense of becoming, a sense of the 'process' of life, the individual's place in the evolutionary continuum 'these are the point. Furthermore, this sense of meaning and purpose which fills an existential vacuum is exactly what the humanist psychologist claims to be after.

[i] I have noted this theme in many charts, two of the most famous examples can be found in my article: The Progressed Station and the Mythic Quest ' see
[ii] -After the Cash directed 2000 compilation.
[iii] Like Robert Hand, I consider Uranus to be fiery like Mars (hot and dry) 'See Garry Phillipson's interview in The Mountain Astrologer issue # 109 June/July 2003.
[iv] Marc Edmund Jones The Guide to Horoscope Interpretation The Theosophical Publishing House: Wheaton Ill, 1941.
[v] Ibid -pg. 91.
[vi] Dane Rudhyar, The Pulse of Life Llewellyn Publications: St.Paul, MN 1963.
[vii] Ibid.
[viii] Cash's placement is double Pluto 'the closing sesqui-square equates to mid-fall and Scorpio.
[ix] Dane Rudhyar, The Astrology of Personality. 1970 Doubleday: Garden City, NY. Pp.188-9.
[x] From 'Man in Black'
[xi] Richard Strauss, Life Challenge Astrology: karmic indicators in the birthchart. Samuel Weiser, Inc.: York Beach, ME. 1989.
[xii] Ibid, p.33.
[xiii] Steven Forrest, 'Astrology and Reincarnation' The Mountain Astrologer Issue # 122 Aug/Sept 2005.
[xiv] Jeffrey Wolf Green Pluto vol.II Llewellyn, St. Paul 1998. pg.219 -emphasis mine.
[xv] Steven Forrest, 'Astrology and Reincarnation' The Mountain Astrologer Issue # 122 Aug/Sept 2005.

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