Crossing Over With Charon: Discussing the Arabic Part of Death

Charon retrieves the coin from Psyche’s mouth in payment for her trip to Hades. She won’t be staying, so Charon will expect a second obol on the way back.

Death is a subject many astrologers are wary of discussing.

This reticence could well be a natural outcome of our socialised, predominantly Christian history, but during the period thought of as  ‘pagan,’ clients frequently came to their astrologer for one thing and one thing only: to be told when they were most likely to die.

Modern attitudes toward death are usually much less fatalistic, it seems. Since we believe (or hope) we are masters of our own fate, we tend not to place as much weight on a predestined moment in time where we will meet that fate in a dark alley, unable to escape.

Also, due to the power of modern medicine to rescue us from the edge of Hades’ abyss, we’ve been taught to expect death to lose the battle against technology. We know that people can and do die, of course, but we expect death to happen quickly, and if it doesn’t, we can sue doctors if we don’t like the way a relative dies. The simple acceptance of death’s inevitability has possibly been erased from our social consciousness, I think, and there is good reason for that.

After all, death is a terrible reality that takes away everything we ever loved, people we care about, animals we’ve grown attached to… it’s not something most of us, leading these rushed existences we’re accustomed to, want to dwell on, and when we’re faced with it, we do all we can to ignore it.

When we turn to our deterministic, fatalistic chart for answers, we might not always like what we see, and so we don’t think about it; we push this information away. Perhaps it’s well we should not look most of the time, since what death takes from us is just too distressing.

Aupuleius was credited both with writing Cupid and Psyches story in “The Golden Ass,” (2 AD), and with inventing the Sphere of Apuleius, an ancient prognostication device to determine if someone will live or die.

However, some astrologers nowadays have become increasingly open to discussing this subject. When I am ready to glimpse into the oracular pool that the chart can be, I employ the Parts, or Lots. I have found them to be much more helpful with issues of timing than Western astrology seems to allow.

By saying this, I am not saying “take up traditional/classical astrology and abandon modern astrology.” I simply believe in using what works, and I don’t think there’s anything written that says you cannot apply the Lots or Parts in the modern chart, nor does it mean you have committed yourself to one or the other if you reach back into traditional astrology to make use of a technique that never fell out of use.

Even though it is not known precisely how ancient the Parts are (for they are considered to be possibly as old as Babylonian astrology), their use has been kept alive for thousands of years, because, in my opinion, they work as predictive tools.

Learning all of the Lots and their uses takes time, of course. There’s no good reason to start with the Part of Death; it makes much more sense to begin with the Part of Fortune, or the Part of Spirit. However, if you choose to employ the Part of Death, there are a few details to keep in mind. One is that your natal Part of Death might very well be in aspect to personal planets or to the outer planets, asteroids, or other various forms of space dust.

You’ll also notice, if you use this calculator to determine the location of your Part of Death, that you’ll need the specific degree of your 8th house cusp, because, traditionally, the 8th, an “unfortunate” succedent house, has always been associated with death. Death begins in the 8th house, where shadows lengthen; the 8th house is one of the “dread abodes of Typhon,” according to Marcus Manilius.

The Arabic Parts are, when all is said and done, intensely personal to your chart. No one else will have these precise Parts, because each Part depends on the mathematics (and geometry) of your chart.

You don’t realise it consciously, but you want to see Freud’s chart, so click on his picture

What to make of this? Well, I think one of the things to consider is your own attitude toward death, and if you see this Part in aspect to natal planets, ask yourself, to what extent you identify with thanatos, a Freudian concept applied to the ‘death-urge.’ This ‘death-urge’ complements ‘eros,’ conceived of as the desire for all that is not-death. This might more appropriately be considered the survival instinct.

We all know of people who are bent on self-destruction, who seem determined to kill themselves, and they might very well succeed. The Part of Death, as well as the Part of Nemesis, which deals with what kind of death we might have, should be looked at for indications, since self-destruction leading to suicide indicates that the person in question identifies with death and dying. Not everyone wants to be here, it seems, nor does everyone feel they belong or should be alive.

All astrology can really give us are indications, signs, warnings, perhaps, of what might come if we continue down the path we’ve chosen. That’s the non-deterministic view of astrology I like to take in the moments when I’m not bogged down by the opposite, deterministic thought that perhaps we can see our final moments in the chart; perhaps we really can see when we, or someone we love, will die.

Thanatos, in bringing death, is often followed by the fates of death or Keres, also called hounds of Hades, who are Death-spirits, devourers of life.

I can tell you that I used the Part of Death in my mother’s (rectified) chart to calculate approximately when she might die, and she did die within one month of the time I predicted. This happened in 2010, and I have been paying closer attention to the Part of Death ever since. I can also tell you that last year, my Part of Death was activated by progressed Sun (which I only paid any attention to after the fact, but recently, I was looking at my various charts for some kind of explanation as to why I felt like “death warmed over” for two years).

Without dramatising what the last two years have been like physically, I had gotten used to describing myself as the “Tin Man,” largely because I was so stiff and in so much pain, I had difficulty moving. Although I’d like to tell you I ‘cured’ myself in this past year by doing something different, in fact, nothing is different, except for the fact that I am no longer in serious pain all the time. I was worried that I was going to die, quite honestly, with Progressed Sun on my Part of Death, but I’m still here.

Unlike in Dante’s Inferno, the Charon of the Ancients ferries his passenger willingly, as long as he is presented with two obols, one for each direction. In Ancient Greece, the dead were buried with one obol in the mouth, not two coins on their eyes. Death implies a one-way trip, so Charon required only one obol, which he’d pluck off your tongue.

Now, many others have written about the details of how to actually employ the parts, how calculation is determined by sect (night or day birth), and how the math is done.

Here is an extremely useful article discussing the history and mathematics of the Parts.

I am much more concerned with our attitudes about, and the philosophy of, astrology in general. I want to question why we think the things we do, rather than defend our use of one system or method.

Death is a difficult subject, but in my opinion, it’s not one we must shy away from forever, and the Part of Death in your chart, or the chart of another, might be a gateway in to an important series of self-discoveries. What will your Part of Death reveal to you?

Death is much more than a moment in time you’re waiting to catch up with. Just as there is much more to your life than what you do or what you look like, there is much more to your inevitable demise than the date upon which you take your last breath.

My favorite online Parts’ calculator is at Noend Press. Robert Zoeller is famous for his discussion of the Arabic Parts. Ultimately, what you do with this information is up to you, and in my opinion, you should be as free to make use of it as your skill and desire to do so permits. You can think of this discussion as your descent into the underworld; you’re only visiting the Part of Death and the 8th house. You won’t be staying permanently.