Citizen Snowden

Originally published in The Mountain Astrologer,  2015.

What makes someone risk his personal security for a public goal? Some people seem fated to embody the big, difficult ideas with which their collective is struggling. Edward Snowden, for example, was leading a remarkably unremarkable life that exploded into something extraordinary. This happened after he leaked classified data from the National Security Agency (NSA) to the media in June 2013. It was a move with profound ramifications for himself, his society, and the age we live in.

Two years later, his mild, bespectacled face has become iconic, showing up on posters and street art all over the world. Outside the United States, he has become a symbol of the protest against Big Brother–type surveillance. Within the U.S., battle lines have been drawn between those who see him as an altruist and those who see him as a criminal. What’s certain is that he’s no longer just an average guy.

Can a natal chart tell us why an otherwise unexceptional person becomes exceptional? Are there astrological signals that indicate why, every once in a while, an individual comes along who turns into a rallying point for something bigger than himself?

Transpersonal Destiny

The great astrologer Dane Rudhyar believed that some people, having reached a requisite level of individuation, [1] use their birth potential to address more than their own little lives. For such people, “the goal is not personal happiness, but effectively focused action,” [2] through which they live out their own dharma and that of the collective at the same time. Their path, at first merely personal, becomes transpersonal.

Rudhyar identified Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, by natal placement and transit, as the signifiers of this more-than-personal role. These planets hint at not just what we are like, but why we were born. Writing in the turbulent 1960s, he explained the wrenching cultural upheavals of that era in terms of the conjunction of Uranus and Pluto (exact 1965–66): a “seed-moment” in a long historical cycle.

That cycle has shifted a quarter turn since Rudhyar made his observations. The Uranus–Pluto square, broadly extending from 2008 to 2023, has brought us into a new phase of global iconoclasm (Uranus) and breakdown (Pluto). [3] Certain individuals seem to be tapping into this period in a particularly acute way, acting as messengers of the world moment.

Edward Snowden, a professional in the world of digital (Uranus) surveillance (Pluto), was well situated to embody this epochal conflict. His revelations ignited a firestorm of controversy that is still raging. His release of secret files, detailing the extent of government eavesdropping on private citizens unsuspected of any crime, pushed into public view a key theme of our era: the rights of the individual (Uranus) vs. the powers-that-be (Pluto). [4]

Personal Indicators

If the outer planets reveal our epoch-driven purpose, the inner planets describe the personal profile through which this purpose must act. Though Snowden has steadily maintained that the focus should not be upon him as an individual, but upon the larger issue of official spying, his chart reveals why his personality cannot help but draw attention to itself. The Mars–Sun conjunction is in the 1st house, putting the persona forcefully on display. (See Chart, **wherever.)

The Sun and Mars are in Gemini, as are the North Node, the Ascendant, and Mercury, with Chiron teetering on the cusp. Gemini is the sign of doubleness, which is reflected in Snowden’s skill set and line of work. Doubleness is exemplified by those who lead double lives (e.g., con men and spies) and communicators who translate ideas from one language into another (e.g., data into bits) or disseminate information from one format or place to another (e.g., a leaker who spills the beans). This two-sided quality also shows up in Snowden’s personality. He has been characterized as quiet, shy, and “nice” — that most innocuous of compliments — by friends and neighbors, and as a duplicitous traitor by others.

A bilateral quality also shows up in the architecture of his chart, which features two oppositions scissoring the horizon axis. It’s a geometrical polarization that is reflected in the ideological polarization he has incited. As soon as his revelations hit the headlines, American public opinion bisected itself into two camps: champions and detractors.

But seeing cultural battles as good vs. bad — as the mass media does, when it reduces Snowden’s story to hero or traitor — is not the only way to approach dualistic scenarios, nor is it the most meaningful reading of the sign Gemini. More useful is the lesson embodied in the double-faced figure of Janus, from the Roman myth. The side of him that is visible depends upon where the spectator is standing.

Gemini–Sagittarius

Snowden’s Gemini cluster is mirrored by a grouping in Sagittarius that straddles his Descendant: Neptune, the South Node, Uranus, and Jupiter. Both signs are associated with travel, which, seen through a transpersonal lens, can take on a heroic dimension. Snowden’s storied flights to Hong Kong and Moscow, in search of safe haven, have been compared to the travails of mythic fugitives like Robin Hood. [5] His peripatetic saga also calls to mind Geminian folk hero Johnny Appleseed, who roamed the countryside disseminating apple seeds as widely as possible.

Together, these two signs make for an idea-driven chart. Gemini is the sign that asks, Who-what-when-where? Sagittarius asks, Why? All by itself, Gemini is curious about information for its own sake. Add Sagittarius, and you get hunger for meaning. We might read the Gemini pole of this axis as representing the plethora of “intel” that is the subject of Snowden’s revelations, whereas the Sagittarius pole represents the principles behind his exposure of them.

Snowden’s Mercury and Chiron oppose a close Jupiter–Uranus conjunction. Jupiter, maximally strong here in the sign of its rulership, suggests a fiery crusader in the service of an ideal, driven to tell the truth as he sees it. But Uranus ups the ante: The drive becomes a compulsion.

Prometheus

Uranus is the rule-breaker, steering that Jupiter toward a role that goes beyond mere preaching to something more trans-egoic. Whether or not one agrees with Snowden’s actions, their result was to force into the foreground a moral/ideological (Jupiter, Sagittarius) quandary of our times.

Uranus has been linked with the myth of Prometheus, who, in the Greek legend, stole fire from the gods in order to give it to humanity. He dared to break rank with the Olympian establishment, surrendering his secure and exalted place among them, for the purpose of giving us mortals a gift without which we wouldn’t have evolved. [6] For this act, he suffered the gods’ terrible punishment. Snowden, too, defied the establishment and faces a draconian punishment should he return home.

Gemini–Scorpio

The Moon in this chart is in Scorpio, the secret-keeper that, under the auspices of Gemini, becomes a secret-sharer. These two signs also describe the subject matter involved: Gemini = data, Scorpio = mining — data-mining. It’s a cosmic pun.

Remarkably, Snowden’s fellow intel leakers, Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning, also have the Moon in Scorpio. And as Matt Savinar points out in his excellent essay on government surveillance, the NSA itself has the Moon in Gemini and the Sun in Scorpio. It’s a pairing that suggests multiple (Gemini) layers of concealment (Scorpio). Says Savinar: “Scorpio knows where the bodies are buried, Gemini knows where the phone lines are buried.” [7]>

On a personal level, Snowden’s story is that of a communicator (Gemini) of classified (Scorpio) information. On a transpersonal level, it’s about the nature of information itself: its moral and collective significance (Jupiter, Sagittarius) to a democratic society (Uranus) in fatal peril (Pluto).

Neptune: Fraud or Self-Sacrifice?

Most suggestive of all, from the transpersonal point of view, is Snowden’s Neptune, closely opposed to his Sun and Mars. Tightly woven into the opposition are the Moon’s nodes, hinting at a destiny being fulfilled. Neptune contacts are known for conferring an air of inscrutability, and Snowden’s Chiron–Mercury conjunction in the 12th house strengthens this enigmatic quality.

The mystery (Neptune) of Snowden’s motivations (Mars) became the subject of eager speculation as soon his story went public. Doubts about his veracity arose, as when progressive thinker Naomi Wolf wondered on her Facebook page whether Snowden was “who he purports to be.” [8] Astrologers know that Neptune oppositions are often linked with deceit and/or self-misrepresentation. Although the 1st-house Mars–Sun conjunction in Snowden’s chart suggests unusual courage, that Neptune placement indicates an absence of self-aggrandizement, which astrologers often interpret as a weakness of will, even a victim mentality.

Certainly, Snowden’s story has given rise to all of these interpretations. But it is noteworthy that, whereas the negative potential of these astrological placements points to evasiveness and confusion, the Snowden we see in Citizenfour, the February 2015 documentary by Laura Poitras, is utterly in earnest, clear and articulate. His Neptune opposition comes across not as untrustworthiness, but as divine discontent. Something has been haunting this young man.

Psychological astrology has come to see Neptune’s aspects to the egoic planets (Mars, the Sun) as problematic, but I wonder if this is partly because the notion of pure selflessness is held as suspect in the secular, modern world.

Neptune oppositions suggest the figure of the martyr, a symbol that, though esteemed in centuries past, is apt to make most contemporary thinkers roll their eyes. But the strength of that Sagittarius Neptune in this chart, combined with Chiron–Mercury in the 12th house (karmic sacrifice relating to information), suggests that it is just as likely that Snowden is being sincere when he says, “I am more willing to risk imprisonment, or any other negative outcome personally, than I am willing to risk the curtailment of my intellectual freedom and that of those around me, whom I care for equally as I do for myself.” [9]

Edward Snowden, June 21, 1983; 4:42 a.m. EDT; Elizabeth City, NC, USA (36°N18^, 76°W13^); AA: birth certificate, copy obtained by Eric Francis.

References and Notes

  1. For Rudhyar, individuation implied transcending childhood and societal conditioning. I would add that, these days, the most pervasive conditioning is from the 24/7 media.
  2. Dane Rudhyar, From Humanistic to Transpersonal Astrology, The Seed Center, 1975, p. 45.
  3. We might consider “the planet of breakdown” to be Pluto’s nickname, whereas its full name should really be “the planet of breakdown/renewal/ breakdown/renewal etcetera ad infinitum.”
  4. Tellingly, Snowden’s Gemini–Sagittarius horizon axis is the mirror opposite, to the exact degree, of that of the U.S. (Sibly chart). If it’s true that every Gemini finds a twin — either an affectionate alter ego or an antipathetic “evil twin” — perhaps the country itself plays this role for Snowden.
  5. Jupiter, which governs publishing as well as travel, was transiting his Gemini cluster when he took flight in June 2013. It was exactly conjunct his Mars–North Node conjunction (fateful act of courage) when his story hit the news.
  6. Ironically, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, who fiercely condemned Snowden’s public revelations in 2013, played a similar role herself nearly two years later. Uranus was transiting her Ascendant in December 2014 when she pushed the CIA torture report into the light of day. Channeling the Promethean archetype to a tee, she persevered despite all the resistance and harassment the CIA and the White House could throw at her. (AA-rated birth data: June 22, 1933; 12:44 a.m. PST; San Francisco, CA, USA.)
  7. Matt Savinar, “Watching the Watchers,” in The Mountain Astrologer, Oct./Nov. 2013, p. 23.
  8. www.facebook.com/notes/naomi-wolf/my-creeping-concern-that-the-nsa-leaker-is-not-who-he-purports-to-be-/10151559239607949 (accessed February 2015).
  9. Quoted in George Packer, “The Holder of Secrets,” in The New Yorker, October 20, 2014.
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