Algol and the Pleiades: the Stuff of Tragedy

Among traditional astrologers Algol has the reputation of being the most malefic fixed star in the heavens. But close by is a group of stars, equally famous and equally of unfortunate reputation. The Pleiades, or the Weeping Sisters.

According to Ptolemy they are of the nature of the Moon and Mars. Wm. Lilly speaks of  some characteristics when describing their directions to the Ascendant and Midheaven.

  • To the Ascendant there is danger of wounds or hurt to the eyes, but also towards obscurity and loss of reputation. This in the form of imprisonment or banishment mostly self-induced through quarrelling.
  • To the Midheaven there is wrangling and controversy, also quarrels. The native is “thrust into troublesome, pernicious and dangerous business”. If he meets with sudden preferment it will end unfortunate.

Algol is described by Ptolemy as having the nature of Saturn and Jupiter. It is associated with uncontrolled emotion and violence through which the native literally or figuratively loses his head. At first it seems curious that it should be of the nature of Jupiter and Saturn. But if you meld the warmth and expansiveness of Jupiter with the coldness and brittleness of Saturn you have a noxious combination. You can imagine it this way:

Suppose someone falls deeply in love, their heart expands and enfolds the beloved with warmth and joy. But what happens if this love isn’t returned in the way expected, or worse, appears to have been given to another? Then all the joy and generosity bestowed upon the beloved becomes poisoned. The bitter cold and above all jealous voice of Saturn turns the beloved into a calculating and heartless creature full of deceit. Love becomes hatred and fury and vindictiveness are now directed towards the ‘beloved’. All rational thought is put aside, one loses one’s head with an emotional surge that strives to damage and hurt, cost what it will. This is the stuff of tragedy and Shakespeare’s “Othello” comes to mind.

Now what about the Pleiades? How are they different from Algol? They are of the nature of the Moon and Mars. Again, opposites meet. And if we take our lead from what Wm. Lilly describes then the tendency is towards obscuration. Either literally, which is damage to the eyes, or figuratively through banishment from a former favourable state. The Moon, as a Light, becomes obscured or eclipsed by the impulsive violence of Mars. Hence the wrangling and quarrelling that Wm. Lilly describes. Here the story might go this way:

Someone knows of the love of another. They can be sure of it. But they must have a demonstration of it that surpasses anything that they can imagine. So others must also express their love but it must be shown to be of lesser quality. But what happens if the person is unable to distinguish truth from flattery? And instead of hearing some absurd fabrication of love they hear only simple truth? And being blinded by some fancy (lunacy?) they quarrel and disown the love given? This is also the stuff of tragedy. It is the story of Lear. Blindness leads to banishment, despair and weeping.

When we find these particular fixed stars prominent in a chart it might be a great help to evoke the story of Othello and Lear in our minds eye. In a birth chart it may be helpful for the native to know that they have great potential to cast themselves as the major figure of a tragedy and that they may perhaps fend away the worst if they could learn in a difficult situation to see clearly through their emotions, as if they were looking at a play on a stage.

32 thoughts on “Algol and the Pleiades: the Stuff of Tragedy

  1. This is a very interesting view of these fixed stars, I’m not accustomed to Shakespeare because we study our literature here in Italy, so your reading is intriguing, different and still traditional.


  2. Hello Margherita,

    I consider Shakespeare’s work to be the topmost “textbook” on understanding human nature. I know no better. Neither Freud, Jung or any of the other scientists of the human soul come even close. And there is much astrological understanding that can be won.

    The tragic figure of Lear can be found in smaller or greater scale in many complicated human situations and if recognized the key to solving them is also given. I think anyone who gives any form of counsel whether astrological or otherwise should be familiar with their Shakespeare!

    best regards,

  3. Hello Thomas,

    William Congreve is another English dramatist who was a perspicacious student of human nature. Perhaps his most famous quote is rather apt here?

    “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned,
    Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned”.

    William Congreve, The Mourning Bride, 1697, act III scene 8
    English dramatist (1670 – 1729)

  4. Cardano noticed that Venus and Mars are the planets with greatest latitude – and when they reach it, it means something.

    Have a nice Sunday, I’m going to post my post about Algol too ….


  5. Hello Caroline,
    Nor breadth to contain the rage of a jealous man?

    Thank you so much for the quote. Very appropriate to Algol.


  6. Hello Margherita,
    I am not sure in what context you are placing Mars and Venus in with respect to algol. Maybe your article will explain this. I am travelling, sonit may be a fews days before I can read it. 🙂


  7. Dear Thomas,
    I generally write in a confusing English, and worst, in a confusing Italian 😦

    I mentioned Mars and Venus because they correspond – at least in my mind 🙂 – to fury and love.
    So Cardano said that these passions are the greater the man knows as the latitude of these planets is the greater a planet can reach- obviously he did not know the transaturnian ones.

    I did not mean any direct reference to Algol, which according tradition is more linked with power and death issues, Jupiter and Saturn.

    Algol makes me think about Salome.

    In my articles-but it is not beautiful and poetical as yours- I just tried to enquiry in traditional aphorisms from different medieval/renaissance authors.

    And I tried to explain why according Ptolemy with some quotes and example charts – in CieloeTerra they do like that- stars should be taken in mundo if they are not on the ecliptic.

    I hope you will read, I give great importance to your opinion and friendship, you know,


  8. Hello Margherita,

    I am back home and will try to read your article as soon as I can. I will comment at your site. 🙂

    Thank you for the clarification about Mars and Venus. I understand your point now.

    The image of Salomé with the head of John the Baptist is indeed an interesting contrast to that of Perseus with the head of the Medusa! It seems to be the inverse.


  9. Happy to read you in my blog

    As usually I agree wit you: we should care about real position of stars in the sky because astrology is the art of seeing signs of the sky.
    It would be beautiful to have a software, but a small spreadsheet is not so difficult. And with proper formulae more sophisticated minds
    could have the degree the star passes the ecliptic too.

    Still I must admit I give a look to stars in longitude too – this should be the reason Morin considered a very large orb for stars, because it’s always unclear where they are 🙂


  10. It’s not always figurative. In fact, by the way the head and eyes keep cropping up in my life, I’d wager it weren’t figurative even most of the time.

    My natal Moon is at 28 Taurus (in the Sixth, which adds weight to this particular picture). I just found out, last year, that I have very serious retinal damage — at only 37 years of age. I’ve had many, and need more, operations on (in) my eyes, that should only slow, and cannot stop, my vision loss… a gift from The Pleiades? I have certainly thought so.

    I’ve also had a large, inexplicable bump on my head, four centimeters thick at its deepest, for going on 30 years — this puts a bit of pressure on my brain, it seems. From it, I get “phantom smells” (such as strongly smelling ammonia, when there is none around). I’m sure it contributes to far more.

    Interestingly, my Mother, too — a lady in otherwise-good health — died of a very sudden series of aneurysms. In turn, she was far too young (age 56). Mom would also, of course, be my Moon… the hailings (and a bit of sleet) of Algol? I have to say, I believe so.

    [Of course, I’ve also got Jupiter opposing Venus, with Pluto “transforming” (ha) the opposition into a T-Square — and, all three bodies are very near the Cardinal Points. Seeing this — alone!, let alone with the same Jupiter conjoining Iris (for those who peek at the small guys) — an astrologer once said to me, “Keep an eye on your blood sugar! This is what I call a ‘diabetic T-square’.” It was online — he had no idea I was sick, let alone diabetic.]

    …So, while I do know that there is more in the radix, and that all of the factors in it are interwoven… still, there are Algol and his friends. They’re strong in the chart, via the very Moon, and are aspected quite a lot.

    Just quick thoughts; sometimes, there is simply no need to get abstract (gasp! one of my favorite things to do).

    I hope my story has been relevant to someone, today.


    • Hello Jaxxy,
      Shakespeare’s characters are so very real. Our understanding of Algol and the Pleiades can only profit from the analogy. So the description is neither figurative nor abstract. Quite the contrary!

      Of course the article doesn’t discuss possible physiological manifestations, which were much discussed by the older authorities. Please understand that medical questions are not a topic that can be discussed in any detail here, not without consequences that neither you nor I are prepared to accept! Thank you for sharing some details of your chart, perhaps they are indeed relevant to someone today!

      best regards,

  11. Thanks everyone for this discussion!

    Jaxxy-I absolutely understand your bringing pragmatics into the conversation: living Algol is no theory!

    Thomas-this is one of my favorite astrological sources: one of the Internet’s most erudite while also accessible.

    Algol is conjunct my natal Mars on the 4th-5th houses cusp {Koch}. Every since I learned of its existence-I continually monitor my emotional awareness ignorance of which has intensely effected earlier relationships when I was ignorant of a nitrogen rage from childhood dynamics.

    Meditation-breath-work is my means to expressive vigilance while coping with this energy’s apparently inevitable manifestations {‘karma’}.

    ‘Grateful for this place in cyberspace;-)

    • Dear IZB,
      Thank you for the feedback. It is most welcome!
      It is certainly worthwhile to examine the influence of Algol, not only in the birth chart but also by progression and very important, in solar return charts. The year that Algol rose in my solar return was the year where surgery was not an option but necessity. But this leaves the question open whether to describe Algol’s influence as ‘evil’. You use the word ‘vigilance’. I think this is can be a key to understanding malevolent experience. With vigilance any setback can be faced. That doesn’t mean you remain unscathed!

      best regards,

  12. I have Venus on Algol the star of Hanging in the 11th trine Pluto at 1 Libra on my IC. As I’m Cancer Rising, I’ve always taken the Moon to represent me, and Venus to represent my mother. She was an artist and my best friend until she hanged herself in 2005. All very apropos of my natus.

    I hadn’t thought of progressing the fixed stars, thanks for that idea! Venus is on my ascendant now–and it’s been a good time for me, not very Algolian. Maybe I’m just happy to finally have finished the journey through the 12th house. 🙂

    • I am sorry to hear of what can only be considered a tragic event. Have you looked at your 2005 solar return? The primary and secondary progressions might also help to understand the event better.

  13. with much respect to all, I don’t agree with this. perhaps due to my Algol-Eros/pleaide connection but anyway. 😛
    I’m a very loving person with the most contradictionary scorpio chart. everything seems to be about rebirth and regeneration, but i have these strong aspects with pluto, scorpio, opposites sun&water, lilith and moon and a lot of weird stars charisma going on everything pointing on regeneration between light and dark. i very much regard the dark watery aspects as feminine ancient powers, before the patriarch olymp, trying to get to a cosmic agreement of sorts. its the only way I can see it. im very emotionally powerful but very altruistic and im not afraid of all that dark stuff. I think you should evaluate the female ancient mystic powers a bit. the pleiades were heroic and sweet, they suffered for their late brother and their father, who were punished by the olymp when zeus locked in the feminine, fertility) natural forces in the underground. they are doves and they’re sisters to the hesperides ( the guarders of the golden apples) and the hyades (bringers of dewy rain. they are not evil in any way!! and i choose to look at it as ancient, more complex powers evaluated trying to connect with the olympic fire gods in some sort of diplomatic way. at least in my chart (ac- sun trine mars, moon has to do with all the cancery/taurus venus neptune pluto jupiter fertility mystic stuff. everything is superconsequent .D)

    • Every astrologer uses his or her chart as a scale to understand astrological influence, but this must be done carefully as there is always a danger of using oneself as the measure. And that dear loving scorp is hybris.

      Masculine and feminine are both cosmic qualities and so I agree with you that they are important. But human masculinity and femininity are only part of the picture and the question is how much one projects ones personal experience of gender into the picture.

  14. oh and medusa is only misunderstood. 😉 she wanted to make love with poseidon (watery fertility symbol) in the temple of the wise, and the authoriative patriarc olymp thought she was too cocky to want both knowledge and nature, being a woman, so they kicked her out. not very nice.

    • Medusa was caught by Athena coupling with Poseidon in Athena’s temple. Athena considered this as desecration and so she punished Medusa by giving her the appearance of the other Gorgons. Athena is female so I don’t think there was discrimination involved. We may not find mythological stories to our taste, but we shouldn’t change them to suit our opinion.

      I don’t agree that Medusa is misunderstood. It might be better to explore what it means to have snake-hair, a scaly skin, canines, glowing eyes and extended tongue along with the ability to turn any mortal to stone. And also to explore the story of her decapitation.

      • yeah my comments were a little confused and fair enough, very hybris, I was just new to astrology when posting them so I didnt hold back anything at all in some sort of desperation of making a point. 😀 then it often comes out at hybris. 😉

        anyhow, I disagree with you. My point is _not_ directed towards gender politics but of general human psychology and I really think the Greeks, and then the Christians, were more patriarchal than the fertility cultures. And it is not “a subjective hybris ” perspective, it’s a general perspective just like the original perspective you presented, is. All astrology is based on psychology and myths so there cant be an absolute truth that rules out all the others. I’ll keep with my theories..

      • The article is an exploration of the mythology and an attempt to provide an imaginative framework for general astrological practice. I try to keep to a concise presentation of facts but you are welcome to use sweeping generalizations if it pleases you.

        You will note that the article is published under “Musings”. I am not pretending to providing an absolute truth.

        Thank you for your comments.

    • Hallo Seneca,
      Brittleness in the sense of intense cold. And brittleness in the sense of unflexible character. I know that lead is very malleable. Poisonous too.
      best regards,

  15. Fascinating article, Thomas! Thank you for posting this. I have recently discovered Algol conjunct my Jupiter (1 degree orb) and was curious if you would have any idea on how to interpret this? This occurs in my 6th house. Any ideas are greatly appreciated!

    Be well,


    • Hello Elise,
      I am happy you appreciated the article! Any particular aspect should always be viewed in context of the whole chart. A Jupiter/Algol conjunction would tend to pronounce the Jupiter side of Algol. You would still have to examine the condition of Saturn in your chart and of course how both planets are bound into it not to mention Jupiter’s condition in respect to other planets. Jupiter as L1 conj. Algol would express itself differently than say Jupiter as L2, and so on. Basically you need first to examine Jupiter’s condition in respect to the whole chart and then in context of the Algol conjunction.
      best regards,

  16. I just wanted to send wonderful energy out to Elise; upon noticing her mention of the Sixth, I found myself compelled to warn her to take special care of her physical eyesight.

    My (heavily aspected, mind) Moon conjunction to Algol has indeed brought me serious vision problems–proliferative diabetic retinopathy. I believe I went on and on about my health issues somewhere above, if this thought be interesting to you. (I haven’t the heart to read all I might have said above once more! lol.)

    My compliments again for this article, and to its commentors–I had to google and visit it again.
    Warmth and love to all,
    A Jaxxy-bird.

  17. I was born with Mars at the Weeping Sisters (Pleiades), now it is retrograde by progression at Algol. (by the way, natal Mars is square Pluto). Before I learned of Algol, I did realize I was stubborn to a ridiculous degree, and would fight battles I had no business being involved in, mostly regarding relationships… I just wouldn’t let go, despite the fact that I was being beaten up (metaphorically, never physically). I am female, so Mars in my chart has definitely been acted out through the men in my life. Mars is also my chart ruler, and co-ruler of a Scorp stellium in the 7th. Sensing a theme?? Also, the men in my life have undergone tragedies, especially when Neptune began aspecting first progressed Mars and then natal Mars. I have a complete respect for the ancient interpretations of this Fixed Star, and my education regarding it has helped me surrender subsequent battles earlier since learning of it. Notice I said “earlier”… I still enter the battles, but get out more quickly. My ego still kicks and screams but is growing more mute as the years pass. In my chart, Jupiter is in Scorp and Saturn in Sag, square the Sun so again, the theme of male tragedy. Luckily I am much, much older now and tragedy has more perspective.

  18. very interesting deep conversation. I love it all. A whole generation was born in 1983 with Chiron conjunct Algol and the Pleiades who are now just passing their first Saturn return. My son was born under this one. The Pleiades are held to be ancestors in many Native American legends and other parts of the world. in those myths they are not considered to be bad, but the Gods who seeded humans on the earth.

  19. Fascinating. I have Algol is conjunct the Moon with a 0°19′ orb and conjunct Juno with a 0°16′ orb, with Saturn 4° west of the others and 10° east of the MC. All are 10th house Taurus. This group opposes my 4th house Scorpio Venus-Neptune (i.e., Poseidon) conjunction, with Saturn in wide (10°) opposition to Jupiter on the IC, echoing the Algol tension itself. If that weren’t enough, Moon/Juno trine my 0°14′ Mars-Pluto conjunction in 2nd house Virgo with less than a 2° orb. Suffice it to say there’s lots going on with Algol here.

    With my father’s Saturn also under Algol and right on top of my Moon/Juno, plus my mother’s Saturn squaring my Mars/Pluto, much of my childhood was defined by power struggles, mostly for the right to be and express myself. Both my mother (Athena/Moon) and father (Saturn) felt it was their highest moral duty to squelch my pretty Venus-Neptunian (Poseidon!) fantasies and my (Mar/Pluto tr. Juno) endless striving for power over my own choices. My father used to say, “I can out-stubborn you, I’ve been stubborn a lot longer than you have!” But this just made me set my jaw twice as hard, and in fact we were pretty equally endowed and evenly matched in the battle of wills.

    As for the author’s note that the native has the potential to see him/herself as a major player in a tragedy…boy, is that ever on point. I have *always* been drawn to tragedy; in fact, my very earliest memory is of my parents punishing me for expressing my feelings about a (Disney movie) tragedy. Later, when I was discovering classic literature, I deliberately decided that I much preferred tragedy to comedy—give me Catherine Earnshaw over Elizabeth Bennet any day!—although back then I hadn’t yet realized I was also drawn to playing out tragic themes in my own life.

    Another way Algol has played out is through my hair. Like Medusa, I was blessed with a gorgeous head of hair (thanks, Leo rising)—long, thick, wavy and golden. Tired of struggling to take care of it, when I was 6 my mother (Juno/Moon/Athena) insisted that it be cut. The resulting close crop made me look like a boy—shorn of my feminine power by my own mother. Since then, I’ve often had long hair again, but a drastic haircut has always either heralded or followed a major life event, usually in the context of a relationship. Perhaps most strikingly, my theretofore “only” psychologically abusive ex dragged me up a flight of stairs by my hair. I hacked it all off that night and ended the marriage immediately thereafter, which in retrospect seems like a symbolic transmutation of disempowerment into empowerment—an opportunity for rebirth with both wings and weaponry (Pegasus and Corphyus, Medusa’s children by Poseidon).

    Incidentally, my Sun conjuncts Spica at 0°1′ and is quincunx the Moon and all that associated drama in the 10th, so maybe this is the influence that lets me draw some paradoxical positives from all that traditionally malefic Algol energy? As Diane noted above, luckily age does bring perspective, and painfully gained wisdom, when dealing with these energies in the chart!

    A final note on manifestations of the Pleiades and especially Alcyone—being a cluster, they also rule injuries to the face in general. When I was 5, a dog bite to the face missed one of my eyes by a very few millimeters and required several stitches. I still have the scar, although, just like a progressed chart, it’s moved farther from my eye over time.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking topic!

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