Ever since the newspapers of the 1940s both put astrology on the popular map by reducing the Mother of Sciences to a birthday Sun sign in the general consciousness, both astrologers and publishers have been trying to find a way to break out of the oversimplified mold — without going all the way back to the real thing, conceived of as just to horribly complex for the simple public moron to contend with, much less actually purchase a book on. In the meantime, the truly great astrologers of the 20th and 21st who managed to make a fairly good living within the art did it by writing Sun-sign books or columns, some publicly, some surreptitiously. Charles Jayne wrote the column for the N.Y. Daily News, and Al H. Morrison the dailies for the N.Y. Post, both entirely under the table. Others like Carroll Righter and Michael Lutin did it right there out in the open, in syndicated dailies or the pages of Vanity Fair and Vogue.
Of course, you can only go so far by milking Sun-signs, and they have been milked to death, from sex signs to money signs, to home design signs, to fashion signs, ad nauseam. So, some years ago, publishers thought to open it out — but not too much — by adding another legitimate part or two, like the Moon, or your Ascendant, or Mars, Venus, or (lately) Jupiter, with a host of attendant necessary tables that readers generally hated. The only really successful effort was Debbi Kempton-Smith’s Secrets From a Stargazer’s Notebook, which succeeded by the power of her wonderful insight and witty, inclusive pop writing style. More recently, Susan Miller has had similar success. If you’re going to get complicated, you’d better be clever, entertaining, and on the mark.
When it comes to Sun-signs, no one writing popular astrology today is more clever, entertaining, and on the mark than Michael Lutin. He has a take on them based especially on their uniquely needy and quirky sensibilities, their outrageous desires and compulsions, that is both accurate astrology and button-pushing psychology, almost always ringing a “that’s me!” bell of amazement in the reader. So, who better than Lutin to try out another “beyond the Sun-sign” effort? Simon and Schuster has done just that with Sunshines, The Astrology of Being Happy. The big challenge was how to do it, what extra astrological hook to pick, while avoiding all those confusing tables that put people off…
Sun-sign books adding the most logical (and important in interpretation) Moon or Ascendant have required killer tables to be accurate, and have generally flopped. The same with the inner planets. Relatively shorter, simpler tables for individual middle and outer planets don’t personally add that much, so they don’t deliver well, either. So what moves so slow that it’s got an easy table and yet tells you a lot about yourself, that you’d instantly recognize?
The Moon’s nodes. They only change sign every year or so (on a 19-year cycle, making for short tables) and can be nicely linked to each Sun-sign in a personally meaningful way. That, in a nutshell, is what Sunshines is about.
At the basic Sun-sign interpretation level, it succeeds brilliantly, as you might expect from this master writer and accomplished astrologer. Every sign is full of cleverly chosen qualities that go beyond the usual generalities into particulars you may not have thought about but ring so true once you’re reminded about them, and about yourself, whether it’s positive, negative, or just plain unique facets of the sign. It has every hallmark of Lutin’s addictively entertaining style.
But at the end of reading about your Sun sign, you’re told there’s something more, where “the path of the Moon around the Earth cuts across the Earth’s path around the Sun — the Zodiac — at two points we call the Lunar Nodes” that explains why there are differences within each sign, why all under a single Sun sign are not the same, that “describe the source of our unquenchable thirsts, insatiable hungers, and unshakeable addictions.” Which especially includes the person(s) that “brings us face to face with our deepest issues, struggles, wishes, conflicts, and desires — the ones we encounter again and again, over and over.” It’s the “you fell for it again, didn’t you — won’t you ever learn?” part of you. It’s your fatal psychological pitfalls, and hopefully what to do about them.
Why the Moon’s nodes should do that or how isn’t touched on, just that this is apparently the main if not the only thing they’re associated with. Then it’s on to plug into yours, based entirely on how many signs away from your Sun sign your South Node is (by solar house, in astrology argot) and what it being in its particular sign means. Unfortunately the last sentence here explains it better than the text ever does, so the reader has to sort of follow blindly from that point on, without really knowing how or why. Even the experienced astrologer may take a while figuring out the exact premise. You’re just supposed to plug into the table and then page to the appropriate, assigned descriptive sections that are supposed to apply to you.
And the “beyond Sun sign” hook is: it’s all about compulsions, must-haves that catch you and control you, desires that take hold and sweetly, powerfully, and sometimes destructively seduce, just exactly so. Very Virgo-Scorpio, Venus-Pluto.
The sections you are sent to, one of 12 possible Sun-sign subsections and usually two more in a back section titled by sign/house keywords, are what you get. Whether you get the same “that’s me!” feeling as you do in the initial Sun-sign descriptions may depend largely on whether you buy into the Venus/Pluto kind of take on life and psychology that has long characterized Lutin’s stylistic approach to astrology. It’s fun, it’s sexy, and sometimes borders on the painfully narcissistic, but with a suggested elevated spiritual conclusion if you’re up to rising to your ultimate occasion. It’s so American in its self-conscious drive to self-indulgence mixed with guilt and self-justification, permission to sin followed by self-punishment and temporary, imagined atonement — until the next round begins.
Well, that’s certainly one side of the South Node, but maybe not for everybody, all the time. In pre-psychology, traditional astrology the “Dragon’s Tail” is like an open hole where things both good and bad flow into you unobstructed because you can’t close the door, often because you can’t see it. That can wind up being sudden gifts and inheritances, unasked-for favors and free rides, on the positive side, or injuries you get from others (sometimes unintentionally on their part) and karmic come-uppances that come your way when what goes around comes around. It’s definitely a chink in your armor, but it can also be the opening that lets lost love reenter as well as sucking in negative need. And of course, it goes hand-in-hand with the North Node and its concomitant burdens, responsibilities, and ambitions, personally and socially. Both are about reaction and response (rather than initiation) because they’re determined by the plane of the Moon, naturally — which probably goes beyond the purview of a single, extra hook to your Sun sign, only a step beyond what’s in the newspaper.
But what’s in the newspaper these days is, oddly, a whole lot more than Sun-signs-plus-one, since popular culture has rather suddenly gotten a whole lot more familiar with the intricacies of real astrology. Talk of the likes of Mercury retrograde and even the Void-of-Course Moon are turning up in the press ever more frequently, along with references to unfortunate celebrities’ afflicted Mars, Full Moon madness, the portent of eclipses, planetary lineups, “harmonic concordances,” and so on. The entry point of the general public to the astrology is increasingly about the phenomena as a whole rather than an oversimplified do-it-yourself, cut-and-paste, self-help instructional guide, though that genre will never die.
So, in a way, Sunshines is hampered by its formula, as an attempt by a brilliant designer to satisfy with only a value-added pair of pants, when what people may be looking for is a whole new outfit. Maybe, or maybe not…yet. But, in the Venus-Pluto vein, even if you’re hungering for a new astrological cuisine around the corner, you still can’t go wrong ordering a la carte from one of the best astrological chefs in the business.