Primo Levi (picture from www.sirio.regione.lazio.it)
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Introduction, The Purpose of This Paper
This is not the first paper I have written about the astrology of depression. Here are links to others: Alfred Lord Tennyson and Lifelong Depression, Manic Depression As It Manifested in the Life of Robert Schumann, Patty Duke and Bipoloar Disorder, William Styron and Clinical Depression, LB, Aspergers Individual Who Committed Suicide. All these papers identify depression as a saturn excess.
This is also not the only paper I have written about suicide. There's the one above, the Asperger's individual who committed suicide not because of Asperger's, but because of depression. There are also these: The Suicide of Robin Williams, Suicide of a Nine Year Old Boy, Suicide of Carter Cooper, Vivienne, Suicide of a Fourteen Year Old Girl, Search for suicide in the paper on synastry for Michel and Francoise Gauquelin, Search for Eric Douglas in the paper on Homosexuality, The Suicide of Chief of Naval Operations, Mike Boorda, and Mass Murderer and Suicide, Eric Harris. This paper about Primo Levi is the most extensive, followed by that of Vivienne and Carter Cooper.
This paper is concerned with depression and suicide. We are particularly interested in establishing the degree of depression experienced by author Primo Levi on the date of his death. If he was severely depressed, it will make a difference in how we judge his death—accident or suicide? To evaluate his depression, we will need to examine two of his charts for three of his life experiences.
The two charts are his 3rd chart and his 7th chart, correlated respectively with our minds and our identity with others (which forms a large part of our identity). But while the 3rd chart is primarily all about how the individual's mind functions and special problems (physical and mental) with it, all charts contains 3rd houses (birth and conception) within them which also describe attributes of the individual's thinking. Since the 7th chart is by and large the main chart of this method--just as our identity with others is our usual main identity--the attributes described by its 3rd houses usually loom large in the individual's mental processes. So, we look at both of them.
His three life experiences, all traumatic, all potentially correlated with depression, are:
(1) On February 22, 1944, he and all other Jews in the detention camp at Modena, Italy were transported to the concentration camp at Auschwitz, Poland. He remained there until liberated by the Russian army on January 27, 1945. Most inmates incarcerated there died within three months. His survival was greatly assisted by “luck.” Here is how it was expressed by Neal Ascherson in his Introduction to Levi’s book, The Periodic Table:
It was mere chance that he [Levi] and his transport of human beings were not sent straight to the gas chambers but assigned to ‘Auschwitz III’, the nearby Monowitz camp which served as the slave-labour resource for Buna, the vast IG-Farben chemical plant. At Monowitz he would have died within months of hunger and disease if he had not identified himself as a chemist and secured work in the plant laboratory. Even there he would still have starved to death, though more slowly, if he and a comrade had not found a stock of cerium, the mineral which is used for cigarette-lighter flints, and sold it on the black market in return for food. Levi’s final stroke of luck was to develop scarlet fever just before the camp was evacuated by an unspeakable death march in early 1945, which killed most the prisoners who took part in it. Primo Levi [along with other too-ill inmates] was left to die in his abandoned hut. But he did not die, and was rescued by the Red Army instead. (p. xiii)
(2) According to the Wikipedia biography of him (of 3/13/10), Levi suffered his first major bout of depression “in 1963.” It may not have been his first experience of depression, but it was a time he was more depressed than usual. This date gives only the year. We will use an approximate midpoint of that year, July 1, 1963. Depression is correlated with saturn, which progresses slowly. Progressing his astrology to mid-year, we have a good chance of seeing the new astrology responsible for his depression.
Here it is necessary to point out that not all depression comes from saturn. People can be depressed because their life, in numerous ways, is not what they want it to be. This kind of “depression” has to do with thwarted expectations, whether they be realistic or unrealistic. It is not due to strong saturn, which in excess is also undoubtedly correlated with the biochemistry of depression.
(3) On April 11, 1987, at the age of 67, Levi died as a result of a fall from the interior landing of his third-story apartment in Turin, Italy. This was the home he had grown up in.
His Wikipedia biography lays out arguments and counter arguments regarding speculation that his death was a suicide:
The coroner interpreted Levi's death as suicide, and three of his biographers (Angier, Thomson and Anissimov) agree with this interpretation. In his later life Levi indicated he was suffering from depression: factors may have included responsibility for his elderly mother and mother-in-law, who he was living in the same apartment with, and the traumatic effects of memory.
However, Oxford sociologist Diego Gambetta has argued that the conventional assumption of Levi's death by 'suicide' is not well justified by either factual or inferred evidence. Levi left no suicide note, and no other clear indication that he had thoughts of taking his own life. In Gambetta's view, documents and testimony indicate immediate and ongoing plans at the time of his death. Rita Levi Montalcini, a close friend of Levi, commented that "If Levi wanted to kill himself he, a chemical engineer by profession, would have known better ways than jumping into a narrow stairwell with the risk of remaining paralyzed." Also, Gambetta has pointed out that Levi had complained to his physician of dizziness in the days before his death, and concludes (from a visit to the apartment complex) that it is more plausible to assume Levi lost his balance and fell accidentally to his death. The matter remains unresolved.
When we examine these three events in Levi’s life, our emphasis will be on identifying astrology suggesting increased depression relative to what was normal for him.
Primo Levi, the Man
Below I quote the small biographical sketch of Levi provided by Astrodatabank:
Italian novelist, essayist, poet and scientist, whose writings were influenced by his imprisonment at a concentration camp in Auschwitz, 1944-1945. Born into a Jewish family, from 1943, he was a research chemist in Milan and the German intervention into North Italy prompted his joining of a anti-fascist group. Levi was captured and deported and didn't resume his career as an industrial chemist until 1946, retiring in 1974 to concentrate on writing. His books include "Survival in Auschwitz," 1947, "The Truce" in 1968 and "If Not Now, When?" in 1982.
Levi died a suicide April 11, 1987, Turin, Italy.
The Wikipedia biography, much more extensive than that quoted above, is available at:Wikipedia Biography of Primo Levi
A long, thoughtful paper by Diego Gambetta regarding whether or not Levi committed suicide can be found at:The Gambetta Article
Here is a poem written by Levi:
Consider whether this is a man
Who labours in the mud
Who knows no peace
Who fights for a crust of bread
Who dies at a yes or a no.
Consider whether this is a woman,
Without hair or name
With no more strength to remember
Eyes empty and womb cold
As a frog in winter.
(from 'Shema' in Collected Poems by Primo Levi)
I thought the following, from his book The Periodic Table was poetic prose, but then maybe one has to have been a chemist to see it so:
Distilling is beautiful. First of all, it is a slow, philosophic, and silent occupation, which keeps you busy but gives you time to think of other things, somewhat like riding a bike. Then, because it involves a metamorphosis from liquid to vapor (invisible), and from this once again to liquid, but in this double journey, up and down, purity is attained, an ambiguous and fascinating condition, which starts with chemistry and goes very far. And finally, when you set about distilling, you acquire the consciousness of repeating a ritual consecrated by the centuries, almost a religious act, in which from imperfect material you obtain the essence, the usia, the spirit, and in the first place alcohol, which gladdens the spirit and warms the heart. (p. 62)
We have arrived at the place to discuss the place of saturn in depression.
Saturn as the Astrological Sponsor of Depression
I have already described the effects of saturn on the mind in a number of papers. But, understanding the meaning of saturn in astrology is important for understanding depression. Therefore, I include further discussion of it here. We simply cannot “get” the main point about depression unless we can understand how saturn functions, and why it functions that way.
Evidence is clear, even with traditional astrology, saturn is the sponsor of depression. The more saturn is predominant in the chart, the greater the depression, especially when its influence is to 3rd house (the mind).
For those who want to read them, here are links to earlier papers focusing on saturn :Styron paper
And…Autism paper. Go to the diagram of the Tree of Life in this paper to get a picture of where saturn function begins relative to incarnating. It is also discussed briefly below.
Right now, let’s look at some key words for the range of meanings of saturn. :
|Attributes Sponsored by Saturn|
|wise (from experience)|
|narrow, closed, restricted|
Saturn, it can be seen, is not always associated with depression. Its gradient of qualities are functions of its location in different charts and how strong it is in those charts. In charts not so involved in describing the mind, a strong saturn can describe the individual’s experience with money, sex, education, social expression, and so on. Some one with strong saturn in the charts related to those areas will experience deficiency in those areas, that is, poverty, little sex life, inadequate education, and social isolation, respectively.
As Saturn’s influence increases in charts describing the mind, the individual moves increasingly toward more severe and more debilitating depression. He then acquires some of the darker qualities listed above, that is, he becomes nearly comatose, is dark, has little energy, and is extremely pessimistic if he is thinking at all. That also describes clinical depression. Short of clinical depression, it is possible to be depressed and, to all outward appearances, function “normally.”
When an individual is in deep or clinical depression, his other planets of personality—and the characteristics they sponsor—have gone into the background.
Normally, each individual’s consciousness—personality if you will—is built up by the seven planets of personality.
The planets of personality, which contribute to our human identity, are: sun, moon, mercury, venus, mars, jupiter, and saturn. Loosely, they sponsor essence, habit, thinking, connecting, striving, incorporating, and limiting. Saturn, however, is not really a planet of personality. Or rather, it stands on the border between the personal and the universal.
The three outer planets—uranus, neptune, and pluto—describe mass conditions and realities which in turn temper the first seven.
All ten planets work together in a chart to create the rich experience we call being human.
Theoretically, as an experiment, we could build a whole personality out any one of the planets of personality. That is, we would substitute it in all the positions occupied by all the other planets. We could build one using only mercury. Or only venus. Or, only mars, or jupiter. True, the “individual” comprised of only one type of planet would be strange. He would undoubtedly bewilder us, but we would recognize some kind of kinship with him.
This is not as strange as it appears. In her book entitled The World Before, psychic-medium Ruth Montgomery has a chapter entitled Planetary Visits. Receiving information from deceased psychic-medium Arthur Ford and other beings, she recounts material they gave her regarding the conditions on venus:
Suddenly we were suffused with love for all the world, enveloped in a soft substance so richly clothed that pure happiness seemed at last within reach. We were there without effort, and as we floated above the surface as if on a fleecy cloud, we sensed that within each drop of misty dew there was an entire world of sweetness and tranquility…[But] after a while the feeling began to cloy. I became uncomfortable, almost as one does when eating too much cotton candy at a fair. (p.166, book cited below)
Montgomery goes on to conclude that she is not ready for such an atmosphere.
No astrologer worth her mettle could read the above without laughing. The description includes the positives and negatives of venus. Love and harmony are wonderful, but too much venus leads to a sticky state of continual sweetness or appeasement.
So, perhaps we could, at least in imagination, build an identifiable "human" out of each planet of personality filling in for all the others.
Not so with saturn.
But, let’s try. That is, in imagination we will substitute saturn for all the other planets in any individual’s astrology. What do we have? We are left with an “identity” with no capacity for love, communication, aggression, self-defense, mercy, or growth. Interesting…this description identifies the experience of clinical depression. It also shares some of the characteristics of the saturn/pluto autistic child, who is nearly totally withdrawn and focused inward, who does not even recognize other human beings (though she apparently knows they are there). (See paper on autism, link above, for a description of Ely Park, an autistic child).
Before going any further, it is necessary to state that some saturn is absolutely necessary for life as we know it. “Some” saturn is then functioning as a planet of personality, which it does best when sharing the spotlight with all the other planet of personality. Then it has positive functions.
For one, “some” saturn enables stabilities of all kinds. Two examples are tradition and culture. Without tradition and culture, we would all have to "re-invent the wheel" from birth. So, good comes out of the fact that—primitive or industrial—we conform (saturn) to most of tradition (also saturn). This is true even if we switch traditions—say, convert from one religion to another. In doing that, we are really passing from one saturn influence to a different saturn influence. After all, both involve tradition, structure, and set beliefs, so both involve aspects of saturn. This is especially true if the religions are orthodox.
Tradition can, of course, become so restrictive that it denies all change, even that necessary for life. That’s the negative aspect of saturn, when it is starting to get excessive again. Still, without Saturn’s influence we would have no heritage. And that is just its cultural application. It has physical and psychological ones, too. Truly, it sponsors good things—as long as it is working with the other planets of personality and is not in excess.
We want to get an even better understanding of why excessive saturn is such a problem for the people who experience it. To do that, we have to consult another symbol, the Tree of Life of the Kabbala, with the correlation of the planets with the Sephirot on the Tree coming from Gray’s book, The Ladder of Lights (cited below).
Here I must also state that the following discussion has nothing to do with the study of Kabbala, which is a part of Jewish mysticism requiring extensive knowledge of Torah in Hebrew and Aramaic as well as a qualified teacher.
Here is the symbol of the Tree copied from Gray’s book which I originally put in the paper on autism:
The numbers on the image above are those assigned to the Sephirot, which also have names like Chockma, Binah, Chesed, and so on. The planet beside each Sephirot is the one correlated by Gray with that Sephirot. The Sephira are not planets.
To those for whom it might mean something, the three pillars above are also labeled, from left to right, Hermetic, Mystic, and Orphic paths, respectively. Differing spiritual paths emphasize one or the other, at least to begin with.
I see the Tree of Life and the Tree of Good and Evil as the same tree, not two different trees. (This apparently comes from Gray's book and over time I forgot he introduced the idea.) Which is which depends on the direction one is traveling. When an individual is coming into incarnation, he is coming down the Tree, which is then called the Tree of Good and Evil. Good and evil are what we experience by incarnating.
When he is ascending back toward Source, he is climbing up the Tree, and it is then called the Tree of Life. As he heads upward, in order to ascend his job is to reduce more and more his experience of good and evil, especially his attachment to either of them. This process is identified, as far as I know, in all religions and even many ethical paths, each under a different name.
Coming into incarnation, we are all descending from 1 above to 10 below, or some would say, from 2 through 10, picking up attributes (modes of expression and perception) as we go. At 2 there is still a very strong connection (or near identity) with 1—All-That-Is. But at saturn, number 3 on the Tree, the incarnating life has split off from the two above (and, if only at 3, is still not experiencing any personality). Saturn, therefore, represents a radical cutting off from Source. It could not be otherwise. If the incarnating life “remembered” its source at 1 (or 2) , finite attributes and identities could not exist. We, as we know ourselves, would not be (or appear to be if your religion identifies our apparent separateness and multiplicity as one grand illusion).
Once we are born, some infants still have a “memory” of source. We can see this in their brightness and openness. They beam. They emanate light. They respond to light from us with their own light. But that gets lost because such experiences are rare compared to their many other experiences in which they must "learn" about this world. We either become “written on” (for those who believe in the blank slate theory of the infant mind), or we start experiencing and manifesting the directions spelled out by our astrology (for those who believe we come here with attributes and game plans resulting from many previous lives).
By the time the incarnating spirit reaches number 10, represented by the Sephirot Malkuth above, we are incarnated. Idealistically we are functioning with the attributes represented by all the numbers/planets together and have become fully engaged in this world, the world of Good and Evil. Indeed, we can even be fully "asleep" in it because our moons--at 10 only--represent automated behavior. If we are to live fruitful lives as humans, we must make our Tree fully functional, that is, develop and manage all the attributes and perceptions symbolized by the planets at their stations on the Tree. Anything less results in various forms of existence we label deficient or pathological. When that occurs, we fail to “grow up.” We are caught in the consciousness of one planet or another and never achieve the balance, the give-and-take, the objectivity of the middle pillar.
The adult experiencing excessive saturn, as happened with William Styron, is, in a sense, returning to Source. That is, his consciousness has become focused at the top of the Tree at Binah, correlated with the planet saturn. He has lost contact with the consciousness of all the planets of personality correlated with the Sephira of Yesod, Hod, Netzach, Tiphereth, Geburah, and Chesed. Having been shorn of all those personal attributes sponsored by planets of personality, he is heading toward Eden. He is having a spiritual experience, right? Not so!! In severe or clinical depression an individual is returning to Source, but is without adequate tools to experience Source. He has lost his Earth consciousness. But, at least for this experience, is lacking the receptors (or they are blocked) to experience his spiritual return Home.
So, it appears very dark, very painful. Consciousness located primarily at saturn does a very convincing job of "proving" that "this darkness" is all there is. And all that there ever will be.
We have been looking at the meanings of saturn. Now we need to define what is meant by an excess of saturn. Here in this paper, I define excess only with regard to the 3rd and 7th charts, especially 3rd houses with those charts.
For depression, a set containing lighted saturn--that is, saturn in the same aspect (defined below) with one of the lights of sun, moon, or nodes--which influences an Angle and 3rd house within the 3rd and 7th charts is the beginning of excess.
There has to be some variation in this definition, within reason, from individual to individual:
(a) Many individuals start out, at birth, with no such influence to the 3rd houses within these charts. That is, their saturns are in some other house than the 3rd, and cause problems for that house. This is an over-simplification, but those lacking 3rd house saturns are not, generally, prone to serious depression. They are susceptible sometimes when they experience a set acquired through progression which, one way or the other, influences a 3rd house. In that case, their experience is not anything near clinical depression, which requires a true excess of saturn.
(b) Some individuals, like William Styron and Primo Levi, are born with strong influence of lighted saturn to an Angle and 3rd house within those two charts. Each of these men had his birth and conception saturns in a 3rd house (in this method, that is one out of 24 houses--the traditional twelve multiplied by two, but only one out of two 3rd houses). That happens for a reason. Saturn travels very slowly—completing one cycle around the zodiac about every 28 years. So, there is not much difference between the degree of our birth saturn and the degree of our conception saturn. Thus, they are likely to end up in the same house. If in a 3rd, and both receive lights, and even worse, if they receive an Angle, then they are already depressive. But it gets worse. Those saturns also progress very slowly. By "progression" I mean how far the planet moves after his birth during his lifetime. There are different types of progressions. I use those called secondary, which follow the rule that the placement of the planets for each day after the birth day are equivalent to their movement for a whole year. That is, a day = a year--something mentioned in Revelations in the Bible. Therefore, the place of the planets (in an ephemeris, which lists the daily positions of all planets) ten days after birth is equivalent to the experience they sponsor ten years after birth. To a non-astrologer this sounds crazy, but it works. And it works exceedingly well. Here is the biblical quote:(From Numbers 14:34) After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my breach of promise. (italics mine)(From Ezekiel 4:6) And when thou hast accomplished them, lie again on thy right side, and thou shalt bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days: I have appointed thee each day for a year. (italics mine)
So, an adult starting with birth and conception saturns in the 3rd house, having lived for a while, then also has progressed birth and conception saturns—four altogether—in his 3rd house. Depending on how many are receiving lights, that is, are activated, that’s a lot of potential for depression.
Luckily, if we are not buried by our harder lots, we all accustom ourselves to the loads we are born with. Over time, Styron and Levi got somewhat used to their two saturns in the 3rd house. They also made the load lighter by finding a socially acceptable way to express such darkness. That is, they “put their saturns to work.” Both authors, Styron and Levi wrote about some exceedingly dark subjects (saturn).
For them, their darker days came when they experienced acquisition, through progressions, of additional Angle/light/saturn/3rd influence.
In the Styron paper, in evaluating his clinical depression, I established how much he started with. Then, I established how much he acquired by the time he was diagnosed with clinical depression. His depression was a result of a massive increase (approximately sevenfold) in the influence of saturn in his chart. As that increase started diminishing, so did his clinical depression. That process is the one we are using in this paper. Using Levi's astrology, we are answering the following questions:
If the answer to the last one is "yes," did it represent depression, or something else?
Before we can get into Levi’s astrology, I need to introduce information about this astrological method.
This Astrological Method
This astrological method is not the traditional one. Indeed, it not traditional, period. True, it uses sidereal astrology, the predominant (traditional) astrology of the East. It also uses the Egyptian harmonic. Both are quite old. But, this method started with me in 1983. Its working rules were not inherited. They were uncovered gradually through years of research. As they were uncovered, a system which at first seemed too complex became almost too simple. Here are those rules:
Those interested in reading something about the difference between sidereal (“Eastern”) and tropical (“Western”) astrology can get some understanding from my paper on that subject:
The Sidereal and Tropical Zodiacs: A Discussion
The Home Page also contains information about this particular astrological approach. The background for its discovery, as well as an explanation of the Egyptian harmonic, are found in the paper on method:
About This Method
It is possible to read this paper without consulting any of those papers. The general understanding necessary to facilitate same are:
This approach uses both a birth and conception chart and they share the same axis. That means birth houses will overlap different houses of the conception chart. These are called house overlaps. Like paths, house overlaps play an important part in this astrology. Throughout this paper I use the convention when writing about house overlaps of putting the birth house first, then the conception house. So, for instance, a “5th/1st” overlap refers to an overlap of birth 5th house with conception 1st house in that order. A “9th/3rd” overlap has birth 9th house overlapping conception 3rd house. Birth house/conception house in that order.
Birth planets (including their harmonics) rule only birth houses. Conception planets (including their harmonics) rule only conception houses.
Only conjunctions, applying and separating squares, and oppositions are used. Planets so related to each other are referred to as “in the same set.” A set, then, is two or more planets (or an Angle) connected to each other through conjunction, square, and opposition within the defined orbs (2nd paragraph below). The set is more active if it contains a light, and less active without one. Learning to look in terms of “crosses” can be helpful in rapidly finding planets that are in the same set.
”Lights” include suns, moons, and moons nodes. When mercury rules an Angle, especially if it rules two Angles (Gemini and Virgo), it functions both as a light and a planet. For instance, when mercury rules B MC and B Asc and is in the same set with mars and saturn, that constitutes a lighted (by mercury) mars/saturn set with forefront influence (the two Angles). MC and Asc act similar to lights in the sense they enliven and empower the expression of any planet they are touching, but they are not really lights, and their orb is smaller than regular lights.
All planets in a set are lighted, then, when the set includes any of the following: an Angle, sun, moon, or moon’s node, and mercury when it rules at least one Angle.
Orbs for planets in sets with lights is 5°; without lights, about 2°. Orb for MC/planet or Asc/planet is 2°. Orb for progressed planet-to-Angle or vice versa is 1° and increases ½° - ¾° when a light is involved. If I could be certain each time of birth was absolutely correct, orbs could be established definitively because they are empirically derived.
In the paper on gurus I introduce the concept of path when speaking about an astrological set. Planets in a set, the houses they are in, and houses ruled by them describe an astrological path. If, for instance, planets in a set rule 4th, 5th and 9th houses, then the 4th, 5th, and 9th houses are inextricably connected to each other. Energy of learning as well as failure, determined by planets in the set, flows among those three houses. That connection between planets and houses is called their path. As can be seen, paths have profound implications.
Although the harmonic used for each chart is always 2 greater than the number of the chart, for ease in reading I have adopted the convention of writing the harmonic number the same as the chart number. For instance, “b12 mars” represents the harmonic of birth mars for the 12th chart (but the harmonic used to find b12 mars is the 14th).
In abbreviating, I use “b” for birth, “c” for conception, “p” for progressed, and “t” for transiting. A number following them, e.g., “3” or “7,” shows the harmonic chart we are examining. For instance, “b7 pluto” represents the harmonic of birth pluto for the 7th chart. “Pc3 mars” is the harmonic of progressed conception mars for the 3rd chart.
This method uses a solar return that occurs every 40 degrees (exactly) after birth up to death, with nine returns occurring annually.
Now we can look at Levi’s charts, starting with his 3rd chart.
Levi, His Harmonic Chart for the 3rd House of Mind
In traditional astrology the 3rd house identifies many, but not all, of an individual’s mental traits. With this method, the 3rd chart is rather like a harmonic enlargement of a 3rd house, but not exactly. The 3rd chart is found by adding the 5th harmonic of birth and conception planets to birth and conception planets. The result is a chart which does an even better job than the 3rd house in describing mental traits. The 3rd house, in traditional astrology, and the 3rd chart in this astrology, identify mental talents, deficiencies, intelligence, pathologies, and even some brain defects. So, an individual’s mental state cannot be properly evaluated without examining his progressed 3rd chart.
Before going any further, it is necessary to point out some more facts about saturn. When it is on an Angle (within 2° of Midheaven or Ascendant or their opposition points), or when saturn is progressed to an Angle or vice versa (when only a one degree orb is acceptable), each of these can contribute to depression, regardless of whether or not a 3rd house within the chart is influenced (see footnote 1 at bottom of page). This is because saturn on an Angle, depending on the house it is in and influences through rulership, depresses the whole chart, that is, it depresses, retards, delays, and fouls up some part of the experience of life. That has, to some extent, to affect the feelings.
On the other hand, an individual could have one saturn on an Angle and have very strong, positive 3rd houses, so he would not suffer depression. They could be, for instance, like a wandering monk, poor and without material possessions, but happy with his lot.
That is exactly how it happened for the guru called Muktananda. His C MC was opposed by c saturn, co-ruling (30 of 32°) c 2nd house of money and personal possessions. By choice he spent a part of his life as a saddhu, a wandering, possession-less monk. For him, the emphasis on lack of money was part of his process, certainly nothing to be depressed about.
Let’s get started with Levi, First, we look at pertinent astrology he was born with.
Set (1) includes c saturn, C Asc, b saturn, and b mercury and c3 venus. We can include all of these in one set because C Asc has an orb of 2°, while b mercury, ruling B Asc, has an orb of 5°. When mercury rules an Angle it functions like the other lights—sun, moon, nodes. Its orb increases from the normal planetary one of 2° to that of lights, 5°. Even without the mercury, however, both saturns would be considered conjunct C Asc.
Set (1), then, shows a lighted saturn influence to two Angles and both 3rd houses. It influences b 3rd house because it is in it. It influences c 3rd house because c3 venus co-rules (25 of 33°) c 3rd house, It influences B Asc because b mercury rules that.
C2 venus also rules c 4th house, suggesting this set in his 3rd chart will come into play strongly again toward the end of his life (4th house).
Since Set (1) is all non-harmonic, it exists also in his 7th chart, with the same influence, except it does not influence c 3rd house. In that chart, however, it picks up other planets and will be discussed under that heading.
Influence of lighted saturn to both 3rd houses and two Angles is excessive for the mind, and must result in forms of darkness, delay, dysfunction, or depression.
Part of the way his c saturn conjunct C Asc functioned was as a depressor of his health because c saturn rules c 6th house of health. As a child Levi was sickly. Since both parents were well-educated, he was often home-schooled.
The inclusion of mercury in Set (1) helped turn this set productive. Mercury/saturn, among other things, tends to excel at detail. And mercury is always about communication, as is the 3rd house. So, it helped Levi “put this these saturns to work.”
Set (2), includes node/mars/saturn, with influence to C MC through mars, its ruler. It constitutes another lighted saturn influence to b 3rd house because c3 saturn is in b 3rd house. The addition of mars to the set increases turbulence and dissonance, which are other unpleasant sensations that can come with depression.
Summarizing, in his 3rd chart Levi has lighted saturn influence to both 3rd houses and three Angles. That is excessive. As a beginning influence, it shows an individual highly prone to depression, especially those times he acquires more progressed saturn/3rd influence.
So, now we are going to see whether this 3rd chart acquired any increase in significators for depression for the three periods of his life mentioned above.
Progressions of 3rd chart for February 22, 1944, Trip to Auschwitz:
|Set (3)||B MC||20 Aquarius 26|
|c SN||20 Taurus 20|
|pC MC||20 Taurus 23|
|pc5 saturn||20 Leo 23||ruler of c 6th house|
|pb5 neptune||21 Taurus 12||co-ruler of (26 of 31°) c 10th house|
|pc5 neptune||18 Taurus 33R||ruler of c 9th house, co-ruler (22 of 27°) c 8th house|
The midpoint between the two progressed neptunes at the bottom is 19 Taurus 53, well within orb for Set (3). This set shows an influence to two Angles of lighted (node) mars/saturn/neptune, the planets of siege conditions. It shows fear and horror. Rulers show it affecting his public life (10th) , inner life (8th), health (6th), through the 9th house (foreign powers). It does not contribute to depression through 3rd houses. The problem was not Levi’s mind, but the conditions his mind (and the rest of him) were subjected to. Nonetheless, it contributed in that sense to pessimism and depression.
This time period in this chart contains two more sets that are instructive. His return (of forty days) for this period occurred on February 17, 1944, erected for Modena (Near Fossoli), Italy.
|Set (4)||b3 NN||9 Sagittarius 08|
|pb3 saturn||9 Virgo 32||ruler of b 8th and 9th houses|
|pc mars||9 Sagittarius 22||ruler of CMC and co-ruler, c 4th house|
|return neptune||9 Virgo 50|
Set (4) shows a second set of lighted mars/saturn/neptune (but it will lose the neptune when the return ends) with influence to an Angle, symbolizing siege conditions. The 8th house involves one’s property and emotional attachments. The 9th house stands for foreign countries. So, we could say those areas of his life became a disaster that had something to do with foreign influence.
|Set (5)||return sun||9 Sagittarius 08|
|return3 node||3 Taurus 09|
The remainder of the planets that go into Set (5) are from Set (1) in the drawing above, and include C Asc, c saturn, b saturn, b mercury, and c3 venus. In other words, return sun and node (both lights) were emphasizing Levi’s original set for depression. Each addition of a light increases the power of expression of the condition.
Summarizing, for the onset of his experience at Auschwitz, we see that Levi’s 3rd chart is emphasizing mars/saturn/neptune by showing two of them. Mars/saturn/neptune is the combination that symbolizes confusion, horror, and fear. There are no increases of saturn influence to 3rd houses, but it is significant his original C MC/node/mars received a harmonic saturn, suggesting, again, painful turmoil.
Angle/moon/mars/saturn, without neptune, is significant of hard times and discordant experiences. Naturally, he will experience an increase in depression over normal, but, again, it is because of the conditions he is subject to, not a change in how his mind is performing.
Progressions of 3rd chart for July 1, 1963, approximate date of bout with depression:
Levi’s 3rd chart shows his progressed birth NN. At birth it started at 7 Scorpio 50 and has moved to 3 Scorpio 31. It has added a new, slowly moving light to the conjunction of his C Asc with b and c saturns in b 3rd house. This set occurs in both 3rd and 7th charts. It may not seem like much, but, in fact, is quite powerful. Until the progressed node reached near this area, it was not affecting his 3rd saturns. Progressed nodes to planets are also often timers for an experience. Here, it was a timer for a bout of depression based on added emphasis of his original depressive condition. Progressed nodes move fairly slowly. Below I show that this node stayed within orb to at least one of his 3rd house saturns until his death.
Progressions of 3rd chart for April 11, 1987, date of Levi’s death :
|Set (6)||pB Asc||4 Leo 02|
|pb mars||4 Leo 19|
|pc saturn||4 Leo 18|
|pb uranus||4 Aquarius 34||ruler of B MC|
Set (6) above shows a large increase in lighted saturn influence in both Levi’s 3rd and 7th charts (since this progressed set is all non-harmonic, it works in both charts). It shows a second Ascendant/saturn in b 3rd house. Counting the progressed B Asc which is part of the set, and the influence through B MC by pb uranus, this set has increased influence to Angles by two. So, in this chart, which started out with three, it means influence to five Angles. Of the eight Angles susceptible to influence (the original four plus the progressed four), more than half on this date are influenced by lighted saturn, which is an enormous increase. In this progressed set, progressing Angle/mars have caught up to progressing saturn (all in b 3rd house). The mars to Angle/saturn stimulates, if I can put it that way, the down experience of saturn, making the experience “acute.” Mars to saturn is not always about depression, but in this case it is because the saturn is in b 3rd house.
In the back of Survival at Auschwitz, Levi’s book on his experience there, is an account of the interview he had with Philip Roth in September, 1986, on a Friday. On the first Friday in that month (all the Fridays would have given nearly the same result), on September 5, 1986, the progressing set above had earlier values. Angle, mars, and saturn above were at 3 Leo 35, 3 Leo 57, and 4 Leo 20 retrograde, respectively. By the time he died, progressing C Asc had caught up with mars and both of them together met saturn. As shown above, they were very close on the day of his death. Their closeness suggests they were influential in his behavior that day.
Levi has a second set in this, his 3rd chart on the day of his death, which influenced his mental state at the time of his death.
|Set (7)||pb3 mars||21 Leo 36|
|pc3 saturn||21 Leo 32R|
|return Asc||21 Scorpio 45|
The two progressed planets are merely the harmonics of the progressed mars and saturn in Set (6). But their configuration with the MC of the return for that period shows that even his return emphasized a very difficult (mars/saturn) time. Return Angles and planets are as much a part of our astrology as that from our charts. They do not, however, act alone. They must always configure with planets from our charts. The return is further limited by the fact that its planets are influential only while the return lasts—about 40 days. Nonetheless, they often provide key material for significators for events.
Levi’s return chart also included return harmonic moon at 1 Leo 41, return harmonic mars at 1 Taurus 20, pb NN at 2 Scorpio 03, and c saturn at 2 Leo 27. More lighted mars/saturn, and additional symbolism of a really difficult time.
Note that we identified the progression of his b NN (coming from 7 Scorpio 50) in 1963, during his first bout with depression, as at 3 Scorpio 31. By the time of his death in 1987, it had moved (almost always progressing “backwards” in the zodiac) to 2 Scorpio 03. For progressions involving the node I allow an orb of about one degree before and after what the node contacts. So, this progressed node was still lighting a saturn, his c saturn, and contributing to depression.
With the above we have seen the amount of increased saturn/depressive influence in Levi’s 3rd chart for three life traumas. As a quick summary:
(a) His time at Auschwitz symbolized a rattled, discordant, fearful mind, but his problems were caused by outer conditions. Painful as they were and even as depressing as they were, they did not originate in his mind.
(b) He realized some increase in depression during his bout with it in 1963. The increase occurred almost solely through pb NN providing a further light for his C Asc conjunct both saturns. That gives us an idea of how little it took in terms of new lighted saturn/3rd for Levi himself to experience noticeable depression.
(c) At the time of his death, however, he experienced nearly a doubling of already depressive 3rd chart conditions. If just one Angle influenced by saturn can cause considerable dark thinking when also influencing a 3rd house, the five of eight Angles is over the top for darkness.
Now we move on to look at these dates in his 7th chart.
Levi, His Harmonic Chart for the 7th House
In traditional astrology the 7th house is the house that shows the individual's relationship to significant others--spouses, business partners, close friends. By applying the ninth harmonic to birth and conception planets, harmonic planets uniquely related to the 7th house are found. Combining all of them (birth, conception, and both their 9th harmonics) results in the 7th chart.
We are social beings. Our relationships with others are so important to our identity and well-being that this chart is the most important of all 12 charts. Its astrology shows a great deal about the individual--including many things that are apparently not so related to our relations with significant others. Like the 3rd chart, conditions of 3rd house (and to its mercuries) in this chart are significant in establishing the individual's mental state.
Set (8), involving C Ascendant’s conjunct to both saturns in birth 3rd house, is nearly identical with Set (1) in the 3rd chart. Here in the 7th chart it has lost the c3 venus (which co-ruled c 3rd house), and has acquired harmonics of node, mars, and uranus. It still places two lighted saturns in b 3rd house, but has no influence to c 3rd house. C7 mars rules C MC, so this set influences two Angles.
To start with, this set is not quite as strong in the 7th chart as the 3rd. In both it influences two Angles. But in the 3rd chart it influences both 3rd houses.
B uranus, ruler of B MC, is at 7 Aquarius 00 R(etrograde) at birth. It is not, initially part of Set (8). It progressed closer to the set as he aged, emphasizing an increase in depression.. As it did, it added another Angle influence to Set (8), making three by the time he died. Since b uranus is non-harmonic, it exists also in the 3rd chart, and increased influence of Set (1) in that chart to three Angles by the time Levi died.
Ten years before his death, on April 11, 1977, pb uranus was at 4 Aquarius 51R, within Sets (1) and (8). It entered those sets earlier than normal (that is, with a greater than usually acceptable orb) because acceptable orb was increased by the two lights--mercury and pb node, and C Asc, all providing orb increase.) On the day of his death, it was at 4 Aquarius 34, firmly in Sets (1) and (8). So, it started its path of increasing his depression at least 10 years before he died.
As observed with comments on the 3rd chart, the presence of mercury helped make this set less debilitating. He was able to use the set in his writing. Before he died he expressed concern about not being able to write any more, a kind of intuitive grasp of the importance of writing for his mental balance.
In fact, there are astrological indications writing was important to his identity. In his 10th chart his c10 NN is at 3 Leo 54 conjunct his mercury/saturn in Leo in b 3rd house, a strong indication he would be socially (10th chart) successful (NN) in writing (mercury) about dark subjects (saturn/3rd).
In this, his 7th chart, Set (8) starts out with a harmonic node at 3 Scorpio 01. As progressing b NN from 7 Scorpio 50 gradually approaches it, Levi then has two nodes from Scorpio/Taurus lighting his already lighted (by mercury and C Asc) saturns in b 3rd house. By the time of his death pb NN is no longer influencing b saturn, but still influencing c saturn.
Set (9) is one of those sets that, though it does not influence a 3rd house and directly contribute to depression, it still contributes. It shows B MC/node/mars/saturn. It is an excellent set for life in a concentration camp, indicating continual (node/MC) aggression (mars) against his rawest vulnerabilities (saturn). It can come into play in other ways, in normal, civilian life. Before going to the Auschwitz, with a friend he discovered a love for hiking. Vigorous exercise involves going (mars) against the grain (saturn) that emphasizes physical fitness over sluggishness. This set also likely participated in his choice of career as a chemist. Mars in Scorpio, with influence to C MC (here it rules it) and therefore the 10th house of career, is a good significator for a chemist. Chemists break down and analyze components as well as synthesize them—functions of mars (break down) in Scorpio (transformations of all kinds).
Progressions of 7th chart for February 22, 1944, trip to Auschwitz:
|Set (10)||B MC||20 Aquarius 26|
|c7 saturn||21 Leo 59|
|c NN||20 Scorpio 20|
|c mars||20 Scorpio 30||ruler of C MC|
|pC MC||20 Taurus 21||ruler of C MC|
Set (10) above is nearly the same in both 3rd and 7th charts, but here it contains saturn by progression, while there it contained saturn only through the return. So, here it is stronger. Progressed C MC has entered this set. It now influences two Angles. When dealing with Angle/mars/saturn, one is sufficient for conflict and struggle. Two is one too many. They symbolize truly hard times. By January, 1945, when he was free to leave Auschwitz, pC MC was at approximately 21 Taurus 16. It is basically only still interacting with saturn. While it lasted, this progressed set was a fitting astrological symbolization of the harshness (double Angle/mars/saturn) of life in a concentration camp.
Levi had another 3rd/saturn influence for this date, Set (11). Progressed b saturn, coming from 4 Leo 50, had reached 7 Leo 54. It was in b 3rd house and lighted by b NN at 7 Scorpio 50. So, it comprised a new lighted saturn/3rd, and symbolized increased darkness and depression.
A third set involves his return for that period.
|Set (12)||b mars||21 Gemini 18|
|c jupiter||21 Gemini 54|
|pb7 SN||21 Gemini 28|
|pc7 neptune||21 Pisces 23|
|return7 saturn||21 Sagittarius 40|
This set is a general description of siege conditions (lighted mars/saturn/neptune), showing, as stated above, a combination of fear and horror. Jupiter’s presence probably sponsored enough optimism to be able to function with survival in mind.
Progressions of 7th chart for July 1, 1963, approximate date of bout with depression:
In the 3rd chart we saw that b NN had progressed from 7 Scorpio 50 to 3 Scorpio 31, entering Sets (1) and (8) in both charts. In this chart Levi had an additional progressed saturn in that set. Pc7 saturn was at 3 Scorpio 06, in close square to C Asc, adding more to the depressive aspect of this chart. It's conjunction to c7 SN at 3 Scorpio 01 in c 4th house symbolizes the bleak (saturn), emotional (Scorpio) isolation (saturn) in regard to connections with others (Scorpio) and his experience of his right to be here (4th house).
For his bout with depression, this 7th chart was stronger than the 3rd chart because both had the progressed b NN in Scorpio to his c saturn/C Asc/b saturn in b 3rd house. But this chart had an addition Angular saturn influence. Note, however, how much less increase in saturn is shown here than occurs at the end of his life.
Here are some timing comments: pb NN stays in the vicinity of C Asc and Sets (1)/(8) for a considerable time. It is at 3 Scorpio 33 on January 1, 1963, and has moved to 3 Scorpio 27 on July 1, 1964. So it will continue to add an additional light to his original Angle/saturn/saturn in b 3rd house for some time past his 1963 depressive episode. Progressing c7 saturn, however, moves into the set and out of it during his depression. On January 1, 1963 it was at 2 Scorpio 32. Mid-year, as shown above, it was at 3 Scorpio 06. By the end of the year, on January 1, 1964, it had moved to 3 Scorpio 39. Six months later, on July 1, 1964, it had moved out of orb to C Asc and was at 4 Scorpio 13.
Progressions of 7th chart for April 11, 1987, date of Levi’s death :
The strongest progression was identified first in the 3rd chart as Set (6). It is exactly the same in this chart, except that in this chart it includes c7 NN at 3 Taurus 01 and c mars, ruler of C MC, at 4 Taurus 32. On the date of his death it influences five of his seven Angles: the original three (C MC, C Asc, and B Asc), the one involving pC Asc, and B MC through progressed b uranus at 4 Aquarius 34. It still only influences one 3rd house, but in all my research I have never seen that both 3rd houses had to be influenced for the set to be effective. By influencing all five Angles its effect toward depression is massive. The two mars with all three saturns indicates a really rocky time, acute (mars) depression (saturn, and perhaps precipitous mood swings.
As if that were not enough, Levi has a second set in this, his 7th chart, that shows distress, named Set (13). Progressed b7 mars is at 8 Virgo 53. Progressed c7 saturn, at 8 Virgo 45. Both are in b 4th house. They are lighted by return7 moon at 6 Pisces 20, so effective only for the 40 days of the return. That return started on March 29, 1987. He died on April 11.
His return for this period has 21 Scorpio 06 as the Ascendant. That Ascendant picks up his node/mars/saturn of Set (8) in his starting astrology.
The above establish the truly serious depression Levi was in at the time he died.
Before we leave his 7th chart, however, we should look at dates of some of his other progressions involving birth 3rd house. The sets shown in the following table are also sets influencing depression and were in addition to those he started with at birth. I give the month, but most of these sets last more than a month:
|Date||pB Asc||pb mars||pb uranus||pc saturn||pb NN|
|March, 1984||1 Leo 45||2 Leo 27 conjunct c saturn||4 Aquarius 39R||4 Leo 24R||2 Scorpio 18|
|March, 1985||2 Leo 27 conjunct saturn||3 Leo 01||4 Aquarius 37R||4 Leo 22R||2 Scorpio 15|
|July, 1985||2 Leo 42||3 Leo 14 conjunct C Asc||4 Aquarius 37R||4 Leo 24R||2 Scorpio 13|
|March, 1986||3Leo 12||3 Leo 38||4 Aquarius 36R||4 Leo 21R||2 Scorpio 10|
|September, 1986||3 Leo 35||3 Leo 57||4 Aquarius 35R||4 Leo 20R||2 Scorpio 07|
|4-11-1987||4 Leo 02||4 Leo 19||4 Aquarius 34R||4 Leo 18R||2 Scorpio 02|
I have already discussed two of the dates above. April 11, 1987 was the date of his death, showing a close conjunction of pB Asc, pb mars, and pc saturn in Leo in b 3rd house. September 5, 1986 was the date of his interview with Roth, and contained no significant astrology for depression. He was then nearer to what was normal for him. But he had been going through significant, powerful sets implying depression since 1984:
This concludes the analysis of Levi’s charts for initial depression and increased depression for three life events.
We should also look at another of Levi’s sets before we leave his 7th chart. He was a writer and poet, and one does not just do that without astrological significators. Here they are:
|b7 venus||17 Pisces 48|
|b7 neptune||18 Pisces 46|
|B Asc||16 Gemini 07|
|b7 saturn||13 Virgo 30|
|b7 mercury||17 Virgo 25||ruler of B Asc|
Normally, saturn above would not be part of the set because the orb between it and the nearest "light" (B Asc) is 2° 27'. Asc/planet orb is only 2°. However, B Asc is ruled by b7 mercury, which has an orb of 5°.
The main significators for a poet are light/mercury/venus. With influence to a 3rd house to associate it with mind (3rd house). With influence to an Angle to bring the whole set forefront enough to be recognized by others. Saturn is often included, probably having to do with form, while venus has to do with beauty. A second part of the significator includes a light or NN in Pisces. Here, the lighted Pisces planets are part of the set, not as strong, but then he was not primarily a poet.
The significators for writers are fewer. They included lighted mercury influencing an Angle and 3rd house. Suns and moons in Gemini are also prominent in charts of writers. Here there is no 3rd influence, but the set does contain mercury, natural ruler of the 3rd house. (And his 10th chart contains that harmonic NN in Leo conjunct his b 3rd house mercury/saturn.)
The golden benefic that exists in his 10th chart that sponsored his success as a writer consists of c jupiter at 21 Gemini 54, b mars at 21 Gemini 19, c venus, co-ruler (25 of 33°) of c 3rd house, at 24 Virgo 39, and c10 moon at 21 Sagittarius 13. None has Angular influence, so his fame was not a great as it might have been.
Golden benefics are comprised of light/venus/jupiter, with venus and jupiter being conjunction or square but not opposition. At least, when opposition they fight each other rather than cooperate for the "great good" they together can produce. When on an Angle, "Angle" can substitute for "light." Golden benefics are not truly golden unless they also influence an Angle, either being on it or influencing it through a ruler. When they do, they operate to produce luck and success throughout life in the areas and charts they influence.
In my opinion, no matter what the astrology, it would not be correct to declare some one committed suicide just because he had immensely difficult progressions at the time of his death.
Neither would it be right to declare that identifying Levi’s severe depression on the date of his death is the same thing as justifying his suicide. Identification of his state makes suicide more likely than an accident, but it does not underwrite suicide. It is impossible to tell for sure how much is too much for any individual. Using Levi’s astrology, we can get pretty close, but being absolute is not part of it.
We do want to consider that it is not as if Levi had sunshine astrology when he died. He wasn’t basking in good progressions. He wasn’t even making do in neutral progressions. He was amidst some very strong negative astrology. He had been experiencing more and more depression over the last ten years. He was, likely, tired of it all.
Levi’s history (his bout with depression in 1963) showed that it took little added astrology (just a progressed node to a 3rd house saturn in both charts, and an additional Angle/saturn in his 7th chart) for him to experience something he identified as depression. It was apparently strong enough for him to have made his state known to others, otherwise we would not have known about it.
In looking for cause of death, it ought to be significant that Levi’s astrology for date of death was potently afflicted, interpreting strongly as depression (saturn) or as that plus anxiety (mars added to saturn), or as “acute” depression. Added all together, his affliction was about three times what he was born with. This was especially significant because what he started out with at birth was already severe.
In addition, on the date of his death his progressed saturn sets were their strongest, that is, they were in their closest relationship to each other. In astrology, closer is stronger. And stronger is most experienced. The biggest orb between pB Asc, pb mars (ruler of C MC), and pc saturn, all in Leo, falling in birth 3rd house, was 17 minutes, less than 1/3 of a degree.
I did not include mars in my definition of the significators for depression. Here, at the time of his death, it is definitely part of the depressed sets. Progressing to saturn it would increase depression, especially to a 3rd house saturn. It could also add anxiety. Mars (aggression, force) to saturn (vulnerability, fragility) is one of the most painful, discordant progressed sets we can experience.
Worth mentioning is the fact no astrological set operates twenty-four hours a day. Severe clinical depression is about as close as it gets to total. There are many and varying degrees of depression beside clinical, some of which are just as dark, just not quite as physically debilitating. And, some of them have acute states. So, the individual would go in and out of the consciousness so sponsored, with depression gaining over non-depression the closer the set. The individual struggles, sometimes arriving back at fairly normal feelings for a while. When the depression returns (it is still in effect astrologically), it feels even more over-powering, more the "totality of one's existence." The same happens when similar sets increase in number—they sponsor more of that consciousness more of the time. For Levi, his mars-to-saturn likely gave him sudden, acute states of despair. That would explain why he had been able to function as well as he did until his death.
There was an interesting (two-years later) postscript to Gambetta's paper. Here is part of it:
The mystery surrounding Levi's death does not end here. Two years ago, on the tenth anniversary of his death, Elio Toaff, the Chief Rabbi of Rome, made a startling disclosure. At a commemorative gathering at a high school in Rome, he revealed that Levi called him on the telephone "ten minutes before" he died. Levi sounded distressed. He did not tell the Rabbi he was about to kill himself, and the Rabbi, much to his chagrin, did not guess what was about to happen. The Rabbi recollects that Levi said: "I can't go on with this life. My mother is ill with cancer and every time I look at her face I remember the faces of those men stretched on the benches at Auschwitz." When I interviewed Toaff in Rome in June 1998, he confirmed the version of the event as reported by the Italian press, including the timing of the call. He also told me that out of discretion he had never spoken about that episode to anyone before, not even privately. He said he decided on impulse to reveal it during the anniversary gathering out of love of truth: "too many preposterous things were being said." His response was prompted by someone in the audience who mentioned the doubts voiced by Levi Montalcini and Mendel about why Levi should have chosen such a messy way to commit suicide given that he had better alternatives. "The mind of a suicide can be in a state which is not analyzable by ordinary criteria," Toaff told me.
Gambetta goes on to establish that the date Levi was supposed to have called the Rabbi was on a Saturday, the Sabbath, a day when the Rabbi would not even have answered the phone. Did Rabbi Toaff mis-remember the date? Regardless, we do not have to doubt his veracity, just his memory of the exact date.
I quoted the above for two reasons. It substantiates Levi's feelings of desperation. It also shows that images of the Lager were evident around his date of death. Still, I would not go so far as to say they sponsored his death. Without the astrology for depression/despair, he would not have had Lager impressions, or, if he had, they would not have disturbed him that much. The strong saturn creates the darkness. The content we may put into it is uniquely individual, and is derived from our own previous nightmares. So, the Lager did not kill Primo Levi. Being born susceptible to depression, and even more susceptible to severe depression late in life, killed him.
Finally, I cannot rule out that he had health issues at the end of his life. Gambetta stated that Levi had had prostate surgery twenty days before his death. Pc saturn is ruler of c 6th house. It was part of the major progressed set Asc/mars/saturn/uranus in b 3rd house on the date of his death. Perhaps more germane, post-surgical depression is not uncommon. I, for one, have experienced it. I do not think his health a factor in his death. If the set had been primarily about health, it would have taken his life because it was so close and influenced a 4th house. It was his fall which took his life.
For those interested in considering for themselves whether Levi died from an accident or on purpose, the paper by Diego Gambetta, link at top of page, is excellent reading. I could not do it justice in this paper. Gambetta did his home work. He pinpointed death as shortly after 10:00 a.m., just after the concierge in Levi’s building had delivered the mail. Gambetta speculated about all kinds of possibilities. He paid attention to witness reports of Levi’s behavior prior to his death. He even visited the Levi estate to view the stairs for himself. By their design, they made suicide a tricky, rather than a definite, proposition. Gambetta included among his observations that some one in the grips of severe depression is not always rational. Still, in regard to Levi's death, he comes down on the side of it being an accident, while I come down on the side of it being a suicide.
From my point of view, the reasons against suicide given in the Wikipedia biography (above, at top of page, which includes some statements by Gambetta) can be used equally well to argue that Levi’s death was a suicide.
Gambetta wrote that Levi left no suicide note. Nor had he given any clear indication in the days before his death he was even considering suicide. Sometimes, I submit, trying to explain the "far world" of deep depression to people not experiencing it appears a hopeless and not at all profitable task to the would-be suicide. They, he thinks, still won't understand, so it will not at all help them.
Some times, especially among younger people or people caught in un-resolvable difficulties in relationship, suicide can be a way of punishing those left behind. These suicides may or may not leave a note. The main point about them is they want to hurt those they left behind.
Suicide is committed for other reasons. Bad health. Depression. Financial despair. Severe loneliness. Who knows all the reasons?
We will never know how many individuals whose deaths were recorded as natural or accidental were actually suicides. Even if the deceased clearly committed suicide, relatives left behind some times influence doctor’s (even coroners) reports for cause of death. Suicide represents a social stigma, to say nothing of the fact that many insurance policies will not pay out on death by suicide. So, the living some times go to great lengths to suppress its declaration. We never get statistics on this kind of thing because it always takes place behind closed doors. It is arranged by people whose decisions are seldom questioned. And, the usual motivation for hiding a fact of suicide is almost always that of the official having mercy on the survivors. So, who would want to question it? Even insurance companies are careful in such areas.
But also, people who kill themselves can be as sophisticated as those who are left behind who consider whether or not it was suicide. Some people who commit suicide are trying to protect loved ones they left behind. First, from social stigma. Second, they know that once a suicide occurs in the family, it sets a precedent that somehow encourages other suicides in the family. (Levi’s father killed himself.) Therefore, suicides who are not trying to punish any one, just trying to find a way to end a life which for them has become intolerable, are far more likely to make their death look like an accident. Hence, they would not leave a suicide note, nor would they behave in any way which indicated they were in such severe straits
Too, if they showed extreme distress, they would inevitably invite the concern of loved ones. If some one’s life has become intolerable to him, he is not going engage in behavior which elicits concern and endless further suggestions for improvement. Especially if he is a man. Women, the “communicators,” are more prone to engage in the drama of attempted suicide. Men, the “doers,” tend to avoid all the engagement and use a method which ensures their success.
Levi left behind a wife, mother, and mother-in-law. His grown son and daughter both lived in the area. An accident—at least one that looked that way to the authorities and neighbors—would have been preferable to a declared suicide.
Gambetta stated that Levi’s papers indicated immediate and ongoing plans for the future. That, too, is not any indication one way or another about his ongoing considerations of suicide. Hope for change keeps potential suicides, as well as us in our own troubles, going. Planning for tomorrow and the future is just part of the package of acting as if tomorrow will be better because it might be.
Levi's own statement in The Drowned and The Saved confirms he thought that way. He has been comparing himself and another concentration camp survivor, Jean Amery, the Austrian philosopher :
On this point my experience and my recollections diverge from Amery's. Perhaps because I was younger, perhaps because I was more ignorant than he, perhaps...I almost never had the time to devote to death. I had many other things to keep me busy--finding a bit of bread, avoiding exhausting work, patching my shoes, stealing a broom, or interpreting the signs and faces around me. The aims of life are the best defense against death: and not only in the Lager. [Italics mine], (p. 148)
As for complaining to his physician just days before about dizziness, that could be a part of his setting up his suicide to look like an accident. If he was complaining of dizziness, then his fall down a familiar stairwell would be reasonable...
Levi died without a will. He was surely aware of Italian laws regarding inheritance. He may have considered them good enough. At any rate, writing a will just before you are about to stage your own “accidental death” is hardly a reasonable thing to do.
Levi’s close friend, Rita Montalcini (in the same quote from Wikipedia), pointed out that had Levi wanted to commit suicide, as a chemical engineer, he surely would have found an easier way than throwing himself down some stairs that might have crippled him instead of killed him.
Her argument makes sense. However, if one is trying to make his suicide look like an accident, he is not going to take an overdose, or gas himself, or anything that actually signals "this is a suicide." If he did that, his death would no longer look like an accident. Levi had a lot of time while being depressed to consider ways he might make an exit. He had lived in that apartment most of his life. He could have considered how he could throw himself down those stairs without flubbing the job. The fact that he died "instantly of a massive head injury" could be testimony to his success. Levi had seen many people die. I doubt he was sentimental with regard to his own death. He was also a scientist. His review of possible ways to die would have been cold and factual, with an emphasis on results.
Gambetta states Levi accepted his mail from the concierge with a smile, implying Levi was in a good place emotionally just minutes before he died. Again, that is reasonable, but not unassailable. People who have been going through lots of depression learn to put on a face for the world.
But, it could be the other way around. We know, for instance, that people who have killed themselves have often appeared at peace, even somewhat joyous, to others in the days before their death. People who have suffered unremitting pain for a long time and who have also looked at the possibility of suicide for a long time, apparently find peace when they finally decide for suicide. There are, of course, people for whom suicide is never an option. I understand that is true. But, that is something we ultimately have to take on faith considering the subject is so controversial and bound to contain many distortions. Also, these days, it is socially acceptable for the dying—those in hospitals or hospices or under physician’s care—to use drugs to nearly totally blunt their consciousness in the really bad days before death. This is not an option for some one who is not actually dying physically, whose “dread disease” is merely that he cannot bear to live another day.
From the beginning some people saw Levi’s death a suicide. For them, it was a late day result of his incarceration in the concentration camp some forty years before. At one point, Levi himself stated that the experiences of the camp were some times more real than those of life after the camp. But, at some point he also stated unequivocally that the camp experience was not a factor in his depression.
The experiences of inmates of concentration camps were horrendous. Especially for those who were tortured. Let’s see one of Levi’s descriptions from The Drowned and the Saved, in which he quotes Amery, tortured by the Gestapo. Amery killed himself in 1978.
Anyone who has been tortured remains tortured… Anyone who has suffered torture never again will be able to be at ease in the world, the abomination of the annihilation is never extinguished. Faith in humanity, already cracked by the first slap in the face, then demolished by torture, is never acquired again. (p. 25)
Levi was not tortured. Tortured or not, earlier trauma does not have to play into suicide that results from depression. Levi's astrology for depression at the end of his life was quite distinct from his astrology for life in the camps. For the former, the affliction was inner and specifically affecting his mind. For the latter, the affliction was outer, affecting every aspect of his life, to be sure. But part of the reason he survived—it almost goes without saying--is that he kept a level head.
Here is Levi’s description of the unpredictability of camp life, enough in itself to have spelled the beginning of the end for many people:
Now, the network of human relationships inside the Lagers was not simple: it could not be reduced to the two blocs of victims and persecutors. Anyone who today reads (or writes) the history of the Lager reveals the tendency, indeed the need, to separate evil from good, to be able to take sides…here the righteous, over there the reprobates. The young above all demand clarity… In any case, their expectation reproduces exactly that of the newcomers to the Lagers, whether young or not: all of them, with the exception of those who had already gone through an analogous experience, expected to find a terrible but decipherable world, in conformity with that simple model which we atavistically carry with us—“we” inside and the enemy outside, separated by a sharply defined geographic frontier.
Instead, the arrival in the Lager was indeed a shock because of the surprise it entailed. The world into which one was precipitated was terrible, yes, but also indecipherable: it did not conform to any model: the enemy was all around but also inside, the “we” lost its limits, the contenders were not two, one could not discern a single frontier but rather many confused, perhaps innumerable frontiers, which stretched between each of us. One entered hoping at least for the solidarity of one’s companions in misfortune, but the hoped for allies, except in special cases, were not there: there were instead a thousand sealed off monads, and between them a desperate covert and continuous struggle. This brusque revelation, which became manifest from the very first hours of imprisonment, often in the instant form of a concentric aggression on the part of those in whom one hoped to find future allies, was so harsh as to cause the immediate collapse of one’s capacity to resist. For many it was lethal, indirectly or even directly…(pp. 37-38, The Drowned and the Saved)
Levi could have projected the residue of the his concentration camp life into his depression. Indeed, it appears, to some extent, that he did. But concentration camp as cause is absolutely unnecessary. Plenty of people commit suicide because of the also unimaginable darkness caused by severe, unrelenting depression. They have never been any where near a concentration camp. Suicide because of depression occurs because the interior terrain of the psyche has become intolerable and all-pervading.
Seeing the faces of dying camp detainees in the face of his dying mother was reasonable. Both were near death--indeed, all were coming under the sway of saturn, the grim reaper. But that does not really make us free to conclude that Levi was suffering from some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder. According to his statement to the Rabbi, Levi was well aware of the comparison he was making, and, as such, was standing outside of it, not enveloped in it.
Finally, in this paper, in considering suicide an eminently reasonable, but not absolutely provable, death for Primo Levi, I want to add a “defense” on his behalf.
Some people see all suicide as a failure in character on the part of the suicide. Too bad we cannot transfer Levi’s consciousness on the day he died to them to carry for a while. That kind of "learning" could humble us all. At any rate, it would certainly stimulate less merciless judgment.
I will end with a final quote from Levi. He is writing in regard to a common problem shared by camp survivors. Their experiences had taken them so far from ordinary reality that even their unconscious dreaming process cast forth this fear:
Strangely enough, this same thought (“even if we were to tell it, we would not be believed”) arose in the form of nocturnal dreams produced by the prisoners’ despair. Almost all the survivors, orally or in their written memoirs, remember a dream which frequently recurred during the nights of imprisonment, varied in its detail but uniform in its substance: they had returned home and with passion and relief were describing their past sufferings, addressing themselves to a loved one, and were not believed, indeed were not even listened to. In the most typical (and cruelest form), the interlocutor turned and left in silence. (p. 12, The Drowned and the Saved)
Primo Levi (picture from http://graphics8.nytimes.com,
with an article entitled “Prisoner of War,” NY Times Sunday Book Review, May 27, 2007)
(1) It is just a little more complex than that. If the saturn on the Angle is a harmonic saturn in the 3rd chart, then it will have influence on the mind regardless of which house it is in or rules. This is because any harmonic for the 3rd chart has a specifically 3rd chart implication. The same is true for a harmonic for any of the other charts, each harmonic planet has specific implications for the chart it is linked with.
The Periodic Table, by Primo Levi, translated from the Italian by Raymond Rosenthal. New York/Toronto:Everyman’s Library of Alfred A. Knopf, 1996. First American edition published by Schocken Books, 1984, 241 pp. Originally published in Italy as Il Sistema Periodico by Giulio Einaudi, Turin. Italian text copyright 1975, by Giuliano Einaudi editore, s.p.a.
The Drowned and the Saved by Primo Levi. Translated by Raymond Rosenthal. New York/London/Toronto/Sydney/Tokyo:Summit Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1988, 203 pp. Copyright 1986 by Giulio Einaudi editore s.p.a., Torino.
The World Before by Ruth Montgomery. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, Inc., 1976, 208 pp.
The Ladder of Lights: A Step by Step Guide to the Tree of Life and the Four Worlds of the Qabalists by William G. Gray. Published by Helios Book Services Ltd., Publishers and Booksellers, 8 The Square, Toddington, Nr. Cheltenham, Glos., 1968,
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