Rene Descartes

“His psychology is obscure, but I incline to think that he was a sincere Catholic, and wished to persuade the Church – in its own interests as well as in his – to be less hostile to modern science than it showed itself in the case of Galileo.

~ Bertrand Russell, from “A History of Western Philosophy”

This is the first of a new  series of occasional philosophy blogs.  The subject may seem a bit random, but regular readers will know I am studying for a certificate in the subject this year.  Rene Descartes is known as the father of modern philosophy, very much the originator of the rationalist tradition.  He was born on 31st March 1596, a true Aries in every sense of the word, an individual and an initiator.

Birth Chart

Rene Descartes had 6 of his 10 planets in the Fire signs, which is unusual, and 0 planets in Water (so he was able to cut out the emotion enough to concentrate on the rationality, though he was not without emotion).  Half his planets (5) were in the Cardinal signs, marking him out as a leader in his field.  He had a Satellitium (cluster of planets) in Aries, the sign of “I AM”.  With his ruling planet Mars in the sign of Gemini, The Thinker, we get his famous philosophical calling card “I Think Therefore I Am” (Cogito Ergo Sum).

His Sun was conjunct the Jupiter/Uranus conjunction of The Entrepreneur, making him both an Innovator and an Optimist.  The North Node in his chart was also exactly conjunct his natal Uranus in Aries, so his karmic mission was to bring in a new way of being for his times.  He was caught between the old scholastic and religious traditions of thinking, and the desire to cast that off.  He was also aware that Galileo had been censured by the Pope for daring to think about the universe in ways which contravened Christian thought, and so took himself to countries such as the Netherlands where he would be safer to try out his new theories (he was born in France).  The satellitium also included Pluto, giving his thought some depth, and the North Node in Aries gave him a compulsion to be himself. He was a prolific writer, as befits his Mercury conjunction with Venus.  There are some who feel that he was not religious, and only pretended to be in order that his philosophical work might be more accepted.  I feel that he seems sincere in his statements about God’s existence, and certainly his Jupiter trine with Neptune would support that.

His Life

Descartes started out life intending to become a professional military officer, as befits a true Aries warrior, and joined the Protestant Dutch States Army in 1618 as a mercenary.  While travelling, in the same year, a chance meeting on 10th November in Breda changed his life.  He met a young doctor and teacher named Isaac Beeckman, eight years older than himself.  Both were interested in linking mathematics and Physics, and they corresponded and shared research and insights.  The transits for this date for Descartes included Jupiter square his natal Chiron in Scorpio: an awkward or challenging healing.  For Beeckman too it was fated, for Saturn was squaring his Nodal Axis and sextile his natal Chiron.  Their synastry was karmic: with Beeckman’s Pluto on Descarte’s Sun, Beeckman’s North Node trine Descartes’ Venus, and Descartes’ Pluto trine Beeckman’s Sun.

Exactly one year later, on 10th November 1619, Descartes had a strange experience in a small town, Newburgh-on-Danube.  He found himself in a stove-heated room, a blizzard outside, and experienced a sequence of meaningful and vivid dreams, which became the basis of much of his life’s message.  His transits for these visions included Saturn on his natal Mars in Gemini (pinning him down for “I think therefore I am”), Uranus trine his Chiron – spectacular and sudden and unusual healing, and Neptune opposite his natal Sun – Dreams and mystical Visions.

He spent over twenty years living and writing in the Netherlands, his most fundamental work being his “Meditations” (1641).  Galileo had been censured by the Italian Inquisition in 1633, which made Descartes extra cautious about protecting his work.  All this time, however, he was in touch with various academics who were interested in his theories.

Heart and Mind

In his reflections, Descartes concentrated on a very narrow landscape or definition of the mind.  Two centuries later, Sigmund Freud would develop the study of psychology, which offered a much more expansive and in-depth picture of the mind.  Descartes managed to incorporate the existence of God into his mind view, but an area which Descartes did not consider as being the seat of residence for the concept of God was the heart.  Philosopher Gary Hatfield explains that In an effort to remove himself as far as he could from scholasticism, Descartes followed Galen (who was born in 130 A.D. in Turkey).  Galen switched the focus of mental function from the heart to the brain.  In recent years, however, scientists have come up with a theory that the heart has a mind.

Philosopher Nigel Warburton says that few philosophers would approve Descartes’ split between mind and body (dualism), as it fails to take into account or explain the interaction between an immaterial mind and a physical body.  Although Descartes’ philosophy was controversial for his time and he had many critics, his thoughts were a catalyst for modern philosophy and the accompany Age of Enlightenment which was to come (1715 – 1789).

Pineal Gland

Hatfield also mentions Descartes’ concept of the pineal gland in the brain being a link with the soul.  In 1640, around the time he was writing the Meditations, Descartes mentioned this concept in letters, so he was aware of it while writing this work, which was published in 1641.  In fact, it is an old concept, especially in esoteric writing, and this gland is currently known to release melatonin, a derivative of the hormone serotonin, therefore associated with mood-enhancing.  The gland is pine-cone shaped, resembling an eye, and its spiritual role goes back to ancient Egypt and India (and was mentioned by Galen).  Descartes did not consider that it was the reason for the idea of God being lodged in his mind, but his dalliance with the soul’s link to the pineal gland was roundly rejected by subsequent philosophers.  It was only in 1958 that its true function was discovered scientifically.


Descartes suffered from fragile health all his life.  He was brought up by his grandparents, as his mother died soon after his birth.  His natal square between Saturn and Chiron may hold the key to this pattern of ill-health, but we do not have his birth time, so cannot fully determine how that square sat in his chart.  One of the ways in which he managed his health was that he never rose from his bed until after 12 noon.

In 1649, he was invited by the academic Queen Christina of Sweden to tutor her, and he travelled to Sweden in the middle of winter in order to do so.  This proved a less than successful arrangement.  She insisted that he provide lessons at 5 a.m. in a very droughty castle, and the early mornings and the cold proved fateful to him.  He contracted pneumonia and died on 11th February 1650, at the age of 53.


  1. Descartes. Meditations on First Philosophy. 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge; 2017.
  2. The Cambridge Companion to Descartes. Ed. John Cottingham. 10th printing, Cambridge; 2005.

Chapter 11: Descartes’ Physiology and its Relation to his Psychology, by Gary Hatfield

  1. Gary Hatfield. Descartes and the Meditations. Routledge. 2003; Reprinted 2010.
  2. Nigel Warburton. Philosophy: The Classics. Routledge. 1998; 4th ed, 2014.
  3. Bertrand Russell.  A History of Western Philosophy. 1945; Routledge 2004.
  4. Dave Robinson and Chris Garrett. Descartes a Graphic Guide 2013.
  5. Tom Sorell. Descartes – A Very Short Introduction 2000.


Tomorrow morning (Monday 27th) kicks off with a slightly challenging square between Venus and Mars.  This is the battle of the sexes, but of course it can be an adjustment or agreement which needs to be made within your own inner male and female.  You may be undecided between two courses of action, for instance: e.g. to bake a cake, or go to the gym (though of course that is too gender specific – we are all gender fluid now).  The aspect takes place in the middle of the night, so it may bring forth a dream which helps you understand what the issue is for you.  My new granddaughter is four weeks old now, and her parents are using gender neutral colours for her clothes and furnishings, so I am pondering this issue!  The colour purple, being a blend of red and blue, may be helpful to use for resolving and uniting the issues of the day.  Use lilac if  you find purple too confrontational.

At the other end of the day, we have a leaning towards the feminine side of the argument, with a conjunction of Venus and Neptune at 16 degrees Pisces.  Normally, this could be a serene, highly spiritual and artistically inspired conjunction, full of unconditional love.  However, the square to Mars is still skulking, and demanding equality and parity.  No matter that we still live in a male dominated society, they still demand to be heard!  The Harvey Weinstein trial is still going on, and that is very much an issue of Venus (women) and Neptune (blurred lines) square Mars (men).  So however strongly this conjunction can express the best of the divine feminine, the divine masculine needs to be considered.  At least, by the end of the day, you may get some clarity on the feminine issues, ready for the next phase of this series of aspects.

Tuesday (28th) completes the series, with Neptune square Mars, and focusses on the male side of the dilemma.  Mars likes to act unimpeded, but Neptune forces it to be more sensitive, and possibly also more spiritualized.  There may be some confusion, as the transition to understanding takes place.  Energies may be frittered, and water currents could be flowing in unhelpful directions, e.g. leaks.  On the last such square, a pot fell over on our pond and knocked over the pipe, and the pond drained leaving the fish without water (Neptune).  Fortunately, it was discovered in time to remedy the situation.  Generally under such an aspect, meditation can be helpful, and particularly those which combine physical movement with a stilling of the mind, such as Tai Chi.

There are no further aspects this week, but I will just mention the picture for Brexit day, Friday 31st (exit hour 11 pm).  Those celebrating will be listening out for possible bongs by Big Ben.  Those in mourning will be trying to avoid listening to the speech by Boris Johnson.  In the chart of the exit moment, of course the Saturn-Pluto conjunction is still operational (and now responsible also for the coronavirus outbreak), in the 4th House of the Home (country).  It is a fateful chart, with the Nodal Axis at 9 degrees Cancer/Capricorn square the Ascendant/Descendant at 7 degrees Libra/Aries: a precarious balance.  Whatever your feelings, I wish you well.

If you want to work in advance on the aspect of Sunday (2nd February), here’s a short preview:

Venus sextiles Pluto,  bringing profound connections between people.  Both planets rule money, so it is a good day to align yourself with the highest meaning in relation to money and abundance.  These planets do not represent poring over accounts in detail (that would be Mercury and Saturn), but rather attending to the energy of money, and values, and what they represent in  your life.  Just for fun if you are at a loose end, you could try and sense  how early you feel the pull of that.  More next week…

The week in bullet points:

  • Monday – battle of the sexes, divine feminine
  • Tuesday – divine masculine
  • Friday – keep calm and carry on