The Man Who Was Norman Bates

Jack o' lantern with evil smileHappy Halloween, folks. Today, a little holiday diversion. What better than a wander down the darker alleyways of the human psyche into Hitchcock’s masterpiece, Psycho, and the man who played the everyman killer extraordinare, Norman Bates?

I will confess upfront that, even as a young child watching the flick when it first aired on television, I developed a crush on Norman. My parents had great debates over whether I should be allowed to watch the film at all fearing that I wouldn’t be able to sleep alone for a month. However, I was too entranced by Norman to be frightened. He was sad. He was (mostly) alone. Long before the movie was over I wanted to wrap my arms around him, and by the end of the film I didn’t care that he was his own murderous mother. (Yes, I know, it’s my Neptune again.) There is no denying that the film creeps me out. It creeps us all out. (Who can sleep without a light on in the house afterwards—yeah, you, even you adults out there.) Still, who doesn’t shed a tear for poor Norman? Norman may be a monster, but he’s our monster. Norman is the first completely human monster in film history. He isn’t the victim of an ancient curse, or a bite by another monster, or dead flesh reanimated. Norman becomes a monster through his suffering.
Anthony Perkins in half light, circa 1960

What was it about Anthony Perkins that allowed him to embody Norman Bates, a character that has deeply imprinted on the collective psyche? What caused him to be identified so strongly with Norman that he would find it nearly impossible to break out of the horror genre? Much credit is due to Hitchcock’s ability to scare us out of our wits, along with a clever screenplay, but Perkins’ Norman is a unique creation. (His performance was so effective that actors who were rehearsing with him at the time avoided him after seeing the film.) When asked why he kept coming back to play Norman in the sequels (Psychos Two, Three and Four), Perkins said, “Let’s face it, gang, I am Norman Bates.” Perkins always knew why Psycho would stand the test of time. He said, early on, “Psycho works because it’s a tragedy first, and a horror movie second.” He called the role, “The Hamlet of horror.” This is a peek into the psyche of the man who understood Norman so well.

I’m only going to discuss the elements in Perkins’ chart that could relate to Norman Bates. This is in no way any kind of definitive analysis of Perkins’ chart, which is fascinating in many ways and like the man, extremely complex. I was moved by Perkins’ biography, Split Image by Charles Winecoff, which is a portrait of an acutely intelligent, conflicted and often tormented human being. We’ll come back to this chart one day, perhaps when we discuss the nodes, because it’s highly illustrative of complicated sexual dynamics at war in the psyche, and I think it would provide a constructive learning experience.

For anyone who has been living under a rock and doesn’t know the plot of Alfred Hitchcock’s film, Psycho, you can find it here. But better yet, if you haven’t seen it, rent it. You won’t regret it–or maybe you will, if you like sleeping with the lights off.

I usually won’t work without an accurate birth time, as the astrology that I do is based on angles, angle rulers and house rulerships. However, this chart is irresistible, and I’m going to waive my usual rules. It’s a shame about the time, because I believe an accurate time would clear up a lot of questions and ambiguities that still surround Perkins’ life. I’m inclined to the 4 am time Rodden reports from astrologer Marc Penfield, but we will stick to no angles for now. Ignore the ASC, MC and Vertex markings in the chart below. The chart was drawn for 0 Aries rising.

Birth Chart of Anthony Perkins

Anthony Perkins, no time known

All information on Perkins’ life is taken from the biography, Split Image, by Charles Winecoff.

I’m putting the Moon in Pisces from the descriptions of Perkins’ childhood. All three potential charts suggested on Lois Rodden’s Astrodatabank have an AM birth time which indicate a late Pisces Moon.

So let’s start with that symbol of Mom, the Moon. Pisces is the archetype of the all, but it also embraces (and forgives) extremes, the symbol of the fish swimming in both directions at once, the dark and the light. Pisces Moons are highly sensitive and capable of being emotionally torn, because they’re capable of feeling all things at once. Gentle, perceptive and emotionally acute, the lonely child who sees too much is often a Moon Pisces child. The gentle, almost dreamy quality that Perkins brought to the role (and many roles) is the legacy of the Pisces Moon. On film, he exuded a hypersensitive, idealistic, almost innocent persona. Neptune can be responsible for a kind of internal blindness, a naïveté, regarding the consequences of one’s own behaviour. This is certainly true of Norman and is also (as suggested by Winecoff) a trait Perkins shared. Perkins/Bates projected an emotional fragility that was embodied physically. His thin, nearly etiolated physique suggested a fragile attachment to the world. His ability to draw our sympathy to the most horrific of human behaviours is also Piscean.

The Pisces Moon can indicate a lack of a solid inner core, a trait both Perkins and Norman shared. The Piscean empathy and compassion can turn foggy and result in a loss of identity. Perkins said, in a 1960 interview with The Saturday Evening Post, “…I’ve always felt…that it was a very exposable myth that I was somebody. I’ve felt that this was an absurd dishonesty.” In another interview, “…all the while I was in torment over this feeling of being a total cipher. It just about paralyzed me.”

Now, things get very Norman-ish when we start looking at Mars. Moon/Mars is not a comfortable pairing at the best of times. The feminine, receptive Moon is at odds with the aggressive Mars. It tends to make the subject extremely touchy, very self-conscious, and hyper-aware of any criticism or threat. (The Moon/Mars pairing is found in a lot of actors. At its best it facilitates expressing emotion.) The internal antennae are always working. In this case the sensitive, late Pisces Moon is paired in a tight conjunction with, of all things, a Mars at zero Aries. Mars at zero Aries is Mars at its most raw, taken to the greatest extreme of the archetype. It is the absolute antithesis of the Piscean orientation. It’s a wild Mars without compromise, highly sexual (especially tied to the Moon) and emotionally impulsive. The fight between this Mars and this Moon, which knows no boundaries, results in a conjunction of extreme conflict, a schism between the dissolving, all embracing consciousness and the ultimate in ego separation. Determined as it is to explore the extremes, it can be prone to compulsions and addictions. A positive manifestation of this Moon/Mars would be a passionate drive towards art and spirit. A negative one is someone who would try anything once, and perhaps over and over. (A teetotal and always in control Perkins would fall heavily into drugs in the seventies and beyond, and became known in the gay community as someone who preferred the more extreme sexual practices (according to Winecoff).

As a representative of the internalized Mother, Moon/Mars can indicate, well, let’s say it out loud, a Mom with a knife (and all that represents). Norman’s knife-wielding “Mom” is a result of the split in his own psyche; Aries figuratively cuts the dual Pisces in two, breaking off the ‘good’ from the ‘bad’. Mrs. Bates was also verbally cutting, a trait she shared with Perkins’ mother, who by all accounts cut him down to size whenever possible. Moon/Mars can be self-lacerating both physically and psychologically, and it is a trait that can be a result of childhood abuse and neglect. In a notorious interview with People magazine shortly before the premiere of Psycho II, the analysis-obsessed Perkins accused his mother of inappropriately touching him after the death of his father. Winecoff throws doubts on the veracity of this accusation. Whether the allegation is true, or it was due to genuine confusion and projection, or whether it was done as a misguided effort to publicize the upcoming film, we will never know. Mars/Moon is also represented by a sexual mother. Norman, as a child, acted out his Oedipal tendencies when his mother took on a lover. (Ironically, a child matricide can also represented by Moon/Mars. ) Perkins publicly blamed his sexual difficulties on his own Oedipal urges, thinking as a child that his wish to kill his father resulted in his father’s actual death.

Perkins studio still with taxidermy owl

Universal Studios publicity shot, 1960

Mars is given added impetus by being the dispositor of the Sun. As we’ve discussed before (see The Mystery of Solar Fire, Part 4) the Sun is often difficult to access directly in a chart, and uses its dispositor as a conduit. Perkins’ Sun/Uranus conjunction in headstrong Aries symbolizes the ultimate outsider, and although Norman didn’t display any of Perkins’ rebellious nature, there is no denying his outsider stance. With Mars as dispositor of this unique and unstable solar energy, violent impulses removed Norman from the mainstream. With Perkins, it was his sexuality, which he alternately flaunted in a dangerous fashion (for the times) and fought to keep hidden. Sun/Uranus is the eternal rebel. The Sun applying to Uranus often emphasizes the rebellious and contemptuous side of the conjunction, where the separating side of the aspect is more for constructive change. It is alleged that Perkins’ ashes were placed in an urn inscribed, “Don’t fence me in.”

Uranus often represents something that has been violently torn away, and Uranus/Sun often represents the sudden loss of a father. Perkins’ actor father, Osgood Perkins, (who ignored him) died suddenly when he was five (when the progressed Sun came to an exact conjunction with Uranus). Perkins added this detail from his life to one of Norman’s speeches.

The Moon’s Nodes, in shorthand, represent where we come from and where we need to go. The South Node and its ruler indicate past patterns; the North Node and its ruler will point the way forward. To get real meaning from them, they need to be analyzed in relation to the Moon. (We will get into this more in my series on the Nodes.) The Pisces Moon on its own North Node indicates a real need to embrace the Piscean archetype, and move away from the Virgo sense of separation and self-criticism that is its opposite. While Norman embodied the precision, reserve and fastidiousness of Virgo (and his psychic schism seemed to stem from a particularly Virgoan guilt), from all accounts Perkins was burdened with the more exaggerated traits of the Virgo south node: vacillating, hypercritical, perfectionist, detail obsessed, nit picking, emotionally inaccessible. Self-loathing is also a little talked about Virgo trait, stemming from the negative Pisces of wanting to be all things to all people (a failing noted by a number of people in Perkins’ biography). Perkins could have made Norman a monster, but it seems that he had more compassion for Norman than he had for himself.

Mercury is the South Node ruler, and is enmeshed in a couple of crucial patterns. When the South Node ruler is square to Pluto, it shows a struggle to emerge from past patterns. Mercury/Pluto can be penetrating, but Mercury/Pluto can bring a darkness, almost a violence of mind, prone to depressions and mental self-laceration. Mercy/Pluto likes to explore the darkness in situations, a trait which got Perkins into trouble in a number of directing jobs. Attached to Uranus, this aspect again makes us an outsider. We are castigated for our advanced ideas and our abilities to go to the dark side, which are not embraced by the mainstream. Mercury to both Uranus and Pluto gives us both speed and depth of mind, but this Pluto will be inclined to keep its revelations and its secrets to itself.

We get into complicated Norman/Perkins territory with Mercury’s involvement with Pluto and the major asteroids.

The South Node ruler here is in a cardinal T-square with a Ceres-Juno/Pluto opposition. This T-square deals directly with conflicts with the feminine archetype, which are anchored in the past experiences of the Moon. Pluto/Juno conjunct indicates a relationship imprint of the devouring female, a fear of being overpowered. Juno outlines our relationship expectations, and Pluto there assumes we will devour or be devoured. That “Mother” is threatened by Janet Leigh fits in to this perfectly, particularly when we pair it up with Ceres opposite.

The Ceres/Juno opposition in a male psyche can indicate a conflict between wanting a mother figure and wanting a relationship based on equal partnership. Perkins sought mother-substitutes throughout most of his life, forming arms-length non-sexual relationships with strong, (mostly) older women who adored him, and forgave him his neglect and eventual abandonment. At its most intense, an opposition can ‘split,’ compelling the subject to go with one end or the other. Uranus, here in an almost exact square to the opposition, pushes the opposition to extremes. (Uranus can also cause a ‘cutting out’ when things become too stressful, which is exactly what happened to Norman.) A Cancer Juno would ordinarily compliment a Capricorn Ceres, but Pluto tips the scales. To Juno, we must add jealousy, suppressed rage, obsession/compulsion–the goddess at her worst. Pluto to feminine planets and asteroids can indicate an attraction/repulsion pattern towards ‘devouring’ females. Perkins called women “beautiful predators” and admitted to being terrified of women prior to therapy, only losing his heterosexual virginity at age 40. When you have the conflicted and fearful Juno/Pluto–Ceres added to the already complicated internal sexual conflict of Moon/Mars, and add the Uranus/Sun/Mercury aspect squaring (in cardinal mode), you have the male elements of the psyche actively rebelling against/resisting the female as part of the pattern of the South Node. No girlfriends for Norman.

Ceres is all about our ability to give and receive love, to nurture, to feed. I wonder how much Perkins’ famously thin frame, which got thinner under stress, was related to this conflict with Ceres and to this opposition with Pluto/Juno. Attached to Pluto, Ceres is not the goddess of grain and abundance—she becomes the devouring mother of winter, who blasts the landscape with ice. Juno in Cancer craves a partner to create a home with, to create a family. With Pluto there the desire becomes intrinsically tied up with an extreme power struggle. Perkins eventually, willfully, tried to change his sexual orientation in order to have a home and family life. Pluto indicates the ultimate goal of a series of incarnations, and Pluto’s relation to the Moon’s Nodes indicates the path we are using to get there. Without houses, we can’t know the full picture, but Pluto in Cancer is involved with upheavals surrounding the family, and power struggles around the structure of the family. Norman murdered his. Perkins found a certain, if not complete, respite in his marriage to Berry Berenson after extensive therapy to ‘cure’ himself of his homosexuality. They raised two children and made a life for themselves far beyond the conventional understanding of their straight and gay friends alike. Norman’s attempts at normalcy were not quite so successful.

The North Node and its ruler, Neptune, guide us forward. Neptune here is the dispositor of the Moon. With the Moon on it’s own North Node, this is a powerful pull towards the Pisces archetype. In this chart, almost the entire psyche is geared towards the nodal conflict and the means to balance and resolve it. The Pisces North Node urges us to let go, to let go of separating and critical behaviours and embrace forgiveness. The real healing factor here is the acceptance that comes from self-forgiveness.

Neptune is quincunx both Saturn and Vesta. Both Saturn and Vesta describe a need to accept responsibility and authority, particularly as Vesta is conjunct the willful Mars. Vesta describes an inviolate, inner authority; Mars/Vesta needs to act according to the dictates of this inner truth. Mars related to Neptune in any way is a difficult aspect. Motives can be suspect. At its best, with the easier aspects, it can be artistic and inspired. With the more difficult aspects, particularly the quincunx, (which has no natural means of resolution), it can be deluded as to its inner motives, and sometimes is willing to deceive itself in order to get what it (consciously or subconsciously) wants. It tells itself self-serving stories that it decides are true. Mars/Neptune is often unconsciously primed to go to the edge, to absolute extremes. Here, Saturn and Vesta are there to act as a natural corrective, to help Mars to stop being swayed by extreme (conscious and subconscious) desires and to learn to live life according to one’s own inner guidance. I don’t know how far Perkins or Norman traveled down this road, but it seems that they tried.

Norman’s struggles towards sanity, to discover his own inner strength and self-respect, echo Perkins’ later struggles to survive in a business that shunned him. In his last years, he found the Pisces archetype not only through the unconditional love given to him by his wife and friends, but through the illness that eventually claimed him. Perkins wrote in his last public statement, “I have learned more about love, selflessness, and human understanding from the people I have met in this great adventure in the world of AIDS than I ever did in the cutthroat, competitive world in which I spent my life.” Let’s hope, in the great alternative universe that is fiction, Norman has found the same compassion.

There is more discussion of this chart in the article, “Trickster Aspects.”