The 27 Club: Crossing the Astrological Threshold

Purple Mandala

With the sad death of Amy Winehouse reported in the news, I’m afraid we’re going to hear an awful lot about “The 27 Club”–a list of celebrities who never made it to 28.  Requiescat en pace to their newest member, and also wishing peace to all who loved her.

The assumption in the public is that 27 is some kind of magical number, especially if you’re an addled rock star.  A cursed number is perhaps a better term.  Look at the list, it’s very impressive:  Brian Jones (of the Stones), Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix.  You can add blues legend Robert Johnson, artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and Egon Schiele, and jazz musician Bix Biederbecke to the list.  There are more, but you get the point.  Everyone talks about it. Obviously a dangerous age for a public figure.  Or is it?

I’m going to give you another list, this one far more wide-ranging:  Vincent Van Gogh, Bobby Darin, Lou Gehrig, Thomas Wolfe, Florence Griffith Joyner, John F. Kennedy Jr., Roberto Clemente, Michael Hutchence, Jam Master Jay, George Gershwin, Robert Merrick (The Elephant Man), Bobby Sands, Rupert Brooke.

Here’s another:  Thomas Edison, Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo, Red Skelton, Joe DiMaggio, Kurt Vonnegut, Patricia Neal and Leslie Nielson.

The second group is a short list of public figures who died at the time of that most treacherous of transitions, the second nodal return at age 37+.  The third group brings us to another famous transition, those who passed at the Uranus return at the age of 84.

Now, the truth is, you can come up with a list of famous people who died at any particular age.  Pick any number–36, 24, 43.  But the difference between picking a random number, and one that has caught the imagination of many and is now part of the zeitgeist, is that, astrologically, the years that span ages 27 and 28 are an important astrological crossroads.  There is certainly a kind of mojo working around that time, full of trials, and tests and urgings. But the thing is, it doesn’t just happen to rock stars and celebs.  It happens to all of us at around age 27. It’s a famous astrological threshold that all must cross.  The other thresholds mentioned, at 37 and 84, are just as powerful, but those are less well known.  Some of us make it through, and some of us don’t.  If we don’t make it through, we die–a very few of us physically, but a great many more die emotional, psychological or spiritual deaths.

The Progressed Lunar Return

The first group, the most visible and most well-known pattern, is distinguished by not making it through their Progressed Lunar Returns.  The 27 Club should rightfully be called “The First Lunar Return Club.”  The Progressed Lunar Return occurs for all of us at or near the age of 28–it takes 28 years for the progressed Moon to return to its own place in the natal chart. I want to state flat out here that there is a mistaken notion flying around (mostly by people who don’t know anything about progressions) that somehow the 27-28 number has to do with the Saturn return.  It doesn’t, except for the fact that the progressed lunar return clears the way for the Saturn return to begin.  The Saturn return follows on the heels of the Progressed Lunar Return. The Saturn return is so notoriously fraught because the progressed lunar return has cleared out everything we used to feel secure about, leaving us on very shaky ground indeed.

As astrologers, we need to learn to pay attention to these cycles that are common to all of us, because they are extremely potent, more so than any individual transit or progression.  Just think of the power inherent in it–this is something everyone experiences at the same point in their lives.  Thresholds are about choices. We retreat or we step through. We arrive at a powerful gateway of change and transformation–each individual will react to that place according to its own astrological patterns, its life experience, and its own free will.

The choice at the first lunar return is a simple one, though the process can be complicated.  Do I choose to keep on as I am, or do I make the changes and necessary adjustments to my behaviour and move forward? At the progressed lunar return, we are being asked to let go of the past and move into the future.  During this time, we need to examine what is working for us and what isn’t, and let go of what isn’t.  It sounds simple enough, but most of us come into this life inclined to certain behaviours, and if, in the first 28 years of life, we go deeper and deeper into those behaviours, at the end of the 28 year cycle it may be nearly impossible to let go.  The Moon represents our engrained habits and patterns–what consciousness we claim when we come into this world, and what conditioning we have picked up along the way.  We may have picked up habits and responses that no longer serve our needs.  In order to grow, we need to leave these things behind and take on a new identity that is more true to our unique Self, one that will move us forward. At the end of a lunar cycle, however, we can feel frightened and defenseless, and this is when our old behaviours can become extreme.  There is the tension that comes at the end of any cycle–we know we must change, we must move on, but we often feel (particularly at the tender age of 27 or 28) that we don’t have the strength or courage to do it.  We blame ourselves.  And then we end up even further entrenched in our old patterns. Sometimes we’re so busy hanging on to our emotional crutches that we can’t see a way forward, and we lose our ability to change. Sometimes it gets worse before it gets better, sometimes it just gets worse, and sometimes life does give us more than we can handle.

The progressed lunar return marks the first time we have to make a leap of such scope.  Often, during this time, we turn away from what we know we need to do.  There is a particular feeling about this crossroad that has to do with the conflict between the Moon and Saturn. We don’t want to grow up–to take responsibility for our actions, our lives.  It’s so much easier to be overwhelmed, and sink back into the warm bath of what is familiar and safe, even if we know, down deep, that it’s damaging us and preventing our growth.  The future holds no guarantees, and the past seems enticing.  This is often especially true for those who are strongly affected by outer planets, particularly when they aspect the Moon. (I haven’t seen a birth time with a Rodden rating yet for Amy Winehouse, but the spec charts I’ve seen give her a Moon/Neptune conjunction.)  Then, the progressed lunar return can hold a particular kind of terror and retreat.  The months leading up to the return itself (the progressed Moon moves at about 1 degree per month) can be particularly difficult.  We come face to face with the devouring nature of the outer planets.  This is also true if there is a difficult planet nearby the natal Moon–when the progressed Moon comes to the conjunction of the difficult planet near the return, it will trigger a crisis.  It doesn’t need to be all hard aspects, either.  Kurt Cobain died when his progressed Moon came to conjunct a Jupiter that was sextile an ascending Uranus and tied to Venus/Chiron/Saturn and Neptune by a grand trine. (A perfect example of trines causing overflow.)

Each of these major thresholds has its own set of challenges and its own rewards.  The difference comes down to the way each individual reacts to the circumstances, according to the configurations in the natal chart. During the Progressed Lunar Return, we can feel tired of ‘the world out there.’  It can feel very much like ‘me versus them, in here versus out there.’  The outside world can be demonized and seem harsh in the extreme, and all we want to do is return to the womb, to the all embracing, undifferentiated world from whence we came.  Once we let the progressed lunar return rid us of our childish desires to cling to the familiar,  the Saturn return kicks in and we begin to understand that we must actively engage in building a world for ourselves.  We are responsible for our own lives. It’s no longer “me in here versus you out there.”  We realize that we are a part of the world, and the world is within us.  When Saturn is working well,  we are no longer victims of our projections, but participants in the creation of our personal reality.

The Progressed Lunar Return holds a particular kind of sadness about it, because if we don’t make it through, all of our potential dies with us.  This is especially true if the death involved is ‘only’ emotional or spiritual–if we’re left bruised and bleeding and unable to get back on our feet again.  You can see their haunted faces everywhere, if you look hard enough.  In the mall, on the street, the walking wounded with their broken hopes and their dead eyes and their fake looks of aimless determination.  They look as if they’ve been abandoned by life itself. Fortunately, every seven years or so, we’re given another chance–but without astrology to guide us, where do we turn, how do we know?

I’m grateful that I never have to find out.  If those members of the 27 Club knew what we know, would they have ended the way they did?  Perhaps.  We can’t save the world, but we can provide an alternative viewpoint.  And these are the times I think the lack of respect for astrology in our era is the saddest thing.


Some of the above is excerpted from the forthcoming book, “The Inner Wheel: A Guide to Secondary Progressions.” The book will be out in the winter of 2012.