Dear Friend and Reader:
ON SUNDAY, Betty Dodson begins her 80th year on the planet. The Kansas-bred sex educator and artist is one of the patron saints of Planet Waves, and in honor of her birthday I’m here to devote an astrology and cultural sexuality class to her chart. Please, put on something comfortable, get a cup of tea, and relax for a few minutes.
Betty’s natal chart reveals her as the ultimate Virgo, one born under the sign of the Goddess. Her life combines the well-known service and healing properties of this sign with the rarely mentioned guts, boldness and intensity that often come along with it as well. It’s also a chart that demonstrates the beauty of Chiron and the first four asteroids, giving us a real sense of how they work — something most astrology students would really appreciate seeing. Her chart demonstrates Goddess powerand what kind of influence it can have in getting us past the oppressive ideas of the past.
If you’ve never heard of Betty, please allow me to introduce you. If you enjoy masturbation and you’re consciously committed to feeling only positive about it, you can thank Betty. Indeed, if you think of it as anything but a sin or a disease, she’s your girl. Betty was the first person to publicly come out with this opinion and claim it as her own, not as a scientist or an academic (and frankly they have not been very helpful).
If you think of masturbation as the core of sexual reality (not the immature childhood phase that Sigmund Freud claimed it was), think of Betty.
If you believe (correctly or not) that feminism is a philosophy that owes it to the world to say yes to sex, thank Betty Dodson. If you’re a woman and you own and love a vibrator, you can thank Betty, who put vibrators in the hands of women specifically as erotic toys, and in the process created the upscale women’s sex toy market that we know and love today.
If you’re a lesbian and you have a dildo and your friends still talk to you, thank Betty. There was a time when the lesbian movement shunned dildos and the women who used them. You would lose your gold star for enjoying any form of penetration. (A gold star lesbian used to be someone who never had sex with a man.)
If you or anyone you know considers themselves transgender and you feel like you belong on the planet, send your thank you card directly to her PO box. Betty was one of the first to come out blazing in support of flexible sexual orientation, and it was 40 years before the LGBTQ center opened up around the corner from my studio. There was a time when (for example) in order to be a woman who had sex with other women, you had to commit to being a full-time lesbian. The queer movement is still getting used to the notion of bisexuality, but it’s come a long way in a generation.
Betty was the Rosa Parks of the sex movement who publicly, vocally objected to being pigeonholed as any one thing. She proposed, with her existence and not by speculating, that we can be who we want as sexual beings, and that we have the right to change.
You may think I am overstating the case; how could one person set off all this? True enough, the physical objects and some of the concepts involved have long histories. But the place they culminate within modern culture and the power of human intention is Betty and her work as an artist and sex educator through the 1970s and beyond.
You may ask what kind of chart such a person has. I’ll give you half a clue: her Moon is in Aries — the dauntless Moon, as I like to call it (Jerry Garcia, Salvador Dali, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs share this placement as well). Then, all of the major asteroids, representing facets of goddess energy, are extremely potent and placed such that you might have thought I made up the chart after reading her biography.
The aspect I love most is Betty’s Chiron in Taurus exactly conjunct the North Node, in the 9th house. Here is what it looks like. Chiron’s glyph is the key and the North Node is the horseshoe.
Chiron is the healer, mentor and warrior, associated with her Sun sign, Virgo. The North Node represents one’s apparent destiny, one’s greatest challenge and one’s inevitable calling. Chiron is different and must be different; the exception to the rule. Taurus is about pleasure, physical self-awareness and the body, and Chiron here is exalted, raising physical consciousness to the level of the metaphysical.
The 9th house (where all this happens in her chart) is about spirituality, ethics, a worldview, and getting the word out. It takes something so deeply personal as Chiron in Taurus and potentially makes it a global phenomenon. If you ask me, this is the destiny piece of her chart. This is the piece that above all else says Betty Dodson — or rather, the first of two.
The Sabian Symbol (a specific image for each degree of the zodiac) for the degree where Chiron and the North Node meet reveals the story. That degree is 15 Taurus, and here is the symbol: “Head covered with a rakish silk hat, muffled against the cold, a man braves a storm.” Dane Rudhyar explains, “The storm may be within [her], or may attack [her] social status. [She] is ready to face it daringly. This shows a willingness to accept crises and go through them — and therefore great character, the soil upon which a higher kind of consciousness might develop.”
This sums up Betty’s life in a few sentences. It is not easy being an erotic revolutionary (and it was not easy in the ’60s or ’70s either; the psychic residue of the ’50s and before still loomed large many places). It is not easy being among the very first to publicly step outside any known concept of sexual orientation and define yourself on your own terms. But if you do it right, it’s a lot of fun. What is “right”? Well, you just go for it and you don’t look back.
As I write, Chiron is in an exact conjunction to the North Node (this time in Aquarius), which seems a kind of tip of the rakish silk hat to what Betty has accomplished, and continues to accomplish. It reminds me that the world is ready for her ideas, because Aquarius takes Chiron to a much wider cultural audience than we’re accustomed to. Just this week, she re-launched her website, BettyDodson.com. In recent years, her production of educational videos has been prodigious, and speaking as one who has followed her whole video career, I can tell you she’s currently doing her best work.
Fashion Illustrator From Wichita
Betty first came to New York from her home of Wichita, Kansas, in the 1950s (the same kind of job that Warhol had, but Betty is a much more talented artist). She also had a prodigious talent for fine art; her drawings of the nude look like they’re from Michelangelo’s notebook.
She married her artistic patron, and for the next seven years was able to develop her painting and drawing talent, working alone in her studio. Her marriage quickly became sexless, but she did not, so her days were spent making art and masturbating.
Her marriage ended when her husband fell in love with his secretary, and she says she was enormously relieved. She claimed her freedom, experimenting with sex and sexual orientation in an endless series of personal reinventions. Her main discovery was that she was predominantly selfsexual. She could enjoy sex with both men and women, but knew that her primary sexual relationship was with herself.
She began writing and drawing about sex; holding consciousness-raising groups; and eventually invented the Bodysex workshops.
Betty’s first book (published in several major revisions, particularly Liberating Masturbation and Sex for One), has sold well over a million copies in ten languages. Not bad, considering that she stapled the first 150,000 copies herself.
Before we plunge into her chart, one bit of backstory might help, which is the context into which Betty emerged with her mission.
The history of masturbation, at least counting back to 1712, is a grotesque tale that was aided and abetted by a supposed English doctor called John Marten. Around that year, he published a book called Onania, which defined a supposed disease called “onanism.” This was a new word for masturbation, packaged as both a medical and a moral blight; that is, a disease and a sin. Given that just about everyone gets horny and masturbation is a common impulse, this was an insidious pronouncement, and the paranoia it caught on. It fed on the many pre-existing Christian misgivings about sex, and also had the authority of “science” behind it because Marten claimed to be a doctor (he was really selling a snake oil-type product that cured the disease of onanism.)
While there were obviously deep misgivings about masturbation in the era when Marten was writing (or he could not have got anywhere), they lacked cohesiveness and a marketing program. He summed them up kind of like how Bob Dylan encapsulated the ideas lurking in the background Sixties, turning them into an anthem. Marten’s book took hold, and it went from the alleyways of Grub Street to the drawing rooms of Berlin and Paris by the turn of the 19th century.
To this day and hour, people in our world are being punished, beaten and chastised based on the supposed truths of Onania. This history has been documented by Thomas Laqueur, a professor at UC-Berkeley, in a book called Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation.
Before and after Onania, Laqueur writes, masturbation is two entirely different things. Before Onania, that is, dating back thousands of years to classical antiquity, it hardly warrants mention in medical, philosophical or moral writings. In a sense, it does not exist in the clearly defined way that it does today, as a controversial topic. It is usually ignored entirely, at best considered a kind of joke, and at its worst was either part of the larger sin of lust; or the sexual domain of losers who could not afford to hire a hooker or use a slave to have sex with.
Masturbation is not mentioned in the Bible. Onan, the biblical figure for whom this “disease” was named, was not a masturbator — he practiced the kind of birth control that today we call pulling out. John Marten’s theft of Onan as his namesake is a kind of fraudulent appeal to canonical authority.
After the publication of Onania, masturbation suddenly threatens to destroy individual lives through the “trouble and agony of a wounded conscience,” undermine the order of society and if you extend the logic to its apex, to single-handedly end civilization.
This tome was reprinted and stood unchallenged, propagating everywhere from medical colleges to boarding schools to the Mormon church, with no ideas presented in the alternate, until Liberating Masturbation by Betty Dodson appeared more than 250 years later. I wish I had John Marten’s chart so I could leaf through the pages of the Akachic record and see the relationship between them, but I surmise that she is the cosmic answer to the damage he did with his infomercial. For now, let’s take a look at Betty’s chart to get a clue where she is coming from.
Enter: Goddess Power
So just what kind of chart would you need to have, to do this job? You need a powerful Chiron, as we’ve seen; and you would need some kick-ass asteroid goddess power. You would need something powerful that helps you transcend boundaries.
Let’s take the chart in sections. The Virgo ascendant is based on a birth time that Betty reported as “about 6:30 am.” If the chart you get works, a time stated like that is good enough.
The graphic at left focuses on the ascendant. The dark horizontal line is the rising degree, which is 7+ Virgo. The Sun is conjunct Neptune in the 12th house. The two are very closely aligned — to one-quarter of a degree. So right away it is a powerful 12th house chart, and the 12th is the world of the imagination, of dreams and of the pleasures of the bed. It is the only house you could truly call “egoless,” being the place where boundaries dissolve and where the material of the unconscious gradually percolates to awareness.
I once put this chart on the screen teaching a class in Manchester, England, without her name and asked people to guess who it was. “Is she a film director? Is this Jane Fonda?” Good guesses.
Betty has Neptune rising, which offers many of these properties. The Sun means that she’s going to try to express herself in the world of images and fantasy, to the extent that it’s possible, define herself in a way that transcends ego definitions. (Madonna’s chart has a very strong 12th house, to give you an idea how this works.) The paradox is that the Sun wants recognition and the 12th makes it very difficult, unless you have a profound impact. Betty has functioned mostly as a behind-the-scenes player in the larger society, but her message has spread even to people who have never heard her name.
The ethereal energy of the 12th is grounded by Virgo rising and a very strong Mercury in Virgo in the 1st house. Why so strong? Mercury, happy in one of its own signs, aspects many planets, particularly the Moon, Venus, Pluto, Vesta, Chiron, the lunar nodes, Jupiter and most of all, Saturn. Betty is nothing if not a communicator. She is fortunate to have Mercury far from the 12th; she can be as trippy and transgressive as she likes, and always keep a grip on reality. Just imagine her stapling 150,000 copies of her own booklet. That is grounded, even if the booklet is about having sex with herself.
Note Mars on the 2nd house cusp. This is the chart of someone who is passionately dedicated to her values and her desires (and particularly in Libra, her aesthetics). That Mars is exactly opposite the Aries Point, giving it significant public influence.
Okay, next section — the 3rd and 4th houses. We have an asteroid to consider, which sends a succinct message. The asteroid is Juno and the placement is Juno in Scorpio on the South Node.
Juno (the blue asterisk-like planet) is about traditional relationships, spouses, scorekeeping in relationships and jealousy. In Scorpio, triple the effect. On the South Node (horseshoe), that is what she is here in this lifetime to let go of. This is a picture of releasing traditional values that attend marriage and all its relationship cousins, particularly that rule that says marriage (or monogamy) is the only legit place for sex and that jealousy is the glue that binds us. If you want to know what Juno is about, look at everything that Betty has made a choice to move beyond and you will have a good idea.
When I did Betty’s chart with my class at Omega Institute in the spring, everyone asked about her father, particularly when they saw Saturn retrograde in the 4th house (yellow lowercase H, to the right side of the graphic). In all the years I’ve known Betty, I don’t remember her ever mentioning him. Her mother usually gets the parental credit for who Betty became.
“I had a silent dad,” she said this week. “He was very talented, a display manager of men’s clothing stores. He was a sign painter, hand lettering signs. But he was very silent and not expressive. Get a few drinks in him and he would open up, but that was rare.” She says he was a clotheshorse and that her mother married him because he was handsome and talented.
Let’s jump to the next house with major planets, the 8th. This is the house of deep release; of letting go; of orgasm. It is also the house of shared resources, including marriage contracts, dowry and sexual resources. What planet does Betty have here? None other than Uranus, the revolutionary. Uranus often acts like Prometheus — forward thinking, bold, ready to bring the fire of the Gods to humanity. It also represents groups, and the 8th can be about group sex. Between her renowned parties and her masturbation workshops (called Bodysex groups), she may hold the group sex world record — a nice one to have.
Uranus is conjunct Pallas Athene, the next very cool asteroid placement. The 8th is about boundaries and Pallas is about negotiation and setting rules; she is here to revolutionize the rules of engagement. She is here to negotiate a new arrangement between people where sex is concerned.
Betty’s sexual model emphasizes masturbation, which is selfsex. And that fits Aries in the sign involved. Everything emanates or comes back to self, in one’s own personal experience. What is interesting is that when you put selfsex into the context of relationships, you get a negotiation process that does not usually exist with partnersex. You get fantasy sharing and you get people consciously bearing witness to one another’s reality. If two people want to have sex, they don’t need to talk about it, it’s possible to just plunge in (and that is what usually happens). If they want to masturbate together, you can be sure there will be an interesting conversation or two, including the negotiation of actual boundaries — which raises the awareness of all sexual communication. This is revolutionary.
Then we come to the 8th house Aries Moon, which in part tells you about her strong, fiery, positive mother. Bessie Dodson was supportive of Betty’s escapades and loved her sex art, a remarkable thing for an uneducated Midwestern woman. In her first video, Betty says she gave her mother a vibrator when she was around 70, and she had orgasms to the end of her life.
The Moon in the 8th represents Betty’s need (the Moon tells us about needs) to explore sexual territory, deep letting go and the places where people and their identities meet. The 8th always involves other people and it always involves an exchange of some kind. With her Aries Moon here, she must actually exist in the context of her relationships, or get totally swallowed by them.
Now for the top of the chart: Gemini and Cancer. Betty’s midheaven (10th cusp) is in Gemini, which specifically means two distinct careers (artist and sex educator, which she morphed into one). It suggests a career as a communicator. It takes us back to that 1st house Mercury in Virgo (Mercury rules Virgo and Gemini), meaning that her work (10th ruler) will dominate her visible identity (1st house placement).
Ceres is the highest planet in this chart, placed in the house of mothers and also profession. So it represents her mother’s supportive role as well as Betty’s role as a cultural mother.
Ceres, the goddess of nourishment, has come into prominence after being promoted from asteroid to dwarf planet in the summer of 2006, and here we have a test of what that might suggest. Ceres is also the planet of healing the emotional grief between mothers and daughters. Goddess knows, there is plenty of it, particularly in the failure of mothers to acknowledge the sexuality of their daughters. (If my conversations with clients reveal anything, this is slowly improving.)
Betty had no biological children, but she was long considered the mother of masturbation. Then as her spiritual daughters had children, she became the grandmother of masturbation; and then their kids had kids and she was the great granny of selfsex and selflove. Counting her peers, she has influenced four generations of women and the many men who have been exposed to her ideas directly or indirectly through their partners.
Ceres is conjunct Jupiter in Gemini, reflective of protection, a lot of wisdom to offer, more than a little luck, and also of an incredibly eclectic person.
To the left, we see the 11th house. This is the most social house of them all; it is about our personal society, the community we create and/or live in. It is the house where we give our gift to society.
The triple conjunction here is in the sign Cancer. Cancer in the 11th house is about nourishing the public. It consists of Venus, Pluto and Vesta. Venus and Pluto together are a lusty, passionate combination that have the potential of raising sex to an evolutionary experience, and in cancer, a nourishing one.
Vesta sets the tone of the conjunction. She is the eternal flame of eroticism, service and creativity; her glyph is a burning chevron of oil, and this represents Betty holding out the sacred flame of the Goddess in public for all to see. Though no other astrologer that I am aware of has associated Vesta with positive, creative sexuality. More often she is associated with sublimating sexual energy into work. Other astrologers associate her with shame, not necessarily recognizing that shame is the shadow cast by the heat and fire of Vesta, not the main event.
One interesting thing about Vesta is that she does not have a specific identity; there are not classical representations of her. She is the spirit of the eternal, core fire of humanity itself, and this is Betty’s gift to the world. Most people do not know who she is, but they have been touched by her work, her ideas, and her personal quest for freedom.
Happy birthday, Betty Dodson.
Yours & truly,
You are starting to figure out how smart you are. This may or may not help in a partnership situation where some of your lesser-evolved tendencies are being reflected back to you. But what you are being presented with is an opportunity precisely to rise above impatience, aggression and a tendency to live out of whack. Once you recognize what you don’t want to be (usually reflected by the conduct of others) you will be able to choose what you do want to be, which is, not coincidentally, who you are inside. Healing is a choice; mental health is a choice; your tendency in recent months to look on the dark side of life is finally being replaced by a sense of empathy for yourself and for people around you. No matter what anyone says to you, respond with love and notice how easily you can turn the situation around.
Taurus (April 19-May 20)
Once again, you have the idea you want to take a chance, and the feeling that it’s necessary to do so. You are making the commitment to yourself. I suggest you be explicitly clear about what that commitment is, in words and in feelings. Despite your deepening understanding of yourself, there seems to be an obstacle in the way. Is it a physical obstruction, or is it an idea? Is one mocking the other? I suggest you consider the conceptual level first. It is the easiest to work with and the one most likely to contain both the problem and the solution. If astrology means anything, the real issue involves faith. You seem to be stuck on the idea that the mighty cosmos is inert or unresponsive when it comes to providing you with what you need. I do know this feeling and I know how annoying it is.
Gemini (May 20-June 21)
How many house guests do you have at the moment? How many people vying for your attention, or expecting you to help them feel safe and secure? I imagine playing mom to a boatload of kids (or adults, or critters) is the last thing you feel like doing at this very moment — you are bursting with ideas and a craving adventure. And adventure of the mind or an armchair journey is not quite what you need, all by itself. I suggest you work specifically with your desire to express yourself. Go deep into that feeling; experience it as a state of existence, deserving of your full attention. You may feel frustration that you’re hamstrung, or you may decide in one huge burst of energy that you have no need to be bound by your circumstances. You can, at the least, set yourself free for a week, a day or an hour.
Cancer (June 21-July 22)
Yours is considered one of the most emotional signs, and you do tend to emphasize this aspect of your nature. You also tend to understate your intellectual prowess. In other words, you’re smarter than you think. The fact that a particular project or situation has eluded your reasoning power for so long has left you feeling a little insecure about your intelligence, but for some reason you seem to be extremely motivated now. Take advantage of this fire under you. Whether and how you take action seems to hinge entirely on whether you respond to your emotions as passion or as some kind of liability. You don’t need to be persuaded by your insecurity — you can ride this energy to a whole new place or mental space.
Leo (July 22-Aug. 23)
A financial situation you are facing seems to have so many different facets. Which one of them is true? Which is valid? Despite your desire to rely on logic and reasoning, you need to experiment. You are not balanced on a high wire; you are not a cat about to leap from one terrace to another, 200 feet above New York City. You’re standing on solid ground, and you have more resources than you may think. You do, however, tend to undervalue them, and your tendency to be conservative may be reaching the pound-foolish level. You do have an idea of what can be done; you know that it’s probably going to work. I would daresay that this is a matter of confidence. And your confidence is talking, if you would only listen.
Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22)
Typically there is a wide gap between an idea and one’s ability to implement it. How often do you find yourself saying, “If only I had the time or the resources to do that”? You actually have all the resources you need, or the motivation to assemble them in one place. And you have enough time. What you may be concerned about is that your concept is not as wildly innovative as you think it should be. But just who are you comparing yourself to? You don’t need to live up to your source of inspiration, or impress this person, or be particularly like them. What you need is to recognize that you are holding an absolute gem of an idea in your hands. When we take this same astrology and explore it on the level of human relationships, it sounds more like this: you are absolutely equal to anyone you may perceive as brighter, more beautiful or more innovative than you are. Learning this is a big part of why they are in your life.
Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23)
Mars has stepped into your birth sign, which will finally grant you some relief from the at-times overwhelming fear you’ve been enduring. This has been anxiety of the obsessive nature, where small problems, including ones that don’t really exist, seem to blow up to the size of the universe. Now you have a different situation on your hands: an enormous amount of energy has been released from negative entanglements, but you may not know what to do with it. I suggest you make peace with the fact that you probably won’t be able to maintain the calm state of equilibrium that you prefer. Desire knows nothing about being cool and casual, unless a con artist or a fool is involved. Let yourself be driven. Allow yourself to be consumed by your needs. See what it feels like to drink when you’re thirsty.
Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22)
Whose approval do you need, and why do you need it? You seem to have a lot of ideas about what you must accomplish first in order to be acceptable to people who don’t actually have much influence in your life. This is distracting attention you could be devoting to your friends. It’s also blocking your view of how much you’ve achieved in the past two or three months, and from the fact that you do need a rest. I know a lot is happening in your world, but make sure you take some time in a space where you are totally alone and allow yourself to forget it all; and remember who you are on the deepest levels of reality. You may notice, once you get there, that there were many feelings you were dealing with temporarily, but not quite facing or processing. Now is the time, and your life will still be there a few hours later when you return to your other reality.
Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 22)
Stand clear of any tendency to establish a pattern out of making sacrifices. You may need to compromise on one or two things, but the clue that they’re the right compromises is that they will feel good. Once you go past the point where what you give rewards you with pleasure, that is the time to stop. You are in leadership mode at the moment, and for you leadership means taking full responsibility for yourself, for others and for what must be done. I assure you that you don’t need to go so far to get results. You merely need to set a solid example, and that does include knowing when to say yes and when to say no. Let your example do most of the work you would normally delegate to labor and toil.
Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20)
Take authority, and know that you have the ethical constitution to back it up. To take charge, you may need to challenge someone or something that has previously designated itself boss, and has a very good image in the process. While I would not normally advise such a thing, you must work with how you appear as much as the substance of what you’re saying or doing. While your integrity is normally unimpeachable, you are in a position where you could push things out of balance. So you need to proceed carefully, and remember politics at every turn and turn of phrase. You also need to get the help of a key ally, someone who is better at playing both sides of the fence than you are. You have many skills, but concealing your opinion is not one of them at the moment.
Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19)
You seem intent on working out the details of a difficult situation, long in the development. But when all is said and done, faith and your sense of adventure are inspiring you to excellence. Meanwhile, excellence is within reach, particularly in any situation that calls for an agreement, contract or partnership of some kind. The arrangement is a kind of surprise package. You are likely to agree to one thing and then something much more interesting develops. The discovery you make relates to how radical your values really are. As an Aquarius, you are accustomed to packaging yourself as a reasonable person, an intellect or even a kind of conservative. Yet in the recesses of your heart and soul, you know you are a radical, a visionary and an inventor. Let it flow.
Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20)
It may seem difficult to believe, but someone is meeting you on your own level. Indeed, it’s a level you may have forgotten existed, so rare is it for anyone to show up with you there willingly. Let this be an invitation to express yourself without hesitation: honestly, clearly and with an eye for how much fun life can be. You need to cast away all your suspicions about how difficult it is to succeed in love and in work. Yes, you have faced obstacle after obstacle for the past 12 months, but if you’re paying attention you’ve been noticing that you have some truly appealing options to locked doors and unanswered phone calls. Sometimes you need to look a few inches in the other direction for exactly what you want, especially after you’ve looked someplace else over and over again to no avail. The answer to this problem is the notion available.