|The 1998 World Cup winning French football team was an emblem of French diversity.|
The National Front said it wasn’t “French” enough.
France is having a weird and unnerving time of it. Everything that seemed certain about the country is being shaken, questioned and has yet to be re-formed. The economy, the European Union, the political system, the socialist state, secularism, race relations are all wobbling.
Most of all one question is being asked: who are we?
France, like many European countries, is really a collection of states, separated by language and culture, that have come together as a political union, through wars and alliances. And as a the country at the crossroads of Europe, France has always had people coming and going from all corners of the continent, helping to create a rich cultural soup. Within the “Hexagon“, the south and the north, the Catalans and the Alsatians, the Bretons and the Basques – to name a few – have always maintained contrasting identities.
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immigrant with a dash of Greek
olive oil and a pinch of kosher salt
Then in the 19th and 20th centuries, immigrants flocked to France for work and freedom. Between the wars, France experienced more immigration than any other country in Europe – Armenians, Jews, Spaniards, Greeks, Italians, Hungarians, Russians, escaping poverty and persecution, flocked into the welcoming embrace of La Douce France, enriching the cultural life of the country enormously. In the 1960s and 70s, the new wave of immigrants came from former colonies – the Maghreb, the Caribbean, Africa, Indo-China.
That’s the ethnic mix. Then there’s the religious diversity. There are more Muslims and more Jews in France than anywhere else in Europe. France is by tradition Catholic, of course, with Protestant sauce, but the real religion of France is secularism, a deeply-held belief in rationalism, scepticism, philosophical questioning with roots in the Enlightenment and branches that spread into every sector of society. It was one of the first (and only) countries in Europe to officially sunder church from state back in 1905, a step that we in Britain have yet to take.
|Charles Aznavour: son of|
Like most old nations, France has numerous charts to choose from. Since the question I’m asking is one of identity, that seems the place to look. Obviously, French identity has evolved through the generations. It’s not something static. But there was a huge shift in national identity when France ceased to be a monarchy more than 200 years ago in the foetid fever of the Revolution. On 22 September 1792, the first Republic was declared. It was officially Day One of the new calendar. (My French colleague Jean Funken recommends this chart and you will see why.)
If France were a person, naturally one might think of her as a sort of Catherine Deneuve – cool, chic, ironic – so it’s right that this chart has both Sun and Venus in stylish Libra.
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The Sun at 0° Libra – equality and fairness. Libra is a cardinal sign which means leadership, initiative and action, but in the realm of the seventh sign that means considered action, political action, diplomatic action. Since this is a critical degree at one of the cross-quarter points of the Zodiac, this gives the chart tremendous power.
That Sun is also right on the MC, France shines very brightly in the world. It’s actually not a huge country (pop. c. 64 million) but its reach and influence have been, and still are, global.
|Still the best book on the|
psychology of colonialism.
France’s borders expanded soon after the first republic was formed. Napoleon conquered Europe, bringing French ideas about law and governance (Libra) as far afield as Egypt. The Code Napoleon is still the basis of the legal code in countries around the world. The rest of the 19th century saw France’s expansion into a global empire rivalled only by Great Britain. But France’s empire was called “La France Outre-Mer“, Overseas France: the colonies were swallowed up and became part of the larger body.
The millions of souls who became the colonised were not only exploited economically but they had their own senses of identity assaulted.
This pushing of boundaries is Sagittarius rising at work. Sagittarius’ ruler is Jupiter, the planet of expansion and in the natal chart it conjuncts Neptune, who dissolves boundaries. Sagittarius signifies things foreign. Sagittarius Moon is an inveterate traveller, a lover of the exotic, an adventurer, a philosopher. Also Sagittarius is about ideas, higher learning – and French philosophy from Descartes to Barthes has influenced human thought enormously.
There is a light side to this boundlessness too. It’s not an accident that the global charity, called in America Doctors without Borders, was born as Médecins sans Frontieres in France.
You can see how the mob (Pluto in Aquaruis, the common people) changed (Uranus) the leader (Leo) in this natal chart. It’s a startlingly exact opposition between the planets of revolution (Uranus) and transformation (Pluto), and France is prone to upheaval whenever those planets form a hard aspect.
In the late 1950s and 1960s, French colonies exploded – in particular Vietnam and Algeria – in fierce rejection of their colonial masters. This was when both Uranus and Pluto were ripping through France’s 9th house of colonies and ideals. When Uranus hit France’s North Node there at the top of the chart, we saw the upheavals of 1968, when for a while it looked as if there might be another revolution.
This is from 2006 and very prescient.
Uranus has knocked the country off-balance. When that planet crosses the IC – the motherland, home, the soil, le terroir – you can expect some upset. What is more, Uranus has been opposing France’s Libra Sun – putting the country’s identity in question, shaking the French sense of self.
On its own, that would be a major transit. But this Uranus transit comes with added energy from the lord of the underworld himself, Pluto.
Pluto has been ploughing through the first house for more than a decade now, carving out a new face for France. It’s been a painful process at times, but it has produced a more diverse France, with a President bearing a foreign name, vibrant youth culture, a rainbow football team – and a vocal far right.
What’s more Saturn the reaper transited the French Sun just when the EU started to wobble. During the past two years Saturn’s been going through the house of leadership and the French have really questioned the people in charge, and even the system that got them there. As with the rest of our democracies, it’s become evident that a tiny cabal of suits runs the country.
A series of scandals – sexual and financial – has dogged the power elite, allowing the charismatic right-winger Marine Le Pen some easy targets. Thirty years (a Saturn cycle) of more or less corrupt governance has come under scrutiny. Pluto has been tearing down the French facade of cool style to reveal behaviour by politicians that’s not ironic or clever, just rather venal and sordid.
Uranus is currently smack on the IC, which reflects the deep shock to the national psyche of the killings in Toulouse this week. This year the Uranus-Pluto square will be causing maximum stress and upset.
When Pluto enters the French house of national income and squares Venus (money) in 2013/14 there may well be more financial shocks. Meanwhile, Uranus will oppose that Libra Venus hmmm… bumpy. Perhaps the French love affair with consumerism will be challenged.
What of French national identity? This is in the process right now of being reshaped. France is due for change. The country has a tendency to go through periods of calcification that then need to be exploded. This is the Saturn-Jupiter opposition in the fixed signs of Taurus and Scorpio at work. As a frequent visitor to France, it’s felt to me that the country lost its joie de vivre some time in the 1990s. The problem with getting rid of God is that it leaves you with little left but shopping and sex – and both lead inevitably to tristesse, a very French state of mind (but that is for another post).
To a frequent visitor, France feels like it’s coming to the end of one of its decadent patches – perhaps, as happened during the last Uranus transit through Aries in the 1920s, the country is about to recreate an avant garde and again become a mecca for innovators, thinkers, artists and dreamers.
I’ll leave you with Dalida: half Italian, half Egyptian, all French.