Salvador Dali is one of the most famous and successful Surrealist artists of the 20th century. His personality and character were very much a key part of his success and career as an artist. He was flamboyant, eccentric and larger than life. Since I’ve had a love of Surrealism since my teen years, as an astrologer I’m interested in what astrology has to say about his life and work.
In studying his chart (using whole sign houses) I’m fascinated by the role the symbolism of the Moon has played in his life and art.
The Moon has no light of its own, but reflects that of the Sun. It symbolises feelings, the unconscious and the irrational, illusion, mind, and the body. It can also represent older brothers, maternal figures and the breasts. It’s associated with the womb, conception and pregnancy, caring, nurture, family, home, marriage, community and the waxing and waning of fortune.
Lunar and Cancerian themes seem to feature strongly in his psyche, which he gives artistic expression to. The Moon rules Cancer on the Ascendent and is placed in one of the most prominent places in the chart, the angular tenth house. It’s also conjunct the Midheaven, giving extra emphasis. Significations of planets in angular houses tend to have prominence not just with regard to the topics of the house, but as a theme that permeates the life in general. The Ascendent ruler (representing him in the chart) in the house of public recognition, status and career, and conjunct the Midheaven indicates his identity and Lunar themes will be an integral part of his career and what he is seen to do in the world.
As the Moon is co-present with Jupiter, its themes are also connected to Jupiter’s natural and ninth house significations of beliefs, religion, spirituality, and expansion of one’s horizons either mentally (through learning) or physically (through travel and foreign places or people). He was very philosophical, with an interest in both mysticism and science, reading widely on such topics as physics, quantum mechanics, geometry, maths and natural history. These influenced his thoughts and art.
We can also see lunar themes filter into the eleventh house stellium in Taurus, as this is the sign of the Moon’s exaltation. This stellium includes the Sun, signifier of the spirit, light of the intellect and life direction, along with Venus representing relationships, art and creativity.
Sleep, Dreams, Memory and Paranoia
The surrealist movement was heavily influenced by the works of Sigmund Freud. They had deep interest in dreams, hallucinations, visions, and the spontaneity of letting the contents of the subconscious mind direct their artwork, rather than finding expression through the thinking rational mind.
Dali actively induced hallucinatory and paranoid states to access his subconscious whilst painting, to bring forth dream imagery and hidden thoughts. This was called the ‘paranoic-critical method’, which he is quoted as saying is a
“…spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based on the critical and systematic objectivity of the associations and interpretations of delirious phenomena “.Salvador Dali
In that one sentence we can see an association with the cardinal nature of the tenth house on Aries, a fire sign, ruled by Mars, bringing impulsive and spontaneous energy to the lunar theme of illusion. One example is his famous work ‘The Persistence of Memory’ which was painted a year after he began exploring the paranoic-critical method. The title aptly reflects the Cancerian association with remembrance.
He described his works as “hand-painted dream photographs”. I think this beautifully conveys the lunar theme of reflected light, that which is not its own ‘original’ light. A photograph is like a ‘reflection’ of what ‘is’. It’s not real, and what we see in the photograph has no tangible form in reality. Dreams have the same quality.
“The difference between false memories and true ones is the same as for jewels: it is always the false ones that look the most real, the most brilliant “Salvador Dali
As the light of the night, and signifier of the subconscious and dreams, the Moon can be associated with sleep, another subject that is weaved through Dali’s life and work.
In his book “50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship“, published in 1948, which he describes as “a kind of culinary initiation to the Eleusinian mysteries of painting”, he writes about the relevance of sleep, and methods for controlling dreams and length of siestas as part of the recipe for the art of painting.
“…you must resolve the problem of “sleeping without sleeping,” which is the essence of the dialectics of the dream, since it is a repose which walks in equilibrium on the taut and invisible wire which separates sleeping from waking. And this kind of slumber, which is conscious of the fact that it does not even achieve the state of slumber, is called the “slumber with a key” “.Salvador Dali, “50 Secrets to Magic Craftsmanship”
He subsequently describes the technique of controlling the duration of a siesta by holding a key in one hand which drops as the person falls into sleep, waking them up. This is followed by instructions for eating a meal of sea urchins before proceeding to undertake his fourth secret:
“To begin with, you will eat three dozen sea urchins, gathered on one of the last two days that precede the full moon…The collaboration of the moon in such cases is necessary, for otherwise not only do you risk that the sea urchins will be more empty but above all that they do not possess to the same degree the sedative and narcotic virtues so special and so propitious to your approaching slumber.“Salvador Dali, “50 Secrets to Magic Caftsmanship”
Mother, Womb and Brother
Lunar themes of family, specifically mother and brother, were also inspirations for his work. Dali was born in May 1904, a second son to Salvador Luca Rafael Aniceto Dalí Cusí and Felipa Domènech Ferrés. Nine months prior, his older brother (also named Salvador) died in infancy.
Although he never knew him, his death appears to have been a looming influence and presence in Dali’s life. He felt his parents viewed him as a replacement for his sibling, which prompted him to develop eccentric behaviour in order to differentiate himself. He often referred to him and his brother as Castor and Pollux. In 1963 he painted “Portrait of My Dead Brother “ depicting him in adult form.
His mother supported his artistic pursuits and her death in 1921 of uterine cancer affected him deeply. He is quoted as saying it “was the greatest blow I had experienced in my life. I worshipped her… I could not resign myself to the loss of a being on whom I counted to make invisible the unavoidable blemishes of my soul”. We see the Moon as his mother in the chart in the highest place, echoing his adoration of her, her status in his life, potentially her influence, and the unfortunate link via her illness to the Moon’s signification of the womb.
The subject of the womb and birth are evident in his work through the symbolism of the egg. Egg imagery is included in many of his creations, along with other references to the womb. He claimed to have pre-birth memories, and of an ‘ideal world he came from’ prior to that. In his autobiography he recounts that his painting “Eggs on the Plate Without a Plate” was inspired by “intra-uterine memories” before he was born.
“The fried eggs on the plate without the plate which I saw before my birth were grandiose, phosphorescent, and very detailed in all the folds of their faintly bluish whites.”Salvador Dali
He also wrote about his remembrances of the womb as being a traumatic experience which haunted him for the rest of his life. This is very Cancerian, the sign associated with finding connection to a source, to where we belong.
His striking 1943 artwork ‘Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man’ has more political undertones, and we can get some insight into his thought process and inspiration behind the work through his notes on the painting:
“1. Parachute, paranaissance (sic), protection, cupola, placenta, Catholicism, Egg, earthly distortion, biological ellipse. Geography changes its skin in historic germination.”Salvador Dali
Dali died in 1989, leaving behind a prolific amount of artwork in a variety of mediums, and continued influence on art and artists. Each piece captures his uniqueness, and could fill many pages of commentary.
Images source: https://www.wikiart.org/en/salvador-dali
Post cover image: ‘The Moon’ (1929) by Salvador Dali