Skyscript home page

Hale Bopp: Harbinger of Government Flop

The following is reproduced as it appeared in issue 14 of The Traditional Astrologer, which went to print shortly before the UK national election of 1997 as comet Hale Bopp was brightly visible in the sky. The election saw a spectacular defeat to the Conservative Party's 18 year majority, with an overwhelming Labour victory that gave us a new Prime Minister in Tony Blair. The same year saw the tragic death of Princess Diana, the return of Hong Kong to Chinese rule and the devastating collapse of the Asian economy.

The recent interest in comet Hale Bopp appeared to catch most astrologers on the hop and reminded us of how little we understand about the use of 'celestial omens' in astrology today. With media interest at a peak, sunsign columnists babbled about the marvellous opportunities trailing in its wake, but one wonders where they get their information from? Certainly not from observations of the past; for comets have a dreadful reputation as portents for social unrest, collapse of government, outbreaks of violence and 'the death of princes'.

In a tradition that extends to the ancient Babylonians, they were viewed as the cause of just about every calamity that could afflict mankind. The Greeks and Romans noted them as a sure sign of bloody warfare and disaster, with Cicero, writing of the civil war between Augustus and Antony, that "comets were the harbingers of the miseries that then befell them". The Roman historian Pliny shared his view, observing of a comet that appeared in his time:

"a fearful star this comet is, it appeared at the civil troubles when Octavius was consul; also a second time at the war of Pompey and Caesar; and about the time that Claudius Caesar was poisoned and left the empire to Nero, in the time of whose reign and government there was a blazing comet continually seen."

The word comet comes from the Greek term Kometes meaning 'long haired' - a reference to the characteristic tail - and at least one roman Emperor took some comfort from this. When a 'hairy star' appeared over Rome in 79 AD the Emperor Vespasian bravely remarked "It doesn't scare me - I'm bald. Let the King of the Parthians worry about it - he's hairy"; misplaced bravado from a ruler who was to die the same year.

Comets were not only thought to accompany the birth and death of kings, but also to carry their souls to and from the Earth. Seven days after the death of Julius Caesar, a comet appeared in the northern sky and was taken to mean he had become immortal and received into the realm of heaven. Fifty years later, of course, the birth of Christ was to be proclaimed in a similar manner by a magnificent star appearing in the East. Perhaps sheer arrogance has fostered this belief, as a soother to the ruler's ego; after all, as Shakespeare wrote: "When beggars die there are no comets seen; the Heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes".

Possibly in recognition of his own importance the writer Mark Twain was able to be flippant about his celestial connections: "I was born with Halley's comet and expect to die on its return". He did.

Despite one man's demise being the cause of another's rise, comets are usually seen as bringing an end to rule, whereas a more positive perspective is to see them introducing a new one. Almost 1000 years after Halley's comet was taken as the portent of doom that ushered in the Norman Conquest, we no longer see that as a tradgedy; but whether the Conservatives can take such an enlightened view to this 'omen in the sky' displayed on the verge of their general election is another matter. Let's also remember that Britain is currently wrapped up in a heated debate over the 'European Union', which could lead to radical changes in the way our country is governed in the not-too-distant future.

Interestingly, most comets appear in the northern hemisphere and history records that they are usually succeeded by an unseasonable warmth in the atmosphere, as witnessed by the remarkably pleasant spring that Britain has enjoyed. This is probably derived from their 'fiery' reputation and association with drought, besides a widespread belief that the luminous gas and dust particles spread new diseases and infection to mankind. In latter days they were the heralds of plague, whilst modern scientists now theorise about modern ailments such as the aids virus originating from their visitation.

Even in our less God-Fearing age, predictions of doom and gloom and comets make natural bedfellows and those who dismiss their ominous symbolic significance still seem to dwell on thoughts of catastrophic possibilities. What about collision? Not a concern with Hale Bopp, but in 1994 the collisions on Jupiter with the fragments of comet Shoemaker-Levy witnessed impacts that were equivalent to detonating millions of nuclear warheads simultaneously, and stirred us all up into thoughts of what could be, and what may have been, with suggestions that collisions in the astronomical past had played a climatic role in the extinction of dinosaurs. Yet if comet collisions do pose any threat to earth, it could be the biggest cosmic irony of all - since some astronomers studying the origins of the solar system believe that, millions of years ago, it was cometary impacts with 'proto-earth' that supplied our planet with the chemical ingredients necessary for life to develop in the first place!


© Deborah Houlding (with acknowledgement to David Plant for comments in the concluding paragraph). First published in The Traditional Astrologer magazine, issue 14; May 1997.

Mundane Astrology