If you wish to be a famous astrologer, it helps to live in a country torn by civil strife and the ever present threat of death and destruction. It certainly worked for William Lilly, who rose to prominence during the English Civil War (1642-1651) and it seems to have done the trick for Elsbeth Ebertin, Germany’s most well-known astrologer during the tumultuous political atmosphere of the Weimar Republic (1918-1933). It helps too, that both astrologers possessed a journalist’s instinct for the hot story, as well as a burning desire to get their version of events to the broader public. Intriguingly, both were Sun in Taurus natives who wrote with a matter of fact clarity which belied their technical gifts and understanding of astrology. We astrologers in the West know Lilly’s story better, after all, he predicted the Great Fire of London, as well as the beheading of his English monarch. And he wrote in that King’s English. Elsbeth---at least for Anglophone readers---was unlucky enough to write in German; she had the added burden of being a woman writing about politics and assassinations, in her day, largely the province of men.
In a slender volume containing her translation of Ebertin’s 1922 booklet Can Assassinations Be Prevented? Jenn Zahrt seeks to change all that. She comes well qualified for the task, being bilingual and having a PhD in German literature; her doctoral thesis concerns astrology’s presence in German culture during the Weimar Republic. She is also an astrologer with a Master’s Degree in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology from the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David, where she again researched the contributions of various early 20th century German astrologers. This is the first time Ebertin’s book has been translated into English, and is the first in what Zahrt plans for a series of works she calls “Sources in Weimar Astrology”. It is a most promising start.
Fittingly, Assassinations is published on the 50th anniversary of the publication of Ellic Howe’s seminal Urania’s Children: The Strange World of Astrologers1, which contains one of the first serious discussions in English of astrology in Germany during the first half of the 20th century. In Chapter Six, “The German Revival”, Howe handily places Frau Ebertin in the context of that largely male undertaking. Though she first made a splash with her 1915 book Konigliche Nativitaten (Royal Nativities), where she accurately forecast the fate of Czar Nicholas II of Russia, by the time Ebertin penned Assassinations seven years later (in response to the recent killing of Dr. Walter Rathenau, the German Minister of Reconstruction) she had a solid public following. Howe acknowledges “She was by far the most accomplished German astrological publicist of her generation.”2 Moreover, he captures something essential about why she was so popular:
When one reads her work there is the impression of looking over the shoulder of a highly-responsible, kindly and invariably overworked woman, incessantly harried by members of the public in quest of advice on personal matters or anxious to have their fortunes told. Nevertheless, there is nothing she disliked more than astrology’s equation with vulgar fortune-telling and she regarded her ‘art’ with the utmost seriousness.3
These qualities come across in Zahrt’s deft translation. Her introduction provides important historical context and an overview of the book’s four sections. She also has a brief postscript which surveys the economic developments of 1923 as a check against Ebertin’s predictions. Though she has the academic’s command of the literature, in her introduction and throughout the text, she uses footnotes sparingly. Her commentary suggests Zahrt’s thorough familiarity with Ebertin’s cultural milieu. While there is nothing very technical in the astrology on display, readers not familiar with modern German history would do well to peruse Howe’s chapter to grasp the state of German astrology in the 1920’s, as well as a historical survey or two to understand why Germany was such a mess when Ebertin wrote her urgent booklet. Armed with such knowledge, they will gain an appreciation of this modest volume’s historical importance.
For those shaky on that period, the Weimar Republic was the unofficial designation of the German state between 1918 and 1933, or from its collapse following the Central Powers defeat in World War I until the Nazis seized power. Politically it was that country’s fifteen year democratic interlude, squeezed between the top down Wilhelminian Empire developed by Bismarck and the dictatorship of Hitler. Its cultural legacy is well captured by Peter Gay’s characterization: “We think of the Threepenny Opera, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Magic Mountain, the Bauhaus, Marlene Dietrich.”4 However, it was the Republic’s political and social unrest which motivated Ebertin to write. During the 1921-23 period, Germany was wracked by frequent assassinations, mounting hyper-inflation and a growing public resentment caused by the international humiliation of its political class; England and France were intent on insuring that Germany pay them staggering monetary reparations, levied to help rebuild those two countries following the war, and not incidentally to weaken Germany’s own recovery. In addition, they insisted Germany bear sole responsibility for that apocalypse, then known as The Great War, a burden most modern historians agree should be shared by all the major European powers in the events leading up to 1914.
For her part, Ebertin adopts the neutral political stance of the scientist attempting to stay above the fray: “I must strongly emphasize that I do not belong to any political party, thus lean neither right nor left…I stand above all parties and above all religious confessions.” (p. 6) To the central question regarding whether assassinations can be prevented, she affirms “I would like to consider the question of whether fate can be avoided still unsolved, even if it is possible that one can avoid specific dangers through foreknowledge of critical constellations…” (p. 4) Yet for her, this was not an unsolvable moral or philosophical conundrum, but a data problem which required more experts: “Yet---and here is where everything falls apart,---where are the people, where are there enough initiates, who are in the position of always precisely determining every danger that threatens their fellow man?” (p. 4) She sounds like an anguished, cash strapped bureau chief charged with protecting those in power, rather than a practitioner of a discipline still illegal in some parts of Germany.5
This mask of neutrality falls away as she discusses a letter she received from a woman whose husband is about to be imprisoned and who has asked Ebertin for help. Ever the scientist, she provides the woman’s birth data and lets her readers know the woman “is also being affected by critical aspects and (solar) eclipses, whose effects I described in the aforementioned book6…How is one to console such a sorely tested woman who is currently exposed to such celestial influences?” (p. 10) Of course, this “sorely tested” woman was one of her readers hoping for a miraculous intervention. Nearly a century on, we still feel the immediacy of Ebertin’s dilemma, one faced by every practicing astrologer: what does one say to such people? As astrologers, we instinctively cast the poor woman’s horoscope to see what Ebertin saw. And there it is, the most recent solar eclipse falling exactly on the woman’s natal Saturn, conjunct her Midheaven and ruling the 7th house of her soon to be imprisoned husband. The authorities have blotted out his future.
By exploring Ebertin’s astrology, I am following Zahrt’s suggestion found in her introduction, to “investigate her astrological methods---for their historical merit, accuracy, and so on.” (p. xiii) Ebertin’s conclusions about the circumstances and outcome for her reader are more dire: “Every misfortune and crime, whatever kind it may be, usually happens out of a lack of knowledge and out of ignorance, but it serves a higher purpose as a link in the chain of fate. In the case just described, I can at most say: Too late!” (p. 11) Like “the clever physician who knows the course of a disease” (p. 4), but is referred too late, Ebertin appeals to her reader’s common sense by noting even good astrologers have limits to what they can achieve.
Thus we simultaneously feel Ebertin’s pessimism about the disintegrating political culture of Weimar Germany and her angst at not being able to do more to alleviate this woman’s suffering. But she also reveals the self-preserving realist, who knows “I would expose myself to a certain danger because astrological information is forbidden by the Bavarian authorities.” She consoles herself that “if a miscarriage of justice took place, then those concerned will have to face the charges before themselves and a higher justice.” (p. 11) As much as her heart goes out to her querent, Ebertin sees her role as a larger one, where she investigates the fate of her nation’s leaders, where she knows “the influence of Saturn on a woman of the populace will become noticeable in a different respect, than for example on General Ludendorff or men of government…” (pp. 12-13) As much as any letter or diary, here we feel privileged to eavesdrop on such thoughts.
This example comes from the first of four sections in her short book which carries the book’s title. By addressing both the broader issue of predictive possibilities and limitations, as well as a heart rending example from one of her readers, Ebertin demonstrates why she was so popular. We think we are being let in on craft secrets and we feel her humility. The next section “What Will Happen Next?” offers a lecture on what distinguishes astrology from “typical ‘fortune-telling’”. After quoting a letter of praise for her forecasting accuracy from a reader of her general forecast from the previous year, she quickly adds “Astrologically, one can only ever predict things that one has calculated according to specific constellations, and one can only give information about those people whose fate one has studied extensively according to knowledge of their birth time.” (p. 24) This is followed by a crash course in mundane astrology which is a model of concision and clarity. Omitting most technical details, she also alludes to her past predictive successes, which seem more impressive than they are, since she naturally omits all the things she got wrong.
Along the way, we learn that her astrological approach is “scientific”, almost mechanistic. There is much talk of “exact mathematical calculations and astronomical calculations” (p. 22) “sidereal rays” (p. 25), and how the “12 magnetic sectors of the sky, from which the electro-magnetic rays of the stars act on earth” (p. 35). These explanations fit the prevailing scientific notions of her day, or at least a layman’s understanding of such things7, but they lend a fatalistic tinge---no doubt influenced by the deteriorating economic situation in Germany---which is offset by her actual practice methods and statements such as “I must rebuke the self-evident postulate of the common assumption that I must foresee everything that is about to happen because that would be ‘superhuman’.” (p 24) Indeed, her strictly scientific approach is undercut by a description of an actual example of her mundane methods. In one telling passage discussing the Sun on the Descendant “of the winter horoscope” (the Capricorn Ingress) she notes “according to the rules of mundane astrology (this) is ‘not a good omen’ for a sound understanding between the government and the populace: however a positive counter-current from Uranus and Jupiter indicates that a new spirit will awaken in the German people.” (p. 47) Was she predicting the rise of the Nazis ten years before the fact? Possibly. She goes on to state “It almost appears is if under these conflicting aspects, a terrible tyranny prevails on the one hand, and on the other, deep, heartfelt sentiments and scientific advances will permeate the German populace.” (p. 47) Certainly, nothing astonished foreign journalists and other outsiders more during the 1930’s, than the German public’s growing embrace of this once right wing fringe group, except perhaps Germany’s remarkable capacity for using its scientific prowess to develop war-making machinery second to none.
Once again, the astrologically informed reader has the opportunity to see how she reached these conclusions by casting that ingress map. The reader is rewarded by seeing an elevated 10th house Uranus conjunct Mars in Pisces, dispositing the 9th house Moon in Aquarius ruling the Ascendant; Uranus is trined by Jupiter in Scorpio on the cusp of the 6th. The “new spirit” of Uranus/Jupiter is channeled through the Moon, the mundane ruler of “the people”. This is simply good symbolism, apparent to any reasonably competent astrologer. Those familiar with Ebertin’s natal horoscope will note too, that the ingress Jupiter is exactly conjunct her rising degree, suggesting that she too was caught up with the hope of that rising spirit.
Such exercises are what makes reading this book so much fun and there is no dearth of opportunities for the reader to test their skills. Even the tragic inspiration for her essay, the assassination of government minister Walter Rathenau “belonged to those born under hostile aspects at the end of September, with extremely critical constellations…already in his natal horoscope…a sensational, violent death was indicated.” Ebertin reports “at his birth, mysterious Neptune, Uranus and Mercury stood in hostile aspect to one another, which is easily explainable astrologically, that he fell or had to fall victim to a secret political conspiracy…” (p. 33) Though she does not provide a birth time, Astrodienst does: its 8:00 am time reveals a cardinal T square with a 12th house Mercury in Libra opposing Neptune in Aries and both squaring Uranus in Cancer. Once again, a solar eclipse casts its shadow across this unfortunate person’s prospects. The eclipse fell at 7 Libra, near Rathenau’s Sun and closely conjunct his 12th house Venus, the ruler of his 8th house of death. He was killed by right wing fanatics while on his way to work. It is important to note that Ebertin did not predict his death in advance, but it is hard to argue with her post mortem analysis, even if we might not so confidently see such a T square configuration as the “easily explainable” indicator of a “sensational, violent death.”
Certainly, second guessing the labors of German’s leading astrologer during the Weimar period is not the reason Jenn Zahrt has placed this volume before her astrological colleagues. She sees Ebertin and other early 20th century German astrologers as underappreciated figures of the modern revival, one that has been dominated by the profusion of books and journals from England, starting with Alan Leo and continuing to the present day. Why hasn’t Germany’s contribution been more prominent? Certainly language has been a barrier, but other astrological material far less accessible than Ebertin’s work---here I am thinking of Cosmobiology and its arcane cousin Uranian astrology---have made their way into English translation. Then too, Ellic Howe’s book provides much information on Ebertin’s (mostly male) professional colleagues. Of course, many of those astrologers got caught up with difficulties brought about by Hitler and the Third Reich, including Elsbeth’s son Reinhold.8 Which, up until now, if she is known at all, is why Elsbeth receives any mention in the historical literature of astrology: she is the astrologer who identified Hitler as the “man of action”9 who was “destined to play a Fuhrer role…and sacrifice himself for the German nation.” That taint is hard to shake, which undoubtedly creates an aversion, especially for those who don’t follow the story more closely. Perhaps Hitler’s rejoinder to a subordinate, when told of Ebertin’s prediction is more telling: “What on earth have women and the stars got to do with me?”10
If it is true that we have been reluctant to put Elsbeth Ebertin on a par with her male Victorian counterparts such as Leo and Raphael, Dr. Zahrt is out to make sure we don’t continue to make that mistake. With this fine translation, astrologers no longer have any excuse to ignore this German Lilly. And as future translations for “Sources in Weimar Astrology” roll off the presses, historians will need to re-evaluate the whole of that modern revival. Move over Alan Leo! There is a long neglected guest in town.
Revelore Press and Jenn Zahrt deserve our collective thanks for bringing this little gem to our attention.
Gorham, Maine; published online September, 2017