Traditional Astrology of Death | Donna Summer

Like so many people around the world, I felt sad to hear that Donna Summer passed away on Thursday, May 17th after a battle with a lung cancer.  Donna Summer was a musical icon and will be dearly missed.

I missed out on the heyday of disco in the mid-’70’s but I remember as a child in the early ’80’s dancing to songs by Donna Summer, Michael Jackson, and other fun pop, funk, and disco artists of the era.  There was something magical about all the new electronic instrumentation that would come to characterize the weirdness of the eighties.  While I tried to distance myself from pop music as a young adult, there has always been something childishly innocent about eighties pop stylings that as an adult I can now appreciate – making me feel like a kid again!

I’m probably in the minority of traditional astrologers in that I don’t believe there is a single method out there, such as a hyleg/alcochoden technique, that on its own allows one to make accurate predictions about the length of someone’s life.  Rather, I ‘m someone who thinks that if you throw a lot of techniques together, then you may be able to see it coming, but it’s quite difficult.  Looking at it in hindsight is always easier, and that’s largely what this series is about.

I’d like to look at some of the “signs” around the time of Donna Summers death and how they relate to death.  By exploring the connection between deaths and natal predictive techniques, we sharpen our ability to recognize when the astrological language of death and appreciate the intricate beauty of even such a dark and sorrowful event as death.

Donna Summer

Donna Summer was born on New Years Eve, 1948 (12/31/48) at 9pm in Boston, MA (source: AstroDatabank).  For the reader unfamiliar with her life and work, a good source for a quick brief is the Wikipedia article on her.  Her chart with twelfth-parts is shown below.

Donna Summer's Natal Chart with Twelfth-Parts
Donna Summer’s Natal Chart with Twelfth-Parts

It is hard to imagine a chart more oriented toward artistic performance. First, Venus is the significator of profession, as she is in a stake of the chart (the 4th) and strongly advancing, while having triplicity at the Ascendant and possibly bound, depending on how precisely accurate the birth time is, and Venus receives the next application of the Moon and is with the twelfth-part of the sect light (the Moon is the sect light as she was born at night).  My approach to the technique for professional significator can be found here.  Secondly, there is a whopping 5 planets, including the Sun and Moon, as well as the ruler of the 1st (in the bound of Venus), in Capricorn, the 5th House, which is the Joy of Venus and is performance-oriented. Finally, the ruler of the 5th is on the Ascendant, and thus is extremely prominent.

Mercury also crops up as important for the profession as Mercury rules the 1st and 10th signs and the bounds of the Asc and MC, and has its twelfth-part in the Ascendant.  Venus and Mercury as co-significators of profession, with Venus more dominant, combines artistry/beauty (Venus) with vocalization (Mercury), being quite common for singers.

In death analysis, we are most interested in the more potentially difficult elements of the chart.  In my opinion, one of such difficult configurations is the conjunction of the Ascendant (significant for the body and self) with the out of sect malefic, Saturn (significant for death, loss, struggle, isolation).  Another is the close (but separating) conjunction of the Moon and Mars (lord of the 8th of death, Aries) in the bound of Mars within 3 degrees of each other, and under the domicile rulership of Saturn.

Planetary Years

For an introduction to planetary years, please see the introductory post on them.  Donna Summer was in her 64th year at the time of death and was 63 years old.  Therefore we are particularly interested in combinations of planetary years that add to 63 or 64, which may involve multiples, as there are not two distinct planetary minor years that sum to more than 55.

There are only two combinations of three planets’ minor years that work without any multiples.  They are Saturn-Mars-Sun (30+15+19=64) and Saturn-Venus-Moon (30+8+25=63).

Possibilities involving multiples with one and two planets are below:

One Planet: Venus (64)

Two Planets: Venus-Mercury (24+40=64), Mars-Sun (45+19=64), Jupiter-Mercury (24+40=64), Sun-Moon (38+25=63).

Of these, I regard some as less important because the planets in the relationship are not all configured together with each other by either rulership or aspects.  For instance, Saturn-Venus-Moon is less significant to me because while Saturn aspects Venus and the Moon, Venus and the Moon are in aversion, and Venus is not ruled by Saturn.  Similarly, Venus and Mercury are in aversion.

In conclusion, the four most important activations are Saturn-Mars-Sun (Mars and the Sun co-present and ruled by Saturn which overcomes them by trine), Mars-Sun (Mars and the Sun together), Sun-Moon (the Sun and Moon co-present), and Venus.  Of these, I take Saturn-Mars-Sun to be the most important, as it involves no planetary multiples and it is reinforced by an activation of Mars-Sun involving multiples of Mars.

This Saturn-Mars-Sun activation is also the most significant one for the matter of death, as it includes both malefics (which each directly afflict significators of the body in the chart) and the Sun, which can be symbolic of vital power.

The importance of the Saturn-Mars-Sun activation is confirmed by transits on the morning of the death, in which we see the transiting Sun applying to natal Mars within a degree, and transiting Mars with natal Saturn and applying to natal Sun within a degree (transiting Sun also scrutinized, by opposition, natal twelfth-part Mars at 25 Scorpio).

Transits to Natal - Morning of 5/17/12 in Naples, FL
Transits to Natal – Morning of 5/17/12 in Naples, FL

Zodiacal Releasing

One important time lord technique in the Hellenistic period for matters of bodily health involves the use of the Lot of the Moon, also known as Fortune (glyph looks like an X in a circle).  It was discussed by Valens in Book IV of his Anthology (only complete English translation the entire work is available here), and involves allotting the ruler Fortune the first time period which is of the length of its minor years, then transitioning to the next sign in succession activating that sign and its ruler for the number of planetary years of the ruler, and so forth.  There are also minor periods that are 1/12 the length, and some additional nuances.  I will feature a post on the technique at some future point, but for now, the interested reader can get a thorough education on the technique through Chris Brennan’s Hellenistic course, or simply his module on Zodiacal Releasing, and software to calculate these time lords down to the fourth level, designed by Curtis Manwaring, is available for free.

The two highest level periods are particularly important in zodiacal releasing.  I give four levels below:

  1. Sagittarius (Jupiter) – occupied by Venus and the twelfth-part of the Moon, ruler is cazimi the Sun in 5th, Capricorn.  This is about a 12 year period beginning in 2010.
  2. Capricorn (Saturn) – occupied by 5 planets, including Sun and Mars, with ruler in 1st, Virgo.  This is about a 2 year period beginning in February of 2011.
  3. Scorpio (Mars) – occupied by the twelfth-parts of the Ascendant, Saturn, and Mars, with ruler in 5th, Capricorn.  This is about a 5 week period beginning on May 9th, 2012.
  4. Capricorn (Saturn) – see #2.  This is about a 5 day period beginning on May 15th, 2012.

As mentioned, in interpreting the releasing of Fortune, Valens paid special attention particularly to the first two levels.  One interpretive principle commonly used is that the Lot or its ruler in an angle of the chart (1st, 10th, 7th, or 4th place) shows strength, while if cadent from an angle (12th, 9th, 6th, or 3rd place) it will show weakness.  This rule can get difficult to use in practice, as Valens also suggests at one point that we can use the angles of the Lot of Fortune.  If using both the angles and the angles of Fortune, with the released Lot and its ruler, then there are simply too many points and too many strong places in the chart to derive much meaning from it.

Some people sidestep this dilemma by considering only the angles and cadents from Fortune, and not from the Ascendant.  Using that approach, the Capricorn periods would be somewhat vulnerable as the Lot would be in the 6th from Fortune (a cadent place), as would be those periods ruled by a planet that is in Capricorn.  The place of the Lot was thought to show the start of things and the ruler the development.  So Level 1 in Sagittarius would start out not particularly strong or weak (as it is not an angle nor a cadent) but in the development of the period weaknesses could result (as the ruler is in the 6th from Fortune).  Level 2 in Capricorn would start out weak, and would not develop strong towards strength or weakness (as ruler is not in an angle or cadent of fortune).  Level 3 would start strong but end weak (Lot in angle, ruler in cadent).  Level 4, like Level 2, would be weak and not strongly improve.  Therefore, the overall stress of all 4 periods being placed on Capricorn, which is a cadent from Fortune, would seem to show some vulnerability when looking at this element of interpreting releasing.

Valens discusses other principles of interpreting releasing from Fortune which I feel are a bit easier to delineate.  One thing is that he does is view the 1st two levels as if the ruler of Level 1 is transmitting or passing off to the ruler of Level 2, almost like the ruler of Level 1 is running into some type of thing signified by the 2nd level ruler.  For instance, a benefic transmitting to a malefic, as in the case here with Jupiter transmitting to Saturn, shows overturn.  Additionally, the transmission of the Sun or Moon to Saturn is particularly dangerous for health (Saturn to the Sun or Moon indicating the opposite, vigor).  According to Robert Schmidt of Project Hindsight, the original meaning of a cazimi planet is that it takes over signification for the Sun.  If this is correct, then we might treat the transmission of Jupiter to Saturn, as more akin to a transmission of the Sun to Saturn because of the cazimi status of Jupiter.

… the sun and moon when transmitting to Saturn are indicative of setbacks and anxieties, and they bring hostility […] as well as bodily disorders and dangers, shipwrecks, sudden collapses, and very many crises …         (Valens, Anthologies, Book IV, Ch. 5, Riley trans., 2010, p. 73)

If we were to consider the other levels in this type of consideration then we have Saturn transmitting to Mars (Level 2 to 3) and Mars transmitting to Saturn (Level 3 to 4).  Valens regarded transmission from a malefic to a malefic (Saturn to Mars and vice-versa) as particularly dangerous, much like a situation that goes from bad to worse.

Interestingly, in the zodiacal releasing method for health we find that the emphasis is placed again on Saturn, Mars, and the Sun (as Jupiter is cazimi the Sun) both in terms of the planets themselves and the repeat activations of the 5th house.


Next, I would like to look at distributors, as they are time lords which tend to rule over more than a one year period and can be very significant for health matters.  The distributor is typically the bound lord of the directed (with zodiacal semi-arc non-latitudinal ptolemaic-key primary directions) Ascendant, though some later Persian astrologers used the sect light rather than the Ascendant (and in fact optional use of the sect light as an alternative to the Ascendant is common in many Hellenistic techniques as well).  The distributor is a time lord, but typically a planet actually applying an aspect to the directed angle or sect light (within 3 degrees presumably, as that was the definitive range for applications and separations, as distinct from regards, in Hellenistic astrology) would take over the lordship or at the very least share it.  The obsession with direct hits by primary direction, rather than use of it for time lords, was a later post-Hellenistic development.  I touch on some of these issues in my introductory post on primary directions (and there’s another post on calculation).

Distributors of Ascendant and Sect Light for Donna Summer
Distributors of Ascendant and Sect Light for Donna Summer

From the table of distributors we can see that the distributor of the Ascendant was Venus and that of the Moon (sect light) was Mars at the time of death.  And what of any aspectual co-rulers of the distributions?

One of the very useful features of the primary directions module in Morinus is that of pulling up the actual primary directed chart for a given day.  For the day of Summer’s death that chart is below.

Chart of Summer's PD Positions on 5/17/12
Chart of Summer’s PD Positions on 5/17/12

Reading a PD chart is a little counter-intuitive for those used to looking at secondary directions and transit charts, and I won’t be clarifying it much here, but it is helpful to take the PD chart as the base and the natal as the aspects to it – as the PD chart is telling you the degrees of the zodiac that are passing over the natal positions and the natal chart is telling you the degrees of the zodiac that the directed planets are sort of “glued to” as they travel by primary motion. In other words, it is as if the PD chart gives you the zodiacal positions of the significators and the natal gives you the zodiacal positions of the promissors.

The PD Ascendant (significator) is at 25 Libra, and it is applying a square to natal Mars (promissor) within 3°, and actually within 2° (or it could be conceived in the opposite way, that Mars has revolved under the Earth and is applying a square to the static natal Ascendant – the scenario is the same in both cases with the Ascendant as significator and Mars as promissor).  The PD Moon is at 23 Pisces (or the 23 Pisces has directed over the natal Moon) with no applying aspect within 3°.

In conclusion, Mars is the distributor of the sect light.  Mars also became the distributor, or at the very least the co-distributor, of the Ascendant starting about a year prior to death, becoming more significant than the bound lord distributor, Venus, due to applying aspect. 

These time lords by primary direction are extremely important for matters of health and general circumstance, and here we see an emphasis placed upon Mars in the natal chart, which is the ruler of the 8th house of death, and is in the 5th afflicting the Moon, Sun, and Ascendant lord.

There is one very close aspectual primary direction within about a month of the death that is very symbolic of death.  It is the direction of Saturn (promissor) to oppose the prenatal syzygy (significator).


Profections and Solar Return

If unfamiliar with profections, please see the introductory post on profections.

At age 63 the Ascendant profects to the 4th house, which in Summer’s case is Sagittarius, ruled by Jupiter, which is cazimi the Sun, in the 5th with Mars, and ruled by Saturn.  Being the lord of the year, Jupiter is a particularly important planet to examine in the solar return.

As it turns out, Jupiter is in separating opposition to Saturn in the return (within 3°, i.e. scrutinizing, note: application/separation is a separate concept from regard in Hellenistic astrology – regard pertains to sign relationships, whereas application/separation pertain to degree relationships particularly within 3 degrees, termed “scrutinizing”, regardless of sign boundaries).  Saturn is the out of sect malefic, and Jupiter can take over signification from the Sun, so this can be a dangerous configuration.

Donna Summer's Pre-Death Solar Return
Donna Summer’s Pre-Death Solar Return

Additionally, return Saturn is at 28 Libra, in dominating scrutinizing square to the natal Mars-Moon conjunction at 27 and 29 Capricorn.  Furthermore, return Mars is transiting through the natal 1st, pertaining to the self and health, and is applying to natal Mercury, its ruler, and this is affliction of the Ascendant lord by Mars is even more apparent in the return chart itself (above) in which return Mars is in dominating square to return Mercury in the same degree! This is particularly significant because return Mars and Mercury transit through angles of the natal chart and because return Mercury transits through the sign of the annual profection.

Donna Summer's Pre-Death Solar Return
Donna Summer’s Pre-Death Solar Return on Outside of Natal Chart

Natal Venus is in the sign of the profection.  Natal Venus in the natal chart is dominated by Saturn.  Return Mars also dominates natal Venus.  Return Venus is placed in Aquarius, the 6th house, which is a weak house in aversion to the Ascendant which can be significant for sickness and is here ruled by Saturn.

The return Moon transits through the 8th of death, under rulership of Mars, echoing the Mars-Moon conjunction and its potential significance for bodily harm. The monthly profection of the Ascendant at the time of death was to Aries, the 8th house, ruled by Mars, and occupied by the Moon in the return.

Valens-Style Profections

I discussed Valens-Style profections in a past post you can read here.  As mentioned there, in addition to profection of the Ascendant, the profection of the Moon was particularly important for matters of the body.

In Summer’s case, the Moon profects to Aries (the 8th), which is empty, so it is a case of the Moon transmitting to Mars.  Again, this places emphasis on themes of death (the 8th, malefic ruler) and affliction of the body (Mars-Moon conjunction, Moon ruled by Mars).  The solar return transit of the Moon through the 8th is also a repetition of this theme.

Ruler of Days

Some Hellenistic astrologers used daily profections, which I don’t make much use of.  I’ve also discussed the small periods of zodiacal releasing above.  Additionally, I like the ruler of days technique discussed by Julius Firmicus Maternus.  In this technique we start with the lord of the year, and assign days to the planets according to their planetary days in zodiacal order, thus dividing up rulership of the year to each of the 7 planets.  The lord of the year is Jupiter for Donna Summer, so the planetary days are as follows:

  • Jupiter – 34
  • Mercury – 56 2/3
  • Mars – 42 1/2
  • Moon – 70 5/6
  • Saturn – 85
  • Venus – 22 2/3
  • Sun – 53 5/6

Using a date calculator, we find that Donna Summer died in about the 138th day following her solar return.  The Moon took over days about 133 days after the return, so the Moon was ruler of days at the time of death.

Day of Death

Finally, let’s return to the transits at the day of death.  We’ve already established that there is substantial importance placed on the malefics and the lights in the time lord techniques. Additionally, we established that Mars is of particular importance and that the Moon-Mars themes with the 8th crop up repeatedly when we narrow in on the year.  Finally, we determined that the monthly profection is to the 8th, Aries, which was occupied by the Moon in the return, that the Moon became ruler of days less than a week before the death, and that zodiacal releasing minor periods place considerable emphasis on Mars and the 5th. Now let’s separate some of these out in the transits:

  • The Moon: Shockingly, the Moon was transiting through Aries, the 8th, that of death, at the time of death, echoing both the solar return and the Valens-style profection of the Moon, in the house of the monthly profection.  The transiting Moon was likely making her next application to transiting Saturn, in opposition, at the time of death.  The transiting Moon applied a scrutinizing square to natal Mercury, the Ascendant lord, at the time of death.  Transiting Venus and Saturn were possibly in exact to the minute aspect, while receiving the application of the transiting Moon, at the time of death.
  • Mars: Mars was transiting at 9 Virgo through the 1st house.  Mars had stationed direct at 3 Virgo, in adherence to Donna Summer’s Ascendant (4 Virgo), about a month prior.  Transiting Mars was applying to the natal Sun-Jupiter conjunction within a degree at the time of death.  The transiting Sun and Jupiter was applying to natal Mars within 3 degrees at the time of death, while both conjunct the natal twelfth-part of Venus and opposed to the natal twelfth-part of Mars within 3 degrees. The transiting Sun-Jupiter conjunction by degree itself echoing the natal Sun-Jupiter conjunction.
Transits to Natal – Morning of 5/17/12 in Naples, FL

There are additional connections, but I think this suffices to show how the transits at the time of death were reflective of superficial activation of much more important repeat themes through time lord techniques of death and harm to health which pertain to the relationship between the malefics and the Sun, malefics and Ascendant, as well as the Moon-Mars conjunction and the 8th house.

4 thoughts on “Traditional Astrology of Death | Donna Summer”

  1. Last precessed SR is very talkative.Natal Mars (profection Lord) and SR Moon are both foreground on angles and by progressing SR Moon reaches natal Mars in about 5 – 6 months.


    1. Hi Trojan,

      Thank you very much for bringing this up! Yes, I use both non-precessed and precessed solar returns personally, but I only read the precessed solar return (for the birth location), and not the non-precessed, as a chart in its own right, with houses, sect, etc. all reinforcing or negating the indications in the natal chart. I haven’t used precessed returns on the blog yet, because I want to first cover some more medieval techniques for reading returns and compare some precessed vs. non-precessed as readable in their own right, before popping something as exotic as precessed returns (to many of those in the western traditional community) on the reader. It’s going to be a while. I like the non-precessed as a set of transits too though, and think it can be very revealing used as such, as I have here and in the Marvin Gaye post.

      I think you may be saying Mars but meaning Saturn in terms of the precessed SR, as it is Saturn in Libra, Moon in Aries, with Saturn rising, while Mars is in the 12th (even in the one relocated for Naples, but the non-relocated is more striking to me). This return is definitely very “talkative” as you put it. Not only is that Moon in the natal 8th house in Aries, but it is actually conjunct the Descendant of the return within 10 minutes of a degree and applying an opposition to Saturn rising in the 1st House! Not only is Jupiter opposed to Saturn, but Jupiter is in the 8th House of death of the return and his nocturnal domicile is the 6th of sickness! Additionally, the sect of the return is nocturnal, so it emphasizes the out of sect status of Saturn, and Saturn is in the 1st of the return, emphasizing the manifestation of Saturn in the 1st in the natal.

      My software puts her srMoon at 21ARI55 in the precessed solar return and natal nMars at 27CAP08. srMoon was moving at a speed of 11 degrees and 50 minutes a day, so converted to a year that’s 11 degrees 50 minutes a year in secondary progression. Dividing that by 52 weeks (710 minutes / 52 weeks) gives us about 14 minutes of movement each week. They are 5 degrees 13 minutes away from each other (313 minutes) which equates to about 22 weeks, or 5 months and 2 weeks. Her precessed solar return was on the 2nd of January, so that progressed srMoon would square natal Mars exactly in mid-June, and would already be within about a degree of exact at the time of death. Sure enough, software gives me 26ARI19 for the progressed srMoon on May 17th, which is within a degree of the Mars square. Outside of the spMoon, I’m not a big fan of secondaries.

      Of course, the precessed Lunar Return for the birth location is clearly fascinating again. lrMars, lord of the month, is conjunct the lrDescendant within 3 degrees, which is basically the natal Ascendant! The lrMoon, sect light of the chart, is in the lr12th ruled by lrSaturn in the sr8th. I really can’t speak highly enough about using these precessed returns as charts in their own right with their own houses, advancing/retreating planets, sect, etc. which draw out, suppress, or particularize various natal indications. I’ll get to them eventually, I promise!

      Best wishes,


  2. I liked your post. I would like a post like this post with planetary rulers, zodiacal releasing and distributors for Elizabeth Taylor and Nicol Williamson. Both rated AA.


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