A joint publication of: Astro Logos and Zyntara Publications



December 2008

   VAN Archive - www.Zyntara.com


In this issue:
Happy Birthday Christmas Card!
- At 165 years old, we look at the sky for the moment of its birth and the man behind it.

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Happy Birthday Christmas Card!
Darrelyn Gunzburg and Bernadette Brady


This Christmas will be the 165th birthday of the Christmas card, so we thought it might be interesting to consider the stars behind the man behind this phenomenon, John Calcott Horsley (29 January 1817 - 18 October, 1903).

In the early nineteenth century it was common practice to hand-write seasonal messages on calling cards or in letters. For people of prominence this was often a task of enormous proportions. In 1843, rather than hand-write dozens of Christmas messages, Sir Henry Cole (15 July, 1808 - 18 April, 1882) founding director of the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum) in London, commissioned his friend Horsley to design and print him one thousand cards with the words ‘A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’ on it. This was a tipping point, for from this simple design and printing job the whole Christmas card industry leapt into our lives. So what was happening in the sky on that Christmas of 1843?

For the winter solstice (the Sun moving into Capricorn) of 1843 there were three planets and both luminaries travelling amongst the stars of Sagittarius.

Normally the stars of Sagittarius can herald worrying times of conflict, wars and hasty action. However, with the birth of the Christmas card we see a different meaning to this strongly-assertive constellation.

Mercury the messenger was sitting in quiver of the archer - the arrow-holder over his left shoulder - an interesting symbol of the avalanche of cards (messages) that now get posted around the same time every year.  Venus was very bright and was sitting at the elbow of Sagittarius, engaged in pulling back his bow, so his missiles are Venusian.

The sky map for the Christmas of 1843, the birth of the Christmas card.
(Composite image made from different images in Starlight.)


Additionally, Venus was radiating both the crescent moon and Saturn, underlining the theme of new beginnings which build into bigger things (Saturn).  All a wonderful image of the speed with which these Venusian messages have swept through our culture and now pile into our lives at this time every year. But let's now look at that first Christmas card and the man behind it.


The world's first Christmas card designed by John Calcott Horsley in 1843.

Horsley’s Christmas card design featured three panels (see above). At the left was a reminder of a need to feed the hungry and at the right a sketch of the clothing of the naked. These acts of charity balanced the center panel that showed three generations of one family toasting the season. Despite complaints from Temperance devotees that the theme endorsed drinking of alcoholic beverages, the card was a success and gave birth to a whole new industry.

As this is the man responsible for developing the world’s most popular card communication, one would immediately want to look at his Mercury. Even though we do not have a timed birth for Horsley, we can see that he has a Mercury-Saturn conjunction in Aquarius, regardless of its house orientation. We could delineate this as someone who has fixed and rigid thinking, or even repressed thinking, or someone who places a lot of rules and regulations around their thinking, communication and mercantile pursuits. We can see this articulated in his life by the fact that he was elected treasurer of the Royal Academy in 1882 and held that position for fifteen years until 1897.


John Calcott Horsley
(29 January 1817 - 18 October, 1903).

Horsley was a member of the Cranbrook artists colony in Kent. His work was highly finished and skillfully painted and his first exhibit at the Royal Academy established Horsley's career as an artist.

His sister, Mary, was married to Isambard Kingdom Brunel 1806-1859, the greatest of Victorian engineers. However, John Calcott Horsley had a flaw - he objected to painting from life classes and paintings of the nude. This led to his being known as 'Clothes Horsley’.

He was particularly offended by women painting from life, seeming to think that women students would be corrupted by seeing the naked body of another woman. For this he received a great deal of ridicule, including the famous Linley Sambourne cartoon The Model British Matron, showing him as the corseted Matron disgusted by the Medici Venus (right).


 The Model 'British Matron
Linley Sambourne
(Punch Cartoon )

Horsley's Fixed Star Parans
In order to gain further insight into his Mercury, we can also look at this through the lens of his fixed star parans, what fixed stars sit underneath it. 

has four stars in paran with his Mercury:

Rising when Castor is Setting, as well as Culminating when Castor is Rising (in the head of the mortal twin of Gemini)
A skill with words and language

Setting when Regulus is Rising (The Heart of the Lion)
Receiving recognition for noble ideas, provided one avoids intrigue.

Setting when Menkar is Culminating  (at the edge of the monster's open jaws)
To speak for the collective.

On Nadir when Zuben Eschamali is Rising (at the end of the northern claw)
Imposing one’s views on others.

John Calcott Horsley 29 January 1817, London, UK.
No birth time, solar chart.


Here is the skilful painter (Mercury-Castor) who receives recognition (Mercury-Regulus). It is his first painting that establishes his reputation but he was recognized illustriously in other ways as well. In 1843 his cartoon of ‘St Augustine Preaching’ won a prize in the Westminster Hall competition, and in 1844 he was selected as one of six painters commissioned to execute frescoes for the Houses of Parliament, his ‘Religion’ (1845) being put in the House of Lords. Yet however successful he was in the sphere of Romantic painting, it was for creating the Christmas card that he truly spoke for the collective (Mercury-Menkar).

In this we can see the better-case scenario of how he imposed his views on other people (
Zuben Eschamali-Mercury) but we also see it in its more difficult expression as imposing his narrow-minded views about sexuality on others so forcefully that he became an object of ridicule in society. There is a certain poetic justice at work here (Regulus-Mercury): the price he paid for his prim behaviour (the ‘intrigue’ of Regulus) was that his reputation in the fine arts has been overshadowed both by his prudery and by his Christmas card.

Horsley also designed the Horsley envelope, a pre-paid envelope that was the precursor to the postage stamp. However, neither Cole nor Horsley had any idea of the impact this transaction would have in Britain and later in America. Even the early Christmas card manufacturers believed Christmas cards to be a vogue which would soon pass. Nevertheless, the Christmas card was destined to become an integral part of the holiday season. By 1880 their manufacture was big business, creating previously unknown opportunities for artists, writers, printers, and engravers.

Horsley's Visual Astrology

We can also look at his Mercury through the lens of visual astrology and when we do, we see that Horsley’s Mercury-Saturn sit in the stars of Aquarius, the fertile flow of water (see below). So he is richly endowed with the gifts of fertility with regard to his
education, business skills, and intellect. We can also say that his Mercury-Saturn sits in the belly or stomach of Aquarius, and one of the things that Horsley could not ‘stomach’ was what he considered to be a wanton show of permissiveness.

All of this notwithstanding, today Christmas is the number one card-selling holiday of the year - so as you put pen to card and send messages of hope and cheer and joy and merriment to your nearest and dearest, perhaps you can also raise a glass in your heart and give thanks to John Calcott Horsley!

John Calcott Horsley's natal sky map -  29 January 1817, London, UK.
Mercury and Saturn in the stars of Aquarius.
(Composite image made from different images in Starlight.)



Bernadette and Darrelyn would like to wish all of you who have walked with us in our journey of visual astrology a joyful, happy and invigorating Solstice (Winter and Summer) and we look forward to continuing that journey with you in 2009!



http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Cole - accessed December 2008
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Calcott_Horsley - accessed December 2008
http://www.emotionscards.com/museum/john_calcott_horsley_ra_1817.html - accessed December 2008



  The software that allows you to work with the whole sky in your astrology is  
and it can be explored on the Zyntara home page where there are 
  also online tutorials.