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
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).
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)
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
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.)
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.
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
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
the fact that he
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.
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
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).
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
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.
when Regulus is Rising (The Heart of the Lion)
Receiving recognition for noble ideas, provided one avoids intrigue.
when Menkar is Culminating (at the
edge of the monster's open jaws)
speak for the collective.
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,
No birth time, solar chart.
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.
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
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.
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
or stomach of Aquarius, and one of the things that Horsley could not
‘stomach’ was what he considered to be a wanton show of
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.)
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!
- accessed December 2008
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Calcott_Horsley - accessed December 2008
accessed December 2008