Face eating? Human empanadas? Brains, hearts and lips consumed by roommates, drinking buddies and spouses? Spring 2012 saw a spate of such bizarre and disturbing stories, and astrologically, the culprit may be the asteroid Tantalus.
Tantalus is an Apollo class asteroid, meaning it crosses earth’s orbit and could one day conceivably be the source of our doom, if we two find ourselves in the same place at the same time. With an orbital period of just under 18 months, Tantalus’ normal rate of movement is barely a bit longer than the Sun’s, about a day and a quarter per zodiacal degree. But its path is extremely erratic, at times taking up to 4 days to navigate just one degree of the zodiac, and at others zipping through 3 or 4 degrees in a single day. This unusual pattern means that during certain periods, Tantalus and the Sun become locked in an orbital pas-de-deux, maintaining the same geometric relationship for much longer than usual.
That was the case this spring, as Tantalus and the Sun traveled within five degrees of each other beginning in early February, moving to just a degree apart from early April until mid-May, and not passing out of orb until June 9. During that time, the two made only one exact union, on May 6 at 15 Taurus, a conjunction highlighted by the Full Moon in Scorpio mere hours later, adding lunar emphasis to their meeting. And from March 26 through June 1, several stories of cannibalism emerged.
Tantalus’ connection to cannibalism can be seen in his myth. An illegitimate son of Zeus and one of the ubiquitous nymphs who procreate their way through the Olympian pantheon, Tantalus was a King in Phrygia, ancestor of the ill-fated House of Atreus (also numbering Agamemnon and Menelaus of Trojan War fame, as well as Orestes and Electra). Originally honored by the gods, Tantalus was a frequent guest of Zeus at Olympus, where he was invited to share in their ambrosia and nectar, substances conferring ageless immortality upon the consumer.
When Tantalus repaid the gods’ hospitality at a great banquet in his home, however, he chose a rather less convivial repast for his guests: the dismembered body of his son Pelops, boiled in a stew. Being gods, the Olympians were not fooled, and all refused the proffered dainty but Demeter who, preoccupied by the loss of her beloved daughter Persephone, absent-mindedly chewed a shoulder. (Later, when Zeus ordered the boy reconstituted by the Fates, the missing shoulder was replaced by one of ivory wrought by Hephaistos.)
For his heinous crimes, Tantalus was consigned to Tartarus, the level of the Greek underworld reserved for the worst sinners, where he was chained standing in a pool of fresh water, with luscious fruit hanging on pendulous branches just overhead. But whenever he stooped to drink, the water in the pool receded, and whenever he tried to grasp the fruit, a billowy gust sent the branches just up and out of his reach, condemning Tantalus to eternally unrequited thirst and hunger. The English word “tantalize,” to tempt or tease with the sight of something that is unobtainable, with no hope of satisfaction, is derived from his name.
So Tantalus’ resonance with acts of cannibalism is clear, and its protracted passage within the Sun’s embrace brought a focus to the topic unrivaled in modern times.
On March 26 in the Vladivostok region, an unidentified Russian man was arrested for stabbing to death a guest at his drinking party, then slicing meat from the corpse, cooking and eating it. The following day he sold additional portions of the body at a local market, identifying it as “pork”. He was discovered when purchasers, judging the smell and taste of the meat to be unusual, had it tested and found it to be human. The man allegedly told police that he and his friends “got short of snacks to eat with our vodka,” prompting the foray into cannibalism.
In an all-too-similar incident, on April 11 Brazilian authorities arrested three members of a religious cult in Garanhuns, charged with the murder of at least two local women. Jorge Negromonte, his wife Isabel Pires and mistress Bruna da Silva allegedly killed and ate women whom they considered “evil”, afterward using some of their flesh to make empanadas, which they then sold to their neighbors. Recent unsolved murders of six other local women are being investigated for ties to Negromonte.
Both these stories directly reflect the central plot element of the Tantalus myth, the feeding of forbidden or taboo flesh to unwitting recipients. Truly, as the late great mythologist Joseph Campbell has said, the majesty and power of mythic images can be observed daily on the street corner, as they continue to play out all around us. Regrettably, these carbon copies of Tantalus’ sin were further accompanied by related stories of cannibalism, not quite as tailor-made to fit the mythic king’s crime, but just as resonant with its theme.
On March 27, Russian police detained Aleksandr Bychkov, a suspected serial killer responsible for the deaths of at least six people, after which he cut out their hearts and livers, and ate them. Bychkov, 23, confessed his crimes to police and led them to his victims’ graves in his backyard at Belinsky, about 400 miles southeast of Moscow. Bychkov stated that he turned to killing after his girlfriend dumped him, accusing him of being “a wimp”; he determined to prove to her that he was actually “a wolf.”
On May 28 Joppatowne, Maryland resident Alexander Kinyua, 21, was arrested and charged with the murder of his housemate, Kujoe Agyei-Kudie. Kinyua stabbed and dismembered Kudie, then ate his heart and portions of his brain. Kinyua’s brother found tins in the basement of the home containing a human head and hands, and called the police, who also discovered dinner plates with portions of brain matter still adhering. Kinyua confessed rather matter-of-factly to the crime, stating the remainder of his housemate’s body was in the dumpster of a nearby church. He is being held without bail.
On June 1, an unidentified Swedish man was arrested for cutting off his much younger wife’s lips and consuming them. The attack was prompted by his suspicions that she was cheating on him, and the man stated he ate the lips to prevent them from being reattached.
But perhaps the most bizarre and disturbing of these stories occurred May 26 in Miami, when a naked homeless man was found actually eating the face off another live naked homeless man. About 2 PM local time, cyclist Larry Vega came upon a revolting sight—two naked men lying on a pedestrian ramp adjacent to a freeway, with one man eating the face of the other. “The guy was like tearing him to pieces with his mouth, so I told him, ‘Get off!’ The guy just kept eating the other guy away, like ripping his skin.”
When his cries elicited no response, Vega hailed a passing policeman, who attempted to break up the grisly scene. Despite orders to desist, the man, later identified as 31-year-old Rudy Eugene, “just stood his head up like that, with a piece of flesh in his mouth, and growled,” continued Vega. A second officer converged on the scene, and after repeated orders to stop proved ineffective, Eugene was shot once, but continued biting, only stopping after several more shots were fired, killing him. He had eaten away three quarters of victim Ronald Poppo’s face, including eyes, nose and ears. Poppo was rushed to emergency, and as of this writing is no longer critical, but has a very long recovery period ahead, and may be a candidate for face transplant. Officials speculate that Eugene had overdosed on a new, highly potent version of LSD, or on “bath salts,” a strong amphetamine named for the personal hygiene product they resemble.
Looking at a chart for the only exact conjunction of the Sun and Tantalus yields further insights. The conjunction occurred just minutes before midnight UT on May 6, with the Sun and Tantalus united at 15 Taurus, opposing a Moon about to reach Full phase less than four hours later. The Moon here indicates popular notice, a reflection by the populace of the Sun/Tantalus dynamic, and its Full phase with the Sun suggests a ripening, or coming to fruition, of the potential latent in the ongoing conjunction.
Adhering to the solar side of this polarity was Jupiter at 21 Taurus, lending emphasis and enhancing the public profile of the conjunction’s effects, giving it larger-than-life status; and Ceres at 10 Taurus, reinforcing, in its connection to food and nutrition, the gustatory aspects of the stories. In exact opposition we find asteroid Requiem, named for the funeral mass for the dead, at 15 Scorpio, and TNO Ceto, named for a mythic sea monster and noted for the commission of monstrous acts, at 11 Scorpio. Sun/Tantalus is also involved in a loose Grand Trine, with trine aspects to both Pluto (death, murder, taboo) at 9 Capricorn and Mars (attacks, violence) at 6 Virgo.
The conjunction is further closely contacted to the Black Hole at 16 Taurus, evoking images of alternate realities and parallel dimensions, bizarre glimpses into extreme variations on the norm. Opposed is the Pulsar at 15 Scorpio, guaranteeing media attention, while this basic deep space opposition becomes a Galactic Grand Cross with the addition of the Black Hole at 17 Aquarius and the Maser at 14 Leo, both squared Sun/Tantalus. The Maser adds a quality of controversy and an explosive, out-of-control energy which is difficult to contain, and the second Black Hole ramps up the “bizarre factor” considerably.
A surprising number of personal named asteroids which represent key participants of the various cannibalistic incidents related above fall in significant aspect to either the degree of the Sun/Tantalus conjunction or to their positions on the dates their crimes were committed or revealed. Asteroids Alex (#3367) and Alexandra (#54) have been opposing each other in the sky, and can be taken to represent both Alexander Kinyua and Aleksandr Bychkov. When Bychkov was apprehended March 27, both asteroid Alex at 11 Capricorn and Alexandra at 2 Cancer were forming a T-Square with Sun/Tantalus at 7 and 8 Aries. When Kinyua was arrested May 28, Alex at 16 Capricorn was closely trine the Sun/Tantalus conjunction degree of 15 Taurus, with Alexandra at 17 Cancer in sextile.
When the Brazilian empanada cultists were arrested April 11, asteroid Isabella (#210, for Isabel Pires, the wife) at 16 Scorpio opposed the upcoming conjunction degree, while asteroid Bruna (#290, for Bruna da Silva, the mistress) was inconjunct from 18 Sagittarius. Asteroid George (#3854, for Jorge Negromonte, the husband) at 6 Sagittarius was sesquiquadrate the transit sky’s Sun/Tantalus pairing at 21 and 22 Aries the day of his arrest, with Bruna trined and Isabella broadly inconjunct.
When Rudy Eugene was shot while eating Ronald Poppo’s face on May 28, asteroid Eugenia (#45, for Eugene) at 13 Gemini was semisextile the conjunction degree, with asteroid Ranald (#4248, for Ronald) at 10 Scorpio opposed it.
Probably the most famous American cannibal was serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, who killed and ate portions of at least 17 victims, mostly young men he had lured to his home for sex. Born 21 May 1960, Dahmer’s natal Tantalus at 22 Aquarius was tightly squared Venus at 21 Taurus, indicating his cannibalism of “loved ones”. Dahmer often raped his victims, and after their deaths indulged in necrophilia as well as cannibalism; Venus conjoins centaur Nessus, noted for rape and inappropriate sexual contact, and asteroid Apophis, named for the ancient Egyptian personification of pure evil, both at 26 Taurus. All these are also within orb of Dahmer’s natal Sun at 0 Gemini, making these central elements of his character. Tantalus is further inconjunct to an apt combination of asteroids Nemesis (undoing, downfall) at 26 Cancer with Sappho (representing gay themes) at 25 Cancer, both opposed Dahmer’s Saturn (ancient lord of death) at 17 Capricorn.
The spate of flesh-eating stories prompted some news outlets to dub these “zombie attacks”, after the ever-popular cinematic depictions of reanimated corpses glutting themselves on human flesh, an act which can be fairly described as cannibalistic. But the link between flesh-eating and the original concept of the zombie is tenuous at best. Stemming from Haitian religion, the genuine zombie was a will-less servant, raised from the dead via Vodoun or witchcraft rituals to fulfill its master’s bidding. In the 1930s, films such as “The White Zombie” established that these volition-free agents need not be deceased, and the term gradually came to be applied to one with no will of his own, or who mindlessly performed menial tasks, as if in a fog of witless locomotion.
It wasn’t until famed horror director George A. Romero assayed the genre in 1968 with “Night of the Living Dead” that the correlation between undead attackers and flesh-eating became established. Although Romero never used the term in the original, the association was clear, and subsequent films in the series and by other directors made the connection explicit. Zombie films now number in the hundreds, with separate subcategories for comedies, romance and apocalyptic genres. The cable network “Chiller” devotes whole weeks to zombie themes, and AMC’s original series, “The Walking Dead”, set records for viewership and continues in its third season this fall.
When “Night of the Living Dead” premiered on 1 October 1968, Tantalus was strongly placed at 7 Virgo, exactly conjoined a Black Hole and sandwiched between Mars at 6 Virgo and TNO Haumea at 8 Virgo. Mars reflected the extreme, albeit slow-motion, violence of the attackers and the gore (largely off-screen in that day), while the Black Hole reflected the radical reappraisal and alteration of what the term “zombie” had previously meant.
Haumea, named for a Hawaiian goddess of childbirth, is crucial here also, representing the birth of a new genre, a powerful moment when Tantalus’ cannibalistic instincts became fodder for mainstream media. Director George A. Romero (born 4 February 1940) has a wide conjunction of the Sun at 14 Aquarius with Tantalus at 4 Aquarius, Tantalus also sextile Jupiter (fame, renown) at 6 Aries and opposed Pluto (forbidden, taboo, death & decay) at 1 Leo.
The Mars/Tantalus theme repeats with the premiere of AMC’s “The Walking Dead”, the world’s first zombie-focused series, on October 31, 2010, with Tantalus at 24 Scorpio conjunct Mars at 2 Sagittarius. Appropriately, Tantalus is tightly squared Neptune, ruling TV, at 25 Aquarius, and at its 10 PM EDT premiere, was still within orb of a square to the Moon (popular reception) at 28 Leo. 5.3 million viewers tuned in that night, an AMC original series record, with 7.1 million catching the premiere of season two a year later.
Zombies are here to stay, but hopefully, with Tantalus now receding from its solar conjunction, we may enjoy a respite from real-life cannibalism. But not for long—Tantalus creeps up on the Sun again in late October preparatory to a second union November 22, just in time for America’s mindless, living dead voters to go to the polls.