Blood and Fire: An Astrological Perspective on the Salvation Army, Part 1

The mere name “Salvation Army” evokes powerful images of aid in times of crisis, charity in times of need, mercy and transformation in the hours of one’s personal deepest, darkest hour. The Salvation Army’s role in social reform during the latter half of the 19th century cannot be underestimated. William Booth, the Salvation Army’s self styled General, who stood in a point of history when suffering was both overwhelming and unnecessary, saw the world in need of radical change Like Petrarch some 400 years before him, Booth was adamant he would make a difference. Together with his wife Catherine, their eight children and the support of close friends, William Booth set out to bring salvation to the lives of the hopelessly poor, the destitute, the homeless and the hungry. From humble beginnings in London’s east end, today the Salvation Army operates in 111 countries, utilising 175 languages and has a well established reputation for being the first organization to arrive in the aftermath of disaster, providing clothes, food, shelter and healing words. At the time of writing, the Salvation Army continues its work in Iraq where it provides food, clothing and shelter to a land ripped apart by war. “The people of Iraq love the Salvation Army because it brings the message of the love of God to the Iraqi people,” said a Shia Muslim spokesperson, demonstrating the Salvation Army’s well deserved reputation for transcending all barriers to bring comfort to the suffering.

The Salvation Army uses a flag with an eight sided, yellow star on a red background with a blue border. Originally, the star was meant to be the sun but the Booth’s changed it to a star as it offended a branch of the Zoroastrian’s when the Salvation Army was first in India. Astrologers would recognise a double grand cross in the star and an emphasis on the fourth and eighth harmonic. John Addey wrote about 8th harmonic: “The numbers four and eight have a special reference to outward events and conditions.” We regard squares in a chart as indicating conflict. The Salvation Army so embroiled itself in conflict that its joint founders, William and Catherine, manifested a child (Kate-see her chart) who had the Salvation Army symbol in her chart shaping–which seems nothing short of miraculous and a testament to the struggles the family faced in their war on sin and poverty.

The Booths achieved so much in their lives together that it is overwhelmingly tempting to uncover their motivation to change the course of history. What makes ordinary people extraordinary? What makes a hero take risks, not just as opportunity arises or once in a lifetime, but over and over again? What, astrologically, can account for such phenomenal success in the extreme adversity the Booths faced nearly every day of their early ministry?

The man who would be the Salvation Army’s Founding Father and first General was born on 10 April 1829 in Nottingham. His own father, Samuel, was a man dogged by financial disaster but yet retaining an honest and chivalrous streak when it came to money, often re-paying loans that were not entirely his responsibility. William was said to detest his father’s numerous “money-making schemes and contrivances” and had described his father as having “a sense of truth and honour combined with a strong desire to get on in the world who knew no greater gain or end than money.” Growing up, his mother would never allow the young Booth to forget that his family continually hovered between solvency and bankruptcy, just-getting-by and poverty. Shortly after his father died a broken and bankrupt man, William was left without further funding for education. It seemed William Booth-as well as his mother and sisters-would be doomed to a life of grueling impoverishment. This perhaps rather explains why a 13-year-old William would so willingly allow himself to be apprenticed to a pawn broker. Booth would later reflect that the devil had tested him by sending him to work amongst moneylenders. It is almost unimaginable to consider the implications if Booth had been able to make a career of pawn broking.

Though no accurate birth time is recorded, it can be seen using the data from his birthday, that Booth had a Venus/Pluto conjunction on his S. Node. This configuration would echo in many of his life events: it reflects the animosity he attracted, the effects of poverty he so railed against, the encouragement for “self-denial” he gave to his followers, and even the hold the women of his life, first his mother then his wife, would have over him. Booth had an uneasy fascination with death: he was present at his own mother in law’s autopsy, he held his dying wife in his arms and when he himself came to the end of his life he did not simply die but was “promoted to glory.”

Roy Hattersley, the Booth’s due biographer, called William’s life a “paradox.” Indeed, it is a curious feature of Booth’s life that he exhibited both a driving sense of self determinism and an unbending goal to save as many souls as he could. Astrologers might recognize this in his natal Saturn opposite Neptune. This aspect reflects in several key events in his life. At an age when most 7 year old children are concerned with losing their baby teeth, William was signing pledges of eternal abstinence from alcohol (T. Saturn square N Neptune). Rather than playing the usual games associated with a Victorian upbringing, William’s precocious religious life centred around Nottingham’s Broad Street Chapel which was a testament to Methodist power in Nottingham at the time. It is unlikely the size and splendour of the building would have attracted a boy like William. Someone with Saturn trine Mercury would be far more interested in hearing about the discipline needed to abstain from alcohol, vice and gambling as ministered by the top itinerant preachers of the time. A poor boy like William would have thrived on the self deprivation prescribed by these Methodist preachers and have been lured by the notion of “instant conversion.” Thus, Booth became hooked on religion and at 15 was converted from the faith of his father in the Church of England to Wesleyan Methodism. Or, as Booth liked to put it, it was not merely a move between faiths but one to salvation (T Saturn and T Neptune over P Moon in Pisces).

As an adolescent preacher, Booth was regarded as unusual but not extraordinary. He and his youthful contemporaries found acceptance amongst the poor and illiterate. No doubt, it was Booth’s early experiences as a preacher to the working classes that he began to see poverty as the work of the devil. It was the beginning of his battle against the complacency towards hunger and despair. “Are you really going to spend your wages on in the public house while your wife and children and go barefoot and hungry?” he would challenge working men from his makeshift pulpit.

However, Booth was still the sole supporter of his windowed mother and it seemed, to him at least, he would be condemned to the life of a moneylender. A further manifestation of the Saturn-Neptune opposition can be seen in the young William’s despair, growing daily, as he was caught in the trap of needing to maintain a business and ripping people off–usually poor people. His despair was exacerbated as he saw the “victims” leave his pawn broking shop after accepting a loan of coppers against the security of a workman’s tools or his Sunday suit before heading straight to the nearest pub. It seems completely fair to say that the only pleasure William had in his life at that time was his preaching, which was unpaid and hence, in the eyes of his family, unimportant work.

William eventually made his way to London where he lodged with his sister and her alcoholic, atheistic husband. His only regret was leaving his mother. Booth was determined he would work six days per week and preach on the seventh–irrespective of what his brother-in-law had to say about it. His destiny as a reluctant pawnbroker would change when Edward Rabbits, a wealthy boot and shoemaker, heard Booth preach and instinctively knew a good reformer when he heard one. Confident that Booth could shake up a few sleeping Methodists, Rabbits offered to pay a reasonable salary that would allow him to leave his pawn broking business. On Good Friday 10 April, 1952, Booth, now in the employ of Rabbits, left pawn broking forever and became a full time preacher. It is not hard to imagine that William would want to return home to his sister and brother-in-law with the good news. However, Rabbits persuaded him to celebrate his news with other Reformers at a tea meeting. It was at this tea meeting that William Booth met Catherine Mumford–the woman who would become his future wife. Catherine fell ill during this meeting and Rabbits paid for her carriage ride home. William accompanied her. When the pair arrived at Catherine’s home, her parents insisted that William stay the night rather than face another trek across London.

Astrology can provide insight into what was probably the most significant day of William Booth’s life. During this time, Booth had a spectacular pile up of transiting and progressed planets in Taurus: transiting Saturn and Uranus were about to pass over his progressed Mercury and Venus and in the coming months, over his progressed New Moon in Taurus. The new progressed lunar phase for William indicated this time marked a new chapter of his life. It is no small astrological wonder then that Booth would see to it that no one, poor or wealthy, sinner or saint, in comfort or in catastrophe, would starve if he had a say in it.

Catherine Mumford, would remember events slightly differently. She had seen Booth preach before this tea meeting and had been greatly impressed. Perhaps it is best that William would not remember their first conversation: William had admitted he was not completely teetotal as he used port for its restorative properties. Here, one might wish to have been a fly on the wall. Catherine cut lose with unremitting passion, attacking both her future husband and any middle class Methodist who believed that alcohol was acceptable in moderation. Rabbits, who had also been there, bullied William into reciting “The Grogseller’s Dream,” 210 lines of doggerel describing the Publican’s contempt for his customers whose lives were ruined by drink. Some 40 years later, Booth knew the entire poem and could recite it without error or hesitation. It would not be the last battle Catherine would win with William.

Catherine Mumford was born 17 January 1829 in Ashbourne, Derbyshire. Like William, she too had a personal planet conjunct Pluto, in her case, Mars–so William or anyone else for that matter didn’t stand much of a chance in getting their way when she was around. In addition to believing in absolute abstinence from alcohol, Catherine also believed in a democratic church and passionately opposed racial prejudice (one of the main reasons the Salvation Army banned tobacco was because, in Catherine’s eyes, it made the slave trade in the USA a necessity) and an all-male ministry. Her influence upon William was remarkable and William Booth would have been a different man without her-and the Salvation Army as we know it might not have come into existence.

During their long engagement, it became clear that William did not share her love of a formal education. She urged him to study theology; he claimed it got in the way of his preaching. She admired his ability to electrify a congregation but fretted over his sense of pride. In the early weeks of their marriage, which had taken place in Brixton on 17 June 1856, Catherine even called William a “blockhead” in the heat of a row.

Things were soon to calm down for the Booths: shortly after they were married, Catherine became pregnant. In due course, they would have eight children, all of whom would survive into adulthood and all of whom to a greater or lesser extent would play key roles in the early Salvation Army.

Bramwell, born 8 March 1856 and his brother Ballington, born 28 July 1857, were the causes of much concern for their parents. Bramwell would refuse salvation until he was 7 years old and at the same age, Ballington broke the pledge of no alcohol when he took a sip of gin from the glass of a visiting adult. For their sins, all of the Booth children were punished harshly and then promptly forgiven. None of the Booth children were permitted to play with ungodly children and all had absorbed the somewhat odd habit of preaching to their dolls and converting their pets. With William and Catherine as parents, it only stands to reason that the Booth children would be exceptionally sanctimonious. Bramwell, in particular, suffered for his piety. He was bullied without mercy at his school and at one point was even tied to a tree whilst the other children bashed him in an effort to get him to renounce his faith. Of course, he held firm and with a stellium in Pisces did so with an aplomb only a fellow martyr could hope to replicate.

It was during Catherine’s seventh pregnancy that the “Christian Mission” was born on 2 July 1865 in a revival tent in London’s East End. For Catherine (if she was born close to noon as the writer suggests she was), Uranus transited her N Moon. Up to this point, she had accepted a lack of home as a necessary sacrifice. Now she insisted on a permanent address, a “permanency” that would not last long. In the months preceding these events, Uranus had completed its first return since its discovery in 1781. Remarkably, it is this return point (Uranus at 24 Gemini) that features so prominently in the charts of Catherine and her children: Catherine had the Moon at 29 Gemini (noon chart) and was also converted on 15 June 1846 with the Sun at 24 Gemini, Bramwell had Saturn at 23 Gemini, Ballington had the Moon at 24 Gemini, Kate had Jupiter at 20 Gemini, Emma had Mercury at 25 Sagittarius (opposite the Uranus return point), Herbert (born 26 August 1862) had Uranus at 20 Gemini, Marion had Uranus at 22 Gemini, Evangeline had an ascendant at 22 Gemini with Mars and Mercury straddling her descendant and Lucy had Venus at 23 Gemini. To top it all off, William’s “other baby,” the Christian Mission was founded when his progressed Mars was at 25 Gemini. It is as if William and Catherine and their children were plugged into the collective revolutionary power of Uranus and as a united front, the Booth family, battling under the banner of The Salvation Army, would change the world.

It was shortly after the Christian Mission was formed that William Booth returned home one Christmas morning’s preaching in a state of shock. “The poor only have their public houses!” he lamented. The following Christmas, the family distributed 150 Christmas puddings, mainly cooked in their own kitchen (and it’s a safe bet there was no brandy involved in the process). By the end of the century, 30,000 Christmas puddings would be distributed in an effort to provide a cheerful alternative to the public house. The Christian Mission’s chart shows a beautiful “magic triangle” (a trine between two planets connected to a third planet by sextile) between Mars and Jupiter both throwing a sextile to Saturn. It is a beautiful example of unrivalled generosity, discipline, a bit of luck and a very strong indication of the “itchy feet syndrome” the movement would eventually show to the world.

It cannot be overlooked that the William and Catherine made incredible sacrifices-another element of what astrologers might expect of the Saturn-Neptune opposition-and their children would be both victims and perpetrators of the sacrifice required by their parents.

The female children in the Booth family overshadowed their elder brothers by being exceptional preachers in their teens. Both Kate (born 18 September 1858) and Emma (born 8 January 1860) were preaching to adult congregations though still children. Their mother’s heart must have been filled with ungodly pride as she watched her daughters grow into the kind of female preachers that could balance the gender inequality of that time. It was days after Emma’s birth that Catherine felt called by God to become a full time preacher like her husband and whilst all her children were still infants, she preached to the poor. It was said that Catherine “preached like a man” and was often the family breadwinner whilst William got on with the business of antagonising his patrons.