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Papillon's horoscope
Papillon's Draconic horoscope
Transits on the day of conviction
The fall of the Bastille



John Ball is a lawyer and lecturer on the international law of Human Rights. In this article, first published in 1998, he reflects upon the long and exhaustive fight for human justice in France, which commenced with the storming of the Bastille prison and is epitomised by one of its sons - Henry Charrière 'Papillon'.

Charrière, a thief, was convicted of the murder of a pimp although there was no direct evidence against him other than the dubious testimony of a prosecution 'witness'. He was sentenced to lifetime penal servitude in French Guyana in November 1933 but escaped in September 1934 and made his way to Colombia. Re-arrested, he was returned to Cayenne in 1935, but made a final escape in 1944 and became a Venezuelan citizen. After building up his fortune, only to have it ruined by an earthquake, he wrote a book about his life and adventures. This was made into the movie Papillon, starring Steve McQueen, in 1973, but during the making of the film Charrière discovered he was suffering from throat cancer. He died on July 29 1973 and is buried in Lanas (France), alongside the grave of his prison friend Louise.

The briefly glorious, and still vital message of Bastille Day, is that the soul of a nation is not personified by the state, but by its noblest children, often those most despised by the state. In America, whose Revolution has often betrayed and devoured its children, these are the likes of a handful of heroic dissidents such as Martin Luther King; in France it is represented by the likes of Henri Charrière.

Charrière, nicknamed 'Papillon' for his butterfly tattoo, was sentenced to life imprisonment in French Guiana at the age of 25 for a homicide he did not commit. The story of his several escapes during 13 years, the last of which led him to permanent freedom in Venezuela, is related in his autobiographical work, Papillon, which caused such a stir in France in 1970 - the year of the 'phenome Papillon' - that a French minister attributed the "hopeless moral decline of France" to "the wearing of miniskirts and the reading of Papillon." [1]

His narrative simply must be read and cannot adequately be summarised here; suffice to say that the ethical matrix which underlies his relation of his own terrible pilgrimage is an authentic and splendidly provocative concern for the dignity of all noble outsiders, dissidents, misfits and nominal criminals. All those individuals whom the state has condemned for failure to wear its conventional colours, Papillon ennobles for the content of their character.

"Liberty, Equality and Fraternity": these aspirations of Republican France were Papillon's gift to the deserving subjects of his story. In this light, he appears to have personified the soul of the Revolution. How appropriate, then, for his principal memorial to be a defiant declamation: even in the most dreadful material conditions, that the Spirit of Man cannot be imprisoned. And insofar as spiritual conditions are antecedent to material ones -which of course does not vitiate suffering - Papillon's life demonstrated this conclusively: he resolved not to serve his sentence, and in substance, he was never imprisoned.

Papillon birth chart
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Although my principal interest here is the relationship between Papillon and the French Republic, a few remarks on his nativity are in order. Perhaps the irresolvable dilemma of where to attribute house placements of planets applying to house cusps, is exemplified by the proximity of the Sun and Moon to Papillon's 12th house cusp. As a nominal prisoner, he would be expected to have more prominent tenants in his 12th than Mercury and Venus, which in any case are close to the ascendant. I am inclined to view the Sun and Moon as influencing both the 11th and 12th houses: certainly they are conversant in the lore of imprisonment, as Papillon was, but they remain free in the 11th house. The connection with both imprisonment and the fight for freedom is also pointedly marked by the dual rulership of Mars over the 12th house of confinement and the 11th house of freedom and release.

Prominently placed on the Midheaven, Mars signifies Papillon as one who challenged and fought his oppression and heroically transcended suffering without pretending to sever it from life. In fact the entire radix chart, viewed holistically, implies rather little about imprisonment and much about freedom.[2]

Aside from its retrogradation, the ascendant-ruler Jupiter is well dignified and quite strong, indicating Papillon's immense physical vitality and endurance which sustained him through such potentially fatal trials as two years in solitary confinement. Jupiter is, however, rather saddened by a conjunction to Neptune and trine to Saturn, and, contrary to popular misperception, Saturn's trines are sometimes even more wretched than its hard aspects, insofar as the trine lubricates the delivery of Saturn's afflictions. Also noteworthy, and almost funny in terms of gallows humour (which Papillon appreciated), is the inconjunct of 3rd house Saturn in Pisces, to Libran Mars on the Midheaven. The inconjunct indicates both mistakes and adjustments, and in this case can be read almost literally: later in life (Saturn) Papillon restored his financial fortunes (Saturn rules 2nd), by writing of his imprisonment and exile (3rd house, Pisces), which resulted from his mistaken (inconjunct) conviction for a homicide (Mars-Saturn), and at the end of his life (Mars rules 4th) this corrected (inconjunct) his reputation, which finally received justice (Libran Mars on Midheaven).

Some further light is shed on the subtle matrix of Papillon's experience, by reference to his Draconic chart. The Draconic zodiac has been the subject of intensive research only in comparatively recent years, and its proper applications are still arguable, or perhaps should be. Its basis is quite simple: the Draconic zodiac begins at the Lunar North Node, and therefore differs from tropical astrology in its assimilation of a lunar matrix, rather than the essentially solar foundation of tropical astrology.

Papillon Draconic Chart
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Matrix, related to the Latin 'womb', should be the operative word here, in light of Draconic's basis in the Lunar Nodes. But this has different meanings for different astrologers. Regretfully only a handful of contemporary practitioners have given full attention to Draconic astrology, as a result of which only a handful of meaningful, but perhaps biased and myopic, interpretations of its usefulness have been offered to the profession. Principally it has been described as representing either 'spiritual' themes including past lives, which strikes this writer as overly vague (and in the law, one common phrase for inapplicable statutes is: 'void for vagueness'), or alternatively it has been touted as a basis for gender equality in astrology (due to its lunar basis), which strikes this writer as a subtle pandering to a fashionable platitude. I prefer to dissociate astrology from gender politics, and directly recognise that the Moon is an important body indeed, so Draconic merits much serious research. As a working, practical paradigm, let me simply characterise the Draconic zodiac as a lunar matrix for the operations of the planets. Thus, the Draconic placement of Neptune, for example, will indicate how the native's fantasies operate in a lunar matrix, and so forth for all other planets. Just how that is interpreted depends on the astrologer's particular understanding of the Moon's various meanings.

In this light, one application of Draconic should be evident, but currently is widely ignored. It is especially useful in Mundane Astrology, due to the Moon's rulership of the public, the masses, national sentiment and sense of communal identity. I will be exploring these below, in terms of the French Revolution. Meanwhile, note that Papillon's Draconic Neptune is closely conjunct his tropical Saturn, which I read as: "Papillon wrote a book (3rd house Saturn) about his scandalous victimisation by the French nation (Draconic Neptune in Pisces; being Draconic, this Neptune is attuned to the lunar, national sentiment, and particularly national confusion and scandal)".

It is also amusing that his Draconic Sun and Moon are in Cancer; Papillion voluminously describes all of his meals and cups of coffee in perfect detail.

Moving on to the event of Papillion's imprisonment, which commenced on 26 October 1931: conventionally we might expect to see hard aspects from transiting outer planets. But this is not the case. Pluto is trining the radical Sun and Moon, and Uranus is trining the radical Ascendant, either of which can be smoothly disruptive (just as Saturnian trines are smoothly depressing), but neither of these strongly suggest lifetime imprisonment and victimisation. (However the Pluto trine to the Scorpio Sun and Moon may indicate Papillon's successful receipt of a wad of money, which he stored in a tube in his anus until his escape. In accord with the trine, he describes how the tube was easy to insert). Neptune is squaring radical Saturn, but in itself this is more likely to manifest as tooth decay or termites. No, the direct transits do little to describe this tragedy, and no wonder: the event appears to have had a fated, or at least unavoidable quality, whereas even the most difficult direct transits ideally are opportunities, or at least controllable challenges. In contrast, Papillon was evidently subject to forces beyond his control on 26 Oct. 1931.

The transits on the day of conviction
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The bi-wheel below shows the transits to Papillon's nativity on the day of his conviction. 12th-ruler Mars, which dominates the nativity by its location on the Midheaven, shows a ruinous conjunction with the luminaries on the 12th house cusp. Papillon felt he was linked the Moon. He was born on a new Moon and convicted on a full Moon.

These forces are often discernible from converse transits or progressions. Similarly to the case of Draconic, whose applications merit far more contention but are currently reduced to a handful of easy catchphrases, converse transits and progressions tend to be characterised with undue facility as triggers for 'fated' events. Whether deliberate or not, this seems to imply a silly kind of inexorable decree vested in the Akashic records from all eternity, rather than something more sensibly explicable. Although there may be some transcendent purpose for the operation of converse, in practical terms it invariably seems to indicate an event which appears fated, not because of some remote Divine decree, but because causative factors have gained so much momentum that their result is now unstoppable. My favourite analogy is: a direct Saturn-Neptune transit might be like standing on top of a tall building contemplating suicide, and you still have the freedom to go home and get counselling. But under a converse Saturn-Neptune, a secret enemy has already pushed you off, and you're now an inch from hitting the ground: bye-bye. This provokes a serious issue in astrological counselling, involving the responsibilities attending the announcement of an apparently inexorable event. My advice to other counsellors who use this technique, is to remember that although the events of Converse may indeed be inexorable, a scope of freedom remains regarding the client's subjective response, which should be the focus of the consultation.

Now hang onto your hats. I've seldom seen such a precise coalescence of diverse predictive systems, as those influencing Papillon on the day of his conviction, all of which appear in Converse.

  1. On his converse solar return, 15 November 1881, just shortly after his conviction, converse transiting Pluto was at 28.26 Taurus, conjunct the converse solar return nadir (26.01 Taurus) and applying to oppose radical Sun and Moon. (Converse transits apply backwards.)

  2. Converse solar arc has Pluto at the exact same degree as converse solar return, at 28.18 Taurus. Furthermore the converse solar arc ascendant is 22.27 Scorpio, within one degree of radical Sun and Moon, and picking up the same application of converse transiting Pluto.

  3. Converse tertiary progressions are calculated on the basis of one day per lunar month, and tend to reflect the evolution of subtle, inner motivations and emotional responses, which are constellated by other movements such as transits. Here, converse tertiary progression has Jupiter at 28.26 Taurus, the same degree as converse transiting Moon right to the minute.

Two of these converse techniques reveal Pluto at 28 Taurus, applying backward to oppose Papillon's Sun and Moon, conjunct the nadir which is reasserted in two of these methods, abetted by tertiary progressed Jupiter. This signals a rare coalescence of power in three diverse systems. And the power inexorably says, in Papillon's favoured phrase: 'down the drain'.

Down the drain is the title of his first chapter which describes the day of his conviction, and is his recurrent motif for the following 13 years. Converse Pluto and Jupiter - the law's force major - apply to his nadir and oppose Sun and Moon. What could be plainer said, at least in the astrologer's dialect?

To return to our original theme, my final remarks concern the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, which was the seminal event of Republican France. I have found no exact time for the fall of the Bastille, but we know the assault began in the morning, so I take the sunrise chart as a fair specimen. Looking for the Revolution's motto, "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity", in egalitarian Aquarius we find tropical Pluto in the Bastille Day radical chart at 18 degrees, perfectly conjunct Papillon's Draconic Pluto (in 7th house.) Also the Revolution's radical Mars - valiant words, perhaps - is at 8 Gemini, conjunct Papillon's Draconic Mars and Midheaven. The Mars conjunction is of considerable interest but most of all, Bastille Day's radical Pluto on Papillon's Draconic Pluto within a few minutes of orb says, "Papillon's symbolic empowerment and liberation of outcast individuals was in perfect accord with the French Nation's liberation of the Bastille, and with the most noble aspect of the French national character which this manifests." And since Pluto resurrects the legacies of the deep past, it's almost as if Papillon spoke for the Revolution in an age which had nearly forgotten the Revolution's voice.

The Fall of the Bastille
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Finally, although the scope of this topic is potentially unmanageable, consider an even more unsettling, yet elegant implication of Converse techniques: backward from one point in time is forward from another. Thus, the year of 1848, when the second French Revolution took place reviving the lost ethos of the first, was exactly midway between Bastille Day and the birth of Papillon. Specifically the midpoint in time between his birth and Bastille Day, was 15 March 1848 - for which a Papillon-Bastille Day Relationship chart (Davison) can be drawn by any sufficiently mad astrologers - just a few weeks after the Second Republic was established.

Here I am not so much interested in a narrow event in Papillon's life, as in a broader phase of his life which seems to touch mysteriously upon his relationship with Republican France. His converse Saturn return took place on 30 December 1847, and thus was pending during the Revolution of 1848. And looking forward in time, to his direct Saturn return which mirrors the converse one of 1848, we find him in the year 1965, when he was informed that legal proceedings against him in France were due to lapse in 1966.

In consequence, Papillon returned to Paris, ultimately as a wealthy and vindicated man, and his Revolution was complete. Let's take leave of him here, just prior to his return to France, when he very nearly met Charles De Gaulle in Caracas, of which he writes, true to the Revolution's creed:

"... and like a fool I went along and cheered de Gaulle. And like a fool the mere presence of this great leader who had saved my country's honour made me forget it was the same country which had sent me to penal for life. And like a fool I would have given one of my fingers to shake his hand or be there at the embassy's reception in his honour: a reception to which I was not invited, of course. But the underworld was able to take an indirect revenge, because some old retired French whores slipped in: they had turned over a new leaf, as you might say, by making a good marriage, and there they were with their arms full of flowers for de Gaulle's delighted wife."

So spoke the noble heart of France. [3]

A young Papillon as he was convicted on 27 Oct 1931

The young Henri Charrière with his lawyer at his trial in 1931.

Additional Notes:

  • Henri Charrière has a difficult chart with Mars culminating and the Sun and Moon conjunct the 12th house cusp. He had a 'dramatic' youth - his mother died when he was 11 years old and he became a 'problem' child at school. His father made him sign a contract with the navy at the age of 17 to avoid going to prison for a violent crime committed at his school.

  • Charrière hated the tough navy culture. He was so desperate to leave he amputated his own thumb by asking a friend to smash it with a rock while they were working. This 'accident' allowed him to be released from the navy and he was sent home.

  • Papillon made his first escape 42 days after arrival in French Guiana, but was recaptured and spent 2 years in solitary confinement - during this time he walked several miles a day in his tiny cell, which allowed only five paces at a time.


  1 ] Henri Charrière, Papillon; translated by Patrick O'Brien; The Literary Guild; London 1970, p.9.
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  2 ] From a more traditional point of view, the Sun and Moon would be considered to have their virtue in the 12th house as they are within 5 degrees of the cusp.
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  3 ] Henri Charrière, Banco; translated by Patrick O'Brien; Panther; St Albans 1975, p.25.
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© John Ball. This article was first published in The Traditional Astrologer Magazine, Issue 16, March 1998, pp.34-37. Reproduced online 2004.

Although often on the move, John Ball teaches international law in Beijing and can be contacted by email at

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