Jessa Crispin on Capricorn Stoic Philosophy

Olaf-Hajek-Japanese-style-artwork-

The pragmatist philosopher William James was a Capricorn superhero. Sun, Moon, North Node, Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Jupiter, all in Capricorn. He spent most of his life suicidally depressed, which, if you look at his chart, you just think ouch and get it. But then he became a philosopher of great wisdom. And his philosophy is super-Cap — all about how to live your life and experience things, how to be pragmatic and human without the weight of the world smushing you.

So here is a selection of super Capricorn William James saying incredibly Capricorn things.

On the need for work, and steeling one’s self against your emotions (I call it, the “do your taxes even though it makes you want to cry” speech):

“‘Hang your sensibilities! Stop your sniveling complaints, and your equally sniveling raptures! Leave off your general emotional tomfoolery and get to work like men!’ But this means a complete rupture with the subjectivist philosophy of things. It says conduct, and not sensibility, is the ultimate fact for our recognition. With the vision of certain works to be done, of certain outward changes to be wrought or resisted, it says our intellectual horizon terminates. No matter how we succeed in doing these outward duties, whether gladly and spontaneously, or heavily and unwillingly, do them we somehow must; for the leaving of them undone is perdition. No matter how we feel; if we are only faithful in the outward act and refuse to do wrong, the world will so far be safe, and we quit of our debt towards it. Take, then, the yoke upon our shoulders; bend our neck beneath the heavy legality of its weight; regard something else than our feelings as our limit, our master, our law; be willing to live and die in its service.”

On the Capricorn cloud:

“The attitude of unhappiness is not only unhappy is not only painful, it is mean and ugly. What can be more base and unworthy than the pining, puling, mumping mood, no matter by what outward ills it may have been engendered? What is more injurious to others? What less helpful as a way out of difficulty? It but fastens and perpetuates the trouble which occasioned it, and increases the total evil of the situation.”

On Saturn’s benefits:

“Some men and women, indeed, there are who can live on smiles and the word ‘yes’ forever. But for others (indeed for most), this is too tepid and relaxed a moral climate. Passive happiness is slack and inspid, and soon grows mawkish and intolerable. Some austerity and wintry negativity, some roughness, danger, stringency, and effort, some ‘no! no!’ must be mixed in, to produce the sense of an existence with character and texture and power.”

On restriction and deprivation as a virtue:

“Among us English-speaking peoples, especially do the praises of poverty need once more to be boldly sung. We have grown literally afraid to be poor. We despise any one who elects to be poor in order to simplify and save his inner life. If he does not join the general scramble and pant with the money-making street, we deem him spiritless and lacking in ambition. We have lost the power even of imagining what the ancient idealization of poverty could have meant: the liberation from material attachments, the unbribed soul, the manlier indifference, the paying our way by what we are or do and not by what we have, the right to fling away our life at any moment irresponsibly — the more athletic trim, in short, the moral fighting shape.”

On experience over philosophy:

“Knowledge about life is one thing; effective occupation of a place in life, with its dynamic currents passing through your being, is another.”

And, finally, about death:

“What do you think of yourself? What do you think of the world? These are questions with which all must deal as it seems good to them. They are riddles of the Sphinx, and in some way or other we must deal with them. In all important transactions of life we have to take a leap into the dark… If we decide to leave the riddles unanswered, that is a choice; if we waver in our answer, that too is a choice: but whatever choice we make, we make it at our peril. If a man chooses to turn his back altogether on God and the future, no one can prevent him; no one can show beyond reasonable doubt that he is mistaken. If a man thinks otherwise and acts as he thinks, I do not see that any one can prove that he is mistaken. Each must act as he thinks best; and if he is wrong, so much the worse for him. We stand on a mountain pass in the midst of whirling snow and blinding mist, through which we get glimpses now and then of paths which may be deceptive. If we stand still we shall be frozen to death. If we take the wrong road we shall be dashed to pieces. We do not certainly know whether there is a right one. What must be do? ‘Be strong and of good courage.’ Act for the best, hope for the best, and take what comes. If death ends all, we cannot meet death better.”

 

Jessa Crispin is the editor of Bookslut.com and Spoliamag.com. She is a tarot card reader, specializing in issues with creativity and writing. For more information, go here. Her first book, The Dead Ladies Project, about love and travel and art, is forthcoming from the University of Chicago, October 2015.

 

Image: Olaf Hajek

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59 thoughts on “Jessa Crispin on Capricorn Stoic Philosophy

  1. Great post, great illustration, great sentiments!! Really very funny.
    And so VERY Cancer-Capricorn axis!!

    My Kataka boy will be getting a copy of William James as soon as he can read it, lol!
    “What can be more base and unworthy than the pining, puling, mumping mood, no matter by what outward ills it may have been engendered?” Hahaha, brilliant!

    If Kataka Boy’s eggs touch his toast, I get at least a 1 min lecture (courtesy in part to his Mercury in Gemini).
    Last night after his delicious organic din dins, I had quite a time encouraging him into his bath, fragrant with lavender oils and epsom salts… much sighing and gnashing of teeth. Six years old is clearly a traumatic time of life. 🙂

    My little Capricorn has a stellium with the Sun, Merc, Pluto, NN, and Venus.
    He definitely has, ” some ‘no! no!’” mixed in there.
    But I have a feeling he won’t need this information nearly as much his Cancerian bro.

  2. WhoooOOOAAA that’s a lot of Capricorn in one persons chart. Ouchies

    I can relate to a time in my life where the wisdom spoken in this article was really applicable to the way I thought of the world but then I realised its too depressing And ultimately found myself practising Buddhism, which changed everything
    I have a cap moon in 10th house with Neptune Uranus Pluto in the 10th aswell

    My piscean ascendant and venus prefers a more spiritual approach which I feel balances the hardcore cap energy in me

    Namaste !

  3. He IS ultra-Cap, isn’t he? But I catch a “quit crying, or I’ll really give you something to cry about” edge to his tone that I don’t quite vibe with. Capricorn is the ultimate hard-ass, but there’s a time and a place for everything (yes, even those pesky feelings!) and All Things In Moderation. It’s a bit of a turn-off for me to see someone doing their sign to the extreme, really. Not that I don’t respect the guy, but there appears to be a stereotypical antiquated gender-norm “be a real man” tone to his writing that just winds up reading (to me) as rhetoric. In all fairness to context, a large part of this may be due the differences in eras – he lived over 100 years ago, so these general types of attitudes/sentiments where rather endemic to the time period as a whole. I’m glad things have changed.

    I find a man who does emotional self-analysis and who isn’t afraid to express his feelings sexy as hell, personally. That’s real intimacy bereft of the kind of hard-shelled, macho, self-protective bravado I catch off some of the above quotes. One would wonder if such an attitude might have contributed to his depression at all – it sure can be lonely and would definitely create barriers to intimacy if/when one judges their feelings so harshly that they wind up cut off from them…

  4. I do see the ultra cap vs ultra scorp part of me resonating with the whole “yeah you have feelings but maybe you should do what you have to do cause you’re gonna have to do it anyway so stop moping around” thing.

    Oh yeah, big ish with me.

    • Spoken like a man who never had an orgasmic union with another person in his life. Nor spied a baby deer and its mother in a glen, or walked in nature at sunrise…
      Joyless gits are not good role models at all. Their business models are ruining the planet and hurting many societies and individuals. Anyone can get through a tough time by digging deep inside, but running your entire life and the planet with a stiff upper lip is unnecessary and foolish. I realise James was also trying to indicate the beneficial unbribed soul stuff but there are more ‘balanced’ philosophers, IMO, saying it better.

  5. ..I also want to add that the philosophy of the stoics was pretty sound. The idea was (is?) that you intentionally deny yourself something to reframe your perspective, to hone your gratitude practice and appreciate what you do have and your ability to choose.

    I am not religious in any way but this seems kind of like Lent?

  6. “… not inspiring unless the best you can hope for is to simply endure life.”

    Yes, so well put – even though i agree with James – but only to get me through those times that i have to endure…. More like the MO that pi mentions.

      • Yep, I get that. Chin up and soldier on is sometimes all you’ve got in you. It’s a good self-pep-talk for a chronic depressive (him). I am a philosophical ignoramus.. have not much understanding of stoicism etc. I would hate to carry that through my life as a general MO however..heavy boots, heavy heart is how it reads to me.

  7. Oh lordy I read the ‘Saturn’s benefits’ paragraph and it could be my ex-husband talking, only smarter and less of a f-wit.
    The ex is a 3rd house multi-Cap: sun-Saturn-Jupe-Merc. He thought joy was for directionless losers.

  8. ‘No matter how we feel; if we are only faithful in the outward act and refuse to do wrong, the world will so far be safe, and we quit of our debt towards it’. It seems a rather impoverished view–sad perhaps but not inspiring unless the best you can hope for is to simply endure life. Perhaps this is how he wrangled his depression. Heehee..I enjoyed ‘Stop your sniveling complaints and your equally sniveling raptures’ though: very bah humbug! I can appreciate dour, not so much this profound bleakness of outlook. Aqualunarian trying on Anonymous

  9. The style of expression is a bit unappealing in these deconstructed times, so I can see why some people would find his ideas to be pretentious and mean.

    But I like the anti-materialist messages in this: the “liberation from material attachments” and “the unbribed soul” – I really don’t think he was saying that poor should be happy with their lot, rather that those of us on “the money-making street’ should get off it, and start honouring our inner lives… I dig.

  10. Thanks for this!
    Love the sound of Jessa’s work & upcoming book release, and the pairing of the Olaf Hajek image! I think that makes more impact on me than William’s words.

    Currently in the grip of desire for a Cap ; Sun, Mars,Venus, Mercury, Neptune & Uranus, with Virgo Moon. Helps shed some light.

    My Aqua Merc, Libran Ac & Piscean Sun are generally baffled & it works both ways.

    Thank goodness for the kaleidoscope eye moments of his Piscean Eros. & thoughtfulness of our Virgo moons.

  11. resonates! i never really understood before why i am like this sometimes, but now i get it. i like it. it’s the capricorn saturn, uranus, and neptune in the 1st house. i noticed that for some reason i was less eager to read this post than usual; unsure why i have a ‘thing’ against cap. i can think of several people with prominent capricorn whom i admire. whatev, that attitude has to change!

  12. I have not one skeric (sp?) of Cap in my chart save transiting Pluto in my 4th. Actually, no my Lilith is in cap.

    But this really speaks to me, in my situation right now. I took the poverty thing he writes of as having absolutely no excess, no extra money to go on nice dinners, trips to tassie to see MONA, no nice new work outfits. Last weekend to not even go to an old friends 50th in another city. Have a new part-time job and it just covers my mortgage elec.bills essentials only etc.

    I’ve always looked for a job which pays my way but leaves me room for an art practice, a job doesn’t consume me so that I’ve got nothing left to give to what I REALLY need and want to to do. Was just feeling sorry for myself that I can never comfort shop at all, but now am reminded of the benefits of austerity. When I’m making art, and hanging in the garden I am really quite content .(But I do wish to travel more).

    Mine of course, is not real poverty. have had plenty of tertiary education, was born in the elite minority of a country where the great majority live in real, pervasive poverty. That did teach me though, as a child, that there is no way one can have set expectations in life, and that there are many ways of living.

  13. I found the words very profound, ones to savour and ponder on for a moment before moving on to the next sentence. There also seems to be an element of oriental in their sternness, echoes of Chinese philosophy. I think I’d like to read more actually.

  14. I get all of this. Yep. Huh, so THAT’S why all my exes are Caps – all my 12th house Taurean vibes made them feel ‘seen’.

    Revelations abound. All connected. All makes sense.

      • Pi, the cemeteries are full of mean old goats who have found peace. And the cemeteries are also full of elitist booksnobs with picks and shovels, digging up their graves, so they can beat us poor plebs over the head with the cold, dry bones.

        • hmm. I somehow have the impression there is something personal going on here for you but i’m going to leave it there, not because I am not curious but because you probably cbf going into more detail.. ntl i like how you describe them as mean old goats who have found peace. It’s funny how they do that, only after making everyone’s life a misery for decades. [no one in mind here just the general thing]

    • If you mean that James’ own words are mean-spirited and condescending, I’m with you Charles.

      A bit of healthy stoicism is fine, but emotional repression is a sure-fire route to clinical depression, and those who make it a prime virtue become incapable of empathy. And thus really shitty friends, lovers and parents.

      God, and spare me Harvard dons born into wealthy establishment families who romanticise poverty as if it is for most part a choice. Surprise, surprise – a Cap philosopher whose conservative world view basically justifies the status quo and says, if you are not poor by choice, “shut the fuck up”.

      Then again, there IS Engels – also a Cap, and more or less a contemporary of James. Wonder if James might have changed his mind if he’d read his treatise on the living conditions of the poor in England, which so shocked him that he spent the rest of his life trying to change the status quo.

        • And oops. Engels was, of course, a Sag, not a Cap. Figures!

          Now I will shut up until Merc retro in my 3rd moves forward and gives me my brain function back.

      • That’s interesting, the different interpretations.. it seemed to me that he illustrates well the cappy tendency to dourness at times. And I don’t think he is advocating emotional repression as a way to navigate all life. It’s simply the cap MO, to set your jaw and keep on to do the essential tasks at hand no matter one’s personal resistance or emotional state.

        It seemed to me that his perspective on poverty vs not-poverty is more driven by asceticism or similar, rather than glorifying abject poverty.

          • Dunno bout the Cap MO thing. I’d consider myself pretty stoic, and I used to have a massive extended family of Pluto in Cancer types who were all shades of the zodiac, and stoic to a man – and woman…

            But you’re right, of course, Pi – as usual x – he isn’t arguing for total emotional repression.

            And his poverty comment is no doubt just him trying to reframe the early concern of Stoicism with the avoidance of excess in a clumsy and rather insensitive attempt to put an idea that was not his own into his own words.

            Haven’t read Seneca or the host of earlier/later stoic philosophers, but for my money, Marcus Aurelius (non-Cap) says it all so much better in Meditations.

            Sort of like a wise and loving father who’d help you dry your tears, and teach you to get on with it by example, rather than an austere old bastard….

            • Ah, Mr Aurelius again, I really need to acquaint myself with his texts…
              yes you make a good point, caps don’t have the monopoly on such determination…?
              But there is something…

              fwiw I try (try) not to be too invested in being ‘right’ so am always open to debate 😉

              When am I ever going to find the time to be across the work if certain philosophers ..I can..one day…! X

      • …”Emotional repression is a sure-fire route to clinical depression, and those who make it a prime virtue become incapable of empathy. And thus really shitty friends, lovers and parents.”
        YES. My ex hub (multi-Cap described in a comment further down) was exactly this.
        I can see Engels being a Sagg, actually. A ‘why not’ kind of attitude, a trailblazer for his own truth. ‘We can do this, if only we do that’.

        • Yes, agree totally about all that glorified stoicism and its negative effects on Caps’ ability to be giving as friends, parents, and lovers. Some impose unnecessary rigidity on softer souls and it can get cold and cruel. I won’t be championing James.

  15. goodness me that is a lot of cap.
    I could send this to a couple of cap men I know and they might recognise themselves..
    like quadrupled, my cappy moon says “ah, yes…indeed” to more than a few of these comments.

    regardless of whether or not I identify with any of it, this is wonderful:

    ““Knowledge about life is one thing; effective occupation of a place in life, with its dynamic currents passing through your being, is another.””

    and his words on restriction and deprivation as a virtue, vs. flabby aquisitionism and protecting one’s pile of stuff..

    • I LOVE that quote too – it’s the one that stood out for me.

      I also love how he illustrates points using really goaty imagery:
      ” We stand on a mountain pass in the midst of whirling snow and blinding mist, through which we get glimpses now and then of paths….” Hahahaha!

      My Saturn in Cap 3rd h, really does get this pragmatism, (never missed a tax return) – but why do I feel like a wraith has just gone past and sucked the joy out of my very being?…so sombre… i always get the urge to tickle Caps.

      • I got early Sat in Cap trining 3 Virgos and have never missed a tax return till past 2 years. But that was bcos Pluto was opposing my Asc (& in about 2021/2 my Sun) & Neptune opposing my Virgo (0° Mars, 2° Pluto & 8° Venus) + some other rocks.
        Im a bit sick of the oppositions……

        • Think it would be more Neptune rather than Pluto causing the tax avoidence ….. (i am trying to suck up to Pluto – he’s gonna be opposing everything for the next 30 years – from around my IC) :/

          • I agree bout Neptune and tax (+ all the other bus/admin stuff l cant ‘handle’ atm- sooooo not me) but with Pluto doing stuff with Uranus (opposing my NN) to us Cardinals its a bit tooooo much. But my Earth placements will see me soldier on.

      • “a wraith has just gone past and sucked the joy out of my very being”

        yeah i do know what youre saying there. After reading this i felt a need to remind myself how awesome life is and the things i have planned in the next little while.. x

    • Hahaha I read that as ‘a lot of crap’ now I realise I have an eyelash in my eye 🙂
      Yes this quote describes all I know and what I’ve seen of haute Cap. They do feel a mission, a sense of purpose bigger than themselves.

    • Me too. My Cap moon isn’t satisfied unless I’m keeping my nose to the grindstone, getting stuff done. If I feel bad or sad or whatever I don’t really ‘indulge’ in those feelings. I feel like it’s very un-Capricorn to cry. Instead you just keep chugging along…struggling under the weight of everything you need to do. Depressing isn’t it.

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