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Death of a healer: Stephen Russell, the Barefoot Doctor

Stephen Russell horoscope

I come to analyze Stephen’s horoscope, not to praise him.

At the end of January 2020 Stephen Russell died, at the age of 65.  Stephen was a healer and mystic, who styled himself after the barefoot doctors of traditional Chinese medicine.  They would travel around the country, dispensing wisdom, healing and magic.  Not surprisingly, Stephen was an expert on Tai Chi and acupuncture.  He was also a successful writer, his first sole-authored book,
Barefoot Doctor’s Handbook for the Urban Warrior: Spiritual Survival Guide, being published in 1998.

I didn’t know Stephen well, and the last time I spoke to him was in 2010.  He gave me some advice about websites and cameras, and around that time we also spoke about his horoscope.  I seem to remember that he had Leo rising, but I no longer have his birth time.  However, I never did Stephen’s chart in a professional setting, and I never acted as his astrologer.  If that had been the case, I wouldn’t be free to write this blog post.

I looked on the internet for information about his birth time.  One astrological author, Mary Evans, wrote that it was “before breakfast”.  If so, that might suggest Virgo rising.  Yet Ruby Warrington asked him about various prominent features of his horoscope, and he replied “Leo ascendant, the performer on stage. Pisces moon, the psychic, trippy aspect. And it’s Venus in Scorpio that makes me sexy.”  So I will set up his chart for 4 a.m., for London, when Leo was rising.  But I’ll interpret the chart as if I don’t know his precise time, and I will assume that he was born some time between 3 and 8 a.m.

When I do a chart, the first thing I do, even before looking at the Sun sign, is weigh up the elements of the seven traditional planets – in other words, the Sun through to Saturn.  Stephen had four planets in Water signs, namely the Moon in Pisces, Venus and Saturn in Scorpio and Jupiter in Cancer.  He had two planets in Earth signs, which were the Sun in Virgo and Mars in Capriorn, one planet in an Air sign (Mercury in Libra) and no planets in Fire signs.

This means that Stephen was a Water-Earth person.  These are the negative elements, the Yin rather than the Yang.  Now I understand that might sound strange.  Stephen was a dynamic person, who had definite leadership qualities.  However, he was also a reflector of the times that he was living in – the zeitgeist, if you like.  And with the passivity of all that Water, he could be very reassuring.  If Stephen said things were OK, then they really were OK.

At least that was my experience when I visited him for acupunture in early 1999, in his clinic in West Hampstead.  I was stressed out and worried, and his words and needles made me feel a whole lot better.  And I should say that in his healing, he exemplified the principle that it is the healer and not the treatment that matters.  I actually think that it is the same with many aspects of conventional medicine.  Two different doctors can give you the same course of antibiotics for the same infection, but it’s often the doctor with the healing touch who  actually cures the infection.

Stephen’s sun sign was Virgo.  This makes sense.  He was a healer, and the body and its movement were important to him.  At the same time, Virgos are often perfectionists, and finding this perfection, in themselves and in others, can be difficult.  Matters were made more compliated by the fact that he was born in the immediate aftermath of a Full Moon, with his Moon in Virgo’s opposite sign of Pisces.  Like many Full Moon people, there were probably two sides to him.  The Moon in Pisces can be sensitive and emotional while the  Sun in Virgo tends to be analytical, materialistic and perhaps even harsh.  I expect he could have switched between the two very quickly.

Yet Stephen’s Moon was strong, being in Pisces in trine aspect to Jupiter in Cancer.  In other words, the two planets were in mutual reception, the Moon being in a sign ruled by Jupiter, Jupiter being in a signed ruled by the Moon.  Matters were further helped by the fact that Stephen was almost certainly born before dawn.  The Moon is strong in a night time chart when it is also above the horizon and in a feminine sign.

The strong Moon emphasized the Yin over the Yang.  It also put Stephen in touch with wider currents, relating to people and society.  He knew what was going on at a particular time, and he was able to respond accordingly.  This meant that he was ready to respond to the exploding interest in alternative medicine and self-help, which characterized his adult life from the early 1970s onwards.

We also need to remember that Stephen wrote lots of books.  I remember, in the late 1990s, discussing writing with him.  For me, writing is an effort.  I have to think and analyze, in a frantic struggle to get the words out.  I can’t remember precisely how Stephen described his writing process, but it was something emotional and non-intellectual.  The words just came out, without the clumsy intellect getting in the way.  This is a lunar process, and it reminds us that the Moon, just as much as Mercury, is a planet of communication.

Stephen’s Mercury was in Libra.  He was able to communicate in a reassuring and balanced way.  However, the Mercury was exactly square his Mars in Capricorn.  This combination is suggestive of verbal aggression, and the ability to cut people down with carefully chosen words.  Perhaps people who got close to him experienced this Mercury-Mars square.  Stephen might also have been more tense than he appeared on the surface.

The Mercury-Mars square is going to say something about his writing.  Mars in Capricorn is ambitous, and it is struggling to communicate its need to be successful.  That first book, Barefoot Doctor’s Handbook for the Urban Warrior: Spiritual Survival Guide, may have been a struggle for him, even if he didn’t admit it.  And it was the breakthrough for his writing career.

Interestingly, Stephen had Mars conjunct the North Node.  The North Node represents one’s destiny, the path one should be heading in.  In Stephen’s case this North Node was coloured by Mars, the warrior planet.  His destiny was to be a warrior, and this was reflected in the title of his first book.  However in his next incarnation I would expect the warrior principle to be more pronounced.  So in thirty or forty years time, when you see an interview with a charismatic guerrilla leader, rifle in hand, consider the possibility that Stephen’s back.

When considering the healing arts, astrologers often look at a minor planet called Chiron.  I don’t use Chiron in my work, but for Stephen I will make an exception.  In mythology Chiron is the wounded healer – a centaur who was an expert healer, but who himself had a wound that could never be healed.  Stephen’s Chiron was at 23 Capricorn, opposition Jupiter and Uranus in Cancer, square Neptune in Libra.  In the jargon, this gives a T-Square, with Neptune trying to square the difference between Jupiter/Uranus and Chiron.  Stephen was struggling to integrate some deep and probably Karmic wound into his expansive, freedom-loving view of the world.  He might have felt he could do this through a type of personal dissolution, and this is maybe what he was doing in the early 1980s, when he was studying shamanism in Mexico.  So while I was a student in London reading Castenada’s The Teachings of Don Juan, he was out there in the field doing the real thing.

However, most people would not be able to integrate a Jupiter-Neptune-Chiron T-square into their everyday lives.  After all, we’re talking about generational and transpersonal energies.  They usually describe the time rather than the person.  In Stephen’s case he was, to some extent, able to intergrate them into his here and now, helped by the fact that his strong Moon was sextile Chiron and trine Jupiter.

And I think Stephen was able to bring these energies down to earth, in his healing practice.  To illustrate this, in the mid-1990s I was writing an astrology book, with a tight deadline.  I was under a lot of stress, and suffering from chronic insomnia.  I went to visit a friend in Maida Vale, and Stephen was there, along with one his students.  Stephen suggested that this student give me acupuncture, so I sat in an armchair while Stephen instructed her on how to stick a needle right between my eyes, just above the bridge of my nose.  The needle went in, and straight away I felt ill.  Then I passed out.  Minutes later I started coming round.  At first I didn’t know who or where I was.  Then I slowly returned to normal.  But in the following weeks my insomnia and stress massively reduced, and I was able to finish the book.  Stephen had been able to channel something through his student, that had released the blocked energy that had been messing me up.  Or at least that’s how it felt.

It would be nice to stop my analysis here, but there are other things to be considered.  Stephen, when describing himself to Ruby Warrington, talked about his “Venus in Scorpio that makes me sexy”.  That’s a flippant comment to make, about a planet that’s in the sign of its detriment.  Yes, Stephen was attractive to the opposite sex, and by all accounts he was blessed with sexual charisma.  I suppose you would have expected that from a self-described guru.  You would also expect that from someone who has Venus in Scorpio making a sextile aspect to Mars in Capricorn.  Indeed Reinhold Ebertin, in The Combination of Stellar Influences, described the positive manifestation of the Venus-Mars pair as “An early sexual maturity, the beginning of associations based purely on sex”.

Yet that is not the whole story.  Stephen has Venus conjunct Saturn, like Donald Trump.  This conjunction can be about women, and in the male chart there may be a tendency to objectify them.  When I recently discussed Trump’s Venus-Saturn conjunction, I mentioned that he appeared to have an obsession with physical appearance, and wanted the women around him to appear in a particular way.  And because he was rich, he was often able to choose his partners.  Stephen was not rich, yet he was very good at attracting women, even if the relationships tended not to last very long.  Virgo has an ideal about what a woman should be, but an ideal that is difficult if not impossible to realize, in the real world

At the same time, Stephen was able to benefit from women.  This is what we would expect from Venus conjunct Saturn, if you take the view that Venus strengthens Saturn, and Saturn weakens Venus.  Especially as Stephen had a strong Saturn in Scorpio, which was in mutural reception by sign to his Mars in Capricorn.

However, some of the  encounters Stephen had almost certainly damaged his career.  In the case of Donald Trump, his behavior towards women nearly derailed his run for the White House.  In the case of Stephen, The Guardian newspaper, in 2007, reported that he denied “allegations made to the patient group Witness that he made sexual overtures to patients in treatment”.  The article reported that Witness had received five complaints about Stephen’s behavior, and that he had made a statement “admitting to having sex with ex-patients in the past”.

I think that Stephen was let down by his Venus-Saturn conjunction.  It is a conjunction that dominates his horoscope, and it is made stronger by the fact that it is semisquare his Sun-Moon midpoint.  The Sun-Moon combination represents the cosmic marriage, the union of male and female.  Having Venus on the Sun-Moon midpoint makes one attractive and sympathetic, but put Saturn there as well and there could be problems.  Saturn intrudes, perhaps compulsively, and threatens to disrupt the cosmic union.

As far as Stephen’s death is concerned, I don’t have his exact time of birth, so there are limits to what I can say.  However, I am interested by the fact that on the night of January 23-24, when I believe Stephen died, Saturn was at about 24 degrees 7 Capricorn and Pluto was at 23 9 of the same sign.  This Saturn-Pluto conjunction was right on Stephen’s Chiron (23 17 Capricorn), and was also opposition his Jupiter and square his Neptune.  Saturn and Pluto were calling time on the T-Square that had inspired and sustained Stephen’s work.  The zeitgeist had moved on, and Stephen was no longer part of it.  He moved on also, to rediscover his relevance in a different time and probably a different place.

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Lyn February 14, 2020, 12:55 pm

    Stephen didn’t pass on the 26th… he passed in his sleep on the 23rd/24th January.

    • Archie Dunlop February 14, 2020, 3:52 pm

      Thank you. I will amend the article.

  • Suzi February 17, 2020, 4:01 pm

    I use the Barefoot Doctor’s meditations – Especially the advanced techniques. I have always loved his approach. I am interested to discover what he died from? Can’t find anything on internet yet – do you know anything about cause of death?

    • Archie Dunlop February 17, 2020, 10:53 pm

      Thanks for visiting the site. I don’t know at the moment what he died from. As he was writing and making videos right to the end, and he had a retreat planned for May, I would have thought he was in reasonable health. While 65 is young to die, at least he was active right to the end.

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