Bernie Madoff: Chart of a Sociopath?
The defining features of what exactly makes a person “evil”—or what determines an act of evil—is a complex and fascinating question. From a legal perspective, the primary point of concern typically focuses on whether or not the person’s actions constitute illegal behavior, and if so, what laws deem that act as unlawful and why.
From a psychological perspective, the point becomes increasingly complex as the mystery of who the alleged sociopath is as a human being outside of his illicit act arise. For example: What state of mind was the accused in? Does he have prior convictions, a history of other types of misconduct, or evidence of long-standing behaviors indicative of a personality disorder? Queries like these make accurate diagnosis a challenge at best and impossible to determine at worst.
What Defines A Sociopath?
In contemporary culture the word “sociopath” is used colloquially to the point where the meaning of the word has become vague at best. What exactly is a “sociopath”? Sociopathic or “evil” behavior exists, like all behaviors, on a spectrum. In other words, not all evil is created equal. Or is it? Is someone who compulsively lies by definition a sociopath?
Any clinical diagnosis is a complicated subject because one must look at the nuances of the person as well as the nature of the offense: Was Bernie a compulsive liar in general or did he lie only when asked about a particular subject? How long did the pattern of lying persist (e.g., since childhood)? Was it “active” (actively plotting or scheming to deceive others?) or “passive” (white lies, lies by omittance, lying unknowingly?)? Does this distinction even exist, or make a difference, in the end?
When it comes to putting a person on trial, context, including the social position and reputation of person-on-trial plays a key role in how we perceive, talk about and finally “diagnose” that person as a so-called sociopath. And with so many variables to contemplate, drawing a straightforward conclusion is easier said than done.
Bernie Madoff exemplifies the classic case of the dubious distinction between so-called “white collar crime” and violent crime. Something to think about: while his violation under U.S. constitutional law was technically fraud, its implications demonstrate how insidious—and dangerous—white collar crime is. Because while there’s no evidence Madoff committed any violent offense, the time he allowed to pass before coming forward and his number of victims alone demonstrate how vast—and dangerous—the implications really are.
How should we interpret indirect violence, or violence that occurs as a direct result of the infraction, vs. the physical violence we commonly associate with the word “crime”? For instance, his scheme indirectly resulted in violence in the form of suicide, including clients and his oldest son Mark having taken their own lives. Given this, can Bernie’s extravagant fraud truly be considered non-violent?
Thus Bernie Madoff is a perfect paradigm illustrating the ambiguity of how we define the term “sociopath.”
Bernard Madoff was born on April 29, 1938 in New York, NY at approximately 1:50 pm (source: https://www.astrotheme.com). In examining his birth chart, right off the bat you can see he has an abundance of planets in Taurus, all at the top of his chart. What jumped out right away is the 4 planets (including inner planets Sun, Moon & Venus) plus his Midheaven and South Node all in the sign of Taurus.
Elements, Modes, Signs and House Placements
The Bernie Madoff Birth Chart
There are features of every birth chart that stand out on first view, just as there are features of a person’s appearance or the way they carry themselves—their “energy” —which strikes us in an immediate way. First impressions are significant because they give us a gut feeling about someone and are usually what we remember most about the person.
In truth, “real life” first impressions are much the same as an Astrologer’s first impression of a client’s birth chart. Though every Astrologer has different methods, focusing more on one character trait or theme than others, I always take note of whatever jumps out at me first.
One marked feature of Bernie Madoff’s chart is that 10 out of 12 planets are placed above the horizon line in his chart, seen in the heavy concentration of planets in the upper half of his chart. When a chart is “top-heavy” as it is here, the person is focused primarily with his dealings in the outer world, with social and professional concerns dominating his conscious thoughts. The resulting detachment from inner life means this is someone who wouldn’t step foot in a yoga class, let alone recognize the value of devoting one’s time or resources to the cultivation of a deeper spiritual understanding of the world (or themselves). Some with planets dominating this half of their chart somehow manage to avoid introspection entirely, preferring as they do to spend less time reflecting and more time “doing,” with little interest in feedback from others. That said, it’s not surprising that a profound lack of self-awareness, sometimes to the point of complete delusion, is often the outcome.
Then I go into a methodical analysis, starting by counting the Elements and Modes of the all the planets in the chart. Starting with this information gives me a sense of who the person is at his most basic self, symbolizing the fundamental ways a person may be in or out of balance in their approach to life.
The first point to recognize is whether there’s an obvious lack and/or predominance of a particular element or mode in a chart. What does it mean, for instance, when someone has many planets in Earth signs with only one planet in an Air sign? This information provides a baseline sketch of the person’s basic traits and tendencies.
In Bernie’s chart, he has an abundance of Earth (Taurus) energy with a relative lack of planets in Air signs. Furthermore, in terms of Mode, the majority of planets are in Fixed signs. Charts containing planets in mostly Earth with a corresponding lack of planets in Air tend to be deeply rooted in the material world and the present moment, a trademark quality of the Earth element.
Synthesizing this data into a cohesive interpretation, the fact that so many of his planets are in fixed signs describes a nature that is stubborn to the point of complete inflexibility of opinions. Similarly, the combination of a lack of planets in Air and the predominance of Fixed signs says that he isn’t used to compromise unless all parties agree to his terms (which of course isn’t really compromise). Similarly, the distribution of Elements and Modes depicts a person who’s unlikely to be communicative, talking very little unless for a specific purpose.
Importance of Being Taurus and Other Stories...
Taurus, Money, And Self-Awareness
How can a person get away with all this you ask? For starters, it doesn’t hurt that most Taureans are beyond charming with an incredible talent for disarming even the most stoic individual. One way the more ambitious Taurus types capitalize on their social prowess (once they’ve recognized they possess it), is to work their way into society’s “upper crust,” attending, throwing or at the very least getting invited to lavish dinner parties and any other event they deem high-end. The goal here is to lure these people into his social sphere, gaining their trust and approbation necessary to conduct business dealings. And the thing is, it usually works.
Taurus is money-focused because money represents a sense of emotional security and self-esteem. To really understand a Taurus individual, you must first recognize that “The Taurus Approach to Life” is exemplified by one key principle—simplicity. And speaking simply, it’s simply better to have money than to not to have it. Thus Taurus’ desire to accumulate wealth derives from the goal of living a financially stable and preferably easy lifestyle.
Generally speaking, does “having money” allow for a relatively comfortable lifestyle? Technically, yes. More importantly though, money makes life easier. And ease is what being a Taurus is all about: work to play, play to play, but certainly not work to work. With ease as a primary objective in life, Taurus tends not to be much of a worrier when it comes to money, as they don’t think quite as much about the long-term but are rooted firmly in the present. In this way, Taurus avoids anxiety, relying on his ability to compartmentalize the implications of his actions by choosing to live on a moment-to-moment, transaction-to-transaction basis.
The Non-Self-Awareness of Bernie Madoff
(Left) Robert DeNiro as Bernie Madoff in HBO's Wizard of Lies.
What exactly indicates lack of self-awareness in a birth chart? In Bernie’s chart, the fact that he was born right before a New Moon is central to his lack of self-awareness. A New Moon occurs when the Sun and Moon meet up in the same degree of the same sign, which happens once every month. When the Moon, the planet that moves fastest in its orbit around the Sun, is “behind” the Sun by degree as it is in his chart, the New Moon is approaching but has not come exact yet. New Moons are symbols of a fresh start, clarity, goal-oriented action and a general sense of knowing what needs to be done. In contrast, Bernie was born under what I’d call a “pre-New Moon.” To be born under a pre-New Moon is equivalent in many respects to living in the dark when it comes to the subject of self-awareness.
His Sun and Moon—arguably the two most powerful planets in the birth chart, representing both parental figures to some extent—are both placed in early degrees of Taurus.
The paradox with Taurus is that, if they fit their “type,” they’re materially ambitious yet thrifty to the point of penny-pinching when it comes to money. They love to see their bank balance rise as they save money rather than spend. But if you look closely at Bernie’s chart, there are a few factors that work against this aspect of his “Taurus-ness.”
More Money, More Problems
Ascendant-Jupiter-Venus T-Square + Jupiter-Pluto Inconjunct
Bernie’s Venus at 29° of Taurus forms a tight 90° angle, known in Astrology as a square aspect, with Jupiter at 28° Aquarius and his Ascendant at 28° Leo. Together, these two planets along with his Ascendant form an unstable configuration called a T-Square, produced by 2 square aspects and 1 opposition that connect 3 planets or angles in a chart.
When Venus and Jupiter form any connection, it suggests good fortune both financially and socially. With Jupiter in the socially-oriented sign of Aquarius and his Ascendant involved at 28° Leo, it would undoubtedly describe someone with a large network of friends and associates who would become opportunities for the acquisition of enormous wealth.
With Jupiter in Aquarius—abundance of acquaintances, friends, a large social network—conjunct his Descendant—one-on-one relationships and social contact in general—and Pluto in his 11th house, the area of the chart signifying friendships, networking and dealings with large institutions, his compulsive need to please others and accompanying fixation on gaining wealth and support from others is clear. With Jupiter right on the 7th house cusp or Descendant, Bernie gains opportunity and abundance through the lessons he learns in the context of one-on-one partnerships. Though the 7th house relates to social contact in general, it specifically refers to legally binding relationships, which would include all business and marriage partners. Put simply, Jupiter on the Descendant attracts loyal followers. The most overt manifestation of this playing out in real life is in his wife Ruth Madoff’s loyalty to him even after his betrayal came to light.
Like Venus-Jupiter, Jupiter-Pluto aspects means major wealth potential. But the opportunism indicated by the inconjunct prohibited him from manifesting this energy constructively, as it involves outer planets Jupiter and Pluto. Jupiter-Pluto aspects mean “more is more,” and this one in particular amplifies the opportunism shown in this aspect to reach a level of unconscious, compulsive behavior that became impossible for Bernie to control. The downside of the square between Venus and Jupiter + the Jupiter-Pluto inconjunct is that the tendency to go overboard—to overindulge—is enormous.
Robert Pelletier’s interpretation of this aspect between Jupiter and Pluto is so eerily accurate that I’ll defer to his words here: “[With this aspect,] the line of least resistance is to complain about your fate and challenge the need to submit to it. This may lead you to become an opportunist, taking from others what you consider rightfully yours.” Wow. The accuracy with which these two sentences describe Bernie’s actions is uncanny. Bernie Madoff’s Jupiter-Pluto inconjunct fits both criteria, pinpointing an essential part of his character.
More than any other, Jupiter inconjunct Pluto accurately illustrates how compulsively he was driven, perfectly characterizing his deeply rooted complex around popularity and approval. So he chose, as Pelletier would put it, “the line of least resistance,” keeping quiet about the flaws in the system and continuing to operate his business using the power of his reputation to mess with other people’s money.
Whether consciously or unconsciously, Madoff’s reliance on his natural charisma and power of denial led him to test how far he could go—how much he could get—without having to take responsibility or provide any real service. Seen in this light, we have now a compelling take on why he took the actions he did. His financial intrigues were, for him, the direct results of a long-standing, obsessive-compulsive test of his ability to influence others, pushing the limit with everyone in his life, from family members to clients he barely knew at all.
Bernie The Likeable Gambler
Bernie’s key planet Venus in a tight square to Jupiter indicates extravagant losses Not only does Bernie have Venus at 29° Taurus at the top of his chart in tight square to Jupiter indicate financial extravagance to the point of extreme recklessness but he has a heavy 9th house emphasis, with his Sun, Moon and Uranus all in Taurus in the 9th house. Jupiter is the ruling planet of the sign Sagittarius, both of which are associated with the 9th house as well. Emphasis on the planet Jupiter, the sign of Sagittarius, and/or planets in the 9th house are all associated with risk-taking behavior.
Mars In Gemini
Another factor reinforcing his penchant for thrill-seeking or risk-taking activity is Bernie’s Mars at 4° of Gemini. The fact that his Mars occupies an early degree of Gemini shows that unlike the traditional Taurus type, a powerful impulsivity guides his actions.
Mars is the planet of action, so understanding the sign and house placement of Mars is vital to understand how a person asserts themselves, how they go about getting what they want and what motivates them. Mars in Gemini is a social butterfly and, much like Jupiter in Aquarius, thrives on social contact. Taurus, too, is a social creature, so the charm of Venus in Taurus is complemented by the witty, “playboy” persona of Mars in Gemini. Taken together, this is a (seemingly) quiet, patient listener with no shortage of verbal quickness, humor, and sociability—a person oozing likability.
However, the fact that his Mars occupies an early degree of Gemini shows that unlike the traditional Taurus type, a powerful impulsivity guides his actions. Magnetism and wit aside, Mars in Gemini is a short-term thinker who loves to play games, but changes his mind, often at the drop of a hat, and moves on quickly when there’s a loss.
Thus Bernie’s Mars in Gemini becomes more of a danger than an asset in the end. One fascinating feature of Bernie Madoff’s perspective is that despite pleading guilty to all charges, he never fully took responsibility for his actions—it was as if he ran the casino, but didn’t, for whatever reason, see himself as being associated with the people in it.
Outer Planet Aspects & Planets in Detriment/Fall
(Left) Robert DeNiro as Bernie Madoff in HBO's Wizard of Lies.
When I looked closely at Bernie’s chart, I recognized a theme regarding the placement of his outer planets. Speaking strictly, there are no aspects between his outer and inner planets. In addition, outer planets Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are all placed in either “detriment” or “fall” by sign. Given what we know about his inner workings thus far, this energy does not help him.
In any chart, there must be at least a few stand-out aspects from the outer planets to the inner planets. Difficult aspects (conjunction, square, opposition) represent challenges in life that forced us to confront obstacles—problems, drama, interpersonal issues and other painful experiences in life that sooner or later make us better, more self-aware human beings. With “weak” outer planets and no strong aspects, there are none of these moments (or not enough to make a real impression) in life where he is forced to confront such obstacles.
Along with its lack of aspects, Saturn is in its “fall” in the sign of Aries. In Madoff’s chart, Saturn is in Aries. Saturn and Aries are fundamentally at odds in terms of what they represent. With Saturn in Aries, the karmic lesson is about placing one’s personal agenda as a show of respect for the rules of society and, by extension, for the larger system to function and, hopefully, the community to prosper. Saturn in the 8th house signifies that the lesson will involve other people’s money. The 8th house represents money that comes from a person’s investments, stocks, inheritance—any form of money that does not come directly from your own income. Other people’s money is exactly what he lost.
Bernie Madoff was fated to learn this lesson in one way or another, and as time went on and he continued to live in a myopic state, ignoring regulations and investigations, his karmic debt only continued to grow, ensuring an unforgettable public downfall that would go down history.
Venus as Harbinger
Anaretic Degree, 10th house, and Conjunction to South Node
The sign, house and degree placement of Venus is of particular importance in Bernie’s chart for multiple reasons. Not only is Venus is ruler of Taurus but it happens to fall at 29°. The 29th degree of any sign is called an Anaretic degree, or the “degree of Fate” in that “matters associated with these planets have reached a critical point in development and [therefore] must be dealt with.”
When the 29° of Taurus and/or Scorpio appears in a chart, there’s tremendous potential for attracting wealth; however, this degree of Taurus and Scorpio is also associated with extreme loss of wealth. Bernie Madoff is no exception to this rule, with his 29° Venus in Taurus sitting pretty at the top of his chart—a harbinger symbolizing the abuse of his innate ability to draw people in.
It is my opinion that the major pitfall—the key pitfall that may explain why 29° of Taurus and Scorpio is so consistently proven to be associated with major loss of wealth—is that these signs are notorious for their secrecy and love of privacy, especially when it comes to money. Bernie Madoff has proven this to be true, remaining stubbornly opaque to anyone who posed even the most basic inquiry about how he ran his business.
The Midheaven (MC) and Public Downfall
In every birth chart, there are two axes: the Ascendant/Descendant, or relationship axis, and the Nadir (IC)/Midheaven (MC) axis. The Midheaven is the angle at the top of the chart, and is associated with social status, reputation and career. Given its symbolism, it takes on incredible symbolic value and is commonly found in the charts of those who experience epic public downfalls (I could go into Richard Nixon here but will resist).
Along with his Venusian power of attraction, his appeal is heightened by a trine aspect from Neptune to his Midheaven. Neptune, the planetary symbol of both creative vision and deception, trine the MC is the perpetual actor who doesn’t even realize he’s acting. It came naturally to Bernie to tell people what they wanted to hear, to talk the talk, to perform the role of upstanding citizen despite whatever was happening behind the curtain. To add to the picture, Mercury in Bernie’s chart forms a trine to his Ascendant, blessing him with an ease of communication that empowered him to speak knowledgeably to clients, thereby increasing their sense of trust in him and his enterprise. This skill enabled him to misdirect people from the truth and, in turn, to continue running from the truth himself.
But with Mars in the 10th house and Uranus at the top of the chart, slowly progressing toward his Midheaven, there wasn’t much chance for Bernie given his choice to let the corruption continue.
Uranus always has other plans, especially when it’s approaching the Midheaven as it does in Bernie’s chart. Overall his chart portrays a predisposition for great wealth followed by great downfall—all predicated on his choice to take the path of least resistance. So while Bernie may have possessed all the “assets” he needed to pull off his scheme, ultimately Uranus had the final say, bringing down his reputation (and that of his family) in one fell swoop.