Through the ethereal mist of a midnight Neptunian fog came the casual inquiry: “What’s with the beard trend? Why do so many modern guys have beards?” The uncanny synchronicity of the question, which quietly emanated from the speakers of my Hulu-playing laptop and seeped between the incipient imagery of my nocturnal imaginations, woke me from my half-slumber. Only a few hours prior, while at work, a fellow bartender and I had discussed nearly this same topic. And although we hadn’t arrived at many conclusions other than somewhat shallow observations of the male libidinous drive and the social ramifications of fashion-do’s and -don’ts, this time, for whatever reason (possibly I ought to credit Neptune himself), I pondered the meaning behind the meaning – the astrology of the beard. What sign or planet could represent or have instigated this hirsute phenomenon? I’ll endeavor to show in this blog post (my first ever!) how the planet Neptune’s historic transits of Pisces coincide with the beard’s rise in popularity and how Neptune’s placements elsewhere coincide conversely. In a later post, I’ll show how the Pisces-Neptune energy represents itself powerfully in the charts of famous bearded men and why it makes astrological sense, from a symbolic and metaphorical perspective, that Neptune and Pisces are, indeed, rulers of the beard.
Aside from certain follicly-challenged aboriginal tribes, remarks Allen Peterkin in his pogonological “One Thousand Beards: A Cultural History of Facial Hair,” the history of the bearded man is as archaic as the history of mankind itself. For the scope of this discussion, it certainly doesn’t make sense to explore the Neptune-beard relationship before the advent of shaving (some 5000 years ago), and the relative lack of historic data before the ancient Greeks and during the Middle Ages makes drawing thorough astro-historical comparisons difficult. Still, considering the extensive data remaining, I will begin my discussion in the 14th century.
Although the Catholic Church made many attempts to limit the facial hair of its clergy (and thus compelled the masses to comply accordingly) during the 1300s, by the time Neptune transited Pisces (1357-1371), fake beards of different colors and styles in Spain suddenly became very popular. Contemporaneously, Edward III of England also wore a forked beard (trident?) that cascaded down to his chest. And, in spite of the clergy’s efforts, beards once again were fashionably sported by noblemen and elders during Uranus’ transit of Pisces from 1417-1424.
Perhaps due to vanity or greed (historians remain unclear), bearded men were soon taxed for their facial hair. In the year 1535 (the same year Neptune left Pisces and entered Aries), Henry VIII introduced the first beard tax, and in 1542 (Neptune still in Aries), bearded members of the English Bar were denied admission. Also, in 1553, when Saturn (planet of restriction) was in Pisces and Neptune opposed Mars from Taurus, lawyers with beards were required to pay a meal tax.
Fortunately for the whiskered, a mutable Grand Cross (1565) between Neptune in Gemini, Pluto in Pisces, Jupiter in Virgo, and Uranus in Sagittarius saw all anti-beard regulations repealed by a facial-hair lobby. Still, the popularity of the beard remained on the decline and, by the time of Neptune’s ingress of Virgo (the sign opposite Pisces and of Neptune’s detriment) in 1601, the magnificent era of the beard had all but ended.
It appears that the beard’s popularity burgeoned once again during Neptune’s 1684-1697 transit of Pisces because, as soon as Neptune left Pisces and entered Aries in 1698, Peter the Great of Russia imposed a new beard tax on nearly all the citizens of St. Petersburg (sound familiar?). In exchange for payment, they received a beard token (pictured below). It might be worthwhile to note that, at this time, Neptune also formed a Grand Fire Trine with Uranus in Leo and Mars in Sagittarius.
The 1700s seemed altogether smooth-cheeked, so-much so that when French author, Jacque Antoine Dulaure, in 1786, predicted a return of the beard, he was met with scorn and ridicule. However, his predictions turned out to have some accuracy, for when Pluto entered Pisces in 1798, sideburns suddenly became popular. The sideburn style morphed into mustaches and the mustaches morphed into beards when Neptune moved back into Pisces in 1848. Indeed, by 1850, shaving was “seen as peculiar,” remarks Peterkin, and even Uncle Sam had facial hair added in 1855. A most-fascinating anecdote: Abraham Lincoln, after conversing with a young girl named Grace Bedell, became convinced that growing a beard would help him win the presidency, and so he promptly grew one in 1860, when Neptune was in the last degree of Pisces. Of course, he won the office, becoming the first bearded president, and the next seven U.S. presidents (with the exception of Andrew Johnson, who was born with a Saturn-Neptune conjunction and took office when Neptune was in Aries) grew beards as well.
In 1895, with the advent of Gillette razorblade technology, the beginning of a very-Virgoan hygienic movement, and retrograde Neptune in conjunction with retrograde Pluto (in Gemini), the popularity of beards waned considerably. By 1935, a New Statesman article mocked that “bearded men enjoyed all the privileges of bearded women.” But, in 1954, when Jupiter conjoined Uranus in Cancer and T-squared a Libra Neptune and a Capricorn Mars, Barber’s Journal commented on the growing popularity of beards on Madison Avenue. This trend, however, seemed remarkably different from those in centuries past – it did not last long (maybe seven years) and was more an expression of rebellion against establishment norms than a due conformity by allegiance to a specific political, religious, or socioeconomic group. In the 1960s and 1970s, men resumed their shaving regimens and the 1980s were about as hairless as the 1700s. While the 1990s witnessed the growth of genteel goatees (Neptune was in Capricorn, the sign of the sea-goat), beards did not begin to return to their full glory until Neptune re-entered Pisces in 2011.
Now, in 2015, we are seeing the scruff getting scruffier, and the beards growing longer. Will the beard survive the negative media attention brought by Saturn’s upcoming square to Neptune? Or does Neptune’s presence in Pisces until 2025 indicate that the furry faces are here to stay? As a pogoniate astrologer myself, here’s hoping that, when Neptune moves into Aries, we can avoid another beard tax and enjoy the barbate beaus in their majestic, mysterious splendor for decades to come. – Tim Heyer