July 16, 2017 saw the death of horror film director George Romero, often credited with creating the modern zombie. In a series of gruesome, satiric films, beginning with 1968’s “Night of the Living Dead”, Romero essentially carved his own horror niche with a new genre, of flesh-eating, bloodthirsty beings, neither dead nor alive, who roam mindlessly in search of sustenance.
Now a cult classic, that first zombie film began a global phenomenon, which has spawned countless imitators and iterations, including the recent successful “Walking Dead” franchise for AMC cable network. But zombification isn’t just a spectator sport these days; it’s a full-on participation event, with dozens of cities holding annual “Zombie Crawls”, usually on or near Halloween, where participants get themselves up in guts and gore and parade through the streets, sometimes on scavenger hunts, sometimes to help set a world record, sometimes just for the thrill of being undead for an afternoon.
Romero became a cult icon, styled “Father of the Zombie Film”. He began his directorial career fresh out of college in 1960, with short films and commercials. In 1968 he and a group of nine friends produced “Night of the Living Dead”, which he directed and co-wrote. Done on a shoestring budget of $112,000, the film went on to gross $12 million nationally, and another $6 million on the global market. Romero’s subsequent offerings over the next decade didn’t do so well, and in 1978 he returned to the zombie theme with “Dawn of the Dead”; produced for $500,000, the film earned $55 million internationally. In 1982 Romero teamed with horror writer Stephen King on “Creepshow”, the success of which launched the TV series “Tales from the Darkside” (1984-88), which Romero executive produced. In 1985 he unveiled his third zombie effort, “Day of the Dead”, a poor box office performer, but with $30 million in total revenue to date, mostly from VHS and DVD sales.
So, what’s up with the zombies? Why that particular motif, and why did he do it so well? As Romero himself opined, “I have a soft spot in my heart for the zombies. … They are multi-purpose, you can’t really get angry at them, they have no hidden agendas, they are what they are. I sympathize with them. My stories have always been more about the humans and the mistakes that they make and the zombies are just sort of out there. … They’re the disaster that everyone is facing, but my stories are more about the humans.” As always, Romero’s birth chart holds the clue to his fascination.
Astrologically, zombies, as eaters of human flesh, fall into the cannibal category, and there is one mythic point to which we ascribe cannibalism: asteroid Tantalus. Tantalus’ myth is a complex one, but for our purposes, the plot point which most applies is his rather disgusting dietary choices. At one point Tantalus invited the Olympic pantheon to a great banquet in his home, and to prove his devotion (and his cleverness, in fooling them), Tantalus served his own son Pelops, cut up in a stew. The gods realized this gruesome repast for what it was, and refused the proffered delicacy, afterward punishing Tantalus for this and other heinous crimes.
And where do we find Tantalus in George Romero’s natal chart? Why, right with the Sun, of course!
Born 4 February 1940, Romero’s Sun at 14 Aquarius is broadly conjunct Tantalus, at 4 Aquarius. That ten degree gap is filled with other pertinent points, namely asteroids Nemesis (the inescapable doom or fate) at 7 Aquarius, George (his first name) at 9 Aquarius and Lachesis, exact with the Sun at 14 Aquarius. Lachesis is interesting in the zombie context, as it is named for the mythic Greek Fate who determines the span of life. Romero messed with that lifespan, creating his “living dead”, beings which, though not exactly alive, aren’t exactly dead, either. Also with the Sun are asteroids Rip (for the acronym “RIP”, “Rest In Peace”, a common tombstone inscription) at 16 Aquarius and Mercury, the story-teller, at 17 Aquarius.
There is one more astrological point which potentially has zombie ties – the PNA Zomba, closest phonetically, which at 14 Leo exactly opposes Romero’s Sun. Other factors which tie Romero personally to the death theme are asteroid Romero, which at 29 Cancer conjoins Pluto, modern lord of death, at 1 Leo, and exactly opposes asteroid Anubis, named for the ancient Egyptian deity governing funerary rites, at 29 Cancer. These form a loose T-Square with asteroid Requiem, named for the funeral mass for the dead, which at 21 Libra is at its station degree, about to turn retrograde ten days later, and is thus powerfully embedded in Romero’s psyche. Requiem exactly opposes Mars at 21 Aries, itself conjunct Saturn, ancient lord of death, at 25 Aries; perhaps this is why Romero’s dead (Requiem/Saturn) are so darned active (Mars)! It also brings the subject of death firmly into the realm of career.
Also of note is asteroid Osiris, named for the Egyptian god of the dead, which at 6 Sagittarius is exactly trine Jupiter at 6 Aries, making for an ease (trine) in acquiring fame or renown (Jupiter) through death (Osiris). Note also that Tantalus is roughly on their midpoint, sextile to each, making cannibalistic zombies a natural fit for augmenting the trine’s potential. Finally, natal Neptune at 25 Virgo, ruling films and fantasy, as well as those liminal states that might lie between life and death, is conjoined by asteroid Atropos, named for the Greek Fate who severs the thread of life at death. But as with all things Neptunian, there’s some uncertainty and fluidity inherent in that pairing – are zombies really dead? And who decides?
That’s a lot of death activity for one chart! It’s no surprise therefore that Romero would be somewhat obsessed with the theme, and with his Sun squared Uranus at 18 Taurus, that his take on the horror genre would be unique, original, and focused on the essential ”alienness” of his creations.
Romero’s creative use of his stars continues through the premiere of “Night of the Living Dead”. Opening October 1, 1968, NOLD’s 8 Libra Sun is in a Grand Trine with Osiris at 11 Gemini and asteroid Romero at 5 Aquarius. Both are within two weeks of their stations – Osiris will turn retrograde at that degree on October 13, while Romero went direct on September 15. At 4 Aquarius then, it was exactly conjunct Romero’s natal Tantalus, with its mythic zombie/cannibal resonance.
With the Sun are Uranus at 0 Libra and Requiem at 2 Libra, again highlighting themes of “otherness” and death. Squaring the Sun is asteroid George at 9 Capricorn, making Romero a focus of the day (in addition, of course, to the trine to the Sun from asteroid Romero).
Saturn at 23 Aries shows Romero in the midst of his first Saturn Return when he made his mark (it had stationed retrograde exactly on his natal Saturn in August); paired with Lachesis at 27 Aries, we see a repeat of the death/lifespan theme (with an assist from blurring-the-lines Neptune, inconjunct from 24 Scorpio), coupled with his career. In square from 20 and 21 Cancer are asteroids Atropos and Zomba, firmly embedding the “zombie” angle, while a conjunction of Jupiter and Pluto at 21 and 23 Virgo again suggests fame achieved relating to death. Mars at 6 Virgo is combined with Rip at 0 Virgo and Tantalus at 8 Virgo (also exactly semisextile the Sun), linking violent death (Mars) with the dead and graveyards generally (Rip; NOLD’s first attack takes place in a cemetery) and cannibalism (Tantalus).
When Romero passed away on July 16th (and by the way, are we sure he’s totally dead?), the stars once again reflected his moment of global prominence. Asteroid George at 21 Libra is squared to the Sun/Mars conjunction at 24 and 27 Cancer, and broadly opposes Uranus at 28 Aries, forming a T-Square which speaks to Romero’s uniqueness (Uranus), his centrality to the day’s events (Sun), and the violence of his films (Mars). George is exactly conjunct that stationary Requiem in his birth chart, and also opposes natal Mars exactly, as well as natal Saturn.
Transit asteroid Romero at 1 Taurus is squared to both transit Atropos at 7 Leo and transit asteroid Nemesis at 29 Capricorn, which exactly conjoined his natal Anubis and exactly opposed his natal Romero at 29 Cancer, which was within orb of the transit Sun/Mars conjunction. Transit Romero also exactly squares natal Pluto at 1 Leo (and natal Romero), as well as squaring natal Tantalus at 4 Aquarius, with transit Tantalus at 6 Sagittarius exactly conjunct natal Osiris, a fitting homage to the “Father of the Zombie Film.” There are almost as many death indicators active at his death as there were at his birth! Even Zomba has a part to play; its transit degree of 3 Cancer is sesquiquadrate his natal Rip/Mercury conjunction at 16 and 17 Aquarius, a final nod to the man whose legacy is stories of death and horror.