Chiron: Working with the Myth
Interpretation of the "Psychic Wound" in Astrological Analysis
14 July 2005; Revised: 27 April 2006, Modified: 28 March 2008; 6 February 2009.
Last Updated: 18 July 2012. First published at Intraspec.ca; moved here 13 June 2013.
Last Modified: 5 March 2015.
The psychospiritual significance of the Chiron myth continues to evolve, particularly in the aftermath of the planetoid's discovery, and
it has been written about extensively. Generally described as "The Wounded Healer", Chiron is an archetypal principle with which many counselors and therapists have come to
identify and apply in work with clients. In astrology, natal Chiron may be construed as an indicator of the "Chironic wound" or "psychic wound", representing unresolved
psychoemotional injuries arising from childhood traumata or subsequent experience - injuries which, sometimes consciously accessible but often repressed or otherwise dissociated from,
still cry out for redress and healing. Chiron has been associated with marriage, romance, death, rebirth, reincarnation, and more. Some writers equate
the Chironic process with the shamanic experience of being stripped to skeleton and rebuilt, of being eaten whole and vomited up with new awareness.
Others interpret the psychic wound as a "hidden gift" which acts as a drive to self-discovery. Most read Chiron in terms of egoic conflict and the surrender of delusional omnipotence,
leading to transpersonal awareness, transcendence, and psychospiritual growth.
We must bear in mind that the myth itself precedes astrological application modern astrologers have incorporated the
Chiron archetype in their interpretations of the horoscope subsequent to the naming of a recently identified planetoid. This
is also the case with regard to the Asteroid Goddesses and other asteroid
archetypes, which many astrologers now apply in chart analysis. These are new variables in the model of astrology, and their
interpretive application by astrologers is idiosyncratic and sometimes problematic.
...Chiron's ... path is severely eccentric, like that of Pluto, so that he occasionally crosses the orbits of both Saturn and
Uranus. Most astrologers regard him as a sort of "mediator" between these two, and as a link between the "Guardian of the Spheres"
(Saturn) and the outer planets. Accordingly, Chiron is said to have both a Saturnian and a Uranian influence. Before Chiron was
defined as a captured comet, he was regarded as an errant asteroid, far from the "herd", or belt, of the other asteroids between
Mars and Jupiter, a loner and rebel, going his own way. The key-shaped glyph ...
has become widely accepted, and is part of the basis for interpretation - Chiron is regarded as a key to the outer planets, as
well as to those spheres of life shown by his role in classical mythology... Chiron is a creature both animal and human, combining the
dark, natural, instinctive parts with the rational. Astrologically, he represents wisdom, patience and mastery over the inner
darkness. Due to his own incurable wound, he has intimate knowledge of suffering, in all its forms. This enables him to tap a
deep well of wisdom from within, to ease the pain of others....Chiron is not really on the same level as the "classical"
In the following essay, relying chiefly on selected excerpts from the 1996 hardcover edition of Mortally Wounded: Stories of soul-pain, death and healing,
by Michael Kearney M.D., we look at a cognitive application of the Chiron myth that also sheds light on its utility in working with depression and
certain anxiety states. In terms of astrological analysis, particularly in those cases where Chiron figures prominently in the chart dynamics, the
approach developed by Kearney facilitates insights which may prove helpful in horoscopic analysis. Notes and illustrations are presented throughout.
Spring Journal, Inc.
Our Lady's Hospice is located in Dublin, Ireland, and serves as the teaching hospice for all hospice programs in the country. Michael Kearney M.D. is the
medical director of Our Lady's Hospice; he is also a lecturer in palliative medicine at University College, and a well known educator on matters of death and dying.
In Mortally Wounded, he presents the view that soul pain is "the experience of an individual who has become disconnected and alienated from the deepest and most
fundamental aspects of himself", resulting from the ego's identification with the surface as opposed to the deeper mind (see illustration). This surface identification
reflects, among other things, the ego's pride and deluded sense of omnipotence, making the unexplored inner symbolic aspect of consciousness seem
forbidding in the extreme, a literal death. Kearney's experience with the dying has shown that the Chiron myth provides a useful cognitive and
emotional structure for individuals facing the prospect of death, enabling them to embrace the inner symbolic, explore their experience with
less apprehension, and achieve liberating insight. His rendering of the Chiron myth is presented at right. →
Chiron's behavior in this myth is determined by two radically different viewpoints. The first of these,
which I call "the heroic stance", is evident in the successes and struggles of the early part of the story. The
pivotal moment when this viewpoint shifts to the other comes as Chiron chooses to let go of his
immortality as he swaps places with Prometheus. From here, his actions come from a new viewpoint, "the way
of descent". This turnabout marks a transition from one realm to another, from the above to the below, from
the known to the unknown. (47)
... A time comes for all who are dying when they know that they and those around them have done all that is possible
to do, when they realize that the heroic stance has achieved all it can and where a continued struggle against the
inevitable is not only futile but damaging and is adding to their pain and suffering. When, at this moment, such
individuals let go of their struggle and let themselves go with the pull of inner gravity, the new paradigm, the
way of descent, has already begun ... (49-50)
While "the heroic stance" and "the way of descent" describe the two underlying paradigms in the Chiron myth, its
value as a tool for understanding the experience of dying individuals is enhanced when looked at in terms of the
five discrete parts that form the whole ... (50)
Chiron was wounded twice. His first wounding came very early in his life when he was abandoned and rejected by his
parents [Titan Cronus took the form of a horse and raped the mortal sea nymph, Philyra; though Chiron never knew
his father and was rejected by his mother on first sight, he was adopted by Apollo, who reared and tutored him]. His second wounding, his mortal wounding, came with Hercules'
[Gk: Heracles] arrow [dipped in the poison blood of the Hydra
and unintentionally shot by Heracles into Chiron's knee, or accidentally dropped by Heracles against Chiron's flank]. (50)
An illustration similar to the one below was presented by Kearney to a patient who appeared unable to recognize an emotional component in his experience of
overwhelming pain and frightening nightmares. The imagery was intended to facilitate this patient's access to his own unconscious processes (see pp.32-40).
The first wounding represents the hurts and scars we all carry by virtue of being human...(50)
Kearney provides an example of such wounding, but does not elaborate. Though it is the second wounding that concerns
him in his work with the dying, I think it important to note that during the course of egoic development, various defensive
mechanisms may be employed to sustain the integrity of identity by screening from conscious awareness the nature and
significance of the primary wound(s). This dissociated material remains unresolved but nonetheless active and unconsciously mediated;
it may irrupt in unexpected ways, as, for instance, in the case of conversion syndromes or impulsive behaviors. Problematic
relations with objects (persons or things of psychological significance to an individual, or subject) may lie at the heart of
one's "mortal wound", which, occurring later in life, may be triggered by, conflated with, or condensed in an experience or
set of experiences that overburdens the ego's previous defensive strategies and overwhelms the ego's ability to cope.
There are several minor variations of the Chiron myth in the ancient sources; interpretations of significance shift, depending on the
variables in the version of the story we read. Some construe the "psychic wound" as self-inflicted, for example, because Chiron is thought to have dropped
one of Heracles' poisoned arrows on his own foot. That leads to the conclusion that one inflicts the wound on oneself. To be sure,
there are certain instances in which a tenaciously held cognitive structure may result in conflict, or even disaster, for the ego;
however, in terms of the "psychic wound", in consonance with the Chiron myth, we are not dealing with an act of volition: even if
Chiron is believed to have dropped the arrow on his own foot, we don't know why it happened. We are dealing with an inexplicable
event, something that happens or has happened to us, beyond the ego's capacity to control or integrate. In any case, it is not
Chiron but Pholus who pulls a poisoned arrow from a dead centaur and, while examining it, accidentally drops the
arrow on his own foot, soon dying as a result.
There is, at times, a tendency to read too much into an archetype, particularly in astrological analysis. An archetypal story is not
infinitely reducible or expandable in our interpretation and application of it, any more than is the content of a dream. If carried too far
or relied upon too heavily, analysis intereferes with or obscures experience of the numinous.
In her essay entitled Expanding Chiron (1999),
Candy Hillenbrand presents a number of interesting correlations and insights, highlighting Ken Wilbur's concept of "Centauric Consciousness", distinct from the ego level in which,
writes Wilbur, one
...identifies exclusively with his ego, his self-image, his purely mental personality, the abstract
portion of the centaur. And this means he denies the body and rejects it on a fundamental level by
turning it into property. He is the rider, controller, the horseman - and the body is reduced to the
role of stupid beast, the ridden, the controlled, the horse.
Source: No Boundary: Eastern and western approaches to personal growth.
In Hillenbrand's summary of her argument, we see an example of how the Chiron myth may be adapted in thematic terms:
Ken Wilbur, Boston: Shambhala (1985:80)
It is worth drawing some parallels here with the astrological Chiron. Astrologers have tended to focus on the wild and unruly nature
of most of the centaurs, extrapolating Chironic meaning to include a struggle between our instinctual or "lower'" nature and our
spiritual or "higher" nature. And yet Chiron did not share his fellow centaurs' propensity for rape, war, and pillage. He was also,
apparently, not afraid to die. As an immortal, he had no need to be afraid of death. It was life that became unbearable for him. The
astrological Chiron seems to fit well on Wilber's Centaur level, while the Ego level perhaps befits the rest of the centaurs. Could
it be that some of the pathology and issues that we tend to attribute to Chiron may be better described by one of the inner planets?
And this works in the other direction as well, toward the transpersonal. There has been a tendency, on the part of some astrologers,
to credit Chiron with a range of transpersonal, shamanistic, and galactic-awakening qualities that I feel should remain with the
outer planets (Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto). Wilber is equally quite clear that Centaur consciousness is not transpersonal...
The purpose of therapies aimed at this Centauric/Chironic level, therefore, is to restore this union of mind and body by healing or
dissolving the boundary between the two. We do this by expanding our identity from the ego and its world view to the centaur and its
world view "by touching and re-owning our projected bodies." This is the crux of healing on the centaur level.
The "broken centaur" on the Ego level is one who is identified with her/his mind. Similarly, astrology is a very left-brained modality
and one that may even tend to exacerbate the split between mind and body. Through astrology, we are constantly seeking reasons,
wanting to know what may happen in the future, wanting to understand why something happened in the past, endlessly analyzing masses
of data, and engaging in empirical research. I would therefore suggest that this type of astrology may work better on the Egoic or
Mental levels, while a Chironic/Centauric astrology needs to embrace a more Humanistic or holistic approach.
An identification with mind to the exclusion of body may present in situations made sensible relative to the Chiron archetype, and the
concept of centauric consciousness may have application in that case, but so might other cognitive strategies of a much simpler and more direct
variety. In any case, the Chiron myth makes evident that, no, he is not the transpersonal agency; his journey reconnects him with the transpersonal,
without once bringing into question the matter of mind/body split. At issue are his wounding, struggle, choice, and descent to the underworld,
where he recovers fragments of dissociated self, culminating in wholeness and his transcendent return.
The more we deconstruct in an effort to expand the applications of the myth, the less effective it may become as a map. Fundamentally, our
efforts to progress in directions mediated by inner drives and desires in life result in sacrifices, denials and dissociations of self. Nor is it necessarily a matter of forgiveness and
acceptance that will make us whole. We walk paths sensible to a transpersonal awareness of which the ego is a functional part, and while the concept
of enlightenment as a perpetual state may be desired by all, the fact is that most of us do not experience it. We move forward as best we can,
always sustained by our inner daimon, our "genius", the ineffable Self, of whom the ego may not
be aware. An existential crisis may lead to or deepen awareness of that reality.
The second wounding, a mortal wound thematically consistent
with the unresolved primary wounding from childhood or adolescence, presents as an existential crisis that defeats egoic (heroic, deluded
omnipotent, narcissistic) attempts to find solutions and relieve the pain. Such a crisis may involve an intractable condition, as in
Chiron's case or with patients in chronic or hospice care, but it may also present in depression and anxiety states, characterized
by rumination (repetitive, "looping" thought) and a heightened sense of fear for which a root cause is difficult to find.
While to a mortal the poisoned arrow would have been fatal, Chiron was a demigod [offspring of a god and a mortal], therefore
he did not die but was condemned instead to a tortured living death. He withdrew into his cave and into himself, and his
only journeys out into the world were in an increasingly desperate search to find a cure for his suffering. (51)
... This search was to last the rest of his life. While he could not find his own cure, he became wise in the use of
all forms of healing herbs and compassionate to the suffering of others. Those who now visited him were not the rich and
powerful but the blind and the lame and those in pain, and he welcomed them and brought them comfort ... (46)
As struggle was Chiron's dominant behavior, so fear was the dominant emotion of this part of the story. But what did Chiron fear
so much? While he may have entertained the idea of death as a possible "way out", it was also the source of his greatest terror.
He feared the process of dying - that it would lead to even greater torments of pain, to dependency on others, to madness and isolation.
And permeating and underlying all these specific fears was an existential dread of the utter darkness that is death. The fear of death ...
triggers a reaction of pulling in and back, of tightening and closing off to the experience at hand and of withdrawal to a safer place ... (162)
Withdrawal and constriction of psychoemotional responsiveness, in this instance, is predicated upon the ego's
When the crisis comes, the "I" is trapped within a paradigm, an ideo-emotional structure that cannot provide the desired solution
within its limited framework. The threat of annihilation or loss of control ("I'm losing my mind!") serves as metaphor, describing
the destruction of the paradigm with which the ego identifies. As in: "I am that, which is dying!" and "There is no way out!"
The compassion, the desire, capacity and determination to assist others who may be experiencing similar wounds is not a given. "The
Wounded Healer" is in some respects an ideal we may not be able to achieve in practice, nor have the desire to achieve in reality.
On the other hand, it is often the case that focusing on someone else's problem provides insights into one's own. Compassion may
arise from inner experience of the Self or Deep Core, such that one develops faith in that inner reality on the basis of experienced
healing, however temporary, and transcendence. There may be an epiphany, or a series of small but significant experiences which build one's faith
in a psychospiritual reality which surpasses the understanding but not the recognition of the ego. Every path is unique. That is the promise of the "choice" -
namely, that you will find your way.
- apprehension of a powerful and inimical force - the Hydra's poison, in Chiron's situation but, just as easily, in another
circumstance, the persistent memory of repeated failures in relationships, implying that a malevolent agency is at play, quite possibly
internal - which cannot be controlled or assuaged; and
- a simultaneous conviction that it is necessary to achieve or return to a stable, familiar state of affairs utilizing
beliefs and behaviors with which the ego identifies, though they are responses to drives and desires that may not be self-intimating.
Indeed, the beliefs and behaviors in question may be defensive mechanisms which afford the ego a limited sense of mastery that is, in
fact, quite fragile.
One day Hercules returned to Chiron and presented him with a possible way out of his suffering. Zeus had decreed that Prometheus,
whom he had imprisoned [chained to a rock in the Caucasus mountains,
the daily attacks of an eagle who feasted upon his liver, which regenerated every night] for tricking and insulting him
[creating humans in the image of the gods, stealing fire and giving it
to humans, ridiculing Zeus for lack of insight, etc.], could be released only if an immortal
agreed voluntarily to surrender his immortality and offer himself in place of Prometheus. Chiron chose this path. (52)
... For the patient and caregiver "letting go of immortality" and "stepping into the unknown" must be seen metaphorically rather than
literally. "Letting go of immortality" means that both caregiver and patient must let go of the illusion of omnipotence: that
they can "fix" the mortal wound, that death is a problem to be solved if we only keep on struggling against it. "Stepping into the
unknown" means turning to face what we have been struggling against, the suffering that is our experience of mortal woundedness,
and allowing ourselves to descend into the core of such experience ... (52-3)
Examining Chiron in the Natal Chart
The sign, house and aspects to Chiron in the natal and progressed charts indicate the relative significance of the "wound" with respect to psychodynamics.
Sign provides a sense of theme, house provides context, and aspects provide application. Chiron does not figure prominently in every chart. In some cases,
evidence of its influence may not be evident except through transit and progression analysis. Where the Chironic theme does not figure prominently in personality,
it may prove difficult and unnecessary to present for cognitive consideration. In a counseling situation, one uses what works. The Sabian Symbols are sometimes helpful
in revealing the significance of Chiron in a natal chart, but they may equally prove difficult to present and apply. A simple question, based on an inversion of the theme associated with the sign of
tenancy, is sufficient in many cases to elicit material germane to the wound.
Not everyone will be sensitive to the influence of Chiron. As a guide, Melanie Reinhart offers us the following chart precepts
to work with, and should two or more be present in a chart, you can feel relatively safe that Chiron's
influence will be felt, and that the themes of Chiron by sign and house will resonate and be relevant in the life of the person.
- Chiron conjunct any of the angles;
- Chiron conjunct or square the Moon's nodes;
- Chiron aspecting many planets, especially the Sun, Moon or Ascendant ruler.
- Chiron focal according to the "Jones Patterns" of the chart;
- Sagittarius or Virgo on the Midheaven or Ascendant;
- Chiron in either Sagittarius or Virgo;
- A satellitium (stellium) of planets in Sagittarius or Virgo
Chiron in the chart often reveals wounds or hurts to the psyche - collectively - complexes - resulting from
traumas that we have encountered but not assimilated in the very early stages of life. Sometimes, however, the wound is
very ancient, seemingly inexplicable in terms of one's experience, but remains central to psychological themes that
are repetitive and chronic. An event of little outer consequence may take on an exaggerated meaning because it ties into
an old soul issue. The issue relates of course, to what may be considered the person's spiritual quest.
As always with astrological interpretation, no single factor should be considered without taking into account its relation
to the whole chart.
Source: The site from which the above excerpt was drawn is no longer available
online: http://home.iprimus.com.au/gjdemontfort/Chiron.htm, but a similar version can be found at
→ The original list is presented in
Chiron and the Healing Journey: An Astrological and Pychological Perspective, by Melanie Reinhart
(Arkana, Penguin UK: 1989/1999:53 & 96). Currently out of print, this book is available second-hand (see, e.g., www.powells.com). Reinhart participated in a number of discussions with Dr. Kearney regarding Chiron, and shared a lecture platform with him at the Guild of Pastoral Studies annual conference at Oxford
University in 2001 [pers.comm. Reinhart, 16.08.07]. Kearney's presentation of the Chiron myth (1996:155) is adapted, with permission, from Reinhart's text.
Kearney's Surface/Deep Model
, based on Jung's descriptions of the human psyche.
The capacity to relax and dissociate is useful in making this inner journey.
And so Chiron died and descended into the underworld of Tartarus. (54)
The term "surface mind" describes the rational and literal aspects of the mind. This is the dimension of mind from which people
typically operate in the normal waking state, as they go about their daily activities and relate to others and their environment.
Communication from this dimension of mind is through words which express logical concepts. The strengths of the surface mind are in
its ability to analyze and understand.
The "ego" or "I" is the aware and organizing part of our mind. In terms of the Chiron myth, the ego and Chiron may be seen as one
and the same. The ego is at home in the surface mind when it feels safe, as this is familiar territory and things usually work here in
predictable and orderly ways. The ego in the surface mind, like Chiron at the peak of the successful first half of his life, operates
from the heroic paradigm.
From within the surface mind, the ego views the deep mind with dislike, mistrust, and fear, seeing it as a bottomless pit containing
all manner of psychic waste and untamed instincts... In the opinion of the ego, we would be better off without the deep mind, but
seeing as we are saddled with it, so to speak, the best we can do is keep it under lock and key and carry on as if it did not exist.
The ego resists entering this unknown territory as desperately as Chiron struggled against his mortal wound.
The deep mind describes the normally unconscious and intuitive aspects of the mind. It is intimately connected to the emotions
and the physical body. Its vocabulary is image, symbol, and myth. This is the dimension of mind that is operative in our
dreams at night. It may also come to the fore at certain times in the waking state for example while "daydreaming", while involved
in creative activities that engage the imagination, and in certain states of meditation.
The "deep mind" might be seen as a once known but long forgotten ancient place where a different sense of time and causality
applies. When the ego enters the deep mind, it has a sense of remembering and of dreaming, [such that,] to paraphrase James Hilman, it is
unclear ... if it is the "I" who is doing the dreaming or the one who is being dreamed. The ego in the deep mind is like Chiron
While the underworld of consciousness is the "basement" area where old hurts, hates, painful memories, and fears are locked
away, there is more to it than that. The deep mind is also the location of great inner resources and childlike spontaneity.
Like some enormous subterranean cavern, it contains, often in the most unlikely and darkest corners and in the most unexpected of disguises, exactly
what is needed to deal with the particular question, challenge, or life crisis that confronts us. Like an aboriginal dreamland, it is a place of
paradox whose riches are accessible only to those who are prepared to go there.
The "deep center" is how anthropologist Peter Martin describes what at the core of our being is ultimately unnameable, that which is deepest in us,
the essence of who we are. It corresponds to what Jung calls the Self, and is closely linked with what is universally known as spirit. It is the royal ruler in
the depths of the human psyche, the alchemist who, working in the very heart of darkness, can transform the most ordinary and painful
human experiences into gold. This is Zeus' thunderbolt which pierced the darkness of Hades and initiated Chiron's return. (57-9)
... We are still free to choose the attitude we will adopt to the underworld of our experience. Either we can approach it with the now
redundant attitude of the heroic stance, which would plunder, destroy, or simply disregard this deep world of images, or we can
adopt a new attitude for this new situation ... (55)
And as he waited, allowing that he might be in a place of wisdom, something strange began to happen. At first the moving shades barely
caught his attention. They appeared bloodless and uninteresting, and their movement seemed illogical and chaotic. However, with time
he began to find himself attending to their musings more closely. Although he could neither understand their language nor their actions,
he began to feel that they had significance. This sense of significance was a very different thing from that clear analytical insight
for which he had been renowned during his life in the upper world. Here was something emotional and physical rather than intellectual,
something that touched him in the pit of his stomach, filling him with a wordless sense of meaning. Chiron was being initiated into
the mysteries of depth. As with any initiation, it involved listening to stories of the new world he now inhabited, which tasted like
an unfamiliar but delicious food to his starving soul ... What seems important is that Chiron waited in Tartarus until such time as he
had learned what he needed to learn ... (177-8)
This leads to a receptive "trance" state, informed by the desire to to connect, in which you do not
know the answer but believe that something does, deep within you. It is this force with which you want to commune.
- By "relax", I mean to allow yourself to let go of your intellectual and emotional concerns, as well as your musculature.
- By "dissociate", I mean to break your connection with invested thought and emotions. Though "dissociation" may indeed be a defensive process,
the strategy is here applied as an exercise in creative imagination.
A dissociative process of this nature proves easier for some than it does for others, but it's not the only means of descent.
In circumstances where one is too much in the head, strenuous physical exertion can lead to a state of receptivity that will
admit of communion, provided the ego genuinely experiences the desire. It is, after all, a matter of choice and belief, reflected
in your attitude.
After nine days in Tartarus, Zeus [intervened and] set Chiron's image among
the stars as the constellation Centaurus. (55)
The initiate's return depends, in terms of the Chiron myth, on whether, when, and how "Zeus intervenes". In the shamanic process
this intervention is called the moment of "solarization" or "universalization of consciousness". What this describes is the
initiate's arrival at their deep inner center, that essential place which is at once intensely personal and continuous with the
transpersonal... In considering Chiron in Tartarus, it was evident that even though he did not have power to control events around
him, he did have a choice as to what attitude he would adopt toward them. It was Chiron's willingness to surrender to the wisdom of the
depths that enabled his initiation to begin, an initiation which culminated in Zeus' intervention ... (179)
Chiron may or may not figure promininently in your astrological chart. Even if it does, that is no guarantee the archetype will
have resonance at this time in your life. Kearney's work with those in hospice care makes evident that the myth sometimes fosters
understanding of death as a transitional state, enabling the heroic ego to surrender and experience transcendence. At many stages
of life, that is a useful lesson.