The Myth of Chiron in Moonlight
Or, Chiron: Chopped & Screwed
*SPOILERS – SPOILERS – SPOILERS*
Much has been written about the movie Moonlight: does it deserve to win the Oscar for Best Picture? (Yes!) Is it receiving undue attention because of it’s ‘trendy’ and ‘timely’ identity politics? (No – go home, troll)
While a few other writers have touched on the connection between the main character of the film, Chiron, and the mythology of the ‘wounded healer’ centaur of Ancient Greece, I found that a few of those folks either glossed over or missed some of the most touching parts of how this plays out on the screen.
An astrologer and mythology lover, I couldn’t watch this film without a sense of quiet awe. As I hope to illustrate here, this film is really fucking clever, so much so, that I think a thorough consideration of its connection to myths of various forms may convince those of you on the fence to back Moonlight for Best Picture, and write-in Barry Jenkins/Tarrell Alvin McCraney in 2020.
To wrap up, I’ll show how asteroid Chiron shows up in the charts of Tarrell Alvin McCraney, Barry Jenkins, two of the actors who played Chiron (Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes) as well as in its premiere at the Telluride Film Festival.
BIG-ASS SPOILERS throughout, please do not continue reading if this matters to you!
Chiron: Chopped & Screwed
‘Chopped and screwed’ is a means of taking a song and slowing it down nearly past the point of recognition, whereby an upbeat R&B song might be reborn as a syrupy, slow-disco stunner (my favorite example of is here).
Much of Moonlight’s classical soundtrack was created using this method, and incidentally, I think a similar way of thinking may have influenced how the screenplay writer, Tarrell Alvin McCraney, approached his use of Greek myth. The obvious shorthand analysis of Moonlight is that the myth of Chiron influenced the screenplay.
A more in-depth analysis reveals that McCraney, and Barry Jenkins by extension, played with various motifs related to ancient Greek mythology. This is myth repurposed for modern purposes, on plug and play, and the film is all the better, and in my opinion, profound, for it.
THE MANY MOONS OF MOONLIGHT
The fact that most writers didn’t seem to notice this baffles me: the movie is named Moonlight, after all. How can we possibly discount the importance that the Moon plays throughout this film?
I will be brief here so, a) not to blow your brain out with information, and b) to keep this information as tightly married to Moonlight as possible – just know that what I write is but a mere snippet of what’s out there.
In Ancient Greece, the moon was embodied by three lunar goddesses: Artemis was the keeper of the New and Crescent Moons, Selene represented the Full Moon, and Hekate was the wise elder who watched over the waning Balsamic Moon as it approached complete darkness.*
Each woman, and phase of the Moon, intended to describe a part or passage of life, carrying us from maiden (Artemis) to mother (Selene) and crone (Hekate).
- With Artemis, we are young, free, and virginal. We radiate potential and are one with nature. Artemis’ period of influence as it relates to our life starts from childhood and ends with menarche (the first menstruation).
- With Selene, we have reached maturity and our full expression. We are pregnant with purpose, if not with child. Selene’s period of influence as it relates to our life ends at the onset of menopause.
- Finally, with Hekate, we are the wise-woman that retains all of our creative, sexual energy for our eventual rebirth. Hekate rules, in theory, the time between menopause, death, and rebirth as a new soul.
In Moonlight, we are similarly shown a triptych of characters, Little, Chiron, and Black, who represent different stages of this young man’s development.
Chiron’s character as seen in the first act, ‘Little’, is just that – little. Slight of build and shy of temperament, we learn more about Chiron by what he won’t say than what he will. We begin to see some of his essential wounding (a drug-addled mother played by Noemie Harris), but his potential, too: he is gentle, kind, and patient. He exhibits visibly different socialization to his peers and a tenderness that is hard to miss. There is a hint of a loss of innocence, a mini-menarche, when Little reaches out to touch the blood on Kevin’s cheek (I will touch more on that later, and how it relates to both the myths of Chiron & Hercules).
In the second act, we meet Chiron as a teenager and begin to move deeper into his wound as we accompany him on a journey towards exploring his sexuality. Here, I would argue we that we are still in the land of youthful Artemis; whereas the time of Artemis would normally end with the first menses (menstruation), I think we can consider Chiron’s first sexual experience with Kevin a vivid metaphor for the end of his ‘innocence.’ The actual blood arrives one day later when Chiron is attacked by a group of bullies.
In the third act, we meet Chiron as a young man, now called by his nickname ‘Black.’ Chiron has now grown into both his body and his tough alter-ego. As we watch Black move through the world, he now has a different sense of self-assuredness, although pain looms just below the surface of his well-trained expressions. It is no surprise that the movie climaxes with a meeting between Kevin and Black underneath the rays of a Full Moon – Selene’s domain – which the director takes care to point out. Illumination, both painful and poetic, is upon us.
In so much as the dark phase of the Moon was considered deeply regenerative and rich for rebirth to the Ancients, there is additional meaning in Chiron’s third character iteration as ‘Black.’ In particular, here I think of the primordial Goddess Nyx, the ‘Black Mother of Night’, the fertile, clean slate from which all of creation sprang forth.
Unpacking the Myth of Chiron in Moonlight
Moonlight seems to ask: can we move past our deepest wounds? What does it mean when we want to be healed by the exact same people who have wounded us?
Astrologers are very familiar with this line of thought, being that this is the quintessential question posed by asteroid Chiron.
Astrologically, Chiron is a wound. His placement in our charts describes a way in which we have been hurt or profoundly wounded, in a way that may haunt us until we figure out how to turn that pain into purpose. For some, the wounds of Chiron spell out terrible experiences of abuse, abandonment, or ridicule. Chiron’s wound can be external or internal, physical, mental, or emotional.
Mythologically, centaur Chiron’s pain started at birth. Conceived as part of a private liaison between his mother Philyra and Zeus, Chiron was abandoned at birth by his mother, who upon seeing his half-human, half-horse form begged the Gods to let her be anything but his mother. Poetically, they transformed her into a tree, suggesting a cold, ‘wooden’ emotional state.
Already, we have the seeds of serious pain: maternal abandonment and maternal detachment, both of which the Moonlight character Chiron experiences via his drug-addicted mother, who is disgusted by his potential homosexuality and ever more absent as time goes on.
When centaur Chiron is abandoned, he is adopted by Apollo, the solar God of healing, music, and medicine. Apollo tutors Chiron in the ways of healing and medicine, just as Moonlight’s Blue unofficially adopts Little and teaches him how to swim – perhaps starting him on a personal journey of healing by effectively baptizing him in the Florida waters.
When Little and Blue first meet, I sensed an allegorical connection to another part of Apollo’s myth. In this scene, Little is hiding in an abandoned crack den from a group of bullies, and Blue rips the plywood off of the windows to rescue him. One of Apollo’s most important myths involves cutting Asclepius out of the belly of his mother Coronis to save him from death; in a way, Blue also rips Little from the belly of his mother – here represented by the crack den – to rescue him from not only the bullies, but his mother’s eventual descent into addiction.
Like Moonlight’s Chiron, mythological Chiron is an outsider in his peer group: although he is a centaur, he is kindly and gentle, a trait not shared among the other centaurs, who were given to wild, lewd behavior. In the scene where the rest of his peers play sport, Little edges away from the ball, and stays just outside the fray; when he sees his friend Kevin hurt, he is heartfeltly concerned; when his mother calls him a faggot, he instinctually knows without fully comprehending – all is not well.
The Goddess Artemis was also involved in Chiron’s upbringing, and I think this is represented by Blue’s girlfriend Teresa (note that both Juan and Teresa are the names of saints). Artemis is known for being childless, although she lords over childbirth, and full of the type of youthful spirit we see so beautifully expressed in Teresa, as played by Jonelle Monae.
Later, we see just how fully the story arc of Blue/Juan as Apollo develops when Little grows up to sell drugs just as Juan did. Chiron eventually becomes responsible for teaching other kids the ways of the drug trade, just as centaur Chiron grew up to mentor Asclepius, Achilles, Hercules, and others in the ways of healing.
Centaur Chiron’s relationship with Hercules wounded him – quite literally. When Hercules visited the centaurs, he requested to drink some of their sacred wine and when Pholus opened the cask, it drove the centaurs into hysterical madness. Amidst the fray, one of Hercules’ blood-tainted arrows hits Chiron in the thigh, a wound that never healed in spite of his healing expertise.
In alternative versions of Chiron & Hercules’ story, Chiron is wounded when he and Hercules wrestle, which Little and Kevin do early on in the film. When Little reaches up to touch the blood on Kevin’s cheek, I think we are shown a symbolic preview of the wounds which will eventually arise via Kevin and Chiron’s connection to one another.
In my opinion, Kevin represents Hercules in more ways than one. Notably, Hercules was uber-masculine and hyper-sexual, both of which Kevin exhibits in full with his macho act and the generous recounting of his sexual conquests.
Release comes to Chiron in the form of his first tender sexual exchange with Kevin. The next day at school there is a softening in his demeanor and a small Cheshire cat smile creeps into the furthest corners of his mouth.
But the harder they come, the harder they fall.
Kevin’s betrayal comes swift as he is peer pressured into brutally beating up Chiron only the day after their tryst. Chiron’s pain has ripened past the point of containment and this part of the film ends with Chiron taking revenge on one of the bullies.
It is important to note that the last third of the film was written in by the director, Barry Jenkins; there is a departure from Chiron’s myth but not total abandonment.
As the film skips forward 10 years in time, we infer that Chiron was sent to juvenile hall or prison and that he has relocated to Atlanta. Chiron has now re-envisioned himself as the musclebound ‘Black’, the nickname given to him by Kevin (interesting, the names ‘Black’ and ‘Blue’ are the colors of a bruise).
Between Black’s gold fronts and sleepless nights, we understand that time doesn’t necessarily heal all wounds, and that tough exteriors betray inner frailty. Like many of us, Black’s past hangs heavy on him, and like the centaur Chiron, Black has receded into isolation in order to survive the pain of his wounds.
Black is awakened from this slumber via an unexpected phone call from Kevin, our Hercules, who for unknown reasons – love? to repent? – tracks down Black to apologize for the past, telling him about his new job as a cook, and inviting him to come and see him sometime. On the same night, Black’s mother calls, hastening him to come and visit her.
A visit to his mother flushes out old hurts and healing, too, with his mother stating her love for him for perhaps the very first time. In an emotional scene, Black and his mother embrace and cry. The healing has begun, the tree has been transformed back into a mother and Black is beginning to release himself from the very tight noose of his strained existence.
On a whim, it seems, we find Black on the highway to Florida, with his sights set on a reunion with Kevin. Kevin is at turns charming and in disbelief upon Black’s arrival, but it is apparent a connection still lingers between them. After a few drinks, a chef’s special, and a spin of Barbara Lewis’ “Hello Stranger” on the jukebox, they make their way to Kevin’s house, underneath the silvery auspices of the Full Moon.
Kevin questions Chiron’s transformation into his Black persona, and Black admits that he has neither touched or been touched by another person since his experience with Kevin.
In the final scene, Kevin and Black have affectionately reconnected as we shift to a view of Little on a moonlit beach, looking out to the sea. The moon and the ocean, of course, are intricately linked; one moves the other. The sea, amongst other things, can represent our subconscious as well as the cleansing waters of redemption and healing.
Both Black and Little, are being held in Kevin’s arms; healing is on the horizon.**
Kevin, like Hercules, both wounds Chiron and sets him free.
In the original myth, Hercules entreats upon the Gods to release Chiron from his pain; as a demi-God, Chiron was immortal and would live in pain for eternity. Hercules proposed that Chiron trade places with Prometheus, the fire-stealing mortal who was doomed to the grizzly fate of having his liver pecked out every day by a griffon.
Eventually, Zeus agreed to this quid pro quo, and both Chiron and Prometheus were released from their pain; Chiron passes away in peace and is immortalized as the constellation Centaurus, Prometheus resumes life vowing to wear a crown of willow leaves as a reminder of his pain.
So, who represents Prometheus in Moonlight?
Personally, my money is on both Tarrell Alvin McCraney, the writer of the screenplay, and Barry Jenkins, the director adapted the original piece into the screenplay. This movie was an incredibly personal tale for them both, particularly McCraney, who wrote the semi-autobiographical screenplay In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue which eventually became Moonlight and has admitted that there is a real-world Kevin out there with whom he had similar experiences.
In this case, the on-screen Chiron has traded his pain for the release of Jenkins and McCraney.
v. Asteroid Chiron in the charts
Unsurprisingly, the asteroid Chiron features heavily in the charts of almost everyone involved in the production of Moonlight. For most of these charts, I couldn’t access full birth data (i.e., time of birth), so I’ve relied on simply the position of Chiron to guide me.
First up is the birth chart of Tarrell Alvin McCraney (birthdate: October 17, 1980, Miami, Florida). Pluto conjunct the Sun would be more than enough to denote deep, intense, personal transformation. Not surprisingly, McCraney has asteroid Chiron directly across from Mercury, the planet of communication and writing. Chiron is perfectly square his Nodes (where we’ve been, where we’re going); it’s literally the ‘tipping point’ planet in his chart, a configuration I’ve often noted with planets and asteroids square to the Nodes. Once we work with that planet, it seems we can get out of the South Node (karma, the past), and head towards the North Node (our calling); maybe long ago, Mr. McCraney couldn’t envision just how powerful a drama school project could be, but here we are.
Next, we have the director, Barry Jenkins (birthdate: November 19th, 1979, Miami, FL). For a guy that seemingly likes moonlight, Barry was born under none: although I don’t have an exact birth time, Barry was definitely born either side of the dark moon. Barry’s Mercury (writing, communication) is also right next to his Sun in retrograde, which is the situation of Hermes as the psychopomp, moving into the Underworld. Interestingly, Barry’s Chiron is conjunct Vesta, the asteroid principle of focus, dedication, and high-minded spiritual work. Both Chiron and Vesta trine his Jupiter (wisdom, luck) and North Node (our calling).
Ashton Sanders plays the character Chiron in his teenage years (birthdate: October 4th, 1995, Inglewood, California). We shouldn’t be surprised, but of course, Chiron factors heavily in this chart. This placement is even more potent than Barry and Tarrell: Ashton’s Chiron is conjunct his Sun and Mercury. Loosely, mind you, but still there. Sometimes Chiron next to the Sun can make us a great healer, but it can also rinse us of our ego, which although it seems good in theory, can be detrimental in the short-term. In Libra, which usually creates social ease, the wound *could be* a sense of social awkwardness or a lack of confidence/independence.
Trevante Rhodes plays Chiron as he matures into ‘Black’ (birthdate: February 10th, 1990, Ponchatoula, LA). Trevante’s Chiron placement is perhaps not as prominent as the others, but it’s interesting. Firstly, he has Mars (desire, aggression), Uranus (rebelliousness, change) and Neptune (glamor, healing) opposing his Chiron. In some ways, these points can be a strong indicator of healing capability, with Uranus covering the intuitive flash and Neptune the mystical impulse. There could also be a need to heal one’s anger, with Mars opposing Chiron.
Last, but not least, we have the chart of Moonlight’s premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on September 2nd, 2016 at 8:00 pm. Since I was able to track down last year’s schedule, this chart can be considered accurate.
Chiron, the gentle centaur and young protagonist of Moonlight, is in a conjunction to the Ascendant, which would have become exact in the course of the screening. Mercury (writing, storytelling) and Jupiter (luck, wisdom) were in a perfect conjunction directly opposite from Chiron.