Capricorn New Moons, Eclipses and the power of collective memory…the Iolaire Disaster

It was Moondark, just before a Capricorn New Moon on New Year’s morning 1919. HMY Iolaire, an overcrowded naval yacht, under-equipped with lifesaving equipment, had set sail from the Scottish West Highland seaport of Kyle of Lochalsh on the 31st December 1918, carrying 283 war-weary sailors.

Iolaire Commemoration 2019: Poppy Pin

Iolaire Commemoration 2019: Poppy Pin

“…The Isle of Lewis had a hard war. Some 6,200 men joined up and nearly 1,000 had died. Every family on the island had lost fathers, sons, brothers or uncles. So, the night of 31 December 1918 was tense with expectation. The war was finally over, the world was at peace and after four long years the men who had served king and country were on their way home…’ (i)

1.55am, 1st January 1919:

As they approached the town of Stornoway on Lewis – where their families were waiting on the pier –the Iolaire struck the rocks known as the Beasts of Holm. Stormy weather made it almost impossible to reach the shore only 50 yards away. 201 of those on board died: literally within sight of home. There were 82 survivors. Around one third of the bodies of those who perished were never recovered.

‘…As New Year’s Day broke across the islands, families waiting for the arrival of their loved ones heard rumours of a terrible disaster. Men walked miles from villages to Stornoway searching for news. What they found was devastating. The Scotsman of 6 January (1919) reported the tragedy, soberly noting: “The villages of Lewis are like places of the dead. The homes of the island are full of lamentation – grief that cannot be comforted. Scarcely a family has escaped the loss of a near blood relative. Many have had sorrow heaped upon sorrow…’ (i)

Apart from the loss of the Titanic in 2012, this disaster represents the second greatest loss of life at sea in the UK during peacetime.

So devastating was the impact of this tragedy that once the dead had been buried, a great silence of profound grief descended on Lewis. It was too hard to talk about. It took forty years for the public silence to be broken:

‘…In 1959 Donald Macphail, speaking on Gaelic radio, recalled the moment his friend found the body of his son. ‘The man’s son was there, and I remember he was so handsome that I could have said he was not dead at all. His father went on his knees beside him and began to take letters from his son’s pockets. And the tears were splashing on the body of his son. And I think it is the most heart-rending sight I have ever seen.’…’ (i)

Having grown up on the island of Lewis, I was aware of this terrible tragedy from a very young age. The most telling detail I can recall, from my mother’s accounts of what she had heard from her parents’ generation, was this: the local undertaker at the time was my late grandfather’s best friend. Following the harrowing circumstances with which he had to deal in January 1919, he had a nervous breakdown…

Commemorations 2019

I had known for some time that there would be many moving ways in which those terrible events of  New Year’s Day 1919 would be commemorated at the centenary. If any form of redemption was possible, then the generations arising – and especially those relatives whose lives had been marked directly or indirectly down the subsequent years – would enable it through their public events, their poetry, their music, their art.

I became very conscious of the momentum towards commemoration building during a recent visit to Lewis in September 2018, and was moved by what I saw.

The Iolaire Disaster’s Horoscope

However, I was unprepared by how deeply folk memory would affect me personally as 2018 drew to a close. By New Year’s Eve, I was feeling very emotional, almost tearful, despite our family’s Festive Season having been relaxing and peaceful. My spirits were invaded by a darkness and melancholy that I simply could not shake off.

With five Twelfth House planets, I have always been mediumistic, although it has taken me a very long time to face and make peace with this facet of my makeup. I recognised that what I was feeling was only partly personal…

Then, on reading through some material on the Iolaire Disaster on the Web on New Year’s Day, I came across the precise time at which the Iolaire had struck the rocks. 1.55am. I put up the chart: stunning details struck me immediately.

Iolaire disaster 1.1.1919

Iolaire disaster 1.1.1919 (click on image to enlarge)

The Midheaven ( MC) of this event  – its direction – is in the sign of Cancer, described in my previous post as ‘…centring on the relationship with home and family, the pursuit of emotional security and a sense of belonging…’ With poignant aptness, Vesta, the asteroid of home and hearth, is exactly conjunct the Cancer MC. However, both MC and Vesta are in the very last minutes of Cancer. It is nearly the end of the matter. The IC ( point of home, roots, origins) is in the opposite sign of Capricorn, a facet of which is.‘..facing the pain of inevitable times of separation and loss…’ 

These men perished within sight of home. As the chart so tellingly points out, they never quite got there. As the minutes ticked by on that devastating night,  Neptune, god of the sea, reached the MC of this horoscope, gradually claiming most of the lives of those on board by drowning. The next planet to come to the MC was Saturn, ruler of the IC.  Grim Reaper Saturn’s message at its bleakest.

(There are other significant pointers to what happened appearing in this horoscope’s symbolism. I have presented only those which struck me most forcefully.)

Links with the 2019 commemorations

In view of the Nodal axis’ having shifted into Cancer/Capricorn in November 2018, it’s most apt that the commemorations have been taking place with the transiting Nodes crossing the MC/IC axis of the Iolaire Disaster’s horoscope.

Two weeks before the tragedy occurred on 1st January 1919, there was a 9th house lunar eclipse at 25 Gemini, opposite the horoscope’s 3rd house Moon at 25 Sagittarius, emphasising the theme of travelling both far and near, . The Ascendant of the Iolaire Disaster’s horoscope, progressed to New Year’s Day 2019, is exactly conjunct the Disaster chart’s natal Moon ( MC ruler) and opposite that fateful eclipse degree.

The 2019 commemorations took place just before the eclipsed New Moon in Capricorn, approaching Moondark, with transiting Saturn conjunct the Sun of the Disaster’s horoscope, emphasising the solemnity and also the respectful nature of those events.

Chiron in the Iolaire Disaster’s chart is at 29 Pisces, closely conjunct Eris, Goddess of Strife at 27 Pisces. The commemorations are occuring exactly two 50-year Chiron Returns from the tragedy, Chiron currently being at 28 Pisces. Perhaps that indicates the healing which will hopefully arise in time from the creativity, dignity and eloquence with which the people of the Western Isles, and Lewis especially, have marked the most devastating tragedy ever to strike their shores. One can but hope so….


i) Read more at:

1200 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2019

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page of Writing from the Twelfth House

18 responses to “Capricorn New Moons, Eclipses and the power of collective memory…the Iolaire Disaster

  1. Astrology at its most poignant, it’s no wonder such loss and sadness is still etched in the memory of the people and their families 🙏🏻

    Liked by 1 person

    • Indeed, Carole. None of us from subsequent generations, whether relatives or not, can ever quantify the impact on each of us born in
      Lewis of this devastating event rippling out over the years following…


  2. Wow, Anne. This is so rich and textured with facts, emotion, deep sadness and the perspective offered as appears in the chart. Thank you for offering this very interesting piece. It shows the power of our reflections (and feelings) to connect to others in the grand universe. I have had similar feelings when visiting the sacred ground of The Alamo here in the US (San Antonio, TX). These feelings are deeply resonant and indeed challenging to “shake”.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks, Carrie, for this empathic feedback. As a Twelfth House person yourself, you’ll also be able to pick up on the effect on collectives of those powerfully resonant tragedies…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Via Facebook:
    Elaine Kolp:
    I have heard 29 referred to as the weeping degree, that is certainly true here.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks, Elaine, there’s a lot more to be said about the 29th° – ‘weeping degree’ certainly fits here, as you say…


  6. Via Facebook:
    Patricia McCann:
    And after dealing with what the tide brought in the people still found the strength to erect and maintain the memorial atop the cliffs. Respect.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Via Facebook:
    Mari Kosik Aubuchon Thank you for sharing this tribute with us all.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You are welcome, Mari.


  9. Via Facebook:
    Jeanette Henderson Han:
    Deeply moving…. Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great piece Anne, lump in throat several times. x

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Almost three years after the earthquake in Ecuador, I sense its imprint still lingering when I return to the area. Perhaps that experience is anchored deeply in many who suffered trauma, grief, pain, fear… when I return there is a strong deep undercurrent pulling on my soul; I am easily exhausted… I suspect that sensitive people will feel this coming from the earth (lingering?) for a long time… and I suspect that a similar imprint is there in your beloved homeland. To think that those dear people had survived a war and were almost home again – my entire soul did/does a flip inside my torso! The story deeply touches me – even this far away…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for this sensitive and heartfelt comment, Lisa. I did in fact write a reply – but it seems to have vanished! Yes, I think you are right about how devastating experience leaves an indelible imprint upon both landscape and people … and that those of us who are sensitive are prone to picking up those energies. I’ll never forget the experience of that nature which I had when my husband and I visited the infamous Battle of Culloden site, one of Scotland’s main tourist attractions. We both picked up on the pain and grief embedded in that site – an experience totally unexpected and very disturbing for us …


  12. Oh Anne, I have only just read your new year blog. What somber reading it makes! I knew nothing of the 1919 Lewis disaster, but we all need to respect the tragic and the sorrowful in the lives of others – even long gone – and in our own lives too. Thank you for reminding me to remember and to commemorate, as we start on what look to be chaotic times ahead in this coming year. Lots of love Jane

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thanks, Jane, for dropping by and empathising with this awful tragedy and its pervasive impact. I’m surprised I never mentioned it to you…

    And yes, I think we need to gear ourselves up for what looks to be a challenging year for most of us…X


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