"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

This is one of the most famous opening lines ever written. The author is a man consumed by horror and fascination with families and family life, a man who had 12 children and an intense relationship with his much younger wife, and whose own parents and older brother died when he was quite young.

The book is "Anna Karenina". The author is Leo Tolstoy.

Many of Tolstoy's novels concern families and family life issues. In "The Kreutzer Sonata", a husband murders his wife in a fit of jealous passion.

Tolstoy's family life was far from perfect and yet the profundity of family life consumed him for a lifetime. He asked to be buried near "the green stick", a legendary place his older brother told him about when they were kids.

What about you? Does your Family Tree bear the fruits of pain or perfection? What about the family you’re creating or plan to create? And your spouse’s family?

Do your people fit the Normal Rockwell stereotype? The Partridge Family? How about the Royal Tannenbaums? Were you raised by a single parent? Relatives? Foster homes? "Where do I come from?" is an important question at some time in our lives and especially when we have Saturn in the 4th, 8th and 12th houses of the chart.

For all of us, really knowing ourselves means knowing about the families we come from. This is the great mystery of the bottom of the chart, the IC, the Imum Coeli. Translated literally this means the deepest most part of the Heavens. This is the 4th house.

Erin Sullivan has written a very interesting seminal work on family chart interpretation in her latest book, "The Astrology of Family Dynamics." She thinks families come in two different types: Uranian and Neptunian. Let's take a closer look at this.

So, what's it like to come from Uranus? Uranus is the planet that rules individuality, freedom and the ability to stand alone against insurmountable obstacles. There is a Promethean heroism in the basic Uranian character. As you recall, Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans. For this willful act of transgression, he was chained to a rock for all eternity. Every day an eagle (the bird of Zeus, his tormenter) eats out his liver. And every night it grows back. Many an Aquarian soul will identify with the agony and the ecstasy of this myth. Uranus is the ruler of Aquarians and astrologers. Sometimes the truths we bring are not welcome though they are spectacularly life sustaining.

Uranus is the planet that gives us the will to stand up and break the chains that bind us. Uranus rules revolutions such as the French Revolution and the American Revolution. When it's time for a revolutionary change in the status quo, in rides Aquarius on the hurricane winds of change. (Aquarius is an air sign.)

The mythological Uranus, some might remember, ate his own children because he thought they were ugly. Still he and Gaea created the protogods of the Greek pantheon.

What on earth does this tell us about family dynamics? Well, the reason Uranus thought his children were ugly is an important consideration. It was because they didn't fit his ideal. The Uranian personality can be consumed with a vision so pure that it dreadfully devalues any tangible reality.

Families adopting the Uranian model will be comprised of strong individuals who are encouraged to think for themselves and have opinions of their own as soon as they can talk. The family is seldom at home because their family ideal is to contribute to society. The members of these families are serving on committees to preserve ethnic folk dances, getting elected to school boards, organizing fund raisers to pay for a neighborhood child's prosthesis or starting a group like MADD.

The children in Uranian homes are escorted to the door at 18 or 21 and out in to the world they go, never looking back. These are not the kids who are expected to call home every Sunday afternoon at 6 pm. For some readers this is sounding like a horror story but for some, it should be oddly consoling and even quite highly amusing. You are thinking, "At last, someone is describing a family like mine."

The siblings in Uranian families, not to mention the parents, often go for years without talking to one another. It is always interesting to discover what brings them back into contact. (If you know a family like this, be sure and ask.) Needless to say, in these families, everyone is the black sheep!

The Uranian family has few traditions since they don't value tradition. Family reunions are rare. Maybe they read about each other in the newspaper!

Because every Uranian is at heart living in a future which doesn't exist yet, images from science fictions books and films come to mind. Stanley Kubrick is a quintessential Uranian type. Here's a world view quote:

"The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent, but if we can come to terms with the indifference, then our existence as a species can have genuine meaning. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light."

- Stanley Kubrick

Many astrologers and metaphysicians, myself included, would agree with Kubrick; however this description is sure to strike terror in the hearts of Neptunians everywhere. Indifference? Yikes!

Uranians meditate on pure energy and rarely see images but if they do, it is likely to be very abstract (and “indifferent”) such as light spirals, galactic cosmos starry nights or extra terrestrials. Neptunians on the other hand can conjure angels, fairies, auras, the Divine Mother and her Suffering Son. Medicine Men, Shamans, Isis … beings with faces and eyes that connect and beckon kindly.

Which one is better? That’s not a question to ask in a paradigm like astrology that presents the world fundamentally in polarities as do many of the world’s great religions. Uranians:Neptunians as yang:yin as air/fire:water/earth.

The Neptunian ideal is for perfect union, communion, the ecstasy of never having to leave the mother's care or the father's protection. The family ideal is for a seamless blending of personalities into an organic whole which breaths and sighs as one. (The Uranians are now horrified, thinking, "I can't breath!")

The god Neptune ruled the ocean and it is an oceanic oneness that Neptunians crave. They secretly desire an umbilical attachment that transcends all rituals of coming of age. No matter how old the children get in a Neptunian family, they are expected to return home for holidays, take close care of aging parents, observe all hallowed family traditions, raise their children in time honored sacred ways and marry someone who is willing to morph into and be absorbed by this entropic amorphous constellation of pulsating sensors and feelers.

The rooms and hallways of the Neptunian family home ring with the angel chorus, “We’re so close.” “We do everything together.” “I married my brother’s best friend.” “My mother and I write to each other every day but we don’t open them. That way when one of us dies, we can always be in touch.” Family members in Neptunian homes make sacrifices for each other that could make a saint blush. After all, to live your own life would be selfish.

Every once in awhile a Neptunian child gets into a Uranian family in order to elevate their sense of feeling connection, or a Uranian child gets into a Neptunian one to introduce fresh new ingredients into the “soup” so to speak. These children arrive when families have reached critical mass and help them make leaps in evolution. Families evolve just like people do.

Neptunian family members touch, cuddle and snuggle all their lives. Perhaps you have seen them, like the family that sat in front of me at the Pavarotti concert who got up at the break and went to the bathroom together like those crack-the-whip lines we used to form on the ice skating rink. Some cultures are prone to Neptunian dynamics. I suspect that Third World countries incline that way because of interdependency needs that are accentuated in conditions of limited resources. Hardly anyone can stand alone in poverty. There are many coming of age movies today where a second generation, being raised in the United States or England, tries to come to terms with marrying outside the Neptunian family’s expectations and moving brazenly outside the family circle. “Bend it Like Beckham” is an example of a film with this theme.

Are you beginning to form an idea of which planet your family comes from? Here are checklists to assist you.


Checklist for Uranian families:


• independence is valued

• ability to think for yourself

• contribute to the community

• stay busy outside the home

• egalitarian family structure (everyone is their own authority)

• high energy creative self expression

• much enjoyment talking about things


• every man/woman for herself

• frequent rifts and separations

• lacking emotional connections

• few family traditions

• contests of will

• conflict over pecking order

• eccentric

• someone in the family is forced to be dramatically and passionately at odds with the rest, who are cool-headed

• if there are any skeletons in the closet they are probably “outed” and involve someone who went against the law

Checklist for Neptunian families.


• close knit

• communicate without talking

• physical closeness and depth of feelings

• protective; no one has to leave the nest

• strong work ethic; take care of your own

• us against the world



• no one has any privacy

• emotionality runs rampant over logic and practicality

• individual members are never encouraged to "make it on their own"

• difficulty rising "above your station" in life

• emotional manipulation and control

• dark undertones

• being independent is considered being selfish

• family "secrets" such as abortions, illegitimate children (more important in former generations), mysterious or early deaths, fanatical religious beliefs, financial failures or ill-gotten gain

Did you find out which planet your family comes from?

The important thing to remember is that no matter what your family is like, it's family! More and more adopted people today are looking up their birth parents. If this proves impossible, did you know you can still do it through your astrology chart? An astrologer can give you a good description of your earliest days here on the planet. We can even tell you about your prenatal experience of the womb.

Many astrologers today are specializing in family dynamic readings. For your reading, you will be asked to provide the birth dates, places and times, if available, of all members of your immediate family. This includes, parents and grandparents on both sides, important aunts and uncles, also children, grandchildren and important steps.

A family dynamics reading is a fascinating and healing experience. Today’s astrologer is a positive professional, reading for personal growth and empowerment. Issues are presented in terms of choice and evolutionary intention. You'll learn the reasons you incarnated with the people in your family karmically; whether you have been with them in other lifetimes and in what relationship, constellated issues and challenges and areas of potential growth and healing.

Know yourself as never before. Know yourself in the context of your family. If you would like to learn more, read Erin Sullivan’s book, "The Astrology of Family Dynamics” or schedule an appointment with a professional astrologer who does family dynamic readings.

Author's Bio: 

Nancy R. Fenn is a professional astrologer in the San Diego area specializing in family dynamics readings.