On November 3, 2006, Malachi Ritscher set himself on fire in Chicago on the Kennedy Expressway to protest the war in Iraq. The only problem is, no one was paying attention. Only in the past few days has this story hit the mainstream media.

Malachi left a suicide note, which begins:

When I hear about our young men and women who are sent off to war in the name of God and Country, and who give up their lives for no rational cause at all, my heart is crushed. What has happened to my country? we have become worse than the imagined enemy – killing civilians and calling it ‘collateral damage’, torturing and trampling human rights inside and outside our own borders, violating our own Constitution whenever it seems convenient, lying and stealing right and left, more concerned with sports on television and ring-tones on cell-phones than the future of the world…. half the population is taking medication because they cannot face the daily stress of living in the richest nation in the world.

The event was largely ignored by mainstream media. Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, “But with all great respect, if he thought setting himself on fire and ending his life in Chicago would change anyone’s mind about the war in Iraq, his last gesture on this planet was his saddest and his most futile.” This gesture has largely been dismissed as the act of a mentally ill man.

Malachi Ritscher was a fixture in the Chicago jazz scene. He attended concerts five or six nights a week, documenting each concert for posterity and for the musicians. He was well loved by strangers but a stranger to his family; he wrote his own obituary because, as he said, “no one else really knew him.” A statement from his siblings makes it obvious that they didn’t know him either, but suggests that Malachi suffered from depression.

Malachi was born with four planets in Capricorn: the Sun, Mercury, Chiron and Venus. (see chart) Capricorn is the sign of the builder: responsible, disciplined, with a need to create a legacy. In Capricorn the end justifies the means, and there is a strong practical element that is always seeking ways to accomplish their goals. With the Sun conjunct Mercury within one degree, he was exceptionally bright, perhaps brilliant. Chiron sat right on his Mercury and the Sun, showing that he suffered a deep wound (Chiron) in his ability to express himself (Sun) through his intellect (Mercury). The conjunction of Chiron to Venus identifies him as someone who is wounded (Chiron) in his self-esteem and ability to relate to others (Venus).

The Capricorn system in Malachi’s chart is in difficult aspect (square) to Neptune, the planet of idealistic illusion and self-sacrifice. Neptune square to the Sun bestows tremendous creativity but also a tendency towards indulging in fantasy and for self-delusion. Neptune in its highest expression is the planet of universal compassion and spiritual communion, but in a stressful aspect to Sun, Mercury and Venus Neptune can create an environment where the self becomes sacrificed . An individual with a strong Neptune placement such as this is often made the scapegoat in various situations. Neptune clouds his personality (Sun) with its mists and others are unable to see him as he truly is, and he is unable to know himself as well.

The sense of responsibility is so strong in Capricorn that an individual with this kind of solid bank of Capricorn planets can feel that he is responsible for everything that goes on in the world. He appointed himself the documentarian for the Chicago jazz scene, and in the testament he left behind he apologizes to the world for the “mayhem and turmoil” caused by US policy. The Neptune square made it easy for him to literally dissolve (Neptune) himself in fire in a final expression of that responsibility.

Complicating his chart further is the addition of the rebellious quality of Uranus into this system. Uranus is opposite the Capricorn planets and square to Neptune, a configuration called a T-square. Without the explosive addition of Uranus, the planet that is associated with rebellion and radical change, Malachi may have simply dissolved into obscurity, but Uranus is the revolutionary within us. In a difficult aspect like the T-square, Uranus creates a constant and intense need for change and a deep sense of social justice. Uranus makes it difficult to sustain personal relationships, particularly when opposite the Sun and other personal planets such as we find here, because there is a greater concern for the collective – the balance of global power.

Mars in his chart was in Scorpio, an extremely intense placement for the god of war. There is a strong passion here, and a drive (Mars) to achieve some sort of power within (Scorpio). However, Saturn (restriction and limitation) was conjunct his Mars, putting the brakes on his efforts and likely creating a great deal of inner frustration. Earlier this year, transiting Saturn made a square to this inner dynamic which would have brought this frustration into the forefront of his consciousness and perhaps caused him to feel that there was no way out of the box he had created for himself.

The Moon in Malachi’s chart was in Taurus, showing that he craved stability and security in his close relationships and emotional world. However, a square to the Moon from Pluto, god of death and regeneration, would have made it very frightening for him to get close to anyone. There is an intense emotional nature with this configuration that is at odds with the Uranus/Capricorn dynamic we find elsewhere in his chart. I suspect that the depth of his emotional world remained hidden from view and probably from himself as well until Saturn, after putting him in a box when it transited Malachi’s Mars/Saturn complex, then proceeded to square his Moon as well, setting off the Moon/Pluto dynamic of obsession and despair.

We find in his chart a restless quality of rebellion and dissatisfaction, but Malachi lacked the fire element that would give him the drive to take the kind of action that would effect change. Fire in the chart bestows physical energy and a focus on the Self which Malachi, with a preponderance of earth and water, did not possess. Perhaps this is why Malachi chose to end his life by immersing his body in flames rather than walk through the fire of his own emotional makeup and challenges.

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