Mermaid at Midnight: Melissa Mankins

So how is the effect of five planets in Pisces right now grabbing you?

I’ve been surprised at how powerful those metaphorical ocean waves have been, as Mercury retrogrades in Pisces.  But you may also be experiencing the rigors of Saturn's retrograde in Scorpio, which Portland astrologer Tony Howard has a great piece on.

In honor of all the misty, murky, and haunting Pisces energy floating around, this week I’d like to highlight the photography of one of my oldest and dearest friends, Melissa Mankins.  She and photographer Claire Flint Last recently opened the Paper Moon photo studio in the colorful Whiteaker neighborhood in Eugene, Oregon.


Melissa’s photography has a particularly poignant, subtle quality, a way of capturing the emotion of longing and the fantasies of childhood.  I selected her beautiful image of a dancer’s reflection to represent the element of WATER in the gallery display on my website.  Zeroing in on Melissa’s strongly-placed Venus in Pisces, conjunct the past-life point or South node, can tell us a lot about the source of her artistic vision.

With any artist or any client who aspires to be an artist, I tend to look at Venus first.  Venus shows personal taste, and can reveal a fund of knowledge about the native’s artistic potential.  Melissa has Venus in hazy, sentimental Pisces.  This tells me a number of things.  First, Pisces is particularly susceptible to art – or TV and movies, any medium which takes the hard edge off reality.  Pisces can get lost in a world made of dreams, and so Melissa’s taste might tend toward the highly romantic and grandiose, or art that partakes of fantasy and exalted feeling states. 

Watery Venus in Pisces is also in the watery fourth house.  In astrology, the element water signifies the realm of mysticism and the emotions.  Earthy art might make pronounced use of materials (think ceramics), while airy art appeals to the intellect or one’s social conscience (art with a message).  Fiery art forms are bright and broad and awaken the passions (a sexy fashion spread in a magazine).  So what about water?

It’s said that those people with a high ratio of water in the chart think in images.  Think about what happens when you wake from a dream: you might not remember the words that were said, or the plot, but you retain an image, or two or three.  You also remember the feeling, even if you forget all the other details – and you might not be able to put this feeling into words.  What happens when you see a photograph of yourself at an event from the past that you’ve erased from your consciousness?  The memory of that day and how you were feeling come flooding back in a way not possible if someone had only brought up the event in conversation.  With a picture to look at, you remember that the dress you were wearing that day was too tight and that it made you feel a little self-conscious.  You remember the smell of popcorn in the air and the feel of sweat on your skin.  You remember the admiring glance of a stranger and the simultaneous rush of embarrassment and attraction.

This is how water works: it evokes the subtle realms, the psychic plane and the underworld of emotions for which we have no words.  It’s tied to the imagistic world of memory.  The fourth house is the most private house in the whole chart, and shows the inner world of the soul, our psychic home.  Traditionally, the fourth house shows our tribal or family heritage, as well as the circumstances of our childhood home.  But the fourth house is also our own personal midnight, who we really are in our innermost core.

Melissa’s fourth house Venus tells me that she’s an artist in her soul.  Now one in every twelve people, roughly, is going to have Venus in the fourth house, and one in 144 people will have Venus in the fourth house in Pisces.  It’s not rare, and not all these people are artists.  But there will always be a certain exquisite sensitivity, a certain elevation of the inner world and an ability to respond to its innate beauty and subtlety, with anyone who has this placement.  In the type of astrology I practice, the fact that Venus is also conjunct the South node in Melissa’s chart gives it a whole heap more importance.  The South node shows the dominant theme of the past life.

For a few years, Melissa was studying to be a nurse.  This career path is not inconsistent with a Venus in Pisces.  Generous Venus is exalted in compassionate Pisces, and this placement can indicate feelings of universal love for all humanity.  A nurse spends her day administering to those in need of care, and there is an association with Pisces and service, and charity to those who cannot help themselves.  A simple way to read the past-life story in Melissa’s chart is to say that she was a nun in a former life.  Mystical Pisces can connote Christian love, and Venus in the private fourth house suggests a cloistered life characterized by devotion.  In history, nuns were often the only ones who would administer to the gravely ill and those beyond the pale of medical help.  But the South node also shows a place where we got stuck, a limiting pattern that we need to move beyond if we are going to continue to develop.

We are always moving toward the North node in the chart.  The North node represents something untried, a future point which we must access and develop if we want to reach our highest potential.  The North node is always 180 degrees opposite the South node, and it is always scary because, karmically, it’s new territory for us.  Melissa’s North node is in the hyper-public tenth house.  In the tenth house, we are something larger than ourselves: we become a community figure, often a community leader.  It’s no surprise that actors and politicians tend to have a lot of tenth house planets.  Somehow, even without consciously willing it, tenth house individuals come to represent some segment of society and its desires and needs.

So while Melissa is most comfortable at home (fourth house), and pursuing her artistic sensibility in private, she’s also enduring some intense karmic pressure to come out as a public figure.  While the South node signifies an old piece of karma which we don’t need to repeat, it also highlights some energy we’ve mastered and can offer to the world as a gift.  Melissa brings the gift of her nuanced, emotional, and private world to her public life as an Artist, capital A.              

One of my most vivid impressions of how Melissa’s sensitive vision impacts the public occurred at a gallery opening and artist talk she gave in 2011.  Her photos were essentially fashion shots, as she photographed models wearing the creations of designer Allihalla (all the photography featured in today’s blog is the product of that collaboration).  Yet the images are more reminiscent of Waterhouse paintings than fashion photography, drawing from that numinous Piscean well of longing and fantasy.  As the small group of art patrons admired Melissa’s photographs, one older woman was moved to tears, and spoke about how evocatively Melissa had captured the spirit of a woman’s youth with her lovely shots.  Venus in Pisces in the fourth house, that mermaid at midnight, gives Melissa’s photographer’s eye its moving and mystical quality.  Explore Melissa's photography website here.