It’s been a while since a book has moved me to tears. The book, They Cage the Animals at Night: The True Story of an Abandoned Child’s Struggle for Emotional Survival, is a memoir by Jennings Michael Burch revealing his difficult childhood years spent in and out of orphanages and foster homes many times over. Perhaps Rahu’s current transit through Cancer played a role in bringing this particular story into my hands at this time while Rahu conjuncts my Fifth House ruler.
The author was born on April 27, 1941 in Manhattan, New York USA. With no knowledge of the birth time and the Ascendant and house rulership unknown, this assessment will be an exercise in rectification. Having read his story and researched what little information could be found online about Jennings, I feel drawn to a Libra Ascendant but realize this may not be accurate.
On April 27, 1941, the planets were in the following signs: exalted Sun, Mercury, Venus, and debilitated Saturn formed a stellium in Aries, Mars was exalted in Capricorn, Jupiter occupied Taurus, Rahu and Ketu were on the Virgo/Pisces axis, and the Moon may have been in either Aries or Taurus, depending on the birth time.
Jennings Michael Burch was one of five children born to a single mother in New York City. His two older brothers had known their father but did not have anything good to say about him when their younger brother asked. Most of their mutterings about the father related to alcoholism and abuse.
Sun in Aries certainly could represent a very independent father, and if afflicted, someone who cares about himself as an individual and his own interests first and foremost. The dispositor of the Sun is exalted Mars, fueling the strength of the Sun and self-identity of the father with the self-centeredness and disruptive force one must surely possess in order to abandon a family. Mars is aspecting the Sun while in a Parivartana Yoga with Saturn who is conjunct the Sun.
But there are two sides to every coin. This same configuration gave Jennings Michael Burch the strength, determination, and perseverance to survive and cling to his own identity throughout the ups and downs, the care and neglect, the compassion and brutality that he experienced through the foster care system and orphanages. At age eight, his mother put Jennings and his brothers in foster care. His obituary (which can be read in full on obittree.com) indicates that between the years 1949 and 1954, he stayed in as many as thirty-two foster homes, moved with his family three times, and stayed with three foster parents. He was a warrior in his own right, fighting his way through childhood, surviving from one challenging environment to the next.
His first experience with foster parents was downright cruel and heartbreaking. In his book, Jennings shared a conversation he recalled with the “foster mother”. This snippet speaks volumes of the harsh environment he faced:
“The bedroom is for sleeping. The rest of the house is off limits to you. You’re to sit at that table and that table only. If you don’t, you’ll get it. Understand?”
I nodded my head, but she didn’t see me.
“Do you understand?” she screeched.
I jolted to attention in the chair. “Yes,” I said.
“Yes, ma’am!” she added.
“Yes, ma’am”, I repeated.
“And… if you break anything around here, God help you.” She mumbled. “I make little enough money off you as it is.”
If Libra Lagna is accurate, the position of debilitated Saturn in the Seventh House in Parivartana Yoga with exalted Mars from the Fourth House could make sense. Saturn and Mars also afflict by conjunction and aspect Ninth House lord, Mercury, indicating the difficulty with his father as well as the problems Jennings endured (and sometimes caused, but for good reason) with other father-figures and authority, which occurred during his repeated stays in orphanages. If Mercury did rule his Ninth House in a Libra chart, we can see the ulterior motive of the first foster parents. They hardly cared about helping a child by offering a safe and loving home. They seemed to have signed up for the role to make some money by playing the system first, and helping a child second.
The nuns in charge of the orphanages relate to the Ninth House as religious authority. Here is a sampling of the abusive treatment suffered at their hands:
“Sister Barbara came to me like a wild animal. She slapped me hard across the ear and knocked me into the table. She grabbed my hair and pulled me over the chair. I fell to the floor. She grabbed the back of my shirt collar and dragged me toward the front of the room. As she dragged me across the uneven wooden floor, great and small splinters began ripping into all parts of my body. I screamed and cried, but the pain kept coming. She reached the front of the room and dropped me. She kicked me in the side, knocking my breath away. She opened a closet door and in one sweeping motion lifted me from the floor and dropped me in. She slammed the door.
In the dark black silence of the dining room closet, I lay in one great heap of pain. I stayed as motionless as possible for what seemed forever. My face was pressed hard against the wooden floor. I felt moistness all over me. It could be sweat or blood. I wasn’t sure. I began to feel around my hurt body. Each time I touched a jagged piece of floor sticking from my body, I winced in pain. My pants were soaking wet, but not from blood. I had wet my pants. The pee began to burn some of the cuts on my legs. I tried to find some comfortable position, but I couldn’t. No matter what I did, something else hurt. I closed my eyes and made believe I was hugging Doggie. His fur was soft and warm. He felt so good to be near. He was my friend and I loved him. I fell asleep.”
If Jennings was born before 8:00pm, he would’ve had Moon in Aries, which would make sense in terms of his mother being quite independent, and certainly not without issues, which we see again in the Mars-Saturn condition. But if he had been born after 8:00pm, Moon would’ve been in Taurus conjunct Jupiter. This exalted Moon could’ve been the light in his life, his mother whom he did truly love and whom he understood as best a child could be expected to given the circumstances. In the Eighth House of a Libra chart, exalted Moon brought change and forced Jennings into different scenarios and situations. I tend to think that this might be his natal Moon, mainly because despite the emotional neglect from others, he relied heavily on his own emotional support (the stabilized emotions of an exalted Moon in Taurus) and that of his faithful companion, Doggie, his beloved stuffed animal –which is where the title of the book comes in. The animals he referred to in the title were the stuffed animals in the orphanages that were caged at night so none of the children would damage them. What pain for those children to face every night when their sole comfort, a simple stuffed animal, had to be striped out of their embrace and locked away.
I looked around to see that nobody was within earshot of me. “I lost Doggie.” My lip quivered.
“Oh boy.” He chuckled.
“It’s not funny. I lost him. I looked everywhere.”
“You didn’t lose him. They took him.”
“They took him? Who took him?”
“The nuns did.” He turned and took his shirt from the hook.
“Why?” he said impatiently without looking at me. “They just do, that’s all. After we go to sleep.” He looked at me. A slight moistness covered his eyes, and he swallowed. “They come around and collect them.”
“It’s the rules!” he snapped. “They cage the animals at night! It’s the rules.”
If this exalted Moon is correct, it may also explain his touch with fame as an author with Moon ruling the Tenth House in a Libra chart. Moon-Jupiter shows his great capacity to love children, which he had as an adult, having had three of his own, including one adopted during a second marriage. Moon-Jupiter would have also given him the innate ability to stay positive even in the midst of disastrous circumstances, which he seemed to be capable of.
Though the rough and tumble in relationships through Jennings’ childhood was clearly evident by the two malefics, Saturn and Mars, what about his mother? The children’s biological mother apparently suffered from chronic illness and several times her health alone appeared to have been the reason she placed her children in foster care while she could not take care of them. One of Jennings’ older brothers suffered a severe health condition and died young. This took a heavy toll on the mother as well. Never did she intend to ‘give them up’. The two older brothers were ‘old enough’ to take care of themselves, yet not stable enough to parent their younger siblings. In this respect, Libra Lagna may work with the Eleventh House of older siblings ruled by the exalted Sun in independent (and sometimes selfish) Aries. At times, the two older boys were keeping the house together, but the mother repeatedly chose to place the younger boys in foster care. She knew they would need proper attention and schooling and the older brothers couldn’t stay home when they needed to work to support the family and pay the rent.
Throughout his ordeal, Jennings seemed level-headed, fair, and just. He preferred to avoid conflict but could butt heads with anyone given the right reason. Libra Lagna with exalted Sun and exalted Mars? Libra Lagna would also place exalted Mars in the Fourth House as previously mentioned, representing Jennings’ mother—who, while she was not abusive, had the (one might say) audacity to push her children aside regardless of the situation or reason. The harsh reality that befell Jennings from the force of his mother’s decisions and the disruptive and hostile home life can be seen by this Mars placement. In addition, with this choice of Lagna, Mars also rules the Second House of childhood, not only potentially confirming the violent and often traumatic upbringing but the courage Jennings must have possessed in order to share his story. He quietly authored a book, but he also bravely visited schools to talk openly about his youth, particularly focusing his discussions with young students about the bullying he endured in orphanages and how wrong it is to treat others disrespectfully and the harm such treatment would cause.
Another factor that points me towards the Libra Lagna is the aspect from stabilizing Jupiter in Taurus to the Second House, bringing grace and dignity to his voice and what he had to say. Despite all of the suffering, through the physical abuse as well as the mental abuse and humiliation, he wanted children to hear his story to teach them through example, through experience, and as a role model; his message being that regardless of how people treat you, be true to yourself and be kind to others.
Does Rahu in Virgo in the Twelfth House seem appropriate? Its effect may have been the karmic whip of necessity that drew Jennings into his own states of isolation within the abandonment already thrust upon him from his parents’ problems. He often fled the orphanages, preferring to risk his life on the streets rather than remain locked in a hellish place where he did not feel loved and had been bullied regularly. At one point, he had walked all night in the city and crept through a small space in the fence bordering the property of the Bronx Zoo where he slept under a bush and survived on scraps of food visitors to the zoo had thrown in the trash. Towards the end of his story, he wrote:
Later that night, I was lying on some rocks near the hideout. I wasn’t worried about the guard. He carried a light and I could easily see him coming. It started to rain.
“Oh, gosh”, I said. I gathered up Doggie and all my stuff. I stashed all the food and my laundry bag deep in the bushes. I made my way over to the lion house. There was a back staircase with a deep doorway where I could stand. I stood there all night. In the morning the rain still continued to drizzle. I carefully made my way back to my hideout to eat. Deep under the bushes, I found it wasn’t all that wet. I ate and went to sleep. The rain finally stopped toward evening. The sun was just setting, and I was cold.
Does that sound like Rahu in Virgo, Twelfth House stuff? It does to me, where Rahu shows, in his case, the need to face something alone and breakthrough a karmic situation, where Virgo shows up in his ability to take shelter in nature, under a bush to survive in the most practical way, and his own instinct to create a hideout shows intrinsic Twelfth House qualities.
Jennings went on to school, earning a BA in Forensic Psychology at John Jay College in New York City. He was known to have written poetry and lyrics and had been a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers. According to his obit, he even joined Bob Dylan’s “Rolling Thunder Revue” in 1975. Could this all be the results of Jupiter-Moon in Taurus in the Eighth House while Moon rules the Tenth and Jupiter rules the Third, and the Dharma Karma Adhipati Yogas formed by Saturn/Mercury, Saturn/Venus, and Mercury/Venus?
And, if Libra is correct as the Lagna, it would not be surprising to learn that he had two failed marriages, each producing three daughters –two of his own and one by adoption, followed by a third marriage and the birth of a son. Saturn rules the Fifth House of children and his Seventh House of marriage holds the Aries stellium with debilitated Saturn who gains directional strength (dig bala).
In 2002, Michael Jackson began working on developing a movie based on Jennings Michael Burch’s book, but Jackson’s trial began around that time and the project got put on the backburner. Three months before Jackson died he was in talks again about doing the “Cage” movie as an indie film, willing to put up $8 million dollars to make it happen. The two had met to discuss the book, the potential movie, and to share painful memories—though Jackson was not an orphan or taken from his family, he did explain to Jennings that he often felt abandoned and isolated due to the lifestyle his family forced him to live during his childhood and his role in The Jackson Five with his brothers.
Jennings passed away on January 15, 2013. There are reports on the internet that state he died from cancer, although those conflict with his profile on IMBD.com which states the cause of death was pneumonia. It is possible that pneumonia is correct. There are pictures on the internet that show Jennings with oxygen tubes while giving speeches in his later years. However, the possibility for cancer is certainly there as well with exalted Mars. And if Libra Lagna holds up, Mars in the Fourth could suggest lung cancer or pneumonia.
His book, a 1984 best seller, touched the lives of many, hopefully reaching many families and children who share a similar difficult journey. To those, seeing the success he achieved and knowing he had a family and home of his own meant They Cage the Animals at Night could be a beacon of hope—that we learn to take the good with the bad, stay true to ourselves, be kind no matter how others treat us, and never give up on our dreams.
I do realize that there are so many children in the world who have survived far more cruelty of others that Jennings’ childhood pain may not seem too unbearable to them. Perhaps they would’ve gladly traded places. And, some children do not survive.
This book made me face the cold reality of how much suffering exists in this world. But despite the pain and the bad news bombarding us on a daily basis, this is a beautiful world. For every heart that has been broken from abuse, I hope another heart has been lifted, even just a little bit—in love and compassion from hearing their story.
Renate Maria Bell is a certified Vedic Astrologer, Jyotish Visharada, and approved teacher with the Council of Vedic Astrology. She currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Excerpts from They Cage the Animals at Night by Jennings Michael Burch, published by Berkley (an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC), 1984
Bookcover image courtesy amazon.com via Google search
Image of Jennings and Doggie courtesy jlohara.weebly.com, Featured image found via Google search