Mars in the House of Death

Jenn Zahrt

Our guest blogger this time is  Dr. Jennifer Zahrt, who completed her PhD in German literature and film at UC  Berkeley.  She is the senior book editor at Sophia Centre Press,  and the deputy editor of  “Culture and Cosmos,” a journal of the history of astrology and cultural astronomy.  

Elsbeth Ebertin (1880–1944) was a German graphologist and astrologer famous for once predicting the rise of Hitler to power in Germany, as well as for being the mother of cosmobiologist Reinhold Ebertin (1901–1988). Few people know, however, that she also wrote a novel.

Ebertin began her career as a writer and graphologist but quickly became a prolific and prominent astrologer, covering topics such as the astrology of Jacob Böhme, for example.[1] In 1924, she tried her hand at fiction producing the novel Mars in the House of Death (Der Mars im Todeshause), wherein she attempted to persuade readers of the validity of astrology by depicting a couple’s experience with an astrological prediction.

The novel carries the subtitle “An Astrological Film-novel Based on an Actual Event,” and in 1925 the text was filmed as It Is Written in the Stars (In den Sternen steht’s geschrieben) by Münchner Lichtspielkunst AG (Emelka) in Munich.[2] That Ebertin’s novel was translated to film reveals the affinity between astrological narratives and visual forms, even though the title of her film—It Is Written in the Stars—also belies the underlying primacy of textuality in celestial and early cinematic legibility. Unfortunately, the film version of Ebertin’s novel has been lost. However, copies of the novel remain, and the first-edition cover reveals a compelling mixture of astrological symbol with celestial vision (Figure 1). It depicts the glyph of Mars suspended in space, as if the glyph itself were the actual planet.

Set entirely in the later years of Wilhelmine Germany, the story opens with the discussion of Herr Heinz von Behren’s horoscope. A circular graphic of his natal chart appears on the third page to illuminate the reading. Von Behren’s wife, Adele, is taken aback when she reads the prediction that her husband will be killed suddenly. The von Behrens allude to this prediction throughout the text as if it were some kind of curse hanging over their marriage. Neither character practices astrology directly in the text, nor do they have any direct narrative dialogue with astrologers. Interestingly, though, the husband visits a male astrologer (the one who predicts his death), and the wife begins to learn astrological symbolism from a female astrologer. Adele never learns the technical side of astrology, for at the end of the novel, when a more detailed interpretation of her husband’s horoscope is revealed to her and the reader, she maintains that she cannot understand the technical astrological terminology.

The astrologer’s final interpretation of von Behren’s horoscope enhances the stress on astrology as a diagnostic tool. Even though the interpretation includes a prediction, it only serves its purpose in the narrative after the plot event—the death of the husband (no surprise!)—has passed. There is a tension between the novel’s explicit desire to prove that the astrologer issued a successful prediction and the novel format itself which betrays a fundamental determinism—the plot is already written. The result is that the astrological prediction can only ever really be diagnostic in this narrative form, as persuasive as it might be to want to believe that the prediction was accurate. Ultimately, despite its own intentions, Ebertin’s novel shows that the practice of astrology in Germany was moving in the direction of becoming a diagnostic art aimed at unlocking the riddles of human psychology.

Even though her own astrology is informed by Theosophical interpretations, Ebertin takes part in the early twentieth-century trend in Germany of using astrology as a psychological diagnostic tool to aid the individual in developing self-understanding. She joins authors and astrologers such as Oscar A. H. Schmitz, Count Hermann Keyserling, Fritz Werle, Herbert von Klöckler, and Olga von Ungern-Sternberg, among others, whose narratives of astrological experience provide evidence of the significant role astrology played in the lives of individuals during the Weimar Republic.


[1] See her Historische und zeitgenössiche Charackterbilder nach Handschrift, Bild, Nativität, und Lebenswerken bedeutender Denker und Dichter [wie: Dante Alighieri, J. Wolfgang v. Goethe, Friedr. Nietzsche, Aug. Strindberg, Oscar Wilde, Gust. Meyrink, Joseph Aug. Lux] (Freiburg [Baden]: Fr. P. Lorenz, 1921). I find it interesting that she includes Meyrink in the same lineup as Dante, Goethe, and Nietzsche. Most of Ebertin’s texts were published through the Regulus Verlag in Görlitz. Later this press would be abused by British psychological warfare in WWII. See, Howe, Astrology: A Recent History, esp. 116, 218.

[2] Willy Reiber directed the film, and the cinematographer was Franz Koch. See “Vom Sternen zum Stern,” Die Filmwoche 19 (1925): 449.