Saturday, August 23, 2008


On Aug 8 Russian troops moved into Georgia, as a response to Georgia’s military action against its own break-away region of South Ossetia. Over 2 weeks later there are still Russian troops in Georgia as ‘peacekeepers’, and the Russian government seems to have every intention of keeping them there long-term. There has been nothing that Georgia can do, and no possibility of military intervention by the West. Russia, it seems, can do what it wants with its former satellites.

This action has sent a chill through the West, and investors have been withdrawing assets from Russia at a rate not seen since the collapse of the rouble in 1998. The Russian invasion of Georgia was an historic moment, possibly marking the beginning of a new Cold War. Russia is going its own way, and will not hesitate to take military action to achieve its ends.

During the Russian Revolution of 1917, the country let go of its rulership of its satellite countries. As Stalin’s power grew, the re-conquest of the newly independent countries was engineered. He re-created the Russian Empire. The recent invasion of Georgia seems to mark the beginning of another attempt by Russia to reclaim its old Czarist Empire, having lost it for a second time when Communism collapsed at the start of the 1990s.

These events have got me thinking about the chart for Russia. Lynn wrote a piece last year advocating the chart for 12 June 1990, when the Russian parliament declared the sovereignty of the Russian Federative Republic within the USSR. And Nancy recently wrote a piece, using this chart to describe Russia’s current and future actions.

What I can’t get over in this chart is the unaspected Sun in Gemini, conjunct Gemini MC. I use the Sun to describe the kind of leader you get, the MC to describe the institution of government and the country’s standing in the world. These 2 points together are too significant to ignore, and try as I might I cannot see the Russian leadership as unaspected Sun in Gemini. If it was Italy, I could easily see it. They have a new government most years, and seem quite happy to elect and re-elect a corrupt showman like Silvio Berlusconi who owns most of the country's TV stations (also Gemini!) That is the type of government you would see. Russia is not this at all. It has its dark side, but not in a Gemini way, because it is completely up front about it, it does not see anything wrong with it: this is Pluto/Scorpio territory.

What the 12 June chart does describe was the unstable nature of Russia’s declaration of sovereignty. Russia did not actually have full legal independence from the USSR at this point, and indeed there was an attempted coup by the old guard a year later.

The defining event that created the modern Russia was on 19 Aug 1991 when Boris Yeltsin stood on a tank outside the Russian parliament (the White House) and proclaimed resistance to the attempted coup. This moment was hugely symbolic and significant. The coup rapidly fell apart, and within a short space of time Yeltsin was President of a Russia that was entirely free of the old Communist power.

His proclamation of resistance to the coup was in effect a proclamation of the existence, or the beginning of the existence, of the new and entirely sovereign Russia.

The exact time is uncertain, but 11am would seem to be not too far off.

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What we have in this chart is 10th House Sun conjunct Jupiter in Leo, square to 1st House Pluto in Scorpio. Yes! Now we are in business.

There have effectively been 2 Presidents since 1991, Yeltsin and then Putin. (Medvedev, elected in March, is Putin’s puppet, there for 4 years until Putin can legally be President again: Sun square Pluto manoeuvring!) Both have been like the King of Russia, a Leo quality. Yeltsin was Leo at its most excessive and chaotic. Putin has become the supreme strongman who tolerates no opposition and has dragged Russia out of its chaos and humiliation, and back to the country we used to know.

This is a country that is expansionist (Sun conjunct Jupiter in the 10th) and ruthless about the use of power (1st House Pluto in Scorpio). There is no pretence here. America pretends to be promoting democracy and free trade as a way of extending its own power in the world. Russia just moves in the military. With Russia, you know exactly what you are dealing with, and you are right to quake if you find yourself on the wrong side of this regime, whether at home or abroad. If abroad, they will send agents to kill you, or they will invade your country. If at home, they will take away all your wealth and put you in prison on trumped up charges. Poland was threatened by Russia recently with a nuclear strike for agreeing to an American missile shield.

In a way the game is very straightforward, but it also played with Scorpio cunning. Russia chose its moment to invade Georgia, and it was a complete triumph for them. Step by step, Putin has built up Russian power over the last 8 years, and step by step they will move in on their old satellite countries in the coming years. They will increasingly support the countries in the Middle East, like Iran and Syria, that America opposes. Putin is very sure footed in his exercise of power, both in gaining it for himself and hanging onto it, and doing the same for Russia. He will go down in history as one of its great leaders. He is very Plutonic/Scorpionic himself, having Pluto on the Midheaven conjunct his South Node (and conjunct the Russian Sun), Scorpio Asc and Moon in Scorpio's House.

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The people are hugely behind Putin, behind their King, and we can see this in Russia's Chart in the trine from the Moon (the people) in Sag to the Sun in Leo. They believe (Sag) in their King (Leo). They are a religious people (Sag), though the government would not be afraid to use the military against them (Moon square Mars). Their religious, mystical side is also expressed by North Node conjunct Neptune, and the sign of Capricorn indicates the traditional forms, particularly the Eastern Orthodox Church, that we find in Russia.

This new Russia has an unaspected Saturn in Aquarius conjunct Aquarius IC. Saturn describes our ability to work and give shape to our life. Despite its increasing power and wealth, Russia remains chaotic and criminal, and is only gaining wealth due to the lucky accident of having vast oil and gas reserves (Pluto conjunct second house cusp: underground riches). Modern Russia has its origins in a struggle for freedom and independence, which is Aquarius IC.

Despite the brutal nature of its game, Russia has a Libra Ascendant, suggesting that it is open to negotiation and diplomacy. (Putin is also a Libran.) Given the gangster-like nature of Russia, we are probably talking about ‘Reason’ in the way that the Godfather used it, and which has its own brutal logic.

The Aries Descendant describes Russia’s straightforward aggressive, even military, response to its enemies.

Russia was born under the Uranus-Neptune conjunction of the 1990s, and in the 1991 chart I am using, this chart is conjunct the North Node. So this points to its destiny as a country, which you could say is to maintain its own individuality (Uranus) while being part of the global community (Neptune). We have recently had a Neptune-Node conjunction (opposite the Russian Sun), and Russia’s response has been Neptune at its worst: the dissolving of its boundaries with Georgia through military action.

Russia has Mars at 21 Virgo, closely square the American Mars at 21 Gemini, which comes as no surprise. The 2 countries are destined to be rivals, just like the US and Iran, who also have squaring Mars. Russia invaded Georgia 2 days after a Mars return, with Uranus opposing. It was a sudden and surprising event (Uranus) that revealed more fully the nature of Russian military ambitions (Mars return). And it was very precisely aimed (Virgo), unlike the US, which has Mars square Neptune, and entered Iraq without thinking it through. Russia’s Progressed Moon is currently conjoining her natal MC, describing the change (Moon) brought about in Russia’s standing in the world (MC).

Putin became acting President in Dec 1999, and then elected in May 2000. This was under a transiting conjunction of Neptune to Russia’s Saturn/IC. From Russia’s point of view, he brought new inspiration (Neptune) to the country after the despair (also Neptune) of the Yeltsin years, and he activated the country’s Saturn, getting it to start pulling itself together again. In the years following Putin’s election, Pluto conjoined the Russian Moon at 19 Sagittarius, reflecting the renewed belief (Sag) in the country that the Russian people (Moon) came to feel.

Since then Neptune has continued to pass through Russia’s 4th House (homeland, territory). In 2005 Neptune squared natal Pluto and is now opposing natal Sun-Jupiter. This has brought a new activation. Firstly, you can see Putin manoeuvring himself into being effectively President (Sun) for life. And you can also see the dissolution of boundaries (Neptune) around the homeland (4th House) starting to occur – which is a nice way of saying that a process of re-absorbing its old satellites, though force if necessary, has begun, just like in the early days of the Communist regime (again under a Neptune-Sun transit! The Sun of the Communist regime was at 16 Scorpio, conjunct the Pluto of modern Russia, which is why Russia’s present actions remind us of the old regime.)

Neptune will be opposing Russia’s Sun for a year or two yet, so I expect this process of moving in on the old satellites to continue: what we have seen in Georgia is just a start. Russia will not do anything reckless, but it will be bold, and will not take any steps backwards, because it is not in its nature. Those ‘peacekeepers’ will be there for a long time! As Neptune finally moves away from opposing the Russian Sun, there will be a Progressed New Moon (in 2011), the beginning of a whole new 29 year phase: a reborn Russia, once more a major power with, quite possibly, much of its old Empire back.

To an outsider, what seems to characterise Russia more than anything is the pursuit of power: first of all, a desire by the government for complete control within the country, and now for power on the world stage. This seems to come second to the pursuit of wealth, which for many European countries has for decades been their main pursuit, sheltering under the protection of American power. So it is a different motivation to what we in Europe are used to.

But people or countries are not so much into power for no reason. It is interesting that Pluto is connected with both power and the survival urge, as if to say that they are connected. And in Russia Pluto is strong, being in its own sign of Scorpio, in the first House, and (widely) square to the Sun. For such a country, not having an eminent place in the world (Sun in 10th House Leo) would feel like not existing (square to Pluto.) Russia has to become a superpower again or it will feel continually humiliated. Russia was deeply humiliated by what happened to it in the 1990s, and fortunately it was not at the hands of an aggressor, or there would be a price to pay. A Pisces can take humiliation. Leo-Scorpio you humiliate at your peril. (It is therefore unlikely that Hillary Clinton will ever forgive Barack Obama for defeating her.) The square from the Sun to Pluto suggests an imbalance, a neurosis in Russia's power seeking, that however much power she has, it will never seem enough.

I was sent an interesting article from the Asia Times which describes Russia’s motivation as being that of survival:

"Russia is fighting for its survival, against a catastrophic decline in population and the likelihood of a Muslim majority by mid-century. The Russian Federation's scarcest resource is people. It cannot ignore the 22 million Russians stranded outside its borders after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, nor, for that matter, small but loyal ethnicities such as the Ossetians. Strategic encirclement, in Russian eyes, prefigures the ethnic disintegration of Russia."

The writer continues on the subject of Russian versus American strategy:

"Again, the Russians misjudge American stupidity… Think of it this way: Russia is playing chess, while the Americans are playing Monopoly. What Americans understand by "war games" is exactly what occurs on the board of the Parker Brothers' pastime. The board game Monopoly is won by placing as many hotels as possible on squares of the playing board. Substitute military bases, and you have the sum of American strategic thinking.

America's idea of winning a strategic game is to accumulate the most chips on the board: bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, a pipeline in Georgia, a "moderate Muslim" government with a big North Atlantic Treaty Organization base in Kosovo, missile installations in Poland and the Czech Republic, and so forth. But this is not a strategy; it is only a game score.

Chess players think in terms of interaction of pieces: everything on the periphery combines to control the center of the board and prepare an eventual attack against the opponent's king. The Russians simply cannot absorb the fact that America has no strategic intentions: it simply adds up the value of the individual pieces on the board. It is as stupid as that. But there is another difference: the Americans are playing chess for career and perceived advantage. Russia is playing for its life, like Ingmar Bergman's crusader in The Seventh Seal."

As I said earlier, we can see this difference in the Russian and American Mars. Russia has Mars in Virgo, which is analytical and precise, and it is square to the Moon, so it can be ruthless, it can put the needs of its people (Moon) to one side. America has Mars square to Neptune, so its military thinking is not precise and strategic, but prone to delusion, as well as idealism. Mars is trine to the Moon, so it takes its people more into account, the US is not happy with American body-bags.

This is also why Russia may get away with gradually re-conquering its former satellites. Nowadays, the psychological impact of asymmetrical warfare is a force to be reckoned with – if you are a liberal democracy. Asymmetrical warfare is another word for what we call terrorism, where one side is much stronger than the other, so the minority engages in acts such as suicide bombing that have a big psychological impact on the majority population, and can eventually wear it down. This was the IRA’s tactic in the UK, and it was ultimately successful: the government was forced to negotiate.

So you could easily imagine this happening in Russia’s satellite countries as she attempts to control them. Except that Russia is only just about a democracy, and certainly not a liberal one. Remember Chechnya? Chechnya is a region of Russia that for years, during the 1990s, engaged in terrorist acts in attempt to gain independence. Eventually Moscow installed a government favourable to itself, and has been ruthless enough with the opposition – torture occurs as a matter of course if you are detained – to re-assert control. So Russia shouldn’t have too much problem controlling its satellites, and the recent events in Georgia will have emboldened her.

The Lunar Eclipse of 17 Aug, set for Moscow, was very powerful.

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The Sun-Moon opposition closely aligns with the natal Russian Sun. And the chart itself has Pluto on the Descendant - power (Pluto) over enemies; Jupiter in the 7th (success with enemies); and North Node conjunct MC, suggesting a time of great significance (Node) for Russia's place in the world (MC). So if the Georgian President had looked at this chart before he took his gamble with South Ossetia, he might have had second thoughts!

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Pluto and the Technological Singularity

In a personal chart, an outer planet can effect permanent change. This is because as individuals we have the capacity to learn from our experience. Not so with mundane charts i.e. for countries and other collectives. As has been said, what we learn from history is that collectively we don’t learn from history. At least, not very much, and it’s soon forgotten.

The good side of this is that when e.g. Pluto passes through Sagittarius, and you get an outbreak of religious fanaticism, you know that it won’t last forever. Similarly with Pluto in Capricorn. We may end up being spied on by the government more than we’d like, but again it won’t last forever.

Actually so far I’m not too bothered about being spied on because I’m not planning on breaking the law. It’s still better than living in a village where everyone knows everyone else’s business and their history. I think that however many CCTV cameras there are around, and however many government agencies have my medical records etc, it’s better by far than living in said small village. That is my perspective on the surveillance society!

Another feature of Pluto in Capricorn will, I think, be moves towards a world economy based more on sustainability rather than endless growth. This is going to happen because resources are dwindling relative to demand. I think this will be a lot healthier. But I don’t doubt that if we manage to invent our way out of this predicament, greed and excess will return (another name for an economy based on endless growth.)

Speaking of inventions, Pluto’s passage through Aquarius from 2023 could bring new power (Pluto) to science (Aquarius). We will, of course, also be faced collectively with the shadow side of science. This is a big subject, and perhaps a bit premature! But one intriguing possibility is that Pluto in Aquarius will usher in the ‘technological singularity.’

No, I didn’t know what that meant either until a few weeks ago. A singularity is a point beyond which it becomes impossible to predict what will happen, like the edge of a black hole, or where a mathematical curve shoots off to infinity.

So the technological singularity is a point where technological progress has accelerated to such a degree that the ordinary methods of extrapolating into the future become too limited to be useful. Certainly for at least the last hundred years the rate of progress has been accelerating, and it is becoming harder and harder to keep up with the new inventions. Who, just a couple of years before it happened, could have predicted the internet and all that rapidly came with it?
So you could argue that we are already entering an age where the future is becoming harder to predict due to the accelerating pace of technological change. The technological singularity is just a logical extension of this.

Even more intriguing is the idea of a technological singularity brought about by developments in artificial intelligence to the point where you have machines that are in certain respects more intelligent than we are, and therefore able to initiate technological advances more effectively than we can. You really do get a singularity then, a whole paradigm shift where no prediction at all is possible. Even if these machines were only slightly more intelligent than us, “they could improve their own designs in ways unforeseen by their designers, and thus recursively augment themselves into far greater intelligences. The first such improvements might be small, but as the machine became more intelligent it would become better at becoming more intelligent, which could lead to an exponential and quite sudden growth in intelligence.” (Wiki)

This then leads to sci-fi scenarios such as the robots trying to take over.

In Wiki we also read: "Berglas (2008) notes that computer speech recognition is approaching human capabilities, and that this capability seems to require 0.01% of the volume of the brain. This analogy suggests that modern computer hardware is within a few orders of magnitude as powerful as the human brain."

So in 15 years time, as Pluto enters Aquarius, I expect some of these themes to start moving from the realms of science fiction and into reality.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

A Critique of the Horse's Mouth

In my last post I quoted at length from Tenzin Palmo, the Englishwoman who spent 12 years in a cave on her own in the Himalayas, meditating within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Her last 3 years were entirely solitary. It’s provided quite a lot of food for thought. On the one hand I have a lot of admiration for what she did, and the insight she gained. Much of what she says corresponds to what you can read in books, but there’s a flavour to it that shows she’s talking from experience, and that’s what I liked, and why I quoted from it.

I spent 18 years as a practising Buddhist myself in a kind of full-time way – that era ended 10 years ago – and I’m still sifting through it. I was never much of a meditator. Since then I’ve lived a much more ordinary kind of life, as well as involving myself in different non-ordinary things such as astrology! This has helped give me perspective, but it’s still work in progress.

There are certain things I love about Buddhism. Its philosophy of emptiness makes complete sense. It is saying that everything is part of an interconnected flux in which there are no separate ‘things’. That includes the sense of ‘I’ – hence the famous ‘no-self’ doctrine.

The sense of ‘I’ is a good place to start. It certainly seems very solid and real, and it locates us experientially at the centre of the universe, to which we reach out and relate. But that sense of ‘I’ is usually based on identifying with what we think and feel – that is what makes us ‘us’. What a lot of people don’t realise is that you don’t have to identify with, and act on, what you are feeling. We have a choice. If you are angry with someone, you don’t have to torment yourself with it, the mind circling endlessly as it tries to justify the feeling of anger. Nor do you have to go into therapy and try and find the root cause of it (though that can have its place.) We can make the decision to stand back and observe the feeling. This is a deeply transformational act.

This principle applies to all sorts of limiting, painful emotions which we all experience every day. And it is a different self that does the observing. This new self is not rigid and protective, for there is nothing to protect anymore. It is spacious. You no longer need take events so personally. You are fully present and aware, fully emotionally responsive to others, fully connected in a way you never were before, because you’re no longer seeing the world through the veil of your own reactions to it. You are, in other words, more aware of the interconnected flux to which in reality we all belong.

OK, fine words, and I sometimes manage a bit of it. But at the same time, I think it describes the fundamental inner act that makes us conscious beings, and that lies at the root of all spiritualities and religions, whatever the cosmologies and dogmas they surround it with.

So ‘emptiness’ (sunyata) can sound like an abstruse philosophical doctrine. But actually it’s immediate and practical. And that is why I like it so much. It has both a metaphysical dimension and a practical dimension, and they both make sense. And it is about a different kind of fullness.

As an astrologer, I respond to symbols, they take me more deeply into an intuitive apprehension of myself, other people and world events. And Buddhism (like any religion worth its salt) has this aspect. Buddhism has figures that are not ‘God’, that are not about obedience, that embody the deeper patternings within the human mind, the ‘archetypes’. These figures have accumulated significance and power over the centuries as generations of practitioners have successively contemplated them. Just like the planets, and the gods behind them, in astrology.

When I write about Pluto, Lord of the Underworld, he often gives me his blessing by turning up in the room behind me. Something of him comes closer to me, he starts to become, in a way, part of me. And it’s the same with the Buddhist archetypal figures when you contemplate them, or when you call upon them to help in a practical situation. One such figure is Vajrasattva, who embodies who you are when all the dross is out of the way, when you remember who you are and why you’re here (the North Node?) He is our 'original face', the fullness that is left when the infatuation with being a ‘somebody’, with ‘achievement’, recedes. I call on him when I need to open up the gap in my experience, when I’m in the grip of some painful emotion that is distorting my equanimity and steady judgement. I only recently began to look at him again, and after reciting his mantra, or sound equivalent, for a while, I began to have these words go through my head: “I am a brilliant human being!” Well we all are underneath it all, and this is what he was pointing me to.

Another figure is Avalokitesvara, in his form with 1000 arms, each holding a different implement. He embodies compassion, and the 1000 arms symbolise the different gifts, the different vocations that we all have that both nourish us and that one way or another impact positively on others. This is something I have come to believe in strongly, that life is about discovering the particular gifts that you have and using them. This is what I find a lot of astrological readings are about: helping people identify, and have courage in, their own gifts. Often people come to me at the point where they know what they want to do, but they are afraid they’ll be no good at it, afraid they’ll look stupid in the eyes of others. But that is a kind of initiatory fire that many of us have to go through, it often seems to be part of the process.

So this is kind of nudging me on to my points of disagreement with Buddhism, at least as it has come down to us. And it starts with the idea of the historical Buddha as a perfect human being. Was there something special about the period 2-2500 years ago when these ‘perfect’ people, like Christ and the Buddha, appeared? Anyone who called themselves perfect, or allowed themselves to be called perfect, would nowadays be rightly laughed out of court. I’ve never met anyone who is anywhere near ‘perfect’, and I’ve been around long enough to have confidence in my experience. There are people with more insight than most, yes, and such people can be pretty helpful. And I reckon it's the same now as it was then.

And yet Buddhism, for an orthodox Buddhist of any school, is rooted in the faith that the historical Buddha, about whom we actually know very little, was inwardly perfect (or ‘Enlightened’). The orthodox Buddhist then bases his or her life around the aspiration to replicate that perfection for themselves. Tenzin Palmo is one of these people, and very upfront about it. And so all the practices, effective and inspiring as they may be, take place in what seems to me to be this inauthentic context, a context that ultimately disempowers people. Because realistically, which of us has ever encountered perfection? It's a nice ideal, but is it something you can realistically feel is possible for you? Or for anyone? It's not part of being human.

Who knows what is the destiny of human consciousness? Who really knows what happens after we die? These are great imponderables and I, for one, am not looking for answers. The important thing is to try to be real while we are here, and the Buddhist tradition at its best (e.g. Dzogchen) has a firm grasp on this. But it is also a religious tradition which has inevitably accumulated all sorts of other dross on the way, 2500 years worth.

There is also the tradition of renunciation as providing the most effective conditions for spiritual progress, if you are up to it. This attitude comes across very clearly with Tenzin Palmo. I’m bothering to criticise her because I think she has some real attainments, and I admire her 12 years in the cave. You also get this in Christianity, where the monks and nuns and celibate priests are the ‘real’ practitioners.

Now I have no problem with people going off and meditating in caves for periods of their lives. For the right people at the right time in their lives, this can be very appropriate. In my experience most people are not talented meditators, including myself. It is a talent like any other, even though a certain amount of meditation seems to help most people. Yet this particular talent has been raised above all others as a sort of royal road to ‘perfection’ (how does one begin to untangle this one?)

If you are going to head off to a cave, or its equivalent, for an extended period, you’d better make sure you’re happy doing without the pleasures and involvements of ordinary life, that the pleasure and sense of meaning that a contemplative life gives you is commensurate. It’s a purely pragmatic decision. For, as any half-educated Buddhist knows, sense pleasures and personal relationships are in no sense harmful in themselves. It is how we deal with them that counts, and they can indeed be transformative. For most of us they are the stuff of life, they give it meaning, they are the charnel ground where we encounter ourselves at our best and at our worst.

But no. The renunciates, however ‘encouraging’ they are about the possibilities of progress in ‘worldly’ life, they still put it down, subtly or unsubtly, as second best. Renunciation for them is not just a pragmatic decision, it is a philosophy. And this is despite basic Buddhist teachings to the contrary, such as the fetter of seeing particular practices as ends in themselves, rather than as a means to an end. Tenzin Palmo has this philosophy (“relationships, let’s face it, can be pretty distracting”.) And it was there in the Buddhist set-up I used to be around, where the teacher encouraged celibacy as a superior path (while not being able to keep to it himself); you’d consequently get these poor people, usually young, wearing it as a badge of honour, when you knew they’d love nothing better than to get their ends away.

There are strengths and pitfalls to both ordinary life and to the contemplative life, and I think it is invidious to start implying one is better than the other: it creates inflation in monks and nuns, and it discourages people living ordinary lives. (In religions you get unwritten rules, and I have encountered a teacher who taught equivalence between ordinary and renunciative life, but in practice gave seniority to the more renunciate.) Broadly speaking, you could say that the strength of a contemplative life is depth of experience, and the pitfall is narrowness and naivety. Tenzin Palmo admitted that in some ways she got very dry during her 12 years in the cave, and immersed herself in music and literature when she came out. She described it as a rupture that needed healing. The pitfall of ordinary life, of course, is that so much is going on that we can forget about what gives a deeper sense of meaning. Its strength is that there is an ongoing challenge from the environment not to react in habitual ways, to look with fresh eyes, and when we succeeed we know it is for real, for it has been tested.

I could go on. There is the obvious issue of authority, around which any organised religion is to a large extent based. Adherents can find it very difficult to see, let alone admit to their compromise with authority, and the payback involved. It is substantially present (though of course not universal) in organised Buddhism just like anywhere else. But it did take me aback with Tenzin Palmo, for as far as I could see she had very much gone her own way, and gone where others would not have gone, in the context of a healthy and heartfelt relationship with her own teacher. So far so good. But her first instinct on deciding how to benefit others from what she had done was to think in terms of founding a nunnery where the young women would intensively study the relevant Buddhist texts in the original Tibetan, prior to heading off and becoming yoginis in their own right. Just like she did. Once it was set up, Tenzin Palmo would leave and resume her solitary meditational lifestyle. This struck me as naïve.

It is clear from her website that she is pretty much creating for women a copy of the monastic training for men that already exists. The women are joining as young as 15 years old, many with hardly any education, and subject to this narrow and intensive full-time training for years. No doubt they will benefit in some ways. But many of them will at the same time be subsumed by this system, they will be overawed by the teachers and their grand titles and the weight of tradition. In other words, authority. This is not what people need, and Tenzin Palmo seems as much as anything to be fighting a political battle to achieve equal status for women, at the expense of the women themselves.

It is clear to me that to this extent she doesn’t understand people’s real needs, the conditions they need to develop, despite the real insight she has gained through meditation, and the genuine goodwill she has towards people. And this is often characteristic of organised religion: there is ‘faith’ in its methods that blinds the teacher to what people actually need. You get this with the paedophile scandal in the Catholic Church. It’s partly caused by the arrested development of the priests, who as teenagers are shunted off to single-sex seminaries and told that sex is bad. The Pope has apologised on behalf of the Church for the scandal (in which he had been complicit), but seems unable to question the methods that have brought it about in the first place.

In the East, authority has always lain with the monks, who are organised hierarchically. This system is in its own way being replicated in the West, where you get these large Buddhist organisations held together by the authority of the teachers and senior disciples. And what the followers experience as 'faith' is often the hidden surrender of their own independence. Faith is a mixed thing: it is both healthy and necessary, but other more needy emotions also tend to jump on the bandwagon, and this is what makes it to that extent blind and resistant to a critical awareness of the tradition and of the teachers.

It’s a mess, and I accept that for some people finding their way out of this mess is part of their path; and for others who are dysfunctional (you get a high percentage in religious groups) the organisation and hierarchy provide a psychological security that enables them to cope.

(The astrological world is not immune from this. What I found at conferences was that you would get an over-emphasis on hierarchy, a clear division between 'names' and everyone else, that you could even spot in the dining-room. And the 'names' would award each other prizes (yes really!), and they would take it in turns to deliver the Dead Name Memorial Lecture. You could also spot the 'wannabe names'. I found this class-ridden context distasteful and disempowering. Which I why I like the blogosphere, because it is everything the self-styled 'establishment' is not!)

This brings me back to the 1000 armed Avalokitesvara and what I think the real purpose of a religious/spiritual grouping needs to be: it needs to be an informal network that helps people unfold their individual gifts and talents, for that is where their passion lies and their sense of purpose in being alive. The Buddhist practices and philosophy can be a very useful adjunct to this. But if, as in Tenzin Palmo's nunnery, you are a young person and all your time is taken up with philosophical and meditative training, and learning arcane languages and rituals, or working for the good of the organisation, and you are surrounded by people learning and doing more or less the same things, then where is the room for the individual and his/her talents? The words brain and wash come to mind. You end up with people who are sincere and well-meaning, but who lack the confidence to progress in the world, and substitute for this an inflated sense of themselves as ‘spiritual’ beings, unlike the rest of us who are immersed in the ‘mundane’ and doomed to endless rebirth.

And that’s another thing: Buddhism needs to ditch the notion that you find in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, that after we die we eventually flee back to a human body because we cannot handle naked reality. There is a certain truth in that, but it gives entirely the wrong emphasis. It is part of a Buddhist mindset that says earthly existence is basically a trap we need to transcend (Tenzin Palmo's view). I do not have a problem being embodied, and my aspiration is to feel entirely happy about being here on this beautiful earth before I die. And I’m here because there are things for me to do, and things to be learned, rather than because I am terrified of ultimate reality, or because I’m not ‘Enlightened’. I think it’s Buddhist scaremongering, just like the Tibetans do with their endless descriptions of hell (Tenzin Palmo agrees with me on that one), in a misguided attempt to get people to engage in spiritual practice. The Roman Catholic Church does the same thing.

Once when Tenzin Palmo was with her teacher, Kamtrul Rimpoche, she asked him a question. He replied well this is what the book says, and this is what I say. I liked that, the ability to function within a tradition without feeling beholden to it. Like any old tradition, Buddhism is like this pile of dross with the odd nugget of gold in it. And it’s only ever going to be a free-spirited minority, who have maybe been burnt by taking the dross too seriously, who will be able to be discerning. Like any religion.

I'm away till Friday, so I will join in the comment scrum at that point!

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

From the Horse's Mouth

I finished reading Cave in the Snow a few days ago, the story of the Englishwoman Tenzin Palmo, who spent 12 years (1976-88) 13,000 foot up a mountain in the Himalayas, meditating. She had first trained for many years within the Kargyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. She was inspired by its founder, Milarepa, who spent decades in solitary meditation. Part of her mission was to prove that women also could do this.

In the chapter called ‘Yogini’ she reluctantly discusses some of her inner experiences during that time. As she says: “Frankly, I don’t like discussing it. It’s like your sexual experiences. Some people like talking about them, others don’t. Personally I find it terribly intimate.” The author, Vicki Mackenzie, had to press her.

“Of course, when you do prolonged retreats you are going to have experiences of great intensity – times when your body completely melts away, or when you feel the body is flying. You get states of incredible awareness and clarity when everything becomes very vivid.”

There were visions too, but as she says: “The whole point is not to get visions but realisations. And realisations are quite bare. They are not accompanied by lights and music. We’re trying to see things as they really are. A realisation is non-conceptual. It’s not a product of the thinking process or the emotions – unlike visions which come from that level. A realisation is the white transparent light at the centre of the prism, not the rainbow colours around it.”

“There are states of incredible bliss. Bliss is the fuel of retreat. You can’t do any long-term practice seriously unless there is inner joy. Because the joy and enthusiasm is what carries you along. It’s like anything, if you don’t really like it you will have this inner resistance and everything is going to be very slow. That is why the Buddha named Joy as a main factor on the path.

The only problem with bliss is that because it arouses such enormous pleasure, beyond anything on a worldly level, including sexual bliss, people cling to it and really want it and then it becomes another obstacle.

Once when I was with the Togdens [an elite group of yogis, trained from a very young age] there were two monks who were training to be yogis. One day they were standing up outside shaking a blanket and they were so blissed out they could hardly stand up. You could actually feel these waves of bliss hitting you. The Togdens turned to me and said: “You know, when you start, this is what happens. You get completely overwhelmed by bliss and you don’t know what to do. After a while you learn how to control it and bring it down to manageable levels.” And it’s true. When you meet more mature practitioners they’re not completely speechless with all this great bliss, because they’ve learnt how to deal with it. And of course they see into its empty nature. You see, bliss in itself is useless. It’s only useful when it’s used as a state of mind for understanding Emptiness – when that blissful mind is able to look into its own nature. Otherwise it is just another subject of Samsara [mundane, conditioned existence]. You can understand emptiness on one level but to understand it on a very subtle level requires this complement of bliss. The blissful mind is a very subtle mind and that kind of mind looking at Emptiness is a very different thing from the gross mind looking at emptiness. And that is why one cultivates bliss.

You go through bliss. It marks just a stage on the journey. The ultimate goal is to realise the nature of the mind. The nature of the mind is unconditioned, non-dual consciousness. It is Emptiness and bliss. It is the state of Knowing without the Knower. And when it is realised it isn’t very dramatic at all. It’s like waking up for the first time – surfacing out of a dream and then realising you have been dreaming. That is shy the sages talk about all things being an illusion. Our normal way of being is muffled – it’s not vivid. It’s like breathing in stale air. Waking up is not sensational. It’s ordinary. But it’s extremely real.

At first you get just a glimpse of it. That is actually only the beginning of the path. People often think when they get that glimpse it is the whole thing, that they’ve reached the goal. Once you begin to see the nature of the mind then you can begin to meditate. Then after that you have to stabilize it until the nature of the mind becomes more and more familiar. And when that is done you integrate it into everyday life.”

There was the occasion one spring when the thaw of the winter snows had begun and her cave was being systematically flooded. “The walls and the floor were getting wetter and wetter and for some reason I was also not very well. I started to feel very down. Then I thought: “Why are you still looking for happiness in Samsara? And my mind just changed around. It was like: That’s right – Samsara is Dukkha [the fundamental unsatisfactory nature of life.] It’s OK that it’s snowing. It’s OK that I’m sick because that is the nature of Samsara. There’s nothing to worry about. If it goes well that’s nice. If it doesn’t go well that’s also nice. It doesn’t make any difference. Although it sounds very elementary, at the time it was a real breakthrough. Since then I have never really cared about external circumstances. In that way the cave was a great teaching because it was not too perfect.”

She remained deliberately vague about the precise nature of the practices she was doing. “I was doing very old traditional practices ascribed to the Buddha himself. They involve a lot of visualisation and internal yogic practices. Basically, you use the creative imaginative faculty of the mind to transform everything, both internally and externally. The creative imagination in itself is an incredibly powerful force. If you channel it in the right way it can reach very deep levels of mind which can’t be accessed through verbal means or mere analysis. This is because on a very deep level we think in pictures. If you are using pictures which have arisen in an Enlightened mind, somehow that unlocks very deep levels in our own minds.”

In the end, had it all been worth it?

“It’s not what you gain but what you lose. It’s like unpeeling the layers of an onion, that’s what you have to do. My quest was to understand what perfection meant. Now, I realise that on one level we have never moved away from it. It is only our deluded perception which prevents our seeing what we already have. The more you realise, the more you realise there is nothing to realise. The idea that there’s somewhere we have got to get to, and something we have to attain, is our basic delusion. Who is there to attain it anyway?”

Back in the world again, had there been a transformation?

“There is a kind of inner freedom which I don’t think I had when I started – an inner peace and clarity. I think it came from having to be self-sufficient, having nothing or no-one to turn to whatever happened. Also while I was in retreat everything became dreamlike, just as the Buddha described. One could see the illusory nature of everything going on around one – because one was not in the middle of it. And then when you come out you see that people are so caught up in their life – we identify so totally with what we’ve created. We believe in it so completely. That’s why we suffer – because there’s no space for us. Now I notice there is an inner distance towards whatever occurs, whether what’s occurring is outwards or inwards. Sometimes, it feels like being in an empty house with all the doors and windows wide open and the wind just blowing through without anything obstructing it. Sometimes one gets caught up again, but now one knows that one is caught up again.

It’s not a cold emptiness, it’s a warm spaciousness. It means that one is no longer involved in one’s ephemeral emotions. One sees how people cause so much of their own suffering just because they think that without having these strong emotions they’re not real people.

Why does one go into retreat? One goes into a retreat to understand who one really is and what the situation truly is. When one begins to understand oneself then one can truly understand others because we are all interrelated. It is very difficult to understand others while one is still caught up in the turmoil of one’s emotional involvement – because we’re always interpreting others from the standpoint of our own needs. That’s why, when you meet hermits who have really done a lot of retreat, say 25 years, they are not cold and distant. On the contrary. They are absolutely lovely people. You know that their love for you is totally without judgement because it doesn’t rely on who you are or what you are doing, or how you treat them. It’s totally impartial. It’s just love. It’s like the sun – it shines on everyone. Whatever you did they’d still love you because they understand your predicament and in that understanding naturally arises love and compassion. It’s not based on sentiment. It’s not based on emotion. Sentimental love is very unstable, because it’s based on feedback and how good it makes you feel. That is not real love at all.”

Later we read: “There is the thought, and then there is the knowing of the thought. And the difference between being aware of the thought and just thinking is immense…. It’s enormous. Normally we are so identified with our thoughts and emotions, that we are them. We are the happiness, we are the anger, we are the fear. We have to learn to step back and know our thoughts and emotions are just thoughts and emotions. They’re just mental states. They’re not solid, they’re transparent. One has to know that and then not identify with the knower. One has to know that the knower is not somebody. The further back we go, the more open and empty the quality of our consciousness becomes. Instead of finding some solid little eternal entity, which is “I”, we get back to this vast spacious mind which is interconnected with all living beings.

Once we realise that the nature of our existence is beyond thought and emotions, that it is incredibly vast and interconnected with all other beings, then the sense of isolation, separation, fear and hopes fall away. It’s a tremendous relief!

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Monday, August 11, 2008

I’m reading ‘Cave in the Snow’, the story of Tenzin Palmo, an Englishwoman who spent 12 years meditating in a cave in the Himalayas. I have a mixed response to Tibetan Buddhism. On the one hand I feel quite a strong affinity with it, you can see people around it who have a lot of power and insight and compassion, and yet who are also unassuming and down-to-earth. But I just don’t get the whole renunciative thing, it seems to me like cutting off limbs that are there to be used. And I don’t get strange notions like aiming for perfection, for Enlightenment. That’s like imposing an idea onto our lives, and life is far too vast and unknowable to be able to do that. Nor do I get the first Noble Truth, that life is inherently uncomfortable and painful, and that we need to do something to end that (the 3rd and 4th Noble Truths). I’m quite happy to live with a certain amount of discomfort, and anyway discomfort is often creative, it’s like an astrological square.

When Tenzin Palmo (then Diane Perry) was about 20 (in the early 60s) she bumped into the soon-to-be famous – and notorious - Chogyam Trungpa in London. He was still a young man and had only just arrived in the West. He said to her that he’d been used to being a high lama in Tibet, and that he now had no disciples, and needed one, so could he teach her? She was only too pleased, and benefitted from his teaching. The book continues:

‘But Tenzin Palmo also experienced at first hand the more controversial side of Trungpa. She was neither upset, nor outraged (unlike his recent detractors), nor did she take the high moral ground. Quite the contrary. ‘I can remember the first time I met him. As I walked into the room he patted the seat next to him on the sofa, indicating I should sit beside him. We were in the middle of afternoon tea, eating cucumber sandwiches and talking about deep Buddhist subjects when I suddenly felt his hand going up my skirt. I didn’t scream but I did have on stiletto heels and Trungpa was wearing sandals! He didn’t scream either, but he did remove his hand very quickly,’ she said laughing as she recalled the event.

Trungpa was not to be deterred. ‘He was always suggesting I sleep with him. And I kept saying “No way,” she continued. ‘The fact was, he was not being truthful. He was presenting himself as a pure monk and saying that meeting me had swept him off his feet etc, which I thought was a load of baloney, although I did think he was ‘pure’ because I couldn’t see how a high Tibetan Lama would have had the opportunity to be otherwise. And I certainly was not going to be the cause of any monk losing his vows. I didn’t want anything to damage Mahayana Buddhism. If he had said to me “Look, my dear, I’ve had women since I was thirteen and I have a son, don’t worry about it,” which was true, I would have said, “Let’s go,” because what would have been more fascinating than to practise with Trungpa? None of the men I knew were anything like him,’ she said with surprising candour, referring to the fact that in the higher stages of Tibetan Buddhism in tantra, one takes a sexual partner to enhance one’s spiritual insights. ‘So, he lost out by presenting that pathetic image!’ she added.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Of Eclipses and Crop Circles

This is the latest Visual Astrology Newletter from Bernadette Brady. It's free, and you can subscribe here.

The Eclipse, the Swallows and Crop Circles -
Cosmos and Culture in the wheat fields.
Bernadette Brady M.A.

Every summer the south west of England is awash with the most magical and beautiful phenomena known as crop circles. Reported since the seventeenth-century, these circle have defied researchers as to how to understand them. Considered by most to be hoaxes, the simple fact stands that although some may well be made with ropes and planks, others are so large, so perfect and so mysterious in their geometry and appear so quickly that most unbiased viewers are left only with awe and wonder.

Independent of the nature of their creators, these circles are a cultural part of an English summer. The circles vary from one year to the next but this particular summer there has been a collection of astronomical circles suggestive of this current eclipse season [1].

Figure 1. Formation (left) at Winterbourne Bassett, England, on 18 June, possibly showing an eclipse, solar or lunar. Formation (right) at East Kennett, England, on 7 July appeared to give the correct timing to the lunar eclipse due on 16 August 2008.

The first of these cycles [2] appeared at Winterbourne Bassett, England, on 18 June (see Figure 1). It was rough which suggests that it is not made by the “crop circle artists” but it seemed to be showing an eclipse image. If we considered the large circle to be the sun with its corona, then this might be talking of the total solar eclipse on the 1 August 2008. If the large circle is the shadow of the earth and the smaller circle is the Moon passing through this shadow, then this might be talking of the lunar eclipse due on 16 August, 2008. Within a few weeks of this crop circle appearing, the eclipse theme was taking shape with the clearest example being a formation at East Kennett, England, on 7 July which shows "forty days or two Mayan months" until a near-total lunar eclipse on August 16, 2008” [3]

To possibly underline the Mayan message of this circle, on 15 July at Avebury Manor, Wiltshire, the “crop circle artists” then gave an almost standard Mayan signature - a circle which was a orrery in the wheat field showing the orientation of the solar system for the date 21 December, 2012 (Figure 2).

A crop circle orrery for 21 December 2012 seems to be referring to the ever-growing concerns for the year 2012. At the heart of these concerns is the ending of a Mayan calendar great cycle. The Mayan calendar includes the great cycle of precession where the north celestial pole slowly rotates through an ellipse which takes around 26,000 years to complete. In the year 2012 the current pole star Polaris will be as close as it can get to being exactly on the north celestial pole. Pole stars are rare, the last one being in approximately 2790 BCE with Thuban in Draco. This alignment of the pole with the star Polaris was, apparently, for the Mayans the marker for the beginning and end of their great cycle of ages.

Figure 2. Formation in Avebury, UK, on 15 July showing the solar system for 21 December, 2012.

Many people believe this to be apocalyptic but one must remember that, as with all cycles, they do not have shape edges but tend to slowly emerge as they step through their stages. thus any so called endings could take several thousand years to manifest.

Here the crop circle artist is capturing the cultural interest in this date – a literal cosmos and culture phenomena in the fields around Avebury, UK, and possibly suggesting the early eclipse crop circle is indeed based on the Mayan system of months.

So what are the eclipses of this current season that someone seems to be wanting to draw in the landscape?

The August 2008 Eclipses

The eclipse season of July-August 2008 produces a solar eclipse at 100 Leo on 1 August. This eclipse is from Saros Series 10 South which began on 10 March 1179 and will not complete until 13 April 2423. This series, based on its "birth" chart, is delineated in Predictive Astrology, the Eagle and the Lark as:

This saros series concerns itself with breaking out of a very negative situation where no hope can be seen to a more positive space containing many options. A worry that may have been affecting a person will suddenly clear. [4]

Already this theme is emerging with the Serbian ex-leader, Radovan Karadzic, who has been in hiding for the last 13 years, being found and bought to trial. On a smaller more personal level many clients have been reporting that their old problems, large and small, are emerging again but now with clarity and solutions. However, it is not the solar eclipse that is the theme of the wheat fields in the west of England.

The Lunar Eclipse on 16 August 2008

The lunar eclipse on the 16 August is at 240 Aquarius and belongs to the lunar Saros series labelled with the van den Berg number of 138. The series began on the 5 October 1503. [5]

This first eclipse, in 1503, occurred with the Moon located in the Babylonian constellation of “the swallows” which we now know as the fishes of Pisces.

Figure 3.The lunar eclipse series began (5 October, 1503) with a lunar eclipse in the stars of Pisces, known as "The Swallows" (Left). On the 10 July in Alton Priors, Wiltshire, a formation containing six birds appeared called the "Swallows" which expanded on 22 July to contain twelve swallows.

On 10 July 2008 a beautiful crop circle appeared on the hills around Alton Priors, UK, and it was named by the crop circles image collectors as “The Swallows”. It contained six swallows. However, by 22 July the crop circle had grown to contain twelve swallows. This formation was over 100 meters wide and 150 meters long and drew bus loads of foreign tourists to its beauty. I visited this formation myself and had the joy of watching swallows perform low flying swoops along the “rivers” of flattened wheat.

Various websites suggested that this huge formation was associated with the eclipses in August. However, the three way link between the eclipse, its origins within the Swallows in the sky on the on 5 October, 1503, and the crop circle formation of "The Swallows" is probably more synchronistic than planned. Nevertheless, it set me off on a journey of research of this particular lunar saros series. For me the zeitgeist was "speaking".

The Lunar Saros Series #138

The series, like a solar eclipse series, will produce a new lunar eclipse every 18 years 9 or 12 days (depending on the number of leap years in the 18 years). Each eclipse will occur 11-to-12 degrees further along in zodiacal degrees. At the beginning of the series the lunar eclipses (the position of the full moon) occurs in front of the transiting node (greater zodiacal longitude) but at each occurrence the orb decreases by around half a degree. Thus the lunar eclipses slowly become total and then move out again to partial and final complete and in this way the series unfolds over a period of 1481 years.

The dates of the entire Lunar Saros series (van don Berg #138).

1503 Oct 05 1521 Oct 15 1539 Oct 27 1557 Nov 06 1575 Nov 18 1593 Dec 08 1611 Dec 19 1629 Dec 30 1648 Jan 10 1666 Jan 20 1684 Feb 01 1702 Feb 12 1720 Feb 23 1738 Mar 06 1756 Mar 16 1774 Mar 27 1792 Apr 07 1810 Apr 19 1828 Apr 29 1846 May 11 1864 May 21 1882 Jun 01 1900 Jun 13 1918 Jun 24 1936 Jul 04 1954 Jul 16 1972 Jul 26 1990 Aug 06 2008 Aug 16 2026 Aug 28 2044 Sep 07 2062 Sep 18 2080 Sep 29 2098 Oct 10 2116 Oct 21 2134 Nov 02 2152 Nov 12 2170 Nov 23 2188 Dec 04 2206 Dec 16 2224 Dec 26 2243 Jan 07 2261 Jan 17 2279 Jan 28 2297 Feb 08 2315 Feb 20 2333 Mar 02 2351 Mar 13 2369 Mar 24 2387 Apr 04 2405 Apr 14 2423 Apr 26 2441 May 06 2459 May 17 2477 May 28 2495 Jun 08 2513 Jun 19 2531 Jun 30 2549 Jul 11 2567 Jul 22 2585 Aug 01 2603 Aug 13 2621 Aug 24 2639 Sep 04 2657 Sep 14 2675 Sep 26 2693 Oct 06 2711 Oct 18 2729 Oct 28 2747 Nov 09 2765 Nov 19 2783 Nov 30 2801 Dec 11 2819 Dec 22 2838 Jan 01 2856 Jan 13 2874 Jan 23 2892 Feb 03 2910 Feb 15 2928 Feb 26

Poison, popes and power - the first eclipse.

October 1503 was a time of intrigue in the Vatican The Pope Alexander VI had died, believed by poison, and the newly elected pope Pope Pius III was dead within ten days of being anointed. Into this time of upheaval, the power-hungry cardinal, Della Rovere succeeded by dexterous diplomacy to trick the weakened college of cardinals into supporting him.

Della Rovere was elected to the papal dignity by the near-unanimous vote of the cardinals. He became Pope Julius II and his reign was marked by an aggressive foreign policy, ambitious building projects, and patronage of the arts and literature. Indeed in 1506 he laid the foundation stone for the new Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome and Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for him.

Figure 4 - The Lunar series #138 origin chart of 5 October, 1503.

The first Lunar eclipse in the series captured a cardinal grand cross of a partile square between Neptune and the eclipse and a Mars-Jupiter-Saturn combination.

Issues of poison, the arts, and religious military power and intrigue within the Vatican or any halls of power all seem to sit comfortably with chart. However, being the "birth" chart of an eclipse series, these themes, I believe, become embedded within the whole series.

We can follow this theme through history by looking at events at times of other occurrences of eclipses of the series. Here follow are some interesting examples:

June 1990 - The Boxer Rebellion in China - China in conflict with westerners.

13 June, 1900 - This was the period of the Boxer Rebellion in China when troops from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Austria-Hungary, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United States, Russia and Japan were all under siege in an area near the Forbidden City in Peking (Beijing) and the provincial governments of China was declaring war on all westerners and Christians in the city.

Figure 4 - (left) A Chinese Boxer rebel (1900) waving a banner supporting the imperial armies conflict with ALL foreigners; and (right) a Chinese member of the Olympic ceremony waving a banner for the games.

This same series which is linked with the Boxer rebellion, where the Chinese declared war on all western countries, is now returning With the Chinese staging the Olympic games, athletic teams from all the different nations of the world are "invading" China and the Chinese, being the host country, are openly in "conflict" with them all in order to win medals.

The Partition of Vietnam and its reuniting in 1972.

The series also occurred in mid July 1954 and this was the timing of the Geneva Conference which partitioned Vietnam into North and South Vietnam. This partition was in place until the very next occurrence in the series on 26 July 1972, when the last US troops were removed from Vietnam on 25 July 1972.

The Gulf War - the last occurrence of the eclipse series.

The last occurrence of this series was on 6 August 1990, the date when Iraq invaded Kuwait which lead to the first Gulf War and began the still-continuing conflict in Iraq. A time of military conflict fuelled by the lust for oil which dragged many nations into the conflict. Added to this and largely missed by the world press which was occupied with the conflict in the Gulf, there was an announcement by the Germans that East and West Germany would reunite to form one country once again.

The forthcoming lunar eclipse

There are many other occurrences of this eclipse without the death of popes, partitioning or rejoining of countries and the emphasis on the arts and literature. However, if we consider the crop circles (regardless of their origins) as an expression of a theme or idea in the the collective, the current zeitgeist, then this implies a focus on this particular expression. But there is another interesting feature of this eclipse. If we look at the sky maps for the original eclipse in 1503 and compare this to the sky for the time of the forthcoming eclipse - 16 August 2008 - there are some interesting similarities. Both eclipses haveNeptune and Uranus in the same location amongst the stars. (see figure 5).

Figure 5 - Above - the sky map for the first lunar eclipse in this series with Neptune approaching the stars of Capricorn and Uranus amongst the stars of Aquarius. Below - the sky map for the forthcoming lunar eclipse on the 16 August, 2008, showing similar positions for Neptune and Uranus.

Intrigue in places of power

The Olympic games in China will, I feel, embrace the conflict nature of this eclipse particularly with its association with the Boxer Rebellion. However, is it possible that in this summer we may see the return of some papal intrigue, some Vatican mystery or this intrigue could occur in other halls of power.

At the moment the UK Prime ministership sits uneasily on Gordon Brown's shoulders. Further, one can only guess at the issues of power within the dynamics of the USA political system with an outgoing President and two presidential hopefuls. Or will a return of the eclipse of "The Swallows" bring with it division or reunion of countries? After all "The Swallows" are traditionally two animals (birds or fishes) moving in different directions but held together by the knot star Al Rescha.

The crop circles may not know but they may still be valid symbols of things to come -let us wait and see what the lunar eclipse of the Swallows brings.


1. Astronomical, lunar emphasis, crop circles have also been reported in Korea.

2. All crop circle images are from accessed 30 July 2008.

3. accessed 30 July 2008

4. Brady, Bernadette (1992, 98). Predictive Astrology, the Eagle and the Lark. Samuel Weiser; Maine, USA. pg 323. All the solar Saros Series are astrologically delineated in this text.

5. For all the lunar eclipse series information see accessed 30 July 2008.

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