Sunday, August 25, 2013

Thinking about Thinking

I’m on my own for 6 days, while V and Finn are up in Scotland. I’m left looking after the dog and horses. I’m loving being on my own, doesn’t happen often. I’ve been sort of writing a story, hence no blogs, but then last night it all came out on Facebook after I put up a quote by the writer Harlan Ellison, which I then proceeded to comment on. Here is what I said.

“If you make people think they’re thinking, they’ll love you; but if you really make them REALLY think, they’ll hate you.”
- Harlan Ellison

REALLY thinking - I think that's when you ask people to look at their basic assumptions and values, things they take for granted as reality, things that are important to them, albeit maybe inconsistent and contradictory. They won't like you for that, even if they want to go there, it's still painful.

Values are the Second House in Astrology. They are so central to who we are (and often unconscious) that I think they should be an Angular House.

Oh dear, I've just questioned the canon, does that constitute REALLY thinking? 

And then there's people thinking they're thinking. I think an example is the liberal consensus of political views, they often come as a package - anti-nuclear, anti-fracking, anti-GMO, pro-abortion, anti-capitalist. Now I'm not saying I disagree with these things, I have qualified agreement with some of them depending on the day of the week. But they are often held in a black and white way, holding one view implies you hold the others, and that is not thinking. One is just thinking what 'thinking people' think! And you can get people who don't share all or even any of these views who are just as concerned about other people and the state of the planet, who maybe REALLY think!

In a way, I don't think that WHAT we think matters too much. It's how we hold our views that matter, it's to do with rigidity and lack of openness, and you get that across the political and religious/philosophical spectrum. You really do, for example, get people anti-religion in a fundamentalist way, and I think I'd have more in common with a tolerant Muslim or Christian or Jedi Knight.

I think one phenomenon that creates rigidity, and it's a very natural one, is when someone holds another person in high regard as a teacher or influence. Or a tradition like Tibetan Buddhism. There is often an unconscious rigidity there about the teacher or tradition that forestalls questioning and grown-up discussion. But it's a phase a lot of us have to go through. REALLY thinking is a big ask, I think it takes a long time for most of us.


When I say openness I don't mean it in just an intellectual sense. That is easy. I mean it particularly in relation to things we FEEL strongly about, as they don't tend to get questioned. As William Blake said: "A man convinced against his will, retains the same opinion still." It's that 'will' that counts, that isn't always amenable to logic.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Geography of the Underworld Part 4



You can find the 1st 3 parts of this blog here, here and here.

But let’s move out of the ‘psychological’ in the sense of a purely inner experience. I don’t think Pluto and the Underworld can be fully understood in those terms, for Pluto is a god and the Underworld is a place, and the natural way to understand them therefore is as ‘outer’ rather than ‘inner’. And as I said at the start, let us not separate those 2 categories too rigidly. It is an artificial distinction that is necessary for everyday life.

Under a major Pluto transit (or Neptune for that matter) it can be as though our soul has gone elsewhere. We can say it has withdrawn deep within, or we can say it has gone somewhere else. We are probably the only society that has ever existed that has a predominant belief that material reality is the only reality, with all the rigidity around space and time that comes with that. For such a mind-set, our personality is confined to and identical with the physical limits of the body. I suspect that not many of my readers believe that. Well, you can’t believe that if you are an astrologer, our art is based on the synchronicities between inner and outer. Reality is subtle and without set boundaries. When I write about him, Pluto often turns up as a presence behind my shoulder. That experience is just as real as the desk I am sitting at.

So under a Pluto transit our soul is called to another place, to the Underworld, that is somewhat like the Greek one. It is ‘over there’ in some subtle reality, in the Otherworld, if you like. A world in which a few of us almost seem to dwell full-time, or at least be aware of all the time as an ongoing part of who we are, as in a way more real than the very solid material world around us.

And there are powers in that place, there are gods which as astrologers we identify as the Greek/Roman gods. And we are ‘called’ there, or even forced there kicking and screaming, under a major Pluto transit. We ‘have’ to go there, and if we have sense we do so willingly, albeit with teeth gritted and fingers crossed. And a coin in our mouth!

It is our Fate. A narrow notion of an all-powerful ‘free-will’ is absurd beside this psychic reality. And Fate seems to have a much better idea of where our life needs to go than does our Free will, particularly at times of major change.
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And that change is not necessarily rooted in the need for personal, psychological change. It may be just one of those things that life throws at us because that is what life does. Everyone dies, everyone goes to Hades, and that is associated with the 5 rivers of pain. Even if we are psychologically well-balanced and living according to what our vocation demands, what the gods want of us, painful events can still occur under Pluto transits. Close relatives die, we lose our health and so on. Those outer events may have inner correspondences, or they may not: it is part of the astrologer’s art – or the readers of omens – to be able to tell.

The Three Fates
I think this idea of the gods – of Pluto and his Underworld – as a kind of Fate that informs our lives, connects us to a qualitatively different way of living, that free will alone cannot provide. Fate not just as material laws like physical death, but as any event that has a synchronous quality. And since Fate, in the sense of the mysterious purposes of the gods, is much bigger than our personal free will, it makes sense to view our lives more as being directed by the gods than by ourselves. Or by the Unconscious, or just by Life itself.

The astrological chart is a map of the claims, sometimes harmonious and sometimes conflicting, that the gods make on us individually: the chart reveals how unique we are, at the same time as revealing our Fate. Wisdom is the awareness of those claims, and the ability to respond to them, and in a way the ability not to question them, to know that the wider purposes involved are beyond one individual’s understanding.

As a kind of sop to rationalism, astrologers can be eager to deny that the planets cause events; rather, we sometimes say, they are a synchronous reflection of events in our lives and in the world. But I think this does not do justice to Fate. Neptune caused the storms that obstructed Odysseus on his journey home. This seems clear from the Odyssey. 

Odysseus clings to a raft in an ocean storm.
The planets/gods are more powerful forces in our lives than is our individual will, so it is more true to say the planets cause events than it is to say that we do! Of course we need not to be rigid about this, but at least let us not allow our philosophy of astrology to be determined by modern notions of rationality -  a term which originally meant proportionate, as in ‘ratio’, rather than dryly logical and ‘scientific’.

So I think this kind of Fate vs Free Will perspective is needed to have a productive relationship with Pluto and the Underworld. The Underworld is life itself, it is a kind of ever-present nourishment that we can feel if we are connected to it: it provides the power to live our life as it is right now, and it provides the power to change it when the time comes. And that power has its own purposes, that also involves the creative spark of Uranus and the continuous re-imagining of life and the universe that is Neptune.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

The Geography of the Underworld: Part 3 of 4


You can find the first 2 parts of this blog here and here.

River Styx, Kentucky
Finally, there are the rivers of Hades – Styx, Acheron, Lethe, Phlegethon and Cocytus – associated with hatred, pain, oblivion, fire and wailing respectively. The rivers appear in both this world and the Underworld.

“Their names were meant to reflect the emotions associated with death” (Wiki). Presumably that means the emotions associated with dying rather than being dead, for otherwise there wouldn’t be the Elysian Fields. Psychologically, they partly seem to describe the painful emotions associated with a Pluto transit that is being resisted – and that is often an unconscious thing. It even happens to us good guys who think we are up for change (ha ha! Pluto soon shows us where we are not.)




And the rivers are also unacknowledged pain that gets dredged up by Pluto. Rivers of pain: that is the metaphor that the Greek Underworld presents us with. Rivers that flow through us, and we need to go with them downstream to the ocean, to the bigger identity that Pluto is pushing for. Pluto is never just helping us sort our psychological difficulties in a narrow sense. There is always a bigger agenda, a new perspective on ourselves and on existence that is the real meaning of the transit. The Underworld is the place from which we move on to the next stage of life, and our psychological difficulties are a gateway to that. They are like fissures under the earth, represented by Pluto’s brother Chiron, through which the molten lava of the outer planets, of life, can break through. Their father Saturn is the guy who has the responsibility for giving shape to the results of all this seismic activity. In this way Saturn and Chiron are each in their own way bridges to the outer planets, as their places in the solar system, on the borders between the inner and outer planets, suggest.

Rodin: The Three Shades
Hatred, pain, oblivion, fire and wailing. A graphic quintet of suffering through which we pass into the Underworld. Oblivion is the forgetting of our previous earthly existence that occurs when we drink from the river Lethe, a requirement for the shades who have entered the Underworld. “Shades”: that is, in a sense, what we can become under a life changing transit, at least for a while. We may go through the motions of day-to-day existence, but our energy has been taken elsewhere for transformation. That is what I often suggest people try to tune into at these difficult times when ‘normal’ life no longer seems to work. It is as though the energy has all gone into a crucible deep within us, and if you can tune into that, you’ll see that life is there just as strongly as it was before, but in a different form, a natural form that we are not used to, but which constitutes winter in the myth of Persephone. Like the bulb of a tulip or daffodil, or the chrysalis of a butterfly.

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And the Oblivion, the Forgetting, is part of this. You may notice, as a Pluto transit begins, that some activity that was very important to you starts to lose its appeal. The energy and interest that were there have leached away, almost without you noticing. This can be very painful if, for example, your sense of who you are, or your livelihood, or your marriage, are involved. But the ‘old you’ has gone, you have forgotten him/her. And this is necessary in order for the new eventually to be born.

Gustave Dore: Matelda immerses Dante in Lethe
This is always an interesting period – when we are a Shade – because we often can’t define ourselves in the usual way. The standard props that make us ‘normal’ – career, marriage, earnings, reputation – may fall away, and in a way we are dead to the world. So how do we define ourselves in this period, how do we value ourselves when we have nothing to show? Pluto humbles us, and we have to look within for a source of value. He is the destroyer of Saturn the worldly taskmaster, who says you are only what you earn, your social standing, that which can be measured. Painful as it is, we can emerge from the Underworld with a looser and more open sense of who we are, with less of a need to define ourselves, and more open therefore to the outer planets, to the gods.

The Pluto transit can also reveal a forgetting. For whatever reason – self-doubt, perceived expectations of others, lack of courage, unbalanced sense of values – Pluto’s riches, our gifts and talents, can be put to one side, dismissed as nugatory. This can go on right through life. And it seems to apply particularly to talents that are very particular and personal to us, for which there are no recognised certificates to re-assure us that we are indeed competent. You and you alone have to be the judge of that, you have to find a confidence that is independent of others. And I get this issue regularly in readings, for it is often a stopping point for people, they can go no further unless they go through the fires of self-doubt, which may last for years: that sort of fire almost seems to be part of the initiation into one’s own gifts. And into one’s individuality, another of Pluto’s gifts: that which makes us distinct from the collective, which pursued far enough makes us distinguished, like the beings in the Elysian Fields.

Gold Mine
So in this sense the function of the transit is to get us to remember that which we have forgotten. Not usually entirely forgotten: sometimes it is like a niggle that we have put to one side, maybe for years or decades, that can seem like a small part of us. But then that niggle turns out to be something much bigger than we ever thought under a Pluto transit. All we saw was Chiron, the fissure, and not the molten Plutonian lava underneath. And this ignoring can be a like a deep pain that we are sometimes aware of, Tartarus, repressed aspects of ourselves; and the river out of Tartarus is Phlegethon, the river of fire that we may need to go through in claiming our gifts.




There can be a make-or-break quality to this encounter with Tartarus. In the words of saying No 70 of the Gospel of St Thomas: "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you." 


Sunday, August 04, 2013

Pope Francis and the Madonna



I bought some astro-dice off Amazon recently. There are 3 of them, one for the planets, one for the signs and one for the houses. And you ask a question. Or you raise an issue. And the throw of the dice will help you talk around it. I threw them a few nights ago, being in a bit of Aquarian ‘outsider’ self-doubt. The dice gave me Moon in in Aries in the 2nd House. Feel (Moon) the value (2nd House) of how you want to do things, your own fresh vision (Aries.) And that turned it around for me. A week later I suddenly feel like I’ve got a lot to say.

But that’s not what this piece is about. It’s about that ultimate insider, the Pope. The 9th House in a chart is religion, universities, travel, legal matters. And you often find a planet there in the charts of religious leaders. And that planet says something important about the nature of their religious leadership.

The Pope’s predecessor Benedict, as well as the Dalai Lama, have Saturn in the 9th. A classic placement for a conservative religious leader. The Dalai Lama seems to be one of the good guys, but in his public role he will stand up for the tradition, like the time in San Francisco when he condemned homosexuality when he was put on the spot. Pope John Paul II, Benedict’s predecessor, had Pluto in the 9th. Under his leadership the paedophile priest cover-up was legitimised, and there were persistent rumours that his predecessor, John Paul I, who only lasted a couple of months as Pope, had been murdered.

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The new Pope, Francis I, has an empty 9th, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be there. How many people with successful careers have an empty 10th House? Lots. You can look to other factors, and in the case of the 9th House we can look to the planet and sign associated with the House, Jupiter and Sagittarius. And Francis has Sun conjunct Node in Sagittarius conjunct Jupiter in Capricorn. And the ruler of the 9th, Neptune, is square to the Sun. And Jupiter is also opposite his Ascendant and trine his MC.

Houses are not the same as signs. You can, however, see them as the inner and outer faces of the same thing, signs being inner and houses being outer. And inner and outer are not rigidly separate categories, in fact they are profoundly interconnected, at a deeper level they are the same thing. Otherwise how could the planets (outer) describe our inner states? I think it’s a matter of emphasis.

So this is a guy with a strong ‘spiritual’ quest, a search for meaning: Sun in Sag conjunct Jupiter. With Jupiter in Capricorn, he is likely to pursue his quest through traditional, institutional means. And with Sun conjunct the North Node, this quest for meaning is absolutely central to who he is, it is where he learns what he needs to learn, and life will have a habit of throwing him in situations where the issue is forced. Like being Pope!

Sun in Sag conjunct Jupiter and square to Neptune. He has both Jupiter and Neptune impacting powerfully on his Sun-Node. Both look to the absolute, but with Jupiter it is philosophy and ideas and doctrine, whereas with Neptune it is experience, it is mysticism. So he has a mystical streak in him, but Jupiter is more powerful, being also the dispositor of his Sun. So he is more of a doctrine man than a mystic, and Jupiter in Capricorn makes him quite traditional.

But he has another side to him: Moon-Venus in Aquarius square to Uranus on the MC. That is powerful and unconventional. His Sun-Jupiter can be quite rigid and doctrinaire, but Moon-Venus gives a pronounced feminine quality, a deep capacity for sympathy and artistic sensibility. It is kind of the opposite to having a Sun-Mars conjunction, the 2 masculine planets. (Advice: never argue with a Sun-Mars!)

His Moon-Venus is also in Aquarius in the 7th, and when I first saw it, and the placement of Uranus, I thought we have an unconventional Pope here, but because of his doctrinal conservatism, I was left puzzled.

But now he has done it. A few days ago he announced “Who am I to judge gays?” He still considers homosexual acts to be a sin, though not the orientation. But it’s still amazing coming from the mouth of a Pope. I’m not sure it’s possible to read gayness from a chart, though one might expect Aquarius-Uranus because it is unconventional, particularly 77 years ago when the Pope was born. So he may be speaking for himself.

 When I saw his Moon-Venus I also thought I bet he’s a worshipper of the Madonna, and then I found it in Wiki: ”In Germany he saw the painting Mary Untier of Knots in Augsburg and brought a copy of the painting to Argentina where it has become an important Marian devotion.”



Looking through his life, there isn’t the same dirty background that his predecessors had. Pope Benedict, as Cardinal Ratzinger under Pope John-Paul II, was not just his doctrinal enforcer but masterminded the cover-up of paedophile priests.

There is an allegation that Francis could have done more to help a priest who had been imprisoned and tortured during the Dirty War in Argentina (his country) during the 1970s, but who knows, it was such a difficult situation to be in, and the reports about him generally are much more favourable in terms of who he helped in those times. What is striking about Francis is his genuine sympathy for minorities and for other faiths, he really does seem to respect them, and he’s willing to go out on a limb like a true Aquarian. The ‘gay’ announcement is in line with his previous history.

So this Moon-Venus in Aquarius square Uranus-MC is going to strongly influence his Papacy, allowing for radical action while softening and humanising the religious nutter side of Sun-Jupiter! The Moon is also the chart ruler, adding to its prominence. Aquarius gives a political, airy edge to the Moon-Venus, it can stop it being sentimental. So this is the type of Papacy I think we will see: one that is on the one hand quite traditional, but also one with heart, one that is human, and one that will reform the Church. 

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In his Progressed Chart, the Asc is about to change sign into Scorpio and gradually move into opposition with Uranus. So he will be personally prepared to address the darker issues facing the church, and to take radical action. In the coming years, the Prog MC and Pluto will approach each other, meaning that over time he will be able to translate this personal expression (Prog Asc) into results within the church.

Black Madonna

Another area of progress, due to his Moon-Venus, is likely to be women. I never quite know what to make of the Dark Moon (the other focus in the Moon’s elliptical path around the Earth), but it is at 8 Scorpio in Francis’ Chart, forming a t-square with Moon-Venus and Uranus. I heard someone describing it recently as women’s repressed sexuality, that really they have more desire than men and are only monogamous because they are conditioned to be. There’s something in that, though I don’t entirely agree with it. But in the context of the Church, Francis’ Dark Moon in Scorpio, his Black Madonna, seems at this stage to be about moving the church towards equal status for women, and to some extent taking their point of view - he does, after all, have a Moon-Venus conjunction, he's probably more feminine than most women..

In one of his most important speeches delivered in Rio, Francis described the church in feminine terms, saying it would be “sterile” without women. Asked what role he foresaw, he said the church must develop a more profound role for women in the church, though he said “the door is closed” to ordaining women to the priesthood.

So it’s a bit like the gay thing, move forward a bit, but not too much. Political. And maybe that’s what he believes as well, who knows.

For all its mutability, Sagittarius at its worst is the sign of the religious fanatic and fundamentalist. And fanaticism and fundamentalism are the norm for the Catholic hierarchy, but we can neglect to think that because of the walls of normality and respectability with which it is surrounded.

And let’s face it, there is a load of tosh you need to believe if you are to get anywhere in the Catholic Church. And Francis is no doubt an ardent believer in most of this tosh. As an educated Sagittarius, he knows philosophy, enough not to fall for this nonsense. And I think there is a battle between his Sun and his Moon (even though they do not aspect each other.) His Sun has him believing nonsense like it’s OK to be gay as long as you aren’t sexually active, and that women shouldn’t be priests (though why any sane woman would want to be an RC priestess I don’t know.) Whereas his Aquarian Moon, in its conjunction to Venus, in the 7th and ruling the Asc, takes people as they come, has deep sympathy for people as they are and modifies his doctrinal thinking accordingly. And I think the interfaith thing he has comes from his Moon.

So he is this mixture, but then which of us isn’t? He is the child of Italian immigrants to Argentina, he was born in 1936 to a Catholicism that was nearly 2000 years old. And for all its faults, it gives you faith in something that is beyond the banality of the world that science reduces us to, it has deep roots, and with all its saints there is a polytheism there which goes back to Roman times, and with its forgiveness of sins, well you can enjoy yourself, do what you want and then just do a bit of penance. It is quite different to Protestantism. With Sun in Sag and Moon in Aquarius, Francis is probably highly intelligent, intellectually at any rate. But it’s probably those emotional roots (Moon conj Venus, Scorpio IC) and the presence of faith (Sun-Jupiter) which have done it for him, swayed him into accepting some absurd beliefs.

But overall, who is worse off, the nihilist who can justify logically everything he thinks, or the believer in tosh who has a deep emotional experience of the numinous? Actually, I think tosh isn’t quite the right word, because it assumes that the believer takes the Bible story literally, and any myth taken literally is tosh. But if you don’t take it literally, take it as real, yes, see it with your inner vision like Blake did, then Adam and Eve, and God creating the world in 7 days, have quite a lot going for them. At least you can turn them into an inner vision, which you can't with our modern Creation Myths, the Big Bang and Evolution. Though I’ve had a bit of a go using astrology – Pluto as the immense power behind the Big Bang, Neptune as the Universe dreamed into being, Uranus the creative spark that lit the touch-paper.

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There is a bigger picture. The Christian Era began at midnight on 1 Jan 0001 AD. The Sun was at 9.30 Capricorn, square to Mars at 11 Aries. Mars shows the evangelical, crusading, Holy War element in Christianity. Onward Christian Soldiers. Capricorn shows its deeply conservative nature, its ability to build a lasting tradition. Capricorn is also the sign of the Spirit crucified on the Cross of Matter – and the esoteric meaning of this is the need to unify spirit and matter, rather than seeing matter as a limitation, the exoteric meaning. This is why Capricorns at best are magicians, shamans: they bring spirit into matter and things happen, how did he pull that one off? It is the source of their talent.

Sun in Cap conjunct Dark Moon: there is the repression of women on the one hand, and the grudging admittance via the Virgin Mary.

And the Christian Sun is currently being conjoined by Pluto, which only happens every 240 years or so, and is the biggest transformational transit possible. 2 cycles ago, it brought about the Reformation, and it doesn’t get much bigger than that.

A Pluto transit brings out underlying issues that have been building up, the unacknowledged ‘shadow’. 500 years ago the transit caused a split in the Church. That isn’t what is happening now in the Catholic Church (though it has created one in the Anglican Church over the gay issue.)

The shadow it has brought out is the way the Catholic Church has historically treated children, women and gays, and I think would continue to do so, unless it had come up against societies where this behaviour is no longer acceptable. Make no mistake, the Church is only looking at its abuse of children because it has been forced to do so from outside. And the same for the relegation of women and the denunciation of gays.

So the wider context in which Francis has become Pope is that the Church is at the end of a transiting conjunction from Pluto to its natal Sun. And that is a time when change can happen. The issues have been raised and denied and to some extent addressed. And now we see a Pope with on the one hand a traditionally minded Sun-Jupiter, and on the other a revolutionary and very human Moon-Venus-Uranus, starting to make official inroads into the church’s historical position. He seems to have the chart for the job. He will bring about change, but within the limits that are acceptable to himself and to the Church. The fact that the Cardinals elected him suggests that though change has been forced from without, a seed of something genuine has nevertheless been woken from within, which is classically what Pluto does.