Sunday, May 31, 2015

David Cameron's Defining Moment

David Cameron has promised a referendum on UK membership of the EU before the end of 2017. I think this will be his defining moment, his encounter with destiny, if you like, as PM, and that soon afterwards he will go.

[This next section is an intentional rant; skip if you’re not in the mood]

Because I speak in those terms does not mean I am a Tory voter. A lot of people find this hard to understand: that if I do not speak in terms that are condemnatory of a political party or its leader, therefore I must favour that party. This is because so many people seem to think tribally when it comes to politics. The people I know or who are friends with me on Facebook often tend to be left/liberal, sometimes tribally so. Political statements are sometimes made by them in a way that assumes you agree with them, because no right thinking person could possibly agree with the Tories on any issue – if the issue is hard to argue with, well then it is the stinky motives behind it, the ‘real’ agenda.

Normally we like to think of ourselves as intelligent and civilised, because after all we probably went to university and are progressive and probably green in our thinking, but when it comes to the Tories an exception can be made, and we can call them dirty narrow-minded upper class bastards without an ounce of compassion, and vent all the hatred we build up by pretending to be liberal the rest of the time. (Politics is full of inverted snobbery – the working class is the new upper class, the upper classes are now the ‘lower’ class.) I’m not looking forward to the next 5 years of Tory hating on Facebook. And no, I didn’t vote for them. And no, I don't like the harsh, even inhuman way some of the cuts have been implemented, nor do I like the growing gap between rich and poor or tax loopholes for the rich or the way CEOs are paid vast amounts!

Having covered that point (!!), it’s time for some astrology. David Cameron has Sun conjunct Venus in Libra, with Asc on the cusp of Virgo-Libra; and Pluto and Uranus conjoin his Asc from the 12th, giving him a strong connection with, and influence on, the collective.

So he has an ideal chart for a mediator, a negotiator, someone who can work with both sides. When he became PM, he found himself at the head of a coalition government, the first for about 80 years (when the UK had its last Uranus opposition Uranus, you could say an identity crisis.)

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Cameron became leader of his party as Pluto squared his Asc, he became PM as Pluto squared his Venus, and now he has been given a majority in Parliament (just about – about ½ the size of John Major’s) as Pluto squares his Sun. When this transit is over, in a couple of years’ time, that will probably be it.

There are 2 major issues: Scotland and the EU. Scotland, momentous as it is, will probably take care of itself: the fact that the SNP didn’t mention the ‘I’ word during their campaign proves the point that independence is their top priority. It is no longer a happy marriage, one partner wants to leave, and the sooner it can happen, the better. The present situation is artificial and surreal.

So Cameron the negotiator is having his negotiating Sun challenged and empowered by Pluto in the run up to this crucial referendum in 2017. That is why I called it his meeting with destiny, because the planets suggest it.

Churchill’s meeting with destiny (he’d always had a notion that he’d be called upon one day to save the nation) took place under Neptune, redemption – both of himself and the UK. Neptune began squaring his Sagittarian Sun in the mid 30s (and as Pluto conjoined the UK Moon) as he started warning the nation about German rearmament, and his time in power finished as Neptune finished conjoining his Asc and the nation had been saved.

We are now at another critical point, though our survival is not at stake. But we no longer know who we are, as Scotland starts to break away from us and we start to break away from Europe, and as we emerge from a crushing economic downturn. And I think that is why the Tories were returned with a majority: at times of crisis, nations swing to the right, to the past, to what seems to represent safety and security in an unusually uncertain world.

(In her book Watching the English, Kate Fox makes the point that the English like to moan, and that Labour voters tend to moan about the past, about how terrible conditions used to be under the Victorian capitalists etc, and the Tories like to moan about the future, about how the country is going to the dogs.)

What about transits to mundane charts? We joined the EU, oddly enough, at 11pm on 31 Dec 1972 (that is when the flag went up in Brussels – it was midnight for them.) And the Sun was at 10 Cap in a stellium with the Node and Jupiter at 17/18 Capricorn. The Sun was square to Pluto, the Node and Jupiter were square to Uranus. There is plenty to unpack here.

And eeyorish, insular, Capricornian Britain was expanded through engagement with foreign nations (Jupiter in Cap) and this was important for its evolution (Node). The UK is Uranian (in the 1801 chart, conj natal Asc, square natal Sun) and that awkward, ill-at-ease Uranian-ness has been carried into the EU through Jupiter-Node sq Uranus. We even had a referendum about staying in or breaking away (Uranus) 2 years after we joined, in 1975.

The 1975 referendum took place on 8th June with Uranus at 28.44 Libra – Uranus will be almost exactly opposite this point in 2017. Which is almost what you’d expect. And last time it was half the cabinet (which were Labour) and the Trade Unions (again Labour) who wanted to leave the EU, whereas the Tory party wanted to stay in. This time, if anything, it seems to be the other way round. But that is Uranus for you.

But the biggest transit of all in 2017 will be Pluto opposing the UK Moon. The Moon is the people, it is in the 10th House, so it is about us deciding our place in the world. And it will be the culminating transit of a series that will have been taking place since about 2010, as Pluto and Uranus have successively hard-aspected our Angles, Sun and then Moon. It will be the end of a prolonged national crisis and renewal. Once that decision is taken and has been acted upon (along with the seemingly inevitable Scottish breakaway), we will be able to move forward again, with a clearer sense of who we are.

Cameron’s Sun at 15 Libra is square the UK Moon and Sun. So he is both deeply engaged yet at odds, challenging even, and challenged by, the British sense of who we are. The easy option would be to campaign for us to leave. But that is not what Cameron wants. He wants a different relationship to the EU, and many in Britain also want that. The Tory Party has been torn apart for a long time over Europe, and many want out of the EU. They will probably not be satisfied by a renegotiated relationship, but Cameron probably hopes that a referendum against them will silence them – just as it silenced some of the Labour critics, like Tony Benn, in 1975.

So Cameron has an entrenched section of his party to try to negotiate with, and entrenched members of the EU who do not want any treaty re-negotiations just for one member. And UKIP won more votes than the SNP, so there are big sections of the British public that need winning over. This will be his main challenge over the next 2 years, and it is a big one. If he manages to win the referendum, with a renegotiated relationship with Europe, and a Tory party that is less bitterly divided, then he will have achieved his aim.

David Cameron became PM as the Great Recession bit, and he will have continued as PM as the UK passed through its series of Uranus-Pluto transits, the biggest that any of us will see in our lifetimes. So he will be seen as the PM who led us through that time of transition and crisis and into a new sense of who we are, with the referendum on the EU, which I think will go his way, being his biggest achievement. But that doesn't mean I voted for him!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Astrology, Psychotherapy and Ritual Space

Astrology, in my view, is essentially divinatory. It is not a ‘science’ in the sense of its statements being reducible to testable rules. The rules - the chart itself and its formal meanings -  provide a framework for this other thing that we do. They even carry a bit of the magic of the divinatory process; something has rubbed off on them over the centuries. But only a bit. Push the 'rules' too far, subject them to too much statistical testing, and they tend to break down.

The ‘rules’ are essentially ceremony, the forms that guide the astrologer into the liminal space where real astrology, divination, takes place. We’ve probably all experienced this at the start of a reading: the astrologer is running through the formal meanings of some of the planets in their signs and aspects, but already the divination is there in the form of which part of the chart the astrologer has homed in on. Or in which of the wide range of possible meanings the astrologer is applying.

You get ceremony at the start of any magical, divinatory or healing process. Psychotherapy is magical healing half-masked as science. The procedures around it are a sort of ritual – meeting at the same time, sitting opposite one another in chairs, and the personal ‘boundary’ that the therapist maintains, which is there in order to be a vessel for the spirits, like a priest running a service, or a high priestess invoking Isis. (This role can be enhanced by the sense of lineage and transmission going back to the founders of psychotherapy - it's something you get in many religions.)

That is what Freud was really doing when he had his patients on a couch, unable to even see him: it was powerful magic, rather than the attempt at scientific ‘objectivity’ that it would seem to be. 

Unfortunately, that impersonal magical ‘boundary’ has resulted in personal disclosure on the part of the therapist becoming a taboo  – I really mean a taboo – so that even when it would be highly appropriate, the psychotherapist is often reluctant to bring in personal experience. And I think this taboo has arisen through the cultural need to appear ‘scientific’ - or maybe 'professional' -  which as I say obscures the real meaning of the magical boundary.

All the same, I think that liminal space, in which the ordinary social rules are relaxed, allowing something ‘other’ to come in, is common to both astrology and psychotherapy at their best. The ceremonies are different, but the divinatory principle is the same. I could argue that the astrological ceremonies are more developed and efficacious than those of psychotherapy, which to some extent likes to imagine itself a science, and so can be reluctant to admit, let alone develop, its ritualistic aspect. But even astrologers are on the defensive about their own magical roots, and some like to imagine there is some scientific, testable basis to their craft, despite the firm evidence to the contrary. (See ‘The Moment of Astrology’ by Geoffrey Cornelius)

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That ‘liminal space’, you could argue, takes place at the border between the Conscious and Unconscious minds. I think we all have an ability to go there. The ‘Unconscious’ feeds us: another word for it is simply ‘life’. And if you are functioning as some sort of healer or mentor, then you have a gift – that usually requires training – for going to that place. Ordinary life often requires that our gaze is directed outwards, and indeed that is often where people feel most comfortable.

And so that other natural function, of consulting life within, can get projected onto healers and therapists as a special gift – which they may well have – but the point is we all have it, it is natural. And it involves the principle of finding our own answers in a culture that too readily supplies them. And an important function of the healer/therapist/astrologer is to motivate that sort of enquiry. When people want ‘a reading’ from me, I sometimes do a double-take, because of the way it can be couched. Almost as through the other person wants mainly to listen to what I have to say about their chart. I have occasionally had this sort of flavour even when experienced astrologers have asked me for ‘a reading’. Whereas I like to see ‘a reading’ mainly as a platform for the other person’s self-enquiry, actively promoted by myself, and with hopefully a measure of insight from myself, particularly as the reading progresses.

I think there is an issue around the cultural baggage that astrology carries. You go to an astrologer for answers, particularly about the future: that is the sort of archetype that is in the culture, and that as astrologers we need to be aware of and to resist. The function of the oracle at Delphi was to help people to live well, and I think that also needs to be our function. I think astrology has probably taken a few wrong turns down the centuries, but we are fortunate enough to live in a time when tradition can be questioned. Mistakes can be old and venerable.

Back to liminality. In our culture, alcohol has this function on a social level. We are allowed to be and to behave in ways that are normally proscribed, but even this relaxation has its rules. Parties and celebrations, which usually involve alcohol, also have this liminal function. And in this place we are allowing more of life in. 

Amongst the Chippewa-Cree Indians, human consciousness is seen as a tiny thing within the context of the vast consciousness of the universe. How, by implication, with our tiny minds, can we understand more than a sliver of all-that-is?

And it is the same principle, but modernised, with the idea of the Conscious and the Unconscious (in the broader, Jungian sense). The conscious mind is likened to the tip of the iceberg above the surface of the ocean, with the great majority being underwater. But even that does not do it justice, for the conscious, individual mind is finite, whereas the Unconscious is infinite. So in that liminal space as healer/astrologer, we go the boundary of finite Consciousness and infinite Unconscious, and hopefully the other person is there too, and we listen to what that infinite ocean has to say.

Our modern, scientific worldview often denies this much bigger source: the hubris of science is that the human mind is God, it can understand all. And so life itself gets pushed out. But, because life cannot be truly pushed out, it returns in another form. In our quest to understand the cosmos, we have arrived at the point where, over the last 20 years or so, the universe is seen as being made up of 95% dark energy and dark matter: ‘stuff’ that has to be there for theoretical reasons but which is undetectable! So again we are back to the principle of the tiny human mind and the vast unknowable universe – except in this case, there is a degree of demonization, in that the universe is seen as largely cold and indifferent rather than life enhancing.

And it is interesting that the internet also seems to be taking on this mythological, asymmetrical polarity: the web most of us know is very small compared to the so-called 'deep web'. So that even sat at our computer, the new ‘reality’, there is something much much bigger behind it. And again, there is a degree of demonization: the deep web is not just mountains of academic papers, but a vast culture of harmful activity - the 'dark web' -  largely beyond cultural control.

And you could argue that computerised reality shuts out important aspects of life – particularly real engagement with real people, and easily becomes a way of shutting ourselves down. And, thinking mythologically, that throws up a shadow, the dark web.

I think this liminal, divinatory space is where we are most human: it requires all our faculties of awareness, both of ourselves and of the people around us, but also of the source of life within that is, in a way, beyond analysis. There has always been a human tendency, hubris, to think we know more than we do. Wisahitsa, a character in some of the American Indian stories, is always running into trouble because he thinks he knows more than he does. The ancient Greeks were aware of it through the idea of hubris, thinking you are a god. And the modern dazzling success of science and technology and economic prosperity has caused perhaps an unprecedented level of thinking-we-know-it. 

But that awareness of an ocean that is inherently beyond us and that nourishes us, the Pisces principle, is never far away. Perhaps that is one of the main things astrology has to offer nowadays. We get too easily caught up in trying to defend our craft on a technical level. Protesting to the media, for example, that there are really only 12 signs and not 13, gives the public the impression that there is something real and literal about these signs. I say OK, respect the tradition, ceremonial forms matter, they give power. But really astrology is about using those forms to go to a place within where life is and where wisdom is and where also we find the limits of what we can understand. It is a magical place within that has been forgotten and, in my view, that is what astrology is really about. Rather like alchemy. 

Astrology shouldn't be mistaken for its outward forms  - in a way, people are right to laugh at them if they are presented as literally true. I think that on a popular level astrology needs to be reinvented as essentially an inner tradition.