Thursday, October 31, 2013

Jupiter and The Nature of Beliefs

I don’t think our society is different to any others in having a set of commonly-held beliefs that describe the ultimate nature of the universe we live in – how it started, how it will end, the powers that keep it ticking etc. In our case, it is Science.

And I maintain that the way we tend to believe in its claims is no different to a society in which, for example, the world is held to have been started by 2 ravens, or sits on the back of a turtle.

Take the Big Bang. Was anyone there to see it? Does anyone even have a faded photograph of it in the attic, passed down from the intrepid explorer grandfather? No. You get my point.

We believe these things because we are told about them by the story-tellers of our tribe. Yes, they also present ‘evidence’, but even they did not see the Big Bang, even they have not even seen an atom directly with their own 2 eyes.

There is nothing wrong with believing the stories we are told about the world and how it works and how it came into being. It is a natural and necessary thing to do.

Unfortunately in our case, there tends to be only one version of it. If there are 2 versions of the story, one of them has eventually to be ‘proved’ wrong. Now what story has only one version? It takes the fun out of it and the sense of possibility out of it.

Not only is there just one story (and the story-tellers can be pretty punitive about exiling story-tellers that tell it differently,) but the universe it describes is cold and inherently meaningless.

In medieval times we also had only one story, and if you told a different one you were likely to lose your life rather than your career. And the universe, via the Old Testament, could be a pretty harsh place that was eager to condemn you.

So in some ways it was not that different – a demonised universe, and only one version of it.

The difference for astrologers in medieval times was that the powers we worked with were described as demonic rather than non-existent. So it was a different kind of opposition we faced.

So what astrologers are left with nowadays is a soul-craft that works, but which we are told cannot do so. And in some ways I like that. It means astrology leaves me with a feeling of wonder. Wow, here’s this thing that shouldn’t work, and I can see why people think it shouldn’t work, but it does. Wow, what kind of universe is it that we live in where this thing works that shouldn’t?

There is a joke about Wikipedia, that its problem is that it only works in practice. The same applies to astrology.

That sense of cultural opposition easily throws me into a philosophical place. I have the material vision of the universe provided by science, and in many ways it is a wondrous achievement. And I also have this enchanted vision of the universe that astrology provides, a universe fuelled by archetypal powers and subtle connections that I see as primary.

And that sense of opposition, this cultural message that what I do cannot work, keeps me thinking, keeps me pondering about how the whole thing works. Of course for some people, who are maybe less airy than me, they have a direct experience of astrology working, and what the culture thinks doesn’t impact on them. But for people like me, for whom that opposition can be a problem, I think it can also lead to a place of contemplation.

A guy I know, who works intuitively rather than airily, once said to me that the big thing he can’t get his head round is the fact that there is something rather than nothing. Which most of us have probably wondered at from time to time. But then he added that that fact seems so bizarre and unlikely, that he is prepared to believe that anything can happen. I thought that’s about right. We don’t need all those philosophy books with their subtle arguments. Just the fact that there is something rather than nothing says it all.

And I sometimes reflect that I am in no position to judge other people’s beliefs, because mine are so bizarre. This lump of rock the size of the Moon 2 billion miles away is also Lord of the Underworld, kind of? How bizarre is that?

No, I have to let people believe what they want. But there is a suggestion here that the ‘normal’ scientific belief is not bizarre. But that is just because we are used to it. Think about it: a lot of things are only real if they can be reduced to mathematical equations. How strange is that?

I think where I start to take issue is where I see inhuman consequences to the living of certain beliefs. Or when beliefs are promulgated that are held rigidly to the exclusion of others.

Below is a quote from Richard Dawkins, who used to be Professor for Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University.

The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.

Apart from the fact that it sounds like a self-fulfilling prophecy, namely that the universe has a way of conforming to our beliefs about it, take that phrase blind, pitiless indifference. That is not a neutral term. What would you think of a person who was like that? You’d want to steer clear of them. It is a chilling description. Such a person would be severely dysfunctional, even mentally ill. They would be capable of anything, psychopathic. Dawkins is proposing a psychopathic universe, an updated version of the Old Testament.

What happened to Dawkins in his childhood that he has such a warped view of the world? Promulgating such views from a position such as his is profoundly unethical. Confess it to your therapist or your priest, maybe, but leave it at that. This man was promoted to a professorship at Oxford in order to spread the ‘public understanding of science’, as they called it. Everything about the man is religion in its worst sense, even his opposition to religion.

Or take David Icke’s proselytising of the idea that leading politicians are really 14ft reptiles. If he wants to privately believe that, then that is his affair. But he has encouraged plenty of gullible people to believe it, he seems to need them to do so. What it essentially does is to demonise the people in government, it gives a view of these people that bears no relation to what they are actually like. It is deeply destructive to get people to think in this way about their government. 

But note it is not the bizarreness of his beliefs that I am criticising. After all, I believe a lump of rock 2 billion miles away is also Lord of the Underworld. The difference is whether others are harmed by your beliefs – by the beliefs themselves, or by your insistence that they are the only way of seeing the world. 

Nor am I saying the Ickes and Dawkins  of this world need to be stopped. There have always been such proselytisers and always will. And sometimes we learn by being drawn into their worlds and coming out the other side. Like I did with a nutty form of Buddhism in my youth!

I think all beliefs are in their own way bizarre. After all, at bottom there is something rather than nothing, and that is the most bizarre thing of all.

Beliefs are covered in astrology by Jupiter. So are stories, which is interesting, suggesting that beliefs are just stories we tell ourselves about the world. “God made the world in 6 days” and so on.

Beliefs are fundamental to who we are. I often skirt around Jupiter when I do a reading, it’s like he’s where we are expansive and find meaning and that’s about it.

But he’s the stories we tell ourselves, not just about the universe but about ourselves and our lives, and also about what is right and wrong. And we don’t necessarily pay much attention to all that. Like the Creation Myths, we are given many of our stories by others and we live them out. And then maybe we have a mid-life crisis and realise it’s time to live our own story.

The 9th House of beliefs and religion follows on from the 8th House of psychoanalysis and the shadow. The 9th House is the outcome of the 8th House. In the 8th you find who you are, after encountering the mirror of other people in the 7th. It is a House of shared experience, of where we are enmeshed with others. It is therefore also a House of separating out from that. The 8th is a House of Inheritance, and it is Pluto’s House. Pluto takes us to his Underworld and pulls apart the unconscious way we have lived, the inherited values and beliefs and stories, and we emerge into Jupiter’s House with our own story, and because it is our own it has power to it, we can share it with others, and that is why the 9th is a House of teaching. And the power comes from Pluto, the power that comes from finding something that is our own. In that sense Pluto is evolutionary, he wants us to find what is uniquely ours and he is prepared to destroy us to make that happen, that is his value system.

So I think if you have been through that 8th House initiation, maybe in the form of a Pluto transit, then you have stories and values that are living, they come directly from something alive in you, and they will not therefore be rigid, they will in a sense depend on the day of the week!

(PS I’m feeling inclined to nick ‘values’ from the 2nd House and call that a House of resources and building, and bundle them into the 9th.)

And I think stories are also Neptune’s realm. The mythopeic ocean from which Jupiter picks his stories. Neptune is direct experience of what is absolute, Jupiter brings it down a level to that which can be spoken about in time and space.

Richard Dawkins has a Saturn-Jupiter conjunction in Taurus. His beliefs don’t have to be like they are with that signature, they could be wonderful, but you can never tell in advance: Taurus is a belief system of this world, of nature, of matter. And it is fixed/enduring. And Saturn denies there is anything other than dead matter, adds to the rigidity and gives a sense of authority and a projecting of those beliefs onto the world through a position, his professorship. He has Moon and Venus in Pisces opposite Neptune and in his own way I think he means well, he is not an unkind man, he is very sensitive. But he is also fucked up somewhere, his poor old Moon in Pisces has in many ways been bullied out of existence by  his self-righteous Sun in Aries, a sign which at its worst knows it has the truth and a duty to help others see it.

As for David Icke, his Jupiter is also in Taurus, and his belief system is anything but of this world. It is, though, very literal, and that is maybe the earthy Taurus. The only explanation I can think of with his chart is that Jupiter is weakly aspected, making wide conjunctions to the Sun and Venus and that is it. In some people a wide aspect leaves room for distance and self-awareness of that planet, but maybe in his case it means that Jupiter is doing its own thing, here is a man who really will believe anything, and believe it literally (Earth sign) and rigidly (Fixed sign.)

And Dawkins, with his Jupiter in Taurus, is a man who claims to believe nothing, only ‘evidence’, but unfortunately not believing can also be a kind of belief, you can’t get out of it so easily. And his non-belief in God and religion is fervent, it is a crusade. It is very important to him that people believe what he believes.

‘There is nothing new under the Sun’, and the very notion that in modern times humanity is at last emerging from the darkness of its infancy, blinds us to the fact that with our 'Science' we can be just as rigid and intolerant as any medieval Pope. Note 'can be', not 'are'. Plenty of people aren't.

So Jupiter and Sag and the 9th House are all connected to what happens after Pluto. When we re-emerge into life, but grounded and real. Without that initiation, Jupiter can be naïve and up in the sky. But after Pluto, he helps tell the story of our abduction and what we saw in that other world and the wisdom we gained.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Neptune's Underworld and Neptune's Madness

I’ve felt haunted all my life. It’s becoming clear that there’s this guy in the unlit back room of the house who doesn’t want me to live, not my way. He wants me to live, if you can call it that, his way. He sees what I do as worthless, not the real thing, not what EVERYBODY ELSE does. Of course, he is also me. I spoke for him a few weeks ago, and it was fierce, it was like that moment in Alien where the predator bursts out of the guy’s stomach. Gotcha at last!

It’s been a long time coming. 35 years or so. For 10 years in my 20s and early 30s I lived him out, though I thought I was doing the opposite. Then Pluto got to work for 13 years. He finished in about 2004, and since then Neptune has been at work.

To be specific, over about 12 years Pluto hard-aspected my Sun-Pluto, MC, Asc and Moon respectively. All the important bits. And one of his main functions was to break down my Will. It took a long time. I’d keep standing up again and trying to ‘achieve’ things, and I did do some good stuff, but in the end he’d knock me down again. He’d abduct me to his Underworld, defeated, and demolish some more of my foundations.

At the end of this period I’d started doing astrology readings and then writing astrology. Neptune was moving towards my Sun, and Pluto had prepared the ground for something to flow through me, sufficiently unimpeded by weird notions of ‘achievement’.

So I have spent the last 7 or 8 years in a Neptune period, and there are some years yet to run. He will hard-aspect all the points that Pluto hard-aspected. And I have been trying to work out what it is that Neptune transits are about. For Pluto transits we have the myth of the abduction of Persephone to the Underworld by Pluto, she marries him, and from then on spends 6 months of the year in this world and 6 months in the Underworld, summer and winter respectively.

But we don’t really have such a myth for Neptune. And maybe that is appropriate, that we have nothing we can grasp hold of, we are left floundering.

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I think, though, that  a Neptune transit can be just as much of an Underworld as a Pluto transit. In both transits, ordinary life with its goals and drives is to some extent suspended and you are taken somewhere else for transformation, an inner place, and this can go on for years, it becomes your way of life. In the case of Pluto, it is an earthy Underworld where your building blocks are demolished and replaced. With Neptune, it is a watery Underworld where you are gradually washed away and absorbed into the greater consciousness around you.

It is interesting that the 2 crucibles of transformation should be Earth and Water, the still steady containing elements.

With Pluto you are abducted, with Neptune you are shipwrecked and drowned. And then after a while this happens:

Full fathom five thy father lies;

Of his bones are coral made;

Those are pearls that were his eyes;

Nothing of him that does fade,

But doth suffer a sea-change

Into something rich and strange.

These lines are from The Tempest, and I think they’re a good metaphor for a Neptune transit. With both Pluto and Neptune we are taken apart and rebuilt, but I think they have different flavours. I spent some time trying to work them out psychoanalytically, Pluto does this to you and Neptune does that, but I’m not sure how possible that is.

What happens to us under these transits is essentially a story that has a feel to it. We went somewhere else and we came back different. The fairies took us away. Something out there took our soul away, and our soul is us, and we went to this other place with these people and we can never be the same again because we have seen this other place. It may be the Dark Earth we have tasted. Or we encountered an Angel:

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels'

hierarchies? and even if one of them pressed me

suddenly against his heart: I would be consumed

in that overwhelming existence.
 (Rilke: 1st Duino Elegy)

Paradoxically, we only belong here, we only incarnate, after we have been taken by Pluto or Neptune, abducted or shipwrecked, and then killed, dead to life as we knew it, and then reborn with that look in our eyes, that inner place we consult.


“And so long as you haven't experienced

this: to die and so to grow,

you are only a troubled guest

on the dark earth.”

Under my Pluto transits, I was always planning the next thing, doing it for a bit, then being taken apart. By the time it came to the Neptune transits, I was willing to flounder and not know where I was going in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to were it not for Pluto. That doesn’t mean it’s been easy. But there has nevertheless been a flow as long as I’m not fighting what’s happening. My blog has flowed over the last 7 years, it has shaped me in a way nothing else ever has (it seems). And I have done it in a Neptunian way, I have written as and when I feel like it.

Of his bones are coral made;

Those are pearls that were his eyes…

Neptune has dissolved me, and in has come coral and pearl from the surrounding oceanic consciousness. An ocean of riches, if you allow Neptune to shipwreck you. And while Pluto kept defeating the guy in the back room, Neptune has dissolved the wall between us so I can now start to see him.

There is also the madness of Neptune transits. With Pluto we are abducted by a god, with Neptune we are possessed by a god (when we’re not being shipwrecked!) With Pluto, elements of the psyche that need to come on board presents themselves as demons. Our job is not to slay them but to learn to live with them. With Neptune, these elements can take us over, we see reality through the eyes of the unlived soul part, and to others’ eyes it can seem like we’ve gone mad, which in a way we have. And the job is to live the main personality and the new bit together, rather than switching between the two. And Neptune, the dissolver of barriers, will do that for you.

That is one of the great things about these 2 planets: there are some big jobs to do, but they will do them for you. We couldn’t possibly know what to do anyway. Our part is to be patient and to stay with whatever’s happening, maybe over years. If big parts of your life don’t work anymore, or if you have no idea where you’re headed, that is probably fine, that is probably as it needs to be, and you just need to stay with it for however many years it lasts.

In 2007, as I was beginning my long encounter with Neptune, I wrote a piece called A Myth for Neptune Transits. And it was the madness aspect of the transits that I focussed on. Below is what I wrote:

I Googled ‘god of illusion’ and the 1st result I got was Dionysus, who Liz Greene promotes as a strongly Piscean figure in her book ‘The Astrology of Fate’. In particular, there is the story of Dionysus and King Pentheus.


As a young man Dionysus had been driven mad by Zeus’ jealous wife Hera. “He went wandering all over the world, accompanied by his tutor… and a company of wild Maenads. He taught the art of the vine to Egypt and India, and then returned to wander around Greece. Eventually he arrived at Thebes, the place of his mother’s birth. There King Pentheus… disliked the god’s dissolute appearance, and arrested him and his shabby train. But Dionysus drove the king mad, and Pentheus found that he had shackled a bull instead of the god. The Maenads escaped and went raging out upon the mountains, where they tore wild animals in pieces. The King attempted to stop them but, inflamed with wine and religious ecstasy, the Maenads, led by the King’s mother, rent him limb from limb and tore off his head. Thus he met the same fate as the god whom he had rejected.” (From The Astrology of Fate)

And from Wikipedia: “The female worshippers of Dionysus were known as Maenads, who often experienced divine ecstasy. Pentheus was slowly driven mad by the compelling Dionysus, and lured to the woods of Mount Cithaeron to see the Maenads. When the women spied Pentheus, they tore him to pieces like they did earlier in the play to a herd of cattle. Brutally, his head was torn off by his mother Agave as he begged for his life.”

We could say that the essence of a Neptune transit is possession by the god. This is different to a Pluto transit, where you could say the essence is abduction by the god, and being brought to his underworld. Apparently this was one of the unusual characteristics of the worship of Dionysus in Roman times, that he was experienced internally i.e. you were possessed.

Pentheus is torn apart by the Maenads

The Maenads themselves are a graphic description of what happens when you surrender to the god, there is this experience of ecstasy as the normal inhibitions and controlling, rational will are no longer present. OK, they also tear animals and even people to pieces, but this is symbolic of the ecstatic freedom of primal consciousness, and the radical dissolution of ordinary, ego consciousness under a Neptune transit: you are torn to pieces, in particular your head is torn off by your mother! You are no longer in control (head), and this allows an experience of a primal, source consciousness (mother), that actually takes care of us (mother), and the transit is about learning to let more of that in to our daily lives. And it’s not like we have a choice. What happened to Pentheus is also a description of what happens when you resist Neptune/Dionysus, when you refuse, like Pentheus, to worship him. You get torn apart by mad women!

So the essence of a Neptune transit is surrender to this god, becoming a ‘walk-in’ if you like! If you oppose him you’ll be torn apart – and this will be the difficult part of the transit, because we all have our sides that want to remain in control. But this is also deeply transformative. And to the extent that we surrender, there is an initiation into his ecstatic realm. There was a long tradition of mystery cults around Dionysus, but very little is known about them. This is appropriate, for his realm is esoteric and beyond words, and people who have been there speak about it guardedly, if at all. Another reason for the secrecy is that this sort of experience/behaviour is felt as deeply threatening by conventional society. Hence the opposition that Dionysus regularly encountered. Hence, perhaps, the official opposition to ‘rave’ culture in the UK.

So the two mythical aspects around Neptune transits that I am picking out here are firstly the Maenads, who through surrender of the ‘civilised’ ego experience the ecstasy and secret knowledge of Dionysus’s realm; and secondly the story of Pentheus, who symbolises the transformation that the resistant, controlling ego undergoes. Dionysus makes you mad, and leads you to a place where you are torn apart. But which is the real madness, Dionysus’ realm, or that of the deluded ego which thinks it is in control?

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Uranus-Pluto Update

The square between Uranus and Pluto is the big transit that the world is going through right now. We only have these challenging angles between 2 outer planets every 20 or 30 years: the last one was the  Uranus-Neptune conjunction in the early 90s, when the Cold War ended. The world always goes through a phase shift under such transits.

The world, of course, is always changing. But change has a habit of being gradual, and then tipping over relatively rapidly into a whole new phase. We can see this in our personal lives, and we can see it in the world. And the rapid, pivotal periods generally correspond to hard outer planet transits.

All you know from these transits is the shape of the change, the principles underlying it, and the broad time period. You don’t know at what point major events will occur. Often they occur in the very early stages, like the 2008 financial crisis, when Uranus and Pluto still had 4 years to go before they would make an exact square. However, the inner planets often give clues as to timing. In 2008, Saturn was opposing Uranus, creating instability (Uranus) in the financial system (Saturn.) Five years later, we have Saturn and Pluto in mutual reception (each in the sign the other rules, a bit like a conjunction) and the West seems to be pulling out of the Great Recession. An empowerment (Pluto) of the foundations (Saturn), with both planets having a financial meaning.

Saturn is the planet that facilitates the expression of the outer planets, which are invisible to us, but not to Saturn, who is far out enough to see them.

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The next square between Uranus and Pluto is on 1st November, and is the 4th of 7 over a 3 year period. So we are approaching the mid-point. In last week’s piece I said that economically it appears to be over bar the shouting, with the crossings to come being a working through of the changes that have already happened.

But I think that was not quite trusting the astrology, because surely the central crossing of this inherently crisis-ridden transit will have some kind of peak to it, some kind of crisis which we will see in the run-up to it (which is when events tend to occur)? And sure enough, over the last week there have been political crises, with financial implications, in Italy and the US, both of which were inevitable.

In Italy, Silvio Berlusconi’s conviction for fraud (about time) is threatening the stability of the government. Italy has a huge debt which has drifted onto the Eurozone back-burner, it is the elephant under the carpet. The smaller economies like Greece and Ireland and maybe even Spain were always bailable-outable, after an appropriate show of reluctance by the rest of the Eurozone. But not so Italy. The debt seems just about manageable if there is political stability. The next few weeks, in the run-up to the Uranus-Pluto square, are critical. (Since writing this, the political crisis seems to be over - for now. The government has survived a no-confidence vote.)

The next few weeks are also a bit nerve-wracking for the USA, due to political deadlock over the budget. The US has been here many times before, with government services being shut down due to a lack of funding. Beyond that, the US will soon have to raise its debt ceiling in order to pay its bills, and if there is not Congressional agreement before then, Obama will have to raise the debt ceiling on his own, like Clinton before him, and then fight his right to do so in the courts.

The cause of the deadlock is that the Republicans (who control the House of Representatives) won’t agree to the budget unless the funding for Obamacare is stripped. This is, of course, profoundly undemocratic, because Obamacare has been passed into law, so the Republicans are using the budget to try and neuter a law they don’t like. On the other hand, it’s how Congress works, and the Republicans see it as a moral issue, an unfair law.

And the US has been there before as well. Like in 1977, when the Senate wanted Medicare funds to be available for abortions where rape or incest had been involved, but the House didn’t. It was Democrat vs Democrat this time. It’s not all just nasty Republicans.

And then as now, there was a hard transit from Pluto to the US Sun at 14 Cancer. One outcome of this earlier transit was that from 1980, government workers were not paid during shutdowns. The US Sun is in the sign of Cancer, and it is square to natal Saturn, so the US looking after its own people, caring for them, is an ongoing issue which has been raised under both the last Pluto transits. Abortion can be argued from both sides, it is very complex – religion apart, is your priority the mother or the unborn baby? Is there right and wrong here? Is it about a governmental duty of care (the Cancerian Sun) or is it about the people's ‘rights’ (the American Aquarian Moon)?

Uranus-Pluto may be mid-way through its series of squares, but both planets have yet to aspect the US Sun at 14 Cancer. Pluto won’t exactly oppose until 2015. So there are ways to go. The transit is partly to do with the claims of business (Saturn) vs the needs of the people (Sun in Cancer). But it is also to do with power and government in the US, and the dysfunctionality that arises under the present system, when due to partisan politics, the government of the world’s most powerful country cannot even set a budget, one of its most basic duties. 

And there is a particular dysfunctionality that has been around since Clinton, which is the right wing of the republican party, the Tea party as it has become known. They were neo-cons before that. Under Clinton they did their best to undermine the President, convulsing the US in the very trivial Lewinsky affair and making the country look ridiculous.

So the present transit to the US Sun may be a time when this dysfunctionality is addressed. With the present shutdown, it seems that most people are blaming the Republicans. The next couple of years may see increasing attempts by the right to stop Obama governing, and consequently a popular turning away from what the right is trying to do.