In the midst of what many have felt to be a grim time, marked by hard astrological weather, February brings two bright rays: a Venus-Mars conjunction, which will last through April (exact conjunctions on February 16th and March 6th), and a Jupiter-Neptune conjunction (exact on April 12), which will last through the end of the year. Think of any planetary alignment as a wave, which builds as the planets come within range of one another, crests as they form an exact alignment, and ebbs as the planets separate. As long as the planets are within range, the wave swells, so do not wait for the exact date of conjunction to catch the wave. Let’s ride them well.
Venus ended her 40-day retrograde period on January 29th, as she began to form her conjunction with Mars. We call a planet “retrograde” when it appears to move backward in the sky, as Earth overtakes its orbit (like when the motion of your car makes a slower-moving car appear to move backward). Symbolically, retrograde planets introvert their energy, meaning they invite us to go within. For those on a path of inner realization, retrogrades can bring profound insights, healing, and awakening. Many people find them upsetting and disorienting. As the planet of love and values, Venus symbolizes the source of desire. It is difficult to even consider desire without assuming it to be directed outside oneself. Enjoy this brief sampling of pop lyrics:
“Just give me mo-o-o-o-oney!!! That’s what I want”.– Barrett Strong
“I wanna be your… lover.” — Prince
“I want your love, I want… your love.”– Chic
“I’ve got hungry eyes.”– Eric Carmen
Coming out of Venus retrograde, take some time to reflect: how have themes of love, pleasure, money, creativity, and beauty shown up for you over the last month? If you are on the path of inner realization, what insights have you had about yourself, your values, and your attitude towards others? This Venus retrograde was strongly tinged by Venus’ conjunction to Pluto, the planet of death, power, and regeneration. Like the Shakti goddess Kali, Pluto nurtures through destruction. Have you managed to burn away some of the painful distortions that keep you from accepting and expressing love? From living joyfully? That enforce your sense of separation from life? Have you seen the ways love power can distort, and have you managed to find a pure source of love and power within yourself? As the month progresses, Venus will conjoin Pluto once again, as she did at the beginning of her retrograde, giving you the opportunity to “go there” and clean up whatever loose ends remain.
With the Venus-Mars conjunction forming, we have the opportunity to connect with life at its passionate core. In everyday terms, these planets combine pleasure and action, beauty and passion, harmony and physicality, love and aggression, peace and strength. One expression of Venus-Mars I’ve encountered lately is “fierce love”. Can you be loving and compassionate without being a pushover? Can you stand up and fight, running on the clean fuel of love and not the dirty fuel of rage?
Venus and Mars love to dance and get it on– literally. In Greco-Roman myth, Venus’ husband Vulcan caught them in bed together. Plenty of singer-dancers are born under Venus-Mars alignments, and this energy appears in their lyrics as well as their move. Marvin Gaye, born with Venus-Mars aligned to healing asteroid Chiron sings of “sexual healing”. Bruno Mars (note the name) sings, “I’d catch a grenade for you”. Michael Jackson sings “don’t stop till you get enough”.
Esoterically, Venus-Mars invites you to savor the flavor of existence, not from compulsion, but from the conscious yearning to reconnect with source. In tantric terms, this alignment helps you savor the pleasures of life, like food, wine, sex, and music in such a way as to pierce ordinary reality and convert the power pleasure into awakened consciousness.
Imagine for a moment that everything that happens outside points the way to a deeper, inner truth. All of the booty-shaking, flamenco strumming, and Van-rocking of Venus-Mars points to a process of inner union, an alchemical coniunctio, forged through the concentrated power of divine desire and inner action. When we know how to read them, clues to inner realization are everywhere. Maybe Michael Jackson (notwithstanding his own troubled and troubling biography) affords a clue to what we are after: Ardhanareeswara, the half male/ half female embodiment of Shiva-Shakti.
Like a mantra, a musical chord, or a piece of fruit, astrological alignments have a rasa– a tasty juice. Venus-Mars’ rasa is saucy and playful… “oh behave!” It brings to mind the story of Krishna and the Gopis (… or groupies?). Sweetly playing his flute, Krishna entices the cow girls (gopis) to gather round and listen, like a guitar-slinging stud in modern times. His slightest touch sends ripples of longing through them. In his rasa dance, Krishna multiplies his form, appearing before each of the gopis, everybody dancing in a state of playful ecstasy, with music and bodies in perfect harmony. The gopis let their hair down– literally– and their clothes, too. They are aware only of Krishna’s sweet fragrance and their intense longing for him. On the inner level, the game of longing for the love of the divine, as the divine teases you, can open your heart, balancing you perfectly between heaven and earth, male and female.
The Jupiter-Neptune conjunction begins forming in February and will peak in April. It will remain active through the rest of the year, slowly ebbing. This is a beautiful, bountiful alignment, combining Jupiter’s qualities of expansion, vision, and abundance with Neptune’s qualities of transcendence, mystery, and inspiration, providing welcome relief from the more trying Saturn-Uranus and Saturn-Pluto alignments we have experienced in the COVID era.
The rasa of Jupiter-Neptune is lovely. Think tropical sunshine, swaying palms, and a calm, bathwater-warm, turquoise sea. Sea turtles glide like clouds, as you lose yourself in whale-song. These moments– and other comparably peaceful and expansive ones– seem more available under such a transit. The world seems rich, abundant, and ultimately good. It is a great time for spiritual study and/ or pilgrimage, as Jupiter relates to philosophy and travel (anything that expands one’s mind) and Neptune to higher consciousness. Meditators and inner journeyers sometimes connect with interdimensional beings under these transits, coming into communion with a larger cosmic community. One can feel higher consciousness permeating everything.
Jupiter-Neptune can supply you with plenty of inspiration and creative vision, coupling nicely with the creativity of the Venus-Mars conjunction. It invites you to dream big. Take care, however, that you do not project paradise– an inner state– onto people and things. Jupiter-Neptune is astrology’s way of saying “rose-colored glasses”. Jupiter can kindle Pollyanna optimism, as well as ambition and greed, while Neptune can cloud your vision with fantasies. Delusional inflation is not as fun as it sounds. Dreams and fantasies are beautiful when taken on their own terms, enticing you to higher awareness– not so much when wholeheartedly believed by the ego.
So, what does paradise mean to you? How might you create paradise here and now? How might you become paradise? Generally speaking, if you have a solid grounding in this world, along with a strong inner observer, the more you let your inner life blossom, the more magical your outer life becomes. If you find your inner Eden and tune to its vibration, some of its magic will rub off on the world around you.
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Many esoteric mystical traditions share the same core insight that the whole universe consists of a series of emanations of a single, Universal Mind. At the ultimate level, all is One. Between the ordinary level of experience, which today we call 3D, and the ultimate level of total unity lie various intermediate levels of increasing subtlety.
Though different mystical systems, like Tantra, Hermeticism, and Kabbalah will map these levels differently, many share the same basic idea that the phenomena of the world and consciousness (which are really one and the same) consist of perceptible gradations of vibration. The Hermetic text, The Kybalion, recognizes vibration as a law applying to everything in the universe, stating: “nothing rests; everything moves; everything vibrates”. This applies as much to the “real world” of science as it does to the far-flung reaches of mysticism: for example, the states of matter– solid, liquid, and gas– reflect the rate at which the molecules of a substance vibrate. In solids, the molecules hold nearly still, in liquids they move about more, and in gases they move freely. Sound and light are both examples of vibration on the energetic level. The classical elements, common to Eastern and Western esoteric traditions relate to what modern science knows as the the three states of matter, energy, and space. Earth correlates with solids, Water with liquids, Air with gases, Fire with energy, and Ether with space. Our pre-scientific ancestors were not ignorant– they simply used poetic imagery to describe the world. While science enables us to describe the physical world in higher resolution, it cannot accommodate this poetic sensibility. This poetic sensibility– the ability to understand something as both metaphor and reality, without taking everything literally– is necessary if we wish to explore the nature of consciousness more fully.
Esoteric cosmologies provide practical maps for the awakening of consciousness. Even though we cannot scientifically prove the existence of non-physical levels of vibration, we all know what it feels like to have awareness. Awareness is real, yet intangible. Simply assuming the reality of intangible vibratory states, starting with the level of our own mind, can create very real effects in our lives. This attitude can transform our experience of life. And after all, what do we have in life but our experience of it? Ascending the levels of vibration brings us beyond the realms of matter, energy, and physical law to those of mind, soul, and spirit. Through experiential practices of meditation, contemplation, imagination, and psychedelic medicine we can come to see all levels are present in all things at all times.
Music provides a particularly beautiful example of vibration at work on a number of levels. It exists on the physical plane as sound vibrations, yet it mysteriously transcends the physical by stimulating our emotions and imaginations like nothing else can. It also provides a metaphor for vibration at other levels, as well as practical means for affecting our state of consciousness. While all dimensions of music, including melody, harmony, and rhythm, can provide a basis for mystical exploration, at the most fundamental level even a single musical tone is enough. Every pitched tone consists of a fundamental — the pitch you hear– as well as a vast array of higher, inaudible overtones (a.k.a. harmonics). If you manipulate the instrument correctly, these overtones become audible, as in Tuvan throat-singing or the chants of Tibetan monks, but ordinarily they blend seamlessly into the fundamental. Overtones exist quite literally as ascending levels of vibration embedded within the tone itself, perfectly paralleling the esoteric cosmologies of vibration. Though typically inaudible, these overtones nevertheless produce the timbre, or unique quality, of a particular instrument. The relative mix of overtones makes it so that the same pitch will sound different on a clarinet than it does on a piano, a guitar, or a human voice.
Similarly, we could say that the relative blend of different “overtones” within any phenomenon– whether a person, a TV remote, or a bag of rice– combine to create the unique quality of that phenomenon. Who knows? It is a fun idea to consider, and it can be a starting point for meditation and the refinement of perception. This is the basis of some Tantric practices that involve using sense objects as a means of awakening. With our attention fixed upon a single tone, color, flavor, or body sensation, our meditative awareness draws out higher and higher overtones of the sensation until we merge with Divine consciousness itself. Vibrational cosmologies act as maps to point us toward ever subtler levels of perception, guiding us beyond the worlds of the senses, the rational intellect, and even poetic imagination, into pure gnostic awareness.
If all levels of vibration, from the most mundane to the most divine, are ever-present in everything, and we know how to tune our awareness correctly, then, like the mystic P.D. Ouspensky, we can perceive the Absolute in something as mundane as an ashtray. It does not matter whether or not something is beautiful or ugly, sacred or profane, good or evil: all phenomena express all levels of vibration, even if they refract them differently. This is why Jesus can say, in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, “the Kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, but people do not see it”, or a medieval alchemist could say that Philosopher’s Stone “lies before the eyes of all… It is glorious and vile, precious and of small account, and is found everywhere… our Matter has as many names as there are things in the world; that is why the foolish know it not.”
Remember: vibration is a literal reality, as well as a metaphor. Whatever we might say about vibration, the most important point, from the mystical perspective, is that it applies to consciousness. If applied correctly, this conceptual technique will crack our minds open to worlds beyond concepts. Playing around with such ideas changes our experience of the world, both inner and outer. There is not a matter of belief, but rather a starting point for experimentation. Take the leap. Reality will reveal more of itself. More of yourself will be revealed. This is alchemy.
Are we spirit, or matter? Are we eternal sparks of divine consciousness, or boiling cauldrons of instincts and emotions? As human beings, we are both. This dual nature gives rise to our greatest woes, inspiring us one moment, only to dash our inspirations against the rocks of fear and aggression the next. Simpler beings like plants and animals need only live out their instinctual lives to find fulfillment. As spiritual intelligence riding a human brain and body, we do not have it so easy: we long to fulfill both our instinctual and spiritual aspirations. Is there any hope for us in this life, or will we forever seesaw from one extreme to the next? Our hope lies in alchemically transmuting the raw material of our instincts, emotions, and traumas into fuel for our awakening. The friction of our dual nature creates the sparks of illumination.
The ancient Greeks believed that we each have a daimon– an inner guiding spirit that calls us toward our truest expression. The daimon calls to us continually but we do not necessarily answer the call, for to do so would entail risk. It may come quietly, as the “still, small voice” of our souls, or it may upend our lives through crisis. It may drag us into a depression, or inspire us with passion, block our path, or open the way. No matter how the daimon chooses to call us, it requires us to step out on a limb.
Fear is the single greatest impediment to living our true life. The threats of failure, rejection, loss, insecurity, death, or even unpleasant emotions (like fear itself) keeps us from making the necessary moves. Platitudes about fearlessness only make matters worse, as fear– the famous fight or flight response– sits at the base of our instinctual pyramid, often running our lives from below, far outside the field of our awareness. If we repress fear in an effort to appear fearless, it will poison whatever we touch. But just imagine the power we would possess if we could transmute the energy of fear into courage, love, or creativity. Before we can transmute our fear, we must fully acknowledge it and be prepared to keep acknowledging it whenever it may arise. Courage comes from acting in the full awareness of fear. It is the result of a conscious choice. Following the call of the daimon requires this kind of courage.
Whenever we look deeply into life and its meaning, we tangle ourselves up in the weedy subject of whether or not we are bound by fate or possess free will. No one has the final word on this subject, but here is one perspective: free will, which is the ability to make conscious choices, allows us to transform oppressive fate into destiny. Destiny is our birthright and greatest gift: the life we came to live. The more we live according to our raw instincts and habits, whether catering to them or struggling against them, the more fate binds us. The more we heed the call of our souls, choosing to follow it in spite of our fear and indolence, the more we awaken to our destiny. Then strange things begin to happen: synchronicities, serendipities, and life-changing encounters pile up. Life takes on a surreal, orchestrated quality as we discover our personal myth. Like the hero on the Hero’s Journey, we receive magical aid. But, also like the hero, further trials await us, testing our newly acquired consciousness and courage at every turn.
The alchemical path is one of personal responsibility, self-mastery, and inner vision. Our destiny is our own business. This is a hard pill to swallow, but the most liberating of medicines. No one else can wake us up or take the blame for the challenges we face. When we realize that we alone carry our destiny, then we can get to the work of self-mastery. Self-mastery works in two directions, both crucial to the processes of transmutation and awakening: top-down mental mastery, and bottom-up emotional/ energetic mastery. Mental mastery involves identifying, releasing, and rewriting the stories that shape our personal reality, while emotional/ energetic mastery involves rewiring our inner programming to become less reactive, more sensitive, and more secure, so we may better respond to life situations. Through both the top-down and bottom-up approaches, we develop our single greatest ally in consciousness: the Inner Observer. The Observer is aware of awareness itself; it remains alert and unperturbed in any situation, unaffected by the emotional storms and personal identifications of ordinary life. When we can rest in the Observer state, aware of yet unaffected by the conflicting opposites within, our vision becomes clear and we finally become capable of making conscious choices.
We live in a chaotic, but fertile time, which future generations will point to as a turning point in the human journey. The symbolic language of archetypal astrology can give us a backstage view of the play we are currently witnessing, showing us the story behind the story. Using the astrological symbols to decode the present and gain insight into the past, we can begin to make educated guesses– not predictions, exactly– about what our era means, and where the world is headed. The most effective way to change the world is to change oneself. As the support structures of culture and government crumble around us, and as those that prop up our own psyches crumble as well, we walk a razor’s edge between awakening and falling into a deeper sleep. More is changing than we know. A new cosmological paradigm is already emerging, with room for both scientific and spiritual truth. To make the most of this time and to help usher in the best possible world, we must become alchemists: masters of inner transformation, each in our own way.
Welcome to the apocalypse. The word “apocalypse” comes from the ancient Greek word for “uncovering”. Reflecting the strong influence of Pluto, ours is a time of revelation, catharsis, and destruction, paving the way for renewal. Beginning in 2008 and lasting until early 2021, Uranus (planet of awakening, liberation, and radical change) made a square alignment with Pluto (planet of death/ rebirth, shadow, and compulsion). When any two planets align, they each activate the other’s potential in their own way. Under the Uranus-Pluto square, Uranus (the awakener) awakened the Plutonian forces of human shadow and natural fury– totalitarianism, nationalism, white supremacy, the Fukushima disaster, the mortgage crisis, and ever deadlier hurricanes, floods, and fires. At the same time, Pluto, as the compulsive force of nature, instinct, and the masses, empowered the Uranian urge for social and technological progress, liberation, and human rights, as well as the Uranian phenomena of uncertainty and discontinuous change. Additionally, Pluto drew out the shadow elements of our Uranian self-righteousness and love of freedom. Examples across the spectrum of possibilities, whether progressive or poisonous (and often mixed) include the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, Silicon Valley, #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, the Trump presidency, and the January 6th Capitol insurrection. We paid the price for progress in taking a long and painful look at our own ugliness, at times needing to viscerally experience our worst qualities in order to purge them. Think of Uranus-Pluto as a volcanic colonic (great name for a band).
As significant as the last decade-plus has been, astrologers knew that 2020 would particularly be a time of crisis and potential breakthrough, owing to the once-an-age triple conjunction of Pluto, Saturn, and Jupiter in Capricorn. The Saturn-Pluto conjunction began in 2018 and lasts through this year, 2021, though it peaked in January of 2020, just as the pandemic began. Jupiter joined the others for the duration of 2020, quickly moving deeper into Aquarius and on into Pisces in 2021, while Saturn-Pluto lingers. While astrology can accurately predict certain qualities, feelings, or themes, it cannot predict actual events. In other words, astrologers knew that 2020 would be felt as a time of intense breakdown, division, struggle, and mortal threat on a global scale– a year with the potential to shed the baggage of generations and step boldly into a new future. We just didn’t know it would specifically involve a confluence of a biological pandemic (COVID-19) and a psychic one (fake news, conspiracy theories, conflicting realities).
Saturn and Pluto alignments put us to the ultimate test. Saturn makes us face bottom-line realities– in this case, the abysmal and humbling reality of Pluto, the power of life and death itself. Because Saturn represents the urge for control, we can feel especially impotent at such times, the victims of larger forces. At the same time, Pluto empowers that Saturnian urge for control. We can feel compelled to identify threats outside of ourselves and take drastic measures to bulwark ourselves or crush the threat. The perceived threats (real or imagined) of our time include: COVID, freak disasters, global warming, vaccines, wearing masks, not wearing masks, fear itself, republicans, democrats, Trump, Biden, “elites”, “deplorables”, men, women, white people, black people, immigrants, Jews, Bill Gates, Hillary Clinton, lizards from space, old media, new media, and much, much more. Old divisions intensify as new ones arise– even within families. Additionally, Saturn rules structures and Pluto rules de-struction. Both of these planets face us with our own mortality. Saturn-Pluto alignments consistently occur at the grimmest times in history, including both World Wars, 9/11, the onset of the Vietnam War, and the arrival of the Black Death in Europe. The effects can feel relentless, crushing, and punishing. To quote a character from the 1984 Saturn-Pluto classic The Terminator, “it can’t be bargained with, it can’t be reasoned with, it doesn’t feel pity or remorse or fear, and it absolutely will not stop… EVER, until you are dead!”
Western culture long ago lost its taste for Pluto, seeing its dark power mainly in the Devil (the Christian perspective) or uncontrollable, pitiless nature (the materialist perspective). The ancient Greeks worshipped Plutonian power as Dionysus– the initiatory god of madness, ecstasy, and the sexual power of life– or as Hades, lord of the dead, destroyer of innocence, and guardian of hidden riches. Our relationship to Saturn has been more ambivalent: on the one hand we love having control, on the other we hate submitting to control. Saturn traditionally ruled much of what today astrologers assign to Pluto, including death, decay, and the underworld. Part of the equation with Saturn includes facing the reality that, ultimately, we never were and never will be in control. Saturn is Time, who reveals and destroys all.
The Hindu goddess Kali, traditionally associated with Saturn, expresses the qualities of Pluto as well– relentless, uncontrollable, and destructive. Even as she chops our heads off and drinks our blood, she loves, nurtures, and finally empowers us. Kali embodies a profound paradox: if we seek true power, we must first humble ourselves enough to recognize our own puniness and insignificance. We must let ourselves be destroyed, so that we no longer fear destruction.
To sum up Saturn-Pluto alignments in a single word: “death”. Inherent, therefore, in every Saturn-Pluto alignment is a birth. Just as death proceeds from birth, birth proceeds from death. Day follows night, spring follows winter, waking follows sleep, etc. The universe runs on such polarities, and birth and death, both literal and metaphorical, are fundamental. One of the best reasons to spend any time with astrology is to better observe these patterns.
As mentioned above, buoyant and expansive Jupiter aligned with grim Saturn-Pluto in 2020, further inflecting the qualities of that alignment. As the planet of abundance, optimism, faith, meaning, and luck, Jupiter draws few complaints. But Jupiter can be excessive. To add excess to any Saturn-Pluto phenomenon, as you might guess, is about as fun as it sounds. In combination with other planets, Jupiter tends to amplify, inflate, and make a spectacle. Thus, seeing that 2020’s Saturn-Pluto conjunction would involve Jupiter, astrologers knew it would be one for the books. Still, Jupiter’s nature is fundamentally positive, so even in Saturn-Pluto hell, which Jupiter might amplify, it can still drop unexpected gifts in our laps. When we think in terms of the death-rebirth polarity that Pluto represents, adding both Saturn and Jupiter could signify a spectacularly (Jupiter) hard (Saturn) death (Pluto), yielding an equally spectacular rebirth (Jupiter), with consequential and enduring (Saturn) results.
It might seem absurd to say that our time is more momentous than either of the World Wars, but today we truly stand on the brink of a new world. I am not referring to the level of destruction or the amount of suffering vis-a-vis any other age– only the magnitude of the transition. If we look at the last century as a series of crashing waves battering a levy, the World Wars were monstrous waves, but they did not break the levy. The wave we are living today may be smaller and less powerful, but it may be the one to finish the job– that is until a new levee gets built and destroyed in the never-ending cycle. The internet age is barely thirty years old, and has already had an incalculable effect on everyone’s life, notably (as we are now seeing) by undermining our sense of reality. Genetic technology allows us to edit life like a word document, a fact whose implications we can barely begin to fathom. The idea that we might establish colonies in space seems less like science fiction every day. Democracy is looking uncertain. If we cannot properly address climate change, the Earth might swat us like a fly. On the positive side, women are coming into positions of social power and making epochal scientific discoveries; racial justice is beginning to be realized; people are healing trauma, rather than suffering in silence; people are spiritually awakening and stepping into an expanded reality. If we survive, which I think we will, we may see an incredible renewal– a Renaissance 2.0.
To consider what kind of birth might follow our current collective death, let us look back to the Renaissance in Europe. The Renaissance itself was born from the ashes of the Black Death. The first wave of bubonic plague in Europe peaked between 1348 and 1351, during a Saturn-Pluto conjunction, having emerged in China at the previous Saturn-Pluto opposition. The plague halved the population of Europe, bringing all of the emotional, economic, and social turmoil such loss entails. This undermined the power of the Catholic Church– until then, the ultimate institutional power in Europe– as clergy died in large numbers and their positions were hastily filled by more and more corrupt individuals. The more corrupt the Church became, the less people respected and believed in it. A resulting rise in secular education contributed to a growing emphasis on humanist values. Economically, the decline in the labor force pushed wages higher and increased social mobility– peasants became merchants and merchants became nobility. Especially in Northern Italy, the epicenter of the Renaissance, this led to the collapse of feudalism and contributed to the rise of the merchant class. The new economy generated tremendous wealth in Florence, where the Medici family vented their riches by patronizing the arts and scholarship that drove the Renaissance, and which established humanist and individualist values as central to the Western ethos– values which have since spread across the globe, with mixed results.
It is difficult to overstate the gifts that the Renaissance bestowed on civilization. Much of what we most value in ourselves traces back to this time, including our modern sense of self-awareness and individual destiny. This period saw the birth of the individual creative artist, the birth of heliocentric cosmology and the Scientific Revolution, the rediscovery of Platonic and Hermetic philosophy, and the literal opening of new horizons with the “discovery” of the New World. The sense of humanity’s divine destiny was never stronger, before or since. There was only one problem: as amazing as it was for certain people, it was terrible for Jews and Moors under the Inquisition, American Indians decimated by smallpox and marauding conquistadors, and later the slaves brought to work the newly-discovered land, to name but a few examples. The world still had a lot to work through, much of which we are working through today– this very moment. But still, the seeds of our universal sense that everybody matters were planted during the Renaissance. They sprouted during the Enlightenment and the shoots have been pushing through the dirt ever since.
What is Next?
Amazing awakenings and innovations are at hand, bringing not a utopia, but new levels of existence and awareness. We will still be human, full of human pettiness and bad habits. But perhaps we might also become somehow more than human. Since the Grand Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, which occurred on the Winter Solstice of 2020, we are experiencing a palpable, if subtle, shift in collective consciousness. Occurring every twenty years, the conjunction of the two “social” planets marks a new configuration of our collective vision (Jupiter) and our capacity for execution (Saturn), our sense of meaning and possibility (Jupiter) with the perceived facts of life (Saturn). The recent Grand Conjunction, which occurred in Aquarius, inaugurated a 200-year period where the Air element will dominate the zeitgeist. For the last two hundred years, from the Industrial Revolution up through our current age of global consumerism, these alignments occurred in Earth signs, oriented toward materialism and accumulation. Of the many bills coming due during this apocalypse, the consequences of our materialism, exploitation, objectification, and greed top the list. These issues predate the Industrial Revolution by far, but the Earth era and the Industrial Revolution shifted these tendencies to a higher gear. The element of Air, by contrast, “rises above”. Air deals with ideas, perspectives, and perceptions. Soon, we may find ourselves solving previously intractable problems from new levels of consciousness. This Air era will invite us to reevaluate how we relate to each other and the planet. We may embrace new ways of knowing and new systems for sense-making. Coupled with the recent “apocalypse” we have been living through, which is burning away so much collective karma, I have hope for the future.
Perhaps you have noted the fact that, during a respiratory pandemic, where some people are literally suffocating to death, others refuse to wear masks they find suffocating, and others complain of suffocating under lockdown. Meanwhile George Floyd’s dying words “I can’t breathe” ring in our ears, while for the past several years, wildfires have made the air unbreathable for weeks on end in certain parts of the world. These are not coincidences. The universe speaks to us in its own language– the language of correspondence, which astrology helps us to translate. This new chapter brings the opportunity to “clear the air” of the stench and smoke of our materialistic, exploitive ways.
Things will not magically resolve themselves, though. Saturn squares Uranus through 2023, bringing the hard clash of the old (Saturn) and the new (Uranus), of conservative and liberal, authoritarianism and rebellion, structure and chaos. We will experience rigid (Saturn) structures suddenly (Uranus) breaking. We may see rebels (Uranus) turn into tyrants (Saturn). One of the worst dangers of this aspect is the tendency to identify as free and awakened (Uranus) while operating from a base fear and mental rigidity (Saturn). We may increasingly face the negative consequences (Saturn), or the authoritarian abuse (Saturn), of technology (Uranus)– and technocracy may itself be the number one shadow element of the Air era. The only thing we have to fear, now, is the fear of fear itself. To manage the tension, let us ask: How do we invite radical change (Uranus), while preserving those aspects of tradition that we still value? What wisdom from the past (Saturn) can free us (Uranus) from our current predicaments? How do we exercise freedom (Uranus) responsibly (Saturn)? Can we stay grounded and practical (Saturn) enough to actually realize our radical (Uranus) ambitions?
21st Century Alchemy
Spiritual awakening and psychological honesty are keys to this next chapter. The Gnostics, living around the time of Christ (a time much like our own), believed that we are divine beings of light carrying sparks of the ultimate divine essence, but that we are born into a fallen reality created by a false God called the demiurge. The demiurge’s henchmen, the archons, presided over this false reality like prison guards. The Gnostics aimed to liberate themselves through direct insight, or gnosis, of their divine nature. We are divine beings of light, but we must recognize that the demiurge and his archons are within ourselves, and not outside. Especially at apocalyptic times like these, we may feel impotent in the face of forces beyond our control. If we are asleep to our true nature, pointing the finger at the many visible manifestations of evil we may perceive– governments, psychopath CEOs, conspiratorial cabals, or even nature itself– we fail to notice the governments, corporations, and secret conspiracies within. Our own psychology, distorted by trauma, instinct, conditioning, and our automatic sense of self-importance, keeps us blind to our true nature. As we alone trap ourselves in the Matrix, we are the only ones who can free ourselves. When we are aware of our true nature and acting from that awareness, we are both invincible and truly creative. We need alchemy to remake ourselves in the 21st century.
Far from being an attempt to counterfeit gold, or a naive pseudoscience, real alchemy aims to transmute the “lead” of our baser nature– instincts, habits, and conditioning– into spiritual gold, through a step-by-step process. Alchemy does not seek release from the world, but rather its perfection, through our own self-realization. If we cannot transform our nature as individuals, then the world has no hope. Through the alchemical process, we take responsibility for our own awakening, and gain the ability to imagine and realize new realities. Supposing, as the alchemists themselves did, that the microcosm and macrocosm correspond, then the alchemist’s success reverberates through the whole universe. In transforming yourself, you transform the whole world.
21st century alchemy will draw on ancient mysteries and spiritual practices, like tantra, hermeticism, kabbalah, shamanism, and sacred medicine, as well as modern spiritual innovations, while also embracing advances in science and modern psychology. Archetypal astrology will provide a cosmological framework to support real meaning in a multiplicitous world. The Air era that we recently entered will facilitate this kind of cross-pollination of ideas and techniques, as well as the shift of cosmological perspective. Two pieces of the alchemical process are especially critical: the direct experience of expanded states of consciousness on the one hand and the disarming of our triggers on the other. The former leads to gnosis, the direct insight into our true nature, while the latter allows us to stabilize in our new reality and not be knocked down again at the slightest touch.
Alchemy demands mental discipline, open-heartedness, and humility. It requires depth without stuckness and flexibility without glibness: we need to know when to sit and do nothing, and we need to know when to act suddenly. The world seems more dystopian every day and we have to hold firm in our efforts to address its problems. We need political action and social engagement, and we need to give whatever help we can to whomever will take it. But even more than that, we need grace. To receive grace, we need to let go of our agendas. That means: engage in your preferred method of activism and then let it go– no matter how important it is.
Activism gains strength when you cast it into the sea and let the currents take it rather than clutch onto it as a club to beat people and objects with. There will always be people with opposite views; or those with similar views but opposite methods; or those with similar views, but with different reasons for holding them; or those with similar views, except on one crucial point. Human reality is massively flawed– but Superhuman reality always sits silently in the corner waiting for us to notice it. Let us leave it to grace, because on our own, we will fail.
Outrage fueled important changes over the past 12 years under the influence of the Uranus-Pluto square. Many react against the outrage– outraged at outrage itself; others urge that we be more reasonable, that we try to understand each other, or that we all just get along. But what good is any of that? Outrage is a stage to pass through, just like nihilism. Both have their place, in a limited way, until we wake up. So if you are rubbing your eyes and stretching after a dream of impotence and outrage, let these words be an invitation to go have some coffee and listen to the birds.
Truth is both relative and absolute, and as alchemists, we can learn to walk that line together. When we live from a place of realized truth, able to peaceably accept and release the lesser truths that come and go, we cannot help but act for the highest good. Morality and ideology cease to matter. Nietzsche was onto something when he drove himself mad with such thoughts more than a century ago, in a world unready for his message but all too ready to misinterpret and misappropriate it. If you have been miseducated into believing that his idea of the Superman meant some sort of eugenic master race, think again. He spoke of awakening. More a prophet than a philosopher, he microcosmically lived out the drama that our world is living today, in a time and a body that could not bear the weight. Today, as we swirl in the nihilistic swamp feeding addictions to nonsense and self-righteousness, be assured: for the 21st century alchemist, a Superhuman future awaits!
Today, October 13th, Mercury turns retrograde in Scorpio, opposing Uranus. On October 16th, there will be a New Moon in Libra. The New Moon will form a powerful T-Square to Saturn, Pluto, Jupiter, and Mars. Mars is still retrograde.
The longterm Saturn-Pluto-Jupiter triple conjunction in Capricorn is the keynote of the time, so anything we might say about Mercury, Mars, or the lunar cycle must refer back to it. We are living in an apocalypse, meaning a time of uncovering. Old structures are being demolished, the body of humanity itself is covered in boils, while literal and metaphorical bodies are piling up.
I am not going to do an astrological breakdown of the news. I follow just enough news to not be ignorant, and I peep at it through my fingers, as I would a horror movie.
I am interested, however, in how the outer world mirrors the inner world and vice versa. Most people, if they think about it, would probably agree that whatever humans do to each other, or to the planet, stems from our psychology. Our hidden desires, fears, traumas, and the images at their center, blossom into the actual events of life. But it also works in the other direction. Psyche is not limited to humans. The world itself has a soul, with its own dreams and desires. In many ways, our inner lives (and the outer events they precipitate) reflect the movements of the the soul of the world. The movements of the world soul, or anima mundi, can be read in the movements of the planets. That is what astrology is. It provides us a key to witnessing the never-ending dance of inner and outer, above and below.
All month, I’ve been meditating on this idea that the world is a mirror for our psyches, and conversely, the idea that we are a mirror for the world’s psyche. Mirroring is Libra material, so it relates to the upcoming New Moon. The insight that a single perspective alone is not sufficient, that at some level we must seek the truth of ourselves in the reflection of others, is one of Libra’s great gifts. By “others”, I would include other individuals, groups, and even plants, animals, spirits, and the world itself. We might even learn to relate to our own psyche as to another being. Libra, whose goal is balance and harmony, notes points of discord and imbalance between perspectives, working to restore balance and resolve tension. Sometimes, however, that tension must be raised to the highest possible pitch before it will resolve. With this New Moon making a tense T-square to the tough and sometimes brutal planets Mars, Saturn, and Pluto, this is one of those times where Libran charm takes a back seat to the more intense process of holding an unbearable amount of tension until balance emerges by grace alone.
The combination of Mars, Saturn, and Pluto creates what astrologer Austin Coppock calls a “meat grinder”. The depth and compulsion of Pluto combines with the control and resistance of Saturn, and the sharpness and forcefulness of Mars. Trying situations and intense confrontations arise, along with all of the emotions that attend them. Mars is now retrograde, as well. During Mars retrograde, we are invited to follow a martial trail of breadcrumbs into our psyche. Here we find the deeper roots of our anger, our rage, or of our desire. It does not mean we cannot take directed action, Mars’ usual specialty. But it does mean that any action we might take, or any anger we might express, is likely to reveal something of our inner world to us. The retrograde is an invitation to follow whatever beckons. This is underlined by Mars’ square to Pluto (which can stir up repressed emotions and drives, leading to brutal shows of force), to Saturn (which frustrates Mars through resistance), and to Jupiter (which can fan the flames and put a nice dollop of ego atop the devil’s sundae). The T-Square alignment of this New Moon promises to flip the “on” switch to this “meat grinder”. Let’s hang onto the Libran notion that the world is a mirror and therefore, the most constructive thing we can do is attend to our own process. Through this understanding we might restore balance. We might even ask ourselves, “how has my attitude been imbalanced? How does my idea of myself conflict with the reality of myself?” Pay attention to dreams and synchronicities. The imbalances are likely to show in the rough terrain of Saturn-Pluto-Mars — issues of fear, control, anger, etc.
Against this backdrop, Mercury is turning retrograde in Scorpio, a sign ruled by both Pluto and Mars. Scorpio represents the emotional, psychological dimension of Mars, asking us to develop the courage to descend into the underworld (Pluto). Though Mars is in Aries, its other, more extroverted sign, the retrograde and aspect to Pluto are begging us to look within, and to transform our relationship to all things Mars. Mercury’s retrograde in Scorpio helps by turning the collective mind around and sending it down dark psychological alleys. The real point of Mercury retrograde is not to mess with your computer, or the mail. It is to set your mind to reviewing, digesting, and renewing. It wants to shake up your perspective. Mercury will also oppose Uranus, which can make for some bigger than average snafus, but can also deliver sudden and shocking insights — insights, perhaps, of a deep, psychological nature. Mercury-Uranus can symbolize a revolution in thought, a quantum-leap in perspective.
Here’s a perspective: much of the pain of humanity is not personal. Of course, many people are suffering directly from disease, oppression, poverty, racism, sexism, and more. But that suffering is an expression of the psychic scars of human life, reaching down the ages. The inquisition, the holocaust, the slave trade, witch hunts, atrocities committed by normal 19-year-olds in Vietnam — such things are deeply inscribed on the psyche of all humanity. And those are just a few that come to mind. Who knows what horrors lurk in the memory of our species? They even reach back to the experience of our animal ancestors. When we feel rage or fear today, we are probably not aware just how deep its roots go. Armed with the insights that the world is a mirror and that our psychic currents, both personal and collective, run deep, we may not only better navigate these high seas, but experience undreamt-of healing.
One other aspect of note: Venus, the ruler of Libra, will oppose Neptune a couple of days after the New Moon. With the planet of love and beauty opposing the planet of dreams, transcendence and delusion, there will be plenty of room for us to drift off into la-la-land — to evade the hard inner work demanded by the other planets. If we can hold on tight, grit our teeth, and look our demons directly in the eye without blinking, this aspect can offer the potential to experience transcendent beauty and love. Art and music can be powerful catalysts to our process of transformation and healing at this time — especially art that speaks directly to the hard archetypal energies present, like Picasso’s Guernica, or Holst’s Mars from the orchestral suite, The Planets. This aspect might also test our capacity for compassion. Can we keep our hearts open, even as we move through the meat grinder? Can we do so honestly, without superficiality or an evasive “flight into the light”?
Never was there a better time to get to the roots of what is going on in the collective psyche. Personally, this lineup will most directly affect people with important planets and points in the late degrees of the cardinal signs, Capricorn, Cancer, Aries, and Libra, but it is still present for all of us.
Gaze into the mirror — what do you see?
Mars Retrograde began on September 9 with yet another installment of the “you can’t make this shit up” category of astrological events. Thanks to a combination of smoke and clouds, this is what it looked like in Northern California yesterday (see the above picture of the Martian surface). When a planet changes direction, the planet is the closest to earth it can be and it appears to come to a stop. The planet’s energy is more present. Mars, the god of war, anger, and conflict is more “present” right now. Can anyone else say “duh”? Mars is also about courage, right boundaries, and right action. The retrograde asks us to look within ourselves and consider how we are working with Mars. Are we standing around with a broken bottle in our hands going, “who wants a piece of me?!?” — or are cultivating the “inner warrior”, with the courage to actually confront our own fears at their source, which is within.
On another note, when Uranus (sometimes called the “Lord of Lightning”, for its association with the sudden and the shocking) stationed retrograde a few weeks ago, California received an unprecedented barrage of lightning, kicking off the annual fire season. That’s another “you can’t make this shit up” event. I don’t know why, but California seems to be registering these astrological events in a very literal way with its weather. It’s almost like it’s saying “look! Loooook!!!”
At the very least, this is amazing. Even though these are tragic events, and even though the situation in Californina is quite miserable, the astrological background reflects something amazing. This is all a part of something larger. There is meaning here, which give a whole different meaning to the word “meaning”. Such correlations inspire awe and wonder. They help us bear witness to the “mysterium tremendum et fascinans” — the awesome and trembling mystery. We are a part of something vastly larger than ourselves, and largely incomprehensible — and yet there is deep meaning in that (and not the opposite that many people suppose when considering our smallness in the face of things).
Finally, awe and wonder go a long way to helping us, in the words of the serenity prayer, “accept the things we cannot change.”
My professional advice (especially if you have planets in Aries, Libra, Capricorn, or Cancer)? Stay mindful and get a lot of physical exercise. Breath work and yoga are good. Punch/ scream into a pillow if you must.
The lunar nodes recently moved into Gemini and Sagittarius, where they will remain for the next year and a half. With the nodes moving through the signs of meaning and perception, let’s prepare to have our minds blown. Let’s also acknowledge that maybe we don’t want our minds to be blown.
One thing we might all agree on is the fact that people can’t seem to agree on much. In an era of ideological extremism manifest through political division, identity politics, fake news, conspiracy theories, twitter battles, etc., we are all called to question how we make sense of the world, what we take for truth, and what we are even able to perceive. If we are unable to question our own perceptions and the stories we tell about them, how can we ever hope to understand another person, let alone communicate effectively?
The nodes moving into Gemini/ Sagittarius didn’t create these issues, but they do indicate that something is coming to a head. Some karma is “ripening” in the areas of collective meaning-making, perception, understanding, and communication. We make meaning through Sagittarius and its ruler, Jupiter. It shows us the big picture and Truth with a capital T. Through these symbols, we synthesize experience and form our religious, philosophical, and political ideologies. At best, Sagittarius makes living worthwhile. It shows you a version of the cosmos and your place within it. When Sagittarius goes bad, it can show up as dogmatic fundamentalism. Where Sagittarius sees the forest, Gemini sees the trees. Gemini is curious and experimental, always looking for new data and ideas. Gemini is a hummingbird, buzzing from flower to flower, sipping nectar and pollinating as it goes. At best, Gemini infuses us with beginner’s mind, showing us that there is always more to life than we supposed. When Gemini goes bad, it is usually through endless distraction, rationalization, word-vomit, and gorging on meaningless bits of unrelated information.
The South Node refers to our karmic and ancestral inheritance. It represents deeply-ingrained habits from the past that we cling to far past their use-by date. Like any inheritance, it contains both good and bad. Imagine that your grandfather dies and leaves you a Malibu beach house. Nice… but what if he was a hoarder, and the place is full of rats and black mold? You have inherited that, too. You might need to take out a loan almost the size of a mortgage just to make the place livable. Such is the South Node, which comes with undeniable gifts and garbage. The North Node offers the remedy for the dark side of the South Node. It helps us remove the garbage, but it’s not without its own dangers. There can be a magical allure to the North Node, as if it were the answer to all our problems, and it can pull us forward in an addictive pursuit of the new. We don’t ever feel entirely comfortable with it. The astrologer Adam Sommer puts it nicely when he says that the South Node represents the stories we have already lived and the North Node represents the stories we are writing. Thinking in terms of stories is even more pertinent with the nodes in Gemini/ Sagittarius, dealing as they do with meaning and communication. Stories are addictive and beguiling. Consider how difficult it is to see beyond your own stories of your childhood, your talents, your traumas, your peak experiences, or loss. These stories can define a person’s entire life. Now consider the equally mesmerizing stories of moving past your trauma, past your childhood, recovering from loss, or discovering that you are more than your talents or limitations. These, too, can define your life. It is easy to identify with either the past or the future. This gives an idea of the dynamic between the two nodes, which always exist in a perfect polarity. It’s not that stories are bad. We can’t help but tell stories. We must make sense of life. And yet, there is always more to the story than our stories. It is our job to try to find the proper point of balance between these oscillating extremes.
It is time to seriously reconsider the stories that we tell ourselves. Which stories keep us stuck and powerless? Which stories keeps us feeling entitled? Which stories keep us feeling victimized? Which stories justify our victimizing others? What do we believe the meaning of this pandemic is? What caused it? What is the meaning of Trump? What do we believe the biggest problem in the world to be? What do we think will fix it? Who do we believe has the most right to be heard? Who do we wish to silence? What makes us feel justified in shouting another person down?
Here’s the story I’m telling myself: our biggest problems lie in our stories, and the resultant addiction to our own identity. I could be wrong, but it seems to me to be a better story than much of the propaganda that our egos and the media sling about. As Yeats said in The Second Coming, a poem at least as appropriate to our time as its own: “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” As the poem says, things do fall apart; the center cannot hold. The best we can do is ride the tide. The worst we can do is hold rigidly to what we absolutely believe about ourselves and others.
Gemini says “open your mind”. Gemini can offer new data and new models for making sense of things. Sagittarius offers a world view. When they integrate, voilà: a better world view— an expanded potential find meaning and yet approach things with a beginner’s mind. However, if we insist on holding onto our dogmas, we devolve into meme-slinging and an extreme fixation on language and ideas. Life becomes even more of a meaningless mess of soundbites, twitter skirmishes, and BuzzFeed and Fox News headlines.
Another theme I see in the Gemini/ Sagittarius polarity involves finding the right language to express truth. Language is lamentably insufficient to convey the greatest truths, and this is why existence is ultimately a mystery. Just when you think you’ve found the right phrase or concept, everything gets flipped around on you. It sometimes feels like life is a board game with intentionally confusing rules. But some truths are perceptible, even if they cannot be perfectly put into words. Yet, it is still important to look for the right words. Maybe there’s no such thing as absolute truth, but it’s certainly not as relative as many have come to believe. As we are coming to find with all dualities, absoluteness and relativity exist on a spectrum.
Nietzsche said that a person cannot get more out of things than they already know— that where one lacks experience, they also lack an ear with which to hear. So much misunderstanding and miscommunication results from people simply not hearing what others are saying. This may be willful, emotional, or due to a simple lack of experience. We often get stuck at one level of awareness, and yet people can and do transcend previous levels of consciousness. The inner experiences that move them in this direction are subtle and not necessarily obvious from the outside. A new capacity for perception and understanding can only arise when we allow new experiences to break through. This is the potential that I see in working with Gemini/ Sagittarius.
Today Jupiter, the planet of faith, optimism, growth, and expansion moves into Capricorn, the sign of practical action, integrity, and achievement. Jupiter spends about a year in each sign, and for the last year has been in its home sign of Sagittarius. In Sagittarius, Jupiter is at its most expansive: questing, illuminating, alive with possibility, bringing realization (though, on the other hand, potentially delivering a whopping dose of inflation and self-righteousness). In Sagittarius, Jupiter tends to operate in his most outward dimension: thus we speak of growth and expansion. It fills us with a hunger for learning and experience.
Capricorn, the sign of the winter solstice, fills a planet with a very different energy. Where Jupiter expands, Saturn contracts. Capricorn, Saturn's domain, demands practical, step by step action. If Jupiter has been off adventuring through mountains, jungles, among the strange peoples of distant lands for the past year in Sag, collecting mind-blowing insights and experiences, it is now time for him to plant himself in one place, consider all that he has learned, and begin to apply the lessons.
Capricorn also relates to tradition, social systems, and hierarchies. Pluto, planet of death and rebirth, has been there since 2008, digging up the bodies of the patriarchy (sexism, racism, toxic capitalism) so that they may rot in the fresh air. Saturn, bringing in a hard dose of reality, and the Moon's South Node, acting as a release valve for karma and past narratives, are also in Capricorn. With a Saturn-Pluto conjunction tightening up by the day, whatever skeletons we have in our collective closet are about to come storming out, armed with machine guns. Note: this is only a metaphor. But Saturn-Pluto times are no joke: both World Wars, Vietnam, and 9/11 all occurred under Saturn-Pluto aspects. A storm's a-brewing, and we all know it. I will not make a fool of myself by trying to predict what exactly it will look like.
With Jupiter about to enter the fray, this is a time to hold onto your faith in whatever way it shows up for you. Saturn-Pluto can yield real transformation and a renewed sense of moral strength and vision of integrity, if they don't plunge us into utter cynicism and despair. Jupiter promises to make the spectacle more grand. And, with Jupiter's faith entering the in the sign of hierarchical social systems, there's a real danger of beliefs crystallizing into fundamentalist dogmas. But an open and practical faith, stemming from lived experience rather than belief, can be like a candle in the darkness.
Recommended reading: The Choice, by Edith Eger and Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.
This is by no means all that I have to say on these subject. If you're interested, please visit my YouTube channel, and subscribe and like. Videos on the nature of Jupiter, as well as the current situation in Capricorn, are forthcoming.
In ancient times, the planets and the gods were one and the same. They are the forces that govern our characters, and as a wise man I did not have the pleasure of knowing personally said, "character is fate". It pays to develop a good relationship with the planets. To that end, let me share invocations that I have written to each of the personal planets, plus Jupiter and Saturn.
O Sun! Fill me with warmth, energy, and creativity. Sustain me in my sense of individuality, purpose, and personal authority. Teach me to shine!
O Moon! Bring me nourishment, comfort and security. Help me to see that my basic emotional and survival needs are always met. Teach me to give and to receive, to nurture and heal. Help me feel what whatever I need to feel!
O Mercury! Make me alert, curious, and perceptive. Help me to learn, to experiment. Give me the discrimination to use my knowledge effectively. Strengthen my memory and my senses and clarify my thoughts. Give me the gift of clear expression and speech that heals!
O Venus! Show me the beauty in the world. Help me to sense my own value, and that of others. Show me that life is indeed good, and that it is worth living and sharing. Help me bring harmony into the world!
O Mars! Give me courage, vitality and strength! Show me what I truly desire and empower me to act boldly and decisively to claim what is mine. Help me to guard my boundaries and to direct my anger and aggression in a way that serves the highest good. May true power prevail over force!
O Jupiter! Make me sensitive to life's deeper meaning. Give me true faith, founded in deep wisdom! I won't take the rose-tinted variety. Bring coherence to my soul! Broaden my perspective! Extend my horizons! Show me that life is full of possibility! Make me so grateful that generosity rises from me like the scent from freshly-baked bread! Bring me understanding, abundance and grace! Help me to be a conduit for wisdom and justice.
O Saturn! Give me the patience to make something out of this life! Show me my limitations, provide me the vessel, the canvas, the foundation... be my rhythm section! May I always keep one foot on the ground, in your honor. Help me to see fear as an important message. Give me the discipline to follow through on projects, to keep my commitments, to sharpen my skills. Give me integrity! Help me to be a steward of my body and environment. Give me the satisfaction of true achievement!
Archetypes are multi-dimensional, multivalent and infinite patterns by which both human consciousness and the the universe organize themselves. They are multidimensional, meaning we can experience them internally, in the mind or emotions, or externally in the physical world. They are multivalent, meaning that the same archetype may express itself in a number of ways. For example, the Mother may present herself to varying degrees in one’s actual mother, in the Earth, the Church, the mothership, the Moon, milk, cozy spaces, a friend, one’s hometown. Finally, archetypes are infinite, meaning that no matter how many expressions one might identify, there will always be more. Archetypes also exist (if “exist” is even the right word) in an eternal realm, which transcends the everyday reality of time and space. We can never directly experience an archetype, except in mystical or extended states of consciousness. These invisible energies require an interface: an archetypal image. In pre-modern times, we knew these as gods and goddesses: living presences shaping our psyches and our world. But even though God has been pronounced dead, these presences live on in all of the infinite expressions of life.
Speaking in image and metaphor, the arts can help us feel the archetypes most directly. We will take a brief look at the archetypal field of Pluto through Mary Oliver’s poem, The Lilies Break Open Over the Dark Water. Pluto relates to death and rebirth, the Underworld, destruction and regeneration, the instincts, transformation, elemental power, nature “red in tooth and claw,” mass movements, the blind Will, etc. Fundamentally, Pluto embodies the primal urge to transform through an ongoing death-rebirth process, involving decay, putrefaction, or incineration, followed by a spontaneous, instinctive emergence of new life.
Everything in the universe, whether in the human mind or heart, in the backyard, the classroom, the office, the ocean, the Earth’s mantle, or the galaxy partakes of the Pluto archetype. Mary Oliver paints a vivid picture of this archetype at work in her poem. In blossoming, the lilies, are “simply doing, from the deepest spurs of their being, what they are impelled to do/ every summer”. These beautiful, luminous, sweet-smelling flowers emerge from a foul, dark pool of decaying vegetation: “that mud-hive, that gas-sponge/ that reeking leaf yard, that rippling/ dream-bowl, the leeches’ flecked and swirling/ broth of life, as rich/ as Babylon”. The structure of the short, progressively indenting lines, the driving pile-up of images, the association of life and fantastic richness with putrid water make one feel Pluto’s power as life-force, as beyond politeness, as spontaneous and inexorable, and as uniting life and death.
The speaker addresses a person watching the lilies from the shore, “trying/ to attach them to an idea”. But the Plutonian nature of things is inscrutable: “the lilies are slippery and wild — they are/ devoid of meaning.” As with everything in this ever-flowing universe, the lilies behave precisely according to their nature, impelled into existence by the force of life itself. This energy will not be pinned down and summed up neatly in a concept. And yet, “there you are/ on the shore,/ fitful and thoughtful.” The person addressed is in the midst of their own Plutonian process, in resonance with the processes of nature. Though they cannot attach an idea to the lilies, their own emotional process is as “slippery and wild” as the lilies themselves. Just as the lilies emerge every summer, so this person’s sorrow emerges naturally and spontaneously, of its own accord.
The Lilies Break Open Over the Dark Water provides a brilliant example of the multidimensionality of the Pluto archetype, showing it at work in the processes of both nature and the human psyche. And though we cannot exactly assign a meaning to the lilies, or to anything in Pluto’s realm, we can bear witness to this process as it unfolds both within ourselves and without.