AMERICA IN TRANSITION, JUNE 2007
by Jessica Murray
Astrologers are, in theory, better equipped than most people to see the Big Picture. Our stock-in-trade is nothing less than the sky itself, whose patterns we use to plumb events for meaning. And right now it would seem to be high time to use our equipment.
Precarious times require that persons of conscience use all the intelligence we can muster. By intelligence I mean the wit to meld the instincts with which we were born together with the knowledge at our disposal. However we came by what we know, we need to press it into service.
Each of us possesses a reservoir of knowledge that is perfectly matched to the times we live in. Some of this knowledge may have come from past mentors: a wise parent who taught us not to touch a hot stove, a biology teacher who taught us how the cells of the body function; a stranger encountered on a summer road trip who taught us about human nature.
Applying Ancient Knowledge
For readers of this column, much of this reservoir of knowledge no doubt involves the study of ancient cosmologies. This kind of information, as we know, suffers from an ignominious disparagement in our time and place. Occult mysticism is out of fashion in the self-avowedly rational West, which makes modern America a rare exception in the annals of human history.(1) But I would argue that in these extraordinary times, the perspectives of the prehistoric seersfar from being anachronisticare more useful and necessary than ever before.
In an epoch where sober international conferences are being convened to discuss mass extinctionliterally, experts are debating the chances of a global wipe-out on the level of what happened to the dinosaurs; only this time, human-inducedclearly we have come to the end of our tether with conventional ways of seeing. It is time to concede that the perspectives weve been using, whatever they are and however valid they might once have been, are not working.
More than ever, humanity needs a dispassionate, distanced perspective. I believe this is something astrologers can provide(2); though not necessarily by foisting forecasts upon a skeptical publicgoddess knows, the last thing our society needs is more evangelizing. What needs to be shared is not so much the data of astrology as the scope inherent in the astrological way of seeing. What I am proposing is that our engagement in the national conversation be guided by the transcendent principles that underlie our worldview.
As it is, there is often a strange disconnect among metaphysical thinkers between our stated beliefs and our day-to-day attitudes. As Rob Hand has noted, Most people who do astrology think like astrologers when they're doing astrology, and they think like modern people when they do everything elseblissfully ignoring the fact that these two worldviews are completely incompatible
you cannot believe in the positivistic, materialistic worldview and also believe in the implications of astrology. You just can't. (3)
The conundrum he describes is especially problematic right now. For truth-seekers to lose sight of the Big Picture during times like these is to get snookered into the culture wars, which depress not only our spirits but our intelligence itself.
Attention Deficit Nation
In American culture at the moment, the picture is, alas, not very big. The media doles out information to a rushed and distracted public in bite-sized piecesInfo McNuggets as if the entire citizenry were afflicted by Attention Deficit Disorder.
Every cultural institution from public education to the entertainment industry seems fatally intimidated by complexity. In journalism, traditional newspapers are starting to look like tabloids, with abbreviated reports written in nuance-free prose. In religion, a bare-bones fundamentalism has all but taken over, with each of the three major sky-god faiths insisting that all of existence boils down to a one-on-one contest between God and Satan.(4) Rather than leaving the field open to any of those pesky shades of gray, this approach seems to take a righteous pride in seeing things in black and white.
One gets the feeling that a deep understanding of the most pressing issues of our day seems not to be the goal at all. Even in science and technical matters, instead of being asked to elucidate a topic for the sake of educating the public, experts are cajoled into simply proclaiming whether they are for or against it. Do you believe or disbelieve in global warming? Great, thanks, Professor. Now a word from our sponsor.
The Tyranny of Dualism
The national conversation has become tyrannically dualistic.
Dualismthe breakdown of a whole into two opposing halvesis governed by the sign Gemini, in which Mars resides in the USA natal chart.(5) This is the placement of back-and-forth arguments and yes-or-no thinking; though knee-jerk binary-mindedness is a crude use of Gemini. Neptune resides in Americas ninth house of ideologies and philosophical stances, and forms a square to that pugnacious Mars. Here we see the signature of Americas obsession with dualistic battles.
We are of course not impugning Mars here, nor Neptune, nor the 90-degree angle that divides them. These are pure archetypes, whose use depends utterly upon the consciousness of the entity that expresses them. Neither is the problem dualism itself. Dualism is merely a categorical method; it underlies such mathematical and philosophical systems as astrology. But dividing things in half doesnt go very far to help us understand real life which is far messier than theoretical systems.
Philosophically speaking, the dualistic approach represents the very first rung on the intellectual ladder. In a college debate, few points would be granted to the speaker whose argument consisted solely of This is a good idea; that is a bad idea (perhaps repeated loudly for emphasis). What the ancient Greek rhetoricians would think of todays talk-show shout-fests is anybodys guess. It should tell us something that the best of us is more likely to descend into such tactics after a couple of beers rather than we are when sober.(6)
Dualism has segued from a conceptual device to a lingua franca in contemporary America, and it is dumbing us down. Did Roger Ebert give that movie a thumbs-down or a thumbs-up? Do you side with Britney or with Kevin in the divorce?
When did it become too taxing for us to make evaluations more complex than these?
Red State vs. Blue State
The most telling example of this phenomenon is the fact that the American political system itself is an unapologetic duopoly. With all the attention focused on presidential politics in the USA, it is remarkable how little mention there is of the fact that voters here have only two political parties to choose between. (Consider the vitriol vented in 2000 at poor old Ralph Naderrather than at the two-party system itself, which makes any third-party candidate a spoiler by definition.) Given that the personal profiles of either partys candidates arelets be frank more-or-less indistinguishable in terms of general life philosophy, wardrobe, supposed church attendance and corporate funding sources, the question "Is X or Y ahead?" would seem to be a far less intriguing question than, say, Why isnt something truly different allowed to happen here?
But that question is rarely asked, because it would require a different kind of thinking on the part of the public than the dualistic mindset allows.(7)
Crush the Other Team
In spectator sports the dualistic approach finds its quintessential application. In athletic competition, the us-vs.-them paradigm is institutionalized, for the sake of fun and games (and, of course, to make money). In the USA the sports metaphor has so infiltrated non-athletic contexts that more and more human endeavors are getting framed as one team against the other. And if we want our team to win the game, it is axiomatic that we attack the players on the other side.
The current spate of hockey dads rushing the field to beat up on the referee should be a wake-up call: the crush-the-other-side mindset has oozed into the tender realm of childhood. Even at events featuring very young children, one often hears parents hurl insults and scorn at the other teams little ones, as if they were alien predators come to attack their babiesrather than simply, well, other little children.
Destroy the Other Country
Nowhere is the binary worldview more dangerous than when manipulated by architects of foreign policy to exploit the fears of a populace.
It was a surreal moment when President Bush first used the term bad guys in an early post-9/11 public address. Some of us thought: Surely he must be kidding. For a fleeting moment it seemed plausible that there was a twinkling of dark humor before us: he couldnt possibly be using kindergarten terminology to talk about international relations, could he? One watched his mouth carefully for the telltale sneer that would indicate that he was being ironic. Appalled, one saw soon enough that the sneer was part of the furniture. He was sneering, but he wasnt kidding.(8)
Once the nationalistic battle lines are drawn, for a citizen to express a perspective any more nuanced than Theyre bad and were good is to leave himself open to accusations of flat-out treachery. If the foe is of a different race or tribe (e.g. the Jews in Hitlers Germany; the Arabs in the USA now), so much the better: the us-vs.-them mentality is all the more tempting the more foreign the presumed foe is seen to be.
This is stranger anxiety. It is a human universal; we all feel it when we are infants. But it is not a sign of spiritual adulthood.
Jupiter Gone Wrong
What are the moral questions(9) troubling the USA?
Before we attempt to parse these, we need to agree, first of all, that the country is troubled. But even this agreement has eluded consensus, causing no end of frustration for social reformers who are champing at the bit to get going on the healing process. Until quite recently, to even suggest that the country was in trouble was to expose oneself to the accusation of being a promoter of doomsday thinking (remember when global warming experts were dismissed with the charming nursery epithet Chicken Littles?). So it has been in every age. Despite the fact that every society needs intelligent criticism in order to stay vital, the status quo tends to deride or silence those who point out what isnt working. A classic intimidation technique is to accuse a critic of being horror of horrorsnegative.
Many astrologers point to the Jupiter/Sun conjunction in the US chart, as well as to its Sagittarius rising, to explain the upbeat buoyancy for which America is world-renowned. But when misused, the Jupiter archetypelike anything else in the chartbecomes ridiculous, even toxic. Bushs advisers have consistently appealed to this sunny native positivism whenever they needed to spin a particularly blatant national disaster (Heckuva job, Brownie), meanwhile trying to shame social critics as ye-of-little-faith. This ploy allows the critiqued government agency to avoid responding to an argument on its merits. Instead, the critic herself is judged. The effect is to shift and trivialize the terms of debate.
Misused, the optimism/pessimism pair reduces to simple character traits points of view that usually have nothing to do with human personality. It is a misapplication of the term pessimistic to use it to refer, for example, to the observation that the world is running out of oil; or that fish populations are dying off. People who call such discussions negative are confusing their own emotional responses to the information with the information itself.
The fact that the US chart is dominated by the sign Cancer, the most personal sign in the zodiac, may help explain why this approach is so trenchant in public discourse. The USAs Sun, Jupiter, Venus and Mercury are in Cancer, a water sign that is more concerned with emotional states of mind and individual moods than with factual or theoretical viewpoints. Used without awareness, Cancer tends towards a defensive temperament, one that takes things personally and frames discussions in subjective terms.
Partisanship As Red Herring
Perhaps not surprisingly, among politicians in this highly polarized era the charge of partisanship has itself become a slur. To accuse ones opponent of acting out of partisanship is to charge him with trying to score points, while implying that the accuser himself is motivated by nothing more than high-minded neutrality.
In troubled times, persons of conscience must beware of partisanship. But we must also beware of being drawn into arguments about partisanship, which distract from the deeper issues. In order to restore a way of seeing that is more universal than the myopic terms of the culture wars, truth-seekers must refuse to be cowed by charges that we are taking sides when what we are doing is championing universal human values that deserve to be proclaimed.
One should not have to be pegged as a member of any one political faction, for instance, to be repelled by the out-of-control violence in this country. Is it Blue-State of me to have trouble understanding why an American can have a gun and be charged with a misdemeanor, while welfare fraud is a felony?
Along the same lines, it is preposterous to think of global warming as a liberal issue. Or that if one opposes torture one must be a Democrat; as if such a response were merely the parroting of a party line, rather than a natural expression of abhorrence to an abomination. Nor should it require either leftwing or rightwing credentials to find something a little problematic with the growing disparity between the obscenely wealthy and the desperately poor in the United States; or with the fact that almost half of the developing worlds urban population live in slums.
An American should not have to subscribe to one ideology or another to be horrified by a war that has left thousands of her countrymen and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead, created the largest number of refugees in the world and tainted that environment for centuries to come with depleted uranium poisoning. It is ridiculous to expect a taxpayers party affiliation to explain why he finds it disgraceful that this war has lined the pockets of a few military contractors to the tune of 27 billion dollarsall paid for with his own hard-earned money. Is not the more trenchant question: why would anyone not find it disgraceful?
To allow our essential human responses to be chalked up to partisanship is an insult to our consciences. When we permit ourselves to be compartmentalized by such labels we do violence to the broader and deeper truths that we, as sentient beings in a troubled world, must address.
Where Does Astrology Fit In?
If there are no accidents of time or of place, we must accept that we were born into this era for a reason. Moreover, each of us who identifies as an American is herenot somewhere elsefor a similarly meaningful set of karmic reasons. Like it or not, every American is part of whats going on in this country. Not all of us are destined to be political activists, of course; such choices lie in the unique proclivities of the individual birth chart. But to Be Here Now, we must respond, somehow, to the group and the times.
I propose that looking deeply into our natal chart is a more authentic way of finding out how to respond to our times than is submitting to the frames of reference foisted upon us by pop culture. By virtue of the nonjudgmental symbolic language at our disposal, astrologers have the ability to contribute a certain quality of observation that is precious and rare.(10) We have a system at our disposal that is much bigger than Left or Right; more useful than Blue or Red; more meaningful than optimistic/pessimistic.
In our next DayKeeper column, we will take a look at how astrology can help us slip the yoke of dualism and find our way to a deeper understanding of these times.
1 During the European Renaissance, for example, a conversance in astrology was considered the hallmark of an educated man (though not of women. Female students of the Mysteries during this period were in danger of being burned for witchcraft).
2 I refer here to serious astrology, as opposed to its better-known spin-off: the What-[Sun-]sign-are you gambit. Pop astrology mimics the superficiality of contemporary thinking, offering a Cliffs-Notes approach to soul search. Reducing the infinitely nuanced multiple layers of a persons natal chart to a quick-n-easy handful of buzzwords, the What-Sign-Are-You approach allows us to hold on to our consensual worldview while sampling bits and pieces of ancient wisdom as if they were hors-doeuvres at a tapas bar.
3 Interview at the Astrological Association of Great Britain conference, 2002
4 See DaykeeperJournals 2/07 America in Transition column on Pluto in Sagittarius.
5 According to the Sibly chart, cast for 7/4/1776, Philadelphia Pa, 5:10pm. For details on this and other aspects of the USA chart, see my book Soul-Sick Nation: An Astrologers View of America (AuthorHouse 2006).
6 Psychologically speaking, the good/bad distinction is usually a form of projection: the object being evaluated is cast as the agent of the opinion, with the perceiver portraying herself as an indifferent bystander. It is with children that the dualistic approach makes the most sense, in that it represents an organic developmental phase. Little kids are not yet capable of taking conceptual responsibility for their ideas and values, so they use good and bad in the same way that they use stick-figure drawings to represent the human form. A child may say, Thats a bad teacher when what they mean is that they dont like that teacher, for reasons that they are too young to articulate. By contrast, we would find it pretty lame if a distinguished film critic reviewed a movie as bad and let it go at that. We expect him to understand his own participation in the experience, and to use his knowledge about films to extract some kind of meaning from his opinion.
7 Americas presidential election is increasingly spoken of not in terms of ideas but in terms of crude numbers: i.e. which candidate is doing better in the polls. Even more simplistically, the numbers game has extended beyond a contest of voter opinion into a contest of pure money: donor contribution; with newspapers devoting their headlines to up-to-the-minute tallies of each partys war chests. Here even the vague allusion to human values presumed by opinion polls is cast asunder, and the race is tracked in terms of nothing more than cold, hard dollar amounts. The question Whos winning is morphing into the question Who has more cash? This has got to be dualism reduced to its baldest extreme.
8 Ever since this cartoon-cowboy language was inaugurated by the president, other officials have started to use bad guys and good guys, with only the faintest hint of sardonicism. Those less sociopathic than Bush seem slightly embarrassed to be using the locution; and the good-ol-boy twang they often affect when they use the words seems to suggest that the speaker hopes the phrase will be excused as an attempt to come across as a half-ironic attempt at folksiness.
9 I do not mean "moral" in the religious sense here, nor in terms of any specific ideology. I mean it in the sense of the capacity to formulate a philosophical/ethical overview, a capacity that astrology ascribes to the planet Jupiter.
10 Eric Francis has written, Astrology seems to be rooted in the architecture of the etheric plane. It is beyond intellectual, mental or astral... One of the reasons it's possible to use astrology to create so much intelligence, indeed, to have it come flooding onto the mental and causal planes, is that the energy source is deeper than those levels. If something emanates energy, it is alive.
Jessica Murray trained as a fine artist before graduating in 1973 from Brown University, where she studied psychology and linguistics. After a stint in political theatre in the heady early '70s, Jessica moved to San Francisco and began studying metaphysics, where she has had a full-time private practice in astrology for more than 30 years.
Her new book, Soul-Sick Nation: An Astrologer's View of America, has recently been published by AuthorHouse. In addition to her column in Daykeeper Journal and the monthly Skywatch on her website, MotherSky.com, Jessica's essays appear in The Mountain Astrologer, P.S. Magazine, Considerations and other publications. Jessica can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jessica's writings appear every even-numbered month in Daykeeper. You'll find a complete list of them here.