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AMERICA IN TRANSITION
DECEMBER 2007

Jessica Murray: Mercury, Dispassionate Curiosity

by Jessica Murray

The Winter Solstice

It is winter now in the Northern hemisphere. The weather is growing cold, the beasts of the forest have withdrawn into their hibernation dens, and America is cranking itself into high gear for the ritual of choosing a president.

The Solstice occurs on December 21. This is the annual crossroads at which Sagittarius meets Capricorn, the sign ruled by Saturn; a planet that at its best bestows a kind of dry, cool wisdom.

Crossroads have been renowned since the beginning of time as the best place to cop a perspective. Many cultures tell stories of mythic figures receiving revelations at a crossroads. Robert Johnson, the great guitarist, was said to have received his musical genius at the dusty intersection of two country paths. Pagan priestesses do their incantations at crossroads for an extra boost of power. Astrologers look for inspiration not at crossroads of Space but of Time, such as those marked in Celtic folklore by the sabbats of the Wheel of the Year. The Solstice is one of these.

Revelations at the crossroads

We have made the subject of this column The Big Picture, presenting astrology as a coded language that can reveal to us what the Universe wants us to understand about these creative, destructive, inspiring times. It is this kind of revelation that many of us will open ourselves to at the crossroads of the Solstice.

We have proposed that each planet speaks to us through its particular placement in our individual charts. Each has time-specific lessons to teach and soul-liberating stories to tell.  When we listen to these messages and commit to them, we become increasingly able to express ourselves more authentically. This in turn allows us to respond to the external world more authentically.

The leap of faith that must be taken here—and it’s not that everyone will or should take it; but let’s face it: astrology doesn’t make much sense unless you do—is that our souls made an agreement to Be Here Now, and that our natal charts are the record of that agreement. Planetary crossroads can jolt us back into the memory of that agreement.

Being Here Now

The Now this column uses as its reference point is the first couple of decades of the new millennium. The Here we are singling out for attention is the good ol’ USA. It is often forgotten (at least, by those who live here) that this country is a newbie as far as world civilizations go. Nonetheless, at this particular point in human evolution it has fallen to America to be the flailing giant with the biggest stick—with all the other peoples of the world forced to go along for the ride (England), pretend to make nice (the rest of Europe), fight for their lives (Iraq, Iran, Haiti, Lebanon, etc.), or scurry to get out of the way.

In our last couple of columns we considered Mercury, the planet of dispassionate curiosity. We suggested that if Americans started using their Mercuries responsibly, they would observe their culture and the rest of the world in a spirit of detached inquiry.  We proposed that this approach would utterly transform the stultified yet strangely manic mental atmosphere of American culture.  We argued that if Americans were to deploy their inborn intelligences as the Goddess intended, they would hunger for clean information; they would watch their government’s machinations like a hawk, and they would track even the most discouraging global issues with an attitude of independence and logical thinking—a scenario that would make Karl Rove, the Fortune 500 CEOs and Fox News all quake in their Guccis.

Let us continue looking at the planets; not with the intention of defining them as facets of the individual personality so much as mining them for clues as to how to take the pulse of this world moment. For only then will we find our role.

Planet of the material world

Take Saturn. (Don’t everyone cry at once, “Yes, take my Saturn—please!”). It is everybody’s least favorite planet, and so much has been written about it that we will not go into its standard delineations here. (1) But we will use as a starting place one of its traditional features: that of being the planet most closely aligned with the Earth plane. Saturn’s symbolism matches very closely how most of us think and feel about the material world.

We moderns view the external world—in sharp contrast to the internal world of the psyche—as measurable and verifiable. Similarly, Saturn governs that which is solid and predictable: objects and operations that bow to the laws of gravity, cause-and-effect, and all the other seemingly immutable features of the three-dimensional plane—a plane which has a much higher credibility rating than those other dubious planes one hears about (conceptual, emotional and intuitional).

Guardian of the velvet rope

As the furthest-out visible planet in the solar system, Saturn represents the boundaries of the real. This correlation reveals a hoary old truism that is deeply embedded in the collective unconscious: If I can see it with my own eyes, it exists.

Saturn’s famous rings are like the velvet rope at a nightclub. The planet seems to say: Everything within this designated area is known, established and has a name; anything outside this area is of uncertain provenance and is probably not worth my time. As the guardian of the velvet rope of a nation-state, Saturn decides what’s in and what’s out in terms of cultural legitimacy. As the guardian of the velvet rope of a town, it decides which is the right side of the tracks and which is the wrong side. In the professional arena, Saturn decides which jobs count as bona fide careers and which are wacky pipe dreams that only teenagers or some bum like Jack Kerouac would pursue.

Saturn seems to believe that it, and it alone, knows what real life is.

The trouble is, when subjected to metaphysical examination, the questions raised by the concept “real life” start squiggling around like worms crawling out of a can. The more you think about it, the more the apparent reality of “reality” dissolves into pixels, as anyone who has seen The Matrix will tell you. Yet it remains true that of all the planets we work with in traditional astrology, Saturn, with its connotations of rock-solid, no-bullshit reality is the one archetype we most strenuously resist challenging.

We complain endlessly about Saturn challenging us, but we resist challenging it.

Resisting relativism

In astrology, of course, the idea that reality is relative is axiomatic. A client who goes to an astrologer will probably already be hip to this idea; and will find himself nodding away in full agreement as he listens to his astrologer explain that his assumptions about romance are going to be different from his partner’s, and how his unconscious feelings impact his work day, and how his upbringing determines his definition of the perfect home, etc. But as soon as an issue comes up that the client sees as belonging wholly and utterly to the external world—Saturn’s world—suddenly the client may shift gears: he feels he has nothing whatsoever to do with “creating” this part. (This usually happens when the discussion comes around to money.)  He will say, “But wait a minute: now you’re talking about, you know, reality.”

In theory, the idea of a singular, constant, absolute reality was fatally skewered by Einstein, letting loose an onslaught of science fiction writers and string theorists and filmmakers (e.g. “What the Bleep Do We Know”) who continue to rock our Gibraltars with the news that, even from a scientific point of view, reality is relative. But the notion of a good old-fashioned reality, finite and impersonal, remains a stubborn shibboleth of collective thinking. We unconsciously defend the idea of “reality,” and its twin concept objectivity, as if our psychological survival depended on it.

This is an anachronistic use of Saturn, and it is time for serious astro-philes to update it.

Easier said than done. The insistence upon a universally agreed-upon reality is part and parcel of our language and our conventions. A friend may say, “I want a real relationship”. You may respond, “What do you mean by a ‘real relationship’?“ and she may answer, “You know, a real relationship.” (Tip-off number one that we’re up against a lazy Saturn: repetition rather than clarification.) You may ask, “But by “real”, what do you mean? A relationship that would lead to marriage? Living together? Progeny? One that would last five/fifteen/fifty years?” After shaking her head in frustration at all these guesses, she may reply in exasperation: “Oh, you know what I mean! I just want what everybody wants.”

And of course, this is the key. Saturn represents our concept of where everybody else is coming from.

This use of Saturn presumes the existence of a collective external point of view whose tenets are so über-obvious that they rarely get looked into. With this ploy we surround whatever opinion we are championing with a patina of eternal validity and neutrality (a friend of mine who doesn’t think much of astrology once reasoned, “if it were valid, it would be taught at Columbia”). We feel that appealing to an outside-world consensus gives our arguments an unarguable realness that would be lost if we were merely expressing our own unique opinions, desires and fears.

Gluing the group together

Saturn’s job is to stick things together. It governs glue and mortar and social cohesion. Groups need a well-functioning Saturn or they can’t coalesce. Individuals need a well-functioning Saturn to glue themselves together, as well as to master an understanding of the rules and mores of their culture. If Saturn is prominent in our chart (say, on or ruling the Ascendant or Midheaven, or aspecting the Sun or Moon), we have a strong interest in knowing what the rules and standards are in any given context: what the protocol is at a particular dinner party, what companies are going to be the next big thing on Wall Street, what the polls say about the mood of the voters. This doesn’t mean that we agree with them, but we certainly care about them.

The mores of a culture may be explicit (I can’t drive without a license, or I’ll get in trouble) or implicit (“Supporting the troops” means supporting the president which means you’re patriotic). Either way, they collectively provide the skeletal belief structure for a certain group at a certain moment in its history. When an opinion has become part of the warp and woof of the group mind, to espouse that opinion glues us into the group reality.

For example, consider the notion To take a new job that pays less than the old one is bad, no matter what the qualities of the new job. Thisis no longer merely an idea (Mercury) but a self-evident truism (Saturn) in the USA. What makes it Saturnine is the belief that “everybody” believes it. Thus if we believe it, too, our sense of membership in the group is secured. We are normal.

What Everybody Thinks

Any discussion of Saturn in the collective must address the notion of normalcy, a major form of societal glue. Normative concepts exude a soothing air of timeless veracity, but of course they are utterly capricious and mutable. For example, astrology books may define Saturn as the planet of success, but what this really means is what a given section of society supposes success to mean at a specific time in its history. It goes without saying that “success” to our great-great grandmother on the American plains did not mean the same thing as “success” to our daughter in New York in 2007. But Saturn would govern both pictures, for it governs the concept itself.

An example of a Saturnine truism that has slipped from outside to inside the bounds of normative thinking in the USA over the past six years is Being suspicious of Arabs is appropriate and natural. Here a fear-based prejudice has achieved the imagined status of What Everybody Thinks—or what the media tells us everybody thinks. This is an important distinction.

Even more important is the question: Where does What Everybody Thinks come from?

“Reality” and the media

Television and radio play an enormous role in the Saturn pictures that Americans absorb every day about their world. The amount of hours Americans spend in front of their TV sets remains near an all-time high of more than eight hours a day. There are more TV sets in America than people to watch them.

So it would seem more important than ever to take a sharp look at the realities being drummed into our minds during all those viewing hours. The fact that the ownership of American media outlets has been consolidated into an increasingly tiny group of government-abetted mega-corporations, whose echo-chamber technique insures that the same handful of news reports are repeated over and over on all the networks and newspapers at once during a brief but intense news cycle, tells the tale: certain cherry-picked stories are being chosen to be the realities Americans think about and subscribe to. (2)

Much has been written about how fluffy newspaper stories are becoming in Rupert Murdoch’s America, and about how the “news” on TV is morphing into a uniquely modern engine of vapidity identified by the apt coinage infotainment. But as disturbing as it is to see Britney Spears’ parenting woes make headlines in so-called serious newspapers, at least the trend it represents is under discussion (even by the absurdly self-conscious meta-media itself, which spent at least as much time chastising itself for caring about Paris Hilton’s mini-incarceration as it spent reporting it). The American populace is clearly aware, on some level, that such content is printed only to sell newspapers.

Far more dangerous in terms of forming a reality picture of our world in these times is the news that doesn’t get told.

Throughout the ages, the function of propaganda has been to reinforce the idea that if an event isn’t mentioned among the information presented, it must not be important—or, worse, it didn’t happen. When we look at America’s current cultural reality from the Big Picture, it seems unimaginable, for example, that a populace as obsessed with the concept of democracy as ours is would have allowed to fade into the back pages of its newspapers the Military Commissions Act of 9/06: the one that eradicated the writ of habeus corpus for whomever the president decided to call an “alien unlawful enemy combatant.”

More egregious still is the fact that an equally appalling piece of legislation got virtually no media coverage at all. The John Warner Defense Authorization Act was signed at a private Oval Office meeting the same day as the act mentioned above, passed with ninety percent of the votes in the House and cleared the Senate unanimously (a consensus blatant enough to loosen any scales that might still be left hanging from the eyes of those who hoped the Democrats’ triumph in Congress last November would mean a return to sanity).

Tucked away into the deep recesses of this multibillion-dollar catch-all bill for defense spending was a section allowing the president to declare a “public emergency” and dispatch federal troops to take over National Guard units and local police if he, and he alone, determined them unfit for maintaining order. In other words: martial law. (3) This story got less press than George Bush getting down with the maracas on a Brazilian dance floor.

Even so, the martial law item was and is part of the public record. In our last column we discussed the art of using our inborn intelligence, our Mercuries, to self-inform. Were we each to use this birthright consciously, it would provide the data necessary to establish a framework of reality that bears some relationship to what is actually going on.

That’s the kind of reality framework Saturn gives us when it is functioning properly.

“But nobody else is doing it”

A fully conscious Saturn allows us to respond to a given situation by virtue of inner standards developed over time through independent experience. We have described an ill-functioning Saturn as one that uses the false reference point of What [we imagine] Everybody Thinks. The irony is that when we use the planet this way we lose sight of its most essential teaching: that of personal responsibility.

When we depend upon a vague cultural consensus for our definition of reality, our innate sense of responsibility—that is, our ability to respond—atrophies. Instead of being cultivated from within, Saturn’s energies get projected upon a fictive outer arbiter. And this is where it becomes dangerous, both from the point of view of self-awareness—for it disallows the inner work that the planet demands—and from the point of view of the health and sanity of the collective.

Saturn is supposed to be the planet of adulthood. But when expressed without awareness it keeps us living like teenagers, whose objection to doing the right thing is usually “but nobody else is doing it.”

A case in point is the concept of ecological peril that is just now filtering awkwardly through the choppy waters of the collective unconscious.  Though more and more Americans accept the reality of global warming, most seem to be waiting for some critical mass to be reached before they commit to personally going green.

The hideous oil spills in San Francisco Bay and the Black Sea that occurred just before and after the New Moon in early November  (when the planet Neptune—traditional ruler of oil—was squaring the Sun and Moon) made headlines all around the world, emblematic of a global crisis increasingly impossible to ignore. The sheer size of the Russian spill, said to be the third largest in history, and the proximity of the Golden Gate Bridge spill to some of the wealthiest communities in the world, seem to signal that the possibility of ecocide is transitioning from a remote and abstract concept in the group mind to something more imminent, and closer to home. (4)

The average American may shake her head in despair when reading about these catastrophes in her morning paper. She may also have read about the study that found that if everyone who lived within five miles of their job rode a bike once a week, it would save the amount of greenhouse gases produced by almost one million cars. But though the good citizen in our example will find these facts alarmingly persuasive, she cannot act without first doing something even more daunting. In order to actually get her bike out of the garage and ride it to work, she would have to do battle with her picture of Saturnine normalcy.

Inner Saturn vs. Outer Saturn

The most insidious thing about assumptions, as communications experts will tell us, as well as inventors and ecologists and anyone else trying to think outside of the box, is that we don’t realize we harbor them. Most people would readily agree that collectively held notions can be tyrannical to independent thinking, but to dispel them requires identifying them—an exercise which can feel like herding cats. 

The Saturn crisis we Americans find ourselves in today has a long and ignoble history. It develops whenever a population accepts pseudo-realities from an authority figure in the outside world—say, a government, or a business cabal—that has no interest in the people’s benefit, nor in cultural cohesion, nor in the health of the world; yet claims to know what is culturally acceptable. If we as individuals have not cultivated our own inner Saturn—call it the superego, the conscience, or the internal Benevolent Father—we will identify these outer pictures as our own, purchasing thereby our meager little scrap of normalcy.

Pseudo-reality vs. reality

America’s advertising industry, renowned for its psychological sophistication, is well aware of our fear of being deemed not-normal. Moreover these professional manipulators have recently become very hip to our guilt-driven desire to be on the side of the angels when it comes to climate change. Just as Karl Rove made it his business to work the insecurities of the U.S. electorate like a master violinist playing his instrument, the PR departments of multinational corporations have raised to an art form the ability to notice and exploit changes in the zeitgeist before the populace itself has woken up to them.

Thus all of a sudden we see glossy emerald-green ad spreads from Chevron announcing its conservation projects. We hear that our president has seen the light about peak oil and has found the solution in corn-based ethanol, a deliberately misconceived campaign that would create enormous new ecological disasters, as well as confusing and undermining years’ worth of consciousness-raising by dedicated environmentalists.

We watch on the Discovery Channel earnest educational series about saving the ozone; programs that turn out to have been sponsored by none other than Volvo (which is now owned by Ford Motor Company). And in a development so outrageous you’d think it came from a Jon Stewart sketch, Burt’s Bees, makers of all-natural lip balms and essential-oil lotions, has just been bought out by Clorox, bottlers of possibly the most toxic substance in America’s bathroom cabinet.

The pseudo-reality here is this: American business, teamed up with Uncle Sam, is on top of the problem. No need to worry about that nasty global warming thing. Daddy’s got it all covered. Move along now. Go back to your shopping.

Using Saturn like a grown-up

In our next America in Transition we will look at some of the collective assumptions that are hanging in the air, invisibly and perniciously, of American society at the threshold of the peak oil years.  These must be named and isolated by those consciousness-seekers whose goal it is to reclaim their Saturns. It takes discrimination and commitment to separate the false voices of Saturn from its authentic voice. But once we do it, the planet makes us an authoritative exponent of our own chart. An uncanny sense of quiet confidence develops.

A healthy Saturn is the key to feeling, at last, like a real grown-up. It is also the key to figuring out how to be of use to our dear green-blue planetary home, which is in such pain right now.

________________________________________

Notes:

1 Visit mothersky.com to for an essay on Saturn’s personal meaning and how to work with its challenges.

2 Visit mothersky.com for a discussion of the astrology behind the American media.

3 The act extends “public emergency conditions to any place “where the president determines that domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the state… are incapable of maintaining public order.” See “Censored!” in the San Francisco Bay Guardian 9/5/07, an annual report on the Sonoma State University’s Project Censored.

4 For a discussion of the transits behind the oil spill, see December’s Skywatch at mothersky.com.


Alex Miller-Mignone, photo
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 jessica@mothersky.com.

Jessica's writings appear every even-numbered month in Daykeeper. You'll find a complete list of them here.

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December 2007
Table of Contents
November 2007 Daykeeper Home
Sue Taylor: Remembering Maya
Jessica Murray:
Saturn, the Reality Show
Alex Miller-Mignone: Mike Huckabee, Republican Dark Horse
Crystal: Christmas Tree Ceremony and Prayer for World Peace
Alex Miller-Mignone: Musharraf, Bhutto and Pakistan
Boots Hart: Pluto in Capricorn 6
Daily Success Guide
December 1 - 31
Boots Hart: December General Astrological Influences
The Maya Archives
Astrologer's Bookshelf: The Complete Node Book
Fiction:
Out of the Fire Part 2
Goddess of the Month: Medusa
Personal Horoscope Consultations

Sign of the Month: Sagittarius


Maya's Sun Sign Archives

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