AMERICA IN TRANSITION
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cold, the beasts of the forest have withdrawn into their hibernation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
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
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
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
Saturn seems to believe that it, and it alone, knows what real
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.
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.