In our last column, transit trackers, we talked about the 30-year cycle getting started right now for the USA. As 2016 opens, Saturn is smack dab on America’s Ascendant (Sibly chart). The country is trying to build itself a new self-image in a world where its top-dog status is no longer taken for granted.
Readers who have tracked Saturn’s passage through their own charts will be all too familiar with the pressure that comes with this transit. The native—in this case, Uncle Sam—must find a way to glue himself together (Saturn) into some kind of solid, recognizable shape (Ascendant).
To round out our understanding of this historical moment, we need to consider the other important cycle at work here: that of the planetary pair, Saturn and Neptune. The current square now dominating the skies represents the Last Quarter of their cycle.
Saturn and Neptune last conjoined in 1988-89. The themes inaugurated then are now exploding in the world’s face. Thirty-six years’ worth of lessons for humanity are now at a critical turning point (1).
What key issues reared their heads in the late eighties? To discover the essential meaning of any cycle we break it down into its constituent planets. In this case: Saturn, which governs responsibility, stewardship, accountability; and Neptune, which governs the holistic understanding that all separation is an illusion and everything in Creation is linked.
The dominating issue to arise from the Saturn-Neptune hybrid is the environment. These two planets, together, represent the unfolding of humanity’s ecological learning curve.
It’s an inescapable issue for Americans right now, given Saturn’s dead-on conjunction with the US Ascendant. At every turn, we are being confronted with the karma of our dealings with the physical planet Earth; i.e. our failure (Saturn) to recognize her interconnected systems (Neptune).
The years since 1988 have seen an enormous spike in public awareness about the environment. Consider the entry into our lexicon of “The Butterfly Effect”: the idea that an event like a hurricane is influenced by some tiny seemingly-unrelated event half a world away, like the flapping of the wings of a butterfly. The fact that the phrase has become part of the vernacular reflects the breakthrough of this Neptunian concept into collective consciousness.
Neptune governs the water element, which symbolizes the shared ecstasies, sorrows and yearnings of humanity. This correspondence helps us understand why, among the many ecological dilemmas that have arisen over these decades, none has the psycho-spiritual clout of what’s happening to our water.
The BP oil disaster of 2010, which occurred during the spring of the Cardinal Cross, was a visceral trauma for many of us (remember how it felt to hear about the resulting “dead zones” in the water?) (2). Since then, more and more people have become aware of related crises such as ocean acidification and the corporate monopolization of the waterways. Then there’s the surreal Pacific Gyre—that patch of swirling plastic, bigger than Texas, swirling in the water off the coast.
If we feel a total mind/body/spirit response to the fouling of Grandmother Ocean it’s because of the archetypal reach of Neptune. The presence of both these poignant symbols, Neptune & Chiron, is a demonstration of the role played by grief in the Earth healing that’s trying to happen. Emotionally wrenching events make for effective consciousness raisers.
Another way the Saturn-Neptune cycle has been using the water archetype is by raising the specter of the lack of clean drinking water (Saturn governs lack or absence).
This has been an active crisis for some time, among the impoverished populations of the world, but it’s only been during the waning hemisphere of the Saturn-Neptune cycle that the affluent West has started to begin to imagine it.
The four-year-long California drought has given rise to a spike in consciousness about conservation (this is a principle of Saturn), using water (Neptune) as a teaching tool.
And then there is the issue of too much water. The other side of Neptune’s shadow is drowning, or being inundated. There have been extravagant floods since the Saturn-Neptune cycle began, and the issue of rising sea levels has taken up residence in the mass mind. We are hearing that if nothing is done, rising seas will put the worlds’ coastal regions underwater. One study predicts South Florida will be submerged by 2025, the year the current cycle closes, and Saturn and Neptune conjoin anew.
We can infer from these water disasters a cosmic teaching about the illusion of permanence. By pitting the planet of supposed stability (Saturn) against the planet of flux and formlessness (Neptune), the cycle is forcing us to confront an aspect of the material plane that most of us consider only in the context of esoteric musings, when, for example, we might contemplate the Hindu concept of maya.
The physical Earth has been associated with the tangibility and solidity since the dawn of time (terra firma). Climate change is destabilizing this association. Literally and in humanity’s deep psyche, it is violating the assumption that we live grounded lives, on a solid mass.
The epitomical example of this is the melting of polar ice (Saturn [cold] + Neptune [water] = ice) and permafrost, whose immutability (Saturn) are being irrevocably undermined (Neptune). When we hear, from the scientists, that these supposedly permanent structures are liquefying, we feel the threat of it on a cellular level.
The Great Flood
I have made the case that the central mythopoeic image behind climate change is the Great Flood: a mass purge that washes clean a polluted world. Legends have been discovered all over the globe that describe some sort of deluge (Neptune) whose purpose was to destroy a corrupted, irremediably wounded (Chiron) human race, for the sake of giving it a brand new start.
The 1970s version featured a retelling of the ancient tale of Atlantis, about a civilization that was technologically sophisticated but spiritually immature, whose hubris caused it to vanish beneath the sea. Global warming is the latest reiteration of this theme. The Earth’s industrial societies have set in motion a chaos of breaking levees and rising seas, with animal species seeking higher ground, as they did in the story of Noah’s arc (3).
In the absence of consciousness, this pair of planets results in the fear of hardship (Saturn) fueled by a terror of chaos (Neptune). Since the cycle began in the late 80s, we’ve been seeing this apocalyptic imagery everywhere, from the battle cries of religious zealots to science fiction movies that see humanity’s future in dystopian terms.
Here is where, as astrophiles, we can appreciate a frightening situation as being about more than fear. We remind ourselves that, although alarm is appropriate in this context, fear is not an end in itself. To merely freak out is a spiritually puerile response. In fact, being afraid is not even a response, but a reaction. If we feel scared and stop there, all we’re getting is fear’s rush of titillation. But if we don’t stop there—if we pursue this state of mind, observing it rather than feeding it—it will change, and inspire a genuine response. Astrologically and biologically speaking, fear is part of our alarm system.
Our job as symbol-readers is to seek the meaning of these fearsome situations that goes beyond the disquiet they inspire in the human mind.
De-coding the transits, we can consider the cosmic significance of even the most daunting of these crises, facing them with the courage that comes of spiritual perspective.
(1) I discuss the global and personal significance of the Saturn-Neptune square in my webinar, “Crisis of Faith.”
(2) Deepening the impact was the involvement of Chiron, which has been traveling neck-and-neck with Neptune since the late aughts. Chiron, the symbol of wounding, went into Pisces, the sign of the sea, on the very day in 2010 that the Deepwater rig went down in the Gulf of Mexico.
(3) The freakish weather has made human beings, too, seek higher ground. Farmers around the equator are being parched out of land they’ve farmed for generations, and are being forced to head north. Even in northern California, vintners are buying up land further and further up in the foothills, because the valley’s getting too warm to grow grapes.
It’s an abrogation of age-old assumptions in the collective mind, about the integrity and dependability of life on the physical plane.