Monday, June 22, 2009

Critical Method in Astrology

Some time ago, I did a Youtube presentation about critical thinking in astrology. I didn't expand on the idea then - but I should have. Here are some additional thoughts.

When I look at how astrologers think compared to other groups, I am struck by a simple fact: astrologers are about as wet as it's possible to be. What do I mean by that?

Almost all astrologers are way better at accumulating techniques than in culling them. Why is this significant, and why should this matter? Consider this. You read a series of books on astrology, and learn about, let's say, progressions and solar returns. Then Life throws you a curve. Your run your techniques to try to understand what is going on - and a portion of the time, they show you exactly what you expect to see (at least in terms of explanation!) - and a portion of the time: they don't. So what happens in this case? Chances are, you go off in search of another technique. And with the number that we have in astrology, chances are: you'll find one!

And then what? This is the question that astrologers don't ask. Can you keep adding techniques indefinitely? If you could, then professional astrological readings given by people who have been in astrology for decades would be hours in length, while readings given by relative newcomers would be short. This isn't necessarily true - professional astrologers are clearly finding a way to find the techniques that give them bang for the buck, ignoring the ones that don't. But this is easier for someone doing a lot of readings - you can see what is working consistently, and what isn't.

But what of the astrology buff - the person who may be passionately interested, but isn't making a living at it? With more occasional charts, it may be very hard to sort out the best techniques. In fact, this can be a very difficult position to be in, because not being able to winnow down the techniques can very easily lead to confusion.

How frustrating can it be to read book after book after book, attend conference after conference after conference? And then instead of getting clarity, you can never figure out exactly how to do it, because each time you try, there seems to be too many conflicting possibilities. One gets the sense that you know that there is something there, but it's hard to pick it out in practice. So you think that the speakers or authors that are demonstrating it just have some magical ability, that it seems to work for them.

I would like to propose a working axiom that would make almost everybody's astrological learning curve easier. It's very simple: perhaps astrology doesn't have to explain everything. Consider how this simple idea can free you up phenomenally.

Consider, for examples, how geneticists don't feel they have to explain all of intelligence. If a person seems to be brighter or dimmer than might be expected, geneticists don't have to run out and try to find some other genetics analysis to try to explain it: they can simply say: there must be an environmental effect. A meteorologist doesn't have to go to a conference to find a new technique when a forecast is wrong: he or she simply says: either there must be a factor I didn't take into account, or perhaps my weightings were wrong - or even that my forecast was only statistical to begin with!

What we collectively do which other knowledge areas don't is to create a tent big enough to capture all possible outcomes - no matter how unlikely. We never stop to think that the odd case may simply be better explained by something other than astrology. Instead, we risk sacrificing what accuracy we have by focusing too much on the out-liers: those one-in-a-million shits that may be real - just not likely. We don't stop to consider that the astrology that can deal with the oddballs may be embarrassingly bad on the routine.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Hope in the Time of Pluto in Capricorn

Note: this was given as a talk at NORWAC 2009.

Hope in the Time of Pluto in Capricorn

So Pluto is now in Capricorn for the next fourteen years – until 2023-2024. It's a good time to re-examine the recent pass of Pluto through Sagittarius, and also to look ahead and to speculate about what we might expect from Pluto in Capricorn. What suggested my topic title is the concern within our community in contemplating the next few years, especially in light of the so-called end of the Mayan calendar.

The Mayan calendar had several components, but the one that people mean when they talk about the end is what is called the Long Count. The Mayans used a 260 day year, a 360 day cycle, a Venus cycle, and others, but the Long Count correlates to 1/5 of the precession cycle of the equinoxes. While there is some disagreement about the exact correlation with our Gregorian calendar, the best guess is that the Mayan cycle will end on December 21st, 2012.

Does that mean that the world comes to an end? Well, considering that our species is considerably older than the 25,771 years of the precession cycle, much less the 1/5 section which has been in effect since 3114 BCE, I’d say you better keep paying on your bills and taxes in 2012.

But how is it that this question of the end of the world even came up? Such a speculative question will have an equally speculative answer, but let me point out two theories, both of which are directly related to the fact that our society still “thinks” from a Christian perspective, even if the reality is far more pluralistic.

It was the Christian perspective which took the creation story of the Jews, and tacked on the other end: the eschatos, or end of the world. Aristotle and most of the ancient thinkers didn't believe in either a beginning or end of the world. Dualistic religions like Zoroastrianism saw a battle between the Light and Dark Sides of the Force – with neither side dominant forever. Within a dualistic religion, there would be an “end” to the dominance of one side, but that's not the end of the world. However, Christianity became obsessed with the End of Times, especially because of Revelation, the New Testament book devoted to it. The early Christians thought The End of Times was right around the corner. Every time period since, there have been folk who have delighted in showing how the latest wars and economic disasters were foretold, and this really is IT. Why here? Why now? My personal theory is that this has to be the end of times, because my life is so important, that how could I miss the only really juicy moment in time left to me? Westerners have never understood the Eastern critique of ego as unimportant or illusory – instead, we have magnified our egos into something so compelling that most Christians believe that their very personalities persist in Heaven or Hell for all time. Unless the End of Times is now, then maybe I'm not important enough to experience it? You mean – Life could go on without me? Unthinkable!

But apart from this rather grosser concept of personal involvement, a subtler form of the “beginning to end” cosmology of Christianity also remains. Despite the fact that astrology is intrinsically cyclic, astrologers continue to think within the arrow of time. And then we impose our thought patterns on other cultures, like the Mayans. If a society thinks in a cyclical fashion, then the end of a cycle is also the beginning of the next one, and neither perspective is “better” - and “beginning” and “end” are arbitrary points on a circle anyway! So the end of the Mayan calendar is also the beginning of the Mayan calendar.

But I know you are still wondering: what did happen in 3114 BCE? It’s hard to tell, because of chronology construction issues, not to mention that the Ancients' Post-Intelligencer wasn’t publishing yet, but this does correspond more or less to the beginning of the Kali Yuga and maybe the lifetime of Enoch, as well as the earliest construction on Stonehenge. Looked at in this light, the end of the previous Long Count doesn‘t look like a disaster.

Ah! You say, but aside from the Mayans, what about the phenomenon of Saturn in Libra, Pluto in Capricorn and Uranus in Aries over the period 2009-2013? This is even being called a T-square, but please look at this diagram. I have created a graphic ephemeris from 1986 to 2034, in part to show the entire period of Pluto in Capricorn. This diagram shows Saturn on out.

When you move back from the moment, you may be struck by how the period from 2009-2013 doesn’t look like the worst period on this ephemeris: 2017 looks more active, for example.

If we are to understand just how significant our egoic place in life is within the greater stream of human existence, then we need to look at previous examples of whatever astrological configuration is of interest – and see whether there are lessons there to help elucidate the meaning. To help us understand this more clearly, I want to examine not only the last two passes of Pluto in Capricorn, but that slice of Pluto from Sagittarius through Aquarius. Because, in order to understand a sign transit, we also have to see what cards a sign is dealt by the previous sign – and how the following sign has to clean up afterwards, so to speak. However, as we examine earlier periods, we need to remember always that astrology acts within the matrix of the society of the time. What a pass of Pluto in a sign can bring is dependent on the resources of that society, whether economic, environmental, or spiritual.

Pass One: The Early Modern Period 1502-1516

As our period opens, Lorenzo di Medici – that great patron of arts and philosophy who commissioned Ficino's translations of the Corpus Hermeticum – is already dead, having died in 1492. Ficino himself died in 1499. The Americas have already been discovered. In the 15th c., the Portuguese and Spanish Empires are the great world powers. The Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 had split the world between the them. Oh, yes – and at this point, every Christian in Europe is a Catholic – there have been occasional rebellions, but none of them have been successful, and most have been ruthlessly suppressed.

Here is a long view of the outer planet cycles of this period. On this chart, you can see several hot spots: 1505 and 1524 especially. More about 1524 later.

What happens in around 1505? Young Martin Luther is so terrified by a lightening storm that he promises the Virgin that, should he survive, he will become a monk. He does – and he does. Michaelangelo's David had just been publicly installed in Florence. Queen Isabella of Spain died in 1504.

This period had an opposition of Saturn in late Cancer and Neptune in late Capricorn.

From the standpoint of exploration, this period of Pluto in Sagittarius from 1502 – 1516 marked the time of the devastation of populations in the Americas: through environmental destruction, slavery, and deliberate policies of genocide.1 It was also the time of the introduction of New World plants and animals, such as turkeys, potatoes, sugar and corn into Europe. Columbus' last voyage to the Americas was in 1502. The first smallpox pandemic in Cuba began in 1516, just as Pluto was moving into Capricorn, and it jumped from there to the rest of emerging Hispanola. These major epidemics had run their course by the end of Pluto in Capricorn.

However, let’s examine this issue of religious genocide in a bit more detail. Here we have the chart for Ferdinand II, King of Aragon, and, from 1503, Holy Roman Emperor, and, who, with Isabella, was responsible for not one, but two, genocides: that against the Native Americans, and that against the Moors in the Iberian Peninsula.

A cursory view of his chart reveals Pluto in a familiar-looking place in Leo, with Uranus, Neptune and Saturn in familiar signs, even if this combination of degrees doesn’t look quite right. There are two dangerous indications in his chart that show something of the religious fanaticism that would condone, if not encourage, genocide as a religious policy. The first is that very Pluto conjunct the 3rd house cusp. There is a traditional association of religion with both the 9th and 3rd houses – but Rob has pointed out the association of the 3rd house specifically with heresies. Here, with the context of the time and place, the Pluto marks extreme religious intolerance.

The second argument of Ferdinand's intolerance was the Moon conjunct the fixed star Yed Prior. These days, Yed Prior is at 2 Sagittarius tropically, but in 1452, it was in Scorpio. My friend Diana Rosenberg points out that this star is in the left hand of Ophiuchus where he grasps the serpent – Diana says,

The left hand of Ophiuchus, a shamanic healer, makes this a particular area of progress and innovation in medicine, surgery and public health. There is a very dark side to this area of the zodiac, and their physical prowess can be used for more sinister ends; seemingly open, optimistic, and friendly, they are nonetheless very private people, often have "skeletons (or arsenals!) in the closet" and are frequently embroiled in conflict and controversy. Avaricious, critical, argumentative, sarcastic, hypocritical, intolerant, excessively fond of power (“control freaks"), they may blame others for their problems, feeling aggrieved and even paranoid, working hard to make sure they will be victorious over their enemies.”2

Ferdinand and Isabella came to power in an era of general religious toleration in the Iberian Peninsula. Political factions rarely divided out easily along religious lines - until after they united Spain. At their crowning, their regalia recognized the diversity of their kingdoms, a diversity that cruelly evaporated shortly thereafter.3

Genocide for religious reasons sounds an awful lot like the dark side of Pluto in Sagittarius. However, plagues have long been associated with Saturn: and so I have to presume that the plague part is Pluto in Saturn’s sign – and the disease struck mainly after 1520, when Pluto had transited into Capricorn.

It actually seems somewhat surprising to our ears that the date we consider the quintessential discovery date – 1492 – falls with Pluto in Scorpio. The idea that Pluto in Sagittarius marked such a tremendous expansion in knowledge of the world is not so surprising. What may not at first seem so obvious is that this massive increase in awareness of the rest of the globe had absolutely no discernible impact on anyone's religious faith in Europe. Instead, the conquistadors walked side-by-side with the friars, who saw the discovery of new peoples only as an opportunity to expand the Faith. And all the while, back in Europe, serious Christians were questioning the wealth, avarice, and sexual improprieties of the Catholic clergy – matters that would shortly come to a boiling point as Pluto changed signs.

Now one can make a considerable case for the birth of Protestantism as being a Pluto in Capricorn affair, just as one can make a case for Pluto in Virgo being the Space Race to the Moon. As you can see, Pluto flirted with Capricorn in 1516, then stayed there in 1517. Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the Church door October 31st, 1517, almost universally regarded as the (successful) birth of Protestantism – although there were other church reformers before him. This Pluto in Capricorn religious reform cycle ran through into 1532 – which was the crisis of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn – leading to the secession of the Church of England from the Church of Rome..

You might recall that earlier when we were comparing other eras to the present one, we noted an interesting confluence of outer planets around 1524. Actually, you didn't need the outer planets (as we know them) to pick out this period. This is the New Moon in February 1524, also parenthetically, an eclipse. This stellium in Pisces continued through and past the Pisces New Moon. And the contemporary astrologers didn’t even know that Neptune was part of the pattern. Note the Pluto in Capricorn, of course – but what a 9th house! This chart is set for Italy – both because of its stark importance still as the axis of Christianity, and because the big European event of the time was the invasion of Italy by France. Observe the close proximity of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. This is enough to allow one to unequivocally classify this as a Triple Conjunction.

This major conjunction had been noticed by astrologers decades beforehand because of the number of planets living in Pisces that Winter and Spring. This actually spawned one of the first waves of prophetic pulp literature at the beginning of the era of the printing press, with all sorts of popular broadsides, pamphlets and books purported to have been written by astrologers, saints, and seers, forecasting the end of the world by flooding. Mostly, the professional astrologers were pretty conservative in their predictions.4

So what happened? Well – it was a wet year. France was in the midst of invading Italy at that point, and deforestation as a result of the invasion collaborated with the weather to produce erosion and flooding that did have a severe impact on some of Northern Italy’s flood plains for some years afterwards.

But events? Some skirmishes around Cape Fear, fighting between the Spanish and French, and incursions by Spanish conquistadors in modern El Salvador. There was a siege of Marseilles, and the invading French army besieged Pavia.

Ok.. These are perhaps some interesting events, but do you get the sense that this was an earth-shaking year, one worthy of all the hype about a flood of biblical proportions? So what happened when it wasn’t the End of the World?

On the astrological front, it wasn’t entirely pretty. While the pro’s had mostly stayed away from the more sensational predictions, a number of the less scrupulous claimed astrological plumage, and so astrologers were blamed. Coming in the wake of Pico della Mirandola and Gianfrancesco Pico’s Disputations Against Astrology, astrology’s reputation was tarnished.

But the serious astrologers also realized that aspect patterns were not the be-all and end-all. After all, Ptolemy didn't use them at all, favoring eclipses and lunations. While interest continued in the use of major conjunctions, it was not the exclusive focus. In the 17th c. William Lilly wrote on eclipses,5 and yet Richard Edlin6 and John Goad7 wrote on major conjunctions in mundane, and the use of aspects in weather prediction respectively.

And furthermore, no matter how important a specific Jupiter-Saturn conjunction might be, each one was understood to be part of a larger 960 year cycle. And lest you think that the existence of a 960 year cycle was merely an idle construct or theoretical statement, consider: when the Great Schism in the Catholic Church resulted in a multiplicity of Popes, one of the French Cardinals, Pierre d’Ailly, used that 960 year cycle to predict the end of the world as occurring in 1789 – and that therefore, humans had to resolve the Schism, not God.8 I have to say that I consider it extraordinary that a French Medieval prelate could come up with the year 1789 – the year of the French Revolution – certainly the end of the world as he would have known it!

So we arrive at the end of Pluto in Capricorn in the 1520s, and what have we seen? Surely, the largest theme is religious, first with the expansion of missionary work in the New World with Pluto in Sagittarius, followed by a breakdown in the unity of the Church with Pluto in Capricorn. But this fissure does not reduce Christian faith. For the moment, I am deferring discussion of Pluto in Aquarius in the 16th c. - but more about that a bit later.

Pass 2: The Enlightenment Era

We can begin with the Seven Years War, also called the French and Indian War in North America, which featured fighting in Europe, North America and Asia, involving both the mother countries of Europe and their colonies.

In the Aries Ingress for 1756, when the war started, note that Pluto was stationary at 18 Sagittarius at the MC. The war dragged on for seven years – with the map of Europe ending up where it began, but France lost most of her overseas colonies. While seemingly a stalemate, Europe enjoyed internal peace until after the French Revolution. The war ended in 1763 – as Pluto was going into Capricorn!

If no technical state of war ensued, this Ingress was nonetheless met by another seven year conflict – a little known one called the Regulator Movement, which can be considered both a forerunner to and a catalyst of the American Revolutionary War, and ran from 1764 to 1771. And here I get to tell the deeds of my adopted state, North Carolina, where a citizen’s uprising challenged the entrenched colonial government over extreme corruption and frequent double taxation. What had happened in North Carolina was a complete severance of relations between the Upper Class and everyone else.

Here you see Pluto at the Southern Bending for the Aries Ingress of 1764 – and a Pluto position that just might look a little familiar to us today. Now if this is a true progenitor to the American Revolution, then consider its successor…

One thought is that the US Revolutionary War stands as a great event for Pluto at the end of its period in Capricorn in the 1760-1770s, as Henry VIII’s rebellion against Rome did in the 1510-1520s. One a religious event, the other a political one – and yet religion and politics mingled in each case. There is a certain symmetry there. And there also is an astrological explanation for the distinctions between the American and French Revolutions most famously made by Hannah Arendt9 – that the American Revolution should be seen as in its earlier meaning, as with the Glorious Revolution of William and Mary – a return to a better time. It is in this sense of “return” that we understand the use of the word “revolution” as a synonym for “solar return.” Arendt pointed out that the colonial Americans did not see themselves as creating an entirely new system of government, but as re-establishing classical ideals, especially those of Athenian democracy. That ideal is enshrined in the neo-classical architecture of the early federal buildings of Washington DC, or Jefferson's Monticello – a hope for a perfect melding of the best of Greek and Roman architecture and politics. By contrast, Arendt pointed out that the French revolutionists rapidly went beyond a more participatory democracy to a deliberate reconstruction of society from the ground up, eliminating not only the Crown, the aristocracy, but much of the Church as well. This New World Order had nothing in common with the old regime – and it was the French Revolution, not the American one, that changed the meaning of the word “revolution” to meaning a break with the past, rather than a cyclic re-establishment of Things-as-They-should-Be. The stark contrast in France between the old and the new terrified the rest of Europe, leading to an upswing of conservatism that itself was only toppled beginning with the revolutions of 1848 – a time of Pluto in late Aries.

The U.S. Revolution with Pluto in Capricorn was pragmatic, idealistic, and innovative in creating new structures – and it did not shake the foundations of Old Europe, since the revolution was specific to the emerging United States. It was also successful, in that the United States was created as a stable country. Across the sea in France, the Revolution of Pluto in Aquarius began as idealistic, and then rapidly became ruthless destruction – and was ultimately unsuccessful, because, within 15 years, France was a monarchy again.

But this period was not just about Revolution. Because this era marked the period known as the Enlightenment, and there are major philosophical, as well as religious, changes. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, while not the original author of the phrase “Noble Savage,” nonetheless upended the Christian concept of original sin by positing that Natural Man was the one with the morals – that civilization had degraded us morally. He laid out his ideas in the period from 1754 to 176210 – when Pluto was transiting from roughly 12 Sagittarius to 1 Capricorn. Rousseau’s Pluto in Capricorn work, Social Contract, certainly has the look and feel of Pluto in Saturn's sign!

We can thus see that in both the 16th and the 18th c. passes of Pluto in Capricorn, that there is a mix of religion and politics. But if it seems that the 16th c. pass was primarily religious, while the 18th c. pass was primarily political, think again. Because 1776 also marked the death of David Hume, the first philosopher who can truly be called an atheist within the modern definition of the term. Until the 18th c., atheism was a derisive term, but nobody could actually believe it possible to not believe in God. Hume’s philosophy, promulgated under Pluto in Sagittarius and Capricorn, did not require a God, Demiurge, or Clockmaker. This represented a radical departure in Western thinking. So here, the period of Pluto in Sagittarius saw the introduction of the flip side of belief: atheism. Later, this seed germinated, and in the 19th c., atheism became one dominant theme in European intellectual discourse.11

While society was unraveling in France, English boys of the Upper Class were doing the Grand Tour of Italy – rediscovering Rome, the erotic mosaics of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and glorying in paganism generally. This flirtation with other religious streams led to still further interest in world religions and the quest for the original religion. With Pluto in Aquarius continuing the desirability of something old, this interest in original religion is hardly surprising.

The fact that things were not going so well philosophically for Christianity does not alter the fact that the period from Pluto in Sagittarius to Pluto in Capricorn was a time of religious fervent and change. It’s just that the ground rules were different.

So what do we make of these two previous passes? The idea that Pluto’s transit of a sign highlights a sign’s qualities has been seen repeatedly. For example, Sputnik was launched October 4, 1957, with Pluto at 1 Virgo. The first moon landing on July 20, 1969 had Pluto at 23 Virgo. But before you wonder about the 23 degrees, consider that the last landing on the moon was by Apollo 17 in 1972 – the year that Pluto’s retrograde cycle took it back into Virgo for the last time.

It’s very easy to see the “can-do” engineering attitude as Virgo. For this brief moment in our history, nerds were cool. But let’s be honest: this was the space race – the USSR and the USA were in a contest over national pride. In other words, what we saw being played out through Virgo was the overbearing mutually assured destruction contest of superpowers, which also resulted in an insane arms race that continues to have severe environmental danger 40 years later.

So, thinking about these past passes, I propose the following adjustment to our understanding of Pluto’s transit through a sign: Pride goeth before a fall.12 We can accordingly note that, while the Pluto in Virgo engineers succeeded spectacularly in getting us to the Moon – we didn’t stay there! We didn’t develop a colony, we didn’t follow up with an observatory. The moon launch became a dead end instead of becoming the gateway to the exploration of our solar system. President Kennedy perfectly embodied the Pluto in Leo call to put a man on the moon – but he said it while Pluto was in Virgo. The vision that got us there couldn’t encompass the concept of knowledge and engineering for its own sake – once the deed was accomplished, the funding was cut. We went for the wrong reason, and having gotten there, couldn’t sustain it. Pluto in Leo was gone, Pluto in Virgo spent, and the needs of Pluto in Libra would direct our attention elsewhere. In the words of President Lyndon Johnson: “It's unfortunate, but the way Americans are, now that they have developed all of this capability, instead of taking advantage of it, they'll probably just piss it all away.”13

Our usual concept of Pluto in a sign is that it totally disrupts and reforms matters relating to the affairs of that sign. So it was pretty obvious with Pluto going into Sagittarius that the most likely institution for the phoenix in the ashes scenario was organized religion. And certainly we can make a great case for the period of Pluto in Sagittarius as being the triumph of the Religious Right – and then its rejection. Pluto went into Sagittarius in 1995 – during Clinton’s presidency. Now one might at first wonder what Clinton had to do with this Pluto in Sagittarius trend. From the day after Clinton was elected, “Impeach Clinton” bumper-stickers sprouted out of nowhere in the South – that land where Republicans could still sometimes win elections in 2008. There was a visceral reaction of a religious Right minority who loathed Clinton – and we saw this manifest with his second term in the form of the Impeachment, where the issues had absolutely nothing to do with his Presidency, and everything to do with his morality. This outrage, fanned by paid hate-mongers like Rush Limbaugh, resulted in the election of George W. Bush, who, along with his followers, saw no Christian conflict with lying about weapons of mass destruction, and torturing individuals savagely and repeatedly – but who, as far as we know, was absolutely faithful to his wife.

Last year, just after the Religious Right celebrated the nomination of Sarah Palin, the economy fell apart, sealing the deal against the Republicans, and leaving the Religious Right looking even more tarnished as one Palin family melodrama after another hit the national stage.

So one can legitimately ask: what about financial matters? Is the Pluto sign Ingress a contributing factor to the economic collapse?

About ten years ago, I had a master class of private students in Atlanta intensely interested in financial matters. They did a lot of study of financial cycles, and one thing that did emerge was that the transit of outer planets through the signs was not a useful indicator of financial success or failure. In other words, the 2008 financial debacle should not be attributed solely or primarily to Pluto’s ingress into Capricorn. There are other factors to consider. Penny Shelton did find some correlation between market bottoms and the 21st degree of the cardinals – but we’re not there yet - a possibly depressing thought.

One that comes to mind immediately has been the Saturn-Uranus. There is some evidence that this is a combination which produces volatility. Interestingly, the peak of the dot-com crisis came in February 2000, just as the Triple Conjunction of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn was forming, along with Uranus square to the whole group. I am illustrating that period – and this shows what a tight aspect pattern really looks like: here you see the tightness of the formation in the period from February to March 2000: much more impressive than the one in 2009-2011, especially as I have expanded up the time scale.

But perhaps a better recent pattern for consideration in interpreting the immediate future is 1989. 1989, you might recall, was when Saturn, Neptune and Uranus were all circling around each other in late Sagittarius, and then early Capricorn. So that should be a good signature for the time anticipated over the next few years.

Now firstly – we made it through. Ok, well, we elected a Bush… And there is the expression, the Revolutions of 1989, which represents the fall of Communism and the break-up of the Soviet Union. It was the Savings and Loan Crisis. It was Tiananmen Square. And then of course there was the Exxon Valdez. So there is no question that this was living in interesting times.

Clearly, that year highlighted crises in all the areas we can expect to continue to be hotspots: political instability, religious instability, and environmental instability.

But what is the difference between a crisis and a meltdown? Because this is the essence of understanding the context of these celestial events. And it's worth asking whether this is a question that can be always or even usually answered astrologically at all, or whether it is also a function of the stability of the political, religious, or other structures in question. For example, the pass of Pluto into Capricorn before the 16th c. did not result in the breakdown of the Catholic Church. It was the time of Thomas Aquinas and Roger Bacon. The Catholic Church didn't self-destruct in this era: if anything, it produced some of its greatest glories. However, in Asia, this was the time of the Mongols, and their expansion had considerable impact on the expansion of Buddhism. Strong institutions don't automatically fall apart, even if they are ruled by the sign Pluto is in. Pluto's passage is more like a stress test! And it's worth always remembering that astrological events are not the only events happening in a particular time period. The existence of celestial influence does not preclude other kinds of influences!

There is a huge tendency in the astrological community to anticipate massive effects of Outer Planet aspects – and then quietly move on when the anticipated earth-shaking events generally don’t occur. Let me make a natal analogy: when you work with a client on yearly updates, do you ever discuss the fact that, ten or twenty years from now, they’re likely to remember only one year out of a decade? Do you tell your client that this is not that year?

The fact is, aspects happen. Even for those nine other years of a decade, there’s plenty to say to the client. But it is clear that it has proven difficult for astrologers to not focus on the next great aspect pattern as something akin to Armageddon, instead of just the naming theme for the next astrological conference.

So am I saying there’s nothing to fear from Pluto in Capricorn, and that further, there’s nothing new under the Sun? Not at all! What I am saying is that the Outer planet aspects by themselves are not the point.

We expect three major themes with Pluto in Capricorn:

  • Religious reform

  • Political reform

  • Environmental issues

The first two – religious and political – are essentially clean-up from Pluto in Sagittarius. In fact, they are already clearly in process. Wall Street fell apart in the closing phase of Pluto in Sagittarius. There's little question that the kind of speculative instruments that had been invented look like Sagittarius exuberance of the worst kind. And in the dawning days of Pluto in Capricorn, we learned that the only category of religious affiliation growing in the USA is “none of the above.”14 And doesn't the expansion of government regulation sound a lot like Pluto in Capricorn?

But is that it? It should be so easy!

Because now, we're set up to discuss what we didn't do in our study of the last two historical passes: carrying the story forward into Pluto in Aquarius. Because this is where the ideas of classical astrologers veer off from modern astrologers, because modern astrologers have created this myth of Aquarius as the sign of universal brotherhood, based on an ideal of Uranus as being a much sexier sign ruler than Saturn.

Ok, I’m not pulling any punches this morning, and I’m about to talk about how this worked historically. Living in revolutionary times is only wonderful and romantic when you are in your teens and twenties. When you are over fifty, it messes with your retirement! Because, like it or not, when you are older than forty-something, you are established, even if you’re not part of the Establishment.

What happens to religion after Sagittarius and Capricorn is ugly. In the 16th c., it was called the Counter-Reformation or the Council of Trent – and it led to barbaric religious warfare for over a century. In the 18th c., it was the French Revolution – with the motto of “Liberty! Equality! Fraternity!” sounds absolutely fantastic on paper, but in fact gave way to the excesses and savagery of the period rightly named the Terror, when the rule of law turned into the horror of the guillotine.

A moment alone with the quality of the signs gives you a hint – at least in mutable and cardinal signs, change is possible. Fixed signs resist change – a political quality we call “reactionary.” A number of us used to joke that the essence of Aquarius was given by that memorable phrase from Charles Schulz in Peanuts: “I love mankind, it’s people I can’t stand.” Now – take that idea, and throw in overpopulation, and I suggest you defer your worries until Pluto makes it to Aquarius.

Pluto in Aquarius has shown a pattern of the re-assertion of hierarchies. In the 16th c., the Catholic Church reacted to Protestantism, and then in the early 19th c., the world-conquering ambitions of the Emperor Bonaparte emerged from the French Revolution.! In the fixed signs, the Old Order strikes back – or at least tries to.

But with that cheery thought, we're now ready to tackle the sleeping issue of Pluto in Capricorn and Aquarius in our time: the environment.

Environmental degradation is not a new thing, and not even an exclusively human thing. Many species are capable of wrecking a perfectly good ecosystem. The cause of ecosystem destruction by a species is most frequently by overpopulation: an overpopulation of deer takes out too much shrub and tree growth, which anchors the stream banks, which causes erosion – Eventually, more wolves eat the deer, thereby depressing their population. Then the hungry wolf population decimates the rodent population, then the wolves die back by starvation. The decrease in the rodent population affects the distribution of still more plants, the shift caused by stream erosion has a permanent, or at least a long-term effect on the area.

Humans have had difficulty fully understanding the consequences of the fact that the same rules apply to them. Besides the biblical injunctions of “be fruitful and multiply” and “subdue the earth,” the simple fact is that humans have generally regarded their ability to change an environment as a positive quality.

Let’s consider an example from one of our time periods – Frederick the Great of Prussia (ruled 1740-1786). This man is as much of an exemplar for the Enlightenment as Voltaire. His long reign meant that he was in power from when Pluto was in late Scorpio until when Pluto was in late Aquarius. In 1765, when Pluto was in Capricorn, Frederick commissioned a land reclamation project for draining the Prussian fens along the Rhine. Few people today realize that the original land around the Rhine River was mainly marsh. For centuries, small scale marsh reclamation schemes were tried, but Frederick’s engineers attacked the fen on a massive scale, eventually resculpting that entire region of Germany.15 The development of civil engineering in the Enlightenment completely changed the attitude of humans toward the environment. Before, humans could change the course of a river, terrace a hillside, develop irrigation systems – but these were understood as difficult, expensive undertakings that could only be done sporadically. The “success” of civil engineering changed the equation to one of actually looking for ways to “tame” Mother Nature – and, as Carolyn Merchant has pointed out, the juxtaposition of feminine names for nature and the image of rape is completely interconnected.16

As you saw in my example of the deer, the problem of ecosystem change is that one change produces a cascade of results. Civil engineering took the position that they were improving the land for human use, primarily through land reclamation, flood control, and similar benefits. And because the measure was human benefit, these improvements could be completely catastrophic for every other species impacted, but they would nonetheless be rated successful if humans benefited.

There is absolutely no question that the results of the efforts of 18th and 19th c. civil engineers were increased agricultural and pastoral productivity. Fens and marshes are remarkably productive ecosystems: but not for humans. This change to field and pasture increased the wealth of Prussia, allowed for a greater population, whose productivity also increased the country's wealth. So the economists and aristocracy were happy. But these extra people? Many only lived hard lives at a subsistence level, not enjoying the wealth that flowed to the top. And with the reclamation of the lands, these same lands became more accessible and useful for industry, leading to pollution, which had also markedly increased from the increased pasture land, leading to Samuel Coleridge’s famous poem about the Rhine entitled “Cologne:”

The river Rhine, it is well known,

Doth wash your city of Cologne;

But tell me, nymphs! what power divine

Shall henceforth wash the river Rhine?17

But beyond the memorable lines of the Romantic poets, there were rumblings of other viewpoints besides engineering progress. Because in the closing days of Pluto in Aquarius in 1798 Thomas Malthus’ An Essay on the Principle of Population was published, the first philosophical work to address the issue of overpopulation.

In the past, human activity which degraded an ecosystem too catastrophically resulted in human migration away from the scene of the crime. Eventually, the land would recover – or not. The Old Testament describes a Palestine much wetter and more diverse than it is today. While humans may not have entirely created the Sahara Desert, there is no question that human activity has massively expanded it. In the 16th and 18th c., when deforestation destroyed the fertility of a river valley, or weather produced a potato famine, the people affected could move on to the New World. Now, there is no New World to move on to.

In the 20th c., the US Army Corps of Engineers went from being heroes to being reviled by environmentalists. What happened? First, a lot of the things that civil engineers did, like straightening rivers, came under question, both for environmental reasons, and for economic reason that it was discovered that meandering rivers were less susceptible to flooding than straight ones. In other words, the engineering was making the problem worse, not better.

For all the current politically correct talk about sustainability, who is talking about overpopulation? Because, that’s the fact that will sink in while Pluto is in Capricorn: we are already overpopulated. How do we know it?

  • Studies of animals have shown that under overcrowded circumstances, sociopathic activity increases. Statistics show this is currently happening among Americans – and I cite Americans only because we have the statistics.

  • Reproductive difficulties arise. Here we are, in a society with the highest standard of living ever, and we need fertility clinics? Historically, fertility was a measure that the potential mother's physiology was strong enough to produce viable offspring. When nutrition is adequate, but fertility is still a problem, it's a sign of overpopulation.

  • Overpopulation produces stress symptoms. Anybody notice this is on the rise?

  • Have you all noticed how no major corporation knows how to treat customers anymore? That’s because there are simply too many. A company may be able to make a billion widgets – but a company like Citicorp cannot service one billion customers. We won't even discuss the airlines!

  • And while the Religious Right may not be happy about this, there is some evidence that overcrowding can result in an uptick in homosexual behavior – or any other behavior that decreases opportunities for reproduction.

I could go on citing examples, but this is the bottom line. If Pluto in Capricorn is about limitation (Capricorn) in reproduction (Pluto), then the message is about to be writ large. All the energy savings the individuals can try, whether different light bulbs, electric cars, or carbon-neutral conference centers doesn’t mean anything if the population of humans on earth continues to grow.

How did this all happen before our very eyes, so to speak? For the answer to that question we have to go back to Pluto in Scorpio. Re member how I mentioned how anomalous it seems at first to contemplate that the New World opened up with Pluto in Scorpio? Well – Pluto in Scorpio can be very sneaky – but then I shouldn't have to tell you!

One of the trends which happened during that period that we didn't connect the dots about was the revolution in computer accounting. Now – this sounds really mundane and boring. But remember when everybody started noticing that Walmart had begun to track individual customer preferences? This was when computer programs were being developed to do what was being called point of sale analysis. Computer storage and memory had become cheap enough to process and store massive numbers of sales transactions, which allowed companies to create sophisticated inventory systems based on customer preferences. Walmart began to drive the book business? The publishing business was driven toward mass sellers – and mass sellers only. This same kind of study of aggregate buyers' preferences is eroding the number of products in stores, because it has become truly “economic” to stock a lot of a few things. At the time this was happening, we were merely nervous about personal privacy. But what was really happening was that computers were allowing large companies to treat customers as aggregates instead of as individuals. Large companies? Sound a bit like Pluto?

We all figured that overpopulation would look like starvation – well it may, in Somalia. But in the “developed” world, overpopulation means constantly being a number – a soulless quantity – a piece of meat.

But just as the developed world was achieving stealth overpopulation, the Chinese actually started to come to grips with the problem. The current passage of Saturn in Virgo has marked the Saturn Return of China’s One Child Policy, which was implemented in 1979. Most Americans don’t even know about the existence of this, much less the reasoning behind it. So let me explain.

After the death of MaoTse Tung and his inner circle, the Chinese wanted to develop. They wanted, within slightly outdated parlance, to go from being a Third World Country to a First World one. But they had a problem: they realized that their population was too vast for this to be possible. They realized that the resources simply didn’t exist to allow them to develop economically. So they created a social contract with their people: if the people would adopt the One Child Policy, in turn, the government would create the infrastructure for economic development. And both sides kept their end of the bargain. The One Child Policy has been estimated to have reduced the Chinese population by 250 million – that’s the equivalent of the entire US population twenty years ago! China has gone from being the world’s most populous state to the second most populous – India is now the largest. More Chinese have access to education and consumer goods than ever before.

But there’s still a problem – because, even with this massive shift, China still cannot find the resources on the planet to develop fully. It’s been estimated that it would take the equivalent of 2 to 3 entire earth-sized planets to provide the resources for the entire world to develop to the level of the First World – and that’s at today’s level of population, which is still increasing. The Chinese were supposed to end the One Child Policy in about a decade. I don’t need astrology to tell me that that won’t happen.

What this means is: there is no solution to poverty except population reduction. There is no solution to development except population reduction. And sustainability is a complete joke unless it is coupled to population reduction. Reduction. Limitation. Sound like Pluto in Capricorn?

Have you heard President Obama talk about overpopulation when he mentions sustainability? He's danced around this topic one or twice. Have you heard any talk about changing our tax system to stop rewarding large families?

Do you think Larry Summers, Director of the White House's National Economic Council, and former savage critic of Kepler College, (or any of his economic group) can even begin to consider a world with a decreasing population, when every western economic theory has been dependent upon growth – in population, goods, and services? Sustainability is anathema to all existing economic theories, which are embedded in the familiar injunction of “be fruitful and multiply.”

So far, all the proposed solutions are band-aid stuff. Fuel efficiency. Carbon offsets. Solar power. All nice things – and necessary. But the debate on energy policy is distracting us from the fact that, while the burning of fossil fuels certainly can increase the probability that we will produce enough greenhouse gases to massively screw up our climate, “solving” the energy crisis will not change the fact that other resources are at least as critically limiting.

The Chinese have almost completed the deforestation of Southeast Asia. The ozone hole in the Southern Hemisphere is now permanent. Clean energy won’t stop that. All fusion, wind, solar or other solutions do is stop the flow of money to Middle Eastern governments that we mostly don’t like. It doesn't change the fact that there are simply too many people – and the more we allow the population to continue to grow, the more environmental devastation will occur, decreasing the ultimate sustainable human population, and increasing the likelihood that the decline in population will occur by hideously devastating means.

Can we develop the will to face the limitations that Pluto in Capricorn will demonstrate for us? I don’t know – but I can guarantee that it won’t happen until we provoke the societal discussion beyond the baby steps of sustainability we have managed to achieve by now. We must bring population to the heart of the discussion – or everything else, as we say, is academic.

But if the problems are dire, that doesn't mean there's no hope. It's just that we must create a vision of a different future than I'm describing.

As astrologers, perhaps we need to re-vision the cycle. Linear thinking assumes that growth can be infinite. Cyclic thinking knows that what comes up, later comes down. Linear thinking is at the core of the Enlightenment – the kind of “rationality” that destroys wetlands because waterfowl habitat has no economic value. Linear thinking believes that economies can grow indefinitely – except, perhaps for occasional hiccups. Cyclic thinking allows us to envision waxing and waning – and right now, as a species, we need to wane quite a bit!

The normal – meaning, the typical – human tendency is for the waning portion of a cycle to be experienced as a catastrophe, whether through disease or war. The Chinese have managed to pull off the first voluntary population reduction in history. However, their blindness to their current economic policies which are wrecking environmental devastation show the limits to their consciousness of the totality.

Can the so-called Developed World join the Chinese in their demographic policy, but adding environmental awareness? That's not as far-fetched as it sounds. Most of Europe is inching toward an average of 1 child per family voluntarily. It's the United States that's the big question at this point. While our average number of children per family has decreased, it hasn't decreased enough.

So yes, there’s Hope when Pluto is in Capricorn – because, if we can start owning up to the problems, the solutions proposed can still be voluntary. If we wait for Pluto in Aquarius, those problems will be solved – ruthlessly, arbitrarily, and painfully.

1 If the idea of genocide sounds new to you, I suggest you consult Loewen, James W. Lies My Teacher Told Me : Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. New York; London: New Press ; Turnaround [distributor], 2008. This work systematically critiques the complete misrepresentation of American history in high school textbooks.

2 Rosenberg, Diana K. Secrets of the Ancient Skies. Reston, VA: ARHAT, in press.

3 Menocal, Maria Rosa. The Ornament of the World : How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain. 1st Back Bay paperback ed. Boston: Little, Brown, 2002.

4 For an account of this period, see Niccoli, Ottavia. Prophesy and People in Renaissance Italy. Trans. Lydia G. Cochrane. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987, 1990.

5 Lilly, William. Annus Tenebrosis, or the Dark Year and an Easy and Familiar Method Whereby to Judge the Effects Depending on Eclipses, Either of the Sun or Moon. London: Company of Stationers, 1652.

6 Edlyn, Richard. Prae-Nuncius Sydereus an Astrological Treatise of the Effects of the Great Conjunction of the Two Superiour Planets, Saturn & Jupiter, October the Xth, 1663, and Other Configurations Concomitant : Wherein the Fate of Europe for These Next Twenty Years Is (from the Most Rational Grounds of Art) More Than Probably Conjectured, and the Success of the Present Design of the Turk against Christendome Occasionally Hinted At. London: Printed by, 1664.

7 Goad, J. Johannis Goad Angli Astro-Meteorologica Sana: Sive Principia Physico-Mathematica, Quibus Mutationum Aeris, Morborum Epidemicorum, Cometarum, Terr*-Motuum, Aliorumque, Insigniorum Natur* Effectuum Ratio Reddi Possit. Opus Multorum Annorum Experienti^a Comprobatum. microform. prostant venales apud Samuelem Tidmarsh juxta Bursam regalem in vico vulg`o dicto Cornhill, Londini, 1690.

8 Smoller, Laura Ackerman. History, Prophecy, and the Stars : The Christian Astrology of Pierre D'ailly, 1350-1420. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994.

9 Arendt, Hannah. On Revolution. New York: Viking Press, 1963.

10 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The Social Contract. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Pub., 2009.

11 See Wilson, A. N. God's Funeral. 1st American ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 1999.

12 Proverbs 16:18.

14 See, for example,

15 Henderson, W.O. Studies in the Economic Policy of Frederick the Great. Oxford: Taylor & Francis, 2006, p 82.

16 Merchant, Carolyn. The Death of Nature : Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution. New York: Harper & Row, 1989.

17 Taylor Coleridge