Saturday, June 27, 2015

Saturn in Scorpio: Sex, Power and Old-Age



This piece was prompted by a news item in which a 55 year old headmistress, who has won awards for turning schools around, was sent to jail for 8 years for having had sex with 2 teenage boys, both under 16, while she was in her twenties. 30 years ago. One of the complainants said he enjoyed it at the time, but now he sees that it was wrong. So clearly the woman needs to be publicly shamed, have her career destroyed and - probably the least of it - be sent to jail.

We are in the last days of Saturn in Scorpio; he will soon turn direct and leave the sign for another 25 years. So I expect him to be quite visible over the next 2-3 months.

The accountability (Saturn) of older people (Saturn) for their past (Saturn) sexual behaviour (Scorpio): this has been a major theme in the UK over the last few years, as celebrity after celebrity has been dragged into the courtroom to answer for who they’d had sex with many decades ago.

And quite rightly so, in many cases. It began with the appalling legacy of the late Jimmy Savile: people who had been afraid to speak out in his lifetime began coming forward, and the floodgates opened to a widespread and hidden culture of sexual abuse (Scorpio) by powerful people (Scorpio). It has been mainly in show-business.  

There are long-standing allegations of paedophile rings amongst that other form of show-business – the one for ugly people – and these have had something of an airing: but it is proving far harder to bring accountability. Which shows, I guess, that politics is the more powerful form of show business.


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The collective being what it is, issues become black-and-white and the bad guys get turned into monsters. Like the above headmistress. There she was, this woman we admired, while underneath, all the time, she was a monster and we didn’t know it. (This, incidentally, is a perennial theme in the US, from the Salem witch trials of the 1690s to the current TV series Homeland.) The reality is she’s not a monster, she did things many of us could have done if we weren’t afraid of getting caught, and the fact that we turn these people into monsters so readily, proves the point: we demonise others to shield us from ourselves.

It’s classic shadow stuff, and again this is Scorpio territory. Saturn brings accountability and order to different parts of collective life and society, depending on what sign he is in. And in Scorpio, the collective shadow is likely to be revealed through the issues he highlights.

Sex and power is a perennial issue. It has always gone on and always will go on and it is good that it is being addressed. But is a power imbalance always unequivocally a bad thing? The inevitable black-and-white way that the collective mind works says yes. But what about bosses having relationships with their secretaries, doctors with nurses, rich old women with young men: should they too be brought before the courts, or allowed to marry, as they often do? My point is that though lines need to be drawn, they are not always going to be clear cut, and that power imbalances - perceived or real - can be the grist of relationships.

The background to Saturn in Scorpio has been the new puritanism, which began some decades ago and which has resulted, for example, in grandparents being afraid to have their grandchildren on their laps because of how it may be seen.

This will probably cost me a few readers, but what I call the dinosaur feminism of the 80s and 90s demonised men and their sexuality (remember 'all men are rapists'?) It happened while Pluto was in Scorpio – (3 cheers to Camille Paglia for speaking out against it) – and for a while it was hard to feel good about being a man. That has changed, and I feel there is more respect now between men and women. And it was probably the only way it was going to happen, after so many centuries of imbalance between the sexes. But I think we are left with the new puritanism – which could also be seen as a backlash against the permissiveness of the 60s.

So we are messed up about sex. We have been for centuries in one way or another. 500 years ago children in their early teens got married. Henry III's wife Eleanor was 13 when they married in 1236. Nowadays you are a pervert and a paedophile if you have sex with someone under 16, and if you get caught your whole life will be destroyed and you will be publically shamed. I’m not advocating any answers here, because as they say, it’s complicated.

The reason I have been able to say anything at all is because a woman got caught having had sex 30 years ago with 2 boys under 16. If it had been the other way round, I would have had to keep quiet. I’m not defending these things. What I’m arguing for is the cultural space not to be mindlessly damning.

I think the man who said he enjoyed sex with his teacher at the time, but now sees it as wrong, has been brainwashed by our culture of damnation. I agree with him, it was wrong – but to have someone destroyed 30 years later for something you admit to having enjoyed at the time? Would I regret it if it had happened to me? How many people are being persuaded by the new puritanism that what happened to them was far worse than it actually was, and how damaging is that? And that is not to take away from the awful things that have actually happened: but can they be properly understood if all we do is damn and destroy the perpetrators? Is it any different in essence to saying that the perpetrators are possessed by the devil and leaving it at that?

Saturn in Scorpio has brought a measure of accountability to the issue of sex and power. But I don’t think it has brought understanding. It will bring improvement for a while, but in a climate of fear.

And while we’re on the subject of Saturn in Scorpio, a news item today is entitled The taboo of sex in care homes for older people. It says “There may be a kind of all-pervading silence surrounding sex in later life, but that is not because it isn't happening.” The idea of older people having sex being OK - now that would be a good outcome of Saturn in Scorpio.

Personally, I have always found the idea of people who are more than about 15 years older than myself having sex a bit distasteful. I still do a bit of a double-take at the idea of gay marriage. And I recoil when I see people with disfigurements. This is all visceral, Scorpio stuff which Saturn asks us to think about. The one thing not to do is to pretend it’s not there.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Government Surveillance, Saturn-Pluto and Uranus-Eris



Back in 2007, as Pluto was about to enter Capricorn, one fellow astro-blogger (who I can no longer locate) predicted that a theme of this long transit would be government (Capricorn) secrets (Pluto). This guy has proved startlingly right, and it has come about through the growth of electronic communications, and governments’ need to bring law and order into this new domain.

Uranus covers electronics and the internet (amongst other things), and he operates through sudden, disruptive action. As Uranus came into square with Pluto in Capricorn, so came Wikileaks and Edward Snowden – the massive, unauthorised release of government secrets.

The motivation of Wikileaks, under Julian Assange, was to undermine the authority of government, which he saw as inherently tyrannical, and replace it with…. well who knows? Snowden’s motivations were more mixed: he wanted people to know the extent to which they were under government surveillance, but he also released many classified documents that revealed details of US security operations. Any country has the right to protect itself, and this action of his suggests to me that he wanted to harm his country as well as to help it. He has Sun in Gemini opposite Neptune, and Moon in Scorpio, so there is plenty of room here for self-deception (Neptune) and revenge seen as just cause (Scorpio). As well as the self-sacrifice of Neptune and the desire for truth of Scorpio.

But the big issue that has been raised, both in the US as well as in the UK, is the extent to which governments should be allowed to surveil (yes, the word exists!) via electronic media.

Some people seem to view any surveillance as an unwarranted intrusion by government. I take the view that if the words ‘bomb’ and ‘semtex’ were to start appearing in my private emails – or even in my phone calls -  I would expect a government computer to pick up on that and pass it on to a real human being. I would regard it as a dereliction of the government’s basic duty to provide safety and order if this were not to happen.

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That is my starting point, and I have little patience with the basic position of simply opposing government surveillance, and the paranoia about any form of authority that often comes with that. It has been dressed up to sound spooky, when in fact it is a fundamental duty of government, and always has been: knowing what is going on and who is up to no good.

Imagine you were living in a village 200 years ago, as most people did, where everyone knew everyone else’s business. Think of the freedom we have from that now – but also its price, which is lack of belonging, the loneliness and anonymity of big cities. And all we are being asked to do is to sacrifice some of that modern privacy to a computer, so that if we’re intent on harm, real people can then get involved.

The English are a very private people, so that is probably the issue here. Whereas Americans tend to be more open about themselves, but also more suspicious of government, so that is probably the issue there. (The US its roots in the rejection of authority, expressed by its Sun square to Saturn; whereas has UK has Sun in Capricorn on the IC, which is very private - yet in square to Uranus, one effect of which, I think, is to make us feel our privacy is not secure - hence an Englishman's home being his castle.)

One way or the other, there is genuine debate to be had, because the government will inevitably overstep its powers. There will be abuses, however tightly we regulate and surveil the surveilleurs (not sure if that is a word – well it is now!). The debate is not whether to have surveillance (it’s been happening and will continue whatever we might want) but the degree to which it should be allowed and how to oversee it.

So Uranus-Pluto has raised the issue in a very in-your-face manner. In 5 years’ time, Saturn will conjoin Pluto in Capricorn. That is probably the time it will take to get this area properly regulated, and in a way that people are relatively happy with. And this is partly because all the issues are not yet clear. Saturn (appropriate regulation) of government (Capricorn) surveillance (Pluto).

In the news today is a story about Chinese hackers gaining access to sensitive personal data on millions of US intelligence and military personnel. This seems to me a worry several orders higher than the necessary evil of the government  potentially knowing details of my personal life through my phone calls or google searches.

There are probably more shocks, like the above news story, to come, shocks that change the issues involved.


Next year, Uranus will conjoin Eris, which he does every 85 years or so. Eris is a dwarf planet beyond Pluto whose astrological meaning is not well understood yet. She moves so slowly that I think it makes it hard to discover or ascribe meaning to her. Eris is brother of Ares, the god of war, and she is a goddess of chaos, strife and discord. She causes trouble. Snubbed at a wedding, she created discord between some goddesses, using an apple, that led to the Trojan War.

Conjunctions and oppositions are the most powerful dynamic aspects, and in the case of slow moving planets like Uranus and Eris, the aspects last for a year or two either side of the exact aspect. The last exact conjunction was in 1928, the year before the Wall St Crash. The Watergate break-in, which came to consume American political life, occurred with Uranus within a degree of opposing Eris.

Both these planets have disruptive, game-changing effects on the collective, so when you put them together…. I think the Wall St  Crash and Watergate speak for themselves. I’d say 2016-17 are the years to watch out for. It could easily involve sudden events that show the frailty of the internet – superhacks, or a worldwide crash of the internet. And all leading to the more solid foundations and regulations of the 2020 Saturn-Pluto conjunction.

Of course, Uranus-Eris could be events other than internet – like Islamic State setting off a bomb filled with nuclear material, contaminating a wide area. But this is pure speculation, I am NOT predicting, just trying to give a flavour of the sort of game-changing events we are likely to see in 2016-17.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

David Cameron's Defining Moment


David Cameron has promised a referendum on UK membership of the EU before the end of 2017. I think this will be his defining moment, his encounter with destiny, if you like, as PM, and that soon afterwards he will go.

[This next section is an intentional rant; skip if you’re not in the mood]

Because I speak in those terms does not mean I am a Tory voter. A lot of people find this hard to understand: that if I do not speak in terms that are condemnatory of a political party or its leader, therefore I must favour that party. This is because so many people seem to think tribally when it comes to politics. The people I know or who are friends with me on Facebook often tend to be left/liberal, sometimes tribally so. Political statements are sometimes made by them in a way that assumes you agree with them, because no right thinking person could possibly agree with the Tories on any issue – if the issue is hard to argue with, well then it is the stinky motives behind it, the ‘real’ agenda.

Normally we like to think of ourselves as intelligent and civilised, because after all we probably went to university and are progressive and probably green in our thinking, but when it comes to the Tories an exception can be made, and we can call them dirty narrow-minded upper class bastards without an ounce of compassion, and vent all the hatred we build up by pretending to be liberal the rest of the time. (Politics is full of inverted snobbery – the working class is the new upper class, the upper classes are now the ‘lower’ class.) I’m not looking forward to the next 5 years of Tory hating on Facebook. And no, I didn’t vote for them. And no, I don't like the harsh, even inhuman way some of the cuts have been implemented, nor do I like the growing gap between rich and poor or tax loopholes for the rich or the way CEOs are paid vast amounts!

Having covered that point (!!), it’s time for some astrology. David Cameron has Sun conjunct Venus in Libra, with Asc on the cusp of Virgo-Libra; and Pluto and Uranus conjoin his Asc from the 12th, giving him a strong connection with, and influence on, the collective.

So he has an ideal chart for a mediator, a negotiator, someone who can work with both sides. When he became PM, he found himself at the head of a coalition government, the first for about 80 years (when the UK had its last Uranus opposition Uranus, you could say an identity crisis.)

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Cameron became leader of his party as Pluto squared his Asc, he became PM as Pluto squared his Venus, and now he has been given a majority in Parliament (just about – about ½ the size of John Major’s) as Pluto squares his Sun. When this transit is over, in a couple of years’ time, that will probably be it.

There are 2 major issues: Scotland and the EU. Scotland, momentous as it is, will probably take care of itself: the fact that the SNP didn’t mention the ‘I’ word during their campaign proves the point that independence is their top priority. It is no longer a happy marriage, one partner wants to leave, and the sooner it can happen, the better. The present situation is artificial and surreal.

So Cameron the negotiator is having his negotiating Sun challenged and empowered by Pluto in the run up to this crucial referendum in 2017. That is why I called it his meeting with destiny, because the planets suggest it.

Churchill’s meeting with destiny (he’d always had a notion that he’d be called upon one day to save the nation) took place under Neptune, redemption – both of himself and the UK. Neptune began squaring his Sagittarian Sun in the mid 30s (and as Pluto conjoined the UK Moon) as he started warning the nation about German rearmament, and his time in power finished as Neptune finished conjoining his Asc and the nation had been saved.

We are now at another critical point, though our survival is not at stake. But we no longer know who we are, as Scotland starts to break away from us and we start to break away from Europe, and as we emerge from a crushing economic downturn. And I think that is why the Tories were returned with a majority: at times of crisis, nations swing to the right, to the past, to what seems to represent safety and security in an unusually uncertain world.

(In her book Watching the English, Kate Fox makes the point that the English like to moan, and that Labour voters tend to moan about the past, about how terrible conditions used to be under the Victorian capitalists etc, and the Tories like to moan about the future, about how the country is going to the dogs.)

What about transits to mundane charts? We joined the EU, oddly enough, at 11pm on 31 Dec 1972 (that is when the flag went up in Brussels – it was midnight for them.) And the Sun was at 10 Cap in a stellium with the Node and Jupiter at 17/18 Capricorn. The Sun was square to Pluto, the Node and Jupiter were square to Uranus. There is plenty to unpack here.

And eeyorish, insular, Capricornian Britain was expanded through engagement with foreign nations (Jupiter in Cap) and this was important for its evolution (Node). The UK is Uranian (in the 1801 chart, conj natal Asc, square natal Sun) and that awkward, ill-at-ease Uranian-ness has been carried into the EU through Jupiter-Node sq Uranus. We even had a referendum about staying in or breaking away (Uranus) 2 years after we joined, in 1975.

The 1975 referendum took place on 8th June with Uranus at 28.44 Libra – Uranus will be almost exactly opposite this point in 2017. Which is almost what you’d expect. And last time it was half the cabinet (which were Labour) and the Trade Unions (again Labour) who wanted to leave the EU, whereas the Tory party wanted to stay in. This time, if anything, it seems to be the other way round. But that is Uranus for you.

But the biggest transit of all in 2017 will be Pluto opposing the UK Moon. The Moon is the people, it is in the 10th House, so it is about us deciding our place in the world. And it will be the culminating transit of a series that will have been taking place since about 2010, as Pluto and Uranus have successively hard-aspected our Angles, Sun and then Moon. It will be the end of a prolonged national crisis and renewal. Once that decision is taken and has been acted upon (along with the seemingly inevitable Scottish breakaway), we will be able to move forward again, with a clearer sense of who we are.

Cameron’s Sun at 15 Libra is square the UK Moon and Sun. So he is both deeply engaged yet at odds, challenging even, and challenged by, the British sense of who we are. The easy option would be to campaign for us to leave. But that is not what Cameron wants. He wants a different relationship to the EU, and many in Britain also want that. The Tory Party has been torn apart for a long time over Europe, and many want out of the EU. They will probably not be satisfied by a renegotiated relationship, but Cameron probably hopes that a referendum against them will silence them – just as it silenced some of the Labour critics, like Tony Benn, in 1975.

So Cameron has an entrenched section of his party to try to negotiate with, and entrenched members of the EU who do not want any treaty re-negotiations just for one member. And UKIP won more votes than the SNP, so there are big sections of the British public that need winning over. This will be his main challenge over the next 2 years, and it is a big one. If he manages to win the referendum, with a renegotiated relationship with Europe, and a Tory party that is less bitterly divided, then he will have achieved his aim.

David Cameron became PM as the Great Recession bit, and he will have continued as PM as the UK passed through its series of Uranus-Pluto transits, the biggest that any of us will see in our lifetimes. So he will be seen as the PM who led us through that time of transition and crisis and into a new sense of who we are, with the referendum on the EU, which I think will go his way, being his biggest achievement. But that doesn't mean I voted for him!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Astrology, Psychotherapy and Ritual Space


Astrology, in my view, is essentially divinatory. It is not a ‘science’ in the sense of its statements being reducible to testable rules. The rules - the chart itself and its formal meanings -  provide a framework for this other thing that we do. They even carry a bit of the magic of the divinatory process; something has rubbed off on them over the centuries. But only a bit. Push the 'rules' too far, subject them to too much statistical testing, and they tend to break down.

The ‘rules’ are essentially ceremony, the forms that guide the astrologer into the liminal space where real astrology, divination, takes place. We’ve probably all experienced this at the start of a reading: the astrologer is running through the formal meanings of some of the planets in their signs and aspects, but already the divination is there in the form of which part of the chart the astrologer has homed in on. Or in which of the wide range of possible meanings the astrologer is applying.

You get ceremony at the start of any magical, divinatory or healing process. Psychotherapy is magical healing half-masked as science. The procedures around it are a sort of ritual – meeting at the same time, sitting opposite one another in chairs, and the personal ‘boundary’ that the therapist maintains, which is there in order to be a vessel for the spirits, like a priest running a service, or a high priestess invoking Isis. (This role can be enhanced by the sense of lineage and transmission going back to the founders of psychotherapy - it's something you get in many religions.)

That is what Freud was really doing when he had his patients on a couch, unable to even see him: it was powerful magic, rather than the attempt at scientific ‘objectivity’ that it would seem to be. 

Unfortunately, that impersonal magical ‘boundary’ has resulted in personal disclosure on the part of the therapist becoming a taboo  – I really mean a taboo – so that even when it would be highly appropriate, the psychotherapist is often reluctant to bring in personal experience. And I think this taboo has arisen through the cultural need to appear ‘scientific’ - or maybe 'professional' -  which as I say obscures the real meaning of the magical boundary.

All the same, I think that liminal space, in which the ordinary social rules are relaxed, allowing something ‘other’ to come in, is common to both astrology and psychotherapy at their best. The ceremonies are different, but the divinatory principle is the same. I could argue that the astrological ceremonies are more developed and efficacious than those of psychotherapy, which to some extent likes to imagine itself a science, and so can be reluctant to admit, let alone develop, its ritualistic aspect. But even astrologers are on the defensive about their own magical roots, and some like to imagine there is some scientific, testable basis to their craft, despite the firm evidence to the contrary. (See ‘The Moment of Astrology’ by Geoffrey Cornelius)

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That ‘liminal space’, you could argue, takes place at the border between the Conscious and Unconscious minds. I think we all have an ability to go there. The ‘Unconscious’ feeds us: another word for it is simply ‘life’. And if you are functioning as some sort of healer or mentor, then you have a gift – that usually requires training – for going to that place. Ordinary life often requires that our gaze is directed outwards, and indeed that is often where people feel most comfortable.

And so that other natural function, of consulting life within, can get projected onto healers and therapists as a special gift – which they may well have – but the point is we all have it, it is natural. And it involves the principle of finding our own answers in a culture that too readily supplies them. And an important function of the healer/therapist/astrologer is to motivate that sort of enquiry. When people want ‘a reading’ from me, I sometimes do a double-take, because of the way it can be couched. Almost as through the other person wants mainly to listen to what I have to say about their chart. I have occasionally had this sort of flavour even when experienced astrologers have asked me for ‘a reading’. Whereas I like to see ‘a reading’ mainly as a platform for the other person’s self-enquiry, actively promoted by myself, and with hopefully a measure of insight from myself, particularly as the reading progresses.

I think there is an issue around the cultural baggage that astrology carries. You go to an astrologer for answers, particularly about the future: that is the sort of archetype that is in the culture, and that as astrologers we need to be aware of and to resist. The function of the oracle at Delphi was to help people to live well, and I think that also needs to be our function. I think astrology has probably taken a few wrong turns down the centuries, but we are fortunate enough to live in a time when tradition can be questioned. Mistakes can be old and venerable.

Back to liminality. In our culture, alcohol has this function on a social level. We are allowed to be and to behave in ways that are normally proscribed, but even this relaxation has its rules. Parties and celebrations, which usually involve alcohol, also have this liminal function. And in this place we are allowing more of life in. 

Amongst the Chippewa-Cree Indians, human consciousness is seen as a tiny thing within the context of the vast consciousness of the universe. How, by implication, with our tiny minds, can we understand more than a sliver of all-that-is?

And it is the same principle, but modernised, with the idea of the Conscious and the Unconscious (in the broader, Jungian sense). The conscious mind is likened to the tip of the iceberg above the surface of the ocean, with the great majority being underwater. But even that does not do it justice, for the conscious, individual mind is finite, whereas the Unconscious is infinite. So in that liminal space as healer/astrologer, we go the boundary of finite Consciousness and infinite Unconscious, and hopefully the other person is there too, and we listen to what that infinite ocean has to say.

Our modern, scientific worldview often denies this much bigger source: the hubris of science is that the human mind is God, it can understand all. And so life itself gets pushed out. But, because life cannot be truly pushed out, it returns in another form. In our quest to understand the cosmos, we have arrived at the point where, over the last 20 years or so, the universe is seen as being made up of 95% dark energy and dark matter: ‘stuff’ that has to be there for theoretical reasons but which is undetectable! So again we are back to the principle of the tiny human mind and the vast unknowable universe – except in this case, there is a degree of demonization, in that the universe is seen as largely cold and indifferent rather than life enhancing.

And it is interesting that the internet also seems to be taking on this mythological, asymmetrical polarity: the web most of us know is very small compared to the so-called 'deep web'. So that even sat at our computer, the new ‘reality’, there is something much much bigger behind it. And again, there is a degree of demonization: the deep web is not just mountains of academic papers, but a vast culture of harmful activity - the 'dark web' -  largely beyond cultural control.

And you could argue that computerised reality shuts out important aspects of life – particularly real engagement with real people, and easily becomes a way of shutting ourselves down. And, thinking mythologically, that throws up a shadow, the dark web.

I think this liminal, divinatory space is where we are most human: it requires all our faculties of awareness, both of ourselves and of the people around us, but also of the source of life within that is, in a way, beyond analysis. There has always been a human tendency, hubris, to think we know more than we do. Wisahitsa, a character in some of the American Indian stories, is always running into trouble because he thinks he knows more than he does. The ancient Greeks were aware of it through the idea of hubris, thinking you are a god. And the modern dazzling success of science and technology and economic prosperity has caused perhaps an unprecedented level of thinking-we-know-it. 

But that awareness of an ocean that is inherently beyond us and that nourishes us, the Pisces principle, is never far away. Perhaps that is one of the main things astrology has to offer nowadays. We get too easily caught up in trying to defend our craft on a technical level. Protesting to the media, for example, that there are really only 12 signs and not 13, gives the public the impression that there is something real and literal about these signs. I say OK, respect the tradition, ceremonial forms matter, they give power. But really astrology is about using those forms to go to a place within where life is and where wisdom is and where also we find the limits of what we can understand. It is a magical place within that has been forgotten and, in my view, that is what astrology is really about. Rather like alchemy. 

Astrology shouldn't be mistaken for its outward forms  - in a way, people are right to laugh at them if they are presented as literally true. I think that on a popular level astrology needs to be reinvented as essentially an inner tradition.