Every day I receive questions about the daily astrological “weather,” and every day I see people posting things about astrology. Lately, there has been a lot of commentary surrounding the fact that there are currently six planets retrograde (Mercury, Mars, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto). So today I thought I would take a moment to address this phenomenon and whether or not it means anything.
Things to consider:
* First, the sky is a mirror more than it is a causal agent. Or you could say that the sky symbolically reflects the ongoing decisions or judgments of the gods, regarding all different levels of karma simultaneously. So from this standpoint, nothing is messing you up and nothing is happening to you but the repercussions of your own karma and the karma of innumerable other beings. Have you ever been inside a crowded coffee shop where everyone is waiting patiently in line while one customer is flipping out about the wait, saying, “What is going on here? Oh my GOD!” And this person assumes that everyone else is just as stressed and irate as they are that their coffee isn’t coming quicker? Then they say, “the service is really bad at this place,” rather than simply recognizing that there’s a long line and that they are rushed and hence projecting their own urgency onto the situation. Everyone has had an experience like this before, and sometimes we are even that very person throwing the Starbucks tantrum! In astrology, when we project the same feeling of being out of control, urgent, anxious, stressed out, etc., into the coffee shop of the cosmos, we generally say things like, “It’s all those darn retrogrades! This is absurd!” And then we throw up our hands, create the most sarcastic and “#I‘msofabulouslystressed” social media meme we can think of, blaming all of the planets in retrograde. All the while, we usually don’t know what retrogrades mean, or how to interpret them, let alone how to interpret several planets being retrograde at once.
* If we looked in our mirrors at home and flipped out like this, people might call us overly dramatic, at best, but they could easily charge us with worse! So what to speak of looking at the divinely infused mirror of the sky and creating such a spectacle?
* The mirror of the sky, whatever it may say and however it may say it, should cause to become self-reflective rather than reactive. We should be taking our metaphorical sandals off and approaching the oracle of the sky with just a little more humility and reverence. One of the reasons we have objectified the cosmos and tend to think of the planets solely in terms of “influences” is that we like to think of ourselves as ultimately in control but CONTENDING with forces that are constantly trying to thwart us. So, like Toad’s wild ride, we throttle around our lives, topsy-turvy, with all the symptoms of madness, clinging to self-effacing humor and sarcasm as the most socially acceptable forms of sanity. “I’m coping and just fabulously wrecked! Curse all these retrogrades!”
* So the question is, are planetary retrogrades really causing these so-called meltdowns or do people who melt down a lot tend to blame retrogrades, or maybe some combination of both?
* First, again, meltdowns are caused by people’s own karma or an interaction of karmas that is complex beyond what we can comprehend or easily explain. Blaming retrogrades is not helpful.
* Second, even if retrogrades may adequately describe a loss of control, a flipped script, an upside down plot, or reversals of fortune that are maddening or frustrating, the key thing to remember is that they are “describing” them, not causing them.
* Third, our reactions to reversals, delays, blocks, breakdowns, or crowded coffee shops (cosmic or otherwise!) is where we have some free will to use. With practices that help us to steady the mind, we can begin to see these events as opportunities for correction, learning, and increased discernment. In retrograde symbolism, there is often an opportunity to see the limits of our own will or control over a situation (as planets that were once moving forward are now moving backward), and hence, because each event is divinely orchestrated, we can recognize the loss of control we experience as an invitation to take our seats again in the cosmic classroom. We may begin to hear the voice of our spiritual guidance system once more (Hermes, the guide of souls, we may recall, is the quintessential lord of retrogrades).
* When we do not react to the breakdowns, delays, and reversals that retrogrades describe, we may become a servant rather than a cosmically frustrated consumer raging inside the circle that never ends.
* More than so many planets being retrograde right now, the frustration of multiple planets in retrograde motion may be easily mistaken for the frustration that is typical of Mars being retrograde. Nobody really loves the god of war and will being retrograde because it often coincides with a more acute sense of having lost control.
* Because Mars retrogrades for a very long period of time, and because Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto retrograde for very long periods of time each year, it is not uncommon to see many of them retrograde at once when Mars is retrograde.
* Mercury is also retrograde at least three times, sometimes four, per year. It’s not uncommon when Mars OR Venus turns retrograde for a long period of time for it to coincide for a period of time with a Mercury retrograde.
* Notice that nobody says, “Oh my god, there are so many planets in DIRECT motion right now. Of course, that explains everything!” Just like I observe in my practice each and every day that when there is any sign of promising financial or professional development in someone’s chart the reaction is, “It’s DESTINY!” but if there is any indication of a health challenge or relationship stress, the response is more frequently, “So how do I change that? That’s negotiable right? I’m not a fatalist!” But to the extent that we mistake our whims for our freedom, we are all fatalists.
* We like being in control, and we like subjectively satisfying things. We don’t like losing control, and we don’t like subjectively dissatisfying things. In many ways, this is the most simple and profound message that astrology keeps predicting for us each and every day, year in and year out, inviting us each new Moon, each eclipse, and each bumper car derby of retrogrades, to try a different approach to finding happiness.
* So, are so many retrogrades to blame? Life is full of reversals. What goes up eventually comes down. What is young, eventually becomes old. What is exciting eventually becomes dull. Retrogrades frequently describe the come down that we don’t like as much, but who exactly is causing us to suffer this situation, and why exactly is this realm filled with this pattern? If we start asking these questions more frequently, we will quickly discover an entirely different sense of ourselves, a spirit/soul just begging us for more quality time and attention, and we will once more hear the sound of something shimmering within and beyond these maddening cycles, singing us home again.
Prayer: Be our sacred syllable, Om, the beginning, middle, and end. Cool our frustrated minds with the white lotus of your patience.
Last Sunday afternoon I was sitting in my office staring at the jury summons that had been sitting on my desk for nearly a month. I had been through all kinds of fantasies about how I might escape the responsibility. I could tell them that I’m a psychic and that there is no way for me to be unbiased when I know the truth before the trial has even begun. Sure they would think I was crazy, but if they did any background checking of my story they would find that I’m an astrologer and not knowing the difference between words like “psychic” and “astrologer” they would probably think, “okay, this guy isn’t kidding.” While that fantasy was probably the one I thought about the most, there were several others equally deranged.
When I wasn’t thinking of ways to avoid having to show up at the court house, I was thinking of the other catch phrases hovering around the websites I had found while researching the ins and outs of Jury duty. Doing searches like, “What happens when you report to jury duty?” I often saw phrases like, “It’s your constitutional right and one of the greatest duties and honors we have as citizens, next to voting.”
“Voting,” I thought to myself. “Everyone is pretty fanatical about voting right now. I’m ashamed at how seriously I’m taking that great privilege considering the fact that I’ve never voted outside a presidential election.”
Then I started thinking about choice and chance. They say voting is a right. The right to exercise our choices within our democracy. They say serving as a juror is a right, a right to include our choice or judgment in the process of justice in our community. And yet nobody wants to do it. Everyone is thinking of how to get out of it. And isn’t it interesting how jurors are randomly selected?
In fact, the process of Jury selection had me thinking a lot about the turning wheel of fortune. First you are summoned. Next you call in to see if your group number has been selected. If it hasn’t you’re off the hook for a few years. If it has, then you have to report to the courthouse with hundreds of other people. From there you are randomly selected once more into jury pools. From there you are asked questions and you may or may not be selected to sit on a jury. The case you serve on may or may not be a civil or criminal case, and it may or may not take a short time or a very long time. You may or may not end up with $15 per day and find yourself unable to work for a long period of time.
As the days went by and my summons date drew nearer I started feeling like it was pointless to fight the summons. The entire thing had become so exaggerated in my head it was metaphysical. I was now contemplating whether or not fate or fortune could be interrupted, averted, or directed through participatory magic, or whether what is written is simply written. In a sense, I went from a simple human irritation with the concept of having to appear at Jury duty to a contemplation of cosmic law. That’s what happens when you give an astrologer to much time to think about something they know is coming in the future.
So finally, Sunday afternoon, only hours before I can call into the courthouse to see if my group has been called for Monday morning, I decide to cast a horary chart to see if my number will be called. Up to this point I have not attempted to get out of jury duty because I choose to believe what they say about the honor of serving as a juror. I’ve also chosen to believe that if my number is called it’s for a good reason, and there is nothing I can do to avoid my lot being drawn. I trust that these things are governed by a higher power.
I ask the question, “Will I have to serve on a jury tomorrow?” and the answer is a very clear, very simple, very direct, “yes.”
I am now afraid. How long will it be? I’m self employed. I have a four month old baby. My wife and I both have to work full time to make ends meet. So I do what many of us students of divination are prone to do…we try to twist the oracle to meet our needs. “Maybe,” I tell myself, “the oracle was simply saying that my group will be called in for duty tomorrow. It doesn’t mean I’ll end up serving.”
Finally it’s 6pm on Sunday night, and it’s time for me to call the court house and see if my number has been called. Sure enough, the voice recording says, “All groups must report to the courthouse at 7:30 am tomorrow morning. All groups.”
So the next morning I arrive at the court house at 7:30 am, along with hundreds of other people, many of them intensely explaining to complete strangers, nearly pleading with people they don’t even know about their elaborate excuses. “I’m not supposed to be here,” I hear dozens of people saying to each other as we all stream single file into a large waiting room.
Of course it’s not all excuses. Two women who are incredibly overweight, and clearly sick, look like they are about to have heart attacks and somehow they have a silencing effect on each complaining person they pass on their way straight to the front of the line. They are both excused and look like they may pass out on the way back out of the court house, silencing complainers again on their way out.
On the way into the holding room there is a metal detector we all have to walk through. As we approach I take out the Jupiter pendant I’m wearing around my neck for good luck, and I kiss it. I think to myself, “I’m here. I’m not running. So please do me a solid and let my number be passed by today so I can go home. Work some magic for me Jupiter.”
I have to take the Jupiter pendant off as it will set off the metal detector, so I put it into my backpack and walk through the security check point. Nothing beeps and for some reason I take it as a good omen.
Finally we’re all congregated in a large room and a woman gives us an orientation. She’s funny. She says things like, “Don’t talk to us about how you’re not supposed to be here. We hear it every single day, five days a week, from hundreds of people who think their you know what smells better than everyone else. This is a right. This is a duty. This is an honor. And you’ll learn more and get through this better when you don’t try to make everyone else’s life hell today.”
I’m glad to be an astrologer, because I’m considering all of this on a cosmic level and it almost feels like I’ve eaten a handful of mushrooms.
Eventually the same woman starts the next round of selecting. She starts calling off names for the juror pools. My name is the tenth name called in the very first pool. My pool is only 18 people, 6 of whom will be selected for a civil case. I think to myself, “You a-hole. You can’t fool the oracle. Of course my number was called. I’m going to be selected as a juror. That’s exactly what the horary said last night.”
Next I’m sitting in a courtroom, holding a green card in my hand with the number “10” written on it. The judge is also named Green. We are asked a variety of questions, and I am amazed to see people doing everything they can to get out of being selected. People are standing around me lying, straight faced, about their ability to remain neutral and fair in judgment. The kinds of things I had thought about saying…”I’m a psychic and I can’t remain neutral,” are flying around like a group of seventh graders trying to explain to the principle why they ran off into the woods at recess. I think to myself, “It’s not too late to give the psychic line. Clearly everyone else is making shit up, so why shouldn’t I?” But instead I answer the questions honestly, and within fifteen minutes the field has been narrowed from 18 down to 10.
Finally, our numbers are called and I am one of the six selected to sit on a civil trial that will begin within the hour. The others look relieved, but then the judge smiles knowingly and says, “For those of you who said you cannot remain neutral. You will remain neutral in the jury waiting room upstairs until 4:30 pm this afternoon, and you may still be selected for a different trial and that trial could potentially last much longer than this trial, which we should be done with by this afternoon. Some of you should think a little bit harder about what it means to remain neutral. You are dismissed.”
Then we are sworn in and the case begins. Two of the jurors sitting on either side of me struggle to stay awake for the entire afternoon. It’s a civil trial involving an auto accident. Finally we are led into a room and given the relevant law for making our decision. What’s clear above anything else is that the bulk of my fellow jurors are still frustrated that they’ve been chosen. The majority of my fellow jurors simply want to make a fast decision and get home.
I won’t say that I was the only voice of reason in that room, but by the time it came to deliberation I was feeling excited. My time was nearly done. I hadn’t run. I hadn’t tried to escape it, and it really wasn’t that bad. It could have been worse. So why not take the time to fairly and reasonably consider the facts of the case and try, really try, to come up with a fair decision? And so I said, “Look we’re almost done for the day. I want to go home too. But let’s figure out what’s fair here.” Another woman wearing a green dress echoed my sentiments (she was not one of those falling asleep), and we went around the room sharing our thoughts about the case. Once a conversation got going everyone finally got engaged and within an hour we had come up with a reasonable judgment.
On the bus ride back to the parking lot, we all sat with each other, and everything was quiet except for the noise of the rain falling on the roof of the bus.
“It was nice meeting you all,” I said as I got off the bus.
“Maybe in three years our numbers will all get called again,” the woman in the green dress said to me. She started laughing and slapped her hand on her knee.
“You never know!” I replied.
When I got home I sat down in my office and unpacked my backpack. As I was digging in the bottom of the bag I felt the chain of my Jupiter pendant, and I smiled. I grabbed the chain and pulled it out of the bag. I held it up to the light…much to my surprise, the Jupiter stone in the center of the pendant was gone! In its place was just an open hole. An empty clasp. I dug into my bag looking for the stone but no luck. No Jupiter.
Again the feeling like I had eaten a handful of especially strange mushrooms crept over me. “What the hell does that mean?” I wondered.
And all week I’ve sat with it. And all week I’ve prayed about it. Until this morning during my prayer and meditation time, I realized that my experiences at the court house were reflective of Saturn’s placement in Sagittarius. Saturn is currently in a Jupiter ruled sign. Saturn is currently in a sign associated with doctrines and dogmas and law and truth. Saturn who is associated with fate, and duty, and the limitations of time and space. Saturn who is associated with law and order. Saturn who is exalted in the sign of the Libran scales of justice.
As I sat pondering these astrological archetypes this morning several biblical passages came to mind, and so I revisited them as part of my year long study of the Old and New testaments.
The first was a passage from the book of Romans. Paul is writing about religious laws, and he says, “For apart from law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandments came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.”
Here I would submit that Paul is addressing the difficulty of understanding the virtues and foils of Saturn. Insofar as the law is a set of shoulds or oughts, the law is inherently restrictive or prohibitive. The law is inherently a condemnation of what isn’t morally or spiritually correct. If we mistake these prohibitions or oughts or shoulds for life itself, then the prohibitive nature of the law usurps the power of life and we end up worshiping death instead.
The law is not what makes life and love so alive and loving, in other words. Duty to the law is not what fulfills us. In fact, it generally incites rebellion, and ironically, the very incorrectness it seeks to protect against. Therefore, life lived by faith in the spirit, alongside the virtues of grace, forgiveness, and encouragement, is the best way to live a virtuous life. Virtue does not come solely from duty. It comes from the freedom we have to choose goodness because it is good. And when we stay in this “spirit” or what is referred to by so many religious traditions as “the way,” then we are living both by the law and yet beyond its death trap at the exact same time.
Similarly, in the book of Matthew, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law…I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law, until everything is accomplished.” And yet the bulk of Jesus’ message was an argument against the idea that we can find enlightenment or salvation or liberation by a mere legalistic following of moral or spiritual laws or codes.
As usual, regardless of if we are Christians or Buddhists or anything in between, these scriptures point to timeless wisdom. The exact kind of wisdom that is reflected in the current dynamics between Jupiter and Saturn, while Saturn is in Jupiter’s sign.
There is no avoiding the reality of the law. No avoiding the reality of duties, and responsibilities. Of what we might call “karma,” or cause and effect. There is no avoiding the reality of the circumstances we are born into, the socio-economic conditions we live in, and so many other factors in our lives that are largely beyond our control. There is no avoiding certain outcomes in our lives that are written or promised or destined at the hour of our birth. There is no avoiding the fact that sometimes our number will be called, and there is no avoiding the fact that when we try to run from fate things often gets worse.
Just like I tried to twist the oracle to say what I wanted it to say, and just like no magical incantation or pendant was going to help me work my way around my destiny, and just like the jurors who tried to get out of their service were made to suffer a duty worse than what they would have received had they simply told the truth…the Saturnine reality is here and “not until the least stroke of a pen…not until everything is accomplished,” will it go away.
However, at the same time, life does not spring from death. Life and death are not opposites because life has no opposite. And this is where liberation from the snares of the Saturnine law takes place. Because the law does not give life. It may provide order, or justice, but it does not give life itself. And it’s only when we mistake the idea that life comes from the law that we try to stake our spirituality upon it. As though the crucifixion is the ultimate truth, rather than the resurrection. As though the inevitability of winter is the ultimate truth, rather than the ongoing nature of life through all seasons, symbolized by the renewal of spring.
So after revisiting these verses this morning I reached a few simple conclusions about my experience at the court house. One, while the law, or fate, or duty, or destiny, is in some ways inevitable, it’s not by some blind and strict or self righteous adherence to it that we find enlightenment. Two, trying to escape from the law through lies, trickery, deception, or rebelliousness, only gives the law more soul sucking power over us. Three, the spirit of life and the letter of the law can work together when the law is subordinate to the spirit, and not the other way around. When we choose to meet the restrictions and duties of life with a spirit of joy, humility, and love, then we are free even when it appears as though we’re not.
Astrology (for me) is all about these same conclusions that I learned from my experience at the court house.
Finally, I was still really bummed that my Jupiter pendant broke. I’m certainly not against the participatory magic of gem stones. In fact I see their use as a way to enhance the soul’s involvement in everyday life. So I decided to ask the bible a question as an act of divination.
“What was the meaning of my lost Jupiter pendant? Is there a different kind of stone that might work better for me?”
I prayed and then flipped open randomly to 1st Peter Chapter Two: “As you come to him, the living stone, rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him, you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood…now to those who believe, this stone is precious, but to those who do not believe, “the stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.”
Prayer: Teach us to live by the spirit of life, and may the law be in support of love and life, not the other way around.