* Neptune is frequently associated with dreams, images, myths, metaphors, and imagination. At the same time, Neptune is the planet of surrender, devotion, and transcendence. Of course, Neptune is also the planet of intoxication, delusions, fantasies, and poison. So why the major dichotomy?
* Because in this world, we are presented with a “pick your poison” dynamic each and every day. Because underlying our very moment by moment existence is the fear of the present, of what is within, of who we are, and of our divine source. Because we have any and every reason to be seized by distractions, reaching out like planetary hands in a conveyor belt above our heads, to avoid the infinite love of the present.
* And so the choice is real. The choice between love and devotion, and intoxication, fantasies, and delusions, is an ever-present question. It is a question that stands in the foreground of our freedom, which we have to locate “within.”
* Interestingly, the choice of love and devotion, this choice, made again and again, leads first to sobriety, but then eventually back to intoxication. It’s simply that the intoxication of spiritual life is that of love, which is real. Love is the nature of the real world. Of the real self. Of the real self of the self. It is more than intoxicating. It’s intoxicating AND real. Because it is love.
* Real sobriety comes when we recognize the power of fantasies. When we recognize the reality of imagination. Of thought. Of the gods. When we recognize that we are so regularly helpless to their mighty currents, then we understand who we are, and where we are. We go from hubris to humility. And it’s from that humility that we start to catch even the tiniest glimpse of the real scope and depth and size of the absolute. We come to glimpse that we have never been born and will never die. And we come to wonder, just wonder, about the possibility of calling out, “Hallelujah!”
* So this surrender to divinity, this sense of not being in control, ultimately leads us back to love. To the appropriate use of our free will. It leads us back to praise, wonder, worship, intimacy, service, and love, sweet, love. The love of God that saturates everything, calls to everything, holds everything, gives everything its autonomy, diginity, differences, and unity all at once.
* There is no way to become sober without the living distinction between the real and the unreal. And yet, sobriety is not the goal. Sobriety is the means by which the real may then start to appear, and take us into the most real fantasy of all, which is that of personal and endless love.
* So, as the Full Moon and Neptune come together, I write this brief Psalm. In praise of the magic and mysticism of real sobriety. I would not be here had I not once gotten sober on the material level. Ironically it was a mind-altering plant-teacher from the Amazon who got me there. But it has only been by following the devotional practices learned from those healing experiences, cultivating them over time, that has led from mere sobriety to an interior experience of love and devotion, a real-world of love. I suspect that we are all, ultimately, looking for this world at all times. We want the real thing because we know it is beyond belief amazing.
Prayer: Help us to see your reality, help us to see love, and help us to find sacred sobriety.
Of all the planets in our astrological pantheon, Saturn may be the planet most appropriately named, “the god of opposites.” As the planet who lived at the farthest edge of the known solar system, Saturn was the negater, the one who gave identity, particularity, and boundary to each of the other planets through his negations, his “no’s” and his oppressive linear and logical rigidity. Through every planet’s relationship with Saturn the archetypal field of a planet finds its limits and definition. It’s inherent archetypal duality that can’t help but be discovered when it relates to the god whose natural disposition is to oppose or observe. For example, it’s through the lens of Saturn and its relationship with the Sun that we can define the sun as (among other things) “self” focused. The Sun centralizes, radiates from the center, and holds together, and we can say these things because of Saturn’s nearly invisible presence within these descriptions. The word “centralizes” implies Saturn as the planet at the edge (NOT the center). The word radiate implies a movement from center outward, which implies Saturn as the planet that takes things inward and downward (a contrasting image of death and decay or inertia). The phrase “holds together,” similarly implies Saturn’s “taking apart,” or Saturn’s destruction or decay.
Through Saturn we come to understand the Sun’s unique qualities, its distinct character, and as a result an archetypal landscape emerges with its own unique hills and valleys, rivers, lakes and streams. Without this implicit power of Saturnian opposition, we also wouldn’t be able to differentiate between particular oppositional images within the archetypal realm of the Sun. For example, an inflated ego and a generous, glowing goodness. As the ruler of boundaries and opposites, it’s Saturn who creates these distinctions and rules over both sides of them equally (remember that Saturn is exalted in Libra, the sign of the scales).
Many attempts have been made to transcend or leap beyond Saturn’s duality. But these attempts are already being made in the same Saturnian spirit of duality. A “problem” with Saturn is already Saturn, since Saturn is the inseparability of the poison and the antidote. People who live with this inseparability, who are cognizant of it, are sometimes called melancholic. There is a kind of weighty, depressive feeling of inevitability and inescapable angst. Nothing virtuous isn’t also a vice and there is no vice that isn’t also a virtue. Deep within this unavoidably paradoxical structure is the knowledge of decay and impermanence, as well as the infirmity or sickness of the soul whose end is drawing near. The scales in the hall of the dead are in sight. Saturn’s gift to us is the ambivalence of old age, available to us at any time, not just in literal old age.
At the same time, people who rage against the inseparability of the opposites, always looking for an answer or some kind of absolute freedom, are driven by Saturn who is a ruthless taskmaster…whose work is the never-ending slave drive through the valley of tears. When the Buddha said in his final instruction that all things decay, or that experience is disappointing, and through vigilance you succeed, was he not giving us a kind of Saturnine secret? Perhaps it’s possible for us to see these final words as that “golden mean” extracted from the lead of Saturn. No escape. Only a disposition that we can take toward and within the dance of the opposites will keep us from being consumed too quickly by the dragon whose already eating us. The wisdom we think we have gained about anything (the antidote) is inseparable from the poison (the problem we found wisdom for). With this understanding (which is also Saturn’s wisdom) there comes a kind of reflective sense of humor, an ability to see things upside down, or to see through the literalness of one side to its roots in the other. We don’t escape poisons or antidotes, neither their contradictions or their paradox, but rather we see through them to their basis in the imaginal. Saturn is hence the god of inevitability…no escape…the limits and walls, the negation of death and decay, the collapsing of opposites into the imagination as well as their battles that ceaselessly create “the real world ‘out there.’”
Saturn is also the scapegoat. He is the one to blame for the fundamental feeling of these opposites. He is the one to blame for the hard divisions that make lead out of our perceptions. He’s responsible for these hardening opposites. So we blame Saturn. But in this blame, we are also already in the grip of one of Saturn’s dual expressions: blame and responsibility. “Experience is disappointing,” said the Buddha, which is an assignment of blame (the word blame means something like to rebuke or express dissatisfaction with), but “through vigilance you will succeed,” which is a statement of responsibility. Our relationship with the opposites is both disappointing and provoking of our attentive, mindful and responsible participation. Saturn is both the disappointing inevitability of our existence as well as the charge to be here for it and to work into its tensions with mindfulness to their absurdities, contradictions, and paradox.
As Saturn ruled “the golden age,” there is also a wisdom to the oppressing endlessness and inevitability of living within duality. Through our entrance into decay and impermanence (Saturn’s domain), through entrance into oppositional consciousness, we see into the nature of limitation itself, so that limits become limited. This is why Saturn is also the ruler of both Capricorn and Aquarius, and this is also why James Hillman aptly pointed out that a fine “ruler” for the field of astrology itself was Saturn. When we know the limits of limits, these contradictions and oppositions are no longer a problem to be solved but rather terrain to be described in the language of symbol. Reality is not a matter of ultimate metaphysical origins or destinations, for seeing through both there is no beginning or end, a timelessness permeates time and space, universes endlessly creating and dying. The freedom of Saturn is the compass, the map, and the drawing tools. The freedom of Saturn is the paranoia of liberating humor, and imaginal antidote to the imaginal poison (the musical ‘laws’ of the imaginal spheres realigns our ‘literal’ problems, returning them to the imagination and timeless time).
Is it possible that Neptune’s discovery, as a psychic event in human history, coincides with an emerging awareness of Saturn’s own limits? This would not mean that Neptune “goes beyond Saturn,” for this is again the language of Saturn speaking, but rather that Saturn goes beyond WITH Neptune. Does our consciousness now have a special understanding of the limits of limits? Does this not give “shape” to the unconscious, to the unbound, to the imaginal itself? Does not Saturn’s relationship with Neptune create a conundrum for consciousness? No longer are we creatures striving for transcendence from the opposites, but rather we’ve grow into an awareness of the inevitability of both “the problem of the opposites” and the imaginal in which they are rooted and continually expressed.
The best example I can think of comes from my decade’s work with ayahuasca, which for a long time I viewed in strictly saturnine terms: ayahuasca is a door to consciousness beyond the opposites. This knowledge of the “realm beyond the opposites,” was, of course, Saturnine from the beginning, though I would have thought of it as Neptunian at the time. Eventually, through many years of participation, the problem with the opposites and the continual need for release, healing, transcendence, purgation, etc, became to my sight the old devil Saturn, taking me for a ride. The devil card in tarot. Needlessly chained to a chronic problem, all the while calling it a solution. Ironically everything I had ever heard about the “medicine” being an evil drink, a drink of dark forces and powers, a seductive practice, etc, was instantly true. It was also, false. But before I would have never been able to see both sides of Saturn’s face..the poison and the antidote alike.
This led me to let go of my devotion and practice with ayahuasca, which, over time, led to an entirely different perception of both Saturn and Neptune. I feel more Neptunian now that I have ever felt since ending my ayahuasc practice. More in touch with the shape and character of the unbound imaginal, with the timeless and eternal, and yet also deeply aware of the fact that this unbound/imaginal has its own face. Namely my own and the worlds I inhabit. But others too. Saturn’s gift to Neptune and Neptune’s gift to Saturn are one and the same expression…the distinct character of the imaginal, the timelessness of the opposites. Real imaginal problems with imaginally real solutions. A precise kind of freedom. Not just “you create your own reality,” but also “reality creates your own you.”
Now step back from all of this…and don’t take the bait. These thoughts are the expressions of Saturn and Mercury stationing as Saturn squares Neptune. No escape from oppositional tensions. No big answers that aren’t also poisons. These are imaginal longings distilled through my mind’s “problems.” But of course, that’s one idea I’m apparently committed to…the art of the astrologer is to sing the music of the spheres in such a way that others might find this moment’s reality reflected in eternity. Because I’m bound by problems and in love with them.
Prayer: the precise music of our problems…
Image by courtesy of Joe DeSousa, at creative commons image licensing
As Mars has just entered Neptune’s home sign of Pisces, and as its immediately applying to conjoin Neptune, it’s a good time to look at the Mars/Neptune relationship to sexuality. Since Mars rules desire and Neptune rules the reaching or yearning for the ineffable, there is a very clear relationship between these two planets in aspect to each other and the worlds of sexuality, especially the complexities of the orgasm.
The word “orgasm,” means something like “to swell” or “to ripen,” and there is even an etymological link with the words “anger” and “heat.” Another phrase used by the french to describe an orgasm is “la petite mort,” which means “the little death,” though the french saying is thought to refer more toward the post-orgasmic state than the orgasm itself. Either way, the planetary forces of Mars and Neptune are intimately related to both the sexual drive, the excitement, the swelling, the releasing or dissolving, and even the death that follows an orgasm or sexual climax.
As the rulers of the first and last signs of the zodiac, Mars and Neptune are like metaphors for a greater cycle, whose symbolism is intimately presented by the orgasm. Life begins with an explosion, a swelling, a frustration…whether we’re looking at the big bang or labor pains (women even orgasm during labor sometimes), the emergence of something new has a Mars like quality. And yet, Mars also implies desire, an end toward which something is propelled…a guiding fantasy or image or archetype calling us. The guiding fantasy, the image, is Neptune. The dream, the mythological story, the yearning for finality or return, for redemption or dissolution, this is Neptune’s call to Mars. And yet Neptune is also death. An illusion of redemption that quickly becomes the blank eyes of a decomposing body…ashes to ashes…blown on the wind across the sea.
Orgasms hold the same pattern and also present similar complications to our relationship fantasies. We meet someone, we share a connection, heat and excitement and frustrations are built, a swelling is created. We see in that person an image of redemption, of finality, of everything we’ve ever wanted. We dance the elaborate dance of mating and courtship (Mars among other things to the Greeks was a god of dance), and then we explode into the mess of love, and through our climaxes we fall away from each other and die.
We fall away from each other because the guiding fantasy is exhausted, and we become bored with each other. The gleam wears off. The fantasy is too familiar, and we start to long for something new. Maybe we find something new, and new heat is built…but over time the same exhaustion is likely to repeat itself. Why does this happen?
All discussions and debates about monogamy aside, it happens because it’s an archetypal experience. And with knowledge of the experience it’s possible to shift our relationship with the pattern.
For example, in the Taoist tradition there are specific suggestions for how often to release during intercourse so that the vital essence (lets call it the ability of our guiding fantasies to stay alluring and powerful) remains in tact. In many other traditions, periods of celibacy are recommended for the sake of longevity, health, and intimacy alike. With the planets Mars and Neptune its always possible for our physical strength, stamina, and vitality to get easily depleted or overwhelmed by our desires for ecstasy or release.
Most people inherently know all of this but nonetheless struggle with it in their relationships. Even if it just means that the guiding fantasies of our sexual lives need variety, need times to rest and be intimate in different ways so to build back the “charge” between us…we need to learn how to be wiser about this pattern. Neptune’s effect on our desire nature is often to completely exhaust and extinguish our sexual potency as well as our richest fantasies, like salmon who quickly die after reaching their spawning ground upstream.
At the same time, the entire Mars/Neptune pattern can work in reverse, which creates a different problem. The desire for that which is “beyond this world,” can also look down its nose at Mars’ heat and swelling. Neptune/Mars can thus become the martial restraint of our fantasies because we are concerned only with “higher and holier” things. This pattern has obviously created an entire history of sexual repression that is just as disturbing if not more disturbing than our inability to keep our sexual charges alive with each other over time.
Another pattern with Mars/Neptune is the inability to hold our orgasms. Nocturnal emissions or wet dreams, as well as premature ejaculations are all instances of the Mars/Neptune phenomenon. And here again we have a range of complex issues at play. On the one hand, for thousands of years orgasms have been looked down upon by religions around the world as unclean, and yet most religions have a kind of special exception for nocturnal emissions. Wet dreams were considered the product of an evil succubus preying upon men in their sleep during the medieval times, whereas St. Augustine viewed them neutrally (they weren’t sins) because they were involuntary, whereas various Jewish texts imply that they are the result of impure “daytime” thoughts (we might recognize the foreshadowing of Freud in this idea). But on the other hand, the famous sex researcher Alfred Kinsey suggested that they were more likely among men who didn’t masturbate (perhaps an indication of sexual repression).
We can’t help but living with a swelling and erotic, even angry and frustrating desire nature. Mars is part of who we are. But within that nature there is also the implication of our mortality. Our limitations. We can’t have desires for something “more” without the feeling of being limited by or frustrated by what “is.” Neptune on the other hand is the guiding fantasy, illusion, or hope for a final salvation from these limitations. When combined with Mars we will go to great lengths to achieve this final salvation. We’ll go to great lengths to absolve our cravings. The question becomes, “Do my heavenly desires weaken and exhaust my life force, or do they maintain it?” And the answer is generally found in our ability to understand the dynamics between Mars and Neptune and continue working them creatively in our lives and relationships.
Some ideas to consider:
* Not all orgasms are good
* Not all spiritual restraint from sexual release is healthy
* Not all heavenly desires are strengthening us
* Not all earthly angers and frustrations are “lower” or “less than”
* Not all swelling needs to be controlled
* Not all releasing needs to be allowed
* Just because we love each other doesn’t mean we don’t need breaks from sex, doesn’t mean we don’t need time to build the charge back up
* Sometimes sex without orgasm is better, it keeps the guiding fantasy of the connection alive
* Sometimes sex WITH orgasm is better, it allows for the guiding fantasy of the connection to die and change
* Sometimes you really do need a cleanup shower after sex
* Sometimes the guilt of sex is good for you
* Sometimes its not
* Sometimes you can’t hold it, so don’t try
* Sometimes you can so you should work on it
Prayer: I can’t hold it much longer, it’s getting stronger…Baby, I got sick this morning, A sea was stormin inside of me, Baby I think I’m capsizing, the waves are risin and risin. And when I get that feeling, I want sexual healing…(Marvin Gaye)
Image by courtesy of Xandercook, at creative commons image licensing