Perhaps the most interesting transit currently intensifying is the square between Saturn and Neptune. A transit highlighting the difference between what is actual and what is imaginal, or the actualization of the dream, vision, or fantasy. Let’s discuss this transit today in greater depth.
First let’s try to remember that planets aren’t “doing” anything to us, nor are they causing anything to happen (at least this astrologer doesn’t see the planetary dynamics this way). The planets are better understood as signs and symbols. In a birth chart they symbolize or signify the life of the individual. Not in an exhaustive or absolute, every last detail, kind of way, but rather in terms of major events, themes, people, places, virtues/vices, relative ease/difficulty, and in terms of the timing of these various signs. For better or worse, this means astrology is interested in fate, or perhaps more positively “destiny.” You don’t get into astrology unless you’re into the idea, on some level, that facets of your life are predetermined or bound by various mysterious laws or patterns or cyclical themes.
James Hillman loved to say that Saturn is the real ruler of astrology. This makes sense as an archetypal statement for a number of reasons. For one thing it took the discovery and/or use of trigonometry and numerous mathematical and astronomical laws to establish the system of astrology. This meant that to some extent astrology was a divinatory practice reserved for the elite intellectuals or astral priests of the civilizations in which it got started. You had to be literate, mathematical, astronomically educated, and also able to read and see signs and omens clearly. To see one of the early birth chart readers (and birth charts didn’t come about for quite a while), might have required considerable work and effort on the part of the astrologer, whose calculations were not aided by the lightning fast computing power of apple or PC computers!
The reason it’s important to recall these simple facts is that historically the feeling of “law” and the confines of “fate” were much stronger considering all that went into the profession and calling of the astrologer. By the time a chart was erected, though it was likely still seen in a primarily divinatory light (this chart is a chart of signs/omens about your life, not a blueprint or empirical science), it had essentially refined down from the eternal skies above a particular set of parameters based upon a specific divinatory moment. The moment most prized in our long tradition has been the first appearance of someone, or the initiation of a question or event. These “first appearances” were considered the time anchor of the chart calculation in accordance with the idea of the ascendant, the place where the horizon meets the ecliptic plane and planets/stars first appear in the visible sky.
To say anything about this image or picture we are therefore already honoring the idea that a life is defined by time and place. That life is held and to some extent contained or confined by boundaries and parameters. Just how tightly or how loosely has always been up for debate, but nonetheless, astrology begins here. The intersection of time and place and the planetary arrangement relative to that time and place as a set of signs about the nature of our life.
From here, most ancient astrologers, all the way up until perhaps the renaissance, and still today in India and through the revival of ancient traditions in modern astrology, were interested in delineating the most precise information available through the signs/omens of the chart. Though the chart revealed temperament and character, to a certain extent, the major emphasis of a chart reading was more about the objective features of what the life will be or how it would play out. Within this practice, the ideas of participatory magic and free will, medicine and prayer, healing and transformation, have always been hot topics of debate. Just how much of this picture can we change and how much is simply “what’s going to happen?” But again, for the longest time in astrology, it’s probably safe to say that the way charts were looked at was fundamentally more deterministic than they are today.
In the mid to late 1800’s astrology experienced a revival after nearly being forgotten since the age of reason began a century + earlier. It had been relegated to entertainment and superstition. Then the planet Neptune was discovered, and perhaps synchronistically (many astrologers argue this, see Richard Tarnas in particular!) there was a kind of mass/collective period of fascination with eastern mysticism or what was called “orientalism” in the west. During this time the theosophical movement became very popular and astrology came back into fashion (through several important astrologers but perhaps none more so than Alan Leo!). However, since this time, in many ways astrology has become an expression of the planet Neptune, rather than Saturn.
The fact that I’m even talking about the different eras of astrology in terms of one planetary archetype versus another is in many ways the exact virtue and blessing of what the planet Neptune has brought to the field of astrology. For Neptune is the great multivalence and symbolic multiplicity of signs and symbols. Neptune is imagination, metaphorical reality, subjectivity as absolute, and dream or image as MOST substantive. Neptune is film and Neptune is the idea that reality is not what it appears to be. Neptune is also glamour and intoxication and hypnotism and dopey woo-woo weakness. Neptune is denial, excuse making, escapism, and fantastical avoidance. Neptune is the drunkenness of ideals and ideas, and Neptune is the power of the image and the infinite variability and endlessness of mind and feeling or thought and sensation.
In many ways astrology has become extensions of these qualities. Nowadays hardly anyone (including myself) understands or practices the original mathematical and logical mindset that established astrology as a system thousands of years ago. We are extremely allergic to the mundane, grounding, and limiting idea of the chart as a concrete set of descriptions about our fate, and instead we prefer the idea that “the chart IS psyche.” And by psyche we mean the nebulous, infinite, multifaceted dream self…the idea of personal identity made infinitely important and yet only loosely defined by ever changing and translucent images, tendencies, adjectives, and possibilities. Transits don’t predict what will happen, they only loosely say what is “possible” or “thematically likely.” And of course, in each and every moment, the entire purpose is to manifest, create, evolve, improve, transform, and awaken the higher and higher nature of our individuality. Our dream selves are waking up to our infinite natures and our creative potential. For if dreams are infinite possibilities, and we are dreams, then we are also infinite possibilities, just waiting to be directed by words like “intention” or “evolution.”
Simultaneously, in modern/Neptunian astrology we see history and the events of our day to day lives as manifestations of the archetypal “fields” of the planets…like history is a moving mandala of archetypal images, somewhat mechanistic but also numinous and completely open to collective co-creation.
Is it any surprise that many of these ideas, or religious/spiritual perceptions and values, are quite literally the result of psychedelic drugs or altered states of consciousness? Is this a good thing? Are we potentially being deluded? Have we quite literally drunk a bowl of sleep juice?
I have no answers, but sufficed to say modern astrology, in its own archetypal terminology, is sufficiently more “Neptune” than it is “Saturn.” In fact, common things modern astrologers take issue with are the study of genetics, mathematics, astronomy, science, logic, and reason. The more anything sniffs of determinism or definitive boundaries and established laws, the more modern astrology points the finger and says, “BAD!” This is ironic considering how many modern astrologers (including myself at times) despise traditional astrology specifically because of its prescriptive qualities (saying things are relatively bad or good, easy/hard, etc).
As Saturn/Neptune has come into orb in the past year I’ve found myself entirely exhausted by what I’ve described as Neptunian astrology. For me this exhaustion stems directly from a year of very intense study of the nature of words like “psyche” and “unconscious” and “soul” and “archetype.” James Hillman often like to say that the word “psyche” is the metaphor of metaphors. And just as much as we “have” a psyche, when we reflect, think, perceive, or act “psychically,” psyche has US. After a decade’s worth of intense involvement with altered states of consciousness, understanding this simple concept from Hillman was like recognizing that psyche is just as capable of becoming the idol of our mind’s eye as anything else. Psyche itself is an archetype, and maybe it’s symbol in astrology is Neptune.
The benefits of psychic life are profound, and we shouldn’t underestimate the need we all have for psyche/soul and archetype in our lives. Similarly, the benefits of psychology, of psychological reflection, whether its through “self help” or symbolic awareness, are profound gifts. They are the salve to the restricted cosmic imagination of Saturn, to his impotence and controlling nature. And yet, with Saturn and Neptune coming into a square with each other, it’s a fantastic time to gain some amount of sobriety, distance, and clear/objective understanding ABOUT Neptune, especially as students of astrology.
Here are some distinctly Saturnine ideas to reflect upon in light of the approaching Saturn/Neptune square:
* My life is far more limited, bound, and determined than I am comfortable with…acknowledging this and learning to accept it is the definition of freedom
* I am not a Taurus, Cancer, Sagittarius, etc. The chart is not primarily about ME or MY IDENTITY or MY PSYCHE, but rather it is a series of signs that reflect the fate of my life…amidst this, much more quietly than I am used to, are SOME descriptions of my character/psychology, though talking about myself in terms of these signs is to confuse myself and my life with celestial symbols
* Who I am, ultimately, is beyond description, and I only confuse myself by constantly trying to describe myself with the psychological adjectives of astrology
* I am not here to evolve; the very idea implies that I have more power than I do
* What makes my life holy or sacred is the ability to recognize my limitations and to pray for the grace/guidance of higher powers to sanctify my experiences within these limitations…since I don’t know exactly how to do that or how that happens, I pray for guidance rather than “intend” or “manifest” what I think is best
* I live in a reality that is undeniably bound by beautiful and intelligent laws and order…I can study these laws in order to reflect more deeply upon my place within the order of things…the capacity to study this and reflect upon this is a great freedom and I am thankful for it
Obviously some of these ideas will irritate us more than others, and being true to Neptune, we might say these are all “relative” insights or “subjective/archetypal” truths. That’s just “Saturn” Neptune might say…just change your desktop image, tweet your imagination, and let all those Saturnine ideas float back into the ethers of “someone else’s bad trip.”
So are we on an infinite psychedelic “journey,” or do we need a crash course in reason and order? Do we all need to order a copy of a Dawkins book and practice a few solid push ups? Neptune hopes this reflection helped you to feel the imagination of Saturn, and Saturn hopes this reflection helps you wake up from the Neptunian bender.
Prayer: What do we know, anyway? Limited by imagination, imagined by limitation…travelers or drunkards…help us to learn the difference if it’s so important.