Published in The Mountain Astrologer, June/July 2003
Poor old Saturn, the planet of responsibility, is usually quite narrowly considered. We tend to think of its lessons as material tasks and calls to filial duty: I must go to work on Monday morning; I must call Grandma on Tuesday; I must settle down and become a parent before I’m thirty.But Saturn has to do with being grown-up in all arenas of life. Its recent duet with Pluto has intensified the question of what it means to mature in all of our human roles, not just the immediate ones.
The Pluto-Saturn opposition of 2001-2 (at this writing, it is still in orb) has brought to light an intense need, both individually and collectively, to delve more deeply into Saturn’s mysteries. Its questions have been fanning out from the personal into the societal and the moral. What does it mean to be a mature citizen? What is truly adult behavior, as regards membership in the world family?
Ours is a notoriously immature culture. One could even go so far as to say we pride ourselves on our adolescent ethos, merrily oblivious as we gallop roughshod over the rest of the world. In the Dane Rudhyar version of the USA birth chart 1, Sagittarius rising suggests an overgrown and overconfident teenager 2. Youth is king in this country; juvenility is cool. Puerile and easy-going, untested by the rigors of life, the good-natured frat boy currently in the Oval Office matches this ascendant perfectly. The man was not offended when he was portrayed as a cartoon superhero on the cover of the satirical German magazine Der Spiegel. He was flattered.
Saturn forms a harsh square with the sun in the birth chart of the USA, making it difficult to assimilate those principles Saturn represents: cool-headedness, patience and caution among them. Indeed, Saturn’s particular area of genius, the hard-won experience that comes of growing older, is seen in our culture as a shame and a curse. So thoroughly is aging devalued in America that it is difficult to think of it as simply a natural process, with pros and cons like any other. Our mass infatuation with physical youthfulness has grown so entrenched that the very word “mature” has become a euphemism for “no longer young and beautiful”. But it is upon the non-physical aspects of our beings that our cult of immaturity inflicts the most insidious damage. As a group, we lack a maturity of mind and soul.
Maturity is not the same thing as intelligence. Americans suffer no lack of intelligence, if only in the classical sense of the word: access to education and information , of which we have a surfeit. Our collective Mars in Gemini attests to a restless engagement with information of every stripe; by now surely there are enough television channels to have the quantity issue, if not the quality issue, covered. If we do not read deeply enough into our newspapers, behind the puff pieces and beyond the infighting of national politics; and if we do not listen between the lines of the blaring television lead stories to see patterns of meaning, that is a problem of maturity.
Saturn’s transit through Gemini has just about run its two-and-a-half-year course. When the planet of limitation engages the sign of information, one expects to see all manner of variations on the theme of insufficiency of knowledge. Many have noted, for example, that since 9/11 Americans have been forced to consider parts of the world which heretofore we could not even find on a map. Perhaps even more dismaying is that the transit has exposed gross failures in applying what information we do have; witness the flak our several intelligence agencies got for not connecting the dots (a quintessentially Geminian phrase). Saturn in Gemini is represented by any and all restrictions upon, and dearth of, information flow. Incredulity is a mild version of this: when long-ignored anti-American elements lethally reared their heads two Septembers ago, the first and most abiding reaction was mass shock.
The transit of Saturn through Gemini has pointed up the limits of our anti-intellectual pop culture, with its breezy, scattered approach to information. It has never been more obvious, certainly to pundits in the rest of the world, that the American mind suffers from a deadening superficiality. Famously pluralistic, our society entertains a vast and diverse number of beliefs, as indicated by the Jupiter that conjoins our country’s Sun; yet we lack a thoughtful, in-depth philosophical life as a culture. Our religious institutions have calcified into bureaucratic dogmatism, as institutions will, and have lost their ability to engage the numinous imagination. Church theologies do not help us to form the questions that would lead us deeper into our soul-lives; instead they offer pat answers to only those questions church fathers say should be asked. Religious seekers are not encouraged to seek at all; we are supposed to learn our answers by rote, as children recite the ABCs.
This is a dangerous climate upon which to visit the transit of Pluto through Sagittarius, the sign of religion, which for years has had astrologers speculating about the likelihood of holy wars. The planes hit the World Trade Center a matter of hours after Pluto had regained its first Saturn-opposition placement 3 (conjunct within a degree of exactitude the USA Ascendant): it was at this moment when the full significance of fundamentalist religion came crashing into the American consciousness. As the Descendant (“open enemies”) of the birth chart is a mirror of the Ascendant, the transits of Saturn and Pluto over those angles seem to be telling us that Islamic fundamentalism is a mirror of our own. Whatever variation it takes, fundamentalism is theology in its most simplified form; and one can find it everywhere except in a social context informed by spiritual maturity. The lesson of Pluto in Sagittarius is to deepen and empower ourselves theologically; the lesson of Saturn is to take the requisite moral responsibility to do so.
Were we encouraged from childhood to develop our spiritual selves, to cultivate our own unique cosmologies with increasing artistry as we aged, the notion of a literal, static Paradise would find no takers. Such a reductionistic picture of the infinite inter-cyclic universe would be seen as a bizarre attempt by clerics to keep people in arrested development spiritually.
In our secular culture, it is not religion so much as politics and ideology that get the press (the recent spate of pedophile priests headlines notwithstanding), and come up similarly short in terms of the Saturn/Pluto challenge. If philosophical maturity were valued in this country, a policymaker would be hired for the subtlety of his or her ideas. An elected official would be laughed off the podium if he came out with the kind of absurd black-and-white pronouncements that we have recently been hearing under the auspices of authoritative decree. For our president to declare that the rest of the world is “either with us or against us”, or that his enemies “hate freedom” (this, from a government that detains peace activists at airports!), would be considered insulting to the intelligence of his listeners.
Were political maturity valued in our civilization, pundits would be judged on the basis of their critical thinking. Government spokesmen would not dare to tell journalists to “watch what they say”, as if they were naughty children at a dinner party. Bad-guy/good-guy characterizations would be confined to kindergarten discussions, just as stick-figure drawings are appropriate at only the very beginning levels of making art. For a leader to invoke terms like “evil” is to employ Pluto imagery in its crudest and least insightful form, clamping down (Saturn) upon the dark in order to contain it, as churchmen do when they call sexual urges the work of the devil. Such scare tactics might be used by an irresponsible adult on credulous children.
By contrast, Saturn-Pluto in its mature expression might be exemplified by a national father figure who could role-model considered judgment, the better to inform and problem-solve. What our foreign policy desperately lacks is sobriety.
Perhaps the most obvious example of Saturn-in-Gemini on a cultural level is propaganda, a system of disinformation currently being pushed to fever pitch. Propaganda is inimical to intellectual maturity. Were ideological maturity the goal in our national discourse, sound bites would be relegated to selling chewing gum, not used to sum up world affairs. Historical complexity would inform what was written on the Op Ed page. Any talk of Saddam Hussein’s current weapons capabilities would logically be accompanied by at least a fleeting mention of the fact that the Reagan/Bush administration helped him plan and execute chemical weapon attacks against Iran in the ’80s. As it is, information-vendors blatantly indulge the public’s ludicrously short attention span, when they could be actually expanding our understanding by providing intelligent context.
It is no accident, of course, that TV commentators do nothing to challenge the public’s ignorance. The American telecommunications industry has fundamentally changed over the past few years. Pluto in the 2nd house of the USA chart exposes the subtext of moneyed plutocracy which has always existed beneath American democracy. Now that we are in the information age, information is the coin of the realm; thus control of the national resources implies control of the media. A few immensely powerful conglomerates now control all the major media outlets, and the industry’s ties to Washington have never been tighter. Consumers of the network news who imagine that this will not skew the information they are receiving have not heard the one about the fox guarding the hen house.
The destructive logic of any chart with a second-house Pluto would have one consume until one burned out. This is as true for countries as for individuals: with America in the lead, the industrialized nations are poised to shop-till-we-drop on a planetary scale — though the Saturn principle could curb this madness, and render it productive, were we able to integrate Saturn’s gift of maturity. The challenge is heightened by the nature of capitalistic society, where free-thinkers are a liability. Independent-minded folks are less likely to follow orders as to what to consume. Fashion, whether in clothes, tech toys or foreign policy, depends upon suggestibility and conformity; and both are more likely when the self is insecure or undeveloped. Blue jeans manufacturers may insist that by buying their particular style of jeans, purchasers are making a wild and crazy statement of uniqueness; but the truth remains that self-aware individuals are less likely to throng into Macy’s to acquire the latest self-image prop.
Youth is by definition a phase of life with a shaky ego-structure, and it is to youth that most of the advertising in America is directed. When we are teenagers, our relative identity-lessness and yearning to fit in with our peers make us a Madison Avenue gold mine. By the time of the Saturn Return, at roughly age 29, we have theoretically developed the requisite ego cohesion to be able to say, “That may be a nice pair of jeans, but I do not need them in order to have an identity”. It is the mature buyer who is more likely to beware.
However, in a cultural milieu where chronological age does not guarantee true maturity– indeed, where most forms of maturity are suspect at best and despised at worst– it is questionable whether this discernment ever fully develops. Instead, we are left with Saturn’s darker features, fear and insecurity. So we buy whatever the cleverest advertisement is selling.
As a world citizen, the USA has shown itself to be stunningly indiscriminate as a consumer of the planet’s wealth. With Pluto in the house of resources, it is perhaps not surprising that we flirt with ecocide where the physical reality of our planet is concerned; as exemplified by our dismissiveness towards international environmental agreements. But with the ingress of Pluto into Sagittarius a newly fervent quality started to become manifest. It is becoming impossible to deny that America’s acquisition and consumption of wealth has the blind aspiration of a religion — a higher good needing no justification. And in the modern age, it is no longer spice, nor gold, but oil that has become the central talisman of this religion. Pluto (oil) is the holy grail (Sagittarius) of America’s new crusades.
Sub-rational and fanatical, Pluto’s drives make no sense to the civilized mind (Saturn); but there is no more powerful planet in the chart. As if hell-bent, the USA has allowed an unsavory group of world-resource control freaks to slip into the rulership of our government. As I write these words, the clique of oilmen who run this country are trying to bully us into war, despite immense and obvious moral, financial, international and even military counter-indications. Beginning their big media push the day after September 11th 2002, the president’s viziers made no bones about trying to “sell” the war, blandly admitting that their timing was “a centerpiece of the strategy”; that is, the strategy to exploit the fear and grief of the citizenry. Mention was made of the conventional marketing wisdom to delay the introduction of a new product until after Labor Day.
Being targeted, pitched at, and gulled is so much a part of the life of the average American consumer that we are downright blasé as we listen now to our businessmen-cum-politicians smugly discussing the details of their plan to dominate the oil market by selling us a campaign of massive death and suffering. The movie “Wag the Dog”, which presented as laughable just a few years ago a situation very similar to what is happening now, would fail as satire today because the scenario has lost its giggle of implausibility. The darkly ridiculous has become the darkly unremarkable. Many Americans, their fears stoked daily by a mass media gone hysterical and maudlin by turns, would wearily go along with the government’s plans.
The mythic face of this government is a kind of Big Boss of the World, a persona traceable to our natal midheaven Saturn. This is an ignoble use of a noble placement. If as a culture we do not develop maturity, we have no recourse but to express the crude side of our elevated Saturn, arrogant in its leadership, cruel in its rigidity.
Clearly, if we want to slow and stop the trajectory of this petrochemical bloodlust, we must not wearily go along. To do so would be to give up our Saturn and submit to an eternal puerility. It is time to reclaim our adulthood. We must summon up an emergency dose of intellectual maturity in order to expose and denounce the appalling onslaught of propaganda polluting the mass media, and to inform ourselves through alternative means — for example, through the international press — as to what is really going on in the world. We need emotional maturity, too, an example of which would be to modify our recent 9/11 mourning rituals to reflect the reality that throughout these months of American bombing, the Afghani people have suffered as a percentage of their population more than twice the deaths we suffered that dreadful day.
Spiritual maturity would mean refusing to be infantilized by morally bankrupt leaders. We must try, like big girls and boys, to rein in our fear and reactivity, and opt instead to follow a planetary vision informed by a genuine curiosity about what is going on outside our country’s borders. Such maturity would mean rousing ourselves out of denial and credulity, and taking stock of what our government is doing in our name. It would mean using our thinking minds independently, grounding ourselves in the facts while centering ourselves in the heart.
It is urgently necessary that we grow up now. Every one of our natal charts has Saturn somewhere, indicating that within every one of us at birth is a magnificent potential, a maturity designed to be grown into, to be lovingly cultivated as we age. We must take another look at our particular version of adulthood, re-interpret it, embrace it and put it into action. If we do not, we will suffer, and cause suffering, like lost and dangerous children.
1. D. Rudhyar, The Astrology of America’s Destiny, Vintage Books 1974 p.69 In arguing the case for this chart over the Gemini-rising version, Liz Greene points out, “Sagittarius is a cowboy at heart, whereas Gemini is a cultured intellectual”. The Outer Planets & Their Cycles” CRCS Publ. 1983, p. 106