Saturn will be conjoining our country’s Sun and our president’s Sun over the next several months and will spend two years in the sign of its detriment. Now is the time to sweep away the cobwebs around Saturn’s lore and dispense with some superstitions.To work properly, Saturn’s function should express the principles of consistency, practicality and preservation. But the core meanings of a symbol can become lost in the translation from archetype to societal expression. There has been a lot of bad press and confused thinking about Saturn’s modern face, and looking at it through the lens of the old planetary laws raises some interesting questions.
Saturn has been said to govern risk-averse economics and bean-counters in general. This is a logical correspondence, because Saturn is the planet of maximized results through a minimized expenditure of resources. Leaving to Jupiter the sticky business of ethics and the spirit of the law, Saturn confines its attentions to the business sector and the letter of the law. One can see how the politics of pragmatism came to be associated with Saturn. But policymakers who claim allegiance to pragmatic thinking (because they know how well it plays in Peoria) often champion policies that are in fact astoundingly impractical. The question is, how well do we know Saturn? Would we know true pragmatism if we saw it?
Perhaps the litmus test for Saturn is whether the viewpoint in question relies on common sense (though this phrase needs to be used with caution, as it has so many wildly divergent champions as to render its meaning very slippery). Suffice it to say that Saturn is the most nuts-and-bolts of the ten planets: it has come to be linked not with visionary geniuses, but with competent statesmen. Clear-eyed and sober, Saturn inspires good managers to create efficient systems on a physical planet where relatively predictable laws are at work. It is supposed to make the trains run on time.
That said, finding Saturn in the public sphere is not as easy as one might think. Saturn is the planet of conservation, but it is by no means clear that Saturn’s rulership extends to conservatism in its generally understood political meaning. Let us apply a little Saturnine rigor to an examination of the symbolism at hand. If we agree that Saturn’s key features include keeping a cool head in a crisis, minimizing fuss so that systems work efficiently, and securing the viability of the future, how conservative are the National Rifle Association and Rush Limbaugh?
When a planetary archetype goes way out of balance, it runs amok. In the USA right now, we have lost hold of the reins of Saturn; it is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Rather than worrying about whether we are keening too far to the right or left, we need to reclaim Saturn’s essential teachings and put them to use. They are exactly what we need in order to lend some coherence to the quagmire we are in as a nation and as a world.
Let us begin by taking a look at what is commonly known as the Conservative Agenda, asking ourselves what is actually being conserved, and how effectively it is being done. The word conservative is often used, for example, to characterize the various religious sects which attempt through legal means to ban birth control and sex education. But in no way do they meet the criteria of the dry-eyed god of functionality: if a proposition veers off the trajectory of its own stated goal, Saturn will not endorse it. Programs to keep teenagers from having sex have a very low rate of empirical success and thus do not pass muster. Moreover, Saturn in and of itself has no time for emotion, and no interest in moral posturing one way or the other. Jupiterian types may thrill to the subject matter of a passionate debate, but Saturn cares only about results. Family-values crusades, with their penchant for histrionics and righteous denunciations, do not belong to Saturn.
The same critique could be made of what has been called the War on Some Drugs1. Self-professed conservatives tend to endorse it, but how conservative is it? If we were to measure this campaign against the yardstick of Saturn, we would first of all have trouble with the jarring inconsistency at its base: the core advocates of this domestic policy tend to favor a foreign policy which, ironically, finances regimes worldwide which make their money selling drugs, via networks so entrenched and so lucrative that our own government has exploited them, in Latin America and elsewhere, to finance its covert operations.
If wagers of this war imagine the goal to be stamping out addiction, they lack the barest shred of evidence upon which to base their optimism. Year after year, thousands of millions of tax dollars are pumped into eradicating certain targeted plants at their source, with battle zones ranging from the jungles of Columbia to the backwoods of Mendocino; but studies continue to show an overall continual increase in drug use. And if we were really thinking conservatively, surely Saturnine logic would lead us to conclude that long prison sentences to punish the use of certain, but not all, drugs (and not even the most dangerous of drugs) make no economic sense to anyone but the prison industry. Whatever is motivating this doomed campaign, it is not Saturn.
Another group of self-described conservatives who seem to be blind to the law of conservation are the policymakers who respond to budget crises by lopping off human service programs. Ethical considerations aside, are these decisions practical; do they conserve resources; are they driven by future considerations? A truly Saturnine approach would use demographic facts and figures to project what would be likely to happen, for example, to desperate public-assistance recipients when their small scraps of help dry up and disappear. We might look to the example set by Ronald Reagan, known as a conservative’s conservative, whose public-funding-slashing approach to governance is considered to have launched the modern reality of thousands of mental patients fending for themselves on the streets of California cities. Saturn’s approach to harm is not to fight it but to prevent it. Herein lies the genius of true conservatism. The Reagan paradigm could be called many things, but surely the one thing it was not was conservative.
In its healthy expression, Saturn promotes survival into the future by faithfully preserving that which has proven worthy from the past. This is the planet that reminds us to conserve berries so there is something to eat in the winter, and to conserve the rainforest so the ecosystem may continue to thrive. With Saturn as their muse, scientists, humanists, engineers and ecologists are continually coming up with new ideas about how to safeguard the world’s resources — through sustainable agriculture, for example — which cost little and have been shown to work very well. Conservationists are also rediscovering methodologies truly deserving of the Saturnine term traditional, by means of which pre-industrial cultures managed infrastructure and food production while honoring the natural cycles of vegetation and wildlife.
Such efforts get at the very heart of what Saturn is about. But it is noteworthy that they are being pursued in spite of, rather than at the behest of, the institutions in our society which hold worldly power. For example, clean-fuel cars could have been built decades ago were it not for the relentless resistance of the automakers and their government representatives. In the current era of ecological crisis, the most genuinely conservative ideas are showing up at the fringes of consensus thinking.
The sign Saturn is now in governs the care, feeding and shelter of a society’s most vulnerable members. The Children’s Defense Fund exemplifies the transit in name and deed. Among this group’s most successful projects is the Head Start program, which is well-known as a lifesaver for children and teenagers who would otherwise be swallowed up by the downward spiral of poverty. Its advocates are seeking to increase the program’s funding by an amount of money that could only be called consummately conservative (the sum works out to be one half of one per cent of the Pentagon budget). When a program has a track record years in the building and costs very little to create results, it has passed the Saturn test: Head Start should be a conservative’s dream program.
The Bush administration wants to dismantle Head Start. This is not a Saturn-driven decision. Elevated in the tenth house and showcased by a square to the Sun, Saturn is very strong in the USA chart. If all that Saturn energy isn’t going into stabilizing and preserving and shoring up the future, where is it going?
It seems to be feeding into what the Jungians would call its shadow side. This is not the fault of planetary law, but of our lack of understanding. Misunderstood Saturn results in fear: fear of the new, fear of loss of control. This in turn excites in the native a punitive impulse, of the sort that often prickles beneath the surface of crusades to keep God in the pledge of allegiance and condoms out of the pockets of teenagers.
We must pay more attention to the difference between the higher and the lower uses of the Saturn archetype — between true conservatism and its distortions through fear. The planet Saturn and the sign Cancer are both associated with security , a concept that has been heating up the airwaves in this country for two years now. The transit now upon us is likely to raise the issue to fever pitch.
What is the difference between security driven by common sense and security driven by fear?
Before we can know this, we need to rescue the concept from the sound bite makers: security has become a buzzword. The term is being touted with numbing frequency in public discourse, while being affixed with increasingly counter-intuitive connotations. Far from clarifying the issue, its endless official invocations are designed to manipulate and confuse. The only thing that seems certain is that whatever are called “security measures” by our government do not and will not stand up to the Saturn test of rendering us more secure.
“Fear is the mind-killer”, wrote Frank Herbert in Dune. In one form or another, fear has been used by leaders throughout the ages to manipulate their subjects. To maintain control, heads of church and state have traditionally exaggerated threats to public safety, or put the focus on a scapegoat — a timeworn ploy which gave rise to the Yellow Peril, the Jewish Problem, the Red Menace, and the Devil himself. Designated enemies have always been a surefire means of keeping a populace terrified and compliant.
In postwar America, the fear of invasion by evil outsiders segued smoothly from the fear of vanquished Axis forces to the fear of the creeping Communist Threat. When that particular bogeyman was banished with the fall of the Berlin Wall, ending the Cold War practically overnight, one could sense in this country an almost palpable collective sigh of relief at the retreat of the nightmare that had terrorized every baby boomer’s childhood. For the first time in memory, a true feeling of security was evident, as millions of people began to imagine a world free from the specter of nuclear holocaust.
But the hiatus was a short one. The campaign of fear we labor under today was launched as soon as the airplanes hit the towers on September 11th, 2001. Now, a couple of years later, the Bush administration has announced its intention to pump billions into building new atom bombs (the munitions makers are taking pains to qualify these as “midlevel” nuclear devices; presumably to produce only “half a Hiroshima”2).
Whether a return to nuclear build-up actually makes Americans more secure, or even subjectively more secure, is a question that has not enjoyed the widespread debate it would seem to deserve; for the Bush administration has been basking in an almost total absence of intelligent criticism from Congress and from most American citizens. People don’t think clearly when they are in a state of continuous anxiety. The object of this anxiety is anti-American terrorism orchestrated by foreigners, and the agent of this anxiety is domestic psychological terrorism orchestrated by Washington.
Surely this campaign has succeeded beyond its architects’ wildest dreams. September Eleventh used to be just a date, and is now a larger-than-life cultural legend. The ascension of the event from factual reality to galvanizing political tool has happened so rapidly and so completely that there has been speculation, supported by revelations now dribbling out about ignored pre-attack CIA warnings, that the World Trade Center tragedy was anticipated and allowed to happen by the cartel whose interests have profited most from it.3 Whether this explosive suspicion is ever proven, or even allowed to be pursued, we cannot know at this writing. What we do know is that with September Eleventh, the enterprise that used to be called the military-industrial complex has hit pay dirt.
Washington’s fear mongering over the past couple of years has worked as well as it has by meticulous design.4 Bush’s people have kept the public in thrall by means of top-of-the-line PR consultants (such as John Rendon, who calls himself a “perception manager”), inflammatory and obfuscating language (e.g.” axis of evil”) and primary-color-coded fear charts. Having secured control of a corporate media whose approach to debate is to shut out actual Middle East experts while showcasing the in-house opinions of ex-generals, the Bush administration has assembled an unprecedented sophisticated propaganda machine, its key precepts being terror and security.
Under the banner of keeping Americans secure from a numberless gaggle of stateless, nameless, faceless enemies, our government has snowed many otherwise intelligent people into buying the most blatantly fallacious arguments for war. To add insult to injury, the public is footing the bill when it can least afford to do so. Draconian domestic budget cuts are occurring at the same time as gargantuan increases in military funding. Taxpayers who are so financially strapped that they are refusing tax increases to keep public schools open are nonetheless green lighting the Pentagon budget to bloat into surreal proportions. The Bush administration is now easing six million dollars per hour out of American taxpayers’ pockets to fund the occupation of Iraq, an amount twice what it was predicted to cost a few months ago.
As a concept, terrorism has shown itself to be amazingly adaptive. The word terrorist has been gradually expanding in meaning, a trend signaled by the president’s introduction last year of the qualified phrase terrorist-type organization during his unsuccessful campaign to suggest a link between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Whereas at first the term terrorist confined itself primarily to the WTC highjackers, now it is being pressed into service to refer to anything from anti-dictatorship guerillas in the jungles of the Philippines to Iraqi teenagers who throw rocks at G.I.s. Terrorist has become an all-purpose label, intended to trigger a vague and all-encompassing fear (the most disempowering kind) among American citizens so that we will look to our government to protect us by any means necessary.
Under the guise of fighting this mysterious million-headed hydra, Washington spinmeisters have made similarly ambitious use of the term security. Fear is stoked, and then security is promised. This maneuver has been deployed not only in the realm of foreign policy but also in any corner of the domestic realm where our astoundingly cynical leaders can use it to score an advantage. Bush’s re-election campaign is to be launched in New York City with the ruined site of the World Trade Center in the background, a setting designed to reawaken in his audience feelings of vengeance, dread and helplessness.
Flaunting the specter of another attack on American soil, government spokesmen have all but convinced the public that rounding up, incarcerating and deporting immigrants of every stripe, in flagrant violation of national law and custom, is necessary for the personal safety of those of us who do not (as yet) fit the profile. In a development almost unimaginable just a few years ago, the proudly democratic people of the United States have been cowed by the millions into endorsing such police-state tactics as the use of torture on untried incarcerees; and the use of wide-ranging domestic surveillance by a new mega-agency whose title appears to have been deliberately modeled after Nazi nomenclature, “homeland” substituted for “fatherland”.
For a people as anti-authority as Americans are supposed to be, it is noteworthy that although thousands of ordinary commuters and tourists have mistakenly been flagged by terrorist-tracking “no-fly” lists, there have been relatively few outraged voices demanding that the system be reined in. People are so scared they are even obediently taking their shoes off in front of strangers — without a whimper of complaint or a snicker of irony –while waiting in line at the airport. With big signs overhead solemnly proclaiming that security is no laughing matter, we watch our Adidas glide by on a conveyor belt staffed by the underpaid security workers who are presumably our last line of defense.
Cancer governs defense of the home front, so we can be sure that Saturn in Cancer is going to stir up interest in everything from fortified national borders to strengthened locks and burglar alarms. The sign Cancer is closely linked to biological survival, whence it gets its keen awareness of tribal and blood identity. These instincts, when used consciously, give Cancer the capacity, unique among the twelve signs, to protect itself and its loved ones skillfully and appropriately. But an irrational fear of strangers (non-family, non-familiar) can afflict low-level Cancer in the personal realm; and an irrational fear of aliens and foreign governments is the corresponding dark side in the collective realm. Cancer does not parse intellectually or assess pragmatically when it determines the likelihood of threat. It is a water sign, and reacts from feeling. This makes it all the more susceptible to overreaction when Saturn is out of balance.
We are at the point now where the word defense in the national lexicon has effectively come to mean the capability of destroying the world many times over. With the White House to generate rationales for it and the IRS to launder money for it, the Pentagon provides the structure and hardware for the most lethal war capacity the world has ever known.
A significant juncture point in the American annals of fear occurred at the moment in our history when the old Department of War was renamed the Department of Defense. Though the new moniker matches more closely the symbolism of the Cancer sun in the USA chart, our current Department of Defense is of course not defensive at all, but virulently and increasingly aggressive, with a military expenditure will soon equal that of the next fifteen most powerful states combined. Over the past 100 years, our country has been responsible for the deaths of millions of innocent people all over the world. In Viet Nam we left no less than three million dead; in Afghanistan and Iraq alone we have killed — at this writing — two innocents for every one innocent killed in New York two Septembers ago.
It is remarkable that such staggering statistics fail to dislodge the widespread belief on the part of many Americans that we are merely defending ourselves; an idea whose credibility has now been strained even further by the claim of pre-emptive defense. It says something about our collective Cancerian sensibility that although Bush’s warnings about Iraq’s military were ill-disguised pretexts from the beginning, the populace as a whole responded with very little skepticism. Unconscious Cancerian individuals express the same psychology when they take very personally presumed threats to their security, genuinely feeling themselves vulnerable to attack where no objective danger exists.
When expressed without awareness and pushed to the extreme, an astrological archetype becomes the thing it abhors. Misapplied, Saturn’s instinct to conserve only brings about waste and dissolution. Pursued blindly, Cancer’s insistence upon security renders it less secure in the end. In the weeks after Bush claimed the right to pre-emptive warfare in Iraq, India announced it would consider a pre-emptive strike against Pakistan; a development that was probably not what the security-conscious among Bush’s supporters had in mind. Neither is the apartheid wall (or “security barrier”) Israel is now building in occupied Palestine likely to keep Israelis secure from the rage of the wretched, humiliated people on its other side.
Just as we must reclaim the true meaning of conservatism, we must redefine true security. There has never been a better time to do so: individual and collective safety concerns become more tense and contracted month by month as Saturn makes its way through Cancer. We do not want to have to go through the defensive shutdowns in our personal lives that can occur when Saturn in Cancer is out of balance, and we do not want the transit skewed by fear when it crosses the U.S. chart.
Saturn’s collective shadow guise is fascism, or the willingness of a people to “scoot over and leave the driving to Daddy”5. Giving up our Saturn by projecting it outwards onto some ill-chosen father figure, we lose our chance to develop self-mastery. The challenge we are facing is perfectly reflected in the transit’s symbolism: Cancer, the sign of the mother, and Saturn, the planet of the father, are forcing us to confront deeply primal issues of child/parent, helplessness/authority and dependent/protector. These themes will be played out emotionally and repeatedly in the public arena over the months to come, and if we do not change the script we are currently following, the drama will feature the people in the role of the vulnerable child, and a tyrannical government in the role of the oppressive guardian.
But another scenario is possible. Were enough individuals to commit to the necessary self-reflection, we could fulfill the real promise of Saturn in Cancer, rather than play out its reactive distortion. If the transit could be said to have an intention, it is that each of us nurture and protect ourselves and our fellows in ever-more-authentic ways; that is, in ways that actually work. The potential for individuals and society at large to benefit from deliberate, engaged self-parenting is stronger than it has been for thirty years. Once the inner child is nourished, there is no need to be enslaved by a false parent in the outside world.
This is the key to the transit now upon us, and for those who do not submit to collective fear, the opportunities will be there in full force to turn the key in the lock. Only in this way can we know real security. We will require no strongman-father to promise not to abandon us, for we will be un-abandonable. We will be impervious to protectionist blackmail, for we will trust ourselves to know how to make our lives safe. We will be the wise, careful parent we always wanted to have.