The Buck Stops Where? Saturn Transits to the USA Chart

You don’t have to be an astrologer to see that the United States is at a dramatic turning point. Whether we understand what is happening in astrological, political, moral terms — or just want to duck under the covers and not look at it at all, every one of us who identifies as an American feels a sense of fatal decision in the air. What is it all about?Above us are planetary configurations that spell out quite clearly the themes our country is playing out. Astrology gives us a plethora of coded information to help us understand this critical time.

All indications point to the planet of karma. The dance between the planet Saturn and the natal chart of the USA for the past couple of years tells us that the primary theme is accepting responsibility. This transit’s job is to expose how well or poorly America understands its global impact. It is here to teach us accountability.

Do planetary transits provoke events somehow, or do they just mark them in time, like the hands of a clock? Let us leave this knotty question aside for the moment and agree that transits confer meaning upon events. The search for meaning should be our first response in times of tremendous human suffering. And though metaphysical interpretations fall short of providing an immediate action plan, they are useful in providing the big-picture view that must precede any action plan.

By this reckoning, the events of recent years represent a series of cosmic nudges that seek to push the American consciousness into a new maturity (Saturn). The lesson is simply to acknowledge what we put out into the world, without blame; and to respond to the consequences. It is a lesson that is being thrust into our faces over and over, monthly, weekly and daily, as Saturn passes through Cancer, the sign under which our country was born (July 4, 1776, 5:13pm).

Saturn isolates in order to define. Since the ringed planet began passing through America’s seventh house, our role in the global community has become more estranged and alienated than it has ever been before. The notorious Saturn-Pluto opposition of 2001-2, under which we entered the current bellicose period, elevated America’s interrelationships vis-à-vis other nations to a new kind of prominence, for better or worse. The two transiting planets – Saturn, planet of responsibility, and Pluto, planet of power — straddled the horizon line of the USA chart, marking this country as in the crosshairs of a rifle.

On a collective level, the impact of that planetary opposition — whose final exactitude occurred just before the World Trade Center bombings — was unmistakable, making it one of the most exhaustively analyzed transits in recent memory. Its timing set the stage for not only the current decade but for the current century, putting its mark on the millennium to come.

Since then, a series of significant transits has showed up to evoke and disseminate the opposition’s power, creating what astrologers call cosmic echoes. From late 2003 through 2004 Saturn was hovering around the degree of Cancer occupied by the Sun in the US natal chart, during which time Mars returned to the USA Mars position under an eclipse.

Astrologers of a spiritual bent can learn a great deal from this extraordinary period. We can de-code the transits and apply them to our own lives, macrocosm informing microcosm. Not only does planetary symbolism clarify the meaning of the current geopolitical situation, but it sheds light upon the fundamental meaning of the Saturn archetype, allowing us to reacquaint ourselves with the workings of karma, and use the teaching to deepen our soul wisdom.

Saturn governs the law that says what goes around comes around. Under a Saturn transit, issues of responsibility heat up in group life and in our individual lives, as transits have both public and personal levels of meaning. That which is juvenile and reactive will be revealed as such. Coping mechanisms from youth (they may have been effective once, or they may have been ineffective even then) will be exposed as woefully inadequate.

Each of us has a sense of what it means to be a real grown-up. With a Saturn transit, that sense is focused by internal and external events, often in ways that smack of deprivation. Transits of Saturn bring about a sense of lack.

This lack may be merely subjective or it may be objectively verifiable (though we humans make a big deal of the difference, the planets do not). From a cosmic point of view, insufficiency exists in order to push us into realizing that our well-being is ultimately nobody else’s business: the buck stops with us. I call this the “Mother leaves town” transit. When Mom goes away temporarily, we are forced to learn to cook our own supper. If we dig in our heels and just stand there moping and cursing her absence, we’ll go hungry.

Saturn insists upon making concrete whatever we have been muddling through in vague, undefined form. Where we have relied upon some parent figure, we will be challenged to shift the responsibility to ourselves. When Saturn passes through Cancer, the sign of security, we are called upon to make ourselves safe — not through over-reaction, but through reasonable, conscious planning. Wherever we have given our power away to an authority figure (a person or an institution could equally apply, as in “Oh well, I’m sure Dad/ my boss/ the head of the Department of Homeland Security knows what he’s doing”), we will find that playing the helpless child is an obsolete gambit.

Saturn returns to a given part of the natal chart roughly every thirty years. But when other planetary cycles are peaking at the same time, Saturn’s lesson packs an unusual punch; and when we ignore them, the consequences are more far-reaching. This is one of the things that makes the current period so critical, and a clear-eyed study so necessary.

In June of 2004, we had transits that echoed the 2001 opposition on half a dozen fronts. Saturn conjoined the U.S. Sun, at the same time that the transiting Sun in Gemini conjoined the freshly returned U.S. Mars; and both simultaneously formed an exact opposition to transiting Pluto.

This situation recalled the Sagittarius/Gemini tug-of-war established in 2001, giving us yet another chance to digest its meaning. In addition, the solar transit operated like a great cosmic klieg light spotlighting where Mars was at the time of its Return (a one-and-a-half- to-two-year cycle); thanks to which the spring and summer of 2004 was characterized by over-the-top militancy. Both April and May’s eclipses coincided with newspaper headlines expressing the sadistic depths to which unconscious Mars can go, as exemplified by the reports of torture, beheadings and the carpet bombings of densely populated Iraqi cities.

Students of astrology may want to dust off their Dane Rudhyar here, particularly The Astrology of America’s Destiny, for an interpretation of our country’s higher potential. Meanwhile, we have been experiencing our national Mars’ lower and most obvious potential. Destruction and violence in an us-vs.-them context is the least enlightened form a 7th-house Mars can take.

What can we expect on a personal level from these cosmic echoes?

Take a look at where the early-to-middle degrees of Sagittarius reside in your natal chart. This area will have been undergoing a slow, gradual devolution for some time now. The Saturn-Pluto drama of several years ago will probably have already made clear to you what elements of your life were crying out for radical change. The house placements and aspects made to other mutable planets will also provide clues, reinforcing whatever the 9/11 era had in store for each of us personally in the way of life lessons.

Transits which hit these degrees reawaken any realizations we have come to about the implications of the events of 2001, reminding us in no uncertain terms that whatever we were forced to admit about Darkness — whether we define it psychologically, theologically, morally or politically — must be confronted with a sober and mature intelligence.

These transits teach the difference between reaction and responsibility. Blaming is the child’s way out. The adult approach is to ask ourselves why the event is happening to us, what we are meant to learn from it, and how we are going to respond to it, in a way that is appropriate to our particular skills and context. This constitutes mastery of the Saturn principle.

Among astrologers there was much ink spilled about George W. Bush’s transits during the middle months of the year. The exact conjunction of Saturn and Bush’s Sun occurred in June, three days after the Martial signature described above. This baleful aspect takes place every three decades in the twelfth house of his chart, where demons are hidden and deeply rooted. Called by some the house of karma, the shadowy twelfth suggests unresolved problems and restive ghosts dating from a past that pre-dates the native’s birth.

And in an astounding repetition of the Martial theme, Bush’s solar return chart featured transiting Mars mere minutes away from his Ascendant. “I am (Ascendant) a war president” (Mars), indeed.

Moreover, the transits of last summer (’04) transits provoked the conjunction that already exists between Bush’s natal Saturn and the U.S. Mercury in Cancer; whereby his role as paternal guardian for the country locks into America’s own mental fearfulness, at the same time that his own fears have a constraining effect on the American mind.

They also featured a galvanization of the USA’s Uranus, which was the apex of a pivotal T-square between transiting Uranus, transiting Jupiter, and transiting Mercury in June. This pushed the concept of freedom to the fore.

Though the word freedom has been obscenely misapplied of late by government propagandists, we must not allow its misuse to keep us from honoring its true meaning. Now more than ever, genuine freedom must be embraced and fought for.

We can derive hope from the fact that USA has an Aquarius Moon, which denotes not just a dalliance with the concept of personal liberation but an emotional need for it. Right now this part of our national psyche is weak, for we have allowed our instinctive (Moon) independence as a people (Aquarius) to be cowed by fear (Saturn in Cancer). Fear is the primitive face of Saturn; responsibility is its mature face.

The Jungian astrologer Liz Greene once declared that deep in its collective soul, the United States secretly yearns to return to a monarchy (an opinion perhaps only a British writer could get away with). The placement of Saturn in our national birth chart, elevated and squaring the Sun, bespeaks a strong-arm father figure shored up by long tradition. Without a big-daddy form of government, Greene argues, this country does not know what to do with itself; and founders like a teenager without parental guidance.

For three strident years, the USA has been confronting head-on the reality that power (Pluto) entails responsibility (Saturn). Recent revelations about the treatment of prisoners in Iraq have stimulated a universal call to identify culpability, with critics demanding that the perpetrators submit to the rule of law (Saturn). But what law are we talking about?

Is military law the corrective for America’s deficient sense of responsibility? Although a military court does not lay claim to the same standard of justice that we expect from a civilian court, in the current chaotic political climate many observers seem to be searching for solace in military rigidity. In its own unabashedly undemocratic way, military justice appeals to our Saturnine need for structure.

It was military law that sentenced to one year in prison the hapless soldier who had the bad luck to be photographed committing the more visible of the Abu Ghraib atrocities, and it was military law that meted out the exact same sentence to Camilo Mejia, the conscientious objector who refused to return to Iraq because of the inhumanities perpetrated by the U.S. army there. The stunning irony of this equation does not seem to have registered as such with the American people, most of whom have disavowed their responsibility to assess anything the Pentagon does.

But even the dubious legitimacy of military law has been cast asunder in this particular war, given that many of the occupation forces seem not to answer to the army at all, but to civilian companies the Pentagon has been using as subcontractors. Perhaps, then, the law that applies here is whatever code of ethics it is that guides policy in those shadowy businesses we’re just now hearing about, whose employees were caught elbow-deep in gruesome “interrogation procedures” at Abu Ghraib. Where does Saturn’s buck stop in this case? Should we look to the Titan Corporation and CACI and see if they have an honor code?

Or should we turn to civilian judicial law to find the accountability we seek? The Supreme Court, which took upon itself the task of picking the president in the 2000 election, is now deciding whether the lower courts have the right to even question the government’s incarceration of purported “enemy combatants” incommunicado, for years at a stretch, without charge.

Many of us are wondering what happened to the supposedly sacrosanct origins of our federal code of law, as penned by the Founding Fathers. Apparently no hedge against the politics of the day, the Bill of Rights is currently being impugned by our commander-in-chief as a hindrance to “homeland security”.

In what court, then, will America resolve its accountability issues?

Perhaps the buck stops in the court of public opinion. In theory, this is what is supposed to happen in a democracy: when Spain’s prime minister lied to his people, they fired him. But in the current era of American corporate-sponsored elections, where the most compelling question in the news seems to be which candidate has spent more millions on his campaign, is there a voter so naïve as to believe that any politician, no matter how wildly popular, could spurn corporate interests and still win the White House?

More fundamentally, if issues of collective responsibility are to be decided in the court of public opinion, the public must have an opinion. This may lead us to ask: how informed can a populace be that gets its information from Fox News? How judicious can a court of public opinion be in a society where scientists who talk openly about global warming are muzzled, publishing houses are enjoined by the White House to blacklist over-candid insiders, and administration critics are punished by outing their wives as CIA agents?

Our simple-minded president is an embarrassment, to be sure; but how much more worrisome is the egregious ignorance of the populace itself? We are living in a culture where young people get their current events from MTV parodies, and where the general populace retains no memory of history that was headlines just a few years ago. A typical example is the public’s wholesale amnesia about the outrageous arms-for-hostages plot hatched during the Reagan administration, whereby the CIA hired John Negroponte to sell American guns to Iran — Iraq’s enemy at the time — in order to finance our illegal war in Nicaragua. Now Negroponte is back in favor with Washington, having escaped disgrace quite effortlessly; indeed, it seems he is being appointed ambassador to Iraq. In an informed democracy, would it not be expected that the citizenry would take this opportunity to call the whole unresolved, unprosecuted Iran-Contra scandal into question?

The dilemma of the American people lies in a lack of intelligence in the classic sense of the word; that is, an essentially state-run media is distorting how millions of Americans view the world. A citizenry disempowered by epidemic, entrenched ignorance has no hope of deciding issues of national responsibility. Every time our lethally clueless president holds one of his Doublespeak press conferences, there is an increase in the numbers of Americans who believe Saddam Hussein was somehow linked to 9/11, despite all manner of factual evidence to the contrary. Responsible judgment cannot be expected from a court of public opinion whose viewpoint is jerry-rigged.

The failure of America’s institutions to provide us with a working Saturn model — that is, a social structure that could keep us on the good side of the god of karma — derives from something deep within our national psyche (see America’s Crisis of Maturity on the Articles page of this website). An inability to take responsibility informs our culture on every level. Only in America could a customer burn herself on her own cup of coffee and then successfully sue the restaurant that sold it to her. We are a culture that has never quite grown up. And though juvenility has its charms, it also has its limits.

Every time a Saturn transit hits the American chart, these limits reveal themselves. The transit of Saturn opposed to the USA Pluto (Nov 2004 – July 05), whose key symbol was, of course, the presidential election, was the culmination of a thirty-year cycle, giving us an event to mark the ongoing crisis of American power.

Meanwhile, the buck stops with the individual. All who live under the American flag bear the karma of the American chart. We have inherited both its blessings and its afflictions. At this point in our country’s history, the great American challenge is utterly straightforward yet exasperatingly elusive: it is simply to respond to what our government is doing in our name.

And though there are plenty of visionary leaders around suggesting various responses we could make, they are only there to offer inspiration and energy, not to make the choice for us.

Saturn teaches that no one can make choices for us. Ultimately the response we come up with must be as unique to us as our own natal chart, symbol of our soul’s decision to incarnate into this particular place and into this particular time.