Dec 2008
Service or Slavery

Value and worth

For those sky-watchers tracking the trajectory of the world economy as it careens giddily under the influence of Saturn and Uranus, the next chapter in the drama will arrive with Pluto’s opposition to America’s Venus and Jupiter (Sibley chart).

Coming to a head in March and April for the first of several peaks, this opposition suggests a radical shift downwards in the value of – of what? That is the question we should be asking as we approach the transit’s first peak. We will find out what America has been conditioned to think of as valuable.

Venus is the planet associated with the concept of values, including financial values.Pluto governs breakdown. The clueless policymakers now spinning their wheels in Washington embody this breakdown; Alan Greenspan, the great poobah of Wall Street who oversaw the system now being exposed as toxic, has publicly admitted he was wrong. The international leaders who grandly convened at the toothless “economic summit” of late November put on a show to cover up the breakdown, but there exist no global institutions to solve the problem. The IMF and the World Bank are in a shambles. Given that the putative experts are powerless to staunch the crisis, what understanding might the rest of us draw from it?

From an archetypal point of view the breakdown going on here was utterly inevitable. Cosmetic fixes will not work when Pluto is afoot. This planet is about death and rebirth. Trying to apply the old formulae1 will make things worse. The opposition now building will insist that we look closely, as a collective, at the policies and activities we have so far seen as being a proper and acceptable use of our money.

Pluto and money

The values of a group entity are symbolized in astrology by the contents of its second house. In the birth chart of the USA, the planet Pluto resides in this house.2Unconscious Pluto can be insanely destructive. In this placement it can lead to expenditures that fly in the face of health and common sense, yet are considered normal, even ineluctable. The transit to Venus will trigger this innate part of the American psyche, and begin a trajectory that will end with the US Pluto Return in 2022. Between now and then, Americans will be forced to ask ourselves some tough questions about how we use our resources.

Is a new sports stadium worth more than an ancient oak grove? Are the six-figure salaries with which the University of California tempts its prospective administrators (in order “to stay competitive”) worth it, while at the same time thousands of qualified freshman are being turned away because of budget cuts? Is a half-cent hike in sales tax worth the social services it would buy? Is the head of Goldman Sachs, who ran his company into the ground and contributed to the international financial crisis in the process, worth his twenty-million-dollar-a-year salary? Would cutting the hourly pay of in-home healthcare workers from $10 to $8 an hour be worth it, given that the nursing homes their patients would then be forced into would cost six times as much?

The most salient question of all, of course, is the one most rarely voiced (Pluto governs taboos. The issues of the house it occupies become secrets hidden in plain sight). Amidst all these heated discussions of America’s money problems, we do not hear a peep from the mass media about the amount spent on war.3

No doubt psychologists have a technical phrase for this bizarre avoidance of the obvious, which I would describe as a self-protective mechanism of the overwhelmed human mind. Absent a developed moral sense, we cannot integrate the fact of costs so vast being pumped into scenarios so atrocious. But it is disingenuous, to put it mildly, for observers on all sides to pretend to be addressing America’s financial crisis without looking at the staggering sums lavished on the Pentagon, legislated without public input and spent without a shred of oversight.

Let us leave aside for the moment the moral dimension of the issue –that is, whether the deaths of one million Iraqis and thousands of young Americans, and the desecration of a country are “worth it;” and the geopolitical dimension of the issue – that is, that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been abject failures militarily and unmitigated disasters diplomatically. Let us just consider the second-house aspect here: how peculiar it is that with all this talk about raising vehicle licensing fees and closing public libraries to cut gaping deficits, we keep on spending 12 billions dollars a month – that’s one trillion dollars and counting – on these abominations.

Extreme situations derive from extreme pathologies, and require extreme healing measures to turn them around. This is the nature of Plutonian breakdown. As the rest of the world struggles with the catastrophe initiated by America’s failed financial policies, in the American mass mind the meaning of value itself is crumbling.

Right use of resources

Similarly, the idea of pouring a similarly large amount of taxpayer money into financial instruments described by their own creators as “worthless,” as the Fed proposed to do in September, cannot help but seem preposterous to the logical mind. But there is a perverse appropriateness here when we consider the workings of unconscious Pluto. The key is the fact that even the great minds at the highest echelons of the financial world don’t know anything about these assets’ worth. As one commentator put it, “The fragility of the banks was easily disguised: “value” in the financial markets was as elusive as “meaning” in deconstruction.”4

At this writing Congress is still debating whether to bail out America’s latest set of failed plutocrats, the anachronistic (Saturn) auto industry. But another debate is gaining strength at the grassroots level (Uranus). A groundswell of dissent is forming in the USA that calls itself the Sound Money Movement, whose rallying cry isEnd the Fed. These Uranian thinkers point out that of the many ignored mandates in the American Constitution, one that is particularly relevant right now is the stipulation that the US dollar be backed by gold or silver. By the time of the USA’s Pluto Return, the concept of worth as it has been defined since the nation’s beginnings will have to be completely renewed if the country is to survive. The Sound Money Movement is a harbinger of this shift.

On a personal level, questioning received wisdom about the right use of resources will not only protect us from the mass distress that is likely during the months and years ahead, but will allow us to be transformed by the esoteric teaching these transits represent.

Uranus-Saturn on the personal level

During December, the Saturn-Uranus transit is still king of the sky, as societal events won’t let us forget. How is it manifesting in our lives on a personal level?

Those whose charts contain mutable planets in the middle-to-late degrees (15-19° of Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius or Pisces) may feel themselves buzzing like a top. Even if their charts do not feature planets in these signs, those souls who are sensitive to the vibrations in the collective are whirling with the force of new ideas crowding to be allowed into consciousness.

Saturn went into Virgo in November 2007.5 For almost a year, people have been implementing small, humble improvements into their everyday lives, whittling down their definition of service to its bare essentials. Feelings of constraint naturally accompany any issue Saturn touches, so there is a built-in ambivalence here. We feel we should drink eight glasses of water a day; we resist straightening out our files but do it anyway.

If done in the right spirit, little gestures like this satisfy the requirements of Saturn in Virgo.

Virgo and service

Daily health regimes –making a dentist appointment, rethinking our work day –number among the impulses this transit stimulates. Consciously or unconsciously, people have been trying to find better ways to be of service to our own bodies and minds. And what constitutes service to our community?

Starting a garden is an example of a Virgo impulse that links us to the collective, and more and more people are doing this as information enters the mainstream about the environment-defiling meat industry and the recklessly fuel-devouring system by which food is now distributed. Since Saturn’s ingress, enterprising young landscaping services have appeared on the scene that turn your backyard into vegetables for a fee. With every week that passes, middle-class denizens of the First World are presented with new ways to Go Green. Reducing one’s carbon footrpint is no longer seen as a vague, noble cause but as an urgently relevant necessity.

The cosmic heckler

Whatever sign it’s in, Saturn forces us to grow up. It is now forcing us to grow up in the terms dictated by realistic, no-nonsense Virgo, which requires that we make our lives functional – individually and en masse — where they were dysfunctional before. These requirements must be understood before we factor in what Uranus is trying to do.

Thanks to Saturn’s patient lessons in how to ground ourselves, we have achieved a set of workaday self-structuring devices we didn’t have last year at this time. And now, along comes Uranus, to burst our complacency like a heckler tossing an overripe tomato. The Cosmic Trickster is out there in the audience, taking aim at the stage.

Radical Pisces

Within each of us, whether it is conscious or unconcious, these two planets are staging a tug-of-war. A clue to managing it is remembering that Uranus, too, is in a sign of service: Pisces. Earthy Virgo and watery Pisces each seek to wiggle things around so as to achieve rectification, alignment or redemption. These two are the least ego-driven of all the twelve signs. Virgo’s finest hour is solving a problem without fussiness. When we can simply and common-sensibly do the task in front of us, we have paid our dues to Saturn’s half of the transit.

Pisces’ finest hour is a little harder to describe.

Certainly Pisces, even at its best, doesn’t feel like comfort; especially when expressed by a transpersonal planet, as it is the case here. But it can explode into a euphoria of extreme freedom. Readers with Pisces natal planets will be familiar with the intense emotional energy that pours into us, unbidden, from what feels like outer circumstances: from the moods of other people, from the culture wars, from global events — that realm which received wisdom tells us has nothing to do with us, personally. Yet it flows in just the same, as if there were no difference between the self and that which surrounds the self.

A tsunami of almost-uncontainable feeling is both Pisces’s gift and its curse, depending on your point of view. Pisces feels the grief and the ecstasy of the world at large. It is in touch, whether the native wants to be or not, with the Oneness of life. This awareness can only be appreciated from a spiritual or artistic perspective. In Pisces Land, ordinary ways of seeing things just don’t hack it.

When Uranus passes through Pisces every 84 years, humanity as a whole gets the chance to radically shift its relationship to the foundational cosmic truth that We Are All One. To grasp this concept as something more than a New Age cliché is to understand that though there is unprecedented chaos in our society and great trouble in the world, there is a layer of truth even deeper and more encompassing: that everything in the universe is interconnected. Pisces knows that this is the fundamental truth of existence. Of all the myriad things to understand, Pisces knows that this is the single most important thing to understand. To feel this truth on a visceral level is to experience the paradox of compassion, which insists that we not shut down to the suffering of other beings — at the same time that we realize that all suffering, our own included, is an illusion.

Pisces knows that all forms of suffering have the same source: separation. And it knows that all suffering has the same cure: the realization that everything, including separation, is an illusion. Grief is a significant window into this revelation.

And then there is the darker side of Pisces (in case it wasn’t clear: the foregoing was its light side). Features of the Piscean shadow include paranoia and victimhood, actual helplessness in the face of oppression, and mental or emotional instabilities of every stripe. Uranus has been trying for several years to change our thinking about these realities and pseudo-realities. Sky-watchers will be aware of where Uranus has been transiting their natal chart and will be familiar with the specific areas of their life that have been subject to a revolution of awareness.

To use this word in these times is not mere hyperbole: what is going on in the world is precedent-shattering. And on the microcosmic level Uranus is provoking personal revolutions. The disruptions of our quotidian habits that feel personally radical are no less worthy of our attention than the tumultuous sociopolitical energies that are causing humanity as a whole to careen into unforeseen territory.

For more on the Obama transition, see my column in
December’s DayKeeper Journal.


1 Obama’s distressing choice for Secretary of the Treasury, Tim Geithner, is the antithesis of change. Geithner’s approach to economic policy is as representative of the same-old same-old as it would be possible to get. More stunningly retrograde was Obama’s decision to take counsel, during his campaign and since, from Robert Rubin: an old-guard Washington player who, under Clinton, lobbied strenuously for the reckless deregulation that caused the global meltdown.

2 See Chapter Four in my book Soul-Sick Nation: An Astrologer’s View of America.

3 Only 2% of media coverage during the presidential campaign addressed the war in Iraq.

The New Yorker, November 2008

5 See Skywatches from Oct 07, Nov 07 and Sept 08.