Disaster in Deep Water

Originally published in The Mountain Astrologer, August/ September 2010.

It was apparent right away that what happened on April 20th in the Gulf of Mexico was no ordinary oil spill. Within days, the disaster moved through several meaning changes in the public mind: from that of an accident brought on by the failure of a mechanical device, to that of an example of how government fails to regulate oil companies, to that of a call to reevaluate our position on travesties against Nature.

The skies under which the Deep Water rig went down indicate to astrologers that disturbing questions are meant to be asked, right now, about the way we live in today’s world. It was a literal explosion that triggered an even more far-reaching kind of explosion: one of collective consciousness.

Americans in particular are being put through a crisis of values, signaled by the fact that the U.S. (Sibley) chart’s Jupiter-Venus conjunction supplies the final piece of what some astrologers are calling the Cardinal Climax. ((The Cardinal Climax refers to the T-square between Uranus, Pluto and Saturn (2010-11), which leads into the square between Uranus and Pluto (exact seven times between 2012 and 2015). The Sibley chart’s Venus-Jupiter conjunction makes the transiting T-square into a Grand Cross, tightly linking the fate of the USA with the epochal period associated in the mass mind with the year 2012.)) Watching as the plumes of black toxicity spread, week after week, into the waters off our southern coast, we are being forced to consider issues whose implications are themselves spreading from the particular to the global to the spiritual. These issues include the control over our lives wielded by big corporations, our fatal addiction to oil, the prioritization of the profit motive in the industrialized world, and, ultimately, the role of human beings in the web of life.

In a telling synchronicity, this latest insult to the environment occurred a week before the 24th anniversary of the horrific meltdown at Chernobyl. It was also two days before Earth Day 2010, when many of us were already thinking about our checkered stewardship of this planet we call home.

Shocked and Appalled

The opposition of Uranus and Saturn (2008-2011) is the spine of the explosion chart. It was within a degree of exactitude, with Jupiter not far behind. What is being called the biggest oil accident in history (Jupiter signifies exaggerated size) occurred at the advent of the critical period that astrologers and other seers have long identified as a time of paradigm shifts for humanity.

The disaster broke into public awareness onto the scene during a season chock full of crises, including telluric disasters like earthquakes and tornadoes, extreme financial instability worldwide, military escalation in Korea, Central Asia and the Middle East… all of them heartrending issues that most of us would deny if we could.

But we can’t. Uranus’ job is to wrench us out of our torpor, like cold water in the face. The sheer drama of the Deep Water fiasco was amplified by Jupiter, whose conjunction with Uranus has been a signal that whatever surprises took place this spring and summer would not stay hidden. The fact that the conjunction was opposite Saturn, the planet of responsibility, when the blast occurred helps us understand the ferocity and immediacy with which questions of accountability took center stage. Since late April the airwaves have been buzzing with torrents of blame (Saturn), as well as reverberations of shock (Uranus): the shock of recognition about the nature of the times we live in.

All kinds of shock have been on display. Oil industry executives were caught with their pants down. So were the feds: heads rolled at the Mineral Management Service as soon as it became known that the agency had rubber-stamped BP’s project with the barest possible oversight. In this cynical age, we may roll our eyes when we hear corporate perpetrators and their less-than-vigilant government watchdogs claim to be all shocked-and-appalled when things like this happen. Given the known risks of drilling 5,000 feet down into a fragile seabed, and given the doleful history of such spills, any protests of incredulity from BP and the MMS are taken by the public with a grain of salt.

But the general population does seem to be genuinely stunned and horrified. We have had the wind knocked out of us with this one. This is Uranus, the Great Awakener, doing what it is supposed to do. If one can speak of transits having intentions, we might say that the ongoing T-square between Uranus, Saturn and Pluto has the intention of shocking the tar out of us; in order to amp up our sense of urgency about the fate of the Earth.

Chaos and Secrets

The efforts to staunch the gushing torrent (to call it a “leak” is an outrageous euphemism) have been, at this writing, so clumsy and ineffectual as to be almost vaudevillian. BP has tried to plug the hole with everything from junkyard trash to laser-guided diamond-saw-wielding robots. The random hodge-podge of strategies itself seems to reflect the awkward back-and-forth of the opposition between Saturn (the clunky, the old-fashioned and the obvious) and Uranus (technology so advanced as to smack of science fiction).

But many observers are wondering how it is possible that these patching efforts are turning out to be as ludicrously ineffectual as they are. Other suspicious aspects of the debacle, including the misleading statements issued by company spokesmen at the onset, the government’s green lighting the project despite BP’s long record of egregious safety violations, and the fact that the US Coast Guard is supporting BP’s injunction against reporters getting close enough to the site to film it, all raise troubling questions. This chaos of unexplained details makes an astrologer suspect the wild, dark energy of Eris. ((This dwarf planet, discovered in 2005, is associated with the shunned Feminine principle. Like the13th fairy uninvited from the christening in the tale of Sleeping Beauty, Eris can be violent in her revenge; as can Nature when her gifts are abused and her laws denied. For more on Eris, see Henry Selzer’s article in The Mountain Astrologer Oct/Nov 07.)) In the explosion chart the Moon in the 8th house (fatality and secrets) is square to Eris, hinting that this is one of those national disasters about which much will remain unknown.

But the 8th, in which the karmic South Node also resides, is also the house of transformation; and the Moon represents the public’s emotional life. I don’t think our complacency about the environment will ever be the same.

A New Normal

Uranus at its highest represents the embrace of ideas whose time has come – whether or not this creates disruption. Saturn represents the effort to keep things stable and consistent – whether or not this entails denial. Uranus responds to the urgency of the new; Saturn yearns for what it thinks of as normalcy. We have seen this pair act out through many a culture war worldwide since late 2008, when the opposition began to peak.

In the USA the transit has manifested as a philosophical divide so strident as to be almost tribal. Where the issue of environmental catastrophe is concerned, the Uranian contingent has opposed, politically and intellectually, those who deny or minimize (Saturn) global warming. The Uranians tend to favor legal constraints upon corporations; the Saturnians tend to be pro-business. Saving the Earth has been the rallying cry of the one; saving jobs the cry of the other.  If cooler heads were allowed to prevail, it would become clear that these two goals are not at all mutually exclusive; but since the Saturn-Uranus opposition began, the global warming debate has been stymied by this kind of reductionism. With oppositions in general, the archetypes represented are often oversimplified into cartoons. ((When the two poles involved are already polarized in terms of meaning (e.g. Saturn: the old; Uranus: the new), we are especially likely to see the expression of extreme positions, each making the other out to be a caricature, with no pretense of seeking middle ground. Consider the health care “debate” of 2009.))

Delving more deeply into the opposition’s meaning, we see that the two poles are each a natural part of every human being’s worldview. Our allegiance to standard operating procedure (Saturn) is up against the new and unfamiliar (Uranus). On a group level, the collective intelligence seems to be struggling to absorb the calamity in the Gulf of Mexico just as an individual must try to integrate two disparate ways of looking at the world they know. Will we open up to a sudden disclosure of new information (Uranus), or doggedly try to return to the known (Saturn)? By astrological law, the optimal response to any opposition is to integrate the two energies.

Bringing Uranus and Saturn together would mean daring to redefine what we’ve always thought of normal. Up until now, for most people, oil spills have been ruefully accepted as a necessary side effect of a lifestyle based on cheap fossil fuel. But an awareness of peak oil is nudging its way into the collective mind, naiveté about the forces that drive the world economy is starting to recede, and the popular mood is beginning to turn. The defilement of the waters by oil companies may soon be seen as unacceptable to the point of intolerable.

To understand Jupiter’s impact on the Saturn-Uranus contest, we might imagine a hefty kid hopping onto Uranus’s end of the seesaw: tipping the scales in favor of the Jupiter-Uranus side. This augurs a quantum leap in cultural attitudes.

We are redefining our sense of what’s normal. ((How telling it is that the first of this opposition’s five hits coincided with the election of Barack Obama, an event that changed forever Americans’ understanding of political normalcy.))

Saturn and Pluto

Though the orbs are still wide between Pluto and the Saturn-Uranus opposition, the energies of the Cardinal Climax are clearly afoot. Pluto is trine the Sun in the explosion chart; and its placement in the second house of money, square to Saturn, can be seen in the immense economic damage that has been dealt to the Gulf Coast fishing industry (three planets in this chart are in Pisces, the fish), tourism and real estate. Saturn, which in its primitive state shows up as reactive blame, erupted in an orgy of finger-pointing as soon as the rig went down. Each of the major players was seized by panic over the prospect of being held financially liable.

But the fact that the corporate entities involved, including the media, are focusing on the business angle of the catastrophe, rather than on its moral or ecocidal implications, is itself telling. Under the Pluto-Saturn square, we get the feeling that the obsessive question, “Who is responsible?” really means “Who will pay for it?”

In a larger sense, Pluto’s dirty fingerprints are all over this fiasco. On a political-cultural level, the planet of plutocracy is dropping numerous hints about the public’s relationship to the business conglomerates to which we have given overweening power. The Deep Water disaster is one more exposé of the shady arrangements that exist between governments and cartels like Big Oil. The incident is bringing to popular attention the ways in which corporate entities operate; such as through the feds’ lax regulation of industries with deep-pocket lobbyists.

One of the teachings of the Saturn-square-Pluto period (Nov 09 – Aug 10) is to bring to light the nature of dominance-control dynamics, exemplified by the dark face of modern capitalism. Together with the financial crisis that revealed how Wall Street calls the shots in Washington, the oil rig explosion, and the dysfunctional corporate response to it, serve to underscore that these monster entitiesbow neither to nationalist codes of democratic justice nor to notions of the public or environmental good. They are, by definition, about the bottom line (second-house Pluto in Capricorn).

The fact that our system is set up to prioritize profit over all else is not news. But the disaster in the Gulf represents a game-changing shift. It is a milestone event in the evolution of consciousness that has been foretold for the years surrounding 2012. Through the shock of fire, water and uncontainable ancient black slime, the collective learning curve has spiked dramatically.

Pluto and Oil

The archetypal meaning of oil is of paramount significance here. As Tem Tarriktar has pointed out, Neptune, god of the sea, has been at the midpoint of Pluto and Eris during the spring of 2010. Neptune, governor of liquids and lubricants, is the traditional ruler of oil; but to my mind oil has gone through a meaning change over the centuries that argues for a joint rulership with Pluto. I am thinking not only of oil’s underground source and the preternatural value placed upon it (Pluto/Hades was the god of subterranean wealth), but of the fact that oil’s talismanic power in the modern world seems to invite destruction wherever it is discovered, dug up and transported.

The Pluto-Saturn square is an indicator of destruction, toxicity and corruption, themes that are evident here. Fighting poison with poison, BP first attempted to break the oil down with poisonous dispersants that were rumored to have sickened the workers using it. (A mere few weeks ago, BP was issuing reassurances that the stuff was safe.) Now that the oil slick has spread to far shores, beachgoers are being told it is too poisonous even to touch. Amidst all this imagery of taint and ruin, the one that may burn the deepest into the collective imagination may be the Plutonian coinage “dead zones,” now being applied to those Louisiana marshes whose intricate ecosystems have been irredeemably destroyed.

Surrounding the disaster is a flurry of public relations spin, including that of the American president, whose pronouncements of strained indignation beg more questions than they resolve. Obama’s anodyne assertions reflect another facet of the Saturn-Pluto square. Though an intelligent and capable father figure, the man is between a rock and a hard place here. As a society we maintain the fantasy that he is in control, but situations like this make it all too clear that he is not.

Saturn in the explosion chart occupies the tenth house of public prominence, but Pluto is in the second house of money. The difference between the two tells the tale. Obama is a Saturn figure, an archetype of nominal authority; the oil company is the Pluto figure, the face of actual power. The square between them exemplifies a deeply unsettling theme that the 2012 years are bringing to light: the fact that in the modern industrialized world, profit-based networks governs governments, not the other way around.

This is a deeply unsettling concept for most Americans, as destabilizing as the configuration which symbolizes it: the T-square between the planet of revolution (Uranus), breakdown (Pluto) and the old order (Saturn).

Uranus conjunct Jupiter

Just as we would expect from a transit involving both Jupiter (breadth) and Uranus (radicalization) in Aries (activism), the horror in the Gulf has widened the scope of this issue and lit a fire under a debate that was, until now, relatively abstract and theoretical. The citizenry has been galvanized.

At this writing, as the first exactitude of the Jupiter-Uranus conjunction (June 8th, 2010) electrifies the skies, the national conversation is abuzz with ideas about how to respond to the catastrophe. Many blogs are insisting that Washington beef up environmental regulations; a grassroots movement has arisen calling on the government to seize BP’s assets. ((The Seize BP Campaign (www.seizebp.org/) held demonstrations in early June 2010 across the USA; notably, the week the Jupiter-Uranus conjunction came to a head in Aries (political activism). They are demanding that the federal government seize the assets of BP — a company that rakes in $93 million a day in profit — and use them for compensation and damages.)) Politicians, spooked by the shift in public mood, are backpedaling from their previous support of offshore drilling. Spirited editorials are appearing in newspapers talking about what it would look like to shift to a low-carbon, sustainable economy.

Many consumers who used to grumble about prices at the pump are now thinking in a bigger-picture way about the costs of our reliance upon oil. They are turning their attention to the wellbeing of not only humans but of flora and fauna. They are considering the harm being done to not only those alive today but to generations yet unborn.

Wounded Seas

On the day of the disaster, Ceres, the asteroid of the Earth Mother, conjoined Pluto, the despoiler, in the sign Capricorn (corporations) within a degree. Moreover, that same day Chiron ingressed into Pisces (grief, universality), which is conjunct Neptune (water) in the explosion chart.

The literal level of meaning here is that the scene of this crime against Gaia was the sea. But the waters Neptune governs include salt tears as well. And Chiron is the symbol of wounds; those of a physical nature as well as of those of a more sublime nature, including the pain of being human in an imperfect world.

These features of the explosion chart help us understand the deeply emotional response that has been called forth from ordinary people all over the globe. Many sensitive souls are experiencing this event with a qualitatively different kind of distress than such issues have given rise to before. Among the people I know, this dismay has a keening, mournful quality. There is a sense that a crime has taken place; a crime with a matricidal resonance.

The explosion in the Gulf began occurred a mere nine hours before Chiron entered Pisces, whose job it is to instill within us, through heartache if necessary, an exquisite truth: that everything in creation is connected. On the level of ecological theory, this means that damage done to mangroves, gulls and crabs is damage done to us all. On the level of mystical understanding, it means that everything in existence sloshes around in the same cosmic sea.

The water emphasis of the explosion chart reminds us that the universe is a unifying matrix whence all life sprang and into which all will eventually be absorbed. We cannot separate out the spoiled vacations of tourists in Florida from the ruined careers of fishermen in Louisiana from the death of an oil-soaked pelican washed up on the shore. We cannot pretend a division exists between the blindness of the profiteers that caused this hideous damage and the blindness of the populace that buys the profiteers’ oil.

The essential meaning of Chiron is that pain is a teaching tool. The anguish this incident has engendered in heart-connected observers is not an improper response, nor a side effect to be wished away. It is a cosmically appropriate response. When understood as part of the Chironic plan, our gut responses to the oil rig disaster will serve to strengthen our empathy (Pisces). And though empathetic strength is not the kind typically celebrated in a top-down, yang-oriented culture like ours, it is exactly the kind of strength we need to bring the Earth back to balance.