The Saturn-Pluto Opposition: Facing Our Shadow - by Jessica Murray
Pluto in the Chart of the USA - by Jessica Murray
The USA and Neptune - by Jessica Murray
The Saturn-Pluto Opposition
Facing Our Shadow
by Jessica Murray
Astrologers have been talking for years about the likelihood of holy wars during Pluto's tenure in Sagittarius, the sign of religion.
On September 11 2001, the fiery arrow that is this sign's symbol took the form of a speeding airplane (Sagittarius again) crashing into New York's proud mercantile towers.
Practitioners of the tarot recognized the televised image immediately. The Tower is the card of cataclysmic change, wrenching a people out of complacency. Barbara Walker's version of this card depicts the pope (the church) falling off one side of the tower, and Caesar (the state) falling off the other, as a bolt of lightning shatters the structure in the middle.
As many have noted, the twin towers represented the dual sign Gemini, in which Saturn (the planet of consensus reality) has been opposing Pluto since August 2001. This opposition will be with us through Spring, though its lessons of responsibility and karma will not be confined to these months, nor should its teachings be singularly identified with the events of September 11.
Pluto: Invisibility, Lawlessness, Decay
From what bow did this arrow shoot forth? Not from a source we recognize. Not from a familiar old-fashioned enemy like Russia or any mappable nation-state at all. Pluto, planet of the underground and unseen, governs terrorism as well as the criminal underworld, the CIA, and the unsavory "moles" such groups employ.
Pluto's job in this transit is to undermine those societal values that need an overhaul. The opposition we are experiencing teaches that when the time has come for immense change, a culture's civilized self-image (Saturn) will be traumatized, and its unacknowledged underbelly revealed. There is rot (Pluto) within every structure (Saturn).
Energies kept covered for a long time become distorted.
The lesson here is not to demonize the forces that exist within the structure, but to look at the whole pattern. Energies kept covered for a long time become distorted. What is being revealed is the shadow side of global politics.
The process of decay is not "evil." Worms, which decompose matter, are neither bad nor good. To make any astrological sense of what has happened, we must dispense with our coveted judgments. They will not lead us to a greater truth. From the point of view of a court of law or public opinion, most certainly they are important. But from the point of view of Pluto, they are irrelevant.
Responding from our emotional and moral layers of self (governed by the Moon, Venus and Jupiter), we may throw around terms like "evil," as Ronald Reagan did when he called the Soviets, "the Evil Empire" (back when they were our enemies). The same sort of symbolic projection is at work when churchmen call sexual urges the work of the devil.
But as metaphysicians, we need to be wary of these appellations. We are not seeking to proclaim what we like, feel comfortable with, approve of, or find tolerable. We are seeking to understand archetypal forces.
Shadows and Karma
Psychology has much to teach us about the Saturn-Pluto opposition from the point of view of an individual chart. Every one of us has something in our lives which we have stuffed underground, and this is the transit that requires us to dig it up, examine it carefully, and give it a respectful burial. There are crimes of the heart unresolved, perfidies unadmitted, and grievances long overdue to be addressed. It is time to go down the basement stairs and clean up what is down there.
Doing this transformative work on an individual level is anything but easy; but, as Liz Greene has pointed out, it is far easier than managing it in the collective. It takes an especially enlightened leader to impact a group this way, and Goddess knows there is no Gandhi in sight.
What is the responsibility of the individual for the karma of the group?
The most basic fact of astrology is that one is born at a specific time and into a specific place for a reason. One starts where one is. We are here. Our government is what we have. We created it and we finance it. Let us begin taking responsibility for what it has done, is doing, and is planning to do.
Taking responsibility starts by waking up to our pattern of denial. There have been troubling developments leading up to the present crisis which even our xenophobic daily newspapers have duly reported. Had we been informing ourselves all along about the truth of what goes on outside our national borders, we would not be in such a state of stricken incredulity now. For example, forty years ago the income gap between the highest and poorest countries was 30-to-1. By 1997 it was 74-to-1. There is a direct connection between those numbers and the globalization of organized crime.
Saturn: Ignorance and Responsibility
Saturn, the planet of denial, is now in Gemini, the sign of information. The transit challenges us to postpone action until we have informed ourselves. Actions based on ignorance of our role in the world are not responsible actions; they are reactions, and they will cause terrible harm. Incredulity (a product of insufficient information), as well as propaganda (a system of disinformation), are among the themes raised by this part of the transit.
Does the average American have any real understanding of where the Muslim extremists get their rage? We are shocked and appalled when television shows anti-American demonstrations taking place in areas of the world which, up to this point, we could not even find on a map. Many Americans were unaware until recently of the ongoing U.S. bombing of Iraq or of the mass child starvation there due to the campaign euphemistically referred to as "sanctions." Innocents have been dying there, as innocents died in New York. Our president, who only recently took his first trip abroad, is a national symbol of our collective ignorance, and our country's various delinquencies with the UN represent an ongoing refusal to take responsibility at the international level.
This is a stance that the Saturn opposition is rendering untenable.
The antidote to ignorance is to ask questions. Not, "which side started it?". This is schoolboy sputtering, which we have absolutely no time left to indulge. Let us ask questions not about "them," but about us. We do not even know who "they" are (do we ever?), but we most assuredly have a responsibility to know who we are.
For example, who supplies Israel and Saudi Arabia and Egypt, etcetera with all that fancy ammo? (When there is a shooting in a suburban school, isn't the first question the newsperson asks, "Where did he get the gun?"?) And why have they been armed to the teeth like that?
Pluto and Underground Wealth
Students of mythology will remember that Pluto (Hades to the Greeks) was the ruler of all riches found beneath the earth's crust: among them, oil.
Much has been written about the role of fossil fuels in U.S. foreign policy. We are at the point now where Big Oil has moved from being merely influential in government to being personified by it.
In his original proclamation of holy war, when Osama bin Laden demanded that the U.S. remove our troops from lands sacred to Islam, he centered his denunciation of the West around our much-touted secularity. But America does have a religion, "the acquisition and consumption of wealth," and Pluto's transit through Sagittarius is exposing it. It is no longer spice, nor gold, but oil that has become the central talisman of this religion.
Thus a perverse symmetry exists between the American point of view and bin Laden's, both fixated upon control of these ancient lands. The freedom to consume is as American as apple pie, even to the point of being seen as our god-given right; thus access to the world's wealth must be seen as ours by extension. Ecocidal and politically disastrous, our recent history in the Middle East cannot be explained in practical terms. But religion never claims to be practical. The oil fields are our holy sites, too, and we will apparently risk anything to maintain control of them. The conflict in this part of the world has more in common with the Crusades of centuries ago than our misspeaking president realized.
If "oil" is the answer, what might the questions be? Ask enough of them and the good guy/bad guy scenario starts to exhaust its viability, leading us beyond the compulsion of blame.
The Sins of the Fathers
The transit we are under is about venturing beyond blame. Karma works in some very intricate ways, but in the main it is a very simple concept, and morally neutral.
The transit we are under is about venturing beyond blame. The Law of Karma does not trifle with right and wrong, good and bad. It is simply a matter of, "what goes around, comes around." One of the more obvious examples of this principle is illustrated by the fact that George Bush Senior's CIA trained the Taliban when they were the foe of our foe. And Bush Junior is at the helm now that the Taliban has become the foe.
Karma works in some very intricate ways, but in the main it is a very simple concept, and morally neutral.
Saturn is prompting an extreme of national identification right now. This is the planet of edges and perimeters; thus it governs the concept of cutting up landmasses into discrete political entities.
But what does Pluto care about such distinctions? Pluto does not honor national boundaries. From the point of view of the god of death and rebirth, to mourn one group's deaths over another's is myopic at best, blasphemous at worst.
Saturn and Pluto
Saturn seeks to limit Pluto, as Pluto seeks to deepen Saturn. We are more familiar with the polarizing exclusionism of Saturn ‚Äî of which patriotism and bigotry are two current expressions ‚Äî than we are with the more profound and spiritually mature level of its function. It is to this deeper level that the transit is trying to take us: the level where we recognize that human suffering is one of the Great Mysteries, and must be audienced with a humble and universal perspective.
The Saturn-Pluto opposition heralds the beginning of a new era of human adulthood. We are being trained to be able to face the darkness within us, and in the world. Imagine a war criminal humbly asking pardon for his crimes; imagine countries solemnly paying reparations for their sins against humanity. Imagine each one of us daring to confess to our neuroses, our shames; accepting accountability for all our demons and thereby laying the groundwork for their exorcism.
Imagine the freedom that could come of Not Denying Anything any more.
Those of us who would wave flags, let us wave the flag of New York, the flag of Chechneya, the Balkans, the flags of Chiapas and East Timor, the flags for all of the African states whose people have been suffering so relentlessly that we can barely imagine how they endure. Those of us who would light candles, let us light one for all the precious dead, and for every man, woman, and child alive. Let us pray to whomever we pray to, that we meet the years ahead with a dedication to clean the blood off our hands and put not one more drop upon them.
Jessica Murray has practiced astrology in San Francisco for over twenty-five years, and has performed in women's theatre. Contact (415) 626-7795,¬†
Pluto in the chart of the USA
The Power of Money
By Jessica Murray
The election this past November has certainly clarified things. Our country has now opted, officially this time, for a regime whose most telling feature is xenophobia with religious overtones. Soul-troublingly wrong as the scenario feels to be, it is nonetheless astrologically appropriate. Planetary symbolism can be very helpful in times like these, elongating our perspective from the partisan to the global to the universal.
Pluto has been in Sagittarius since 1994, intensifying and polarizing belief systems as part of a great cosmic purge. Its function is to get rid of obsolete assumptions in the mass mind. Religious wars constitute a low-level example of this transit at work; as does the election of a simple-minded leader who reduces complex moral issues to Sunday-School clichés while wreaking havoc upon civilizations he knows nothing about. Hidden between the lines of the apocalyptic imagery invoked by our president’s ludicrously shallow spiritual advisers is a cosmic process that far outstrips their understanding.
Pluto uses life-or-death tactics to force the human race into breakthroughs of awareness. Let us use its placement in the national chart to help us identify the toxic aspects of our national group-think, as a first step in getting a sense of our place in all of this.
Power and responsibility
Transiting Saturn is opposing Pluto in the chart of the USA1 through the Spring of 2005. In November 2004, during election week, the aspect peaked for the first time in its cycle. This is the same combination of planets which prevailed in 2001, changing the numbers 9/11 from a date into a mythos. We are now getting a reverberation of that momentous teaching, which was and is about the responsible (Saturn) use of power (Pluto).
The USA’s Money Issues
What does it say about our collective karma that this country was born with Pluto in the 2nd house? Pluto represents the forces of regeneration which manifest as takeovers and makeovers. The second house governs resources and ownership. This placement, whether in the chart of an individual person or the chart of a country, links the planet of control together with the activity of possessing. If your natal Pluto is in this house, you are familiar with the intensity it puts into your financial dealings. Group entities with this placement also grapple with intensified financial dealings. Our country is destined to go through economic hell (Pluto) and — if we’re smart — climb back up into the light, having matured as a culture.
Meanwhile, we are fixated on both the presence and the absence of wealth. America has been using her Pluto like a nonstop partygoer, eating and drinking herself into oblivion and then shopping for the next round. From our frenzied consumerism to our obsession with security, we focus on material without any sense of what it means in the big picture. This winter’s transit will challenge us to admit that, as a nation comprising a mere five per cent of an increasingly impoverished world population, we harbor some rather incongruous beliefs about wealth and entitlement.
It is not that money and possessions are fated to be a problem; the problem is the attention we give them. Our cosmic lesson is not even about resources per se; it is about right use of power, as it is expressed through resources. But until this is understood, money and power become equated in the mass mind: an equation that buzzes with significance but is rarely subjected to dispassionate analysis. Pluto governs taboos, embarrassing subjects that are ever-present but left undiscussed. Materialism is America’s elephant in the middle of the room.
Pluto’s function entails tremendous power which, unless mindfully tapped, waxes destructive. At best, Saturn opposed to Pluto exposes to the clear light of consciousness those diseases that have been destroying their host from within. As a first step in getting in touch with our power, we have to look at how we misuse it.
Does America misuse the power of money? Most of us don’t like to think about the fact that six million dollars an hour is going into the war in Iraq. Or that tax cuts are being doled out to the already preposterously wealthy profiteers who put our leaders into office, while the country staggers beneath several trillion dollars in debt.
It is time for America to raise its collective hand, like at a twelve-step meeting, and say: “I have a problem with money.”
Sharing in America’s Karma
If we believe that there is no such thing as an accident of location any more than there could be an accident of birth time, it follows that every one of us who identifies as an American incarnated into this society in order to learn lessons about materialism. For our own mysterious karmic reasons, we chose to share this particular cultural wound.
We were born into the collective illusion that our financial lives are governed by a different set of laws than those that govern everything else. We were brought up to think that a piece of gold, or a paycheck, or a stock quote, possesses a special kind of power that can either make or break us. We have sought truth as best we can in an atmosphere of slavish devotion to material.
But the awareness of the individual is what moves the group forward. With each new phase of spiritual maturity, we get another chance to become aware of cultural blindspots and transcend them. This transit insists that we honestly ask ourselves in what ways we might have absorbed our society’s neurosis, so that we may now become free of it. In so doing, our soul-path intersects with the mass mind, and our awareness becomes the contribution we make to healing the whole.
1 - For an analysis of the Saturn-Pluto opposition of 2001-02, see “Facing Our Shadow,” Reclaiming Quarterly #85 (Winter 2002), online at
The USA & Neptune
“Neptune’s purpose is to know the truth of the infinite”
by Jessica Murray
It is fitting that Neptune should be the most glamorized planet in popular astrology. Neptune has long been associated with glamor, both in the prosaic sense — cosmetics and fashion — and in the esoteric sense — the illusion behind the material world, known to the Hindus as Maya. In facile interpretations of Neptune, the planet’s complex range of meanings is often obscured by the utopianism of which Neptune is itself a symbol.
Just because Neptune is amorphous does not mean it does not pack a punch. This is the planet that governs both ambrosia and poison. When manifested without awareness, Neptune’s collective function deserves a very careful look.
Neptune refers to the human longing to pour one’s identity into universal consciousness, a sublime experience that beggars description in any other terms but the spiritual. Mystical, artistic, and psychic explorations are among the few pursuits subtle enough to properly express its agonies and ecstasies. This is the planet of mists and waters, governor of poets inspired by the muse and sailors bewitched by the siren. It refers to yearnings which do not belong to the material world and cannot be satisfied by material pleasures. Trying to respond to Neptune with anything other than a soulful perspective is like trying to put vapor into a cardboard box.
Because Neptune’s purpose is to know the truth of the infinite, any attempts to express it in the finite world tend to run aground. So what do we do with Neptune in a culture like ours, where the dominant belief system proclaims materiality as the be-all and end-all of reality, and where every desire is fair game for commodification? We glamorize the material plane. Neptune is square to Gemini Mars in the natal chart of the USA1, and elevated in the 9th house: it is very strong, and very confused. Our collective yearnings for transcendant bliss are at odds with our scattered efforts to attain it. For Valhalla we have Hollywood, and for gods we have movie stars. Our lust for nonstop entertainment and material satiation come from Neptunian drives which have been displaced from their origin in the soul.
Escaping the Ego
Ultimately, Neptune experiences the mortal coil as an onerous weight. This translates into an urge to escape duty and restriction, whether we see our burden in existential terms or simply as the boss forcing us to show up for work. What may appear to be irresponsibility is actually a fear of being trapped by the confines of the earthbound self. This is why independent action and clear decision-making are repellent to the Neptunian mindset, which would rather seek out a deep, wide pool into which it can dive and disappear. The alcoholic or drug-taker who seeks solace in a mood change is motivated by the same impulses as the devotee in an ashram: each wants freedom from the prison of individual consciouness. On a collective level, unaware Neptune manifests as conformity, group hysteria, and blind faith in undeserving leaders. Awash in group feeling, we free ourselves, temporarily, from the burden of having an ego.
The spiritual purpose at Neptune’s core is rarely positively modeled in the Western world. Our society does not honor the divine discontent that is universal to human experience — that craving to lose ourselves in something larger than ourselves. In our day and age, such stirrings, if they are named at all, are likely to be pathologized by the secular priests — the medical/psychiatric scientists — as the lapses of a weak ego or an unstable mind. It is no wonder that we are beset by addictions of every stripe, which represent our efforts to seek the numinous without disturbing our allegiance to the literal. It is no wonder that we fall prey so readily to trends of fashion and ideology, which seduce us to pool our sensibilities together with large numbers of our fellows, and thereby divest ourselves of individual choice.
As astrologers seeking to plumb the meaning of the current world scene, we have at our disposal the archeypal framework necessary to look at important human dilemmas which are otherwise hidden in plain sight. Our deeper view has never been more required. Let us consider Neptune’s role in recent global events.
When the Pentagon attacked Baghdad in 2003, Saturn was conjunct the USA’s natal Mars and squaring natal Neptune to the exact degree, with Pluto still within orb of the national Ascendant. We know that unconscious Mars and Saturn together can manifest as the crudest kind of masculine assertion, narcissistic and defensive, and that Pluto governs destruction and death. But of particular interest here is the role played by Neptune, governor of the mass emotionalism that accompanies war.
Nation-states no less than individuals have troubling feelings which must be raised to awareness and worked through, lest they fester and cause psychic harm to the host. Much has been written about the wounds that linger in our national psyche from the abomination of slavery, and from the disaster that was the Viet Nam War. It is now more important than ever before in American history to understand the workings of our collective unconscious. With every month that passes, more wounds are inflicted upon the American soul, due to our current government’s launch into pre-emptive violence, a decision with immense karmic reach in which we all participate knowingly or unknowingly (Neptune makes no such distinctions).
Americans have not yet found a workable way to use our 9th-house Neptune to purge collective feelings like grief and guilt. We have no tribal keeners to ritualize sorrow, no funerary priestesses to dignify and release our national pain. We have not come up with a galvanizing artform such as the trancelike mass dancing South African demonstrators used to transform their suffering into the creative will to break apartheid. With no means to process these energies, what happens to them?
They manifest as public sentiment, which has no movement in it, and no ability to heal us. Sentiment is not true sadness. It is a thin substitute, arising from ignorance of the role tragedy plays in the deepening of the soul. Another telltale symptom of stagnated Neptune is depression, which has reached epidemic proportions here in what we call the First World. New drugs are invented every year to suppress this mass inundation of feeling, but it is like trying to dam up the ocean instead of learning the ocean’s laws. Psychotherapy and groups like Alcoholics Anonymous may help us on an individual level, but we lack a mechanism to do so as a nation. Instead of confronting our traumas as a group and ennobling ourselves through meaningful catharsis, we numb out, alone, in front of a television set, or drive to a murder victim’s house and leave teddy bears on the sidewalk.
Mass feeling is a formidable force, which shifts unpredictably like the weather at sea. An example of healthy Neptune occurred when, shortly after 9/11, an unprecedented sense of togetherness opened hearts in this country and around the world in a soulful period of mass grieving. But our unscrupulous leaders moved quickly to harness the power of these tears, jerking them ever so effectively in order to justify completely unrelated foreign and domestic agendas. For Neptune also governs the stagecraft of politics, the confetti and balloons and giant flags flapping against a blue sky. Neptune’s swelling chords and cinematic imagery can provoke a flood of group fantasy, impelling otherwise rational citizens to support the insanity of war. Neither reason (Mercury) nor pragmatism (Saturn) has anywhere near the impact on a crowd.
At issue is the Bush administration’s campaign to inflict great harm upon innocent people all over the world with whom the ordinary American citizen has absolutely no quarrel. It is an old story. In order to cajole consensus opinion, warmongers in every age have appealed to ideals of racial purity and national superiority. As extravagant as they are utterly vague, such notions constitute a vulgarization of Neptune’s quest for spiritual meaning. Without the illusions of distorted Neptune, people would vote for life over death every time.
It is time to take a sober look at the phenomenon of nationalism. The patriotic fervor this country has indulged in for almost two years became even more of an issue with the transit of Saturn over the USA’s sun cluster in Cancer (late 2003-2004). Cancer is associated with security, home, and native land. In its highest expression, Cancer inspires a genuine identification with the land — as when we connect emotionally with our country’s purple mountain majesties and amber waves of grain. But Cancer, especially when paired with Saturn, is also the sign of fortifications, defenses, and walls. The upcoming transits could create more visionaries like Julia Butterfly Hill, or more glorified prison wardens like Tom Ridge. It is critical that we understand the forces behind this planetary signature so as not to fall further into its shadow guise when the Neptunian swoon comes upon us.
Many of us derive inspiration from certain shared American values, such as democracy, a worthy and elegant concept if there ever was one. But Neptunian idealism needs to be balanced or it takes over and jettisons critical thinking. An affectionate yet reasoned approach to democracy would involve watching it at work, keeping it healthy and having the wit to notice when it is being taken away. By contrast, the patriot’s championship of democracy is all too often accompanied by an utter obliviousness as to whether his own government is acting democratically. With no grounding in historicity or moral relativism, nationalism has degraded the idea of democracy until it becomes as flat and meaningless as a Hallmark card.
Taking off the blinders of negative Neptune would allow us to confront the fact that nationalism has become anachronistic. In today’s world of multinational corporations, where entire islands are bought and sold to the highest bidder, and whole countries are used by others as banking vehicles, nationalism is no longer a motivating reality for the uppermost captains of industry and government. The corporate billionaire may shed a tear when the flag is unfurled at a civic event, but his accountants know — even if the public does not — that his allegiances belong to no one country.
Indeed, even the patriotic hysteria that gripped the American public in the wake of 9/11 did nothing to disturb the chummy transnational alliances between Bush’s oilmen and Saudi Arabia’s oilmen, despite the astounding fact that fifteen of the nineteen vilified hijackers were Saudis. This would seem to be a blatant tip-off that our leaders claim exemption from the simplistic, with-us-or-against-us nationalism they encourage and exploit in the masses. That this irony was not immediately denounced as such by the public is a testament to nationalism’s irrational power. Neptune is an emotional planet, not a mental one. Upon the collective mind it can function as a mass narcotic.
With origins in tribal survival, nationalism as a human organizing device started out as a reasonable enough way to service a sociological need. But the world is smaller now. Nation-states are no longer the sine qua non of group identity. The bottom line in global survival is that an identification with one’s country must no longer trump an identification with the human race.
Over the past couple of centuries, the vision of our shared residency on a fragile planet has begun to replace the old chauvinisms. It is a vision that has given rise to human rights organizations, to the peace and justice movement, and to environmental groups worldwide, all of which prioritize global cooperation over the caprices of governments. It is to universalism that we must now pledge our primary allegiance.
A potent symbol entered our collective visual vocabulary in the 1960s when the first NASA photographs of Earth were sent back from the moon. No longer a gaggle of distinct countries and tribes, we were jolted into seeing ourselves as a single unified world, iconicized by a delicate little blue ball that was alive, precious, and home to us all. That picture may become a powerful consciousness-raiser over the next few years: it is the modern world’s link to the ancient dictum that all people everywhere are inextricably connected.
Every spiritual system the world over promotes some version of this idea, and it is far closer to the essential truth of Neptune than any of the various other crowd-rallying sentiments in currency. It is to be hoped that the visceral poignancy of the upcoming Cancer transits will further support this viewpoint, arousing within us the same urgency when we consider the fate of the Earth that a child feels when its mother is in danger.
No other version of Neptune will work anymore. The prospect of replacing nationalism with universalism has about it a sense of evolutionary inevitability. Among the world’s visionaries the campaign is well underway. It is a perspective that is spiritual but not necessarily religious. Even a secular society like ours could accomodate it. As Americans, we can further this effort by refusing to be seduced by the expressions of distorted Neptune all around us: in our popular culture’s obsession with the illusory, in the media’s preoccupation with the maudlin.
Behind these grotesqueries is a hunger for higher meaning. To bring Neptune back into balance, we need to use this hunger as a starting point.
Jessica Murray has practiced astrology in San Francisco for over 25 years. Contact . This article was first published in The Mountain Astrologer.