‘…The constant dance between form and formlessness, being and non-being, order and chaos, occurs in all epochs and at all levels.
Humans have created a range of paradigms and metaphors, from ancient myths to modern cosmology, within which to explore this dialectic. Our ancient Babylonian forebears envisaged the beginning of the world as a battle to the death between the great sea-serpent Ti’amat and her son, the Underworld god Marduk. He vanquished her, creating Heaven and Earth from her divided corpse. Meanwhile, the grapple goes on.
Astrology has its own language for this struggle, speaking through the polarity of Saturn and Neptune. Saturn at its core represents the drive to take form; Neptune’s teleology is that of dissolution…’ (i)
Here we are – again. We do not need astrology to tell us we are in the throes of that epic struggle between Ti’amat and Marduk as the two hundred years long era of Jupiter and Saturn meeting in Earth comes to a messy and turbulent end. The ‘official starting date’ of the incoming Air era is on 2020’s Winter Solstice, when Jupiter meets Saturn at 0 Aquarius.
The signs are everywhere you care to look: covid 19 is brutally upending our way of living, which has largely depended on trashing Mother Earth since the outset of the Industrial and Scientific Revolutions. Fire ravaged parts of Australia in 2019, and is currently blazing swathes of destruction through California on the one hand, and the Brazilian rainforests in another. Destructive flooding is on the increase. Species extinction is advancing apace. Social inequality is worse than it has been for a very long time. I could go on and on…
Where astrology CAN be helpful, at least for those of us of a philosophical bent, is via the perspectives which studying the larger planetary cycles can provide. We can thus step back, zoom out as it were (quite the apt expression since much of the world is now Zooming!!) and with even a sketchy grasp of an historical timeline reflect upon the scary evidence of an increasingly divided world in turmoil – from a longer-term and possibly more optimistic perspective.
From observing both my own life and that of our wider communities, it seems that the most fear-generating dimension is the profound uncertainty which contextualises all our lives at present. None of us can plan with any confidence for anything. Just today, as I write this on Monday 14th September 2020, the covid ‘rule of six’ has come in in Scotland – but with different restrictions in other parts of an increasingly fragmenting UK as the shadow of an impending no-deal Brexit lengthens under a chaotic government with little apparent respect for the rule of law.
Neptune – as Chaos– is surely gaining the upper hand. This been increasingly the case since Neptune’s entry into Pisces in 2011/12; Saturn is struggling to maintain order: his shadow, Fascism, with violence as its inevitable companion, is on the rise in various parts of the world.
As is often the case for me (and probably other writers…) when I’m reflecting on a possible column topic which has been chewing at me for weeks – in this case the Saturn/Neptune order/chaos dialectic, and where uncertainty fits in – I came across an essay in the wonderful aeon.com last Friday which was really helpful and illuminating, from a philosopher whom I only vaguely recollected from university philosophy (aeons ago, in my case!) – Karl Jaspers (1883-1969). The header quote on the essay stopped me in my tracks:
‘…To Karl Jaspers, uncertainty is not to be overcome but understood…’
Karl Jaspers’ work ‘…revolves around the meaning of uncertainty in an increasingly precarious and radicalising world…he is one of the very few existentialist thinkers…who did not seek to master, tame or conquer the unknowable and finite condition of human life. Instead, he tried to cultivate a relationship to this essential quality of life and engage it on its own terms…’ (ii)
Even a sketchy understanding of history reveals that our collective attempts in every culture under the sun ‘…to master, tame or conquer the unknowable and finite condition of human life…’ have been held in the vast context of that dialectic between Ti’amat and Marduk, Saturn and Neptune, order and chaos. We have lurched between those extremes, with spells of varying lengths in which we managed to get the two in balance for a time – for ever.
The twenty-year cycle of the Jupiter/Saturn conjunctions concluding their journey through the Earth element and entering the new Air era, can roughly speaking, be mapped onto the waning crescent of the ‘old order’ and the waxing crescent of the new. This gives us a time period from around 2000 to 2040, a time in which, to use Robert Hand’s vivid phrase: ‘…the past has minimum hold upon the present, but the present has a maximum hold on the future…’(iii)
We are in a unique time now: not only humanity, but the whole of Mother Earth and all her creatures great and small are suffering the pain and turbulence of increasing chaos as the old order loses its grip. But without Neptune to dissolve the deadening rigidities of Saturn past its sell-by date in any phase of civilisation or culture, life could not go on. Dissolution precedes renewal.
In the meantime, we need to cultivate qualities which do not come spontaneously to most humans, but need to be cultivated these days, probably more than ever before in our long and bloody history: humility, patience, and tolerance for one another in the face of our our many-faceted differences. Times of uncertainty create great fear, but also greater potential to renew ourselves. Let’s not forget that uncertainty can be a harsh, but profound gift – which Neptune is offering us right now.
P.S. Of course, after writing this I couldn’t resist checking out Astrodienst for Karl Jaspers’ horoscope, and there it was, as I had suspected, right up there in the tenth house in Taurus: Saturn conjunct Neptune, focal point of a grand trine with Moon/Uranus in Virgo and Venus in Capricorn. Maybe we should all be reading him!
(i) From The Mountain Astrologer “Contemplating the 12th House: An Optimist’s Take on Self-Undoing,” by Anne Whitaker, in the Aug/Sept. 2014 issue.
(ii) From aeon.com (11.9.20) , an essay by Carmen Lea Dege who is currently writing a book on the theory and practice of uncertainty.
(iii) From “The Astrology of Crisis” Llewellyn Publications 1993, p116
1150 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2020