As my tutorial students would tell you, my big love and fascination in the vast range of possible obsessions offered by astrology is: cycles. No, not bi-cycles. Planetary cycles. Large and small, I love them all. But whether the cycle is huge, like the 500 year Neptune /Pluto one, or tiny, like the monthly Sun/Moon one, the same basic stages apply: seeding, germinating, sprouting, flowering, ripening, harvesting, dying back in preparation for the new.
Cycles: beginnings – and endings
In East Coker, the second of T.S.Eliot’s Four Quartets, he began that section with “In my beginning is my end,” and ended it, “in my end is my beginning”. This rather paradoxical juxtaposition bookends the whole of life. Every beginning carries the seeds of its ending, every ending, potential for new beginnings. However, generally speaking you don’t find much astrological musing on the topic of cycles’ endings – or their slow beginnings. Especially in this particular Western cultural phase, expedited by faster and faster broadband speeds and ever more sophisticated technology, the emphasis is on satisfying the wants (often as opposed to the needs) of NOW.
The problem with this, however, is that Life on our planet still continues in its ancient, cyclic way, to which humans are still physically, emotionally and spiritually bound. Chronic disregard for this reality is now throwing up huge problems for us from the state of the planet to the increasingly fragile state of some of our young folks’ mental –and physical–health.
Here is an example, from a recent issue of The Week which compiles ‘the best of the British and international media’: in a hard-hitting piece entitled ‘Deaths of despair: why Americans are dying young’, Joel Achenbach in The Washington Post says
‘…Whether as a result of economic hardship, stress, the lack of universal healthcare, loneliness or family breakdown, people just aren’t looking after themselves properly, and are making destructive life choices…’
The importance of paying attention
So – in my (it is alleged…) contrarian way, I am here to muse on the endings, or balsamic phases, of cycles and the great importance of paying attention to them, especially as we approach the ending/new beginning of a whole 37-year Saturn/Pluto cycle. As everyone must be aware by now, astrologers or no, we are not living in a particularly easy light-hearted time either collectively or individually. To put it mildly.
That excellent astrological writer Dana Gerhardt observed some time ago in relation to the balsamic phase of, for example, the 29 year progressed New Moon cycle:
“When will it end?” is everybody’s first question on learning they’ve entered a progressed Balsamic phase. No matter how colorfully I paint its virtues, they peer beyond to a bleaker landscape, to a three-to-four-year sentence of all loss and no gain. I can see it in their eyes…. I tell them this is the richest spiritual time. I tell them when my own progressed Balsamic phase was over, I had nostalgia for it. I cheer: “You will too!” But it’s a tough sell….”
I would certainly endorse this from my own experience some years ago, of beginning a new phase in my career journey when no less than four major cycles were coming to an end over a period of almost a decade. I should have taken astrology’s advice, not that of my own ego!
The consequence was a long period of enforced retreat, triggered by a long family crisis and my subsequent energy burnout – an enriching and deepening time, but very tough whilst it was happening… until the Progressed New Moon told me it was time to emerge and begin again.
Trying to do things differently…
Looking over my last few posts, I can see my preoccupation with cycles generally and this Saturn/Pluto one in particular. Hardly surprising, being so ‘plugged in’ to it from birth myself. In “Some notes on cycles in a time of crisis” published recently on Astrodienst, I offered this very brief summary of Saturn/Pluto’s challenges:
‘…In essence, Saturn/Pluto lets us off with nothing, either personally or collectively. We are forced into increasingly tight corners, whilst the pressure is ramped up on us to face and deal with the present consequences of past decisions, some of which might not be of our direct making. The environmental crisis which has become so vivid this year with the Nodal Axis joining the dance of Saturn/Pluto throughout 2019, is a case in point…’
As I write today, on 4th January 2020, Australia is ablaze, and on USA President Trump’s directive – apparently without running the plan through Congress first – Qasem Soleimani, top general and one of the most powerful men in Iran, was killed in a drone strike at Baghdad airport early today. His deputy was also killed. According to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo the airstrikes disrupted an “imminent attack” in the region that put American lives at risk. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vows for “harsh revenge.”
Collectively, Saturn/Pluto = warfare of one kind or another; relentless consistency every time.
Our political masters worldwide should study history via the planetary cycles, see if they can just for once learn something from them. It would make a change to be making war on the issues that really matter e.g. climate change, increasing social and fiscal inequality, widespread homelessness, equal rights for women worldwide, inadequate healthcare – to name just a few contemporary problems urgently in need of war being waged upon them. Wouldn’t it be great if most of our countries in the world weren’t being run by narcissistic psychopaths?
Personal power and insightful choices
It is one of Life’s great ironies, pointed out by Carl Jung some time ago, that as individuals we probably have more control and choice over how collective energies manifest than eg nations do. In order to exercise that control and choice, however, we need to work towards more conscious awareness of what our personal issues are – and how we go about making choices in relation to what Life throws at us. This is where astrology can be such an enlightening help.
Working with awareness, we can see patterns shaping up, get some idea from our first encounter with them eg Saturn/Pluto opposing/conjuncting/squaring our personal planet(s) what challenges they are offering – then with some reflection and perhaps therapeutic/astrological help when necessary, work out what the planetary gods in question are asking of us over the several years in which long-term transits/progressions are in operation as they slowly apply, become exact, and separate.
To quote Dr Liz Greene from one of her 1990s seminars at London’s Centre for Psychological Astrology:
“You have to give the god what the god wants…and if it’s Mars, don’t offer a bunch of flowers!”
I’ve never forgotten this sage advice, and have passed it on many times both to clients and students. However, like all good advice, most of us to our detriment fail sometimes on the good advice front. As I admitted earlier, I failed to pay attention to what the planetary cycles were telling me, with very harsh results.
The wisdom offered by planetary cycles: a general overview
In nearly forty years of working with clients, students, and with my own process, I have found that sharing wisdom offered by the planetary cycles has been very useful in helping to set Life’s sails to go with the prevailing winds at any given time. I routinely take people through the 11-12 year Jupiter cycle, the 7/8-year stages of the 29/30 year Saturn cycles, and the progressed Sun/Moon cycle.
Depending on the lunar phase at which a person was born, a progressed New Moon can fall in any year of life, eg at age four. You can then see that in 29/30 years’ time, another progressed New Moon in a new sign, usually a new house, and making different aspects to the natal planets, is describing the early start of a new life phase.
I recall a recent client who experienced progressed New Moons at those very ages. She could see how a whole challenging process had arisen as a result of a significant event at the time of her first progressed New Moon when she was four years old, and how life changes at her second progressed New Moon in the next sign had symbolised a new start – feeling like an important stage along the road of freeing herself from old negative patterns.
It is really moving, and powerful, to see eg how the theme of opening up to new adventures of mind, body and spirit develops as eg clients’ and students’ Jupiter cycles unfold: age 11/12, then 23/4, then 35/6 and so on depending on the person’s age at the time of a reading, or in a class when we are doing some qualitative research within the group.
A great gift of astrology, perhaps its greatest gift, is this: it shows us that we are part of Something vast and meaningful, not mere random accidents in space/time. That knowledge offers a great challenge: to take our tiny ‘chip’ of that vast energy field as revealed though the symbols in our horoscopes, with its pains as well as its gifts – and strive to leave the world a slightly better place on our exit than it was when we came in. Grand achievements are not mandatory. Just being better, more fulfilled human beings as a result of having an extra, symbolic, source of potential insight is quite enough…
The degree to which a person’s life responds to the promptings of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto transits and cycles – and the 18.6 year cycle of the Moon’s Nodes – depends very much upon how strongly that person is ‘plugged in’ to that particular planet or point, its transits and its cycles. It is also very important in contemplating the planetary cycles, to realise that each cycle carries the same basic developmental template within it: seeding, germinating, sprouting, flowering, ripening, harvesting, dying back in preparation for the new.
So – as any cycle comes to an end, typical feelings are: restlessness and ennui; lower energy available to put into the key areas of life/activities governed by that cycle; dissatisfaction with what once seemed to work quite well, but now does not. In the case of the larger cycles’ endings, eg Saturn/Pluto, Uranus/Pluto, Uranus/Neptune, life can sometimes plunge us into circumstances of extreme difficulty or pain, at times through upheavals and hurts not directly related to our actions or choices. Some might prefer to call this the action of Fate…
However, it is also most important to note, as that wise poet TS Eliot observed,
“in my end is my beginning”:
Germinating, hidden below the churned-up earth of cycles’ endings, are also the delicate seeds of new beginnings. I have always found it helpful for myself, students and clients to relate this to our solar system’s tiny monthly cycle of the sun and moon, clearly observable in the heavens above us. The delicate sliver of the waning crescent moon which we can sometimes see if the skies are clear, indicates that an old cycle is in its dying days. Then nothing is visible for another couple of days. It’s important to remember that the New Moon, and a new cycle beginning, takes place in the dark.
Think the moment of conception of a new human or a new animal. Without the very sophisticated technology of IVF, a very recent phenomenon in terms of our technological progress, this cannot be observed – although it may well be sensed, especially by a child’s mother…similarly, some of us may sense, at that liminal point, that something has changed, something new may be emerging. And then – that beautiful slender silver crescent of the waxing new moon appears in the sky, two or three days after its total absence. We are on a new journey.
We can apply that basic template both to individual planetary cycles, eg the famous 29/30 year Saturn one, and to the cycles of planets in combination eg the 172 year Uranus/Neptune cycle or the vast 500 year Neptune/Pluto cycle. The latter began in the 1890s, and we are still only moving off from the first sextile one hundred and thirty years later…an average human life will only encompass two full Saturn/Pluto cycles, and perhaps part of a third one.
Saturn/Pluto in particular
So – what can we do as individuals to navigate this significant Saturn/Pluto ending/ new beginning with some degree of useful awareness?
What I write here can only be of general guidance. How things work out for you in particular depends on your personal horoscope and its patterns. However, the more strongly this combination occurs in your natal chart, then by transit/progression as your life unfolds, the more potent the challenge is going to be. It’s also helpful to note the houses/Angles/Nodes ruled by Saturn and by Pluto.
For example, I have Saturn/Pluto in the twelfth house conjunct Mercury, Venus, Moon and Sun, all in Leo; Saturn rules the fifth house, Pluto the IC/South Node conjunction. All my major life challenges have circled round children (others’, not mine), home and roots – and how to extricate and direct my powerful creative energies and vocational drives from the mire of family fate and from the consequences of unwise choices, often not made by me.
The first piece of advice – I do realise, of course, that it may well not be to your liking, since it certainly wasn’t to mine! – is have patience. This is a pretty long cycle ending and beginning, so things are likely to have been difficult for you in one way or another, along the lines of what I outlined earlier, for around a couple of years, perhaps more. Similarly, it is likely to take around that amount of time for the energies of the new cycle to take form and focus so that you can see the way ahead more clearly.
There is no point in pretending that the combination of Saturn and Pluto is not tough. I used to find with my classes that the aspects from which new students recoiled the most, and the transits they most feared the more they learned, were those of Saturn and Pluto, both separately and in combination through their cycle. Pluto manifests the raw creative and destructive power of the life force; Saturn tries to shape, control and focus that power.
This dynamic in our collective lives has always produced life or death struggle of one kind or another. Individuals plugged in have a ‘chip’ as it were of that powerful energy pattern to wrestle with, and hopefully learn to channel wisely and constructively, throughout their lives.
As I said at the outset of this esssay, ‘…In essence, Saturn/Pluto lets us off with nothing, either personally or collectively. We are forced into increasingly tight corners, whilst the pressure is ramped up on us to face and deal with the present consequences of past decisions, some of which might not be of our direct making…’
The next piece of advice is this: try to get some perspective on what the challenges are now, and how you might best deal with them as the new cycle starts to unfold. To do this, go back to the beginning of this cycle, note the dates, and check out what was going on in your life then. Then note the dates of the waxing square, then the opposition, then the waning square. There are of course the other aspects as the cycle waxes and wanes. But let’s stick with the biggies for now.
Those of you young folk who have not yet lived through a whole cycle, take especial note of the nearest of the biggies to your birth date. Some of you older readers will be able to go further back – it is worth making the effort to do so: both for the life insights it may well give you, but also regarding your family history in many cases, since Pluto usually seems to have connections to issues of family fate and its consequences which have woven into the fabric of the present time. Some of that material, and its influences on your life, can be usefully recognised, mined and processed during Saturn/Pluto periods.
Let’s do it now.
The first Saturn/Pluto conjunction of the last century occurred in October 1914 at 2 Cancer, and May 1915 at 1 Cancer. The second followed on August 11 1947 at 13 Leo. You can look up the first squares, opposition points, and waning squares of both those cycles in a 20th Century Ephemeris – or google them!
The last Saturn/Pluto exact conjunction occurred – once – in November 1982 at 27 Libra, applying for a year before, separating for a year afterwards. The waxing square was exact in March 1993 at 25 Aquarius/Scorpio, then again at 24 Aquarius /Scorpio in October 1993, and finally at 27 Aquarius/Scorpio in January 1994. The opposition was first exact in August 2001 at 13 Gemini/Sagittarius, then in November 2001 at 14 Gemini/Sagittarius, lastly in May 2002 at 16 Gemini/Sagittarius. The waning square was exact in November 2009 at 2 Libra/Capricorn, then in January 2010 at 4 Libra/Capricorn, then finally in August 2010 at 3 Libra/Capricorn.
The end of the 1982/2020 cycle occurs, with the new Saturn/Pluto cycle starting slowly to form, on 12th January 2020 at 23 Capricorn – a much anticipated, feared, and discussed planetary event as a new decade begins (or an old one ends, depending on your stance on the matter!). If you care to do so, you can go forward in the 21st Century Ephemeris to plot the waxing square, opposition, waning square and ending dates of this new cycle.
A personal example
As the Saturn/Pluto cycle begun in 1947 drew to a close in 1980/82, little did I know that a whole phase of my personal and vocational life was also ending, and a new one was set to begin. I knew nothing then of astrological cycles and their significance. I met my husband in 1980, marrying him a few months before November 1982 and the start of the Libran Saturn/Pluto cycle. I also began studying astrology in 1980, commencing serious work on the Certificate of the Faculty of Astrological Studies in November 1982.
Each of the four key stages of that unfolding cycle from 1982 up to the present time have brought very challenging, painful and difficult issues of a family of origin nature for me to cope with, as well as with my husband’s family since I took on a step-parent role with our marriage. These times also represented key stages in the development and unfolding of my parallel careers as a social worker, trainer, and private practising therapist along with developing an astrology consulting, writing and teaching practice.
However, as the cycle has moved towards its slow conclusion from the waning square in 2010, I have been aware of an increasing feeling of deep satisfaction with how an initially tough life pattern has turned out, beginning with my birth seven weeks prematurely and an expectation that I would not survive. I am experiencing the long-term rewards from hanging on in there, at times having to struggle very hard to deal with and free myself from old family complexes as much as possible which were getting in the way of my professional and relationship lives.
Our marriage has survived and deepened, my Aquarian husband having provided unwavering support both personally and professionally. Through some tough and at times tragic family challenges, I have slowly and gradually learned something which I believe only Saturn/Pluto could have pushed me to learn, but which growing older with less life force to waste has helped along: to focus and channel my Leonine creative energies as much as possible into constructive vocational pursuits, thereby honouring my path. And most importantly, not to waste that life force on those who are unwilling or unable to benefit from my efforts.
Learning the very hard way that you can’t make anyone do anything for what you see as their own good if they don’t wish to – or can’t – is an excellent lesson for a Saturn/Pluto control freak!
I still love astrology as much as ever. The difference, though, as this cycle closes and a new one arises, is this: my desire to work directly with clients has waned, as has my desire to have any public role other than through my writing and a limited amount of teaching and mentoring. However, my awareness of the need to claim and honour the role of Elder, to offer as much support as I can to the next able generation of astrologers arising, especially in my local area, is growing.
Beyond being aware of the gifts as well of the limitations that come with ageing, and of the importance of living as much as possible in a soulful way in the present moment, sharing whatever time we may have left with my husband, close family members and friends, I have little idea of what new creative challenges/opportunities the new Saturn/Pluto cycle may bring. I’m not too worried about that, feeling freer in spirit now than I have ever felt – despite the dismal state of the world at present as we grapple with unprecedented turbulence and a planet under threat…
To paraphrase Jung’s point, mentioned earlier: individuals working in a conscious way can have more power to shift the balance of a difficult planetary pattern in a positive direction, than collectives do. I have long believed that if we want to change the world, we need to start with ourselves, and work outwards.
We are currently experiencing the end of an important, powerful, challenging and formative planetary cycle, and wondering what this next Saturn/Pluto phase will bring. It is my hope, therefore, that my musings in this essay may offer some pointers regarding how to approach and understand the phase that is passing – and to gain some perspective which will help in facing the upcoming Saturn/Pluto cycle with greater understanding and insight.
3,600 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2020