As of today, I have shifted my writing endeavors from my website AstroInquiry to the WOODRUFF newsletter on Substack.
Now that the changeover is official I’ll admit I’m a little bit verklempt. I mean, I’ve been publishing regularly on AstroInquiry for close to fifteen years and a good many of my regular readers have become clients, folks who have worked with me for years.
But situations change. Or as Cyndi Lauper once sang: “Money changes everything.”
Why did this happen?
The old days of EVERYTHING ON THE INTERNET IS FREE are over.
Writing on the Substack platform simplifies life—it makes delivering and receiving compensation easy.
The great thing about Substack is that it’s easy to set up a paid subscription, and then—BOOM—you’re done. New articles from me will appear in your mailbox while you sleep. It’ll be like getting periodic telepathic messages from me—strange and fun and elegant.
What do you get as a paid subscriber to WOODRUFF?
If you don’t want to become a paid subscriber that’s cool. You can still sign up for a free subscription and stay on board for my infrequent public posts—smart content you’ll still enjoy. All are welcome!
What’s so great about Substack?
Substack is the epitome of Zen. It’s simple, quiet, and exists within lots of soothing white space. It’s the future—now.
No pop-ups, no advertising banners, no requests to turn off your adblocker, no videos that start playing automatically, no warnings about tracking and potential Malware invasions. Substack is what the Internet experience would be like if gigantic corporate search engines and social media networks hadn’t gobbled up all ad revenue on the planet forcing websites and blogs to turn feral as they try to survive online.
So that’s it for now. Thank you to each of my longtime readers and newfound friends, I’ve enjoyed creating engaging content for you over the years. And goddess knows I’ll keep producing new material for you for another fifteen–and get paid in the process too!
Why not take a look around and see what’s been happening on WOODRUFF during the last couple of months. Or if you’re not subscribed already you can do so right now below.
Here are ten facts, figures, and thoughtful suggestions to get you through the next twenty year Jupiter Saturn cycle. The Jupiter Saturn conjunction in Aquarius occurred on December 21, 2020. This conjunction was a big deal, one of astrology’s biggest players.
1. You will find new ways to reconcile two opposing parts of your nature. The king/queen and the grim reaper are forced into a meet-up to hash shit out. These two psychic components are made significant by their alignment with the forces that govern growth and decay in nature.
2. As relates to our experience of time: Jupiter leads us towards the future (filled with unlimited potentials and big dreams). Saturn says, “Do it now because everything ends.” For all of us, our biggest ‘problem’ in life is that we think we have time. Again, some sort of reality check is required from you.
3. Kings, rulers, presidents die–if not metaphorically then literally—during the Jupiter Saturn conjunction (hereon out the JSC). This has been going down since the beginning of time. During the 19th and 20th centuries, any US president elected during the JSC died of natural causes or was assassinated in office, but this track sorta broke apart in 1980 when the conjunction occurred in Libra (although Reagan was almost taken out by an assassination attempt). In 2000, the rightful winner of the presidency, Al Gore (who won the popular vote), was ‘taken out’ by the Supreme Court in Florida’s infamous ‘hanging chad’ fiasco. The 2020 conjunction finds Joe Biden in the JSC hot seat and I’ve speculated that he might mark a return to the pattern, making Kamala Harris the first female president in the US’s history. Read more
“Every act of creation is first an act of destruction. ” –Pablo Picasso
Today I’m going to write about a term borrowed from literature.
I will attempt to suggest why—in our electronic age—the picaresque narrative is turning everyone and everything upside down. And why this is most likely a good thing.
Aside from Trump’s general hideousness, what made his time as president so maddening was the constant clash Americans experienced as the picaresque narrative overcame and replaced their old tragicomic narrative.
Because the tragicomic narrative is the one most Westerners were raised on (and have lived their entire lives through.)
The founder of social dreaming, W. Gordon Lawrence wrote in his mind-bending book Tongued with Fire: Groups in Experience that the salient experience of life at this moment in time is, “…discontinuous, a series of near-chaotic events for which people can find no shape.”
Lawrence lays much of our mania on electronic technology and what he calls ‘electronic events.’ And yes, we’ve all heard this before. But wait:
He asserts that because we figuratively exist everywhere and nowhere, we are falling deeper and deeper into a picaresque approach to life.
He borrows this term from the Jungian psychologist James Hillman.
“[Hillman] understands some analysands to be living in what he calls the ‘picaresque mode’. This metaphor comes from the ‘picaresque novel’ in which the protagonist lurches in a discontinuous fashion from happening to happening, event to event, but never experiences his experiences. The principal character, the ‘picaro’, is a bit of a rogue, or knave, likable but feckless. He does not develop, improve, or indeed deteriorate.”
Hillman hypothesized that people have different fictional styles and noted how the picaresque individual’s narrative: “…ends abruptly without achievement for there is no goal so the denouement can neither be the resolution of comedy nor the fatal flaw of tragedy.”
As I mentioned above, individuals living through this modality are living amidst a falling away of the traditional Western arcs of ‘tragedy’ and ‘comedy’.
Their pressing question then becomes: Can I continue to live like this? My suggestion is YES YOU CAN.
The Reappearance of Flow (Which was Never Gone)
I sense the picaresque perspective has more to do with a cultural mutation than any sort of failing on the part of the individual.
Our enmeshment with technology was made doubly alarming amidst COVID, and with that forced investment of time came more of the picaresque.
During the passing decade, we’ve read only negative assessments regarding our exponential technological growth. But what about considering other possibilities or ways to consider this moment in history?
In my understanding, the old ascend/descend oscillation of the tragicomic (that defines Western culture’s manner of assigning meaning) is falling away.
What’s establishing is more akin to the experience of flow. Or at least the opportunity (or mental requirement) to embrace the flow.
Undulations have given way to the ever-present ‘just this.’ The mechanics of flow are underscored in Taoist teachings. And the bare-bones simplicity of the Tao feels like a much-needed moderator to manage our manic moment.
Rascal: A Mischievous Person
If we shed the derogatory associations of the picaresque (the knavery and fecklessness, etc.) we are left with G.I. Gurdjieff’s description of ‘The Rascal.’
In essence, the rascal responds to life from her wits and more importantly, as Gurdjieff saw her, through her conscience.
Traditional rules or laws don’t apply and are readily manipulated to assist one’s wits—but never to the point of ending up in jail or harming another. Those were big distinctions for Gurdjieff.
Gurdjieff claimed conscience was an innate quality of being human and had nothing to do with cultural conditioning. And so conscience could be depended upon, in the way one depends on her stomach to digest her food. Gurdjieff saw conscience as part of our biology, not our psychology.
This shift to flow and the arising of The Rascal has been earmarked by the recent Jupiter Saturn conjunction in Aquarius.
This conjunction marks the first time in 200 years (except for a one-off conjunction in Libra—back in 2000) that the Jupiter/Saturn cycle will play out through the air sign triad.
Air signs are picaresque by nature. The fire, water, and earth signs play the game of life along traditional Western arcs. You rise, you fall; you gain, you lose, you merge, you disappear, etc.
The air element is everywhere simultaneously. The air signs’ narrative is expressed through airy attributes like diplomacy and fairness, trickery, and humor. Air signs are never pinned to any one path.
Even a Saturn-ruled sign like Aquarius can be as maddeningly discursive as Gemini (the most picaresque of the air signs.) Read more
Carl Jung tells of a conversation he had in 1925 with the chief of the Taos Pueblo in northern New Mexico. The chief, Ochwiay Biano, was describing to Jung the strange Europeans who have come west and invaded his world. He said:
“See how cruel the whites look. Their lips are thin, their noses sharp, their faces furrowed and distorted by folds. Their eyes have a staring expression; they are always seeking something. What are they seeking? The whites always want something; they are always uneasy and restless. We do not know what they want. We do not understand them. We think that they are mad.”
Biano’s impressions unwittingly walk us straight into the second house of the United State’s horoscope — and it’s lone occupant Pluto.
His words summon the spirit of Manifest Destiny, the ideological mania that impelled the country’s campaign of brutal conquests, diplomatic duplicity, and diaspora — the seeding of the ‘American Dream’ that displaced or destroyed indigenous settlements from coast to coast.
Psychologist James Hillman, in one of his poetic riffs, described the fuel of American hubris (and its forever recurring fever dream), as a lust for, “Consumerism, mammon, competition, speed, and greed — urban sprawl — cult of the quick, quick fame, quick success, quick fixes.”
Hillman intuited the innocence and arrogance of the dream — born of “willful stupidity, willful ignorance” — wasteful and fearful but most of all angry and entitled.
The United States’ second house Pluto mirrors this fervor for ‘settler colonialism’ — a sprawl that originated with (and was rationalized by) the nation’s already entrenched dependence on slavery; an enterprise firmly established when the colonies were transforming into a nation.
House of Hades
One of the frequent questions I receive from clients — those with a cursory understanding of astrology is: “What in the hell are the houses?”
I try and explain, “Things are happening in the sky, and the houses of the horoscope tell us where it’s playing out for us down here on Earth.”
The origin of the astrological houses is a near apocryphal mystery. As Deborah Houlding explains in her stellar book The Houses: Temples in the Sky, students are wrong to associate the houses with numerological values, or the houses’ seeming similarity to the meaning of the signs of the Zodiac.
The houses have a powerful philosophical basis of their own — distinguished and developed through centuries of historical observation and metaphorical application.
The Zodiac locates the planetary positions in space, as measured and marked by the Earth’s ecliptic, but it is the houses — related to the Earth’s daily rotation — that brings the cosmic canopy down to the Earth. As Houlding notes: “The planets signify, the signs describe and the houses locate.”
You can think about them in a literal way: You walk into a particular house and are overtaken by the ambiance — the decor, lighting, colors, and smells. Each note imparts a general impression of what the house is ‘about’ and who might dwell there.
If your home is a bohemian loft designed for Avant-garde artists and your Christian grandmother from Idaho — let’s say she’s a stand-in for Saturn — comes to visit, you can imagine her reaction — the sort of affect her ‘meeting’ generates.
Another way to consider the houses is alchemically, where the house acts as an alembic or retort — the glass vessel that contains and protects the ignition of elements and compounds.
Planets that reside in a particular house absorb the moods and colors of the house — and also, depending on a house’s juxtaposition to the horoscope’s ascendant — the house will amplify or obscure the planet’s innate function. This later point, borrowed from classical astrology, is important to consider when delineating the complex chemistry of a second house Pluto — natally or nationally.
Over time, modern astrologers defanged the second house and removed from its welcome mat the names assigned the house by ancient astrologers, names such as Gate of Hades, Gate of Hell, or Portal of Pluto.
These underworld descriptors refer to the house’s location in the midnight terrain — the bottom half of the horoscope. Houlding explains how the lower hemisphere “was one that related to the hidden process of renewal, returning fertility which celebrated its appearance at the [chart’s] ascendant.”
The Egyptians considered the nadir — and the lower half of the wheel in general — as the underworld or resting place for the dead. With its passage through this terrain, moving back to rise again at the ascendant, the Sun was imbued with the riches of the second house — the fertile soil and precious metals; the byproducts of Hades’ realm of darkness and renewal.
Considered in this light, or darkness rather — you can see how there is an intensification of consequences when Pluto resides in a house already associated with Plutonic themes.
As mentioned above, this becomes complicated when the second house is considered in light of classical chart interpretations. Making no aspect to the ascendant (the point of sunrise — of manifestation or consciousness), planets in the second house occupy a blind spot within the horoscope.
As Pluto works best unseen, this doesn’t bode well for how an individual or a nation will consciously engage with the themes associated with a planet in the second house. I know from work with my clients, many years will often pass before planets placed in this section of the wheel are embraced or blended into consciousness. Read more
Paul Horwich, in a long NY Times essay wrote:
Wittgenstein isn’t a walk in the park, but he’s worth your effort because the more you study his philosophy — which was actually, in spots, more akin to mysticism — the more freedom you might gain as an astrologer.
Like the closet mystic Carl Jung, Wittgenstein knew how to couch his propositions to pass the scrutiny of his peers (well, except for his mentor Bertrand Russell who he drove to fury by disregarding traditional formulations of logic.)
And because of this sketchy dance, between chilly logic and the nimbus of mysticism, I find Wittgenstein to be the most satisfying of linguistic rebels. His mix of the effable with the ineffable mirrors in a direct way how human beings toil with making sense (or a muddle) of astrology. Read more
Typical of dreams, I did not recognize the house I was in, nor the door, nor the man.
Three nights ago I dreamt that an African American entered through a door in a house that I occupied. There was no doorbell or knock. He simply walked in unannounced. Shocked — and again typical of a dream’s rhythm — I woke up.
What was recognizable about the dream was the feeling tenor of the unexpected appearance of a person entering a room uninvited. Layered through that feeling was the wonder that accompanies the beginning of a strange new relationship.
The dream had other components, none of which I recall — but it was the visitor, his presence and surprise entry, that stayed with me throughout the day. And the following day. And now, while writing this article.
Freudian dream analysis would have tethered this dream to some repressed happening in my past. And because I am caucasian, a Jungian dream interpretation might say that the dream figure was a component of my ‘shadow’ — an aspect of my unconscious converting into consciousness.
The psychologist James Hillman would say that as soon as I’d named and cataloged the contents of my dream (by analyzing or interpreting it) I would have destroyed not only the dream’s vitality — its impression — but also the denizen of the dream — my visitor. A figure from the underworld.
Too, Hillman would say that I’d lost an opportunity to better prepare for my death.
Hillman — a longtime scholar of both Freud and Jung‘s dream typographies — came to see, after decades of exploring his dreams and that of his patients, that a dream scenario, a dream figure (or dream animal) are happenings and entities that visit us from the underworld.
As Phil Ford and J.F. Martel write in their introduction to their Weird Studies podcast that takes on Hillman’s masterwork:
“In order for dreams to do their work on us, says Hillman, we must cease to regard them as hallucinations, mere metaphors, epiphenomena, or illusions, and instead see them as the imaginal other life we all must live. Every night, for Hillman, each of us descends into the underworld to encounter those forces that shape us and our surroundings. The way down is the way up.”
I’d read Hillman’s book The Dream and the Underworld years ago, but it wasn’t until the outbreak of COVID-19 that I began to understand, in a direct-knowing way, what exactly Hillman was positing.
The Buddhists have their concept of bardo, and Christians assert a purgatorial realm — waystations of sorts. But the mythological realm of the underworld is, to me, universal — not creed dependent — and this is what Hillman helps us understand in his book. He writes:
“The…transformative work in dreams constructs the House of Hades, one’s individual death. Each dream builds upon that house. Each dream is practice in entering the underworld, a preparation of the psyche for death.”
I mention COVID because the last three months have moved many of us closer, with unrelenting proximity, to the universal underworld — way more frequently than our usual six hours of nocturnal sleep provides.
The cessation of our maddeningly busy and self-important lives has allowed not only nature to reassert her might (I love all of those pictures of animals rewilding abandoned city streets) but also the underworld to shift its boundaries. Read more