November 15th, 2020

The United States’ Pluto Return: A Primer-Part 2

“You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.” — William Blake from Proverbs From Hell

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

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Filed Under: Mundane Astrology
August 14th, 2020

Why Astrologers Need to Study Wittgenstein

Paul Horwich, in a long NY Times essay wrote:

“The singular achievement of the controversial early 20th century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was to have discerned the true nature of Western philosophy — what is special about its problems, where they come from, how they should and should not be addressed, and what can and cannot be accomplished by grappling with them. The uniquely insightful answers provided to these meta-questions are what give his treatments of specific issues within the subject — concerning language, experience, knowledge, mathematics, art and religion among them — a power of illumination that cannot be found in the work of others.”

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

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Filed Under: Astrology
May 28th, 2020

Your Dreams Aren’t What You Imagine

“According to Jorge Luis Borges the most astonishing things about dreams is not their psychic function, the biological mechanism that undergirds them, or even their nature. But the simple fact that they exist at all.” –J.F. Martel

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

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Filed Under: Dreams
May 25th, 2020

The Spatial Quandary of Kala Sarpa Yoga

In India there is an astrological term that corresponds to our current pandemic-related claustrophobia.

This cosmic configuration is called the Kala Sarpa Yoga.

I’m not a Vedic astrologer but I’d asked my colleague Kate Petty about our current exaggerated sky pattern last month and she mentioned how, within Indian astrology, the pattern is considered extreme and perhaps inauspicious  — and that got my head whirling. And so I did some research.

Kala Sarpa Yoga is generally studied in natal astrology and relates to a condition where the seven planets that are worked with in Vedic astrology (Sun, Moon, Mars, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury) are trapped between Rahu (the Moon’s North Node) and Ketu (the Moon’s South Node).

Of course, modern Western astrology also includes Uranus, Neptune and Pluto in the pantheon. And this is why when I first started to consider our current sky pattern — where the Nodes have locked all of the solar system into one half of the zodiac, I was struck by the pattern’s literal correlation to the COVID pandemic and the feeling that — well, people feel trapped — frozen in time.

Think of it metaphorically: Picture a pie where all ten pieces of the pie are crammed into just one-half of the pie plate— instead of being evenly dispersed in the circle.

Just about anyone you talk to nowadays would acknowledge this feeling of restricted disproportion. It’s like we are forced into viewing the world through a pair of glasses where one of the lenses is blacked out or a blinder is in place on one side of the frames. Our ability to remain objective is severely compromised.

Kala means time, Sarpa means Serpent and Yoga means combination. So we could read Kala Sarpa Yoga, when considered within mundane (world-focused) astrology, as global consciousness trapped into one segment of time.

In Vedic astrology the Moon’s Nodes are based on a snake metaphor, whereas in Western astrology they are aligned with the image of a dragon. The Nodes in both systems are highly charged points that mark the eclipse cycles, and if you think of time as an actual entity — not just a conceptual creation — the Nodes would mark the entrance and exit points of force, within time’s body.

This is a topic for another article, but I’ll just say quickly that it was Rudolph Steiner‘s explanation of solar and lunar eclipses that made me reconsider the Moon’s Nodes in a different light.

What’s interesting is that the Kala Sarpa Yoga began to move into exactitude about a month before the Covid-19 pandemic was acknowledged as an encroaching and unavoidable health crisis. Read more

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Filed Under: Astrology
May 21st, 2020

Join Us on the Stargazer Podcast May 25

On the weekend I got together — virtually — with Rachel and Andrei from the Aeolian Heart website to record two episodes for their Stargazer podcast.

The cast is debuting today May 25. And you can listen to the first episode here.

And you can listen to the second episode here. 

Rachel, Andrei and I took on a free-for-all approach to the conversation and let imagination lead the way.

I was reminded, once again, that when you’re an astrologer you’re a lifelong student. Both of these artist/scholar/astrologers offered a wellspring of cogent astro-facets to consider.

• We covered everything from our fandom for art and culture critic Camille Paglia.

• To the conundrums of traditional astrology and the gnarly topic of prediction and dignities — and how potentially harmful those can be for a novice client. “Oh your Venus is in Virgo? I’m sorry!”

• We also consider the invasion of the Jungian world (synchronicity and archetypes) into modern astrology.

• Qualia (and wine tasting 🍷) and a language for describing the present moment.

• How has the astrologer’s ability to communicate astrology developed over time.

• Humanist philosopher Marsilio Ficino as a proto-psychological astrologer.

• Modern astrology’s indefatigable connoisseur Liz Greene.

Morrisey‘s song Hairdresser on Fire — (you just have to listen to the episode).

• Please be advised that there is some salty language in the cast.

Enjoy the episode and you can leave us comments on my Facebook post here. 

Be sure to visit Aeloion Heart and subscribe to Rachel’s newsletter — she’ll surprise you over and over with her scholarly astro-musings.

Happy listening and holiday!


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May 17th, 2020

Joe Biden’s Upside Down Descent

From an article posted today on the Atlantic’s website:

“Biden’s Virtual Campaign Is a Disaster: The candidate has reached the peak of his career in the rec room of his basement, talking into a computer.”

Grant Lewi labeled Saturn’s transit through the 1st, 2nd and 3rd house of a natal chart as “the obscure years”.

Although each transit is unique — depending on how it relates to other natal factors, still the lower quadrant passage of Saturn is generally painful and frustrating. A grind and slog.

As Kate Petty reminded me the other day, ancient astrologers named the second house of the chart: THE MOUTH OF HELL. This relates I’d imagine to a planet heading towards the chart’s nadir — the rock bottom — where things go to die.

It’s interesting to note that before cemeteries were a thing people just buried their dead relatives under their home’s floorboards. Reinforcing this literal cross-reference to the fourth house as ‘home’ and ‘endings’. I guess there was something comforting in knowing that grandma’s corpse was safe beneath your feet you while you’re sitting on your sofa.

Anyway, as soon as I was forced to start taking Biden seriously as a candidate I was head-scratching about how Saturn was traversing this ‘obscure’ quarter of his wheel. Especially when I consider how in Trump’s natal chart Saturn is ascending towards his mid-heaven and tenth house.

Generally, Saturn moving through this lower quadrant corresponds with frustration and a sense of invisibility. Regardless of your efforts, it feels like you can’t gain traction with projects or plans related to working with others.

Both times that I’ve experienced the transit it matched up with one of the worst periods in my life. Yes, there was a silver lining, but it was very un-glamorous grunt work stuff.

Anyway, so as all things COVID-themed seems to relate to reality being turned upside down right now, here is Biden locked in his basement doing his thing — while the commentary and publicity related to his strategy are scathing.

But then look at the 12th house of Biden’s natal chart. This basement headquarters arrangement is very ‘duck to water’ for Biden. And that potent Jupiter in Cancer in the 8th. Meaning, he might actually benefit from what normally could be a terrible transit for someone running for president.

Almost all of my clients that have strong 12th house, 8th house, Scorpio or Pluto natal placements are benefiting in various ways from the pandemic.

This makes sense because that grouping of markers has a lot to do with vocations and events that people generally DON’T want to look at or engage with — disease, hospitals, mortuaries, death — or actual work that’s related like medicine, counseling, grief healing, recycling, rebuilding, etc.

Opening collage by F. Woodruff

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Filed Under: Astrology

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