Drink up dreamers, you're running dry.
-- Peter Gabriel, "After the Flood"
When transiting Neptune strode into my 5th house of romance and conjoined my North Node, I found my "soul mate." He was a man with Neptune on the Midheaven, a former co-worker I hadn't seen in years. Sean called me out of the blue and the moment we first saw each other again, Neptune was hovering on the western horizon-conjunct the Descendant, conjunct the Moon, and square the transiting Nodes. In our composite chart, Neptune was a major player, conjunct our 12th house Sun, square our Moon, ruling our Midheaven. There had always been this unspoken connection between us. And now, from our first renewed contact, my life took on a distinctly Neptune quality. The driven efficiency I'd maintained for years simply dissolved. I found myself staring out of windows. Lost in another world. Even before we declared our feelings for each other, I decided to take a sabbatical from my astrology practice. It was a 5th house thing, I told myself. I needed time to be creative-or, in case it should happen, fall in love. As a full-time mother, corporate manager, astrologer and writer, I had no room in my schedule for falling in love.
And fall we did. The nights we spent together stretched till dawn, talking, touching, laughing; we agreed it seemed, on everything. In the wee morning hours we rewrote our childhood histories so they seemed to converge-him on his schoolyard, me on mine, developing along parallel paths, until the years that had kept us apart finally brought us together. Soul mates. One day Sean bought some books on Buddhist meditation-the very books I might have bought. Were we One? In earlier days he'd been a wine connoisseur and had acquired a fine collection. We were drinking down the last of it, exquisite wines fifteen and twenty years old. I wasn't much of a drinker, but the intoxication seemed so integral to our Neptune spell, I joked that when his wine cellar was empty, the relationship would be over too. I took him to my favorite spot on earth, Big Sur. It had never been so magical.
A week later, Sean had just one cabernet left. We were on the phone when he suddenly stopped talking. He was angry, but I didn't know why. This wasn't the first time he'd reacted with a sudden interminable silence. But that night something turned in me. Although I'd never been in a relationship lasting less than a decade, after four months of this one, I didn't want to play anymore. Our coupling had lost its magic. To the silence on the other end of the phone, I said what I hoped was a cordial good-bye, pressed the handset button, stared at the receiver and shrugged. As suddenly as I'd fallen in love, I had fallen out.
Was it true love or was it Neptune? In the following weeks, as the fairy dust dissolved, it seemed ever more incredible that I'd been so crazy for this man. Why the soul-mate swoon? Is that what Neptune wanted? Does he take delight in twirling us inside out with fantasies? Astrologers often talk of Neptune transits this way, as temporary derangements of reality. We're advised to be wary of ourselves; we're vulnerable to deceit or imagination's wiles. Western mythology has just a few stories of the sea god Neptune, but the most famous one takes just this view. Odysseus is a decent man, who after the Trojan War wants nothing more than to return to his beloved wife and son. Unfortunately he angers Neptune (aka Poseidon), and the sea god makes him lose his way. Ten long years Odysseus wanders in Neptune domains, among fantastic creatures in imaginary lands, the Lotus Eaters with their magic fruit, the Phaiakians, whom the gods visit openly without disguise, the Laistrygonians with supernatural powers. He and his men are waylaid by women of sorcery, Circe, Calypso, the Sirens. It is Athena, the goddess of rational mind, who finally intercedes and gets him home.
Athena's rivalry with the sea god is an old one, pitting the conscious mind against the unconscious. It's said these two battled head to head for the immortal possession of Athens, and (name is a big clue), guess who won. It is strange that the Greeks, as a sea-faring people, should leave us with so few stories of Neptune, a once mighty god second only to his brother Zeus. Of course, myths undergo constant revision, like the canvases of masters getting painted over and over. Philosophers agree that when the Greeks wrote Neptune out of his leading role, this was a critical turning point in Western mind, going towards the rationality of the city and away from the wild of the sea. Poseidon appears only in fragments after that, mostly terrorizing the shore with his brood of monsters, demanding virgins in ritual sacrifice. A dishonored god will take his revenge.
Over the centuries, civilization keeps taming Neptune's domains, organizing nature's chaos into scientific laws, structuring sacred passion into religious institutions, refining imaginations' deliriums into culturally sanctioned forms of literature and art. So we shouldn't be surprised at how the god (via the planet Neptune) chose to re-appear in the Nineteenth Century. The moment Neptune shimmered into view through Johann Galle's telescope in 1846, the planet was gripped by a tight conjunction to pragmatic Saturn in Aquarius, the sign of science and technology-still strangled it seems by civilization's preference for the rational, the structured and the real.
Even so Neptune has made his presence known. After the planet's discovery, he rippled through the culture, bringing us a renewed fascination with ghosts and otherworldly dimensions, the invention of anesthesia and the technology of motion pictures, also Freud's and Jung's exploration of dreams and the psyche. But culturally this is still fringe stuff, not the starring role. And so Neptune continues to send his monsters to terrorize us. He gets no small revenge by swallowing vast numbers of us with drug and alcohol addictions, dissolving our heroic leaders into media creations and con men, numbing us via the trance of the entertainment industry, invading our thoughts with the seductions of advertising.
Knowing Neptune's cultural history doesn't much help, however, when you're sitting with someone in the midst of a Neptune transit. Like my neighbor, who lost his younger brother, his job, and had a heart by-pass when Neptune conjoined his Sun. Or the client who lost her mother to a sudden discovery of cancer when Neptune squared her Moon. Or my girlfriend, who began an ill-fated affair with her married boss when Neptune conjoined her Moon. I think of the countless thirty- and forty-somethings who in the middle of their Neptune square*, lost their dreams, their taste for life, their sense of who they are. Try saying this is just delusion stuff, the revenge of a dishonored god-or the more positive spin, an opportunity to become more spiritual, to explore one's imagination, to dabble in art. Try saying just grab onto reality and don't get blown off course. The words will sound thin, which is fair enough in a world that doesn't give much support for Neptune tasks. But if the world doesn't understand Neptune, as astrologers, we should be particularly wary of making the same mistake. It often happens that the gods we demonize are just the ones we don't understand.
Does Neptune want to punish us or deliver gifts? Perhaps the best evidence of Neptune's intentions is not what happens to people during his transit, but what happens within them. Neptune does his greatest work below the surface. That's why it's hard to reach those in Neptune's embrace. They may be overcome with grief or delusion. If they've lost something dear-their health, their motivation, a loved one-their eyes may plead for direction, some way to make sense of the time. But no matter how compassionate or brilliant your words, likely none will hit the mark. Forget about waking up those who are dancing on clouds. Whether it brings loss or euphoria, Neptune's transit is an abduction to another world. The feelings may be overwhelming, but impossible to put into words. If you try to quiz someone about past Neptune transits, don't expect much of a reply. It's not like a Pluto transit, where every moment is etched in memory. It's more like recalling a dream, or a drug experience, or an alien encounter. Much is lost, sometimes the most important parts. When I asked my mother about the year of her Neptune square, she got fuzzy. She remembered the year before and the year after. The year after, she said, everything changed.
Neptune transits are an archetypal trip into the belly of the whale. When we enter Neptune's sea, it's as though the self we thought we knew dissolves. What's left is swallowed into the unknown. As Peter Gabriel sings, "When the flood calls, you have no home, you have no walls. In that thunder crash you're a thousand miles within a flash." So where do we go? Deeply inward. Or a part of us goes there. That's sometimes the trickiest manifestation of a Neptune transit. Maybe nothing is happening on the surface-no loss, no grief, no intoxication. But try as we might, we can't muster our whole self. This I learned the hard way, endeavoring to write a book the year Neptune squared my Mercury. I had hoped this would be an optimum time to tap into new imaginative resources; after all, I was writing about a Neptune subject, fairy tales. Consciously I was motivated and determined, my agent eagerly awaited pages, but the writer in me simply disappeared. Swallowed by the whale.
The Neptune journey is so deeply inward, we can neither see nor touch it. This is supremely awkward given our preferred heroic style. We want to face it, fight it, do something-but there's nothing to do in a Neptune transit, except have it. The whale's belly is both a death image and a womb image. It's an annihilation of self and a rebirthing. Joseph Campbell likens the journey into the whale to the journey of a religious pilgrim, an appropriate theme for the spiritualizing force of Neptune. "Allegorically," says Campbell, "the passage into a temple and the hero-dive through the jaws of the whale are identical adventures, both denoting, in picture language, the life-centering, life-renewing act."2 Life centering, life renewing. These aren't the first words that come to mind during Neptune periods, but should they be?
The month my friend Karen's progressed Moon met her natal Neptune in the 7th house of partners, her solar arc Neptune also changed signs. When a planet changes sign by progression or direction it signals a major shift in the energy's expression. The year of the shift often brings a significant event. What did Neptune invite? This married musician (whose natal Neptune opposes her Sun) went to a party following a performance, got drunk after heavily imbibing some Neptune brew, and placed her hand on the thigh of an also married colleague whose wife was out of town. Shortly thereafter, a very secret and, in her words "deliciously passionate" affair began. It continues a year later. Both claim to be content in their marriages, but this connection between them goes beyond words. Each feels that life without the other is impossible now. Their affair is all the things we don't like about Neptune, a fantasy, full of deceptions and denial. And yet, as I've watched Karen unfold over the year, she's been neither blown off-course nor reduced to less of herself. Quite the contrary, she's become more. Her love affair has inspired new interest in all the Neptune things that used to center her-her painting and poetry, as well as her spiritual roots. She looks and acts like a Sleeping Beauty who's been kissed awake. What did Neptune want from her? Nothing less than being reborn into a greater life.
Life centering, life renewing. When you study the temporary derangements of Neptune periods, this is where the ecstatic ones begin and the harrowing ones often end. When I consider the multiplicity of good and bad events associated with Neptune transits, I'm reminded of the stories of gifted gurus. Rather than teaching all students in identical style, they tailor their transmissions to the needs of each, being compassionate with one, cruel or abrupt with another, sometimes academic, sometimes playful. The students are left scratching their heads, guessing at the special wisdom of their guru. We often do the same with Neptune. But however this archetype manifests, his grace temporarily refocuses us-out of our familiar narrow world into a broader world that matters. Through the initiations of grief or ecstasy, Neptune brings us peak experiences that give us astonishing visions of what life at a higher level might be like.
When Neptune visited my North Node, I who had never believed in soul mates thought I'd found one. And via this mirage I was awakened from my efficient, machine-like trance. The night my "soul mate" lost his glimmer, I opened one of the spiritual books he'd given me. It was then a much more enduring journey began. Perhaps Neptune gives us something like "inverse transitional objects." Psychology describes the teddy bears and imaginary friends of children as "transitional objects" helping to wean them from an undifferentiated identity with mother into a separate sense of self. These objects facilitate the separation process. Perhaps Neptune's inverse transitional objects are significant to the adult developmental process-helping to wean us from our separate sense of self into a realization of unity with the whole. Our separate self usually wins the starring role in youthful fantasies, which is why at the Neptune square we must be dis-illusioned of them. We must release the dreams of the smaller egoic self, so that wiser visions can rush in. After our Neptune transit, we often feel a greater sense of communion and compassion, a boundaryless belonging, an overwhelming gratitude-a state of grace. We reach an exquisite understanding, like the drop of water who finally knows it is one with the ocean.
When it brings enlightenment and bliss, Neptune takes us into the heart of life-which began on our planet in the ocean, ancient Poseidon's domain. Astronomers keep probing the cosmos and haven't found this life-giving liquid flowing anywhere else. Isn't this remarkable? Rivers and oceans are mythological Neptune's gift to the earth. Dream is another. Our nightly descent into Neptune's realm is an essential life-renewing act; deprived of dream, we lose our grip on the world. Our nightly swim in the invisible helps us process anxiety and desire. We download wisdom from our higher self and tinker with our daily dramas in order to bear them better.
Neptune is an ally. But how much of his gauzy world do we need for proper balance? Typically we think of balance as a fifty-fifty proposition, but more likely what's required is simple harmony, the ratio that works. If we use the ratio of water to land on our planet as instructive metaphor, the earth suggests there should be seventy percent Neptune. And if this seems too much, consider that our bodies are largely water too. Does this mean we should forsake reality for the fluidity of Neptune not just some, but most of the time?
It's a trick question. Consider the normal state of mind. If you've ever meditated, you likely discovered your "normal" mental state is a constant chatter of mostly self-important fantasies and distortions. Most minds are caught in an endless loop of fabricating stories and then believing them. Walk down an average city street and the majority of "normal" people you'll meet won't really be there, off on invisible journeys. Consider too the countless modern addictions-drugs, television, smoking, working, shopping, eating-that transport us to some netherworld. If you're worried about upping your Neptune ratio to seventy percent, relax. You're probably already there. But these are "faux Neptune" activities. Vacant fantasies and addictive behaviors offer none of the real treasure Neptune brings.
Neptune wants nothing less than your genuine devotion. Examine what's on your personal altar. Not what you'd like to see there, but what you actually kneel to everyday. Where do you spend your time? There's your worship. If it's a genuine Neptune activity or done from an authentic Neptune spirit, you will feel blessed as you perform it. Your life will have meaning; you'll feel a sense of peace. Even when circumstances are difficult, you'll soon right yourself with gratitude and renewed understanding. But if you mostly worship the Sun, this grace will be a fleeting state.
The Sun is an emblem for ego, the part of us that hungers for personal satisfaction and glory. It's instructive that Neptune orbits at quite a distance from the Sun, receiving just one-tenth of one percent of the sunlight reaching earth. (One of the imaging team members from the Voyager 2 mission compared Neptune's light to the inside of an unlit cathedral on a cloudy day3-how appropriate.) To honor Neptune properly, we must keep ego out of it. Departures from reality are more often ego trips than Neptune ones. When our visions draw from universal sources and nourish the collective journey, when they celebrate not self but the sacred in the cosmos, then we're wrapped in Neptune's arms. To be there seventy percent of the time would be heaven. Mundane reality would be a Land of Bliss.
What is reality anyway? Today science gives us surprisingly Neptunian descriptions. Solid materials disappear into quantum mysteries, implying a unity of connections only mystics can make sense of. Reality, the scientists tell us, is a flux, a multiplicity of possibilities, dependent on its observers. It is sourced in the relationship between seer and the seen. Theoretical physicists sound like Buddhists when they say an independent and objective world just doesn't exist. If we revisit Neptune's discovery chart from this perspective, Neptune's conjunction to Saturn takes on new meaning. Perhaps it was Neptune gripping Saturn and shaking up Aquarius, demanding a holy merger of science and the sacred. Perhaps it was a visionary invitation for all of us to bring Neptune values like communion, compassion, imagination, into the center of our culture. Perhaps it was Neptune saying, "Drink up dreamers, you're running dry."
Neptune will return to its position in the discovery chart in 2009. It's not too early to start your celebration.
1. 9/23/1846, 9:49 pm GMT, Berlin, Germany; fr.
Joylin Hill, The Discovery of the Planets (AFA, 1985).
2. Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Bollingen, 1968), p. 92
3. Thomas R. Watters, Planets: A Smithsonian Guide (Macmillan, 1995)p. 170
MOONPRINTS by Dana Gerhardt
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