To a frog that's never left his pond the ocean seems like a gamble. Look what he's giving up: security, mastery of his world, recognition! The ocean frog just shakes his head. “I can't really explain what it's like where I live, but someday I'll take you there.1
Explaining the Pisces world, I feel like a pond frog asked to describe the ocean: How can I say what it's truly like? I'm no expert. I've got Virgo rising, which means I've typically encountered Pisces through my 7th house partners. Clinging to Virgo virtues, I've spent years demonstrating my inability to understand my Pisces mates—poets, musicians, alcoholics, liars and dreamers. How many times I've peered into their nebulous world and thrown up my hands: “What d'ya mean you just ‘forgot' to meet me when you said you would?! You lost your keys for the third time this week?! Go ahead. Give me one good reason why I should believe your promises now!"
Over time I've become less shrill. Life lies in wait for those of us who worship order and perfection. It roughs us up, so that frustrated, exasperated, and eventually surrendered, we come to view misty Pisces as a newly attractive place. I admire the artists and mystics who inhabit this realm. Like ocean frogs, they can't always explain their world, but from their blissed-out eyes and dreamy smiles, I can venture a few rough translations: Pisces floats; it goes with the flow. It forgives and forgets. It's a gentle state of transcendent one-ness that can soften the heart, expand the imagination, call us to a higher power, dial us into the collective unconscious, and summon the invisible weaver of our dreams. Through Pisces we can pierce beyond the veils of ego and materialism. We can dissolve ourselves into a vast dimension of unlimited love and possibility.
Pisces is soul-space. Whether we experience it as celestial or oceanic, distinctions like “up and down” or “before and after” are clearly less relevant here. These are terms from the pond realm. Pisces likes to work through trance. It enters us via the right side of our brain, in pictures, colors, sounds, emotion and intuitive vibrations. Its mode of reasoning is quite different from its left-brained opposite. Virgo parses parts. Pisces holds wholes. Virgo analyzes and Pisces synthesizes (hence its compassion). Pisces loves to note the likeness in things. It speaks in metaphors and can sit comfortably with mysteries. A question unanswered is an opportunity to wonder and dream. Sensitive and porous, Pisces moves through the world like a cloud or fog bank, enveloping and absorbing what it finds. It has little concern for facts and practical efficiencies. Pisces has something better: Faith. When asked to investigate the world, it simply beholds.
Against life's chaos and disappointments, who can deny Pisces' appeal? Its yearning for divinity, its empathetic heart, its romantic belief in dreams-come-true offer hope and healing to a fractured world. It's no wonder that Oprah—the undisputed culture queen—devotes her satellite radio show to positive Pisces themes. Each week thousands tune into her “Soul Series” conversations with experts on enlightenment, meditation, dream intelligence, spirit guides, prayer, reincarnation, and the ages of soul.2 Pluto may have entered reality-based Capricorn, but Uranus is still in Pisces, with Neptune waiting in the wings (Editor's note: The article was written in 2008). The collective interest in Pisces isn't disappearing soon. So if you too are thirsting for more Pisces magic, astrology has good news, even if you're heavily Virgo like me. Whatever the details of your chart, you've got a personal doorway into this realm of art and mysticism: It's your Pisces house, promising “The journey to a soulful life starts here!”
At least that's my theory. In practice, I've noticed something altogether different. As a constellation, Pisces has just a few bright stars, meaning it's difficult to see without a powerful telescope. Likewise in the chart, the Pisces house can be elusive. Over the years I've watched many approach their Pisces portal and balk, turning back to cast their lot with the pond frogs, unable or unwilling to gamble on the ocean. It's not just those with empty Pisces houses—it's people with Sun, Moon, or the Ascendant in Pisces. Initially I dismissed these individuals as anomalies. A veteran astrologer once told me that when people don't express their charts it means they're “unevolved.” Such thinking goes against my grain. Maybe they're neither anomalies nor unevolved. Perhaps their resistance is actually a clue, like a stray thread which when pulled can unravel more of the Pisces fabric.
Consider Warren. He's got Sun in Pisces in the 12th house (Pisces' natural home), with Pisces rising too. That's a good amount of Pisces. I spoke with Warren only briefly by phone and was intrigued to meet the person who would show up for our session. Was he a poet? A film-maker? An addict? A con artist? A spiritual seeker? The doorbell rang. I opened the door to a quiet man in a plain pressed shirt and khaki pants.
We chatted. He worked as an engineer, he said. He spent all day in front of a computer, looking at figures. “Sometimes numbers can be downright mystical,” I ventured. He looked puzzled, “Not really.” I asked if he had any interest in music, meditation, poetry, or fantasy. "No," he replied. He had no hobbies. His life consisted of going to work and coming home. Evenings he spent in front of the TV, accompanied by a shot or two of scotch. His wife nagged him about that. She wished they'd do more together, but he was always tired.
I kept looking from Warren to his chart. Sun in the 12th can bring a subdued or introverted personality. Pisces risings can also wear masks, blending in and concealing their true feelings. But will expressions of Pisces creativity and/or mysticism entirely disappear, as seemed to have happened with Warren? Whenever reality confounds expectations, astrologers dart frantically through the chart, hoping to find the planet(s) that are actually running the show. Warren may have bought a little Pisces-style transcendence with his nightly TV and shots of scotch. But most of what he said issued from his 6th house Virgo Moon—an emotional orientation that's cautious, hard-working, and analytical. His wife (who might also embody a man's Moon) seemed to do the Virgo nag.
I asked Warren to tell me about a time, perhaps from childhood, when he felt really happy. After a few moments his eyes lit up. He recalled one summer when he and a friend planned to produce their own fantasy comic book series. “We'd drawn all the characters and outlined a dozen storylines before school was officially out,” he said. Then his voice trailed off. “That was the summer my father made me get a job.” He shrugged. “I worked as a box boy at my uncle's grocery store instead.”
He'd stood at his Pisces portal, but was yanked back into his 6th house Virgo Moon. Likely this wasn't the only time Warren's imagination had been dashed by duty and pragmatism. Perhaps whenever his inner artist had struggled to give itself form, it was squashed by Virgo-style judgments: “Ridiculous! A waste of time! Such foolishness won't go anywhere!” Instead of becoming an ocean frog, immersed in a fascinating, absorbing, albeit less practical world, he became an engineer, condemning his spirit to the trance of his dull routines.
Poor Warren, I thought. I wondered what would have happened had his parents been more enlightened. What if they'd consulted an astrologer when he was a boy? The astrologer would have explained that Warren was a sensitive, intuitive child, with plenty of imagination and compassion. He should have been encouraged to follow his inspirations, given the space to develop his inner world. Perhaps then his Virgo Moon, rather than controlling the show, could have served to ground his Pisces sensibilities in a nicely structured way.
I met Warren when I was a novice astrologer, which means I had a pretty limited imagination myself. I figured his chart wanted him to find happiness by becoming something Piscean—perhaps an illustrator, an ashram devotee, an actor, or some other character from my slim repertoire of Pisces imagoes. That was the 80's, when Pluto was in Scorpio and combining astrology with depth psychology was the order of the day. I pored over horoscopes like they were dark maps of the psyche's underworld, hoping to shine new light on any childhood wounds or traumas that might empower my clients with new understanding. Sadly we often wound up in a whiny cul-de-sac called “victim of bad parenting.” Once Pluto entered Sagittarius, this grew increasingly weary. Besides I was a mother myself by then. I quickly saw the impossibility of parenting anywhere near the therapists' standards.
Pluto in Sagittarius called for new astrological strategies. My clients wanted help creating better futures rather than dredging up their pasts. I got less prescriptive and much more curious as my clients also became my teachers, expanding my understanding of the zodiac through their choices and behaviors. I listened for the beliefs that created their realities—which meant starting with the idea that their behavior was astrologically “right” rather than judging it as wrong. What I learned about people like Warren was that they were doing Pisces just as earnestly as the musicians, poets, and dreamers. Their porous sensitivity was less visible, but it hadn't disappeared. They simply sensed their surroundings and adjusted accordingly, swimming in the ocean where they found themselves. In a world that banishes soul and worships money, Pisces may shape-shift and go with the flow.
Such shape-shifting is actually Pisces' central myth. Its glyph and constellation show what seem like two fish going in different directions; they're really gods in disguise. When the monster Typhon raged toward Mount Olympus, Aphrodite and Eros transformed, making their escape as fish. They still shine faintly in our night sky as Pisces' V-shaped constellation, two fish bound by a loose cord at their tails. The eastern fish swims up toward heaven while the western one swims along the ecliptic. The directions they're heading in are as symbolic as the cord tying them together. The heaven-bound fish points to spiritual transcendence, while its partner cuts a more secular path along the ecliptic's material plane. The disguised gods are connected so as not to lose each other. Likewise in our Pisces house, we may preserve our own divinity by connecting ourselves to both directions—swimming along practical paths with mystical fins.
Pisces' glyph shows the fish bound tightly back to back. But in the sky, the constellation's looser binding at the tails more accurately depicts the challenge and latitude we have in holding both directions. We can keep our head isn the clouds but lose our earthly bearings. We can choose security but abandon soul, or any variation in between. Creativity and free will grant us endless possibilities. I think of Emma with Sun and Venus in Pisces. She delights children with her tiara and fairy wings at the local crafts fair, but has suffered disastrous love affairs with a series of weak and dishonest partners. There's Wilson, a charming Pisces rising who runs a successful ad agency by day and finds his heaven at night in women, wine and weed. There's gentle Timothy, with Sun, Moon and Mercury in Pisces, who mostly disappears, venturing out to take a clerk's job for a year or two, and collapsing back into his parents' home when he can no longer keep a schedule.
Most of us have less dramatic Pisces tales. But likely they still fall short of the divinity that's possible. How do we actualize this sign's promise of transcendence? That Aphrodite and Eros, the goddess of love and her love-inspiring son, are the fish in Pisces' glyph suggests another clue: Love may be the central activity of this sign. We can be called to love throughout our charts, but in our Pisces house, the misty, turbulent and confusing swirl of circumstances we meet may raise its need most deeply. Pisces requires an apprenticeship of love, which is why service, compassion, sacrifice, even martyrdom, are prevalent Pisces expressions. Spiritual love is powerful, but most human love is fragile. There are enough inner and outer Typhons rampaging through our worlds, that like a threatened Aphrodite and Eros, we may simply shift shape and hide out. It's a fair Pisces question: How do we strengthen our capacity to love, given the sometimes monstrous dissatisfactions, depressions and longings that can also cloud our experience of this sign?
Now that Pluto is in Capricorn, I feel my astrology strategies shifting once again. It's too early to know exactly where they'll go, but I sense a desire for greater pragmatism. When clients call, they're ready to take new responsibility. They want to know what they can do about their situations. Perhaps that's why I'm drawn to Hercules, one of our original action heroes. I'm not the first to turn to Hercules for zodiac advice. A long tradition connects his twelve labors to each of the zodiac signs. Most recently and prominently, metaphysician Alice Bailey used his labors as an allegory for the path of spiritual development.3 My goal is much less grand. I simply wonder if Hercules can guide us to some new action in our Pisces house.
So here's the tale. Hercules was ordered to retrieve the prized red cattle of Geryon as his Pisces labor. A winged giant with no less than three bodies, Geryon lived on an island at the ends of the earth. Hercules made his way on foot, battling wild beasts and marauders, until he went as far as any mortal had ever gone. Stopped by a formidable mountain, he cut through it to the other side, creating the mighty Pillars of Hercules. It was hot there. Some say in a fit of pique he shot an arrow at the burning sun. Others say he simply rested and prayed. But all agree on what happened next. The Sun god Apollo dropped down a fabulous gold goblet as reward. Our hero climbed into it and floated the rest of the way towards Erythia and Geryon's cows. Once he arrived, his task was easy: Bam! He clubbed the dangerous two-headed dog. Bam! Bam! He killed the artful shepherd. Geryon came running. Hercules shot one arrow that pierced all three of the monster's formidable bodies. Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! Hercules herded the red cows into his golden cup, sailed back to the tall mountain, returned Apollo's gift, and began the cattle drive back home. You'd think his work was nearly done, but going back across the land, he was attacked by thieves. His best bull escaped and ran all the way to Italy; Hercules had to wrestle and kill a king to get it back. Next Hera sent a terrible gadfly that scattered the crimson cows in all directions. The hero had to drain a river in order to finally get them home.
This is more action than we typically think of undertaking in our Pisces house! But the promise of the red cows is enticing. Cows offer sustenance; red is the color of desire, vitality, and power. The red cows symbolize the nourishing power of love and unlimited possibilities—the Pisces treasure. Look at your Pisces house or planets. Is there a dream you'd like to manifest? How far are you willing to go for it? Would you journey beyond space and time to see it come true? Hercules was ready to go to the ends of the earth—which in your Pisces house means going beyond the limits of your ordinary mind and entering a higher consciousness. The first step is simple: just become willing to create a new reality. After that you need the strength of intention and awareness, which Hercules models as he sets out across the land, defeating wild beasts and marauders along the way. These foes may seem surprising and strange, but they're actually familiar characters. They're the lower desires and negative thoughts that constantly restrict your best potentials. They are your addictions—the substances and habits that waylay you, or the thoughts that routinely close you down. If you can keep alert and forward-moving, you'll erect a structure of determination and intent that's as mighty as Hercules' Pillars.
You must go beyond your pillars, however, which means letting your intentions go. Releasing your dreams this way is like dropping a magic pebble into water, so that it can ripple out and shift the world, energizing the possibility of something even better coming back. It's an admission that your dreams may not be big enough! You do of course need to believe in magic—which attracts the next event: divine intervention or grace. When he's gone as far as man has ever gone, Hercules receives a divine vessel. This symbol of the golden cup suggests any number of otherworldly Pisces boons: synchronicity, imagination, intuition, spiritual guidance. Like the cup, these Piscean resources are both containers and vehicles. They carry you to your Pisces treasure. Intuition, for example, can bring, as Paulo Coelho writes, “…a sudden immersion of the soul into the universal current of life, where the histories of all people are connected, and (you) are able to know everything, because it's all written there.”4
The goblet is a gift from the Sun god, emblem for the ego. In one version of the story, Hercules attacks the Sun; in another, he simply soaks it in and prays. Which tactic is better for you depends on your balance of heaven and earth. If your orientation is overly secular, you may need to diminish your ego's beams with an ego-dissolving practice like chant or meditation. If you're ungrounded and overly mystical, your egoic boundaries may be porous and thin. Particularly if you have masculine planets like Sun, Mars, or Saturn in Pisces, you may need to strengthen your self. For you, the land journey toward your pillars may bring the greatest growth; after that, you can rest in your devotion and wait for grace.
Either way, once you release your intentions, you must enter a special Pisces state. When Hercules climbs into the golden goblet, he stops advancing in a conscious way. He comes to stillness. He sits. This is like the voyaging done in dreams, meditation, or trance. Robert Becker, a pioneering surgeon in nontraditional healing, has observed, “Many ‘primitive' peoples… believe that almost every normal adult has the ability to go into a trance state and be possessed by a god; the adult who cannot do this is a psychological cripple.”5 In other words, his red cows remain with Geryon.
Recently I met Rebecca. Her South Node, Sun, Venus and Mercury are in Virgo with a lone North Node in Pisces. Despite her doctor's orders and the limits of her aching body, she confessed she couldn't sit still. She worked eight-hour days and at home was always on the move, chasing from chore to chore. When she wasn't working, her mind was spinning with worries and obligations. “My family needs me,” she said. “They're falling apart,” she complained, “yet no one ever listens to my advice.” I asked her if she ever just sat still, with a cup of tea perhaps, and enjoyed the bliss that all her work had brought her. She shook her head. “No… I just can't!”
Without stopping and stepping away from ordinary life, reaching a peak Pisces experience is difficult. After resting in his cup, Hercules arrives at the island of unlimited possibilities and quickly vanquishes three foes. In an alert but higher state, he transcends space and time, accomplishing in minutes what might have taken years or an army of men. I am reminded of what my meditation teacher often says—that meditating is not just zoning out, it's waking up. For trance to bring a peak experience, we must be awake and open, alertly receptive to a non-ordinary reality. Dr. Jean Houston, a philosopher and researcher in human capacities, has often speculated that our brain's tremendous yet underutilized instrumentation is designed to bring us into a much vaster universe—perhaps with parallel dimensions, multiple realities, and undreamed-of potentials. It's no surprise that Houston has Jupiter in Pisces. It's been her life's mission to expand our belief in what's possible.
After a peak experience, we must always re-enter the world. This can be the most difficult leg of the journey—transporting our Pisces treasure into the present. Our red cows may be an ecstatic realization, a vision or message from spirit guides, or a transformation, bringing an overwhelming love for the world or simply new joy. This gift brings new potency, but like Hercules, we will be challenged. Thieves, runaway bulls, and gadflies symbolize how quickly our gift can vanish if we're not vigilant. But success is too sweet not to try. It's how we just might realize our own divinity. I like how Jean Houston rewrites the Pisces Aphrodite/Eros story with a single line: “We are not just gods-in-hiding, we are gods-in-making.”6