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The Noisy Birds of Sagittarius

By Dana Gerhardt

herculesTo keep his mind right, a man should look to the horizon at least once a day. This was told to me by a weekend sailor, who heard it from an elder with some Navajo blood in him. I haven't seen either man's birth chart, but I suspect that Sagittarius is strong. At the least, the sailor and the elder recommend a superb daily practice for Sagittarians: Archers, send your eyes beyond the corral of your thoughts, into that intriguing distance, the space unknown, where you are unknown. Join your heart to this unseen territory, and against that faraway line, your present will come into perspective, a promising future will beckon.

Do this for the Sun in Sagittarius to nourish the fires of creativity and confidence. Do it for Mercury in Sagittarius to give thought its proper wing. Do it for Venus in Sagittarius to remember how truly vast and open is love. Do it ... I could go on, but astrology formulas make me restless - especially with horizon work, which is not about folding life into neat cupboards and drawers. Horizon-gazing is like the best astrology. It's designed to open life up, growing it wide with new possibilities.

Everyone needs such expansiveness. That's why the zodiac gives us each a Sagittarian house. If you haven't connected with yours lately, try the following experiment. Consider the area of life guided by Sagittarius in your chart. There, for the next thirty days, commit to a daily horizon practice. If Sagittarius guides your 5th house, horizon-gaze with children, write poetry, or paint what you see. If Sagittarius guides your 6th house, take your daily coffee breaks at a window with a distant view. If Sagittarius guides your 7th house, watch a month of sunsets with your partner. If Sagittarius ... you get the idea. Let your inner centaur lead; your spirit will follow.

But I warn you. Stare at the horizon too long, and a curious thing happens. The troubles of the world settle down like silt. They collect into an insignificant pebble, which you may inadvertently, quite carelessly, kick away. Your eyes lift and your mind soars - like a runaway birthday balloon! Up there: You see it all! You know it all! Your heart brims to overflowing. You feel so positive, so exuberant, so magnanimous, you want to share your Truth with everyone! Cue Rod Serling music. You've just crossed over: into the distant reaches of the Sagittarius Zone.

In the Sag Zone, you feel as fit and cheerful as an Alpine hiker. With a philosopher's wit and the barefoot stride of a spiritual seeker, you're eager to head out and read the Vast Book of the World! You might find God on a crowded Bangkok sidewalk or in a musty volume from a forgotten library shelf. Words like "justice, freedom, integrity" make your heart pound. If you see wrongs, you want to right them. When it's dark, you're full of hope. If life gets inscrutable, answers fall to the tip of your tongue. In the Zone, you happily leap to your soapbox to preach to your friends - but strangely, they draw back in horror.

You've just hurt their feelings. Or you've forgotten an appointment. Your centaur hooves stumble on the annoying commitments they keep throwing in your path. People accuse you of being argumentative, self-indulgent, a procrastinator. It's true. Some days, you don't feel like doing anything adult. Lately, you've noticed how often your arrows miss their target, how quickly your fine plans just get boring. You push the thought away, but it keeps coming back: Maybe it's not everyone else but you who's the problem. Could it be ... with your bright ideas, that you're simply a fool?

kentaurThe short answer is "Yes!" I can say this because I've got the Sun in Sagittarius, and I've had plenty of Sagittarius-rich friends. As we canter around on four legs, we can be quite obliviously out of sync with the two-legged ones around us. We might be sunny, carefree, and chatty, except when we're indignant, self-righteous, or academic and dry. We can be as irresponsible and crude as the centaurs of classical mythology, who were carousers, prone to intoxication and prophesying. We can be as aggravating as the forest creatures in Harry Potter's world: "Never," says the gamekeeper Hagrid, irritably, "try an' get a straight answer out of a centaur. Ruddy stargazers. Not interested in anythin' closer than the moon."[1]

When you have serious work to do, Sagittarians aren't usually the first ones you'll call. But call them you will eventually, whenever you hunger for more meaning, laughter, or adventure. Sagittarius's position in the zodiac is instructive. Sandwiched between Scorpio and Capricorn, it separates the two most ambitious (some would say the grimmest) signs in the zodiac. Arising from Scorpio's transformative ash heap, Sagittarius takes flight. On its wings, we enjoy new freedom, going beyond our limits, seeking wisdom and meaning through raw experience or higher education. We explore new philosophies, religions, foreign cultures. We challenge our bodies and minds. We follow our souls to liberate the Truth, going as far as our inner fire takes us - until we crash or land. Then, we must ground our high ideals with Capricorn's reality and pragmatism.

If Scorpio is the Dark Prince and Capricorn is the Old King, Sagittarius is the Fool, the court jester who tricks the world into dropping its chin so he can flick its nose. The Fool lightens things up so that wisdom can enter the room. With his merry allusions, the Fool utters tough truths to the King without getting his head chopped off. His playfulness saves the world from destruction. His perspective brings the kingdom new life.

The World, Brought to You by Sagittarius

If you lack Sagittarius planets or even Sagittarian friends, you've nonetheless been expanded, bruised, inspired, or annoyed by this sign for decades. The transits of three outer planets through Sagittarius (from roughly 1970 to 2008) have woven Sag themes so deeply into the postmodern world that it's easy to argue that this sign sits at the center of contemporary culture, much as our Galactic Center is also in Sag.

Would we have traveled so enthusiastically to that Star Wars galaxy far, far away, brandishing light swords and mastering the Force with guru Yoda, if Neptune hadn't been in the sign of exploration, adventure, and spiritual seeking? When Neptune entered Sag in 1970, it broadcast a new spirit through the collective unconscious, steering fashion, films, politics, and dreams in Sagittarian directions for the next 14 years. Blame Neptune for the popularity of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. We were seduced into feeling just like that seagull: philosophical, free-wheeling, and desperate to soar to new heights. Even President Nixon caught the spirit, as he took us all the way to China, melting decades of diplomatic distance between the two nations. If you've ever lain on a Western acupuncturist's table, you can thank Neptune in Sagittarius for bringing you there.

Neptune gave us memorable Sagittarian avatars: the liberated Princess Leia, the whip-cracking adventurer Indiana Jones, even John Travolta as disco-dancing Tony Manero. His Sagittarian vitality and ethical code finally led him away from what he called a "fake" Brooklyn life into Manhattan's broader horizons. Travolta's iconic pose in white suit, pointing to the sky, is just another expression of the Archer. Fire-sign Sag glittered in disco's mirrored balls and shiny fabrics; it soared in elevated platform shoes and thrilled to disco's high-energy dancing. The fitness craze began then, too. Remember how Sagittarius Jane Fonda urged us to "feel the burn"?

hashish shopIt was exotic and strange when the Beatles followed their guru to India; after Neptune entered Sagittarius, religious seeking became commonplace. Hippies regularly trekked to the East, airports blossomed with Hare Krishna dancers, Reverend Moon and Jim Jones hypnotized their cults. Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar infused Christianity with a new Sagittarian exuberance. Much that was radical in the 1960s gained wider acceptance with Neptune in freedom-loving Sag. Women's lib went mainstream, distrust of the government grew, and drugs got more popular.

An interesting astrological study might be to correlate the rise and fall of certain drugs with Neptune through the signs. Marijuana and cocaine use increased during Neptune's Sag transit. Donna Cunningham and Andrew Ramer speculate that, on an energetic level, pot acts as a "root chakra rephaser," something that was likely appealing to a generation eager to uproot themselves from home, family, and uninspiring career possibilities.[2] (This may also have contributed to the '70s fascination with that homesick space traveler ET.) The pot-smoker's desire to expand reality with a more visionary perspective is very Sagittarian. In the '80s, when electrifying Uranus joined Neptune in Sag, cocaine shimmied into the culture. This white powder from the high Andes mountains was particularly enjoyed by those reaching new heights in the skyscrapers of entertainment and finance. Cunningham and Ramer suggest that the metaphysical appeal of this drug was how it helped its users acclimate to the sudden altitudes of their new wealth.

cocaineUranus was in Sagittarius from 1981 to 1988, sending a rebellious, iconoclastic surge through the decade. Disco gave way to punk - an intense and frenetic inversion of Sagittarian optimism. Rap, a preachy musical genre, was born as well. The rapper with his sparkly gold chains was another Sagittarian avatar. Uranus also rules technology and space. Bringing the imaginative worlds of Star Trek and Star Wars closer to reality, America's first reusable space craft, Columbia, was launched in 1981. That same year, IBM introduced Acorn, the first personal computer, and Microsoft introduced its new operating system, MS-DOS. Perhaps no single invention has pushed the limits of knowledge further than the PC. It's as though the Higher Mind that Sagittarius craves had just descended to Earth in this little box.

Uranus brought shocks along with its innovations. There were religious scandals, including the first reports of sex abuse by Catholic clergy; popular preachers like Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggert toppled under the weight of their hypocritical lies. There were calamities, too. In 1986, the space shuttle Challenger, with the first teacher onboard, exploded after liftoff. In 1987, the stock market plunged. These are modern versions of the Icarus myth - about a boy so exhilarated with flying that he veers too close to the Sun, which melts his wax wings and sends him plunging to his death. This too is a lesson for Sagittarius, a sign prone to fanaticism, exaggeration, and excess. The Tarot card associated with Sag is "Temperance," depicting an angel with two goblets, mixing water and wine. The suggestion is that in Sagittarius we must learn balance, to moderate our intoxications with clear thinking.

This is a lesson we got to learn again and again once Pluto entered Sagittarius from 1995 to 2008. The dot-com boom was followed by the dot-com bust, though Sagittarian optimism continued to fuel buying and spending. Credit card offers flooded our mailboxes, and the astronomical rise in personal debt was matched by the rise in personal bankruptcies. The real estate bubble grew bigger and bigger until it burst. Sag risky mortgage investments, along with years of deregulation, left the world's financial systems in ruins (a mess that Pluto in Capricorn still must clean up). Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan summed up the blind spot of our shiny Sagittarian years: "[Financial crises] are all different, but they have one fundamental source ... the unquenchable capability of human beings when confronted with long periods of prosperity to presume that it will continue."[3] Sagittarius, with its arrows always pointing to the sky, must keep discovering that what goes up ... will eventually come down.

temperanceA small but potent planet,[4] Pluto took Sagittarius to even greater extremes and energized its shadow. Fanatics gained power. Religious intolerance became more concentrated and polarized. The elasticity of truth got stretched to the breaking point. After one president lied about a blow job, the next one lied us into a war. Around the globe, Sagittarian self-righteousness squared off against an equal Sagittarian outrage - although the Tarot Temperance angel might have wanted us to see how, underneath our differences, we're of the same substance, a secular belief that also gained popularity. While scandals continued to weaken the Catholic Church, the lines between Christians, Muslims, and Jews grew sharper. Meanwhile, pop culture gobbled up spirituality like it was candy. By the time Pluto exited Sag, spiritual journeys had become a cultural obsession, through bestsellers like Eat, Pray, Love; A New Earth; and The Secret.

Would Oprah's book club have been so successful without Pluto in the sign of publishing? This industry was also transformed during Pluto's Sag years. Audio books became popular, allowing us to work out or travel while reading! Through Project Gutenberg, we could now get whole books online. Mega-stores like Border's, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon changed the way books were sold. There were Sagittarius-style scandals, too, exposés of plagiarism and memoirs that were actually fiction. Yet, by the end of this transit, a not-so-quiet Sagittarian revolution had occurred. Would-be writers no longer needed publishers and editors. Anyone with an opinion could shout it out from a blog in the middle of the world's cyber-square.

During the Pluto in Sag years, the Internet grew like a kudzu vine. Through the World Wide Web, computers had achieved their Sag functions of collapsing borders and expanding our horizons. We could now bring libraries and universities into our bedrooms. We could travel the world without packing a single bag. Nixon's historic trip to China seems quaint now. I no longer have to trek to the East for spiritual inspiration; Tibetan Buddhist Masters regularly visit my town. Miles above me, the space station is manned by an international crew. I can wake up in the morning and find Moonprints orders from Norway, South Africa, or Hong Kong. At noon, I can make a Kiva loan to a Guatemalan weaver or a Kenyan cake-seller. At night, I can read a blog entry from my friend in Bhutan. The outer-planet transits through Sag have indeed given us the world. If they had hovered just a few more years in this sign, might we have gained the whole universe?

Hercules' Sagittarian Challenge

stymphalian birdsOf course, our world may not have survived without the outer planets entering Capricorn to steady, restructure, and ground us with new realism. For those of us who have lived through the last four Sag decades, it may seem that we've labored enough in this sign. But let's go back a few thousand years to see what we can learn from Hercules' Sag labor. This is his sixth assignment; the king wants him to clear the Stymphalian marsh of Arcadia.

The Arcadian marsh is infested with a horde of man-eating birds as fierce as lions and leopards. When Hercules arrives, he finds their noise unbearable. Their sharp beaks can pierce iron or bronze, so his armor is useless. They're parked around the marsh like penguins, yet his arrows just bounce off the metallic feathers protecting their torsos. Hercules is at a loss what to do. To gain some peace and perspective, he climbs a nearby mountain. There he encounters Athena, who hands him a pair of divine castanets forged by the immortal craftsman Hephaestus. Hercules shakes the bronze castanets. Their joyful noise startles the Stymphalian birds, who quickly take flight. Some fly away forever. The rest Hercules picks off one by one, his arrows now reaching their soft bellies.

Hercules gives us a perfect formula for Sagittarian success. No matter what your challenge, Sagittarius, first go somewhere spacious, preferably to a high place where you have room to breathe, where your mind can expand and thus open to the presence of Higher Mind. When inspiration (like divine castanets) appears, allow yourself to become enthused. Let the new ideas fill you up as sound fills the air. Twirl around like Julie Andrews in a Sound of Music moment and become alive with inspiration! Then get focused. Pick up your bow. Train your eyes on your target. Keep firing your arrows until your objective is achieved.

Birds are a universal symbol of thought. Yet, in the region of Arcadia, a mythical place renowned for its carefree joy and ease (like Sagittarius!), this gathering of birds is troubling and dark. The Stymphalian predators describe the shadow workings of the Sagittarian mind. Swamps are stagnant places where unconscious instincts can gather and fester. Sagittarius is designed to look to the future, to broaden its horizons, to seek those experiences that cultivate wisdom. But Sagittarius can also get mired in the past, lose its horizon, and injure itself without getting wiser. The Stymphalian birds are those unconscious beliefs that obstruct clear vision and judgment. They are the habitual thoughts that keep us from realizing our potential. Restlessness, inflation, self-righteousness, and selfishness are among the instincts that can weigh Sagittarians down.

The metal-feathered birds are beliefs and ideas that go nowhere. Brute force or determination won't get rid of them. Sagittarius must itself get moving. Its consciousness must shift. A trip might do it. Discovering a new author could do it. So can meditation. Sagittarians have many options for clearing their internal swamp. But the moment negativity takes flight - that will always be a gift. It's not the result of self-effort. Sagittarians can only open themselves and wait for a higher intelligence to appear, like divine music arriving from the spheres. The Sagittarian who truly understands this is forever humbled and therefore willing to practice at her real labor. The skill Sagittarius must develop is archery - the capacity to focus and reach targets. A Sagittarian who merely plays and lets the divine rush in will never reach her full potential until she also gets to work.

archerIn Archetypes of the Zodiac, Kathleen Burt tells a wonderful story about Sagittarian focus.[5] An Archery Master, an old man whose time is valuable, is interviewing students. He's unwilling to teach just anyone the art of the bow. Each prospective student must hold the bow and concentrate as the Master asks what he sees. The first sees a mountain across the valley, the sky, the trees, and a bird in one of the treetops. "Get out of here," says the Master. The next sees the same objects and also, out of the corner of his eye, the Master. "You fail, too," says the old man. More would-be students give similar responses until, finally, it's the young prince's turn. "What do you see?" asks the Master. "I see only the bird." "Look again and concentrate harder," the Master instructs. "Ah! I see only the spot in the center of the bird's forehead." "Fine," says the Master. "Release the arrow. You will be my student."

That's how to be a successful archer!

  1. J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Scholastic Press, 1998, p. 254.
  2. Donna Cunningham and Andrew Ramer, Further Dimensions of Healing Addictions, Cassandra Press, 1988.
  3. http://wallstreetblips.dailyradar.com/story/bbc-news-business-market-crisis-will-happen-again/
  4. Despite Pluto's demotion by astronomers, I continue to consider it a planet, given the undeniable strength of its influence by transit.
  5. Kathleen Burt, Archetypes of the Zodiac, Llewellyn Publications, 1988,
    p. 321.

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