He who fights with monsters might take care lest he
thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the
abyss gazes also into you.
— Friedrich Nietzsche: Beyond Good and Evil
The dark side. The lurid pit of human depravity. Cruelty and bloodlust. Torture, violence, and murder. Sexual perversion. Dominance and submission. Sadism and masochism. Regions beyond the safe boundaries of the civilized. The territory of the forbidden and taboo. These are some of the realms of the zodiacal sign of Scorpio and its planetary ruler, Pluto.
Scorpionic passions — which bubble away like hot, flowing magma underground but are often expressed as intense, icy detachment — reflect an almost morbid fascination with power and its Plutonian uses.
Magnetically drawn into arenas where angels fear to tread, the Scorpionic archetype does not merely observe this feral underbelly nor simply acknowledge that human beings are capable of nightmarish brutality and mayhem. No, Scorpio does more than that. It immerses itself in the horrors and then, paradoxically, reveals sacred truths that have been corrupted, lost, and buried within the profane.
Nature has her own dark side. Everything eats everything else. Watch children playing near a tide pool. They are fascinated with dead and dying things. Scorpio is present in this, aware of rot and decay as integral parts of life's renewal. Children can also be cruel, which is equally Scorpionic. Some transcend that cruelty as they grow up. Others simply bury it under a socialized façade, either forgotten or hidden. Scorpio trains its x-ray vision on those masks to reveal whatever lurks within.
Men shed blood in war. Women shed blood in menstruation. Scorpio understands both. Blood is Life and Death in the great cosmic transfusion. Blood is passion, as in the phrase, "his blood was up." Shockingly red, hot and pulsing, blood is a canal connecting the light to the dark. Scorpio swims in that crimson river.
In this first decade of the 21st century, good and evil have been resurrected into the popular lexicon of public discourse concerning morality and immorality. Pluto's passage through Sagittarius from 1995 to 2008 is ripping apart the body politic, so whatever vague togetherness and safety we once felt has been nearly wiped out. We are polarized, divided amongst ourselves. In part, this is due to the rise of religious extremism, also indicated by Pluto in Sagittarius, so that the sacred and the secular are now profoundly disturbed and in conflict.
In keeping with this theme, U.S. President George W. Bush announced immediately after 9/11 that the attacks were committed by evil-doers who hated our freedoms. He then further polarized the event by stating that other nations must be either with us or against us in regard to terrorism. This way of seeing the world — as a clear division into absolute and simplistic black-and-white versions of good versus evil — is often prevalent during periods when Saturn aligns with Pluto, especially in opposition, as occurred from 2000 to 2003. Scorpio embraces the extremes but not their separation.
In the modern epoch, nations that would make war have always used propaganda to stir up hatred of the enemy and desire for vengeance among the populace. Whatever the real reasons for going to war — extending the rulers' power, acquiring territory, or controlling resources — a public appeal is made to the morality of good versus evil. Wars cannot be started or sustained without this invocation. Whether real or imagined, evil must have a spotlight cast on it for the champions of goodness to become aggressively self-righteous. To make soldiers fight, kill, and die and to keep their families and the rest of the public in support, the cause had better be a crusade.
The problem, of course, is that, once defined and polarized, good and evil inevitably morph back into each other. The United States invaded Afghanistan in search of al Qaeda and deposed the Taliban; almost immediately, that country descended into chaos, and the world opium trade (limited under Taliban rule) ratcheted back up dramatically. The U.S. then invaded Iraq, supposedly to erase the "threat" of Saddam Hussein and in part because he "massacred his own people." But then, as surely as night follows day, the liberators morphed into the new perpetrators of injustice, torture, and murder in Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, and Haditha.
# The mythology of war is Arian. Mars exults in glory, courage, and the nobility of the warrior code. The reality of war is Scorpionic. Pluto goes down and dirty into the barbarity of death and destruction on a mass scale.
Consider the troubles that beset us in Iraq. In a postmodern techno-war against guerilla insurgencies, innocents will be killed — not just rarely or as an aberration, but often and in large numbers. Scorpio knows what happens when we put soldiers into dangerous and stressful situations where comrades are killed by an invisible enemy who blends into the landscape, indistinguishable from ordinary civilians. Rage overcomes discipline right up the ranks. Wholesale slaughter begins. Shoot first and ask questions later. Get some payback. Atrocities involving the murder of innocents are not merely the result of "a few bad apples," whatever the Pentagon asserts. We may cover up, whitewash, or even justify these crimes as unavoidable, but the dark-side reality remains. Scorpio has no illusions about it.
This is exactly where Scorpio becomes relevant, where that archetype's sensitivity to the dark side offers a way out of the moral quagmire of empty posturing and sanctimony, not to mention outright lies and deceit. Distinctions between "good" and "evil" are certainly not erased and may occasionally be highlighted in Scorpionic consciousness, but here the gates between those contrasting fields of moral judgment are flung wide open. The levees that normally separate good from evil are breached. Like the symbol for the Tao, where small yin is contained within large yang, and vice versa, Scorpio ferrets out the hidden truth that apparent good often contains seeds of evil, and gross evil may at times spark profound goodness.
As a code of conduct, any moral or ethical framework is an ideal. Scorpio, however, is not idealistic, but pragmatic. Morality is also vulnerable to hypocrisy, and Scorpio hates hypocrisy. Knowing that good and evil too often morph into each other, Scorpio is more comfortable as an amoral archetype. Rather than basing action on concepts of right or wrong, effectiveness is the Scorpionic ethic. Scorpio wants to gather power, conserve and concentrate it, then use that intensified power to maximum effect. Morality has nothing to do with it.
The Scorpionic response to 9/11 would have been quite different. Rather than making war openly, Scorpio would have made secret war. Not through invasion, but through infiltration. Not with soldiers and tanks, but with spies and assassins. Covert, quiet, and stealthy. Such a strategy would have pleased neither hawks nor doves, of course, and did not suit the geopolitics of the neoconservatives (who are, after all, idealists in the extreme). In all likelihood, however, Scorpio's way would have been much more effective in neutralizing the terrorist threat, besides being infinitely cheaper.
A subtler expression of the dark side occurs through corruption, usually through venality — theft or ill-gotten gains. As such, corruption is a moral issue. People in positions of cultural power or social authority are particularly vulnerable.
Consider some common examples of moral authority betrayed: the fire-and-brimstone preacher who rails to his congregation against wanton sexuality but meanwhile pursues illicit liaisons with hookers in motel rooms, the politician whose public platitudes of integrity belie the stuffing of his pockets with lobbyists' gifts and money, the corporate CEO who allows cooking the books or deep-sixing the workers' pension fund while protecting his own golden parachute, the cop who takes kickbacks from drug dealers.
These and similar examples involve falls from grace. Most people who suffer public disgrace did not start out as cynical or enslaved to the dark side. No, they probably began with aspirations of goodness leavened with ambition. Along the way, they were gradually corrupted, eventually collapsing into major moral breakdowns.
Scorpio has no morality to break down. Its amorality is a strength rather than a weakness. Shunning both morality and immorality, Scorpio is less corruptible than other zodiacal archetypes, but it is neither surprised nor shocked at the revelations of others' all-too-human failings. Naïveté is not among the sign's qualities.
Despite headline-grabbing scandals, the dark side of human nature is mostly neither crude nor spectacular and remains private rather than public. Much corruption involves a subtle, passive, or even invisible loss of integrity. Consider the corporate middle manager who oversees a project he knows to be flawed but remains silent so as not to displease his boss or endanger his place in the pecking order. He may be completely unaware of this slight failure of courage and rationalize to himself that he's merely doing the job he was hired to do.
The need for security and social approval or the wish to curry favor influences millions of lives every single day. Most of the world's greatest tragedies occur not because some particular individual is demonic and wreaks havoc, but rather because of the snowball effect of millions who remain personally passive over time in the face of daunting collective pressures. Notwithstanding our fascination with ruthless historical figures such as Adolf Hitler, he did not start World War II all by himself. Hitler rode on the shoulders of countless others who contributed, in one way or another, to the onset of that global conflagration. Most often, we do not leap into hell; we go there by inches. Collective responsibility for the dark side is not correctly within the province of Scorpio, however, and though worth mentioning, it is not a proper subject for this essay.
Still, whether we discuss an individual psyche or group dynamics, the dark side tends to operate in an insidious fashion, akin to the invisible radioactivity that can slowly poison an animal body. Unseen and unfelt, the full effects of radioactive exposure may take decades to show up as leukemia or other cancers. In the metaphorical force field of our collective Chernobyl, fear and hatred are the emotional equivalents of radioactive toxins. Like a psychic Geiger counter, Scorpio is especially sensitized to these poisons.
Within the language developed by modern psychology to describe certain mental disorders are the terms denial and projection. These terms address in part the paradoxes of I-and-Thou, the Self and the Other: "Who am I?" and "Who are you?"
Using the diagnostic tools of psychotherapy, both terms fall under the heading of defense mechanisms to protect the conscious awareness from inner threats, with denial classed under primary defenses and projection a secondary form. As general concepts, however, their application goes far beyond the strict confines of a clinical diagnosis of mental illness. They spill over into the ordinary realms of day-to-day life: intimacy, socialization, commerce, politics, and spirituality. In this, the terms represent new definitions for age-old problems of human existence.
Denial is the more obvious of the two processes, defined as the refusal — either conscious or unconscious — to acknowledge some quality of the self that is or may be true. A classic example is the alcoholic who denies having a problem ("I'm just a social drinker, not an addict; I'm still in control.") and refuses to admit to himself that his health or social relationships are negatively affected by his drinking. In the 12-step method of recovery, the first step is admission of powerlessness over compulsive behavior, which amounts to stepping out of denial. (It's important to note that refutation is not necessarily denial. If I have brown eyes, and someone claims they're blue, but I say, "No, they aren't," then I am not in denial.)
Unlike most animal species, who accept reality at face value, we humans are capable of denying literally anything — thoughts, feelings, attitudes, beliefs, actions, facts, etc., within or outside the self. Examples of denial outside the self might include the claim that human industrial activity does not contribute to global climate change, or that the Holocaust never occurred. For purposes of this article, I'm concerned mainly with denial within the self regarding qualities of the personal psyche — specifically, the refusal to acknowledge that we are capable of nearly anything in the right circumstances. What I mean by that will become clear in a moment.
Projection is a more complex process, a spin-off defense, where what threatens the self from within is denied, then externalized. Something too painful to recognize in oneself is seen as a threat coming from the outer world. Usually, we project onto other people, either individuals or groups, who are perceived as possessing or manifesting the very quality denied within the self. Examples might include someone who cannot admit to her own stinginess but believes with certainty that others are short-changing her, or the unconscious liar — unaware of his own compulsion — who worries that even his closest friends are intentionally deceiving him.
Projection is complicated because it can be either positive or negative. The altered state of romantic love, for instance, includes a marked tendency to project onto the beloved extremely positive qualities, to the point where we become enraptured. While such positive projections have terrors all their own — fear of abandonment being an obvious possibility ("How could someone so wonderful love me, with all my flaws?") — I'm concerned here mainly with negative projections, where the other is seen as threatening or evil.
Besides being positive or negative, projection may also be true or false. Others may or may not embody the qualities we project onto them. Sometimes we perceive others as being a certain way when they are not, mistaking our own illusion for reality. At other times, our denial causes us to attract others into our lives who actually do possess the qualities we cannot or will not recognize in ourselves. This is one of the basic laws of manifestation: We draw to us what we most fear.
That confusion brings to mind the phrase: "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that they're not really out to get you." In projection, we tend to believe whatever we see, whether real or not. Objectively determining the truth or falsehood of our projections (what we see in others) is nearly impossible as long as we remain in denial.
Herein lies the great value of Scorpio's sensitivity to the dark side. Those who embrace the Scorpionic archetype are deeply aware of their own hideous capabilities. Not that they necessarily succumb to or act out distorted primal urges through sadism or savagery, but they are conscious of those deranged forces inside themselves.
To be sure, some small percentage of those who resonate to Scorpio do indeed succumb, reveling in the excesses of their dark sides like pigs in slop. They become the illness itself. This is a particular vulnerability of elites in power, for whom might often makes right. And even the best of Scorpionic types have bad moments when they lapse into unconscious arrogance, lies, spite, cold aggression, etc.
Still, Scorpio digs relentlessly to unearth whatever is buried, including conscience, reminding us finally of our commonality with others through the revelation that we are indeed capable of anything, that we contain within our psyches the entire pantheon of human potential, from profound love and respect for dignity to utter depravity and raw belligerence. Scorpio is like a prism through which the whole spectrum of good and evil becomes visible, from the infrared of subtle self-deception to the ultraviolet of outright violence. In this, Scorpio universalizes its empathy, knowing full well the core truth that underlies compassion and forgiveness: "There, but for the grace of God, go I."
Scorpio is less likely than any other zodiacal archetype to live in denial and is thus less vulnerable to the pitfalls of false projection. The penetrating and laser-like perceptions so often attributed to the sign are possible precisely because of this lack of denial. The often uncanny ability to ferret out and judge the motivations of others is possible for Scorpio because of its connection to the full range of good and evil in human beings. Having looked within so thoroughly and seen what lives inside the self, at least as possibility, Scorpio is able to peer more accurately inside others, to reveal and understand the contents of their hearts' desires, for better or for worse.
In fairness, I admit that the case I'm making here is neither foolproof nor entirely justified. Human beings are not signs of the zodiac, and astrology neither reveals nor determines the quality of our consciousness. The expression of our charts is largely a function of our maturity, rather than the other way around. I have no doubt that many people, even those with ample measures of Scorpio in their charts, do not reap the benefits I attribute to the sign. Our species is chock full of human beings who are mired in seemingly permanent adolescence, no matter what their age or elevation in culture. In terms of spiritual development, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. Nonetheless, the water exists. Scorpio offers each of us the choice to become any of the three animal essences mythically associated with the sign: scorpion, eagle, or dove. We choose. And our choice reflects the extent to which we have recognized and accepted the dark side in ourselves.
We are all monsters. That is to say, we all contain within us the innate potential to become monstrous in thought, feeling, and action. That assumption is part of the core experience of Scorpio. How, then, do we prevent ourselves and others from actually becoming monsters? How do we keep the dark side safely in the realm of fantasy rather than reality? How do we find our way home to benevolence, kindness, and compassion?
If we repress the monstrous within ourselves, staunchly maintaining that we have caged the beast or denying even the possibility of its existence in us, then we risk projecting it onto others — in effect, subtly manipulating them to become monstrous as a literal wish-fulfillment of our own denial. All too often, that game results in our punishing those others violently, getting even by releasing the monster within ourselves to crush their supposed evil. Sometimes we do this through revenge for real transgressions, but other times we act out through "preemptive strikes" based only on an imaginary threat. This is the ultimate perversity, one that has damaged or cut short literally millions of lives over the past century through the tragedies of warfare, purges, pogroms, and what is oh-so-politely called ethnic cleansing. Too often, these outbursts of mayhem emerge from fear and hatred of the other because of what we deny in ourselves. In the famous line from the cartoon strip Pogo: "We have met the enemy, and he is us." Scorpio nods in agreement.
As always, serious questions remain: How do we free ourselves from the torturous prisons of denial and projection? How do we foster the most humane aspects of ourselves and others? How do we promote a world without senseless violence — not merely in war, but in our normal everyday interactions with others?
I don't know any perfect people, and I understand all too well, through my own failings, the many obstacles to becoming the best we can be. That said, we are rapidly reaching a tipping point in the vainglorious history of humanity, where it may no longer be sufficient for a precious few individuals to reach an inner state that at least approaches authentic maturity, while the great bulk of us remain in suspended childhood or arrested adolescence, merely posing as adults. Although I am extremely dubious about the possibility of any mass awakening into some imagined utopia of peaceful commerce or social harmony, the onset in this century of the Aquarian Age does imply that we must somehow find a way to elevate our collective consciousness at least a little.
The next major astrological alignment that provokes such a possibility will be the First Quarter square of Uranus to Pluto, which is already within wide orb and achieves critical mass in 2012–2015. This momentous event, with seven partile passes, will be the longest alignment of Uranus and Pluto since the discovery of the New World, more than 500 years ago. Civilization itself will undergo a massive and revolutionary upheaval. Leading up to the alignment, various astrological confrontations will set the stage from 2008 through 2011. The dark side may be very much in evidence during those intermediate years.
We now possess more than enough power to destroy ourselves and our world. In the unfolding crisis that grips the planet, one of our many challenges is to awaken sufficiently to see the unconscious expression of our own dark side, to reconcile and reintegrate its existence into our individual and collective consciousness. This ever more pressing need is innately relevant to the realm of Scorpio — death and rebirth, and grappling with good and evil in ourselves. If we have the will, however, we can learn to use both our vitality and our destructiveness to tear down the walls that separate us, whether nation-to-nation or person-to-person. Good may yet come out of evil.
The word transformation is frequently bandied about by some astrologers as a pleasant euphemism, as if profound change were easy or neutral. On rare occasions, transformation may be easy, but it is never neutral. Decay is its precursor, death its process, and eventual rebirth its hopeful outcome. Invoking the dark side is required, not through hateful destruction of others, but by harnessing those dangerous energies to alter ourselves.
Human beings have to murder something. We might as well kill off our own disturbed unconsciousness. In the spiritual traditions of Scorpio's dove path, such a death takes the form of surrendering ego, vanity, and hubris, shucking the denial and projection that we are good while others are evil. All the levels of Scorpio know that good and evil dance together in each of us, intertwining not just as light and dark, but as infinite shades of gray.
The sexual magnetism that is so much a part of the lore of Scorpio is ultimately a desire for tantric union, or (more properly) reunion — a way to transcend the fear of ourselves and others that is so deeply embedded in the human condition.
Scorpion: CC0 Public Domain, by Foto-Rabe, via pixabay.com
Chess: CC0 Public Domain, by Nachrichten_muc, via pixabay.com
Yin/Yang: Clker-Free-Vector-Images, via pixabay.com
Corrupt: CC0 Public Domain, by OpenClipart-Vectors, via pixabay.com
Projection: CC0 Public Domain, by Fotoworkshop4You, via pixabay.com
Woman: CC0 Public Domain, by piotrun, via pixabay.com
Building: CC0 Public Domain, by tpsdave, via pixabay.com
First published in: The Mountain Astrologer, Oct/Nov 2006
Bill Herbst has been a full-time astrologer in private practice since 1973. These days, his public writing is devoted almost exclusively to understanding the momentous events that have already occurred in the first half of the 2010s, as well as the more sweeping changes that undoubtedly lie ahead in the second half of this decade and into the 2020s. After 42 years, Bill's main work continues to be personal sessions with clients, now mostly by telephone, with special emphasis on the challenges of the 2010s and beyond, in conversations custom-tailored to each client's life. Go to his website (http://www.billherbst.com) to read his current essays or to request a session.
© 2006/2016 - Bill Herbst - published by The Mountain Astrologer
22-May-2018, 10:39 UT/GMT
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