One morning not too long ago, while driving the long freeway through the foothills to work, it occurred to me that, at that moment, each piece of my life was perfect. My relationship was sound, my baby was a delight, my work was a joy; I felt good about myself, blessed by my friends. So strong was my bliss that I wondered if I would ever have to feel bad again. From that exquisite vantage of gratitude, wholeness, and peace, the things that mattered and the things that didn’t all fell into place. As the sun danced on the hood of my speeding car and reflected off the cars of my fellow travelers, my thoughts wound their way to one simple truth: Life itself was the gift, and as long as that precious gift were mine, there was nothing ever, ever worth troubling over again.
I like to think I use
But I’ll confess
The more I study transits,
There was nothing particularly striking in my chart that day, though I suppose that, had I searched long and hard enough, I might have found Admetos stepping on my Saturn/Chiron midpoint or a sesquiquadrate from some corporate asteroid to my Moon. But in the great scheme of things, the astrology of the moment my nirvana shattered, even the very incident itself, doesn’t matter much. That it happened at all, does. For the wheel had turned. And if we learn nothing else from astrology and transits, this one truth should come clear: The universe makes no judgment about good or bad moments; it only assures we’ll have both.
I know some of you will write me letters of admonishment. You’ll say I shouldn’t have relinquished my peace so quickly. You’ll send me the titles of Buddhist or Taoist or Christian books I should read. You’ll tell me that, if astrology is of any value at all, it should keep me from succumbing to the dark holes in my chart, so that I can skate past those places and keep on my bliss. But let me save you the postage — because that day I don’t think anything went wrong. It’s just that the wheel had turned.
This is something I’ve learned from watching the phases of the Moon. Life, like the Moon, won’t hold still. I mean, was there ever a month when the Full Moon decided to stay full, or when the Last Quarter Moon held steady and refused to go dark? Was there ever a month when the Moon just made sextiles and trines, hitting no oppositions or squares?
Our whole practice of astrology is based on this notion of the wheel, of the predictable and circular movement of the planets through the full 360 degrees of the zodiac — but what does this really mean? How does the paradigm of the wheel inform the way we live or, at the very least, the way we practice our astrology?
We have another kind of circle out here in California. It’s a lottery wheel called the “Big Spin.” This wheel is divided into many colored wedges with dollar amounts on each, some of which can make you a millionaire. If you buy the right lottery ticket, or if the losing ticket you mail in gets pulled from a drum of other losers, you get to come to the studio and try your luck at the Big Spin. Of course, everyone wants to see the wheel land on the wedge that wins them a million dollars — the others aren’t as much fun. And certainly you’d hate it if you went all the way up to Sacramento and got one of those wedges.
Sometimes I think we judge transits the same way — as though there were good and bad wedges on the wheel, the bad ones being what we hope to spin past, the good ones, where we hope we’ll land. But the truth is that the zodiac doesn’t spin, and the planets don’t randomly land. They make their way through the zodiac one degree at a time, which means that between the sextiles and trines there are the inevitable oppositions and squares, as well as those times when there are no aspects at all. We do not spin the wheels of our charts, we cycle through them. And cycles teach that there is a regular circle of good days, bad days, neutral days — in a word, life. Unlike the lottery wheel, in life’s circle there really are no bad wedges. In the cycle of life, no one moment is more valuable than the next; each, linked by the living continuity of our breath, counts.
Which brings me to the subject of suffering. I’ve learned from the model of the Moon that moods change, but each phase is rich. I’ve come to value my moments of suffering as much as my moments of bliss. That difficult business meeting and its night of insomnia centered me — into my own, sometimes turbulent, emotional sea. My suffering brought me back to myself, reminded me of my weaknesses, reconnected me to the wounds of my past. Ultimately, it rehumanized me, refreshing my sensitivity to the hurt places in myself and others, restoring my appreciation for the virtues of compassion and love.
The truth of the wheel, and its implied acceptance of suffering, alters the way I live and the way I practice astrology. I no longer need to judge pain nor work so hard to avoid it. And I have a great respect for its value to my clients — but this is not an easy idea to sell. In fact, there’s an insidious prejudice against suffering behind even our most enlightened approaches to astrology, a latent philosophy that is just as false, I think, as the paradigm of the Big Spin.
Such a horror we have of suffering that we often play this game called “transit alchemy." Seeing some nasty transit on the horizon, we advise, “If you actively work the positive meanings of the planets in question, you won’t have to suffer the negative.” So, it’s “Clean out your closets when Pluto is in orb,” or “Go to the movies, listen to music, keep a dream journal, or get spiritual when Neptune is around.” I used to favor this approach myself, until I began to notice it just wasn’t true.
I’ve recently had the privilege of watching a good friend navigate Pluto and Saturn’s hard transit to his Moon. A former Midwestern Bible-thumper, but with an Aquarius Moon, Mike is not averse to astrology; he’s even somewhat intrigued. But he’s not the type to ask for help, so I watched him do this one pretty much on his own. There were moments when the dance got quite rough, but the full movement of the transit had me in awe of both the interconnection of life and astrology and the instincts of my friend.
First off, he figured out the “alchemy” part all on his own. (So much for the hubris of astrologers who sometimes think that, without our secret knowledge, the public will just bumble into celestial brick walls or fall down the open manholes of their subconscious.) For the year and a half that the transits were in orb, Mike filled his leisure moments with two constructive projects that quite eloquently knit the symbolism of Saturn, Pluto, and the Moon. He became enthralled with the history and diaries of his wife’s grandmother and patiently reproduced the diaries and old photographs, as well as family genealogies, into an elegant volume for each member of her family. He also undertook extensive remodeling of his home. Pluto Saturn Moon, Pluto Saturn Moon.
But did this “alchemy” keep him safe from harm? Did it stop him from having to suffer? During the course of the year, his wife’s health (Moon) took several bad turns; at one point, she had an operation on her knees (Saturn) and, through an oversight by the doctors, almost died (Pluto). His home was also threatened in the southern California fires. Mike’s 4th-house Moon rules his Midheaven, and perhaps some of the year’s most agonizing trials came through his career. He came close to quitting or being fired many times. This is an eager, well-meaning, but somewhat stubborn Taurus gentleman who threw his whole heart into his work, who arrived at 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning and stayed until late in the evening, who took whatever new project was thrown at him and ran with it until he made it work. Yet, as is sometimes the path of an Aquarius Moon, he was never fully accepted by the corporate team, so there were broken promises, ugly betrayals, and at times the kind of emotional violence from his superiors that was agonizing to hear about. I saw his spirit get crushed, then buoyed, then crushed again, till he became jealous, bitter, and resentful.
I kept thinking that, as an astrologer, I should have answers for him. What did all this mean? What was he supposed to do? The neat little solution I came up with was that all this meant he was supposed to go into business for himself — he needed to “break free.” I’d sort of toss this out in casual conversation, but his eyes just glazed. Then, the week his wife almost died, something awoke in his eyes again. “Something like this really sets your priorities straight,” he said. “You realize what’s important and what’s not. And none of this stuff [the business] matters.” Oh, I said to myself, that's what the transit was meant to teach him ... to reorganize his emotional priorities. Interesting.
His wife’s health improved, yet some weeks later, I noticed his spirits were sagging again. I was not prepared for what he was about to share: “I’m getting out,” he said. He was making plans to quit it all and sail around the world for a year or two, first down to Mexico, then down through Panama and over to the Caribbean, where he’d get a job for a few months, then take off for another port when he was ready to move on. While laying a new concrete patio at his house, a brow-sweating job that brought him no joy, it had finally struck him that this was no way to live. He could be dead in two years — for that matter, the next day — so why was he working so hard for everybody else and doing none of the things that pleased him? Mike hoped his wife would join him, but if she continued to refuse, he’d sail alone.
We forget that a transit doesn’t just hit someone’s Moon — it hits a history and a life. Inside Mike’s 4th-house Aquarius Moon was the lonely four-year-old in a cowboy suit who used to polish the brass doorknob and stand back and talk to it like it was a visiting friend. Inside his Moon was the son of a mother who secretly resented her role, who was too bright for the few options available to her and, with her untapped gifts, made everyone miserable. There was also the son who never won the approval of his father, the town’s most successful businessman, who brought Mike’s younger brother into the family business, but not Mike. And inside Mike’s Moon was the young man who caused a scandal when he got his high school girlfriend pregnant and who, years later, now in his second marriage, fell passionately in love with a woman (an Aquarius) he met on a business trip, whom he decided to marry after knowing her only four days. Six weeks later, and now divorced again, he had moved her and her three children to Iowa; they’ve been together now for well over 20 years.
I don’t know if Mike will actually follow through with his dream of sailing around the world, but I do know that, one way or another, his wheel will keep turning. And I know that he’s a different, deeper man today than the one I met a couple of years ago — not because he worked on his wife’s grandmother’s diaries or remodeled his home this year, but because of those very Pluto–Saturn–Moon experiences that made him suffer. You could say that, several months back, astrology did suggest the answer that he eventually led himself to — that he needed to “break free.” But how paltry this “information” is when compared to the almost cellular rearrangement of his emotional being that eventually led him to this conclusion on his own. This is alchemy, this is magic — but much grander than the trickster kind we sometimes propose.
A couple of years ago, I was sitting in an astrology class playing with solar arcs and dials. My teacher spotted Mars–Pluto on my horizon and suggested this might bring a pregnancy. Considering its orb and my current relationship, I replied, “No way.” Yet, a year and a half later, when solar arc Mars was then 15 minutes from squaring my Pluto, I was indeed a (much surprised) pregnant woman.
Pregnant or no, Mars–Pluto is a combination that inspires some fear; I figured it would probably bring me some hell. “I’ll be kidnapped, murdered, or raped!” If there was ever a time to make that little alchemy thing work, this was it. So, what’s positive Mars–Pluto? Great focus and determination ... energy and force applied toward some goal ... My pregnancy and full work schedule didn’t permit much, but I resolved to walk three miles a day. And come hell or high water, I did. Every night after work. In the rain, in the cold. When it got dark after work I got up an hour earlier and walked my three miles in the morning (to avoid the violent Mars–Pluto criminals who might be lying in wait). Bursting at the belly in my final month, I was still walking.
I was not kidnapped, murdered, or raped. But my partner’s car was broken into and my wallet was stolen, along with my favorite coat. One Saturday at 2:00 in the morning, a suspicious stranger knocked on our door and (to this day I don’t know why) Bill opened it, but at the sight of my dog, the man turned away. A speeding car almost ran me down. Yet, these are minor episodes and may only be incidentally related to Mars–Pluto. The real danger and violence of this aspect erupted in my personal life.
Remembering those weeks, I’m sometimes surprised that not only did our relationship survive, but that we made it out alive with neither of us serving time. The pregnancy rocked our relationship off its already uneasy balance, and until we found our way to a new one, we rode the limits of hell. It was an angry, violent time.
I recently heard a speaker talking about Mars–Pluto and its propensity toward violence. “Don’t do it!” she admonished. “You’re going to want to, but be better than that. Just don’t give in!” Of course, it’s sheer common sense not to succumb to one’s rage, but as advice when one is riding the energies of Pluto and Mars, it’s a little insipid. It's like telling a fat person, “Just don’t eat.” If all we had to do was think our way to better behaviors, then astrologers and therapists would be as lonely as Maytag repairmen. But the genuine and profound alchemical process of transits takes us through all the elements — through air, earth, fire, and water. Transits spin our minds, our bones, our spirits, and our hearts. So, it’s not surprising that, often in the middle of this process, it gets ugly, confusing, and painful.
In ancient Crete they used to have a ritual where a bull was torn to pieces and eaten raw — I think that’s a fair description of my experience with Mars–Pluto. I was “eating the bull.”1 Years of work spent learning to contain my anger, tolerate disagreements, and disengage from toxic conflict patterns all went out the window. I didn’t care. I was mad and wouldn’t back down. At times, the energy was almost too much for me (or the relationship) to handle. Yet, messy as it was, by “eating the bull” for weeks, I was incorporating new power, new confidence, new conviction, new strength. My growth came, not in spite of the struggle and suffering, but because of it. Ultimately, I felt blessed by this transit’s timing, because by the time Branden was born, Bill and I had struggled our way to new and much more solid ground. My relationship with other angry people had changed as well. I used to feel so insecure — if I sensed someone was mad, I was hopelessly drawn, like a scared moth, to their flame. I’d dance as fast as I could to make their anger go away. But my boundaries are stronger today. Now I can better let those around me have their process, too.
I’m glad the determination to walk three miles a day didn’t keep me from the suffering of my Mars–Pluto change, just as working on his home and the diaries didn’t keep Mike from the pain of Pluto–Saturn restructuring his Moon. But these activities did act as positive anchors. My walks released some of my excess Mars–Pluto adrenalin and became solitary meditation times that helped hold me to my process; they also gave me a temporary physical boundary until I could develop better emotional boundaries on my own. Mike’s Pluto–Saturn hobbies helped keep him sane, too. So, really, I have nothing against our little transit alchemy game, except when it promises to eliminate our suffering. To me, this only minimizes our chances for growth and gain and ultimately sells ourselves and our clients short.
I think the most truthful thing we can say about transits is that
they will always sound more than one note. We live full lives, and the
impact of the planets striking these full lives will surely resonate on a
number of levels — sometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes predictable,
sometimes not. If astrology teaches us anything at all about life, it
should be that the wheel will turn.
1. Thanks to Melanie Reinhart for this concept from Chiron and the Healing Journey, Arkana, 1989, pp. 173–174.
Bull: By B. Picart [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
All other images: CC0 Creative Commons license, via pixabay.com
First published in: The Mountain Astrologer, Feb 1994 / republished Oct 2009.
Dana Gerhardt, M.A., is a practicing astrologer in Ashland, Oregon. For appointments, e-mail email@example.com or call (541) 535-7631. Dana offers the computer reports, “Your Venus Unleashed” and “Moonprints,” a personalized report by mail that looks deeply into your birth Moonscape and the current positions of your lunar nature. Also available is “Twelve Moons,” a monthly workshop in Sun–Moon cycles. For more information, visit her Web site: www.mooncircles.com
© 1994/2009/2018 - Dana Gerhardt - published by The Mountain Astrologer
25-May-2018, 21:36 UT/GMT
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