The Planets - Living in Time

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The Planets

Living in Time

The Planets

The special illustrations in this chapter are by Jan Billings.

So far, we have been looking at the two 'lights', Sun and Moon: the time-energies behind these are basic and central to the here-and-now living of our lives, and every enquiring human, by rights, should know something about them. When we come to the planets, however, we are dealing with more particular or specialised forms of energy. The planets never display their energy in pure unmodulated ways, for they are continually toned and filtered by the zodiac signs they pass through, and by the aspects, or angular relationships, they form with other planets.

Here we are going to look at these planetary energies, but note that these descriptions, to help you tune in to them, are somewhat abstract, since no single planetary energy can be experienced in isolation or unmodified at any time. Just as most people in our lives experience us mostly with clothes on, altering our expressed beingness considerably, so the planets also wear facets of their energies, revealing themselves to us only in different guises. Sounds complicated, but you'll get used to it!

Tapestries of time

To reiterate, what we are looking at here is earthly, subjective time-energy. It just so happens that this time-energy, using the Earth and Earth-mind as a resonator and energy-transformer, moves and changes in unison with the motions of the planets. This time-energy presents us with atmospheres and psychic climates within which we carve out the stories of our lives, and within which the human race as a whole carves out its history, according to the choices we make within the context of time, and its possibilities and limitations. There is no direct cause-and-effect relationship between planets and energy or between energy and what we do with it.

It is as if the planets were strands of energy, of different colours and flavours, which become woven together through the transformations of time, to create pictures or totalities, wholenesses of subjective climate, to which we all variously respond, each in the best way we can. Astrology becomes a way of deciphering the way in which these energy-strands are interwoven, and the way in which, at any moment, certain strands are prominent, while others provide the background.

Even though the planets are at work all the time, there are occasions when it is possible to single them out, in order to take an experiential sounding. The times when individual planets reveal themselves most strongly are:

18 January 1984: five planets independently making ingresses. Pluto changed signs six weeks before, and in 19th January both Jupiter and Neptune entered Capricorn on the same day. Meanwhile, at fullmoon, Sun and Moon were both ingressing into new opposite signs simultaneously. This kind of cumulative multi-event doesn't happen often!

When they change sign (ingress), a distinct change of atmosphere comes about, within the area of life which that planet tends to affect – as in the case of the Sun, an ingress brings a fresh and open change after the taste of a planetary energy becomes a bit sour, clogged or worn when the planet is at the end of the preceding sign. Ingresses, especially with the slower-moving planets, represent times of qualitative choice, when we have the option to change our mode of approaching things and processing energy passing through our lives: these options present themselves when the planet is in the last 2-3° of a sign.

11th September 1986: a grand cross involving four planets, plus Sun and Moon. Mars interjects also with aspects applying from Capricorn.

When one planet forms an aspect to another planet (or a few aspects to a few planets simultaneously). An aspect is a specific angular relationship between two planets travelling the zodiac – we first met them when we were looking at the lunation cycle. When two planets interact by aspect, they thrum and resonate with each other in a distinguishable way, setting up a third energy which is the 'chemical' outcome of the reaction they are going through. More about aspects later, in chapter 8.

Retrograde MercuryAugust-September 1990: one of Mercury's retrograde periods of three-ish weeks, with dates of ingresses and stations.

When a planet is at a station (this doesn't apply to Sun and Moon) it comes through strongly. A station is a point in time, and a place on the zodiac, where a planet appears to stop moving, turning either from direct (forward) to retrograde (backward) or vice versa. This is the moving-train effect pointed out in chapter 1. A stationary planet usually makes its presence felt for at least a matter of days around the precise time of the station – an ephemeris will give this time to the nearest minute.

It is also possible to look at the effects of planets on a more personal level by comparing the movements of the planets in the heavens with the positions of the planets in a birth chart, a technique called 'Transits'. We shall be looking into this at the back of the book, in chapters 17 and 18.

For now, it is best to limit the amount of factors and information you examine and observe, in order to avoid astrological indigestion. It's a matter of building up your insights gradually, without giving yourself too much to examine at one time. Ingresses and major aspects are good to start with. Leave transits until later. In your perambulations around the pages of your pet ephemeris, however, keep your eye on ingresses, major aspects and stations, and simply observe them, without seeking to form too many conclusions: by building up a stock of conscious experiences, the whole lot will sink in.

Planetary zodiacal cycles

These are their cycles of motion around the zodiac. They vary greatly in length and behaviour patterns. Moon affects us primarily in hour-to-hour and day-to-day contexts, although new and full moons can feature issues which have longer-lasting import. Sun, Mercury and Venus affect us on day-to-day and week-to-week levels, and Mars on week-to-week levels, usually: as you might see, the time-contexts these planets influence depend on the planets' speeds. Jupiter and Saturn affect us on month-to-month and year-to-year bases, while Chiron, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto affect us in terms of longterm life-issues. See chapter one for more details about planetary speeds.

Thus we have different levels of time at work, and it all depends on what kind of perspective we are seeking to have – shorter-term or longer-term. Later in the book we shall look at longer-term changes in history, in chapter 15.

However, all these levels of time and significance interlace one another. For example, Pluto can spend 12-35 years in a sign (in the latter decades of the 20th C it was moving fast, but in the 21st C it is gradually slowing). Thus Pluto dredges up deep and slow issues of longterm value and meaning. Yet, the faster planets form aspects to Pluto on their own journeys round the zodiac, thus pulling longterm issues into shorter-term contexts.

Thus, an underlying historical change, having its true significance in terms of centuries of evolution, can be focused into a particular time as an intensified work-out or set of specific events, the significance of which reveals itself only slowly. An example of this was the Uranus conjunct Pluto of 1965-66, where immensely longterm changes, both in consciousness and technology, surfaced as a disruptive and innovative outbreak in those few years –yet the significance of what took place then in the 1960s will take at least 170 years to work through to full cycle (at the next conjunction around year 2130).

A graph showing the movements of the slower-moving planets over a five-year period. Along the vertical axis are the degrees of all signs, and along the horizontal axis is time, in months and years. Each planetary path is identified by a planet-symbol and the sign it is moving through at the time. When lines intersect, an aspect is formed. Such a graph as this can be used in transit work, as outlined in chapter 19.

Thus different layers of time are at work, interweaving one another, and we and the world move through these layers at various different times, sometimes living through times of short-term significance, and occasionally being bombarded with times of longterm, historic meaning – one such recognisable time was 1988-89. We hardly recognise this as we go about life, but these interweavings of duration and significance do take place, and it helps to be able to identify them and to use these times to their best advantage.

What kind of energy each planet embodies

Here we are looking at what kinds of energy, atmosphere and situation are likely to arise when a planet becomes strongly featured in the overall energy-weather of any point in time. You'll find that you cannot grasp all of the planetary significances at once, yet you'll be able to identify the workings of some of them in your own experience immediately. We tend to respond actively to some planets, and find it difficult relating to other ones, depending on how much they resonate within our own beings, and how much we have awakened these resonances within ourselves in the course of our lives.

Usually, books present the planets in their order of distance from the Sun, starting with Mercury and ending with Pluto. Here we're going to look at them in a different way – thematically. The planets can be grouped into four main groupings, which are well worth contemplating. We're not going to follow this grouping, but you might care, on second reading, to read through the planets in a different order from the way they are presented in this chapter.

The four groupings are:

  • the lights, Sun and Moon, which work in the here-and-now, existentially, through the modulations of yang and the yin within us;
  • the functional planets, Mercury (on a +/- 1 year cycle), Venus (+/- 1 year) and Mars (2 years), all of which work through our mentality, feelings and will respectively, in the context of daily-life ins and outs affecting ourselves, the world, and our relations with both;
  • the social or identity-forming planets, Jupiter (12 years) and Saturn (28 years), both of which work through our sense of selfhood and participation, and through wider world-purposes and their manifestation;
  • the transformative planets, Chiron (51 years), Uranus (84 years), Neptune (165 years) and Pluto (+/- 250 years). These are the planets which work through the group psyche, affecting historical undertones and archetypes, and their emergence into consciousness through both personal and transpersonal channels.

That said, we're now going to look at the planets in a different order. This isn't a system or something you should follow religiously: it is merely another way of looking at the planets – frankly, it's what I felt like writing at the time I wrote it! Here, I'm pointing out some energy-similarities between planets which, at a stretch, can be regarded as different octaves of related kinds of energy. You can rest assured that other ways of looking at the planets are possible too.

Grokking it

By grokking, I mean that capacity within us to comprehend and relate to what goes on in our inner and outer experience. Three connected themes here: Mercury as a mental experience-processor, Jupiter as a belief-system builder, and Uranus as an illuminator and stirrer.

Mercury MERCURY. Closest of all planets to Sun, appears to hover around it, as seen from Earth, staying always within 27º of Sun, either ahead of or behind it in the zodiac. Its only aspect with Sun is a conjunction, which can happen either when Mercury is direct, overtaking Sun in the zodiac (behind Sun from us), or retrograde, moving temporarily in the opposite direction, (in front of Sun from us).

When Mercury is active, things get zappy, and there is much to-ing and fro-ing, chatter, brain-rattling, tickertape and nervous energy. Mercury activates our minds, in their capacity to receive, store and process life-information and ideas, and in their communicative capacity. Lungs, speech organs, hands and eyes are involved too, as well as the stomach – these are all organs with which we make contact with our world. Language, rationalisations, travel, all media of communication, and wind are all transmitters of energy. So is this book. Our nervous systems and intelligence are activated by Mercury, which splits things, people, places and thoughts into separate entities, and then interrelates them by creating linkages and interrelations. Observe your active mind, the flight of birds, the road traffic and people's propensity for interchange while Mercury is active.

Jupiter JUPITER. The biggest planet of our solar system (it wasn't far from becoming a sun, in its early days), bright in our sky (best at the solar opposition), Jupiter stays in each sign for roughly a year, turning retrograde for around 4 months each year. Jupiter has an enhancing and furthering, extending and enriching energy. Being much slower than Mercury, it works with a different level of issues: power and enterprise in society, self-esteem and the way we construct our beliefs, and progress and bounty in nature.

Jupiter, when waxing strong, urges us to 'cross the great water', to make steps forward, to reach out and externalise ourselves. It stimulates activity, bravado, confidence and intensification of social energy.

The basis of this is our beliefs, our accumulations of experience and acquired knowledge, and the conclusions we have drawn from them, underpinned by a choice we possess to construct our realities according to a certain fundamental philosophy of life. As our beliefs and confidence grow, as we grow up, so does our capacity to express ourselves and our beliefs, acting creatively, stimulatively, positively and fruitfully in society and the world. When Jupiter is strong, society as a whole throbs with energy, issues, fads, developments and (not uncommonly) excesses. Belief can overshoot realities or it can enhance them, depending on our capacity to understand what's going on. In the end, a reality is only a reality because it works: our sense of reality, of how we stand in relation to the great wide world, is formed through the working of Jupiter energy.

Uranus URANUS. One of the more distant planets of the solar system, Uranus spends 7 years in each sign. It works through a deeper level of psyche, by stirring things up, disrupting, hyper-activating, rattling us and stimulating innovation and eccentric, extreme or polarised conditions. It rips us, people and nature away from the old, creating new mutations, and it tests the validity and flexibility of all forms and structures, in our conditioning, in society and out in the woods. It awakens the knower within – that mode of consciousness which operates a-logically, intuiting and envisioning wholenesses, which somehow land up being proven right. Uranus seems at first to drive everything off course but, when truth is out (sometimes a difficult process which we resist, because it disturbs our sense of reality and expectations) it is easy to see that things have moved more on course than they seemed before.

Sudden, impish, abnormal, differing, dissenting, extremist energy abounds when Uranus is broadcasting. Things can heat up and blow out, and secure knowns can shatter. Underneath, in the group psyche, new life-energy seeks to erupt, stopping things from becoming too entrenched. Since the majority of us are well taught to preserve our egos and support our habits and institutions, this wrenching energy can be difficult, but Uranian energy can also be inspired, electric, futuristic, clear and sharp when channelled openly. Individuals often take it upon themselves to embody these impulses of change on behalf of society as a whole, embodying the archetype of breakthrough as inventors, innovators, rebels or disrupters. In our own lives, if we omit to open ourselves to Uranian energies, our unconscious will manifest someone in front of us who rips up our normalities and gives us a whacky wobble to deal with. To work through into relatively perceptible atmospheres, Uranus has to work through one of the faster-moving planets, for example by aspect.

Feeling it

By feeling, I mean three things: one is our capacity to sense, feel and image; the second is our sense of okayness or happiness with regard to being alive, whatever is happening; and the third is our capacity to experience feelings arising in our hearts. Three planets are involved here: Moon, Venus and Neptune, the feminine planets.

Moon MOON. Moon is by far the fastest mover of all the 'planets'. It is our twin sister-planet, part of the Earth system, co-orbiting the Sun with Earth. Moon energy engages our umbilical feelings of alrightness or agitation in many and subtle ways. Our sense of security is wrapped around our feelings about and our past experiences of situations where we are vulnerable and subject to destabilising influences within or without us. The more we open up, the more we feel okay and trusting in whatever situation arises, however threatening it might be.

Our insecurity comes from stored subconscious memories of what happened before when similar prompts arose to those arising now. These memory-programs are drummed in through habituation or trauma, mostly at birth and in our first years, though later too, and we tend to act out these programs automatically, without being conscious of them. Thunder=fear, hunger=must-fill-stomach, goodbye=loss, money=happiness, emotion=danger: we all have whole banks of automated emotional programs going on inside us, activated by different promptings from lunar atmospheres, life situations and subjective sensings. Thus we carry our past around with us.

Lunar energy is instinctual, and working with our instincts depends on how friendly we are with our bodies and with the child within us. Like a mother, instinct knows best – it is animal intelligence. Every moment of every day we are presented with choices between running our old patterns of response, or allowing ourselves to respond to life from a new and open viewpoint. It's good sense to do the latter, yet we tend, unless challenged, to do the former – until we become more conscious of what we're really doing.

Moon energy, when working strongly, thus takes us through various and changing angles on life, and through changing feelings toward situations. It works through our sensitivities or lack of them. We are challenged by Moon to allow things to be, to be sustained, nourished, cared for, supported and fulfilled by the world and its situations, by people around us, and by our own capacity to trust in life as a process. These issues crop up in the smallest of details, in moods and situations which last but hours, rapidly-changing, on a very daily basis. Have you watched the way you eat your food, how you relate to going to the toilet, how you rise to meet the day or how you respond to the phone ringing or dogs barking?

Venus VENUS. Venus orbits inside the orbit of Earth and, as seen from Earth, it follows the Sun around the zodiac, like Mercury, except moving up to 47° distant from Sun as it travels through the zodiac. While Moon energy is umbilical and gut-level, Venus energy moves through our hearts. When flowing well, we feel happy, contented, loved and loving, open, creative and colourful, connected and appreciated and appreciative, and when blocked, we feel separated, sad, cold, isolated, alienated, closed-up or hurt. Through our hearts we feel union, with ourselves, with others and with the more pleasing aspects of the world, drawn to what we like, and also we can feel aversion, even disgust toward anything we dislike.

When Venus is strong, things are soft and likable, verdant, inclusive and enjoyable, bringing out the love aspect in life. Music and tone, beneficence and trust are Venusian qualities – as are the absence of these, when Venus is being blocked or challenged. Venus concerns our values, our feelings-based evaluations of what life presents, and the basis by which we make choices based on our likes and dislikes. It embodies our aesthetic senses and preferences, fancies and romantic tendencies.

Neptune NEPTUNE. Neptune moves through one sign in every 14 or so years. It embodies a higher octave of feeling, spiritually and intuitively rather than circumstantially generated. Through Neptune, all boundaries are melted, and insight and expansion of consciousness heal the pain which such dissolution can bring. When Neptune is strong, all knowns disintegrate, and the ground drops away from beneath our feet. We are left with a lot of open space. Inappropriate notions, reality-bubbles, identities, structures and arrangements become invalidated and fall away, leaving an empty space in which the heart is the only guide. Neptune is an awakener, through literally disillusioning us, moving us into a new space.

A Neptunian atmosphere has a weird, spacey quality to it, in which it's difficult to know exactly what's what. Things become rather still or becalmed, and a voidness opens up. Misunderstandings and non-comprehension can arise – though, on a deeper level, all can become clear. Things can go out of gear and derail. Yet within this a new reality reveals itself, activating the imagination, our inner capacity to use images and to convey them by subtle means through creative arts. It feeds our inner life, if we will but give it attention. Without such attention, imagination can play tricks on our grasp on reality – mystically, Neptune calls into question any sense of reality at all. For it can attune us to the Ultimate, or nullify our known universe – depending on which way we choose to receive it. Neptunian times can be strange and disorienting, but go with it, and a new sense of space and openness can come through, preparing the ground for something entirely different.

Doing it

Here we shall look at Mars, Chiron and Pluto. We could include Jupiter here as well, in its power aspect – so contemplate Jupiter in this context as well as the above in which it has been presented.

Mars MARS. Mars orbits on a two-year cycle, turning retrograde only once in that cycle. It works through our assertiveness, and through our ability (or inability) to get what we want and make things work our way. When Mars energy comes on strong, we have a driving urge to make things move, to get some action and strengthen our own cause. This can bring up feelings of frustration, anger, resentment, restlessness or thwartation too, if we are disposed to feel such things. Sod the rest of them, I want things my way! In the weather, Mars brings hard rains or fierce winds, and a tense atmosphere can prevail: whether this goes anywhere depends on whether the energy is either favoured or blocked.

Mars energy is about standing up for ourselves, applying ourselves to action, engaging with life, exercising muscle and clout, jousting with our dragons. It is baseline sexual energy, a firing desire, seeking orgasm, action and fulfilment – whether in lovemaking or in relating to the world. Things accelerate and activate when Mars is strong, and a relentless, ruthless force can come into play – which sometimes clears the air and causes some distance to be covered, and sometimes leads to trouble, hurt or the overlooking of finer considerations. One who knows Mars well knows also how to temper their will by applying firm patience, focused effort and action where listening and response are still possible. Mars energy makes things move and overcomes obstacles.

Chiron CHIRON. This newly-discovered (1977) planet, orbiting between Saturn and Uranus, and eccentrically crossing the orbits of both – Uranus' when Chiron is in Aries, where it stays for 8 years, and Saturn's when in Libra, which it rushes through in 1 year. Chiron concerns another mode of action from Mars: while Mars urges action on behalf of self, Chiron urges action on behalf of the cosmic whole, on behalf of greater rightness, as if we were chess-pieces on the world-board. Chiron urges change and activity on behalf of cosmic/general need, engaging our personal gifts, knacks, genius and intuitions in resolving very concrete, yet paradoxical questions, which have both personal and transpersonal significance. Like Uranus, Chiron works through the knower within us, challenging us to drop our preconceptions and rationality, and encouraging us to follow that spark of enlightened action within us which does exactly what is most appropriate, from many viewpoints at once – though usually unpremeditated.

Chiron forces the master-victim question, and our capacity to resolve riddles with no precedents. It brings out our magical abilities – the defying of expectations, the creation of miracles, or the ability to find and follow the unexpectedly shortest path through the maze. When Chiron is strong, we are presented with accumulations of problems and dilemmas, seemingly impossible to resolve, which can be masterfully broken through a contextual shift, an expansion of awareness and an opening of our brilliance and genius – or often, through plain old simple sense and appropriateness, previously not seen. Strange things take place, yet they have their meaning in the whole picture, seen retrospectively. When it all seems impossible, and when we give up, we open up to Chiron, and we often find the key which opens the door blocking our path. Everything which happens in connection with Chiron seems to be meant to happen. Synchronicities and uncanny flips and breakthroughs, inner guidance and deeply-engaging predicaments characterise Chiron at work. Our work is to facilitate the universal flow passing through us: when working in harmony with this elusive yet immanent force, our ability to create masterpieces out of apparent flops and disasters grows immensely, leading to outcomes whereby general and personal benefits are bevelled into one another.

Pluto PLUTO. Pluto is another eccentrically-moving planet, moving inside Neptune's orbit briefly, when it is in Scorpio for twelve years, and moving far away from Neptune's orbit and the Sun when in Taurus for 36 years. Pluto precipitates the eruption of the deepest truths. It brings out the inevitable stored-up force which accrues from all our previous cover-ups, ill-considered acts, misdeeds, evasions and dishonesties, and it brings out the darkness we carry round, and the ugliness and violence which can lie lurking in the group psyche – yet in doing so it offers enlightening breakthroughs, an alchemical possibility of flowering into a new state of being.

Pluto has uncivilised libido energy, rampant, often uncomfortable, wild and totally living, urgent, obsessive and cathartic. When Pluto is strong, life-and-death issues come up, and primal energy tests our capacity to survive and make the big transformation. It is the root of sexual- and life-energy, and of the deepest power, and while its apparent uncontrollability can be fearsome, adepthood in working Pluto power can bring a capacity for inner control and immense centredness without crutches or attendant crap. Its force generates resistance and fear, but inevitably this is but the prelude to fundamental breakthrough, to an eruption of the power of the universe and the onward-moving force of history which cannot wait for us to carry on living our secure, routinised lives. Pluto blows it for us (and even for nuclear reactors, if necessary) and precipitates the new. It is the last word on change: this is it, when Pluto is at work.

Being it

In the modern world, beingness is a quality we overlook: we are judged by what we do (or fail or omit to do). Yet beingness is the seat of our doingness: what we are cannot be taken away from us. Who we are – our sense of selfhood, of the way we in our individuality elect to manifest our beings – is an area which has now become very important: many of us feel that we have spent enough time and energy being good, worthy citizens, doing what is judged by others and society to be worthy and acceptable, and we seek to find our 'real' selves, our light and true purpose, which in the end is what matters. Here we shall look at Sun and Saturn.

Sun SUN. Just as Sun is a star, which holds the solar system in orbit, so the Sun within ourselves is that 'cubic centimetre of awareness' within us which holds us together as integral human beings. The Sun represents our potential to shine, to live, to hold to our centre and be our true self. Often the Sun can be obscured by clouds: we compromise ourselves in order to make things easy, in order not to stick our neck out. We lose ourselves in what is required of us, especially in relationship. Yet by doing so, we lose track of our spirit, of the spark of our individuality, and we make things difficult, complex, un-flowing. Through unveiling the Sun in our hearts, we enliven ourselves, find ourselves, grow and find our Way.

Sun represents such a basic form of life-energy – the kind which keeps us wanting to be alive – that it isn't possible to be too specific about its nature and influence. It pulls together all the facets of our being and keeps us functioning as an entity with identity, with a sense of having somewhere to go, and with a purpose to be fulfilled. It isn't about being selfish for, paradoxically, being ourselves facilitates the overall unfolding of life, and it naturally tends to connect itself with what is right for others too. Being ourselves, we do what is already in the scheme of things, moving with the Tao of the world.

When solar energy is strong, life, nature and people move on, develop, find energy to grow, propagate and create, bloom and reap fruit – though being a yang energy, it can also create excesses, in which we can impose our own wishes, prejudices, projections and intentions on life, missing out on the need to be receptive to what life is offering us. Firm and central, the wise person follows her/his path, ever aware of the world around, always including others and imbuing them with their own sense of selfhood, tuned into the pulse of the universe as it shows itself to her/him.

Saturn SATURN. Saturn stays in each sign for about 2 years, and is the outermost planet visible to the naked eye. When Saturn is at work, we have to face up to the crunch, get to grips with realities and account for ourselves. We have to come to terms with what we fear and avoid, because their perpetuation limits our progress and growth, cramping our life-energy, creating failure, disability, lack, degeneration, guilt and negativity. Saturn is about concrete realities, and presents us with all the inevitable consequences of our acts and self-restrictions: all the difficulty we encounter through Saturn is our own self-creation, rooted in fear and guilt-ridden self-limitation.

Saturn faces us with our past creations and the consequences we have set up, forcing us to become conscious of them and the way we construct them. Thereby, we consolidate our sense of self, by structuring our lives, prioritising what is most important and coming down to ground level. Through Saturn we have to state clearly who we are, where we are going, and what our terms of trade are with others and the world. We have to design a visiting card.

Saturn challenges us to get on with our life's work, to overcome our constraints by deliberately limiting ourselves to a particular chosen path, for thereby we muster the energy and focus to find our freedom and realise ourselves. We are offered a choice to take responsibility for ourselves, to own our failings and self-obstructing patterns: if we dutifully obey others' expectations, obligations and impositions (brought to us particularly by authority figures), Saturn duly keeps us within these confines until we get straight on our own path. Fear and guilt maintain the status quo: yet the status quo, particularly in times such as now, is not necessarily appropriate to the healthy functioning of the world. Saturn is one of our greatest friends, for while it seems to dress in dour clothing, it enlightens us with a real truth which other planets cannot do.

When Saturn is strong, energies of other planets can be repressed or restricted, or brought into clear focus. Yet this containment makes life-energy gather strength over time, and it stimulates future growth: if we will but choose to express that energy. It takes away what is unnecessary. Saturn works in society through institutions, laws, set procedures, hierarchies and power structures, be they Popes or governments, admonishing fathers or teachers. Obey the rules, and you will find favour: disobey, and you will be punished and cast out. In such a way we are kept under control.

Yet Saturn energy can be transmuted, such that we take on our own responsibility, and define our rules according to our own sense: Saturn welcomes change if it is sincere, committed and thorough, grounded and workable, but until it is so, the rules hold. In nature, Saturn brings about hard conditions, challenges the strength of tree-trunks and rocks – it weeds and prunes out the weakest species in order to prosper the stronger ones and eventually help nature maintain itself. Sometimes it brings the axe, or wipes out old forms: it tests the limits of all things in order to keep them from excess, waste or lethargy. Hardship is a test, but it is in the end furthering to life and new growth.

Planetary modulations

As we established earlier, the planets are forever modulated in the way they express themselves. As follows.

* As the planets move through the signs, they focus their energies around certain definable issues, ways of working, assets and problems, underlying themes and overt potential outcomes. The motion of a planet through a sign is itself a sub-cycle, a story with a beginning, middle and end, the foundations for which were explored in the preceding sign, and the results of which reveal themselves in the following sign. This can be understood if you develop an overview of the issues and developments which have come into focus while a planet you are watching has moved through a sign. Although it demands some waiting, Jupiter and Saturn demonstrate this story-line sequence well, for their sojourns in signs (1 and 2 years) are long enough to see the story.

* The planets feature each other by engaging each other by aspect. The main aspects are initially most revealing. Each year, Sun forms a whole cycle of aspects to most planets (except Mercury and Venus), which are well worth observing. Planetary inter-aspects, with varying periodicities, also give good tastes of what they are about. We shall be looking into aspect cycles in the next chapter.

Retrogrades and stations

Mercury turns retrograde three times per year, for 3 weeks each time. Venus is retrograde for 6 weeks every 19 months, and Mars for 6-11 weeks once every 2 years. All the other planets (except Sun and Moon) are retrograde for 4-5 months per year, while Earth swings in between them and Sun.

A planet is particularly powerful when at its station: you can feel it clearly. When moving direct (forward), its energies move through us in a relatively straightforward way, passing in, through and out of us (unless we obstruct them) in evolutionary, expressive ways, 'as per normal'. When a planet slows down, the energy loses impetus, beginning to twist up and block temporarily, becoming habituated rather than motivated, losing vivacity, originality and colour. When it is stationary ('stationary turning retrograde', or St.t.R) there is a general snarl-up and blocking, out of which a questioning emerges, a questioning of the way we do things, of the point of it all, and doubt and uncertainty creep in. Our actions seem to become voided and incapacitated, and a re-examination of issues arises. Watch this next time Mercury turns retrograde (which particularly affects mercurial sectors such as transport, computers and communications)!

When a planet is accelerating retrograde, there is a relaxation of energy, and out of this can dawn a new perspective, an acceptance, peaking when the planet conjuncts (in the case of Mercury and Venus) or opposes (in the case of all other planets) the Sun – that is, when Earth, planet and Sun line up in the solar system. After this transition a new sense of surety develops, a feeling of increased readiness to move afresh, to create, to move in a clear direction and explore a new possibility.

When the planet slows to stationary again (St.t.D), all is poised, and a surge of energy grows, propelling us forward into intentional and resolved activity, growing in energy up to the next conjunction with Sun, cyclically. After this conjunction, the energy begins to run on momentum, becoming regularised and taken for granted, until the ensuing retrograde period churns things up again. The universe keeps us on our toes!


The archetypal resonances of the planets are forever modified and changing in tone, strength and feature as time moves on. Gradually we are building up a picture of how this works, and how time moves.

Life is a strange mixture of fact and dream, to the extent that what we often accept as 'facts' reveal themselves to be dreamstuff too: our illusions and knowns sooner or later get blown apart. We create our lives through what we think, say and do, multilevel, and much of this goes on unconsciously. Within the context of time-energies available at any moment, we create both the objective realities of our lives and the subjective components of how we experience them.

In other words, even though affluence, progress, success or popularity are generally regarded as 'Good Things', to one person they are so and to another they are not, and it can also be that different halves of ourselves carcinogenically conflict with each other at the same time, giving contradicting messages. A heavenly place can become hell, hate can become love, and pain can become pleasure. All things change in subjective significance, as we move through life.

Our choice (often unconscious) of how to experience things is the same stuff as dreaming. For no matter what is going on, we are continually inventing interpretations, reactions, preferences and prejudices to suit our subjective needs. We get caught up in confused graspings of reality, caught in our own 'stuff'.

But as Neptune teaches us when we dig down into its secrets, all of what we call 'reality' is actually a string of constructs, beliefs concerning what is real and desirable or not. Reality is real only if it works for us and yields results. As we move through life we find that old realities become invalid and cease working, losing their realism. We eventually reach a spiritual stage where we realise that nothing is ultimately real.

This becoming so, life becomes something of a dream, and dreaming takes on a reality equal to our 'normal' waking reality. We're all dreadfully asleep, but astrology, one path to awakening, is a way of realising that time does not bind the timeless spirit, and that all things are relative to the way we experience them. Thus we are weavers of a tapestry of dreaming, and can act in the world much more clearly, knowing it is all, in a sense, a dream. Yet a rather real one!

Our possibilities for using the power of consciousness to dream into existence and work with new realities increase, and our effectiveness in the world miraculously grows. For in the end we are here to learn, and to co-weave the dream which this world is. Perhaps astrology, on its deepest level, is about learning how to dream creatively and apply it to manifest 'reality'. Somehow we have to create a new world: our dreams seek to become manifest. We are all, to some extent, reincarnations of Walt Disney!

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