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The Saturn-Pluto Opposition

Facing Our Shadow

by Jessica Murray

Astrologers have been talking for years about the likelihood of holy wars during Pluto's tenure in Sagittarius, the sign of religion.

On September 11, the fiery arrow that is this sign's symbol took the form of a speeding airplane (Sagittarius again) crashing into New York's proud mercantile towers.

Practitioners of the tarot recognized the televised image immediately. The Tower is the card of cataclysmic change, wrenching a people out of complacency. Barbara Walker's version of this card depicts the pope (the church) falling off one side of the tower, and Caesar (the state) falling off the other, as a bolt of lightning shatters the structure in the middle.

As many have noted, the twin towers represented the dual sign Gemini, in which Saturn (the planet of consensus reality) has been opposing Pluto since August 2001. This opposition will be with us through Spring, though its lessons of responsibility and karma will not be confined to these months, nor should its teachings be singularly identified with the events of September 11.

Pluto: Invisibility, Lawlessness, Decay

From what bow did this arrow shoot forth? Not from a source we recognize. Not from a familiar old-fashioned enemy like Russia or any mappable nation-state at all. Pluto, planet of the underground and unseen, governs terrorism as well as the criminal underworld, the CIA, and the unsavory "moles" such groups employ.

Pluto's job in this transit is to undermine those societal values that need an overhaul. The opposition we are experiencing teaches that when the time has come for immense change, a culture's civilized self-image (Saturn) will be traumatized, and its unacknowledged underbelly revealed. There is rot (Pluto) within every structure (Saturn).

Energies kept covered for a long time become distorted.

The lesson here is not to demonize the forces that exist within the structure, but to look at the whole pattern. Energies kept covered for a long time become distorted. What is being revealed is the shadow side of global politics.

The process of decay is not "evil." Worms, which decompose matter, are neither bad nor good. To make any astrological sense of what has happened, we must dispense with our coveted judgments. They will not lead us to a greater truth. From the point of view of a court of law or public opinion, most certainly they are important. But from the point of view of Pluto, they are irrelevant.

Responding from our emotional and moral layers of self (governed by the Moon, Venus and Jupiter), we may throw around terms like "evil," as Ronald Reagan did when he called the Soviets, "the Evil Empire" (back when they were our enemies). The same sort of symbolic projection is at work when churchmen call sexual urges the work of the devil.

But as metaphysicians, we need to be wary of these appellations. We are not seeking to proclaim what we like, feel comfortable with, approve of, or find tolerable. We are seeking to understand archetypal forces.

Shadows and Karma

Psychology has much to teach us about the Saturn-Pluto opposition from the point of view of an individual chart. Every one of us has something in our lives which we have stuffed underground, and this is the transit that requires us to dig it up, examine it carefully, and give it a respectful burial. There are crimes of the heart unresolved, perfidies unadmitted, and grievances long overdue to be addressed. It is time to go down the basement stairs and clean up what is down there.

Doing this transformative work on an individual level is anything but easy; but, as Liz Greene has pointed out, it is far easier than managing it in the collective. It takes an especially enlightened leader to impact a group this way, and Goddess knows there is no Gandhi in sight.

What is the responsibility of the individual for the karma of the group?

The most basic fact of astrology is that one is born at a specific time and into a specific place for a reason. One starts where one is. We are here. Our government is what we have. We created it and we finance it. Let us begin taking responsibility for what it has done, is doing, and is planning to do.

Taking responsibility starts by waking up to our pattern of denial. There have been troubling developments leading up to the present crisis which even our xenophobic daily newspapers have duly reported. Had we been informing ourselves all along about the truth of what goes on outside our national borders, we would not be in such a state of stricken incredulity now. For example, forty years ago the income gap between the highest and poorest countries was 30-to-1. By 1997 it was 74-to-1. There is a direct connection between those numbers and the globalization of organized crime.

Saturn: Ignorance and Responsibility

Saturn, the planet of denial, is now in Gemini, the sign of information. The transit challenges us to postpone action until we have informed ourselves. Actions based on ignorance of our role in the world are not responsible actions; they are reactions, and they will cause terrible harm. Incredulity (a product of insufficient information), as well as propaganda (a system of disinformation), are among the themes raised by this part of the transit.

Does the average American have any real understanding of where the Muslim extremists get their rage? We are shocked and appalled when television shows anti-American demonstrations taking place in areas of the world which, up to this point, we could not even find on a map. Many Americans were unaware until recently of the ongoing U.S. bombing of Iraq or of the mass child starvation there due to the campaign euphemistically referred to as "sanctions." Innocents have been dying there, as innocents died in New York. Our president, who only recently took his first trip abroad, is a national symbol of our collective ignorance, and our country's various delinquencies with the UN represent an ongoing refusal to take responsibility at the international level.

This is a stance that the Saturn opposition is rendering untenable.

The antidote to ignorance is to ask questions.

The antidote to ignorance is to ask questions. Not, "which side started it?". This is schoolboy sputtering, which we have absolutely no time left to indulge. Let us ask questions not about "them," but about us. We do not even know who "they" are (do we ever?), but we most assuredly have a responsibility to know who we are.

For example, who supplies Israel and Saudi Arabia and Egypt, etcetera with all that fancy ammo? (When there is a shooting in a suburban school, isn't the first question the newsperson asks, "Where did he get the gun?"?) And why have they been armed to the teeth like that?

Pluto and Underground Wealth

Students of mythology will remember that Pluto (Hades to the Greeks) was the ruler of all riches found beneath the earth's crust: among them, oil.

Much has been written about the role of fossil fuels in U.S. foreign policy. We are at the point now where Big Oil has moved from being merely influential in government to being personified by it.

In his original proclamation of holy war, when Osama bin Laden demanded that the U.S. remove our troops from lands sacred to Islam, he centered his denunciation of the West around our much-touted secularity. But America does have a religion — the acquisition and consumption of wealth — and Pluto's transit through Sagittarius is exposing it. It is no longer spice, nor gold, but oil that has become the central talisman of this religion.

Thus a perverse symmetry exists between the American point of view and bin Laden's, both fixated upon control of these ancient lands. The freedom to consume is as American as apple pie, even to the point of being seen as our god-given right; thus access to the world's wealth must be seen as ours by extension. Ecocidal and politically disastrous, our recent history in the Middle East cannot be explained in practical terms. But religion never claims to be practical. The oil fields are our holy sites, too, and we will apparently risk anything to maintain control of them. The conflict in this part of the world has more in common with the Crusades of centuries ago than our misspeaking president realized.

If "oil" is the answer, what might the questions be? Ask enough of them and the good guy/bad guy scenario starts to exhaust its viability, leading us beyond the compulsion of blame.

The Sins of the Fathers

The transit we are under is about venturing beyond blame. Karma works in some very intricate ways, but in the main it is a very simple concept, and morally neutral.

The transit we are under is about venturing beyond blame. The Law of Karma does not trifle with right and wrong, good and bad. It is simply a matter of, "what goes around, comes around." One of the more obvious examples of this principle is illustrated by the fact that George Bush Senior's CIA trained the Taliban when they were the foe of our foe. And Bush Junior is at the helm now that the Taliban has become the foe.

Karma works in some very intricate ways, but in the main it is a very simple concept, and morally neutral.

Saturn is prompting an extreme of national identification right now. This is the planet of edges and perimeters; thus it governs the concept of cutting up landmasses into discrete political entities.

But what does Pluto care about such distinctions? Pluto does not honor national boundaries. From the point of view of the god of death and rebirth, to mourn one group's deaths over another's is myopic at best, blasphemous at worst.

Saturn and Pluto

Saturn seeks to limit Pluto, as Pluto seeks to deepen Saturn. We are more familiar with the polarizing exclusionism of Saturn — of which patriotism and bigotry are two current expressions — than we are with the more profound and spiritually mature level of its function. It is to this deeper level that the transit is trying to take us: the level where we recognize that human suffering is one of the Great Mysteries, and must be audienced with a humble and universal perspective.

The Saturn-Pluto opposition heralds the beginning of a new era of human adulthood. We are being trained to be able to face the darkness within us, and in the world. Imagine a war criminal humbly asking pardon for his crimes; imagine countries solemnly paying reparations for their sins against humanity. Imagine each one of us daring to confess to our neuroses, our shames; accepting accountability for all our demons and thereby laying the groundwork for their exorcism.

Imagine the freedom that could come of Not Denying Anything any more.

Those of us who would wave flags, let us wave the flag of New York, the flag of Chechneya, the Balkans, the flags of Chiapas and East Timor, the flags for all of the African states whose people have been suffering so relentlessly that we can barely imagine how they endure. Those of us who would light candles, let us light one for all the precious dead, and for every man, woman, and child alive. Let us pray to whomever we pray to, that we meet the years ahead with a dedication to clean the blood off our hands and put not one more drop upon them.

Jessica Murray has practiced astrology in San Francisco for over twenty-five years, and has performed in women's theatre. Contact (415) 626-7795,