AMERICA IN TRANSITION, MARCH 2009
by Jessica Murray
Grandma Was Right
The financial crisis has spawned an odd spate of media nostalgia. On TV and in print, pundits are reminiscing en masse about how their grandmothers used to tell them to save their pennies, shop for utility rather than for fashion, and never ever spend more than they earned. The talking heads conclude by wondering aloud, rhetorically and ruefully, what happened to those good common-sense values.
Indeed. What did happen?
It's not that our great-grandparents weren't shoppers. In the Sears & Roebucks catalog from a hundred years ago, advertisements for stoves and overalls seduced Americans with claims of durability and use-value. But a new vision came along to harness purchasing power: at some point, trendiness—the requirement to have the very latest gadget—began to trump the old criteria. Advertising was revolutionized, burnished by psychological expertise. The Invented Need was born, and the USA was its nexus. Madison Avenue became for capitalism what Paris was for fine art: the locus of the hot new spin. At this point in its history America comprises 5 percent of the world's population, yet 40% of the ads in the world are shown to us.
As the acquisition of possessions became more and more detached from its original motive—necessity—buying things became a pastime, an entertainment; even a healing modality: going shopping started to be referred to, only half-jokingly, as "retail therapy." TV shows appeared that showcased ordinary people and celebrities presenting to a rapt audience the items they had just purchased. When things get this bizarre, you know the only way it can go is to get more bizarre still.
America became the standard bearer for consumerism, trumpeted to the rest of the First World and to the aspiring Third World as well, via a pop culture that presents the ownership of disposable goods as the centerpiece of a modern lifestyle. With an economic model to suit—laissez-faire capitalism—and a government infrastructure to support it, Americans became the kings and queens of materialism. Legitimized by Reaganomics, the get-rich-quick juggernaut carried us through the booms of junk bondsmen and Silicon Valley start-ups that turned young nerds into overnight billionaires. This mentality became a cornerstone of national pride. We certainly weren't going to let a little thing like the fact that we didn't have the money keep us from buying a house.
As we now know, the credit-card mortgage thing ended up posing a particular problem. As did the fact that our lending industry had become so blinded by greed that they were conned by their own con games.
What forces in the mass mind have led us down this road?
Where There's Rot, There's Pluto
In the (Sibly) chart of the USA, there are hints of the tendency to go on spending sprees that become crash-and-burn benders. The country's conjunction of Jupiter and the Sun suggests an ongoing adolescent growth spurt. The chart's Sagittarius Ascendant promotes the delusion that what goes up need never come down. But there is something more to the story than mere recklessness and optimism-gone-wrong. Pluto, the planet of breakdown, resides in the USA's 2nd house of money and physical possessions.
Pluto represents the evolutionary law that says everything must die so that Life as a whole can keep going. In human beings this law reigns supreme beneath and in spite of our conscious beliefs. In groups it can manifest as an irrational mass fervor that has nothing to do with the health or stability of the group. This is the placement that underlies America's obsessive attitudes towards money and wealth.
Wherever it resides, an unwisely used Pluto steers the activities of that particular house to self-destruction. In every instance, the ultimate question is the same: Is the entity flexible enough to re-invent itself after its obsolete bits have been destroyed? This is America's question as we make our way towards the country's Pluto Return in 2022. As the governor of birth, death and rebirth, Pluto's point is to trigger decay in those aspects of the native where vitality and purpose no longer exist. If the native in question has incarnated with Pluto in the 2nd house, the dark god will use money to make his point.
The 2012 Phenomenon
From the Kali Yuga to the Mayan baktuns, many oracular traditions have had something to say about the period of history we are now in. The consensus among these various prophecies is that there would be a collapse, and that it would arrive in a form that would be peculiarly recognizable to the modern mentality. Given that the contemporary cultures of the world are philosophically based in mechanistic materialism, it makes sense that the breakdown of the old era has arrived in material terms.
Breakdown is not a pretty sight, and looking at it is especially difficult in a context of collective fear. But symbolic systems such as astrology allow us to approach this daunting time with our eyes open. Applying spiritual discipline, we can avoid buying into the reactivity around us; we can instead use what's happening as a means to nourish our understanding. Rather than pumping our energy into avoidance or denial, we can observe, conscientiously and fearlessly, what's going on in the world, abroad and at home.
When we do this, something transformative starts to happen. We find ourselves intrigued by the intensity in the atmosphere. We feel eager to find out more. We start to glimpse why we, as souls, chose to incarnate into this particular scene.
This is how crisis can be used to build wisdom. The years between 2009 and 2022, with 2010-2012 standing out as a kind of peak (see my essay on MotherSky.com, "The Cardinal Cross Years."), represent to many astrologers an immense transition from an old global paradigm to a new one.
For Americans, Pluto's breakdown of old systems is happening in stereo: the augury of the planet's natal position in the USA chart is being echoed by its current position in the sky. Before it forms an exact T-square with Uranus and Saturn, Pluto is opposing the USA's Venus (values and valuables). Peaking for the first time during March, April and May 2009, with a station on April 4, this transit's job is to strip away collective pretenses about our collective financial life, foisting in our faces realities that we would rather not look at.
Money and Politics
Now reeling from the struggle to get the stimulus package passed in February, many Americans are understandably hoping that the grueling debate about tax cuts vs. spending cuts is over. But of course it has just begun.
Obama's omnibus bill passed only because it steered clear of the tax increases that powerful business groups stalwartly opposed; and its passage bought the government some time. But the lobbyists who represent the country's ruling elites are sharpening their knives to kill those portions of the plan that threaten their interests. Among these: the tightening of regulation, the strengthening of union rights, the limiting of carbon emissions and the attempt to make genuine changes in the health care system, which would mean taking on the gigantic insurance lobby. In this last battle, the most deeply threatening to the American power structure, we can see building the kind of David-vs.-Goliath confrontation discussed in last month's column.
If we want to understand what's going on in this fraught scenario we must look deeper than conventional political wisdom; deeper than the short-sighted analyses offered up by the mass media. The transit is acting like a laser, burning through the floorboards into America's basement, where the money is kept.
As is always the case with Pluto, what is being uncovered is already widely known. In a nutshell: the worldview of America's controlling interests does not include making financial sacrifices. Their raison-d'être is to make money and hold onto it. That the USA is a plutocratic system (Pluto in the 2nd house) has been difficult for America's rank-and-file to grapple with; but it is a reality that will not stay discreetly hidden away. The David-vs.-Goliath struggles we have forecast for 2009 stem from the simple fact that groups who have been making billions the way the system is now do not want to alter that system.
Wall Street speculators have been quite literally stealing from pensioners; and it is now clear to everybody that the government's position is to bail out the former, not the latter, when they run into trouble. Labor laws have been gradually undermined over the decades, eating away at the working class' prosperity. Oil producers have profited wildly from these pre-peak-oil years and will not change their ways without a fight. Private health insurers have no incentive to make health care affordable.
Previously (up until Pluto went into Capricorn), the powers-that-be, when caught with their hands in the cookie jar, would make a show of allowing legislative "reform" that left the deep workings of the system safely intact. But the transformative nature of the times is rendering this tactic moot. Cosmetic fixes will not work anymore, even temporarily. So long as protection of the bottom line remains at the heart of critical federal legislation, America will be fighting a losing battle against evolutionary forces. Holding onto the old paradigm is a dangerous plan under skies like these.
The Grand Cross leading up to the Pluto Return is a call for profound, honest-to-goddess change. Not the warm-and-fuzzy "change" that lends itself to campaign slogans; but the deep-structure kind, whose purpose is to eliminate old, rotting material. Granted, when universal processes start to go to work on the infrastructure of our familiar social structures—our financial system, our government, our self-image of ourselves as a nation—people do tend to spook. Human nature prefers the devil we know to the devil we don't know. But our job as fully awake participants in this era is to face the devil at the door.
In ancient legends the world over, we find stories of a god coming to the door disguised as a noxious beggar, to test the character of the hero. Or there may be a fearsome monster, as in Beauty in the Beast, who is revealed to be a noble being with the power to transform the heroine's life. Right now Pluto and the other gods are knocking at humanity's door, daring us to overcome our fear and undergo transformation.
When we listened to these stories as little children, we knew very well which response was the right one. It is equally obvious now.
To be continued.
Jessica Murray trained as a fine artist before graduating in 1973 from Brown University, where she studied psychology and linguistics. After a stint in political theatre in the heady early '70s, Jessica moved to San Francisco and began studying metaphysics, where she has had a full-time private practice in astrology for more than 30 years.
Her book, Soul-Sick Nation: An Astrologer's View of America, is available through her website, mothersky.com. In addition to her column in Daykeeper Journal and the monthly Skywatch on her website, MotherSky.com, Jessica's essays appear in The Mountain Astrologer, P.S. Magazine, Considerations and other publications. Jessica can be reached at email@example.com.
Jessica's writings appear every even-numbered month in Daykeeper. You'll find a complete list of them here.