THE NEPTUNE-CHIRON CONJUNCTION IN PISCES
The present conjunction of Neptune and Chiron began when the two planets first moved into orb early in 2009 and will continue through until 2013. This makes it a longer, more powerful conjunction than the previous one (1945 in Libra) lasting only a year. This can be explained by Chiron's elliptical orbit – he progresses three times more slowly through Pisces than through Libra. Also, for the record, Neptune was last in Pisces between 1848 and 1861, and Chiron between 1960 and 1968.
One full cycle of Neptune has been completed since his discovery in 1846, and this is the first Neptune-Chiron conjunction since Chiron's discovery in 1977. Even more dramatic, this is the first Neptune-Chiron conjunction in Pisces within living memory, which makes it very special. However, the present long drawn-out conjunction has only one exactitude, which occurred on 17th February 2010, though both planets are remaining very close.
As I see it, acquiring an in-depth knowledge of the astrological archetypes and their fields of meaning is basic to working with astrology[i]. So I'll start by putting the Neptune-Chiron conjunction in the context of the Pisces archetypal field.
The twelve astrological archetypes can be represented as magnetic nodes that each attract and hold a field of themes. These are latently inherent in the field but have a potential for manifestation. As archetypes express on all levels, their scope spans the chain of being from human to animal, vegetable and mineral, creating correspondences between the realms. For example, affinities between planets, plants, gemstones and the organs of the human body have been recognised since ancient times and used in medical practice. In the human sphere the archetypes manifest as personality types, and also give rise to our outer circumstances and life issues.
There are twelve astrological archetypes or organising principles within the universal psyche. These give the signs, their ruling planets and the horoscope houses the characteristics that have been observed and noted by astrologers down the ages. Individual archetypes increase and decline in prominence within time cycles. For example during the diurnal cycle an archetype gains prominence as its sign crosses the Ascendant or the MC, and its affairs are then more likely to manifest. It also gains prominence when it is highlighted annually by the sun, or by the transits of powerful planets. Pisces is increasing in prominence at present, now Chiron and Neptune are entering it in conjunction.
The vast, deep and unbounded ocean is a primary Pisces symbol. Imagine you're in a boat on the sea, looking over the side into the water. A lot of surface waves and ripples are visible, standing for the feelings and thoughts we're aware of. But below the surface the water is murky and opaque, symbolising the subconscious – the level of mind we enter when we're asleep and dreaming. Even deeper down lie the invisible depths, which stand for what Jung termed the collective unconscious.
Coincidentally an exhibition titled The Deep has been showing at the natural history museum, South Kensington. The advertising blurb promised 'to plunge visitors into the abyss, revealing a deep sea environment less explored than the surface of the moon.' It could act as a timely reminder that our oceans are in crisis. With fish stocks dangerously depleted through over fishing and pollution, thousands of ocean species are going extinct. Perhaps, now Chiron is entering Pisces, we may recognise how sick our oceans are, and finally take steps to heal them.
Oil is another major Pisces theme. Its commercial exploitation started around the time of Neptune's discovery in 1846, and his cycle since then has coincided with the rise of the oil industry, now in crisis. Oil production has peaked and is on the decline. The catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last April tolled its death knell. And, as most of the remaining oil fields lie in deep water, governments may now be forced to rethink their energy policies, which is a good thing.
So the Deepwater Horizon disaster can be seen as an example of Neptune and Chiron manifesting together in a concrete situation. Characteristic of the Pisces archetype is the overwhelming enormity of the catastrophe and the chaos it caused. Also the initial helplessness of those responsible, and those whose livelihoods were lost, is typical of Pisces. The ensuing pollution caused a wounding of marine life and on-shore human and wild life habitats that point to Chiron's involvement.
Chiron, with Neptune close behind, entered Pisces in April 2010, a month that will remain memorable not only for the Gulf oil spill, but also for the eruption of the Iceland volcano. Thousands of travellers were stranded at airports through the resulting flight ban, and suffered a Piscean experience of chaos and helplessness in the face of an implacable force of nature. These events were followed in August by the Pakistan flood, which the UN Secretary called the worst disaster he had ever seen, unprecedented in scale and magnitude. Chiron and Neptune had retrograded into Aquarius, though still conjunct the Pisces cusp, and Uranus had retrograded into Pisces accompanied by Jupiter. This triggered a great surge of water along the Indus valley inundating in a landmass the size of England, and leaving six million homeless and in need of aid. Pitiful footage of emaciated, starving Pakistani children continued to touch hearts and rouse our compassion long after the water receded, but our powerlessness when faced with the vast numbers needing assistance also paralysed humanitarian action. August 2010 also saw severe flooding in China, which was less publicised although thousands died, and in South-east Australia.
When the Pisces archetype comes into prominence, deep collective fears of an apocalypse by water are triggered. The myth of the deluge and Noah's arc surfaces. Folk memories of the eruption of Santorini 3400 years ago, when tsunamis wiped out civilisations around the Mediterranean, may lie behind the Genesis legend. Thus, when in 1524 astrologers foresaw a giant stellium of all the then-known planets in Pisces, they predicted a Biblical flood. There was also a Neptune-Chiron conjunction at the time (though they were unaware of this) magnifying on an unconscious level their fear of a watery apocalypse. Masses of people fled to mountain tops, and a boat builder in Germany built an ark. When it was finished there were stampedes with fatalities amongst the masses of people trying to scramble on board. But otherwise the fateful day passed uneventfully, proving just how wrong astrologers can be!
Piscean energy makes porous the barrier between the conscious and the unconscious levels of our mind, so our dreams become more vivid and memorable. And there's a Piscean element of helplessness in the experience of dreaming, as we usually have no control over what befalls us. It's like drifting rudderless at the mercy of the ocean currents. So, to get into a deeper insight into the Pisces archetype, it would be good to read Coleridge's poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner2. It tells of a curse put on a sailor who shot an albatross – the sailors' good luck omen. This resulted in all his shipmates dying leaving him alone on the ship which drifted around the world's oceans for years. Coleridge wrote this poem in 1798 when Neptune and Chiron were conjunct in Scorpio, and besides the Piscean elements in it, the obsessive intensity of Scorpio also can be felt.
That the Ancient Mariner has become one of the most memorable poems in English literature is due to its power to evoke images from the deep-water archetypal level of the collective unconscious, and so speak to everyman. This feat is easier for writers and artists to achieve when the Pisces archetype is prominent. For example, Hermann Melville wrote Moby Dick, a novel drawing strongly on Neptunian subject matter, when Neptune entered Pisces in 1848. It became a world-wide best seller during the 1850's, demonstrating the reading public's unconscious attraction to Piscean themes.
Also during the 1850's Wagner wrote some of his greatest operas based on the archetypal symbols of Nordic mythology. The passion of his music has deep oceanic power. |In the art world the entry of Neptune into Pisces in 1848 coincided with the founding of the pre-Raphealite movement by a group of young painters, led by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who strove to revive the spiritual beauty of medieval art in their paintings.
And it was in 1848 that Elizabeth Barrett Browning, a poetess with sun in Pisces, who suffered from a mysterious physical complaint that left her bed-ridden (very Piscean!), met Robert Browning. Their famous love affair coincided with Neptune's transit of Pisces, and inspired some very great love poetry. Also 1848 was the year when spiritualism took off in a big way, and the 1850's saw a spate of séances being held in Victorian drawing rooms.
So we can conclude that, when the Pisces archetype is prominent, the human imagination is more deeply stimulated, and we become more emotionally and intuitively aware, which means great art, music and poetry can be born. And during the last two thousand years of the great age of Pisces some amazing spiritually inspired works have been achieved – the paintings of Michelangelo for example, and Shakespeare's poetry, or the music of J.S. Bach. I'm afraid their like will not be seen again during the coming age of Aquarius!
Therefore, during the transit of Neptune through Pisces, we may enjoy an emotional expansion, acquire imaginative power, and our psychic abilities may increase. Also, as a great spiritual longing arises when Neptune is in Pisces, we could become more religious, though not necessarily in a conventional sense. The barriers that normally limit the range of our perceptions will become more porous, so we could catch glimpses of other dimensions lying beyond consensus reality, and we may be given transformative mystical experiences. But mist, marshes and mirages also belong to the Pisces field, and deception, delusion, and disappointment are likely. We should remember that 1848 marked the beginning of the Californian gold rush, with gold fever reaching fever pitch in the 1850's. It brought riches to few and ruin to many.
For those who are ungrounded, Neptune and Chiron's transit of Pisces could manifest in confusion, irrational fears and mental instability. Drugs and alcohol beckon, and they could end up on the slippery slope leading to addiction and a wasted life. It is all too easy to give up with Pisces prominent, and passively surrender to destructive forces in and around us. Or we could see ourselves as martyrs, and take on the role of scapegoats suffering for others' sins – positions which are spiritual dead-end alleys.
And now to Chiron:
For my version of Chiron's field I owe much to Melanie Reinhart's book Chiron and the Healing Journey, now republished in a new edition3. Chiron has proved to be a powerful astrological significator, and I believe Melanie was the first to associate him with the archetype of the wounded healer. Let's remind ourselves of the myth: Chiron is wounded in the leg by one of Hercules' arrows, and the wound won't heal. So he undertakes a healing journey, visiting many healers in search of a cure – in vain. At last he meets Prometheus, who had been chained to a rock by Zeus, while his liver was daily eaten by eagles. Moved by compassion, Chiron offers to change places with him, and this act of love magically releases Prometheus from his suffering, and heals Chiron's wound at the same time.
Chiron manifesting as a shamanic wounded healer can open up liminal spaces for us that lead into alternative realities. With Pisces allowing an easier lifting of the veil, we are then able to enter states of consciousness in which we can access healing powers, or receive teaching and guidance from spiritual beings. When Chiron was last in Pisces in the 1960's, Carlos Castaneda was apprenticed to the shaman Don Juan in the deserts of New Mexico, and received the experiences he describes in his best-selling books.4 Don Juan was a shaman with a knowledge of plants that have healing and mind-altering properties.
Castaneda's concept of reality is severely challenged when he experiences the desert as alive with powerful and often terrifying spirits. With the help of a little peyote, Don Juan proves to him that multiple realities are present to us every moment, and teaches him how to 'stop the world' by changing the way his mind normally projects reality. Much pain and discomfort must be suffered during this apprenticeship. And we learn that a wounding, sometimes in the form of a life-threatening illness or epileptic fits, belongs to the initiation of a shaman, and is a prerequisite for the acquisition of psychic powers.
When Chiron becomes prominent, we can expect to suffer from our wounds being opened up and exposed. And situations will arise in which we'll be offered a choice of three roles: the wounded victim, the wounder or perpetrator, and the healer with the maturity to transcend the wounder-wounded dichotomy. And the miracle is that, when we choose the latter, and, like Chiron, perform acts of healing out of love and compassion, our own wounds will be healed in the process.
As Pisces is a water sign, and Chiron is conjunct Neptune, our healing this time will be less on the physical and more on the emotional or spiritual levels. To be human is to be wounded, and all of us are carrying emotional wounds. These are the sensitive, aching places remaining from our past experiences of rejection, cruelty and general lack of love. We've buried them deep in our unconscious, and closed our hearts to protect ourselves from getting hurt again. But before wounds can be healed they must be exposed, and Chiron, cruel in order to be kind, will prise them open. Then, if we can accept our pain without blaming others and playing the victim, and if we can understand and forgive, this will shift our perspective. We'll pass through pain and suffering into a change of heart and a change of consciousness.
Neptune tunes us into other people by heightening our empathy with them. So, when Pisces is prominent, healing happens through the empathetic imagination. When we are able to identify with others, we become more understanding and more able to forgive. Increased powers of empathy also help us to transcend the belief that we're separate –cut off from others and from Nature. And this illusion can be seen as humanity's primal metaphysical wound that's in need of healing.
I see the coming transit of Neptune through Pisces as the culmination of the Age of Pisces, and suggest that the extreme sufferings of the human species during the last 2000 years have been necessary to open the human heart chakra wider. As Pisces is the final stage in the precessional cycle, it seems all human karma from the previous ages has had to be paid during this period. Consequently the last 2000 years have witnessed terrible wars and atrocities. Take 1945 for example – the year of the last Neptune-Chiron conjunction. World War II ended in May in terrible carnage, the extermination camps were opened up, confronting the world with images of their living and dead. There were thousands of refugees homeless on European highways. Then in August the first atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the world had to face up to the horrors of atomic war. So can such harrowing human experience be put into a spiritual context?
The predominant icon of the age of Pisces has been the image of Christ on the cross. And during the centuries after his death thousands of martyrs, seeking a passport to heaven, followed his example. In a gallery in Venice there hangs a painting of the crucifixion of 10,000 martyrs at once in gory detail. It was painted to hang in a church to act as spiritual inspiration!
As a child, I was taken every Sunday to a church where a life-sized statue of Jesus on the cross hung over the transept. I would gaze at it fascinated – the beauty of the young man's body, naked except for a loin cloth, the realistic blood dripping from his wounds, the face expressing ecstatic suffering. Later in my atheist phase I condemned such images of the crucifixion as sado-masochistic and psychologically sick. But astrology has revealed their deeper meaning to me. I now see Jesus as a Chiron-Neptune figure – the ultimate wounded healer – who was motivated by love and compassion to sacrifice himself for humanity. Like other wounded healers he was rejected, despised and killed, but not in vain because for two thousand years his agony on the cross served to heal Christians spiritually.
The devout Christian today is 'saved' by being ritually crucified with Jesus through an empathetic identification with him every Good Friday. He suffers the same wounding, and rises again with Jesus on Easter Sunday with his wounds healed. So an experience of the ancient pagan Spring ritual of death and rebirth is still available every Easter in Christian churches. What Jesus offers through his crucifixion and resurrection is a deep spiritual healing. Partaking vicariously in his death and resurrection can heal us of our nihilistic despair at the prospect of death and meaningless dissolution.
A zen master, when asked how to avoid pain, replied, 'Escape – but into the midst of the boiling waters, into the midst of the burning coal!' Unlike the ego, which tries to avoid pain and seek pleasure, the soul in its deeper wisdom surrenders to suffering as a bitter but necessary medicine. Because in the end the suffering is not the point; it's the experience of the compassionate love underlying it. A deep Piscean surrender is, however, required, and the ultimate surrender is to offer up the self as a vehicle for the divine. 'Not my will but thy will be done!'
By following a path of spiritual development during the transit of Neptune and Chiron through Pisces, we may attain this ultimate form of surrender. But it's scary, because on the way we risk losing our security structures. The reward is great however, as this path leads to the ecstatic experience of boundlessness and all-inclusiveness when the water drop finally returns to Neptune's ocean of bliss.
Phoebe Wyss, July 2010 [i] See my website www.astrophoebe.com for my articles The Archetypes and the Origins of Astrology and An Archetypal View of the Houses published in this Journal 2 S.T.Coleridge The Rime of the Ancient Mariner best read in the edition illustrated by Gustav Dore, Arcturus 2008 3 Melanie Reinhart Chiron and the Healing Journey 2010 4 Carlos Castaneda A Separate Reality 1971