A couple of weeks ago, Michelle and I hiked up the most popular “tourist” canyon in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park near where we live. It wasn’t exactly crowded, but we probably crossed tracks with thirty or forty other hikers. Passing someone on the trail, it’s my custom to say hi. Many returned my greeting, but I was struck by how many walked past us stone-faced and silent, as if we weren’t there at all.
“Ah . . . another sad example of dreaded Late-Stage Capricornosis,” I said to myself.
Let me explain . . .
Pluto entered Capricorn back in 2008 and it’ll be criss-crossing back and forth over the Aquarius frontier between March 2023 and November 2024. On April 1, 2022, it’s in 28 degrees 24 minutes of Capricorn – getting into the last degree and a half of the sign . . . hence my reference to the “late stage” of our current disorder. Those late degrees of a sign always have a special intensity. Picture a college dormitory at about 11:00 pm on the night before final exams. Naturally, you’ll be impressed by the scholarly zeal of the students. Every nose is buried in a book and will probably will stay that way until the wee hours. In much the same fashion, there was an Englishman who was going to be hung in the morning. Someone asked him how he felt about that. He said, “it composes the mind most excellently.”
There are obvious parallels between being hung and final exams – at least for the students who felt that they had better ways to spend their time than studying during the earlier part of the semester. Like those students, we humans all tend to procrastinate. The trouble is that at some point putting things off ceases to be an effective strategy. Laziness catches up with us, whether we are bacchanalian students or Englishmen who’ve fallen out of royal favor – had he thought about it, that Englishman might have at least run away in timely fashion. In either case, welcome to the great university of life, where we are all currently enrolled. The point is that ultimately all astrological events are soul-lessons – and just as with college classes, those doors are open for only so long. “Final exams” always come eventually. In the end, we pass or we fail. Either way, we live with the consequences.
How has humanity been doing with this long passage of Pluto through the sign of the Sea-Goat? Just as importantly, how have you been doing with it? Compared to the news headlines, individuals such as yourself are the wild cards. Personal responses to these big collective transits are invariably quite diverse. Some of us have undoubtedly done splendidly – and for some of us . . . well, let’s remember that unfortunate Englishman.
One archetype that has always been associated with Capricorn is the Hermit. Ruled by Saturn, Capricorn is indeed the sign of solitude. At the high end of possible responses, we see spiritual and psychological self-sufficiency, while at the low end of the evolutionary spectrum we see simple loneliness, along with the various moral perils of isolation. That’s why I opened this newsletter with the imagery of hikers who couldn’t even grant another human being a glance or a grunt – one of the moral perils of isolation lies in dehumanizing other people in the same way that we have dehumanized ourselves. That Capricornian cold front has been a long time coming. As Covid-19 began sweeping the globe in early 2020, Pluto had entered the final quarter of Capricorn. For a while it was actually in a dramatic conjunction with Saturn itself – and suddenly, the Hermit archetype was everywhere: we all literally had to stay home, hide our faces behind masks, and figure out ways to avoid going crazy while in Covid-induced “solitary confinement.”
Talk about Pluto in the sign of the Hermit! As they say, you can’t make this stuff up.
How many of us were simply lonely? And how many of us harnessed the opportunities that this relative freedom from social entanglements and distractions created, turning it all into some Great Work? Personally, I have Covid to thank for about 2000 pages of new writing spread over five books. But it’s not just about outward accomplishments like that. Let’s just take a moment to honor those invisible, inward great works that many of us have accomplished during these Capricornian “final exams.” Solitude can be an incubator of higher consciousness. Ask any yogi who’s been meditating alone in a cave for the past few years.
Let’s also remember that one of Lord Pluto’s major evolutionary functions lies in bringing the shadow to light – and by “shadow,” I mean every mucky, wounded, angry, faithless place lurking inside every one of us. By eternal law, no spiritual or psychological problem is ever healed until it is recognized. Pluto’s job is to create the possibility that those problems will be recognized. In that work, Pluto always succeeds – it reliably puts the shadow right up our noses. Then the rest is up to us.
One dark “shadow” face of Plutonian solitude is a “me me me” kind of selfishness, as if no one else mattered except ourselves. Once again, Covid and Pluto teamed up to bring this poisonous dimension of Late-Stage Capricornosis to everyone’s attention. For a couple of dramatic examples, just think of the spectacle of “unruly airline passengers” refusing to wear masks or people who know they are infected going out in public anyway, coughing on everybody. Less dramatically, think of human beings who seem to have lost the simple good will implicit in saying hello to one another.
Covid-19 is an expression of Pluto in Capricorn, but the configuration is not just about the pandemic and the Hermit archetype. Another classic archetypal association of Capricorn has been the Father – although as ever, nowadays it is best to not be too narrowly gender-specific about its expression. Still, the old days do provide us with a good launching pad – think of what “The Father” meant under the patriarchy: the strong man, the head of the household, the judge and jury. Certainly decent men played that role sometimes and did their best. But there have also always been those who abused these absolute powers, beating down their wives and their children, ruling with cruel, iron-handed tyranny, perhaps exploiting people sexually – remember: Pluto always brings the shadow to light.
In Late-Stage Capricornosis – let’s just call it LSC from now on – we would naturally expect to see such old-style male dictators running amok. They are a classic expression of the particularly Capricornian “Dark Father” face of the Plutonian shadow. We would expect to see the abuse of vested powers. The spate of “strong man” Fascism we have been witnessing, not to mention the collective mesmerization in some segments of society with Nazi-like “answers,” is evidence of this LSC boil breaking wide open. The “Dark Father” has been dominating the headlines, and not just recently with the Ukrainian nightmare we are currently witnessing. We’ve been wrestling with it in many other ugly forms in many different nations.
What about our own inner “tyrants, strong men, and Fascist dictators?” It is not only world leaders who continue to be our sorry shadow illustrations here. They are just noisiest ones – the ones responsible for putting children in cages, cutting down rain forests, and bombing maternity hospitals. What about the little tyrants on Facebook who attack anyone who dares disagree with them? What about the Fascist excesses of “cancel culture?” What about any of the other enemies of human diversity? LSC cuts across all the usual party lines – in fact one of its most obvious symptoms, regardless of political affiliation, is any one group trying to stamp out the voice of any other group through sheer, violent muscle. Capricorn, in its garbage face, always tries to control everything – everything, that is, except for itself.
There’s another point about Pluto’s long passage through Capricorn – one which I’ve explored elsewhere, but it merits another mention. At its best, Capricorn is about integrity – our ability to act according to our principles rather than succumbing to every desire or temptation. In other words, it is about our values and being true to them. As a positive illustration, think of the brave health care workers on the front lines during the worst days of the pandemic. Their courage and commitment despite the danger and the sheer exhaustion they faced will go down in history as a brilliant illustration of the high, inspiring side of Capricorn. Some of those kinds of sterling values have been around for a long, long time and are still as valid today as they ever were – be true to your word, be as kind and as honest as you can be, take care of your kids, think about the effects of your actions today on the people seven generations down the road from now.
Those are definitely “traditional values,” and they’re still healthy ones. Capricorn, in its best expression, is all about them.
There are other values, though – ones that have also been around a long time, but which are definitely not passing the smell-test lately. Racism has a long tradition. So do homophobia, sexism, and xenophobia. So does the idea that “man shall have dominion over the earth and all the creatures in it.”
The boil has burst on those toxic values. The pus of it is running all over the late-stage Capricorn headlines. That process goes back to Pluto entering Capricorn in 2008, but it has exploded as Pluto entered the final degrees of the sign. I won’t belabor the obvious connections. Unless you’ve been hiding under the bed with your eyes closed and your fingers in your ears, you know what I am talking about. In my more optimistic moments, I think we are witnessing the death throes of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and the notion that we can exploit the earth and its creatures forever with impunity. I hope I am right. In any case, the insanely violent uprising we have seen in defense of those rotten values is perhaps the essence of LSC – the disease of our times.
A century ago, William Butler Yeats warned us of a time when “the worst are full of passionate intensity while the best lack all conviction.” He was sadly prophetic in the first part of that line, but perhaps a bit too defeatist in the second. Remember those students on the night before final exams? They’re cramming away, drinking instant coffee, trying to stay awake long enough to internalize the material they should have spent an entire semester learning. It is a crisis that they have created for themselves, of course. And it is the same with humanity right now as we move into the final stages of Pluto’s passage through Capricorn. As we saw back in our college dormitory, procrastination works just fine – until it doesn’t. Then there is a terrible balloon payment. Then we struggle against, not only a real challenge, but also a gratuitous mess. The challenge is our authentic spiritual work in dealing with the shadow, while the gratuitous mess is all of the extra obstacles we have created for ourselves by wasting time being lazy or indulging in flat-out denial.
Yet take heart – some of those beleaguered, exhausted students sucking down their fourth bleary cup of coffee at 1:30 in the morning are going to get up tomorrow, sit down in that classroom, and pass that exam. They may make a C+ when, with some foresight, integrity, and self-discipline, they might have aced it. But still they passed – some of them, at least. As they sometimes say in aviation, “any landing you can walk away from is a good landing.” I am sure the irony is intentional, but at least the pilot and the passengers survived.
What I am saying is that, despite present appearances, I am not entirely pessimistic about the fate of the human race. What we are seeing on our television screens – or in the cold, blank faces of strangers who can’t even muster a simple hello – is really just cosmic law interacting with the usual foibles of our species. It’s the same old song, in other words – just manifesting in a specifically Pluto-in-Capricorn style.
Pluto is always somewhere, and so these Plutonian lessons are always with us. They are never simple. They always push us toward our ragged emotional edges, especially as “final exams” loom – which is to say, as Pluto approaches the end of any sign. Given the difficulties they present, even when we are trying to do our best we will still make mistakes. Worse, we will sometimes shut our eyes and pretend that the lessons aren’t there at all. As my psychotherapist friends are fond of saying, “De Nile is not just a river in Egypt.” Every single one of us has felt defensive from time to time – what could be more human? And every single one of us has been tempted by the false comfort that denial promises. The part of you that sometimes does better than that is sacred Pluto. And the part of you that falls short . . . well, that’s the part of you that is suffering from LSC.
I have never heard people complaining about how their birth charts are too easy. What’s true for individuals is true for humanity as a whole as well. These are the lessons humanity is currently learning – or, more accurately, being given a shot at learning. Naturally on the collective level, we sometimes get them wrong. But when we do get them right, it’s because enough individuals got them right and tilted the scales in the healing direction. You may feel you have no power over what Putin is doing to Ukraine, for example, but you do have some power over the underlying human processes that are manifesting in that holocaust. They are nothing but the sum total of all human thought. You are part of that. So are the decent Russians.
So far, we humans have always managed to “walk away from the landing,” bloody but unbowed. That’s why we’re still here. The next year or two will complete the LSC story – although a better way to say it is that we humans, singly and collectively, will complete the story. It is ourselves, not time, not the planets, that will write the ending of the tale.
And in any case, we are clearing the decks for the next big chapter in the human story – one in which we will face an entirely different set of issues. Pluto touches Aquarius on March 23rd of the coming year, entering that sign for the first time since it kissed Aquarius goodbye on Christmas Eve 1798.
But that’s another story . . .
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