All eyes are on the sky this month. As most of us probably know by now, Jupiter and Saturn come together and form their every-two-decades conjunction on December 21. And this time they really come together – they stand only one-tenth of a degree apart. That’s close! They won’t “blend into one star” as some people have erroneously said – you will still see two points of light. But it will be a striking sight, something you may have never before seen in the sky.How close is one-tenth of a degree? Here’s a way to visualize it in advance before you can actually see the real thing. Hold your arm straight out and stand your pinky-finger straight up. The span across your fingernail is about one degree.
Hey, but what if it’s cloudy on the night of the 21st? Have you missed the whole thing? Do you have to wait another twenty years? Well . . . it’s both worse than that and better than that. The next Jupiter-Saturn conjunction occurs in October of 2040, but it’s a just pale version of this one – the two planets are much further apart (because of declination) and somewhat lost in the Sun’s glare. Twenty years after that one, they are at it again – but once more, conditions are similar to 2040.
One tenth of that. Close!
Start with the fact that this is a slow dance we are watching. Jupiter and Saturn are already really close together. Right at the beginning of the month, on December 1st, they are only separated by a little more than two degrees. (Hold your middle three fingers up against the sky at arm’s length. That is about five degrees. Less than half of that – which is close enough to be strikingly beautiful.)
All of that is the “worse than that” side of the equations. What about “better than that?”
Still, may the whole Earth be blessed with clear skies on the evening of December 21st. That one will be a moment for the history books.
Like everyone else who pays attention to the heavens, I am awaiting our once-in-a-lifetime moment on December 21st, but who knows about the weather? There’s another date that may actually be more memorable and more lovely: December 16. On that day, Jupiter is closing in on Saturn, standing only half a degree away – just half the breadth of your pinkie. What promises to make the view magical that evening is the Moon. It will be in its pretty waxing crescent phase and just five degrees below the two planets. If you are lucky enough to be under dark skies, you’ll see earth shine softly illuminating the dark portions of the Moon, and the whole thing will be glorious enough to put tears in your eyes – maybe an even more memorable sight than the conjunction itself just five nights later.
Like most astrologers, I have explored the meaning of the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction in a lot of detail elsewhere. Go to my website, and enter “Jupiter Saturn conjunction” in the Search engine. You’ll see three different talks I’ve done on the subject. I don’t want to rehash any of that material here. Instead I want to take a longer, more historical view. These Jupiter-Saturn alignments happen every 19.85 years. Usually there is just one exact conjunction, but sometimes, due to retrograde motion, there are three of them, all happening within a few months. One interesting feature is that these alignments cluster for a couple of hundred years in Fire signs, then two hundred more years in Earth signs, then in Air signs, then in Water signs. The transition from Element to Element is a bit blurry though. For example, after two centuries in Earth signs, three Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions happened between December 1980 and July 1981, all in the Air sign, Libra. But May 2000 brought us a conjunction back in the Earth sign, Taurus. Our current one is of course in the Air sign, Aquarius – even though a lot of the action occurred in earthy Capricorn.
By the way, as most of us know, the conjunction will happen right at the beginning of the sign Aquarius. Meanwhile, on December 21st, the Sun is just into Capricorn. That puts the Sun about thirty degrees away from Jupiter and Saturn, just one whole sign before them in the zodiac. They are very close together, in other words. So the Sun sets, then Jupiter and Saturn set. What that means in practical terms is that you want your lawn chair set up facing west just after sunset. People who say “let’s catch the conjunction later tonight” will be disappointed. It will be over by then, at least in terms of our ability actually to see it.
Bottom line: when we take the long view, there is an unmistakable pattern of two-century Element cycles in these Jupiter-Saturn alignments.The astrological community is indebted to Richard Nolle for posting much technical material on his website. Here is a table of Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions from the year 1425 to the year 2219, all gleaned from his www.astropro.com. His website covers an even longer span of history and gives even more information. I’ve shortened it here to better fit our purposes.
Let me explain what you are seeing here – and for those of you listening to the podcast, if you’re really interested in this, you should probably click on the text version of this newsletter and have a look at the table.
Glancing at the Table, you can easily see the blurry clustering of conjunctions in successive Elements over cycles of around two hundred years. I say “blurry” because after entering a new Element, there is usually a “throwback” conjunction in the previous one – that, or an early harbinger of the next Element before the old one gives out. On the Table, I have labeled those “throwbacks” as out of quality conjunctions.
Mostly the listing is straightforward, giving the dates of the conjunctions, their exact degree positions, and the Element in which they took (or will take) place. You may notice that some of the dates are italicized. I do that only with the triple conjunctions, where the two planets come together three times over a period of a few months. The very first entry is an example of that, as Jupiter and Saturn formed three alignments in Scorpio over a period of about six months back in the Year of Our Lord, 1425.
What we are seeing here is messy, but the basic pattern is ultimately clear: these conjunctions form long cycles in specific Elements, then they make a halting transition into a new Element cycle. The term Mutation Conjunction is often used as we enter a fresh Element – but once again there are often a couple of candidates for which conjunction gets that title.
At our present point in history, we are staggering out of a long cycle of Earth conjunctions. We had a taste of Air in 1980, then back to Earth in 2000. With this conjunction in Aquarius, we are entering a solid Air cycle that will carry us to Halloween 2219 – with one early taste of Water in 2159.
Water gave way to a Fire cycle, running approximately from 1603 to 1802 – and we had two hundred Fiery years of war and conquest and colonization.
Looking at this Table in broad, impressionistic terms, we have a Water cycle that ran approximately from 1425 to 1603. What do we have happening then? The Renaissance, for one thing – a great flowering of Watery human imagination, not to mention the exploration of the world via sailing ships moving on water.
Earth gave way to Air – again either in 1980 or 2020, depending on how you think about it. Our current Air cycle, which is unambiguously underway starting on this December 21st will last for another two hundred years or so.
Fire gave way to Earth, running approximately from 1802 to either 1980 or to today, depending on how you define the Mutation Conjunction. What did we have? The Industrial Revolution, which was driven by fossil fuels and metals taken from the bones of the earth itself. We have an epoch of building, building, building. You can easily feel the Earth signature in all of that.
Air is what connects our hearts and our minds to the world around us. Astrologically – but also in plain speech – it is the linking element, telegraphing an endless stream of information to us – and letting us send a few telegrams in return. Air makes a mockery of the delusion that we are separate from each other – or, for that matter, from anything else. Air connects. It is what allows us to pay attention, and perhaps to create some good reasons for other people to pay attention to us.
And what do we have? Well, this is a good time for me to invoke that reliable cliché, what does the fish know of the sea? Certainly the familiar term, The Information Age, is profoundly and obviously relevant to our moving under the wings of the Air Element. But Air is not just about cell phones and microchips. Here are some words I wrote in The Book of Air:
I don’t know. I have never claimed to have a crystal ball. But one thing is certain: with the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in Aquarius on December 21st, we are entering the uncharted territory of a new, and far more Airy, world. One look at the Table and you can see that this principle has never failed to be true. It has worked for centuries. It will not fail this time either.
Humanity is becoming literally more crowded and more interconnected in so many ways. The pressing question is, can we listen to each other? Can this new Renaissance of the Air Element, beginning this very month, herald a vibrant, creative future for the human race – one with maybe a little dollop of Star Trek social culture, not to mention some Star Trek technology in the mix? Can simple Airy interest in each other replace some of this Pluto-Eris rage and the current need constantly to make everyone else “wrong” somehow?
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So point your lawn chair to the west on the evening of the 21st and let your faith bring faith to those who doubt that humanity can create a future worth living.