September 2016 Newsletter
by Steven Forrest
If Pluto is a planet – and most astrologers, myself included, still say it is – then, like it or not, distant Eris is a planet too. The two bodies are about the same size. Both orbit in the dark deep-freeze beyond Neptune. We know all about Pluto’s direct impact on our lives. Most of us have scars to prove it. Should we expect anything less of Eris?
The astrological jury may still be out on the power of Makemake, Haumea, Sedna, and the rest of the “trans-Neptunians.” But Eris is way bigger. I believe it is time to say that everyone who claims that the jury is still is out on Eris is just not paying attention. I also believe that its current explosive conjunction with Uranus underlies much of the chaos in the world’s current headlines. Notice how you can hardly post “have a nice day” on Facebook without someone drawing parallels between you and Adolph Hitler? That’s the fingerprint of Eris.
To the Romans, the goddess the Greeks called Eris was named Discordia. I prefer that name; it is so telegraphic. Meanwhile, Uranus, famously, is the Lord of Earthquakes and Lightning Bolts. So what happens when “discord, earthquakes, and lightning bolts” form a conjunction in Aries, the sign of the War-god? As I mentioned, we are all staring the answer in the face – it’s happening in all our lives right now. Uranus caught up with Eris on June 9. They conjoin again, both retrograde, on September 25, and one final time on March 16, 2017.
Of course, these are very slow-moving bodies and so their interaction is only peaking on those dates. We can run it a couple years before and afterwards. We’ve been in it a while and there is more to come, in other words.
Eris was discovered in 2005, so we know that its meaning has been synchronistically tied to the mood of the world for several years now, just as the discovery of Uranus was tied synchronistically to the revolutions in France and America in the late eighteenth century. My main point here is that the current conjunction of Uranus and Eris is essentially the moment in which the reality of the Era of Eris is breaking through into collective consciousness. If 2005 was “the opening,” then 2016 is the Grand Opening.
As in all things astrological, we might say that is both good news and bad news – or, more precisely, that Eris, just like the rest of the symbols in astrology, represents a spectrum of possibilities, both high and low. It is not the planet itself but rather how human consciousness interacts with its wide archetypal field that determines what will actually happen. That is a principle I have never once seen fail in astrology across the board.
Eris was discovered in 2005, and ever since it was detected, the world has been in chaos. Eris’s current square aspect to Pluto has intensified the drama. If there is any single 100% reliable principle in astrology, it is that every planet has both a higher purpose and the deep shadow.
What is humanity stretching to learn now in the Age of Eris? All the noise, violence, and hatred in the daily headlines derives fundamentally from our struggles – and our failures – to integrate the higher possibilities of this new planet. How can we get it right? How can astrologers help? What will it take to save the world?
Let’s echo that the discovery of a new world out there in space means the discovery of a new one inside us all as well – and, if history serves as a mirror, this integrative process always stretches humanity pretty close to its edges. Such a discovery represents something humanity can barely do, although we’ve generally squeaked by. Witness the discovery of Pluto in 1930 and the corresponding release of shadow-energy into the world, along with the psychological tools for wrestling with it. Could, for example, the nuclear age have killed us? Yes. Did it? No. The Cold War was scary, but humanity passed the test.
Eris, sister of Mars in many of her myths, “delights in the groans of men dying in battle.” She walks merrily among the dying “increasing their pain.” Virgil describes “her snaky locks entwined with bloody ribbons.” She is, in other words, a hell-ish creature, almost more Plutonian than Pluto.
As we will see, there is another side to her – one not so patently negative. In a nutshell, competition is not always a bad thing. But Eris is sometimes competitive in the darkest sense. She is violent, and delights sadistically in the pain of others. In her negative aspect, she likes to win, but not so much as she enjoys seeing you lose. Nothing satisfies her like your suffering.
If you think about it, doesn’t this sound like the twisted logic of terrorism? Doesn’t this sound like weddings bombed by robots in the sky? Doesn’t this sound like psychotic morons armed with automatic weapons blowing away fifty strangers in a nightclub? Or running down innocent people at a festival with a truck? Or people shot for their skin color or for their uniform?
Doesn’t this, to stand back a bit, sound like the headlines of the world we have been living in since Eris was discovered?
Let’s remember the dramatic synchronicities around the discoveries of Uranus, Neptune and Pluto – and recall the detail that some of those correlations unfolded before the actual physical discovery of the planet. The most obvious example here would be the American revolution of 1776 beating the discovery of Uranus by five years. For modern Americans – and I think for much of the western world – we might say that “everything changed” on the morning of September 11, 2001. That violent moment when the Twin Towers came down beat the discovery of Eris by four years, but it totally embodies the violent, sadistic dimension of this new addition to our daily astrological vocabulary.
A planet is discovered at a moment of time – but deep psychological and mythic change in the zeitgeist cannot be pinned down to a single day on the calendar. The discovery of a planet leaves its stamp on a generation, not on a moment.
So far, I have mostly made our interaction with Eris sound like a dumb action movie designed to pander to the bloodlust of fourteen-year-old boys. That is surely part of it – but with this new planet, the Greek myths offer some deeper, more complex insights. The most commonly told Eris story in Greek mythology is about war and violence, but it is also kind of funny. And beneath the comedy lie some real insights. The tale recounts how the goddesses Hera, Athena and Aphrodite had been invited, along with the rest of the Olympians, to a wedding. Eris had been snubbed because of her ugliness as well as her trouble-making inclinations. In revenge, she tossed a golden apple through a window into the party inscribed with the words, “For the Fairest One.” This little “gift” provoked the three glorious goddesses to begin an unseemly cat-fight about the appropriate recipient. Which of them was the prettiest?
To settle it, the hapless Paris, Prince of Troy, was appointed by Zeus to decide the winner. The goddesses stripped naked to try to win Paris’ decision, so hungry were they for that apple. They also attempted to bribe him. Hera offered political power; Athena promised infinite wisdom; but sly Aphrodite tempted him with the most beautiful woman in the world. That was Helen, who unfortunately happened to be the wife of Menelaus of Sparta.
Paris chose the girl, of course – and thus Aphrodite won the beauty contest. The upshot of it all was the Trojan War, in which Paris’s city was destroyed and its inhabitants slaughtered.
Eris presumably ran away laughing.
There is much in this myth for us to contemplate. Note for starters that the root cause of the violence was competitiveness among the three goddesses. Let’s dwell there for a moment. In war, and almost all violence, people are always fighting over something – money, land, power, status, sexual partners. Without desire, greed, and competition, there would be no war at any level. The dark face of Eris would not exist.
There is another side to it though: without such competition, there might also be no progress. The ancient Greek bard, Hesiod, points out that Eris “stirs up even the shiftless to toil; for a man grows eager to work when he considers his neighbor, a rich man who hastens to plough and plant and put his house in good order; and neighbor vies with his neighbor as he hurries after wealth.” He adds, “This strife is wholesome for men.” Hesiod points out that much effort and creativity is triggered when “potter is angry with potter, and craftsman with craftsman and beggar is jealous of beggar, and minstrel of minstrel.” As a result, they might all make an effort to improve. It may not be pretty, but we all get better pots and better music.
Hesiod was writing two and a half millennia ago. For a contemporary illustration, think of the enormous success of the Toyota Prius. You can’t drive far today without seeing one. Dwindling oil supplies triggered competition among car companies. The creation of these kinds of more environmentally-friendly vehicles followed. Simultaneously, and for similar reasons, the price of solar panels has been coming down while their efficiency increases.
Whoever comes up with the best idea wins the money. In these cases, we all benefitted. But then along comes fracking – another new idea based on competition over petroleum resources. You can judge for yourself whether cheaper fuel for a few years is worth poisoning our water supplies for centuries.
Other examples abound, some of them slippery to think about. We might consider “disruptive technologies,” such as Uber. A good thing or a bad one? Ask a hard-working taxi driver whose livelihood is falling apart. But of course in terms of cost and convenience, Uber’s successful competition with existing systems of transportation is helpful to many people. What about Airbnb? Again – wonderful, unless you own a hotel or are looking for an affordable home to rent in a city with an active tourist trade. Long ago, a man beheld a steam shovel. He complained, “That steam shovel replaces the the jobs of a hundred men with shovels in their hands.” True, of course – but here’s the retort: “Or ten thousand men with spoons.” Competition and the resultant innovation, even when they are generally beneficial, often brings trouble to some people.
The point is only that Eris – or human competition – has two sides: it can better us all, or worsen everything. To keep balance in our understanding of Eris, we need to keep an eye on both perspectives. That, in a nutshell, is the trick with interpreting Eris.
Now, of course, competition has always been with us. It did not come into existence suddenly in 2005. As astrologers, we might simply say that we always see Mars and Aries in our charts. Nothing new there. But very clearly the scale and intensity of worldwide “competition” has gone through the roof in the past generation or so. One force driving it is that our resources are dwindling while populations increase. I think it is fair to observe that competition has taken on a new Eris-flavored edge of sheer sadism – the evil joy in the suffering of others. What would you see if you looked into the eyes of an armed shooter just before a murderous rampage? Or a suicide bomber about to pull the trigger in a crowded marketplace? It would chill you to the marrow. That is dark Eris.
It’s not exactly new. The point is that it is now epidemic.
Go back to the myth. What are Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite fighting over? An apple? In a way, yes. But they are really fighting over the most quintessentially trivial question imaginable: who among them is prettiest?
Doors open for physically attractive people – and often close in the faces of those who are less attractive. I believe that the time has come for humanity to deal with the “beauty myth” and all the distortions, pain, and unfairness it creates among both women and men. That is a huge part of what the collective discovery of Eris means. Maybe we can finally begin to question the endless “beauty contest” of modern life. But the beauty myth, while fascinating, is another Eris subject, outside the core point I am exploring here in this newsletter, which is runaway competition, pure and simple. Fighting over who is prettiest is just one face of it.
(If you are interested, I dive into the beauty issue in a longer program I did about Eris and Uranus which you can download in the store. While I am at it, I would also recommend a new book by Henry Seltzer, known for his “Time Passages” astrology program for Apple machines. His book, The Tenth Planet: Revelations from the Astrological Eris, can be found on Amazon.)
When life plays its wild cards, for good or for ill, the planet Uranus is generally in the spotlight. The "lord of earthquakes and lightning bolts" usually lives up to his name. But lately there is a newcomer.
Eris' energy and action are different from those of Uranus, but Eris can be equally explosive. Join Steven in exploring the action of these two Lords of Chaos, one familiar and the other new, powerful, strange and unsettling. We’ll begin to understand their function in the birth chart, and how they respond to stimulus via transits or progressions.
Here in this essay I want to spotlight a simpler, broader point: Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite made perfect asses of themselves over a “high school” issue. Which one of them is the hottest? They were so desperate for that particular golden apple that they stripped naked and paraded in front of Paris. For the sake of winning the trivial “apple of ego,” the goddesses made themselves into pole dancers at a “Gentleman’s Club.” Add twelves square inches of Spandex and they could have been on MTV today.
Humans are competitive; we all have Mars in our charts. Most of us would attack a bear with our fists if it were threatening our children. But what happens when we bring that same fierceness into competition over trifles whose value we have inflated – trifles such as status, beauty and money? As Bono sang, “You can never get enough of what you don’t really need.” But if you have decided that you truly do need it, you might very well make someone else bleed in order to get it.
Broadly, the discovery of Eris coincides with a time of mounting competitiveness all over the earth. The answer is not that we should all simply stop competing. Good luck with that anyway. The questions the discovery of Eris raises are not simple – no more than were the questions raised by the discovery of Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. We answered those questions; I have faith that humanity can answer Eris’s questions too. But they are pressing at us, and vexing us, and the stakes are extraordinarily high.
In a nutshell, with resources dwindling and population exploding, what will happen? On what kind of future will humanity decide?
Here’s one example. Think for a moment of the question of international migrants. Some are escaping from war, others from poverty. One perspective: Who likes the idea of their country being taken over by hordes of desperate, penniless outsiders from violent, alien cultures? Another perspective: Who among us, if we ourselves survived a poison gas attack in Syria, would not do anything to get into Europe or America?
Passions run high. “Kill them all” is heard on both sides. People run for political office with little more to say than that. Meanwhile, dark Eris stalks among the dead and the dying, “increasing their pain.”
I am not happy writing any of this, but hiding behind a smiley face doesn’t make it go away. Who can doubt that humanity is approaching some hard limits? As of this past March, the world’s population was about 7.4 billion – already a calamity. The United Nations estimates it will be 11.2 billion by the end of the century, barring disasters – or an outbreak of wisdom. Meanwhile, we are poisoning the water that remains, destroying arable land, and heating up the planet in ways whose effects are hard to foresee.
That is all physical stuff, and familiar “environmental” territory to most of us. To me, this sense of “shrinking, crowded space” and the competitiveness it engenders has been exaggerated further by something not so well understood: the digital revolution. A year ago, for example, Facebook reached 1.39 billion subscribers worldwide. In that moment, it became bigger than China. In a sense, Facebook is now “the biggest country in the world.” The potential benefits are huge, but try this: imagine an Afghan farmer in 1843 feeling that his culture was threatened by the encroaching immorality of French can-can dancers. No problem, right? He obviously would have lived his life in blissful ignorance of them. Not today. Today everyone’s psychological and cultural space is shrinking, converging, and tightening, right along with the physical environment. Those who are committed to defending a dying world order are cornered and frightened, and Eris is seducing them. It is a slow train wreck and anyone who believes it will only bring out the best in people has been smoking something.
But anyone who believes it will inevitably only bring out bestiality, violence, and destruction has also not paid any attention to history. Fear-mongers, many of them astrologers, have predicted the end of the world almost annually since the beginning of recorded history. But humanity often rises to these kinds of challenges. Solar panels and the Toyota Prius are not going to save us – but they do symbolize a positive, creative response to the Eritic stimulus of free-for-all competition. Did engineers at Toyota want to “kick the butts” of Ford’s engineers or Honda’s? Probably!
And maybe that was not such a terrible thing.
I have a lot of faith in the human capacity to innovate, especially as Eris aligns with the planet of pure genius, Uranus. Good science, truly in the human interest, is almost inevitably going to be part of any attractive picture of the human future.
Underlying all this is the root issue, the very essence of Eris: the two faces of competition. The bleak side of it brings us back to the ugly spectacle of Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite dancing naked in their fight over an apple. Simply said, there are things worth competing for and there are things that are not. Similarly, we can compete in creative ways or brutal ones. Once we get the scent of blood in our noses, humans – and Greek goddesses – are not very good at discerning between the two paths.
Would I fight to protect myself or those whom I love? Of course. You probably would too. But would I poison the water in order to keep the price of gasoline down? Would I live in a big house if it meant that someone else had to live in a packing crate? And while we are at it, let’s add some urgency to that last point. Say that the person living in the packing crate held three more playing cards: hopelessness, hatred, and a gun.
There’s the world that is dawning before us with the discovery of Eris. The alignment of Eris with Uranus has brought forth these choices in vivid, blood-red terms, spiced with an added dollop of pure Aries energy. We read about it in the news. We see it all, real or projected, in the politicians. Humanity can compete for the grand prize, which is human survival. Or we can slip into the dark, no-win Hollywood terrain of imagining victory as a sea of corpses around us – each corpse with a different skin color, religion, party affiliation, uniform or ethnicity.
The higher ground?
Innovation and new thinking are central. Let’s honor and reward those who truly create. We need scientists and engineers, but let’s not forget that we also need artists and other spiritual leaders who can inspire us with a new vision for a new world. They are the ones who will give us direction. We need geniuses of all stripes now, and we need to recognize, honor and support them. This is a “conservative” Eritic idea – that innovators should be rewarded with prosperity, while those who contribute less naturally would receive less.
While we are at it, let’s balance that with a “liberal” idea. Let’s dump the destructive notion that “you can have it all.” If we are honest with ourselves, we realize that much of that “all” was only a golden apple anyway, one which never actually brought us much joy. Let’s replace it with a little more emphasis on, “Live simply so that others may simply live.”
It will take decades for all this to be clear. The brighter Eris-vision is struggling to rise up out of the collective unconscious. Right now, the various pieces of the puzzle often appear to be opposites arguing with each other, often in bloody-minded fashion. When they marry we will have our answer.
There is another huge part of all this that we must not forget: there are children being born right now who carry this Eris-Uranus signature in their birthcharts. They are part of the answer as well, for good or for ill. They are humanity’s ace-in-the-hole. And it will be a while before we hear from them.
Meanwhile for each of us individually, it is time to sort out how much we are willing to pay for the various “golden apples” in our lives. Each one of us eternally resonates with the whole of humanity. What we see “out there” in the world is simply the out-picturing of the sum of our individual consciousnesses. Maybe you can’t personally stop a crazy person with a gun or a bomb – but I believe that as you temper the rage of your “inner bomber,” the world as a whole moves an inch closer to serenity. And even if I am wrong about that, I am surely right about this: if you succeed in that, you yourself will have moved many miles in a better, happier direction. Do that, and you are not parading naked for golden apples anymore.
At the personal level, the current conjunction of Eris and Uranus comes down to these questions: Where have selfishness and rage taken a bite out of your heart? Have you truly rooted hatred out of your psyche? What price has your soul paid for material comfort or advantage? And where have you squandered your genius on the pursuit of trifles?
Eris and Uranus are conjunct early in the third decanate of Aries. Where does that fall in your chart? In what house? What aspects does it make? There are your answers.
As we contemplate those lofty questions, let’s not forget the other, edgier, side of the equation. Where do you actually need to claim victory, status, or territory? Where is such a victory not only fair and legitimate, but also something that contributes to the greater good of us all? Where have you bowed down when you have a right to stand tall and be heard? Where do you need, above all, simply to win?
Those latter questions are a philosophical and spiritual quagmire, but they will not go away. How do we sort out simple ego-hunger from the higher ground? And remember: the higher ground with Eris ultimately helps everyone.
For the answer, we go back to Hesiod, who saw the bright side of Eris so clearly when he wrote, “This strife is wholesome for men.” He saw that it made for better potters and musicians. Healthy competition benefits the human community.
So here is how you sort it all out: in putting yourself ahead, are you making your world a better place – or just parading naked in front of strangers for the sake of a golden apple? Do you want to win for the right reasons – or do you really just want to see someone else lose and suffer the pain of loss?
Honest answers to those questions can literally save the world. Dishonest ones can destroy it.
As it was written in the Upanishads many centuries ago, “now do as you will.”
– Steven Forrest
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