June 18 - July 12, 2020 (14 Cancer - 5 Cancer)
A new Mercury cycle is about to begin, this time in the sign of Cancer. As the quicksilver magician begins his backward descent, and does his do-si-do with the Sun, he is transforming our thoughts, words and perceptions into signs, symbols and synchronicities. As the alchemical ouroboros, he is the beginning and the end, the uniter of opposites—lunar and solar, masculine and feminine. And as messenger and psychopomp, he is traversing the membrane between the material plane and the imaginal realm: his language becomes metaphor and multivalence, archetype and intuition. There is magic afoot.
Carl Jung (who had natal Mercury at 13° Cancer), recounted the following story to illustrate the concept of synchronicity:
“A young woman I was treating had, at a critical moment, a dream in which she was given a golden scarab. While she was telling me this dream, I sat with my back to the closed window. Suddenly I heard a noise behind me, like a gentle tapping. I turned round and saw a flying insect knocking against the window-pane from the outside. I opened the window and caught the creature in the air as it flew in. It was the nearest analogy to a golden scarab one finds in our latitudes, a scarabaeid beetle…which, contrary to its usual habits, had evidently felt the urge to get into a dark room at this particular moment.”
Holy shit, right? If you’ve ever experienced a powerful synchronicity such as this yourself, you know the feeling of strangeness and awe it leaves you with. And speaking of holy shit…
The golden scarab was a powerful symbol to the ancient Egyptians, deified in the beetle-headed god of the rising sun, Khepri. Known also as the less auspiciously-named dung beetle, the female of the species will fastidiously roll a ball of dung, create a chamber within, lay her eggs, and bury it in a hole. When the larvae hatch, they consume the ball from the inside out and then emerge from their hole to begin the next generation. The Egyptians saw the humble dung beetle rolling its heavy ball as symbolic of Khepri rolling the Sun across the sky every day, and by extension, of the mysteries of birth, death and rebirth. Why is this relevant to now? To the Egyptians, the constellation we call Cancer was not the crab, as we know it, but the scarab: creatrix of the universal brood chamber which gives birth to the Sun and to us all.
Interestingly, the word “scarab” and ”crab” both come from the same root word meaning “to scratch or engrave.” So does the word “carve.” In ancient Egypt, scarab amulets were widely used to bring luck or ward off evil for the living, and to help the dead navigate the afterlife. They were typically carved from soft stone and then fired to harden. Mercury-Hermes, during this retrograde into the Sun’s embrace, has us forging talismans and calling in omens, to remind us of the mysterious connectivity of all things, seen and unseen. During this time, what is inscribed, etched or written by hand may carry extra power (so be mindful). Listen to a song and hear the words speaking directly to you. Take note of your dream and watch it show up in symbol in the light of day. Dance or meditate to connect to your higher power. Visualize and manifest. And for what it’s worth, watch for insects or crustaceans as divine messengers: crab, beetle, ladybug or lobster, it matters not. If it has a hard shell and scuttles, then it counts. Find 5°-14° Cancer in your chart to see in what area of life you’ll feel this transit the most. And for the next month, bear in mind—the veil is thin and there are no coincidences.
Before Mars can arrive at his home in Aries, where he can reclaim his natural authority, he must pass through the obfuscating, unconscious waters of Pisces, led by sheer determination and blind faith. And before he can leave Pisces, he must pass by mighty Neptune, god of the oceanic realm. It’s a brief, strange, and potentially stormy confrontation, that is taking place over the next few days. Astrologically speaking, Mars separates and Neptune merges; Mars is conscious ego development and Neptune is self-sacrificing ego loss; Mars is our mortality and Neptune is our eternity. It’s a meeting of the spear and the trident, a baptism by both water and fire. And the quarter moon overhead watches the gladiators, with her thumb poised to pass sentence. In Pisces, she may be inclined toward mercy, but you never can tell with the moon.
The Celts worshipped a deity called Nodens, “The Catcher,” Lord of the Waters. He was a parallel figure to both the Roman Mars and Neptune, and his association with dogs, healing and the hunt implies something distinctly lunar as well. In his warrior aspect, he was seen as a protector-god, and invoked for the health and wealth of the people. In Irish mythology, he became Nuada, the first king of the Tuatha Dé Danaan, founder and lawmaker, who fights nobly for his race against their enemies, but loses his hand in battle. A wounded king, it was said, would bring barrenness and poverty to his land. And so the smiths make him a silver hand, but it only postpones the inevitable: his long-lived glory has come to an end and the younger, abler hero Lugh will replace him as warrior-king and savior. This is a theme that we will see again and again this year and in the upcoming years: the long, arduous process of the old giving way to the new.
Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is, I think, a good illustration of this transit. It is essentially a story about grappling, both literally and figuratively. Santiago is an aged fisherman who hasn’t caught a fish in 84 days and needs to feel virile, to prove himself, one more time. He meets his match in an 18-foot marlin. For two days they struggle against each other, the fish pulling Santiago further and further out, and the old man determined to hold the line even as it destroys his hands, but never his will. Eventually he summons the strength to harpoon it and kill it, but in the time it takes him to return to shore, the trail of blood has attracted sharks, and he arrives back trailing a ragged carcass. This is, in a lot of ways, a very Mars-Neptune story, with themes of pain, pride, sacrifice, glory and the worthy adversary. The language is lofty, even pious: the fisherman perceives the battle as a quasi-religious experience and the killing as an act of love and respect. He and the fish are both merged and separate, both determined to live and both sacrificing to the other. It sounds beautiful and spiritual—until you remember that his pride, his wounded masculinity, ends up needlessly destroying them both. At the end, he is still an old man who dreams of lions playing on the beach (i.e. his youth), only he’s weaker and nearer to death than he was before. And the marlin is nothing but a skeleton. What was the point of it all?
And therein lies the duality and subjectivity of this transit through the Piscean mist: Will Mars act as ennobler or as destroyer? One man’s hero is another man’s killer, after all. Does Neptune infuse us with compassion or delusion? Is the moon life-giving or life-taking? And all of these forming a square to the Gemini Sun: how do these archetypes inform, support or challenge our individual identities? We’ve all been floating on the waters, or swimming in the depths, of a very confusing reality for the past 85 days, since the pandemic took hold. Each week that has passed has brought more questioning, more assessing, of the status quo; wave after wave crashing on the shore. Neptune is our dream of the world and our desire for redemption, and Mars is waking us up to it: what illusions have we been living under? What tensions are we grappling with? As statues of conquerors and slave-traders are pulled off their pedestals or toppled into the sea, they go to meet their symbolic death amongst the wreckage, and the lost treasure, of history. What is buried in the detritus of your subconscious that is being pricked awake by the stab of the harpoon? Wherever Pisces is in your chart is where these stories are contained, and where we must be careful not to float away, but still allow ourselves to dream. Mars traveling through may bring any number of things: righteous anger, unsettling dreams, overwhelming confusion, irrational frustration, a wellspring of tears, a passionate but fleeting sexual encounter, spiritual affirmation, bitter disillusionment, or a flash of creative inspiration. The important thing is to allow yourself to rest and recharge afterward—this one has the potential to be especially draining.
Would it surprise you to hear that the Venus retrograde cycle has a connection to violence, political unrest, social justice movements, as well as the downfall of leaders? It might, if you were accustomed to thinking astrologically of Venus only as the planet of love and beauty. I admit, until I dug deeper into Venusian symbolism and read more about her cycles, I would not have attributed to her so much depth and complexity. But whether she is symbolic of sex and intimacy, art and aesthetics, justice and peace, or money and values, Venus consistently rules over the umbrella of relationships: how we relate to each other and how we define our social mores. And what could be more complex or more prevalent in the lives of humans, the social animal? As we will see, when we consider how other, non-European civilizations depicted the planet in their mythologies, Venus is much, much more than just a pretty face.
If you’re a skywatcher in ancient times, one of the things you’ll know is that there is a bright and beautiful “wandering star” that never strays too far from our supreme one. And after years of observation, one of the most mysterious things you’ll note is that every 584 days, that heavenly body, resplendent in the western sky, appears to stop and move backward until it disappears from sight, subsumed by the rays of the Sun. Then, over the next week or so, if you are awake before sunrise, you will see it reappear, still moving backward, but this time rising in the east. Something profound is taking place: the star above is not only undergoing a death and a resurrection, but a stark transformation. And if an immortal power is being subjected to such a trial, what must that portend for us down below?
To the Sumerians of 7000 years ago, the planet we call Venus was the goddess Inanna, the Queen of Heaven, twin sister to the Sun God. Inanna was the goddess of love and fertility, as well as war. She was a revered, powerful enforcer of divine justice, and punisher of men who wronged her. Her most oft-cited story from myth is that of her descent into the underworld, which narrativizes the transit described above. Inanna, (as the retrograde evening star) goes below to confront her sister Ereshkigal, who rules the realm of the dead. At each of the seven gates that stand at the entrance, she must remove a piece of jewelry and clothing, symbols of her royal power, until she stands naked, divested and humbled before her sister. The underworld judges condemn her for pride and insolence and she is executed (this corresponds to the Venus-Sun conjunction). The world above becomes barren. Her loyal servants come looking for her after some days, and finding Ereshkigal suffering, they obtain Inanna’s body from her and revive it. Inanna is given permission to leave, discovers her husband has been disloyal in her absence, sends him below in her place, and rises back toward Heaven as the morning star—restored to power, but fundamentally changed.
The ancient Mesoamericans were keenly aware of the Venus cycle as well, using the retrograde to time ritual sacrifice and war. The Aztecs envisioned the planet as the feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl, a creator god of the wind and of learning (an especially appropriate choice for this retrograde in Gemini). He also had a dark underworld twin. In the myth that mirrors the Venus retrograde, he was embodied as a too-pious and priestly ruler who is tricked by the dark god (Mars) into getting so drunk one night that he has sex with his own sister. He is judged by the gods, falls from power, and in his shame, entombs himself and then self-immolates. He ascends with the ashes to the sky as the morning star, to relearn the lesson all over again. The Mayans saw Venus as a war goddess, emerging bruised and bloody from her journey into the Sun, and would mobilize their armies at her heliacal rising. That point, they believed, was a time of political unrest, instability and fallibility for leaders.
There’s a sense you get from these stories that the transit though the “underworld”, or the heart of the Sun, brings not only humiliation for the hero or heroine, but clarification and enlightenment too. And that when the the resurrection comes, it brings with it retribution. Retribution not for the sake of indiscriminate revenge, but born out of the need to right a wrong and restore balance. A literary analogy that comes to mind is Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, in which the character of Dantès, a young man full of promise on the day of his wedding, is wrongfully imprisoned for fourteen years. When he manages to escape, he devotes his life to exacting careful and deliberate revenge on his accusers. Or a more modern example from film: Tarantino’s Kill Bill, where we see our heroine awaken from a four-year coma (she had been shot—also on her wedding day), slowly regain her strength, and set off on a calculated quest to slay her enemies. Though the story is told out of order, we witness her transformation from the her role as assassin Black Mamba, to victim The Bride, to her true and atoned self, Beatrix Kiddo. Without knowing it (I assume), the creators of these stories have tapped into deep, and dark, Venusian archetypes.
Modern-day astrologers have shown quite convincingly that the ancients were right to be cautious around a Venus station. Bruce Scofield, for example, has found numerous examples of the times this event has coincided with scandal and downfall of American presidents (and other world leaders). And Nick Dagan Best has done extensive research showing the connection of the Venus retrograde period to race riots and uprisings, triggered by hate crimes, over the course of the entire history of the US. To me, as both an astrologer and an American citizen, this is chilling and eye-opening stuff.
This past week has been host to both that very Sun-Venus conjunction, as well as a full moon and south node lunar eclipse. And all of this action was exactly squared by Mars. On Friday night, as if on cue, lightning struck the Washington monument. You can’t make this stuff up! Mars is currently in Pisces, where the individual dissolves and merges with the group. These intense configurations could manifest as the spiritual warrior, a volatile and sensitive populace, or military force being leveraged against the people. However you look at it, the water is boiling and letting off steam. Venus will rise in a few days’ time, her new cycle having begun, and if history and astrology are any indication, it doesn’t bode well for those in power. As of now, we are seeing real but still incipient change brought about by the pressure of the mass protests: cops being held accountable, police tactics under scrutiny, racial injustice dominating the national conversation. Here in Virginia, Confederate statues—daily reminders to black people of their ancestors’ oppression and their erasure from history—will topple in the coming days, a symbolic gesture that is right and long overdue. It’s a start. And what about our country’s morally depraved, reptilian false god of wind and feathered hair? So far, he has entombed himself in the White House, tweeting madly from his bunker, only emerging to attack peaceful protestors with tear gas and pose in a bizarre stunt with a bible. But the entombment has not been from any sense of shame, only cowardice. Generals are starting to denounce him, and I expect more condemnation will follow. Keep an eye on the Venus heliacal rising next week, for sure, but as far as harbingers go, it’s the two solar eclipses this year, one of which falls on his natal Moon and south node, that I will be watching with great curiosity.
The Greeks did know of the dual nature of Venus, referring to the evening star as Hesperus, or Aphrodite Urania, and the morning star as Phosphorus, or Aphrodite Pandemos. In her former aspect, she is the ruler of Libra, overseeing justice and worldly ideals; and in the latter, she is the ruler of Taurus, concerned with primal and earthly matters, some of which unfortunately pertain to conflict and battle. It seems that her eternal cycle between both arenas brings for the world a necessary referendum on our collective ideals, and a balancing and accounting of relationships. Her closeness to the Sun and Earth, intensified during the retrograde, connects her to sovereignty and worldly power, and gives her the ability to expose the hubris, corruption and bad judgment that come with that territory. It also connects her to the people, holds us up as mirrors to one another, and asks us to reconsider our values and rewrite our consensus reality. That does not happen without pain, upheaval and, all too often, the sacrifice of innocent life. Sometimes the gods have to walk the earth, to be reminded of the human condition, and conversely, sometimes we humans get to aspire to heavenly ideals. We often fall short, but Venus is always with us, giving us the opportunity to try and try again.
Erin Sullivan: Retrograde Planets: Traversing the Inner Landscape
Arielle Guttman: Venus Star Rising: A New Cosmology for the 21st Century