Hot Spots
By Eric Francis | Metchosin Aurora, above.

A YEAR IS a mysterious thing. Four seasons, 52 weeks, 13 orbits of the Moon. Twelve signs of the zodiac. What a difference one makes, how long it seems at the beginning and how fast it seemed at the end. The year 2004 of the Common Era begins during year 15 in Japan (15th year of the reign of the emperor, His Imperial Majesty Akihito), 1424 in the Islamic calendar, 1382 in the Persian calendar, 5764 in the Hebrew calendar and the Year of Our Lady of Discord 3170. With the New Moon on Jan. 22, the Chinese year of the Monkey begins, in particular, the Green Monkey, or wood element of this rather fiery critter. When you think of the Monkey, think of 1968. That was the water Monkey.

In the Western world, the new year is reckoned approximately with the Winter Solstice, the shortest day in the Northern Hemisphere and the day the Sun makes a 90-degree angle to the Tropic of Capricorn. It falls in the time once known as Saturnalia, which was a big celebration and orgy back when people really knew how to party. Today we peck on the cheek and sip a little eggnog.

As your neighbourhood astrologer, it's my duty to pass along advance info on the approaching four seasons, which promise to be, well, once again the word is interesting. We have, however, not had a year that was not interesting in a while, but now we're about to trip out on really, really, really interesting thanks in large measure to the staggering mystery known to mortals as Uranus in Pisces.

As for recent vintage interesting. Let's see, there was the stolen election in 2000, appropriately in the year of the Metal Dragon. This also occurred in the year of the Taurus Alignment and the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction. The next year, 2001, brought Sept. 11 and the war on Afghanistan Part One, spiced up by a little anthrax and the proverbial "three minutes of hate" each day for Osama bin Laden. Astrologically, we can chalk that up to Saturn opposite Pluto (historically, think of plagues and crusades, and in modern history the fall of the World Trade Centre).

Then came fabulous 2002 (the only numeric palindrome of the century), accentuated by yet more Saturn opposite Pluto. That was the year the gory details of Enron came out, and the related Arthur Anderson bust, and many other corporate shenanigans exposed (these things occurred in the first full year of Chiron in Capricorn, which is still unfolding). In August 2002, the pitch for the war in Iraq, which was actually begun the prior Sept. 11 with false allegations that Saddam Hussein had something to do with the World Trade Centre attacks, went into high throttle. There was the D.C. sniper and the death of Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, always the "one" in all those 99-to-1 votes. Too bad he's not running for president, isn't it?

Then came 2003. Outgoing Gov. George Ryan of Illinois commuted every sentence of a death row prisoner after capital sentencing in his state was proven (largely by journalism students) to be a complete sham. (At the end of the year, he was indicted for various kinds of conventional political corruption and now faces trial.) Space Shuttle Columbia shattered over Texas, killing seven astronauts and grounding the shuttle fleet. There was the biggest preemptive antiwar protest in history (602 cities, millions of souls), against the biggest preemptive war in history. Then came "winning" the war, and then the insurgents taking a long turn at winning the war with the apparently still ongoing Ramadan Offensive. There was terrible loss of life in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other places. Nearly 500 United States soldiers died in 2003, the most since the Vietnam War. Mars retrograde in Pisces, please take a bow.

Now that we have some context, here are two hot spots for 2004

One is centred on a natural event, the other an artificial event. First the natural one, which involves the retrograde of Venus this Spring in Gemini. Venus goes retrograde fairly rarely, for six weeks every 18 months (as opposed to Mercury, which does the retro three weeks out of every four months). This is to say that Venus, the orbit of which is closer to the Sun than Earth's, goes past our planet on the inside and appears (from our perspective) to move in reverse. It's like being passed by a train going a little more quickly than your train; that slightly nauseating backwards motion effect. Perhaps you recall the last Venus retrograde, in the fall of 2002, in Scorpio.

Not including the shadow phase, Venus is retrograde between May 17 and June 29.

During every retrograde, Venus makes what is called an interior conjunction to the Sun. What's different about the coming conjunction is that Venus passes exactly over the disk of the Sun, creating what's called an "occultation." It's as if Venus eclipses the Sun. No shadow is cast on the Earth; Venus is too far away. Yet for both astrologers and astronomers, this is a very big deal. It happens June 8. I'll have a lot more to say about this at the time; it is THE astrological news event of 2004.

Writes Philip Sedgwick in The Galactic Times, "This event occurs at intervals of 121.5 years, eight years, 105.5 years and then again eight years. [A strange cycle, for sure. -ef] None has occurred in the last, approximate 121 years. After June 2004, we'll see another just in time for the 'ending' of the Mayan Calendar in December 2012, which contains strong Venus reference." Hence, suggests Phil, events of this year are a mile marker on the way to whatever 2012 is about, and there many different New Age interpretations of that time, mostly popularized by a writer named José Arguelles (The Mayan Factor).

Arguelles has proposed (more or less) that time is spiralling to a kind of crescendo, and that, come 2012, we will take a kind of quantum leap beyond the known world; we will go beyond technology. Personally, I take this as a metaphor, but these metaphors can be powerful. And 2004 points straight to that event, whatever it is.

But I prefer a more psycho-spiritual approach to the charts. To me, the forthcoming astrology of Venus retrograde in Gemini offers a number of images that help us define the split (read: divided and conquered) roles of women in our culture. There is a potential phase of concentrated growth and healing around the dualism of roles women are compelled to play and that men are, as a result, compelled to play along with. These include schisms such as mother/lover, lover/friend, mother/worker, self/wife, wife/mistress, prude/slut, and many others. There is -- astrologically, anyway -- a powerful confrontation with the conditioning powers, the attackers, the abusers -- and a moment of challenging of the fundamentalist religious dogmas that hold up our society's hypocritical values.

There is, as well, a phase of mending of the dual identity, or at least of raising the issues to awareness -- something that always precedes healing.

Let's say that the greater forces are at work. When Venus stations retrograde on May 17, it does so standing in exact opposition to the Galactic Core -- the very centre of our Milky Way galaxy. (As of this writing, Mercury is about to station in an exact conjunction to the Galactic Core, so we're in rather galactic times.) To me, this is a beautiful symbol of the worldly and human feminine gazing into the cosmic mirror and seeing a reflection of the heart of the our galaxy. It is about contacting the divinity within what we normally think of as feminine, which is pretty easy if you're paying attention.

The last time the Venus-Sun occultation happened, in the 1880s, we were in the early era of Women's Suffrage in both New Zealand and the United States. Women began the social and political movements that gained them the right to vote. Interesting that the right to vote is once again a central issue at the time of a Venus-Sun occultation -- but not just for women.

This leads to the second hot spot. That would be the All Soul's Day presidential election of Nov. 2.

I wish I had better astrological, or technological, news for you about this election. To the extent that there is a way out of the somewhat  troubling astrology I see, that out would be Venus's performance in Gemini and Uranus's first full year in Pisces. Venus and Uranus have many similar properties and both are full of surprises. Still, here is what I see.

The presidential election is surrounded on all sides by extremely turbulent astrology, a true mine field. However, you need Raphael's Ephemeris (the British standard ephemeris) to see this. Rare clusters of occultations by the Moon of many planets occur in both October and November, and two eclipses lead up to the election itself -- it is a deck full of wild cards. The range of possibilities for the election most likely spans from sneaky electronic election fraud at best to a Code Red cancellation of the election, at worst.

The chart for the election itself (which will be posted to the annual horoscope section of my web site, along with a detailed analysis) contains an exact square of the Sun in Scorpio to Neptune in Aquarius. Every national election happens with the Sun in Scorpio, a sign associated with the use and disbursement of power over others, and the keeping of cosmic, sexual and financial secrets. It is in particular the Sun's square to Neptune in Aquarius that I find troubling, firing up our mass obsession with delusion and self-delusion that is so very popular these days.

Aquarius is all about technology. Neptune in Aquarius turns technology to a sedative, as well as opens the door to all kinds of fraud. Is everyone hip to the Hack the Vote issue? This is being documented by tenured Princeton professor and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, among others. He is pointing out that Diebold, the company that creates much of the touch-screen election software now used by the states, has a lot of problems, besides the gross political bias of its CEO.

Under the current plan, there is no paper trail created by voting, preventing any kind of traditional recount of ballots in case the election gets fishy. All the results are electronic. Unlike at a bank machine, no receipts are given and no paper trail is created. Besides the fact that Diebold CEO Walden O'Dell is an avid Republican fundraiser, there are many very serious security problems with the company's products.

"An analysis of Diebold software by researchers at Johns Hopkins and Rice Universities found it both unreliable and subject to abuse," Krugman wrote in the Times last month. "A later report commissioned by the state of Maryland apparently reached similar conclusions. (It's hard to be sure because the state released only a heavily redacted version.)

"Meanwhile, leaked internal Diebold e-mail suggests that corporate officials knew their system was flawed, and circumvented tests that would have revealed these problems. The company hasn't contested the authenticity of these documents; instead, it has engaged in legal actions to prevent their dissemination."

This is very much a "personal is political" kind of political issue. Most people didn't blink an eye the last time an election was stolen. This one is more likely to feel like a whack on the head, one that we very much deserve for so casually abandoning our democracy.++