A Beginner’s Guide to the 21st Century

Tarot decks from the inventory of the late David Roell at the Astrology Center of America. Photo by Eric.

Dear Friend and Reader:

It’s taken me 14 years to get a handle on the 21st century, but I finally feel like I’m making some progress. One thing that I will say is that I’m learning how helpful it is to look to the past for some information about where we are today. It may not be the ultimate guide, but if you want to know where “here” is, it’s a good idea to know where you came from and how you went.

That includes the astrological past, and it includes the past as told by eras when one communication medium collided with another one. Fortunately there is an easy intersection of those themes, as told in astrology, media studies and social history.

In 1964, in a time much like our own, when many things were changing very fast and few people understood what was happening, a soft-spoken English professor, a Canadian fellow named Marshall McLuhan, came out with a book that explains how society has become a product of its media. It always does, he says, and if you want to understand what society is becoming and why it’s becoming that way, look at how people communicate. Look at their technology. That will tell you the story of what is actually happening.

Spread from the Voyager Tarot by James Wanless.

He takes this back to the emergence of the printed word — the innovation of the typeset and printed book, which paralleled the development of industrial society and industrialized people. He describes how the printed word led to a sense of false individualization, which in turn de-tribalized society. The printed word ended the oral tradition of in-person storytelling.

The mode or “medium” of communication, McLuhan proposed, is more influential than the specific content. That is what he means by “the medium is the message.” For anyone doubting this, he suggests you consider the electric light — a medium of pure information without specific content. Electric light changed civilization, and everyone and everything with it. It turned night to day and in the process, changed every person, every town and every city with it. What was the message of light? Well, it was LIGHT!

While this is happening, it’s difficult to notice, because it’s happening gradually, and as a new technology, it’s taken for granted. People figured out that TV was changing politics when John F. Kennedy beat Richard Nixon for the presidency because he understood how to use TV and Nixon did not. All politics followed suit, but we stopped noticing.

Today we are in the age of the Internet fully emerging. It’s true that I’m writing this article on the 16th anniversary of the Planet Waves website. The Internet itself is not brand new, but its mass proliferation is — mainly in the form of the “smart phone.”

The “smart phone” puts the Internet everywhere, all the time. It therefore puts the user everywhere, all the time — often except where they actually are, such as having dinner with friends, while texting someone else, somewhere else.

The Internet is redefining the concept of self in such a way that there is no private self, there’s just a public self. Anything conveyed via the Internet is presumed to be public, whether voluntarily, by surveillance or by hacking. One’s private self becomes a mass media event.

Spread from the Voyager Tarot by James Wanless.

Tom Wolfe, an author who was one of the first people to understand and promote the ideas of Marshall McLuhan, parodied the “media event” in his book The Bonfire of the Vanities. In one scene there was supposed to be a protest, but which was not quite happening. Then the TV truck arrived, raised its mast with the microwave dish on top, and everyone gathered around the truck and the protest actually happened.

This is becoming the story of our lives.

In the story of astrology, the current developments are described by the transit of Uranus in Aries. Aries is the sign of self-concept, self-seeking, identity, and “I am” in general. Uranus has been in this sign for a little while, making some bold aspects there.

Uranus is about technology, inventions, revolutions and very fast, unexpected changes, often on a mass scale.

By inventions I mean some of the most important ones, such as the light bulb and the airplane (and the Moon landing, the Concorde and the 747, all of which happened under the influence of Uranus).

In Aries, Uranus represents the rapid technological developments we’re now experiencing, and it also represents reinvention of self as a result of those advances. It’s kind of the ultimate description of the selfie — the obsession with self — but that self is being broadcast almost all the time, to some group. The thing is, what we’re experiencing or exploring now is the selfie defining the self, rather than being a picture of the pre-existing self.

You might think of Uranus in Aries as the total reinvention of the self-concept, dominated by technology. Self is now group property, it’s nonlocal (you appear many places simultaneously). The concept of the immediate, physically present, one-to-one relationship is evaporating. And with that, a sense of self, the private self that can exist within itself, is evaporating as well.

One property of Uranus is its connection to groups, and the concept of self is verging on meaningless without affirmation or acknowledgement by the larger self of the group. It’s becoming more prevalent that a person is a media event, and without that media presence, one does not exist.

Once the province of Weegee Fellig (the world’s first spot-news photographer, who spawned many great artists with his vision), now every person has a camera and darkroom with them at all times. Everyone also has a police scanner, a tape recorder, telegraph machine, fax machine, TV camera, editing studio and broadcast facilities in their pocket everywhere, all the time.

The Hermit from the Voyager Tarot by James Wanless.

Not surprisingly, everyone is expected to respond in realtime to everyone else, all the time. You must reply to everything, instantly. It doesn’t matter if you’re eating, sleeping, driving, in a therapy session, taking a poo or a bath, or wholly drunk.

You must be absolutely responsive at all moments while connected to a nervous system that spans the entire globe. Admittedly, this might make it difficult to get a moment to yourself or to share a private thought, but since “yourself” and “private” and “thought” barely exist anymore, that’s not too much of a problem.

Uranus in Aries officially began the day of the Fukushima incident in March 2011, when technology went horribly wrong, when a whole lot of uranium began leaking into the environment. At that time, a toxin emerged in awareness (and the ocean) as something that could contaminate anyone, anywhere. That was a warning of what can happen when things go out of control.

Uranus in Aries is related to another current transit, Pluto in Capricorn. Pluto can have the property of Shiva the Destroyer. Capricorn is the sign of the corporate state — governments, companies and anything that upholds the structure and integrity of society. That transit began the year of the mortgage and banking scandal, in 2008.

While the self is undergoing its technological transformation, the corporate structure of society is being routed, changed, dismantled by Pluto in Capricorn. Pluto in Capricorn is change from beneath. The concept ‘tectonic’ comes to mind — associated with the movement of the continental plates.

There is another quality of Pluto moving through Capricorn that you could describe as a do-or-die need to put a little soul into these corporate structures of society. They can no longer be so inhuman and insensitive to human needs. It’s as if the concept of a private person is being eliminated by Uranus in Aries, while at the same time corporations are being made to find their soul.

This sounds a little like a big theme of our era — corporate personhood. Someday we will need a Supreme Court decision to affirm that people are people — that is, if we can get the justices to agree with that novel theory of law. The clash of the cultures between the individual and the corporate (and the reversal of roles) is a huge theme of our times, and it’s happening on many different levels.

Spread from the Voyager Tarot by James Wanless.

Uranus and Pluto are working together — that is the Uranus-Pluto square. It’s an aspect (a meeting or alignment) between these two powerful slow-movers that spans over seven events from June 2012 to March 2015. Then the aspect begins to separate. But that does not mean that its power is reduced. We are likely to see the most interesting manifestations of Uranus square Pluto this year and into the next three to five years.

The aspect’s exact span (those seven events from 2012 through 2015) were just the thing that got the momentum going. Now we get to ride the toboggan down the slippery slope.

Two other aspects play into this same story. While so much is happening in the world of structure, and with the concept of self being turned inside out, there’s another area of the sky that describes a profound inner pull.

Reading what I’ve written so far, you might get the idea that everything of any significance is being externalized, but in Pisces, there are developments that describe the inner environment and its most intimate expressions. Slow-moving (and therefore especially influential) planets are gathering there as well.

The two best known are Neptune and Chiron, which ingressed Pisces between 2010 and 2012. Pisces is the inner cosmic realm — the closest thing you can call spiritual in the sense of direct experience. Neptune is the modern planet associated with Pisces, which amplifies the effect. There’s a lot more Pisces than usual to go around — it’s as if a fresh ocean of water has been added to that inner realm that Pisces represents.

Chiron has a focusing effect. Pisces is not always easy to grasp; Chiron is much more obvious. A good example of Chiron in Pisces is the effect that the Beatles had on the 1960s, the last time Chiron was in Pisces. The Beatles took that message of peace and love, focused it and made sure we all got to see it.

There’s a planet similar to Chiron, called Nessus, which is going to enter Pisces early in the year. Nessus has a focusing effect similar to Chiron, but what it focuses is the theme of accountability. The message is that we are all responsible for attending to that inner realm that we possess. Both Chiron and Nessus come with a caution, which is that the space they are occupying is not optional. Tuning into one’s inner space is a necessity.

Spread from the Voyager Tarot by James Wanless.

Life cannot be lived exclusively outwardly. At a certain point, you must regard your inner life as real. There is a fourth slow-mover in Pisces, called Borasisi. That has the message that you are responsible for what you believe and the effects that it has on you.

Surrounded as we are in many distracting, perhaps useful technologies, the invitation of the planets in Pisces is to use that technology for creative purposes; for humanitarian purposes; for awareness.

Marshall McLuhan was fond of two concepts, both of which are described by these Pisces planets. One concept was the way in which the environment we live in tends to be invisible. Pisces tends to be invisible. Yet Chiron in particular focuses awareness of the environment and our relationship to it.

The other concept was pattern recognition. Overwhelmed as we often are, sometimes the only thing left to do is to notice the patterns of your life and of the world you live in, and see what you can observe. There’s too much going on to take one item at a time. Confronted by all experience being simultaneous, awareness of patterns is one of the few things that can keep you from drowning. This kind of consciousness is the morph of self-awareness and that of your environment.

Here in the early 21st century they have very nearly merged into the same thing — and that process is just getting started.


Planet Waves Monthly Horoscope for January 2015, #1030 | By Eric Francis

Aries (March 20-April 19) — You are way ahead of yourself, even though you may have this crazy idea that you’re lagging behind. Like any inventor (that does seem to be your role these days), you have more ideas than you can put into practical use on any given day, though now you must embody the principle of cooperation. One sticking point here seems to be the idea that nothing of any worth is accomplished unless some people are exploited. But it’s time to question that one. Cooperation is voluntary. That voluntary factor is also an important step out of false individuality and into true autonomy. So you don’t have to feel bad about asking people to collaborate with you. However, you will need to be aware of any murky psychology that emerges once people form any kind of collective, or share in any goal. Remind people that it’s a privilege to partake in anything larger than themselves, and to work toward goals that benefit the whole community. Some of the more unusual psychology will be your property alone, focused on the theme of your early environment. What, exactly, happened when the child you once were tried to get people to cooperate with you, or with one another? That set up some negative expectations, and it’s time to let them go in support of better outcomes. If you can, so can everyone else. That is leadership.

Taurus (April 19-May 20) — One by one this month, planets make their way across your midheaven — the angle of your solar chart that describes your highest goals, your achievements and your reputation. This is calling on you to take on a leadership role that you might think is not quite in your nature; however, at least in astrological fact, it’s the essence of your nature. Have you tuned into the fact that you’re a leader in whatever you do, even if you never hold yourself out as one? You lead by example, and you lead with the quality of your ideas. So I suggest you start with being bolder, more vocal and more articulate about what you’re thinking and what your priorities are. Follow that up with careful observation of the people around you, and several rounds of listening. The chances are that whatever you’re doing is going to require two revisions before it settles into a stable form, and this process takes you into mid-February. Till then, hang loose and allow your ideas to evolve. Look at things sideways, from different perspectives and from the opposite point of view. Your tree-like stability sometimes resists that process, though trees are exceptionally responsive to their environments and more communicative than nearly everyone imagines. Among the many people offering ideas, there will be a few gems. Look for them with your eyes, and feel for them with your hands.

Gemini (May 20-June 21) — This year it looks like your relationship life settles down enough for you to actually keep track of what is happening. There’s still plenty going on and you will need to devote yourself to understanding yourself and others as a way of life. The difference is that now you have a sense of what the process of your relationships is all about. First, they are indeed extensions of yourself. Second, what they ‘extend’ into your environment is your process of making contact with your deeper self. You have experiences with others that seem impossible to have on your own. That’s not strictly true; but it’s easier to see certain things when they are projected outside of yourself. One of those things is how people actually grow and transform. You have seen people address some of the darkest elements of themselves, take a huge step and emerge in a different place. In some ways you’re less confident about being able to do this yourself, though the fact that you know others can and do take these steps is proof of what is possible. That is, it’s a demonstration of what is possible for you. Events early in the month in one especially important partnership will enable you to get underneath the surface layers of personality, ideas and opinions. On this deeper level, you can access authentic change where it really happens, at your emotional core.

Cancer (June 21-July 22) — It’s simply not true, as you often believe, that others are stronger than you, or more persistent. They may however be more inclined to use force, and you are especially sensitive to that. You also expect people to be connected to their feelings in a way similar to yourself, though that rarely turns out to be true. I suggest that if you find yourself provoked into any kind of confrontation, wait for a few days before responding. Pause, listen and observe. Most of all, feel. The situation is not what it seems, and anyone who is acting up or dramatizing something is likely feeling as if they have no power (which is not true, and don’t fall for it). For you, the message can be an affirmation of your own strength, and your power of faith. The sign Cancer is famous for its cycles, owing to your close connection to the Moon. Now you get a chance to hold steady (as a general rule, it would be wise to wait one month before making up your mind about anything). Once the early drama sorts itself out, it will be clear who owes what to whom. Said another way, someone in fact has a debt to you, and once that becomes obvious, it will be clear that some form of payment or at least acknowledgement is due. In the end, however, that transaction must be voluntary.

Leo (July 22-Aug. 23) — Get a handle on group dynamics, since this is the most important theme of your life right now. Everything is affected: all kinds of groups, from those of family to friends to work and their various crossovers. The key here is an exchange that happens on the level of the collective, rather than a bunch of individual transactions. There is a larger entity involved, and within that entity, everyone must be clear and open with everyone else. Unlike bees and ants, who must adopt a hive mentality centered around one leader, humans have the capacity to live in mutual community, where individuals are all consciously aspects of one another. A number of other factors indicate that this is a ‘get serious’ moment around anything related to your creativity, children and sex. You could say it’s a time to understand the role of pleasure in your life, and how that in turn influences your ability to be productive. Looked at another way, you must take full responsibility for your creative power and its results. The thing is that now, pleasure and productivity are no longer solo activities, or contained in one-on-one partnerships. The good news is you don’t have to take any burden on your shoulders exclusively. The learning challenge is seeing (and experiencing) yourself as fully integrated into a group process. It needs you, and you need it.

Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22) — Your ability to focus is a gift and a privilege. Your intelligence is also a gift, and a key to the universe that you possess and can use at any time. There have been times when you’ve perceived yourself as the victim of these things, mainly because you’ve perceived them to alienate you from others socially. That no longer seems to be the case. Brains and beauty are coming back into style. You’re no longer surrounded by weirdos who have to prove how different they are, or what geniuses they are. Your environment is now populated by people who value their connection to others, and who recognize you for who you are. The sticking point, if there is one, is self-criticism, often taken to excess. The point of contention is that you still may not take well to those who are easier on themselves than you are. You may perceive this as weakness, lack of discipline and lack of self-awareness. You’re probably correct in your perceptions, though that bears no relationship to being gentle on yourself, or on others. Do everything you can to keep your point of view wide and inclusive of all perspectives. Tap into how others receive information and intuition — you have a lot to learn from them, and what you learn will greatly benefit your worldly goals and your inner growth agenda.

Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23) — Events this month will contribute to the sensation that you’re at a tipping point. You have figured out that an approach to existence has reached the end of its useful life. The theme is independence from the structures of the past, including your concepts of family and relationship. I would include every structure you’ve taken for granted, including your notion of what makes you safe. The truth is that nothing but your thoughts contributes to your sense of safety; if your environment is involved, that is associated with the value that you place on certain factors. Anyway, the confidence you’re feeling is real, and it’s closely associated with making the choice not to hold yourself accountable for the actions of others. If you’re feeling better about yourself, that’s about making up your mind that you alone are the assessor of your worth. I suggest that you start to move forward the moment you realize you’re ready to do so. It looks like you’re suddenly taking an idea or creative vision more seriously. From another point of view, you may be observing that something you’ve long dreamed of is now actually possible. It always was, though how you look at such potentials makes all the difference. Devote yourself fully to this thing, whatever it may be, and check in on how much progress you’ve made by mid-June. You’ll be impressed.

Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22) — Saturn has finally left your sign, which is offering you freedom and flexibility you have not felt in a long time. It’s as if a weight has been taken off of your shoulders. The thing about these kind of developments is that the effects tend to be short-lived. The way to maintain the feeling of lightness is to remember how much you had to do in order to get there — and keep doing whatever that was. If people need to put you under less pressure, that’s because you’ve stepped up to your known and agreed-to commitments consciously and willingly. If you’re actually responsible for yourself and your actions, you don’t need a boss or parental figure telling you what to do. These are old themes — as old as you are, and because they span the generations, actually far older. It may have taken your entire ancestral lineage to produce you, who has figured out that you are responsible for what you say, think, do and feel. You are responsible for what happens in your environment. But this only becomes a burden if you pretend it’s not true — then suddenly you’re under everyone’s thumb. To really be free, you don’t have to live up to the expectations of others. Rather, you must set high standards for yourself and exceed your own expectations on a regular basis.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 22) — Attend to practical matters first. Let form follow function. Let content dictate form. Attend to your responsibilities in the order they come due, and while you’re at it, get ahead on longterm projects. You may be feeling like you’ve been released from an invisible bubble. You may feel like suddenly people are noticing your presence, your talent and your wisdom. Definitely invest some energy into social affairs, though keep your focus on what you know needs to happen; on what you want to make happen. The special beauty of this moment is that your most intelligent ideas will translate easily into something tangible, whereas in the past they might have seemed too abstract to do much with. In a similar vein, each step you take toward any worthwhile goal supports all of your goals. It’s not merely your imagination telling you that your long-range objectives are within reach if you concentrate your efforts and take the necessary steps to get there. You have seen the power of negative thinking waste your energy and derail your peace of mind. That is becoming a thing of the past, though you may have one last run-in with a point of view that you know you’re done with. The key to the puzzle that seems to vex the human race: take absolute responsibility for your own thoughts, and move on fast.

Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20) — If you’ve been putting off decisions about money, you will soon know exactly what to do. Do your research and get your plan of action together. Consult any necessary advisors. There will be some matters you can attend to during the first week of the year. However, should there be any additional preparations necessary, I suggest that you wait until after Mercury stations direct on Feb. 11 to implement any actions. The more money is involved, the more important it is to wait out Mercury retrograde. This is less about superstition and more about allowing additional information to emerge. The nature of Mercury retrograde is to flush out hidden information. It’s also to find the weakness in the system; the two are often related. Meanwhile, the recent sign change of Saturn is encouraging you to tune into yourself for all of the information you need, on nearly any subject. No doubt you have plenty of data in your hands and will soon have more. In the end, the final check on any decision is your intuition. As the next few months progress, you may find yourself losing interest in what anyone thinks on any topic of actual importance to you. Pry yourself out of that every now and then and reality check with one or two people that you have come to trust over the years. The final call is always yours.

Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19) — You are entering The Year of the Peak Experience. Such is the thing you want to do all the way; the full distance; scaling the actual mountain rather than riding on Space Mountain. A number of factors describe this, though one is letting go of an obsession with consequences that seems to have stalked you for a while. This has been an excellent exercise in accountability. You have, if you’ve been in tune with your astrology, learned how to think things through. You’ve figured out that what you do now influences what happens later. The whole time thing can be annoying, but at least it’s dependable and can be put to productive use. Even as you experiment with more daring people, places and experiences, you still have a diversity of safety devices in place that will keep you from running off the rails — and at times you may need to override them. For example, you may be more conservative than usual in financial and sexual matters, having a tendency to fear the worst. You may check your intuition regularly, seeking facts to support your hunches. In order to succeed at anything, you will need to take some risks. The good thing is that those can be conscious choices rather than involuntary reflexes. That and a modicum of intelligence is all anyone needs, and you have plenty more than that.

Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20) — No need to wonder what has become of your insecurities: the mighty Saturn has taken its place at the top of your solar chart. This is your moment to take command of your life, and by extension, all the affairs over which you preside. Pisces has big dreams, though few know the extent to which you are driven by the desire and indeed the need to achieve something real. However, in recent years it hasn’t been that easy to concentrate your efforts. Yes, there has been a bit too much going on, and events moving faster than you could keep up. Mainly there has been a confidence issue. Thankfully you’ve grown tired enough of it to want to get over it — and that’s most of what it takes. Part of your confidence issue has involved concerns about being accused of the profit motive. I realize that not every Pisces aspires to be Jesus or Buddha, but most people born under your sign put service first, pleasure second and profits last. Your current phase of enhanced leadership directly involves focusing the drive to make money at what you do. You don’t have to play the game of society’s cognitive dissonance on this issue. Whatever their theoretical philosophy, everyone likes to have money in their pocket. All the better if it’s earned with a clear conscience, as yours most surely is.

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