Dear Friend and Reader:
Mercury retrograde is in full effect right now. Each one of these phases, which happen about three times a year, has its unique pattern, its own distinct feeling and its special challenges. Currently, Mercury is retrograde in Capricorn, and on Jan. 4 will track back into Sagittarius, changing to direct motion on Jan. 8.
One interesting thing about this Mercury retrograde is the dance that it’s doing around Pluto. The two planets formed an almost-conjunction, before Mercury stationed retrograde and backed off for a while. That happened Monday, Dec. 19, the day that the Electoral College installed Donald Trump as the next president of the United States.
Mercury will complete the conjunction to Pluto on Jan. 29, after the retrograde and after the inauguration takes place. That looks like a real ‘oops’ moment, complete with various forms of ‘we should have known’, ‘what were we thinking’ and ‘I wish it wasn’t too late’.
Many people were wondering whether Mercury stationing retrograde on the very day that the electors met would derail that process. Yes, it was an impressive synchronicity. It might have meant less happening the day before or the day after, but stationing on the day-of means that whatever Mercury retrograde represents has been injected into the DNA of the Trump presidency, assuming he takes office on Jan. 20. Since politics is largely a game of pretend and deceive, there’s not much that could stop him at this stage.
The Uncertainty Factor
Meanwhile, Mercury retrograde is adding to an already strong uncertainty factor. Many people are deeply concerned. They range from groups who need special protection (the disabled, women, blacks, immigrants and Muslims) to people who just need a stable society so they can get through the day or conduct business. At the moment, we seem to live with nothing but questions.
Then of course there are the people who are compensating by heaping on the false certainty. The president-elect and all his men — the best and the brightest — are sheer geniuses, and soon the nation will be swimming in money. A Trump supporter explained that to me recently.
Mercury retrograde so intimately involved with Pluto, Capricorn and the machinations of the new president taking office suggest that what we’re now seeing is a setup for something in the future.
To my eye, the setup involves the immediate political situation here in the United States, but I think the scope is much deeper. The conflict into which we’re heading is part of a much larger process that’s been unfolding for a while and has yet to come to a head.
The Pluto in Capricorn journey began in 2008, just before the “subprime mortgage crisis” became the Great Recession, with its many bank failures, plus the TARP and AIG bailouts. We live in a time when the structure of society is changing. This is easy to read astrologically: Capricorn represents the foundations of culture and its institutions. Pluto is so powerful that it can drop the World Trade Center like marionettes (that aspect was Saturn opposite Pluto in 2001-2002).
The Pluto Return of the United States
The United States has Pluto in Capricorn. Pluto was not discovered yet in 1776, though it’s well documented that planets have effects long before we know about them.
Pluto moves so slowly that it takes 250 years to go around the Sun. With Pluto back in Capricorn, what we’re experiencing for the first time is the Pluto return of the United States. The first exact contact of that transit is Feb. 20, 2022 (or 02/20/2022, which is some interesting numerology indeed). That seems a long way off, I know.
Because the United States has Eris in early Capricorn and many planets in Cancer, we’ve been in this process for a while. In fact, I would say that the Pluto return of the United States is the entire duration of Pluto in Capricorn (2008 through 2024), though for a number of reasons (beyond just the exact return) the peak will be 2020 through 2024.
One of the best ways to get the feeling of a planetary return is to track the cycle back in time. Salient phases of the cycle are first quarter, opposition and last quarter — the Pluto first square, the Pluto opposition and the second square. This is similar to the phases of the Moon.
Understanding this cycle does not predict the future. Rather, it helps us understand the past to some extent, and locate ourselves in the present. The alignments are points of intensified growth, crisis and opportunity. Let’s look at those previous three phases and see what we learn.
First Pluto Square (or waxing square) — approximately 1845 through 1855. This was the beginning of the age of the machine and the industrial revolution. The peak of this cycle was the conjunction of Uranus and Pluto in Aries, in 1850 and 1851. We usually associate Uranus conjunct Pluto with the 1960s; here, I’m talking about the previous conjunction.
Uranus combining with Pluto brings breakthroughs in science and industry, which would be an understatement for the mid-1800s.
Eventually, very nearly everything would be mechanized, and the many handcrafts that dominated the rural and agrarian life of the United States would become quaint relics, or made obsolete.
Yet it was also the peak of slavery. This was due to the invention of the cotton gin, which made processing cotton easier, allowing industry to meet public demand. But this required slaves to plant and pick the cotton. The United States went from 700,000 slaves in 1790 to 3.2 million slaves in 1850.
In that year, a law called the Fugitive Slave Act was passed. This made it legal to capture slaves who escaped from the south to free states in the north. I found this troubling bit of history in Wikipedia: “Slave owners needed only to supply an affidavit to a federal marshal to capture an escaped slave. Since a suspected slave was not eligible for a trial, the law resulted in the kidnapping and conscription of free blacks into slavery, as suspected fugitive slaves had no rights in court and could not defend themselves against accusations.”
Talk about conflict. In the land of the free, humans were not only considered property; those born free could be captured and taken to the south, merely based on the color of their skin. Meanwhile, the Underground Railroad (the abolitionist movement) was picking up momentum, setting up the country for the Civil War.
By the way, my friend Kevin Paulsen is a scholar of climate change issues, and he said that the first scientists discussing the issue of carbon in the atmosphere, and the negative effects it might have, spoke up around 1850.
Pluto Opposition — approximately 1930-1940. Pluto was in Cancer, opposing the U.S. natal Pluto in Capricorn. This was the Great Depression and the New Deal. The peak of the cycle was 1935 through 1938. The United States was going through its most tumultuous and unstable period since the Civil War.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt was doing what he could to keep the country stable during the Depression. This era, technically called the “Second New Deal,” arrived with the Works Progress Administration, the National Youth Administration, the National Labor Relations Act, the Social Security Act and many, many similar programs. Roosevelt presided over a massive expansion of government and began to create what would become what we now call the “social safety net.”
The federal government as we now know it is largely the product of these years. There was considerable resistance to New Deal programs from big business, which was pushing its usual every-man-for-himself point of view.
Seen one way, this was a low point in American history. Seen another, a great many enduring public works projects, and works of art, came out of New Deal programs, and many people were protected from the worst effects of the Depression.
Still, it was not enough. The United States was building a military economy, and it was not until the U.S. was involved in World War II that economic conditions truly improved. That came at the cost of a permanent war-based economy, or what became known (in the words of Pres. Dwight David Eisenhower) as the Military-Industrial Complex.
Second Pluto Square (or waning square), approximately 1975 through 1985. The square was exact in 1982 through 1983, so peak years were the early 1980s. This was the rise of the new right wing movement in the United States. Incredibly, this happened shortly after Watergate, when people had realzied how much “con” there was in conservative. Nixon was toppled in 1974, so we really could count that as the warmup to the United States’ second Pluto square.
Four years of Jimmy Carter culminated with 52 American diplomats and citizens being held hostage by Islamist revolutionaries in Iran. Carter ordered a rescue operation, but it was botched, and made him look incompetent. But he had a little help in that from his opponent in the 1980 election, Ronald Reagan, who cut a deal with the Iranians to keep the hostages in captivity through the election, to make Carter look bad. All of this was, of course, for the new version of truth, justice and the American way.
The “small government” approach advocated by Reagan really meant trying to dismantle the social safety net that Pres. Franklin Roosevelt and later Pres. Lyndon Johnson had put into place, in favor of making national policy out of greed. Why give all that tax money to social services (that is, people), when you can give it to private corporations? It was also a time when social forces began attempting to reverse many of the strides forward of the 1960s and 1970s.
During this era, many churches became Republican clubhouses and the Evangelical and Dominionist movements began to infuse politics. These edgy people, like their Islamist cousins, think the world is ending and that it’s their job to help it along.
Pres. Ronald Reagan’s “trickle-down economics” were being accepted like the cult of the new order. Deregulation was the theme of the day, and it led to problems. The Savings and Loan Crisis, now all but forgotten, created a contained depression, staunched only by federal programs like FDIC insurance on savings deposits. The headlines were rife with various outrages, scandals and incidents such as a banker chartering a 727 to fly his friends to a gambling junket in Las Vegas. All of this done with the money that was supposedly kept safe in grandma’s savings account.
The Iran-Contra affair came out in 1986, which involved the revelation of the U.S. covertly selling weapons to its enemy Iran (to be used against its then-ally Iraq), then illegally diverting the profits to the Contras in Nicaragua, who bombed schools, hospitals and farming cooperatives. The hell-on-feet Contras, organized and trained by the CIA, were banned from receiving U.S. funding by something called the Boland Amendment. Hence, federal officials committed crimes by diverting money to them.
The stock market experienced a serious crash in 1987. Yet despite these setbacks, what became known as the neoconservative movement continued to grow. Current Middle-East wars have their modern origins in this era. The main event was Reagan and Bush teaming up with Iran to keep the American hostages in captivity until after the election, so Carter would lose. That, too, was involved in the Iran-Contra affair.
The Score So Far
It would seem that major Pluto transits immediately precede the most chaotic phases of history; they are associated with economic instability or enormous changes to the economy; and they often precede major wars.
The first Pluto square preceded the Civil War, the opposition preceded World War II and the second square arrived with covert wars in Central America and the Middle East, followed by Bush War I, Bush War II and the Obama Drone Wars. It seems like the whole fourth quarter of the Pluto cycle is one endless war, which came on the heels of Vietnam and Korea, which followed World Wars I and II and the nuclear arms race and Cold War.
Excuse me while I scream. There, now I feel better.
Which Leads to the Present
We are now in the Pluto return phase of U.S. history. If the story so far and current events tell us anything, we’re at a crossroads. Without any reference to partisan politics, or to whomever might be president, every single issue we face as a society and world community is poised to come to a head.
The most significant one is climate, since that impacts the fate of the Earth. The United States could indeed lead the way to lowering the carbon footprint of the world, but we are not doing so. Then there is the national debt of the United States. Due to the combination of budget deficits, interest on previous debts, and an obsession with simultaneous wars and tax cuts for the rich, the government’s debt is ballooning by the day.
Economic problems usually come with social problems, because people are experiencing anguish and, in turn, they need someone to blame. Socially, the United States seems ready to rip apart, but reading about conditions in 1850 made me feel a little better.
It seems the deeper we go into this predicament, the less anyone can do. It’s true that under the influence of Pluto transits you will feel powerless until you claim your power. A lot of people have to decide to do that, if we want to get anywhere. I often remind myself of the words of Sting: There’s no political solution to a troubled evolution. And evolution is indeed what Pluto calls for. Yes, it can seem like grow or die. That’s not a difficult choice to make. Or is it?