Vision Quest: Into the Mysteries of 2016

Dear Friend and Reader:

Every year at this time I’m casting and reading a lot of astrology — a bit more than usual, in preparation for my year-ahead readings. The result is the combination of an annual book of 12 chapters (one per sign and rising sign) and spoken-word audio project (about an hour per sign). This year I’m making available a CD of newly composed drum and synth grooves (intended, in part, as theme music for my sign readings).

Still image from Veronica Janssens’ installation States of Mind: yellowbluepink, going on now at Welcome Collection in London.

By the time I’m done, I have a large stack of scribbled-on charts, which I’ve translated into astrology readings that actually do what astrology readings are supposed to do — provide you with current information to reflect on, contemplate and guide your life.

The astrology of 2016 is the first major turning point after what I’ve been calling the 2012-era, which spanned from 2008 through 2015. Like many new mini-ages of astrology, this one started with great promise — the election of Barack Obama — and it is ending with an extremely tense and apparently worsening world situation.

The most important question for astrology is: what can we learn about how to adapt, survive and hopefully thrive under the new conditions?

Over the next 18 months, several unusual events open up possibilities for outer and inner progress. They also open up the potential for more serious problems. I’ll come back to that in a moment.

In this column I don’t typically say much about how I do the astrology that you read every month, and I thought I would start there and then move on to descriptions of the most interesting events of the coming year and a half.

One distinction of my work is that I use the classical techniques I’ve learned from my teachers (among them David Arner, Geoffrey Cornelius, Robert Hand and Robert Schmidt). Astrology is an art that long predates the Medieval era that it’s associated with, and long predates the birth of Jesus. In something as strange and as abstract as astrology, it’s essential to have grounding and roots. These I get from working with traditional astrology.

Rob Hand at the 2008 United Astrology Conference. Photo by Eric.

Then I add modern factors to my charts, working with many newly discovered planets, most of them discovered since I was born, and many of them discovered since 1992. With this dual perspective — traditional and modern — I can stay close to astrology’s early roots and at the same time bring my work into the contemporary world and frame of mind. You might say that’s the secret to my work, in addition to using a lot that I’ve learned from my life as an investigative reporter.

These newer planets address our modern psychic state: what you might call the borderline state of mind. Centaurs (such as Chiron, Pholus and Nessus) are planets that cross the orbits of other planets. They are worlds that work the edges of consciousness.

They are all named for mythological figures whose stories can modestly be described as intense. But unlike the usual myths, the centaurs are always thrust into human experience rather than godly.

Their stories are not soap operas. Their themes are always about healing and transformation. There’s also a realm of planets beyond Neptune, out in what’s called the Kuiper Belt and the Scattered Disk. Those include Pluto, 1992 QB1, Varuna, Sedna and something you’ve probably heard of, Eris — and it’s Eris that factors the most prominently into the astrology of 2016 and 2017.

Saturn in Sagittarius

But first let’s look at what’s going on with the most important of the traditional planets, Saturn. Saturn, which recently changed signs from Scorpio to Sagittarius, is a kind of baseline of reality. Sagittarius for its part has been the scene of a huge drama the past 20 years or so, starting when Pluto showed up in the mid-1990s. This was the dawning of the era of globalism, world beat and a surge in fundamentalist ideas (in particular, Jewish, Christian and Islamic).

Same old same old, but all the more appalling since we’re supposedly in the Age of Aquarius, where peace and love are supposed to count for something. Today as I write, a lot of people have the feeling that we’re watching World War III take shape.

It wasn’t just Pluto that churned up all that fundamentalist energy. A series of new planets were discovered, and many of them made a long, slow passage through Sagittarius. You might say this was the unforgettable fire, which recent events in Paris have demonstrated is still burning out of control.

The Age of Aquarius or the Age of Hilarious? Perhaps, if things were not so serious. Photo taken by Beth Bagner at the 2011 Occupy Wall Street encampment in Manhattan.

One of those weird, new planets still in Sagittarius is Ixion. My key phrase for this body is “anyone is capable of anything,” or you might say “studies in amorality.” Amoral does not mean immoral; it means a worldview where there is no such thing as right and wrong. The concepts simply don’t exist, and we see plenty of this going around.

Now Saturn is in Sagittarius (through late 2017), and we are in the territory of something more tangible; that’s Saturn’s job, to give us something we can see, feel, measure and describe. And that tangible thing is the influence of outmoded beliefs, especially if they are religious. Saturn in Sagittarius is the very picture of oppression by religious belief, and it also describes a confrontation with those beliefs.

People are driven by religious belief far more than they recognize. Religion has done a fine job of taking over all ideas about creation of life, birth and death. It is an unconscious relationship with death in particular that drives people to cling to their beliefs. But then, along the way, sex has been corrupted and nearly everyone is convinced there’s something wrong with it, or with themselves for liking it too much. Within this is the idea that sex must be contained and regulated (usually by marriage or marriage-like relationships).

So the core question of Saturn in Sagittarius is: to what extent are these beliefs driving your life? And when you notice them acting up, what do you do? People seeking enlightenment, liberation and connection to their deeper spirituality are penetrating through these dense beliefs that tend to be passed thoughtlessly from generation to generation. Saturn in Sagittarius is saying it’s time to start thinking about what you believe, which means raising it to the level of awareness.

This will not happen by itself. You are more likely to get clues that something is up, and then have the option to respond. Responding means something that most people find challenging: deciding what is actually true for you.

Saturn in Sagittarius, Square Neptune in Pisces

There is a co-factor working with Saturn right now, and that is Neptune in Pisces. This is a much longer-term transit, lasting through early 2026 — another 10 years. You might call Neptune in Pisces the potential for truly organic and creative connection to existence — what some call ‘spiritual’ but without all the dressing, and expanding into all creative and erotic endeavors.

Soul Process; photo by Beth Bagner.

Neptune in Pisces has a wide spectrum of experience, and you might say it’s about accessing God or your soul or your spiritual core any way that works for you. Typically we restrict the idea of spiritual to that which is appropriate for a chapel.

However, I would humbly submit that there’s a lot more potential than that. Most artists and musicians and dancers will tell you that their daily work is their spiritual path — their journey of connection and self-awakening.

What is now happening is that Saturn in Sagittarius, the container of all these concepts and dogmas, is about to plunge into Neptune in Pisces. By plunge I mean that it’s about to make a 90-degree or square aspect to Neptune, which you might call a real meeting. Among the aspects, the square is one of the most compelling; it’s one that you cannot ignore.

However, the most obvious manifestation is unlikely to be a breakthrough or a dawning of awareness; it’s likely to be confusion. With Neptune, it’s often the kind of confusion you have to figure out that you’re in. It can be the sense of losing your direction, or a quagmire. You might feel like you’re in a fog. And in my view, the thing that is necessary is vision; or you might say, a vision.

Here is the thing. When prefab spiritual concepts that have dominated one’s life are suddenly called into question, or dunked in a lot of spiritual water, and they start to come undone, that can leave you feeling like you have no ground to stand upon.

Since neither Sagittarius nor Pisces is about solid ground, you might decide that the structure you need is a kind of raft that actually floats on that water, rather than sinks. Religious ideas will indeed sink into Pisces like a rock. A simple raft — a basic, clear idea about your existence, or even a real question — will rise up and float.

Uranus Conjunct Eris: Once in a Century

There’s one other bit of astrology that is rare, and qualifies as outstanding, and that is the conjunction of Uranus and Eris. Uranus was the first planet discovered by science, in 1781. This ushered in the age of science, technology and industrialism. Along with it came many great inventions, quite a few horrid ones, and an era of rapid change and instability.

Eric, working on your 2016 reading at Outdated Cafe in Kingston, NY. Photo by Carla Rozman.

Eris was discovered in 2005, and came with a revolution of its own: it compelled astronomers to rethink the concept of a planet. They had to admit — for the first time and with a large audience — that there are a LOT of planets orbiting the Sun.

I think one of the main influences of Eris is an environment of chaos. On the global level we see this in a seemingly endless era of subversive wars and change so fast nobody can keep up. Eris, in a sign it has occupied since the mid-1920s (Aries), is also about personality chaos; it’s about those moments when you have no clue who you are, including when this stretches into a long-term question.

For those who are into philosophy (or art or literature), Eris is the goddess of the postmodern age. This is the age of nothing needs to make sense at all. Everything in the world is a jumble, or a cyclone. In that chaos it can be very difficult to see, feel, experience or act on who you are, because ultimately you may have no idea.

People who are able to take clear and decisive steps have an affinity for chaos or a very strong sense of self.

Now Uranus, one of the lords of revolution and transformation, is about to align with Eris, the goddess of chaos and discord. This looks like it could be explosive — or transcendent. One of the things that astrologers learn about Uranus is that there’s a limit to what you can predict when it’s in the picture. In an art form that is supposedly about seeing the future, nothing quite says “you have no clue” like Uranus.

So, rather than being reactive, I’m suggesting we get proactive — and by that I mean get creative in advance — and begin to work with a vision; to give ourselves a clue in the form of an idea.

At its very best, Uranus conjunct Eris will serve as a wildcard — an opportunity to recreate yourself in a way that you can initiate but cannot necessarily control; the best you can do is guide yourself with your vision and perceive life as a quest.

Which it is — so, let’s get moving.


Planet Waves Monthly Horoscope — December 2015, #1077 | By Eric Francis
Aries (March 20-April 19) — You must use strategy to accomplish your goals. Effort and passion are necessary (and you have plenty) but they will not be enough. Motivation is drive, and strategy is guidance. That means thinking. By this, I mean manual mode, step-by-step, careful and reflective thought. We’re not accustomed to this and Aries is not exactly famous for it — but you are capable of using your mind this way and you will profit from doing so. It will help if the strategy you use is an organic expression of who you are. You should not have to think against your own grain or use ideas that somehow violate your ethics. Rather, the best course of action depends on your own innate skills, traits and temperament, and most of all, your sense of right and wrong. You might want to tighten the mesh there, and do only what you know is absolutely correct for you, and does as little harm as possible to others. Your environment also favors long-range planning over meeting some immediate need. Therefore, an effective set of plans will take you a bit beyond your goal and into the next couple of phases of your idea. To do all of this well, it’s more important that you be real rather than exemplify love and light. Being authentic is not popular, and it’s not necessarily easy, but it will serve you well.
Taurus (April 19-May 20) — I’ve noticed a bias not just against anyone perceived as emotionally needy, but against those who express emotional needs. You may have to address that prejudice yourself some time in the next few weeks, as you actually get into closer contact with what your needs are. I would propose that in life, needs should be relatively few, and desires more abundant. ‘Needs’ really means your bottom line; one cannot have too many needs denied in a situation and still have it be tenable. So, I would suggest you consider what your bottom line is. What do you actually require? As a Taurus this is likely to be somewhere on the physical spectrum of food, rest, solitude, social contact, sex or some other biological element of life. If your physical needs are met, you’re usually pretty happy. Check those first, then move on to your emotional bottom line. Be real with yourself about what it is, and consider your environment and see if you are able to respond to the emotional bottom line of others. There is a meeting place; it’s just that you need to identify it, and do your best to get onto common ground with partners and actually make it happen. In any relationship, actual shared values will exist on the level of what is not negotiable for either of you. It’s worth the effort to get there.
Gemini (May 20-June 21) — Shared finances now come under the spotlight, and this means you will be doing some negotiating. You might consider everything to be negotiable; you might practice in antique shops in case you’re not used to haggling. The benefits or rewards are potentially significant, so you would be wise to slow down and really, truly understand your situation. Take a conservative approach, which means focus on numbers, resources, shared responsibility and how any arrangement is structured. You will need to apply some old-school thinking (adding up the figures definitely counts), though you’ll also need to account for what has developed, shifted and rearranged during the past seven years. Plenty has, particularly values and attitudes; and any business plan you develop with partners needs to account for those changes. You can afford to think ahead; indeed you really must, which will call for some ambition on your part. Yet your form of ambition really involves thinking of something beautiful that doesn’t yet exist. It might involve having faith that the seemingly impossible is no such thing. While you have a pragmatic, strictly business side, with so many Pisces planets dominating your charts your real aim must include how you will serve people or how artfully you can do things (preferably both). Money is not everything. Yet realistic ideas about finances will lead to better work and substantial profit.
Cancer (June 21-July 22) — The next year-and-a-half will be an unusual and potentially brilliant time for you professionally. Yet there is not a clear path set out before you. Your growth will not be like advancing through the ranks of the Department of the Interior, nor will it take as long or be as boring. Rather, you will have many interesting turns, and unexpected (but somehow should have been obvious) developments. I think you’ll advance through a series of personal initiations that coincide with advances in what some call a career but what I would call your vocation. The difference is spiritual. A career you do in order to rise up in the world. A vocation is something you do because you must, come what may. A vocation means you have been called or summoned, and you are responding. It’s something that you do every day, all the time, no matter what other activity you might be involved in. What would appear to be the real variable here is how you identify with what you do. Success on some level involves adjusting your public presentation to harmonize with your inner goal. This will require a stretch. You’ll also need to take some unorthodox approaches in order to focus the appropriate kind of attention on what you’re doing. You are visible; you must do what you can to be seen in the most favorable light.
Leo (July 22-Aug. 23) — Do your ears hear those who need your help? I suggest you monitor carefully how you respond to the struggles and plight of others. Most people base their response on what would be convenient for them. I suggest you base yours on what you perceive as authentic necessity. This will remind you about your quest for purpose. It’s easy to be self-serving, and just about every influence of our society rewards us for being so. It’s less intuitive, less obvious, to offer oneself in service. Yet that is where you will find your true strength. You connect to your purpose and your sense of belonging by consciously participating in constructive ways. You might try setting aside the question, ‘what’s in it for me?’ or at least noticing how long before you ask yourself that question. It’s been a long time since Ayn Rand tried to brainwash us into the notion that there’s no such thing as altruism, that in the end, everything is about self-interest. Yet she has had way too much influence on our society. The question of whether altruism exists is, in the end, a deeply personal one. In any event, your current aspects describe your relationship to selfless service — or perhaps we could restate that as useful service where self-interest is just one factor among others, and not the most important of them.
Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22) — It’s not always easy to ensure that people see you as who you are, not who they think you are. Yet it’s just as challenging to see yourself as who you are and not who people want you to be. Part of what you’re doing now is learning the nature of that boundary. That will involve asking questions about the choices you make and the positions you take. You’re slowly being prodded and nudged out of automatic mode. You know you’re getting there when you start hearing the things you say, and evaluating your choices against what you know your deeper values are. Yet there’s a really interesting quality to your environment, which is likely to be a collection of truly unusual people, people with whom you don’t have much in common. The question is, how do you treat someone who comes off as an original, odd or out-of-place character? What’s your expectation that others should blend in with the scenery? There is a mirror effect going on; your perception of your environment will tell you a lot about how you perceive yourself. The main question is, how concerned are you about fitting in? What are you willing to do in order to seem like you fit in, and why does that matter? There may be excellent answers to those queries, if you ask them well.
Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23) — Where do your relationships stand today, as contrasted with Jan. 1? I would recommend a thorough review. There may be many events that seem like water under the bridge. That’s how life is organized these days; everything is presumed to be ephemeral. That may be true, but what happened recently is still vital to you, and what I suggest you look for is both the story arc of the past 12 months, and also a timeline of key events: mainly connections made, transitions and separations. Remember who from your past seemed to resurface, and what happened when they did. This may have also related to past values, attitudes and viewpoints that reminded you of their existence. To put the question in the most direct way, I would ask what you feel like you resolved this year. What are you now confident that you have settled emotionally, or put to rest? What new values and attitudes have you cultivated that will lead you in new directions? The past still remains a somewhat complex subject for you, and what you developed in the past 12 months may be more appropriately described as strategies and approaches to dealing with your own personal history. One of those may be your process in the present: it would help to take a resolve-as-you-go approach to life, and not leave things to resurface from the ever-lengthening past.
Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22) — When in doubt, consider the concept of role reversal. Imagine yourself doing what someone else does, or actually try it out; imagine someone doing what you do, and asking them to consider it. Humans tend to be blind to the viewpoints of others, and it doesn’t help that we don’t generally express our own perspective to others willingly, or well. Yet that is exactly what you need, so that you can get along with people and, better than that, do something creative. One set of roles to consider involves gender. These tend to be the most prepackaged and inflexible positions we play, even here in the world of metrosexual, transgender and heteroflexible. If you’ve already been experimenting with this, what have you learned? How has your worldview changed? Can you see ways to widen your inquiry into other areas of your life? Try this as many ways as you can think of. At the least, consider how others respond to you from their viewpoint, and see what you observe. What you may find is that this opens doors of communication and of empathy. Yet it will also open up possibilities that were previously concealed from view; access to ideas that were lurking below the surface; and your willingness to take action, whereas before you were content to wait for something to happen.
Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 22) — Saturn in your sign will develop as an interesting walk along the ledge between confidence and insecurity. It’s not till you start to experience that directly that you really make valid observations and decisions. Otherwise it’s just theory. And more than anything it’s your theories that need to be put to the test against lived reality. This includes the value of past experience in any form, including prior learning from your parents and other authority figures. One might presume that the presence of Saturn is about maintaining stability, since that’s supposedly what Saturn is about. It’s more likely that Saturn in your sign is pointing to your need and even a kind of drive for new experiences and approaches to life. Saturn’s drive for change, initially, is going to be an experiment in how you relate to your insecurities. If you feel like you’re on solid ground, you will be more inclined to take steps on that ground. If you feel like you’re floating, or walking on a bog, you’re less likely to take firm steps. Therefore, the thing to work on is confidence — which is another way of saying learning to address fear in a cogent, thoughtful way. Ultimately this is less a psychological question and more of a spiritual one, though approaching from both angles will be helpful. Remember that change is inevitable; making your own decisions is optional.
Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20) — Based on images from the unusual astrology influencing you this month, I referred to the Allan Watts book The Wisdom of Insecurity. You know that Pluto has been coursing through your sign for seven years, making it seem like there’s no such thing as solid ground. Now Saturn is in your 12th solar house, which evokes a deep inner mystery and potentially a sense of isolation. Saturn is square Neptune, reminding you how vital it is to be able to focus your mind into coherent thoughts, using language and ideas. Yet nothing is certain, and if you can make peace with that, you can have some of the significant benefits of living without the need for false security. In one of the great works of modern philosophy, Watts writes, “You cannot understand life and its mysteries as long as you try to grasp it. Indeed, you cannot grasp it, just as you cannot walk off with a river in a bucket. If you try to capture running water in a bucket, it is clear that you do not understand it and that you will always be disappointed, for in the bucket the water does not run. To ‘have’ running water you must let go of it and let it run.” Such is the story of your life for the next year: a potentially amazing adventure into the flow.
Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19) — You are trying to establish yourself in the world, and you seem to be making some significant progress, though it may not feel that way. You might want to pause measuring your failures and successes and instead devote your energy to understanding something about yourself. That something involves the relationship between who you are and what society is. Your mind is a microcosm of the world that you’re wanting to establish yourself in. That raises the value on self-knowledge at this time in your life. Self-knowledge means going deeper into your motives and your learning process, and into seeing the way that patterns from your personal history manifest for you. If you are seeking change, and seeking progress, then seek self-understanding. You may be tempted to put all your effort into understanding the world, but even if you succeeded in doing that, the information would be of little value without the one-and-only necessary context of your life — you. The more transparent you become to yourself, the more transparent the world will become. The more flexible you become, the more flexible the world will seem. The more alert you are, the easier it will be to spot other alert people and engage them collaboratively. Yet you will need to suspend judgment as much as you can, and observe yourself carefully nearly all the time.
Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20) — You may feel like you’re under some strange pressure, which is true enough. But how you describe that sensation and what you choose to allow it to motivate you to do are under your discretion and control. Your astrology describes the theme of synthesis. This word started off meaning ‘deductive reasoning’ though the current definition is about combining the parts of something into a whole. Presumably we are talking about your life, your work and what you’ve accomplished so far. I would take the meaning a step further, which is about the synthesizing of something new from previously existing elements. In other words, there are parts of this holistic entity you’re assembling that you will have to make yourself. This requires the use of chemistry and physics, in the metaphoric sense. Things that don’t seem to mix or combine on the first try may need a few more rounds of experimentation. You might need to account for the missing elements that will make your process work. The single most important thing you can be in possession of is an idea of what you’re working toward — a description and drawing of what it is and how it’s supposed to work. You might start that process with identifying the purpose that you need fulfilled, and let that purpose and vision guide and motivate you. Take up your role as the inventor of your own life.

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