Who Was Woody Guthrie?

Dear Fellow Traveler:

Who was Woody Guthrie, really?

I ask this acknowledging how little we know about the human experience — where we come from, where we are, the true history of our planet, and what the purpose of our journey here is. One thing we can say for sure is that we experience considerable adversity here, and that there’s often a reluctance by many people to offer our support to those who are struggling.

Woodrow Wilson “Woody” Guthrie.

We do a lot of turning the other way. We do a lot of pretending that this or that is not my problem, it’s your problem. We tend to see ourselves as separate from the people around us, preferring to emphasize what’s different rather than what we have in common — and we suffer for it.

For that reason, we need messengers, and from time to time, one shows up and we actually listen to what they have to say. Woody Guthrie, who would be 100 years old on Saturday, came to teach us something about our experience here, and how we can open our hearts and minds to the people we might not notice, or prefer not to notice. And amazingly, many people noticed. By the time of his premature death of a rare genetic disorder in 1967, he was a well-respected figure in American music, and considered the progenitor of American folk tradition, the inspiration for many musicians to write their own protest songs, and a source of encouragement for many activists to speak up against injustice.

In his human form, Woody was a poet, singer, songwriter and author who collected songs from the back alleys and backwoods of the United States traveling among freed slaves and their children, and farmers displaced from their land by foreclosure. He lived among Indians, hillbillies and city folk — all the while collecting songs and their endless variants.

It’s the soul of Woody Guthrie that does something a lot deeper, embodying an authenticity and selflessness that seems to be coming from just a bit deeper than the usual place, or maybe a bit beyond the world as we think of it.

Woody Guthrie in New York City, where he seemed to be very much at home — living in Brooklyn (right near the beach), Manhattan and Staten Island at different times.

Yet Woody was truly a man of this world and of the American experience. He was born in Okemah, Oklahoma on July 14, 1912 — on the day that the French Revolution is celebrated. In the spirit of that revolution, Guthrie understood the struggle against economic inequity and the way in which the game seems to be rigged against a fair outcome. Woody was an example of what it means to speak up for what is right, or simply what is true.

His travels took him to New York, where he lived in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Staten Island, and where he wrote his most famous song — ‘This Land is Your Land’ — in Pete Seeger’s kitchen, outside the town of Beacon, along the Hudson River.

Woody’s story is best told in music, and I’ve prepared a special edition of Planet Waves FM which includes some of his songs, a 1944 interview with Woody from BBC radio, versions of his music performed by contemporary artists, and my commentary. I also take a look at Woody’s astrology, giving a few other details than the ones I cover in this article. One theme of the audio presentation is how the folk tradition evolves from one generation to the next. To demonstrate this I play covers of Woody songs by such notables as Bruce Springsteen and U2.

I don’t think Woody would have been too surprised to see the way that the American experiment turned out. All of the issues he was writing about in the 1930s and 1940s are the same ones we’re facing today: economic struggle, banks running out of control, the profit motive driving everything, the stock market being little other than a casino where addicts gamble away the wealth of the country, people being foreclosed out of their homes, and one war after the next.

But he might be very surprised to see the way his music endured. His son Arlo once said that when his dad was in the late stages of Huntington’s disease, he taught him to play ‘This Land is Your Land,’ just to be sure that someone would remember it. Well, we all do.

“This Machine Kills Fascists” blazing off of Woody’s guitar, as ever. Photo courtesy of Woody Guthrie Archives.

As you’ll hear Bruce Springsteen explain in the audio presentation, ‘This Land’ was written as an angry song, a reply to Irving Berlin’s pompous ‘God Bless America’.

Of the many comments I’ve read about Woody Guthrie this week, Chris Hedges best sums him and his mission.

“Cultures that endure carve out a protected space for those who question and challenge national myths. Artists, writers, poets, activists, journalists, philosophers, dancers, musicians, actors, directors and renegades must be tolerated if a culture is to be pulled back from disaster. Members of this intellectual and artistic class, who are usually not welcome in the stultifying halls of academia where mediocrity is triumphant, serve as prophets.”

He continues, “They are dismissed, or labeled by the power elites as subversive, because they do not embrace collective self-worship. They force us to confront unexamined assumptions, ones that, if not challenged, lead to destruction. They expose the ruling elites as hollow and corrupt. They articulate the senselessness of a system built on the ideology of endless growth, ceaseless exploitation and constant expansion. They warn us about the poison of careerism and the futility of the search for happiness in the accumulation of wealth.”

And Chris concludes, “They make us face ourselves, from the bitter reality of slavery and Jim Crow to the genocidal slaughter of Native Americans to the repression of working-class movements to the atrocities carried out in imperial wars to the assault on the ecosystem. They make us unsure of our virtue. They challenge the easy clichés we use to describe the nation — the land of the free, the greatest country on earth, the beacon of liberty — to expose our darkness, crimes and ignorance. They offer the possibility of a life of meaning and the capacity for transformation.”

Where do we find this in Woody Guthrie’s chart? Let’s take a look. His birth time is not known; the chart we have is a proposed rectification, wherein I give him Sagittarius — the sign of the traveler — in the ascendant.

This is my proposed rectification of Woody Guthrie’s natal chart, giving him Sagittarius rising — a visionary, a teacher and a traveler. Woody’s strong Cancer signature mimics the United States Sibly chart, which also has many planets in Cancer in the 8th house of shared resources — “this land is my land, this land is your land.”

I’ve oriented the chart with Jupiter (the teacher and benefactor) rising, as well as Juno (a champion of social justice) in the ascendant as well. I’ve put Vesta, the keeper of the flame, as the most elevated planet (in the audio, you will hear what his daughter Nora has to say about coal holders, the members of the tribe who carry the burning ember to the next campsite).

Woody was born with many planets in the sign Cancer, the sign of home. You could say he was an idealist, with all of those planets, including the Sun, the Moon and Venus, clustered around Neptune. Or you could say that his passion for life and for humanity was driven by a kind of mysticism that was veiled by his plain talk and somewhat aloof personality.

Yet just beneath that somewhat scratchy, sleep-with-his-boots-on layer was the sustained passion that can only come with strong water placements. Those include Chiron in Pisces, which he has square Jupiter — one of the aspects that points to a quest for social justice. These social justice markers show up all over his chart — for example his square between Juno (usually associated with marriage, though also an indicator of social consciousness) conjunct Jupiter and square Chiron. Though Woody had three wives, his first love was standing up for humanity.

He has Mercury in Leo (which has returned for a long stay in that sign at the time of his 100th birthday) suggesting that his words are as good as gold — or perhaps an example of the only true gold. His Mars and Ceres in Leo propose that maybe the only other truly useful form of gold is food.

We need Woody Guthrie today. We need his perception, his sense of fairness and most of all his willingness to speak up against injustice. We need his example of how necessary it is for those who feel the calling to tell the truth.

Fortunately, nearly all of his words and music survive, though more than that, the thing they would speak to in the human spirit is alive within each of us. As his contemporary, novelist John Steinbeck said of him, “There is the will of a people to endure and fight against oppression. I think we call this the American spirit.”

In case you’re inclined to confuse the American spirit with Bain Capital, repealing ‘Obamacare’ or the local shopping mall, I suggest you investigate the Declaration of Independence and see what you find there. Or, you can listen to the magnificent words and music of Woody Guthrie, which I’ve put together in a 75-minute presentation. That page includes instructions for listening on any kind of device, including burning to CD.

It’s an honor to share this with you, and I’ve learned a lot diving into Woody’s music and legacy the past week putting it together.


Friday, July 6, 2012. Weekly Horoscope #910 | Eric’s Zodiac Sign Descriptions

Cancer Birthdays: At the Crossroads of Taking Action

If you have a birthday in the vicinity, you’re at the point of taking action, including after a long delay — though as Mercury stations retrograde you may be feeling hesitant. Don’t let that get in the way of making your decisions about what you want, getting organized and then paying attention for the right moment to take action. There is considerable activity in the cardinal signs (all of them — Aries, Cancer, Libra and Capricorn), which may be giving you the feeling of ‘life coming at you from all directions’ — or alternately, the sensation of getting the parts working together. Though it’s too much to describe in detail here, there are actually two different cardinal cross structures — one involving the Sun square Saturn and the other involving Mars square Pluto and opposite Uranus. Sun square Saturn is your ability to focus the emotional discipline that you need at this time in your life, and also comes with a reminder that the playing field is leveler than you think. You have to try out the game and see how you do. Second is Mars coming into the Uranus-Pluto square — that’s like a fire being lit under your ass, including the emotional strength to take action. This energy can be devoted to any aspect of your life. There are two keys: one is microfocus on your timing. Consider carefully what action you take at any given time. Second is that with so much Mars power, you don’t need to exert much energy — a little less than you think would be sufficient. Guide things more than direct them; focus your energy rather than pushing the river and you will get consistently surprising results through the next year of your life.

Aries (March 20-April 19) — You may feel like you’re backed into an emotional corner, though I strongly suggest you not react that way. Instead, consider what your current circumstances are describing, and ask yourself: is it time to sweat this out, or is it time to make a change? There comes a point when persistent frustration can no longer be considered as something that will pass — especially if the years are passing faster than the situation. The deeper question is, what insecurities stand between you and making a decision? I suggest you be patient and carefully examine all the facts. Make a timeline and see how far back you can trace this. Then I suggest you design a plan that will take you through the end of August to implement. Timing is everything; the pressure you may be feeling now is likely to increase over the next week, and with Mercury stationing retrograde over the weekend, you really want make clear decisions with your mind rather than your emotions.

Taurus (April 19-May 20) — Over the next week you may get a taste of how complex an emotional situation is, though the outer circumstances are truly the superficial layer. When you start asking yourself the right questions, you will discover that the real subject involves your self-esteem. A central question is not how much someone else values you — rather, it’s how much do you value yourself, and are you able to live and breathe that value? As you move through the events of the next week, quietly ask yourself that question over and over again. You can also inquire whether you feel like you’re associating with people who really do honor the best things about you. While you’re doing that, it would be healthy to inquire whether you notice and appreciate the qualities that others offer you. Sincere and openly expressed gratitude is a remarkably accurate measure of self-esteem.

Gemini (May 20-June 21) — It’s time you recognize the value of your words. Indeed, I suggest you consider that what you say and how you say it are your most precious assets. If you were to keep that firmly in mind, you might say less, and you would ensure that any promise you make is something you’re fully prepared to honor. While Mercury is retrograde for the next few weeks, I suggest you consider any commitments you have that you haven’t come through on yet, and make a plan for what to do about them. You can renegotiate rather than renege; the most vital thing is that you have a clear understanding with whomever you have an arrangement, or with anyone to whom you’ve made a promise. If you go through your life systematically and settle your affairs with people, you will proceed differently when making commitments in the future. And remember — everything you say is a kind of promise.

Cancer (June 21-July 22) — You may be feeling hemmed in or backed into an emotional corner. If that’s true, it’s essential that you keep your cool and take stock of your situation before you react or even respond. What you may be perceiving as a negative situation could easily be an opportunity for cooperation, lending itself just as well to a creative response. That’s all a matter of perspective — and how confident you are. I would propose a litmus test for your own life: if you have options, you’re safe, and your situation is workable. If you don’t like the options you have, be creative and think of new ones. If nothing else, the astrology of the coming week or so is designed to spur you into action on some of your most meaningful goals. This can feel like having a fire lit under your ass, or it can feel like responding to the call of destiny; the choice is pretty much all yours.

Leo (July 22-Aug. 23) — Mercury has been in your sign since June 25, and it will be there through Aug 31 — longer than two months, owing to the fact that it’s about to be retrograde for the next 24 days. If I may suggest something bold, this is an excellent opportunity for you to use and develop your mind. You would be amazed how rarely this happens. If you are doing something and you encounter resistance, stop and use your mind. One thing to avoid right now is anything with the feeling of pushing a rock up a hill. If you want to accomplish something but you feel like you lack the confidence, stop and think. If you do, you’ll notice that you have more than enough experience to achieve what you want — if you remember to use what you know. The extent to which so many people forget or refuse to keep their mind in the ON position is astounding, and you will benefit handsomely from remembering.

Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22) — One key to happiness is learning from your mistakes. This is a skill in itself, and indeed it may even qualify as a talent. The extent to which you master that skill reflects how serious you are about living your life fully. Learning is one of the best ways to save time. When you have a reason to learn something, do it well: truly get a grasp of the subject matter. At the moment, I suggest you slow down where a career or professional matter is concerned, pause making decisions, and study your relationship to authority. That means people who seem to have authority in your life (including benefactors) and situations where you’re personally responsible for something. The lesson? How not to be guided by your insecurities, or said another way, how not to be afraid of yourself, or your power to make decisions. If you make a mistake, figure out what went wrong, and start over.

Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23) — First of two thoughts: I suggest you consider the value of your image. It may actually be worth something, and more meaningfully, worth something to you. How you’re perceived actually has a bearing on your life. You may be involved in a series of adjustments to make sure that how you present yourself to others is consistent with who you actually are; your current solar chart is a study in sincerity. Being authentic saves energy — a lot of it, too. Second: this is the time to appreciate your friends, and let them know how much you care about them. Of all the things or circumstances in the world that have actual meaning, the people who have demonstrated that they’re there for you are at the top of the list. Count yourself among the most fortunate people on Earth if you understand the concept ‘trust’ and if you have even one person you know in your heart is a friend.

Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22) — You can turn the mental or emotional pressure you’re feeling into a brainstorm. The psychic radar known as astrology looks like you might be stressed, even to the point of panic attacks. Don’t be fooled by the subject matter: remember that energy is energy, and the first skill of the Scorpio Jedi is directing all energy into a constructive, creative or healing force. By all energy, I mean everything from passion to anxiety, from desire to curiosity. The key is going to be remembering this when the energy manifests in some form you would not prefer — and keeping your head on. Meanwhile, I would maintain a good vibes posture. Walk away from arguments. Remind yourself how safe you are (and if you’re not, make a decision), and remember that the light you hold around yourself shines out into the world.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 22) — Your life would be a lot easier if you start from the premise that you don’t understand the changes someone else is going through. This will get your past perceptions, opinions and ideas about the relationship out of the way, and grant you the ability to do the one thing that rarely ever happens: to see someone else clearly in this moment. You may seem to be the one that’s changing, though a lot more is going on than that, no matter what anyone else may say or accuse you of. It’s way too easy to go into blame mode when it comes to intimate encounters with others, and you can do yourself a big favor by setting that aside, and noticing when others are doing it to you. In fact, you are changing, someone close to you is changing, and the whole relationship seems to be taking a step into the abyss. This will be less stressful than what you’ve been through recently.

Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20) — There’s no debate that people are free: both you and the people close to you. This is true no matter how trapped anyone may feel, by whatever they think is trapping them. I suggest you take some time over the next few weeks and consider the agreements you have with others, or what Carolyn Myss calls ‘sacred contracts’. Those are all up for review now, which does not mean cancellation but rather a clear evaluation. Consider the commitments you have to others, the commitments they have to you, and where these promises intersect with your life path. You need to ask some basic questions, such as, does this agreement serve to benefit everyone involved? Under what circumstances was the agreement made? What was its purpose and does your arrangement still serve that purpose now? This is an approximately one-month review phase, so you actually have time to think — and to feel — your way through the questions.

Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19) — It would be just brilliant if you spent some time hanging out with the idea that sex is an experiment. That’s a way of saying it’s a direct experience, driven by curiosity, which tends to have an outcome that’s uncertain till you get there. Part of the experiment is how the experience changes any of the people involved. When sex is alive within an alive relationship, that state of change is going to be pretty much continuous, and you’re about to get a taste of that. Rather than responding with the famous ‘fixity’ of Aquarius, I suggest you adapt the flexibility of Gemini and the multiple viewpoint property of Mercury. Over the next few weeks you’ll have the ability to look back over the whole story of the relationship, and the potential to work through some of the unresolved material — though as with the rest, I suggest you proceed in the spirit of an experiment.

Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20) — Take advantage of any factor you have available to make your work easier and more efficient. The place to pause is when you feel yourself exerting excess effort. The moment you get there, stop and rethink what you’re doing, and how you’re doing it. You may decide that something isn’t necessary; you may discover that you’ve already solved a problem; in some instances, changing the order in which you do a series of tasks will lead to considerably improved efficiency. There’s a deeper theme, though, which is the value of your work. If you really understood how useful what you do is, and how much what you do benefits others, you would think about it differently. You are due for a pay raise, though this isn’t the kind that’s coming from a boss or the accounting department; it’s coming from the recognition of your value, and making a series of adjustments honoring that fact.

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