This article first appeared in Towards 2012 part III: Culture & Language (The Unlimited Dream Company, 1997).
Tracking the Fundamentalist Virus
There will be much written by astrologers in the coming years about the shifts involving Pluto’s passage into Sagittarius and Uranus’ synchronization in Aquarius, hopefully revealing specific and hereto unknown elements in the larger interactive paradigm shifts now occurring. You read that correctly: interactive paradigm shifts. Not one shift but many. To assume only one paradigm shift is occurring or about to occur expresses a naiveté common to fundamentalist thinking and, lest we forget, all minds are susceptible to fundamentalism; there are no exceptions. This distinctly human tendency to confuse personal truth for absolute truth appears in all branches of religion, hard and soft sciences, philosophy, astrology, psychology, small businesses, corporate mergers, advanced computer technology, poetry, music, medicine, government, romance, family life, popular entertainment and the imaginal realm of mind itself. Like a free-floating virus, fundamentalism pervades the universal terrain of the human psyche. The real question remains one of awareness and identification. What does it look like and how can one tell when one is infected?
Like most viruses, the Fundamentalist Virus (FV) is as easy to contract as inhaling. Unlike biological viruses, FV is formless and invisible. Using a contemporary term the FV acts like a virtual virus, its effects far more palpable than its cause. In this increasingly mental era of mass media consumption—where ‘virtual’, or simulated, realities take on the look, feel, and sound of the ‘real’ reality they represent—a virtual virus presents a potent challenge to consumer sanity, decision-making and quality of life. What, you may be asking, does all this have to do with astrology? That depends on whether you use the language to merely confirm personal dogmas or whether we interact with its symbology in a divinatory manner to decode the forces at work—in particular, Uranus and Pluto—and where they might be going. I do not believe these planets cause any collective shifts or personal changes. I can, however, envision their effects mytho-poetically as angelic hosts heralding the timing of a cacophonous pageantry that some call ‘Millennium Madness’.
The mutual shifts of Pluto and Uranus coincide for about a decade starting January 13, 1996. Thanks to recent advances in media technology, most people will view the results from the comfort of their own homes via mass media transmissions in newspapers, magazines, local and satellite television, radio, online Internet services and their numerous offshoots. One can sometimes scry the immediate future in those images attached to new releases from media prophets inside the popular music (rock stars) and film industries (producers, directors and movie stars). Or, with a little courage and imagination, access the shift from within…
To ride the crest of these shifting waves one must invariably undergo some kind of conversion from passively absorbing external media to actively creating your own. As a passive audience engages more active modes of participation, consumers eventually graduate to the status of producers. As passive media consumption enters a stage of hypersaturation, an immense output and production of ‘alternative media’ floods the marketplace with new publications, video games, independent films, interactive CD ROMs and a plethora of knowledge appliances and electronic toys. Electronic media technology has already progressed to the point where almost anybody can afford a computer, a video camera and the editing systems to create their own media. The Information Age of the eighties is being rendered obsolete by the nineties’ Media Age, a hyper-time/cyberspace navigated by everyone from high-end corporate levels down to the grassroots immediacy of intermedia activism.
In this exciting and sometimes terrifying era, I view Pluto in Sagittarius as a time period exposing, what I referred to earlier as, the fundamentalist virus (FV) through religious revivalism, public education reforms and mass media. I’m seeing Uranus in Aquarius as a parallel duration heralding the Media Age and its collective ‘mediarchies of consumers and producers’. That these two astrological forces share a sextile aspect suggests they are in communication. As these forces interact and contribute to the fabric of even larger collective shifts, astrologers everywhere scramble for clues to interpret them and that is what we’ll begin right after this important review.
Pluto In Scorpio: When Death, Sex and Crime Came to Town
I’ve come to understand the plutonic force as a kind of ‘X-ray’ process for exposing what has become corrupt, outdated and otherwise stagnant for the ultimate purpose of its extraction and release. And, all this towards inevitable rebirth. Personal Pluto transits, for example, often coincide with those time periods where we are somehow forced to encounter obsolete and dying elements in our lives that demand a certain surrender on our part and usually a surrender of attachment to false control. Under Pluto transits, we either let go of our attachment to the dead and the dying, or undergo considerable suffering until we do. (For more details, read the two chapters ‘On Surviving Pluto Transits’ in my book, Letters, Essays & Premonitions).
On the collective level, in the last eleven years Pluto swept through Scorpio with its X-ray into the human realms of sex, death and crime. The AIDS epidemic, for example, has been in existence far longer than eleven years but it wasn’t until Pluto entered Scorpio that it surfaced with such it surfaced with such relentless ferocity. (Note: though the virus is transmitted sexually, AIDS is not a sexual disease but an immune system deficiency syndrome). Violent crime has existed forever yet its public exposure has significantly accelerated over the last eleven years. From actual street and/or domestic violence to the infiltration of virtual ‘terror memes’ in the entertainment industries (music, film, video, video games, etc.), human violence underwent significant exposure to the collective while Pluto passed through Scorpio. Homosexuality and bisexuality are also as old as human nature yet during Pluto’s passage through Scorpio they ‘came out’ as overt sociopolitical forces with voting clout and massive community support.
What surfaced during Pluto in Scorpio was not just more sex, death, and crime but our young society’s naive assumptions around these human realities and the outdated attitudes and misinformed behaviors maintaining them. Plutonic aftershocks remain the most active in those sectors of the collective and personal psyche still resisting surrender to the awareness of everyday realities of death, loss and human sexual response. In a shamanic sense, the plutonic force catalyzes an initiatic state wherein a specific naiveté is exposed and its assumptions punctured. Thereafter, true innocence can no longer be defined as the ignorant denial of life but the result of moving deeper and deeper still into the heart of human experience.
Pluto in Sagittarius: Seeing Through the Lies
The astrological archetype of Sagittarius and its native Ninth House bears many attributes, all of which emerge from the core experience of human faith and those experiences that elicit faith, as well as those which dispel that faith for the experience of still ‘greater truths’. In other words, Sagittarius represents the quest for direct knowledge of truth no matter what one must do to experience it. "Truth at all costs" is very Sagittarian, as is the readiness to release one set of beliefs for another in the face of ‘a greater truth’. The Sagittarian quest for truth is never-ending, infusing this archetype with a restless wanderlust. Anyone with a preponderance of natal Sagittarius and/or Ninth House forces lives with that restlessness and must give form to its inherent quest, lest fall prey to the fundamentalist dilemma of misdirecting security needs to the winged realms of perception, i.e., seeing only that which supports one’s set beliefs and that which is known and familiar to oneself.
As Pluto’s X-ray sweeps through Sagittarius, it begins exposing society’s outdated beliefs and assumptions about the basis of all learning: direct perception and the will to see things as they are. Expect the next ten years or so to bring more disclosure of corruption and obsolete dogmas buried deep in the public education systems, the mass media and the world’s religious institutions, all of which require tremendous faith from the public-at-large—the collective—to survive.
Pluto in Sagittarius represents a collective crisis in faith and a duration where people are more ready to see through what has been taken for granted as ‘the truth’. Brace yourselves. Pluto in Sagittarius exposes the extent society has been living a lie on the most rudimentary levels of human cultural experience. Unlike Pluto in Scorpio with its relentless onslaught of bad news, bad karma and bad debts, the ultimate aim of Pluto in Sagittarius is freedom from the very lies that made that ignorance possible. This freedom does not come without its costs, however. To determine your own losses, make a list of all the things you were told (by parents, teachers, clergy, government, mass media) you could have or secure that you have since lost or had to give up or never attained in the first place. Make another list of promises offered by the "American Dream" as you see it. Make a third list of all the things you have faith in because you believe they are true. Draw this third list up with a pencil and an eraser.
Uranus in Aquarius: Taking Back the Air Waves
There’s something about ‘liberation at the collective level’ that I read with Uranus tumbling through Aquarius, yet we must look closer at current cultural values to ascertain what type of ‘liberation’ this means. As I see it, we live in a materialistic culture of tremendous underlying social conformity that naturally gives rise to a widespread compulsion to act unique and ‘different’. In such a culture, it is easy to see how liberation might be associated as much with attaining some fame as it is with getting rich. Yet as many famous people in the Media Age realize, big fame rarely means big wealth. The phenomena of fame has never been as fickle and promiscuous, hopping in and out of bed with each ‘flavor of the week’. It’s just too easy to become a little famous these days. Of course, there are exceptions.
The very rich and very famous late media prophet Andy Warhol proclaimed that we live in a time where everybody will be famous for at least fifteen minutes. Warhol saw what was coming and was ahead of his times with that statement. What determines fame in the Media Age is, for the most part, media coverage; the more press, the more fame. Fame is rapidly becoming a simulated or, virtual reality inasmuch as it can be so easily built, broken down and manipulated. Money, too, will go the way of digitization as corporate-run governments phase out the use of cash altogether with a debit (plastic) system for maintaining its society’s commercial interests.
As media production and distribution become more available (read affordable) to the masses, the phenomena of fame and public recognition can escalate immeasurably and unpredictably. In the Media Age we automatically project value on somebody’s reputation or work or image merely by having ‘heard of them’ or ‘seen their name around’ without ever having experienced the actual work or person represented. Many people are already famous for things most people don’t have a clue about, i.e., the Charo syndrome. Though short-lived and shallow, public projection and simulation of one’s ‘fame’ can act as a measure of some liberation to many Americans oppressed by homogeneous values. The American Dream has always shown deep fascination for celebrity life if only to bring us closer to our own starstruck fantasies; we are fascinated with ourselves. The means for ‘producing stars’ now avails itself to anybody with enough drive, money and talent for getting away with it.
"Reality Is Whatever You Can Get Away With"
The above quote is from a screenplay/book by my friend and iconoclastic author, Robert Anton Wilson, and is a fairly accurate philosophical footnote for the Media Age. One unfortunate side-effect of the massive influx of both traditional and alternative media is that, as a people, we have become heavy media users and addicts. To find out how deeply you depend on media try moving or visiting or vacationing any near-wilderness region that severely limits the influx of today’s news, mass media and entertainment. (This is part of my reason for choosing to reside in Port Townsend, a seaside village of 10,000, after six exhilarating yet media-saturated years in Seattle.) You soon discover just which sound-bytes, pixilated images and virtual data you absolutely cannot live without. Go cold turkey and expose your ‘media dogmas’.
Heavy media addiction to virtual information systems eventually produces an overall effect of relinquishing the real time one used to share with actual people. For all its promises of ‘interactiveness’ the Media Age sells a sophisticated package of extended social isolation and ‘cocooning’ (an advertising term to describe a strident home-based consumer trend) by giving people more ‘reasons’ to stay at home. Home entertainment centers, desktop work stations, and home shopping (via TV) are some of many consumer investments of time, energy and income just to remain indoors where personal control and home security is assured. Or, is it? Will people grow more paranoid over years of extended cocooning coupled by the belief they are safe from the "dangerous, crime-riddled world" outside? Think about this.
How this stands amidst the restless inquiry of Pluto through Sagittarius remains to be seen. Ironically, the irrepressible human need for real connection may require from these forms of domestic isolation the necessary pressure to re-emerge in greater force, value and impact than before. Sometimes, the greatest changes and revolutions can only occur during those periods of the most obvious limitation to personal freedom and the creative imagination. The reign of Richard Nixon comes to mind, as do the American political elections of 1996 and, if I might say something crazy enough to perhaps become true, the cultivation of Rush Limbaugh for the US presidency in the year 2000. Of course, sane people everywhere do not want this but we may need it to kick down the doors and convene in the streets, again.
Mental Illness, the 21st Century Bubonic Plague
The interaction between Plutonic and Uranian energies seems most striking in the controversial arena of mental health. Psychotherapy and related information services will probably skyrocket as media addicts struggle to sort through subjective impressions of the virtual and the real. Which is which?! For many it will already be too late. By the late nineties, it’s entirely plausible that online Internet-type communications will have become so commonplace as to replace most telephone services, letter-writing, and other forms of personal transaction. Online addicts fulfill their primary communication needs online, depending less and less on the real connections with actual people. Watch for the emergence of psychological hybrids of schizophrenia, autism and paranoid delusions of grandeur, in addition to new lines of pharmaceuticals manufactured to soften that 21st century online psychotic edge…
Picture millions of minds, ‘live and online’—converted to data, voice commands and the manipulation of digital imagery—and you may bear witness to a heightened state of mass hallucination. Virtual communication games can be fascinating unto death with their endless possibilities and the imminent mysteries of genderless, ageless, casteless, raceless, odorless, tasteless, communion with pure characterless energy. I can’t help but think about the risk to losing touch with one’s feelings during extended online use, believing the virtual to be real. "Breakfast of Paranoids," I say…
Granted, the beginning stages exploring any new technology requires a fundamental (and perhaps fundamentalist) immersion and self-absorption. The passage of Pluto through Sagittarius may symbolize a watermark for human consciousness to go "where no man has gone before" pushing the envelopes of ‘inner space’ virtual reality programming and ‘outer space’ colonization of the Moon and Mars. If the world’s military powers haven’t monopolized outer space yet, perhaps we’ll see free-enterprise space stations mining precious ore on the asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter, with transport provided by civilian-owned commuter spacecraft. Who knows? Things may really pick up with the first media-sanctioned, government-approved extra-terrestrial visitation. Whether the aliens are for real or the product of government-manufactured simulations, may not matter as much as the shock either could deliver to jumpstart collective consciousness towards inter-species survival at this time.
Modern Scapegoat Rituals
For as long as there have been tribes among people, one curious ritual persists to meet the primitive human need for sacrifice. The ritual of the scapegoat or the practice of vicarious suffering. From the ancient goat-man-god ritual sacrifice to the Goddess to modern-day celebrities shot down for impersonating the gods, scapegoat rituals have bonded and divided tribes from the beginning of time yet no other ritual remains more misunderstood.
There is a collective human need to transcend pain and suffering. Scapegoat rituals temporarily satisfy this primitive need by transferring the accumulating pain of a group or tribe onto an object, an animal, another human being and entire races of human beings in a powerful act of contagious magic. Like a virus, it is contagious when it spreads upon contact. Even though the forms of these rituals change, their underlying function remains the same: to provide a tribe with a vehicle or medium to pour their demons into. A tribe’s demons are made up of the accumulating force and pressures of their people’s fears, guilts, taboos and hatreds. A scapegoat is any object, animal or human being that looks and acts like the demon that tribe is seeking release from.
As people become more "civilized", through the repression and/or transmutation of our more "primitive" needs and aspects of ourselves, these needs find their way into our lives and the lives of others in more "subconscious" ways. In other words, no matter how psychologically sanitized or "clear" we hope to become we still need our scapegoats. If we are not engaging this ritual consciously and with purpose, it will happen like a knee-jerk reflex when somebody presses those buttons. The problem with "knee-jerk scapegoat rituals" is they’re prone to persecute living human beings. NOTICE: The scapegoat doesn’t have to be a person or an entire race of people or a planet yet how often have we seen this happen? Here in the 21st century post-Information Media Age, it seems that modern scapegoat rituals have been smokescreened, "virtualized and digitized" by and through the mass media itself.
The passage of Pluto through Sagittarius symbolizes, to this astrologer, a decade or so (1995-2006) symbolizing two basic levels of collective media transformation. First and foremost is the disclosure of corruption and decay in all public education systems. This very broad area not only includes public schools but universities and their extensions into mass media, corporate advertising, the government propaganda machine and, how all of this interacts with online global communication systems. It is important to understand how "media" is a very small word symbolizing very expansive (Sagittarian) states. By my guesstimation, we have already left the so-called Information Age behind and are rapidly approaching the saturation point of a new era I’ll call "Mass Mediarchy".
The second level of collective transformation involves media rebirth. Symptoms of media rebirth have already appeared in the film, music and publishing industries with the emergence of more independent media producers functioning autonomously of the more mainstream media systems. Media rebirth can happen anywhere media consumption reaches its hyper-saturation point—in an individual or a collective—and starts its conversion from mere consumption of media to its translation and finally, its regurgitation and transmission into something different. The key to media rebirth is in your imaginative translation of media.
If you cannot translate the information you are absorbing, you will continue eating it until you shut down from information overdose, media numbness and eventually: imagination death. Media overconsumption—consuming without translation—is a very dangerous thing and makes scapegoats of us all. It is fatal insofar as imagination is necessary to media translation, which it is; very much so. Without a healthy imagination, media translation may be impossible. There are infinitely more media consumers than media producers in this country due, in part, to a widespread epidemic of imagination loss and soul death. Part of the problem may’ve begun in a public’s longstanding passive habit of consuming spoonfed answers by corporate advertisers and politicians which have, in turn, encouraged that public (that’s us, folks) to continue spoonfeeding others. We are babies feeding babies in the Media Age and it is time to toilet-train ourselves.
The Imaginative Intelligence of the Plutonic Force
To understand the more esoteric meanings underlying the archetype of Scorpio/Pluto, I suggest Paul Foster Case’s book, The Tarot (MACOY Publishing, Richmond VA; 1975) where, in his chapter discussing "key 13: death", he associates the Scorpionic death/rebirth process to the Hebrew letter Nun. Case goes on to say how "Imaginative Intelligence is the mode of consciousness attributed the letter Nun … and … that the choice of the adjective "imaginative" is in accordance with the doctrine of Ageless Wisdom that causation is mental." He adds: "All changes are primarily changes in mental imagery; change the image, and ultimately the external form will change."
Change the image and ultimately the external form will change. It doesn’t say absorb or become the image but change the image. Imagination could be a word to describe that image-changing process in our psyches capable of forming visions, telling stories, creating myths and even making our own media. As a media culture, we are extremely sophisticated in our tastes for entertainment and the kinds of images we consume and identify with. In many instances—such as with the rigid family values and fixed behavior standards set on many television sitcoms and drama shows—our lives are subliminally influenced to conform to inane and incredibly stupid definitions of what it means to be a human being. Dumb, Dumber, Dumbest. Without the imaginative intelligence to translate, regurgitate and reproduce the media we passively consume not only is media rebirth unlikely, so is our own rebirth unlikely.
Pluto in Sagittarius represents a time period of mind-boggling expansion in not just more media to eat—there will always be too much—but also the means to create our own media through publishing, music production, film and video, CD ROM and Virtual Reality technologies, online newsletters, and the myriad art forms now interfacing with science. As people take back the air waves and manage their own media, that crossover from consumption to production catalyzes the collective transformation Pluto in Sagittarius symbolizes. As a planet, Pluto does not cause this change; as astrologers, we must stop spoonfeeding ourselves these lies. We cause this change together during what astrology calls Pluto’s passage through Sagittarius. To me, astrology is far more useful as a measure of timing than "a system of causes."
Thought Control, Media & Propaganda
As a symbol unto itself, Pluto in Sagittarius might also reflect a process of thought (Sagittarius) control (Pluto); specifically, a time period when the collective is ready for more disclosure of externally imposed thought control. In his collection of interviews, entitled, STENOGRAPHERS TO POWER: Media & Propaganda (Common Courage Press; Monroe, ME; 1992), media activist David Barsamian argues convincingly for the immediate disclosure of numerous ways in which mass media has been used by corporate agencies for exercising thought control in America since the early part of this century.
Noam Chomsky, one of those interviewed, suggests: "…in a state where government can’t control the people by force it had better control what they think…" When Chomsky speaks of the public school systems, he says: "They are institutions for indoctrination, for imposing obedience, for blocking the possibility of independent thought, and they plan an institutional role in a system of control and coercion. Real schools ought to provide people with techniques of self-defense, but that would mean teaching the truth about the world and about society, and schools couldn’t survive very long if they did that." Pluto in Sagittarius may introduce an era where the collective becomes a little more ready to learn the truth about the world and about society.
The archetype of Sagittarius the Archer relates to what Paul Foster Case calls "Tentative Intelligence" or "Intelligence of Probation or Trial" and is symbolized by key #14, Temperance. The multiple coincidence, or synchronicity, shared in the timing between the asteroid (not comet) that hit Jupiter and the preliminary O.J. Simpson trials expresses this Sagittarian / Jupiterian principle in action. With so much exaggerated focus on the O.J. Simpson debacle, the media itself went on trial as much as the accused. I can’t remember a more blatant demonstration of media hype, distortion and self-aggrandizement! Does mass media pick and choose its scapegoats and if not, then who? In this era of dying gods and goddesses, celebrities have become the new sacrificial lambs and the mass media, the sacrificial arena itself. It’s time we turned the tables and started a revolution. I can think of no better way than scapegoating the mass media itself.
Scapegoat the Mass Media
As mentioned earlier, the function of a scapegoat is to satisfy the age-old human need for sacrifice by the projection of collective pain and suffering onto an object, an animal, another person or a group of people. Since I cannot in good conscience condone the scapegoating of any animal, person or collective I cheerfully resort to that object out there which looks and acts most like the demon my people are seeking release from. What better scapegoat for pouring our collective demons into than the mass media itself? How does one scapegoat the media? With his controversial film Natural Born Killers, Oliver Stone lambasted the mass media, blasting image after blasted image towards the media itself. Of course not everyone saw the film this way; it can be confusing to watch a form of media—in this instance film—attacking the artillery of mass media itself—which also includes the medium of film. The part of me that enjoyed this film the most was that element in my own nature that had not become an image yet, was in a sense "concept-free", and grateful for it. Natural Born Killers almost forces you into a concept-free zone, if only to psychically survive its onslaught of contracting and exploding images. This movie made me happy to realize I was not an image but a real, living human being. From this vantage I saw countless images—not people or animals or species—destroyed, disintegrated and otherwise atomized in a nonstop iconoclastic and masterful phantasmagoria. This film could act as a kind of litmus test to measure the degree the viewer has so identified with an image, any image, that he or she forgets who they really are.
Many are the ways to scapegoat the mass media. For starters, turn off the TV. Break trance. Create your own media. Make trance. Produce more media than you’re currently consuming. Reimagine everything you see on TV. Break trance. Stop your cocooning. Get out into the streets, again. Talk amongst yourselves. Listen to international news on a short wave radio. Really listen to each other. Make a movie with your friends. Start a newsletter. Get your imaginations back. Take an artist out to lunch. Stop mainlining the online. Make real connections with people. Turn off the TV. Break trance. Make trance. Create your own media. Do it now. Imagination death precedes death of soul.