As I write, Mars and Saturn continue separating from their recent conjunction at 17 degrees Scorpio – a powerful pairing worth some reflection, especially in the midst of the ongoing Uranus-Pluto square (Uranus in Mars-ruled Aries, and Pluto in Saturn-ruled Capricorn), which becomes exact again in December.
Traditional astrology considers Mars and Saturn to be the malefic planets, and looking at the disturbing and horrific stories breaking and entering the news in the last few weeks among the usual star-spangled headlines, one would be hard-pressed to argue with tradition. Mars and Saturn can be a brutal combination, especially in Mars-ruled Scorpio. Whether it’s the racial protests fueled by the murder of an unarmed teenager by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri; the beheading of American journalist James Foley and yet another execution a couple of weeks later; the ongoing crisis in Ukraine; or the violence which has killed over 2,000 people in Gaza – all of these events display the hot, fiery temper of the red planet Mars (the god of war) merged with the cold and controlled tyranny so often characteristic of Saturn. If it sounds like folks could use a large bucket of ice water dumped on them – well, that's been going on as well, oddly enough.
When Mars and Saturn were last moving together through Scorpio back in 1984, the song “People are People” by Depeche Mode aptly hit the airwaves. Anyone tuning in to popular radio would have heard the song’s famous and precisely on-point lyrics: “People are people so why should it be / you and I should get along so awfully? I can’t understand what makes a man hate another man. Help me understand.” This is the terrain of Mars-Saturn in Scorpio, which has all the charm and welcoming presence of a wrought-iron gate. One might wonder, what’s the point of a Mars-Saturn conjunction in Scorpio, especially in troubled times?
Saturn always calls us to work, and the work of Saturn in Scorpio involves the still, turbulent and tense waters of the psyche – deep and dark waters that do not easily invite the kind of poetic longings associated with Pisces, for example, or the comfort zones of Cancer. Saturn in Scorpio often has more to do with the hard reality of murky waters that conceal more than they initially reveal. When disturbed, as they have been in recent weeks, Scorpio’s treacherous waters may eventually settle, but often with the kind of eerie, un-settled silence that reminds us that everything is not exactly fine. The United States, after all, features some pretty harsh inequities, imbalances, and injustices which Saturn in Scorpio works to reveal. Thus, the work is not to achieve tranquility or peace as much as it is to peer into these still waters. Water allows reflection, and Scorpio’s still waters allow for the clearest, most precise – and often the deepest and most profoundly cutting – reflections. The work is to look, and then to unflinchingly hold your gaze. Easy? Not at all. Powerful? Absolutely.
Saturn’s transit through Scorpio has a particularly long history tied with cruel and vicious acts of racism and slavery. If you are interested in learning some of that history, it’s a portion of the talk I gave a couple of years ago: Saturn in Scorpio – In Search of Buried Treasure. With Mars-Saturn in Scorpio the work is about seeing these inequities as they are – brutal, calculated, cold and inhumane – rather than turning a blind eye, distorting them into something positive, or trying to wring some hope out of them. Remember, these are still waters we are looking into, not fun-house mirrors. No distortions. Like being locked in a staring contest with Medusa, while looking squarely at hard realities one might fear turning to stone. Difficult, but not impossible. It’s been done before.
Mel Gibson was, not all that surprisingly, born with a Mars-Saturn conjunction in Scorpio. From “Mad Max” to “Braveheart” to “The Passion of the Christ,” he has often looked directly at the kind of violent and complex dynamics Mars-Saturn in Scorpio brings forth. While his personal views reveal a psyche riddled with lethal weaponry, this is the terrain of Mars-Saturn in Scorpio, true to form, just like we have seen in recent world events. Francis Scott Key was also born with Mars-Saturn in Scorpio, and looking directly at “the rocket’s red glare” and “the bombs bursting in air” brought about lyrics that would eventually become the national anthem of the United States. We can also note that Academy Award winning movie director Anthony Minghella lived with a Mars-Saturn conjunction in Scorpio, as seen in the desperate realities depicted in movies like “The English Patient,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” and “Cold Mountain.” Reaching back to the 16th century, Saint John of the Cross also lived a life of Mars-Saturn in Scorpio, enduring relentlessly severe brutality (including imprisonment for close to a year in a ten- by six-foot cell), yet emerging with the mystical classic on transformation par excellence, “The Dark Night of the Soul.”
In Saint John we find a core component of Mars-Saturn in Scorpio: transformation. While the word “transformation” has been over-used and over-sold to the point of rendering it almost meaningless jargon, Scorpio is nevertheless a sign of transformation. Not everyone’s life reaches the extremes of Saint John’s, yet today’s world is undoubtedly a world of extremes, and one need only pay attention to know that these extremes affect us all. It’s complicated. They call for transformation. The kinds of inequities revealed by the recent events of Ferguson, Missouri, simply will not transform if we turn our gaze too quickly to other things. They may change, but they will not transform.
Transformation deepens. Transformation is a vertical move—downward, inward—as seen in the imagery of the crash-and-burn followed by the phoenix rising up from the flames. It’s a tall order. To change jobs, move to a different house or a different part of the country or world, or get a makeover (even an “extreme” makeover) – these are horizontal moves, lateral, across the surface. We can control them. To be reduced to ash, however, is an entirely different experience. It’s intense. Transformation intensifies. It gets below the surface, underneath the skin, into the unknown. It removes the fluff and the distractions, revealing something potent and essential, the essence of who we are, or the gold of alchemy, or what depth psychologist Patricia Berry describes as “the essential oil, the quintessence of one’s nature, the indelible character traits that are concealed in the dross.” This can be the essence of a person as well as a culture or an entire nation. To hold and sustain the reality of transformation to this end – to this necessary extreme – can be exceedingly difficult. In the words of depth psychologist James Hillman, “To achieve this intensity of soul, whether in an hour of analysis, in a close relationship, in language, study or art, takes as much sweat as shoveling through the stable with Hercules.”
In this extreme, Mars-Saturn in Scorpio restricts our ability to control our lives and assert our individual will. The conjunction seems to ask us to give up control without going passive. Its framework might be found in the mystical words of poet W.H. Auden:
We are lived by powers we pretend to understand:
They arrange our loves; it is they who direct at the end
The enemy bullet, the sickness, or even our hand.
Engaging these mysterious “powers” is anything but passive. They expect more of us, not less. It’s as if they give the instructions—leading us through the dark passageways of life—and best we follow. Left to our own devices, we likely won’t challenge ourselves enough, or push ourselves far enough, or we get distracted along the way. People are people, after all. We’re human. We’re not gods or goddesses. We might go the extra mile, just down an easier path than the one called for. Or we seek to control more than our due, based on extraordinarily personal biases and what we consider best for everyone. We pretend to understand the bigger picture. Yet, these powers that live us seem to understand the wisdom within transformation far better than we do. They can see things we cannot. Their moves call out our pretenses of empowerment.
“What is extraordinary and eternal does not want to be bent by us,” wrote Rilke. Existing outside of time, what is extraordinary and eternal takes more into account than we ever can and seems to know the end-goal long before we the people even have a clue of what is emerging. We must bend to the mystical laws, not expect them to bend for us. Mars-Saturn in Scorpio can have particularly unappealing ways of shoving us into the arena of transformation, much like Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games,” yet Mars-Saturn can also hold us to it – keeping us exactly where we need to be for as long as it takes to catch fire.
Returning to Depeche Mode’s question of what makes a man hate another man – who knows!? It’s one of those burning questions people have always asked and have never been able to answer adequately. It’s archetypal. Asking is the important part. Asking gets underneath the happier or indifferent surfaces of life. In Greek myth, one cannot enter the Underworld (the realm of Soul) without first crossing the river Styx – with Styx meaning “the Hateful” – showing us that hatred, too, is archetypal, an essential quality of soul that one cannot avoid. Love may not actually be all we need after all. Back, again, in 1984, when Mars was conjunct Saturn in Scorpio, Tina Turner re-emerged like a phoenix from the flames of her former life, singing with hard-earned wisdom, “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” Certainly a far cry from today’s anthem of denial, Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.” Given the state of the world since the start of the Uranus-Pluto squares a couple of years ago, and the subdued aftermath of the recent Mars-Saturn conjunction in Scorpio and its resulting headlines, excessive happiness is an awkward response, as is the same headlines quickly becoming yesterday's news. They require another look, a deeper look. Depth psychologist Lyn Cowan notes that, “Hatred is the proper and inevitable response to injustice.” That sounds like a response a Mars-Saturn conjunction in Scorpio, with all of its jagged and multi-faceted complexities – no easy answers and no obvious solutions – can dig into. Expressed carelessly, it can be a horrific and destructive response; expressed adequately, it can be a profound catalyst for transformation.