by Tony Howard
This Interview was first published in the December 2010 issue of The Mountain Astrologer magazine
Born in 1968, I’ve been endlessly fascinated with that iconic time period that left its imprint on my birth chart. I made its study a main focus in college, and have continued to be inspired by the many revolutions – both individual and collective – that were exploding with energy then, and now. We are experiencing a cultural revisiting of that energy in the current times that feels palpable, and viewed through the lens of astrological analysis we can verify the connection.
Richard Tarnas’ groundbreaking Cosmos & Psyche is a monumental contribution to current astrological discourse. And one of its most exciting lines of thought is that of diachronic cycles. Tarnas identifies these as any two time periods linked by a similarly referential astrological cycle, which can be analyzed sequentially throughout history. When we look back, we see a dialogue that arises, linking the birth of a woman in one cycle, to the birth of her great work in the next cycle; linking the spark of a new idea in one cycle, to a full social movement in the next.
Right now we are in the midst of such a dialogue between the Jupiter-Uranus conjunction cycle of 1968-69 and that of 2010-2011. Among other things we could say, these are cycles of revolution – in thought, body and spirit.
The generation born during the late 60s burns with the mark of that energy and we have been charged with furthering the goals laid out by the revolutionaries of those times. And since we now have the insight to use astrology as a roadmap to decipher the way forward, one clear place we can look for answers is to those who truly lived the revolution in the previous cycles. Those feisty few who have maintained that spirit can now be mentors to those of us now carrying the same torch, furthering the goals of freedom and individuation expressed through the Uranian archetype.
Jessica Murray is one such mentor in the astrological community. Murray was born in 1951 in Nyack, New York. She became involved with Students for a Democratic Society while an undergraduate at Brown University. Frustrated by the sexism within the anti-Vietnam War movement as well as the need for more female faculty members at Brown, Murray joined the emerging Women's Movement. In 1973 she helped found the Rhode Island Feminist Theater, where she acted and wrote plays collaboratively. In 1975 Murray moved to San Francisco. Since then she has practiced and taught astrology.
As the themes from the previous cycle of 1968-69 are re-embodied, re-visioned, and re-illuminated in new ways during the current cycle, Jessica's experience is like a living embodied portal that connects these two moments in time. By thinking about her role, past and present, as a political activist (Jessica works with International ANSWER, an organization dedicated to ending war and racism) and her new role as mentor and teacher, we can consider the ways in which the past informs and is in living dialogue with the future.
Tony Howard: Jessica where were you in 1967, just before the start of what Erin Sullivan jokingly calls the "Eighteen months that were the 60's"?
Jessica Murray: I was 16 then. I spent that year in Hong Kong, where my father was teaching. Being in that unlikely place, at that historical moment, gave me a sense of my American-ness, and it had a radicalizing effect. Hong Kong was still a British Crown Colony at the time. I was the independent-minded American bucking the stuffy, rule-bound Brits. At the high school I went to, they penalized me for putting my hands into my pockets during morning assembly. In retrospect I can see that I was watching the last gasp of the Old Order, in more ways than one. I was exposed to the world’s last empire (England) flailing in its death throes, against the backdrop of the early sixties morphing into the late sixties.
The middle of the decade was the dividing line. The early sixties were more like the 50s: Jackie Kennedy as fashion icon, helmet hairdos glued together with hairspray, fear-and-loathing of sex, lynchings in the hinterlands. “The sixties” really began in 1965 and ’66, under the Uranus-Pluto conjunction opposite Saturn.
TH: Did you participate in any of the revolutionary movements of the 60s?
JM: I was in out of the country during that singular, pivotal window of time when Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were shot. Those assassinations hit me in the gut, though at the time I didn’t know why; I didn’t understand my distress. My family wasn’t political, my environment hadn’t given me any framework to understand my society in this way. But when I got back to the USA I found there were anti-war groups even in the cornfields of Illinois, where I was living. I started working for George McGovern’s presidential campaign.
TH: Were you already studying astrology then?
JM: It wasn’t until the mid-seventies that I discovered astrology. My growth arc was that I started out in a left-brain environment -- one that prided itself on rejecting all things spiritual -- and then plunged into mysticism when the late sixties bloomed into the seventies. It was in the 1970s that what we call “the 60s” played themselves out.
TH: How did you make the shift to astrology as a career choice?
JM: I came to San Francisco during the magic years of the mid-70s. It was a creative free-for-all, and a locus for social activism; flower children hanging out in the park, philosophical discussions in cafés. Everyone seemed conversant in astrology; it was the lingua franca of displaced hippies. I was smitten. Here was a magnificent spiritual cosmology that was coherent and all-encompassing. I started doing charts for friends, and then, tremulously, charging for them; but I didn’t think in terms of it being an actual job until the 80s. Only then did material concerns swing back into vogue.
So it was a unique time to encounter astrology, much less harsh in terms of career expectations and economic stresses than the environment young astrologers find themselves in today. But then, they’re wired to thrive in this time, the way my generation was wired for our era.
TH: Wired to thrive in what ways? Are you referring to any collective generational astrological configurations?
JM: I was referring to the general idea that souls incarnate into a particular era as part of their soul plan; that the epoch we are born into is every bit as meaningful as the day or hour. Our generation shows what the world needs us for, and what we need the collective for – both its benefits and its crises.
Also, yes, we can see generational mandates in natal charts, such as outer planet placements in certain signs; for example, my generation had Uranus in Cancer, rebellion against the nuclear family.
And we can look at the long-running aspects that set generations apart. For example, the babies born during Uranus-Pluto conjunction opposite Saturn in the mid-‘60s are the embodiments of the counter-culture that sprang up when my generation was in young adulthood. This suggests they have an innate understanding of those explosive values. They aren’t acting it out in the way we did, because they have it in their blood; which is appropriate because, now, forty-five years later, the world is at a different place. The crises that were being seeded back then are now in full bloom. We baby boomers were active in those years, but the mid-60s babies are of those years.
Another obvious example is the generation born under the conjunction of Uranus and Neptune in the early 90s: the ultimate signature of cyber-nativity. They were not only born into a digital world but astrologically wired to think in digital terms.
TH: Who were your first astrology teachers and how did your education at Brown inform your approach?
JM: I studied conventional psychology in college, thinking—as so many Plutonian searchers do – that it would be about the mysteries of the human mind. Only in Carl Jung did I find this. Later I joined an experimental theatre group that used Jungian archetypes as a jumping off point: we worked with the language of fairy tales. This opened my mind to ancient and universal ways of seeing reality. Then I encountered Dane Rudhyar. His ideas sealed the deal.
TH: Getting into the diachronic cycles, right now we are in the midst of this fascinating dialogue between the Jupiter-Uranus conjunction cycle of 1968-69 and that of 2010-2011. Without yet getting into the ways the two periods are clearly marked by additional forces that differentiate them, I'd like to look at their commonalities. Jupiter-Uranus brings to mind the idea of revolution in a way that is expansive, exciting and explosive. We can clearly see that energy if we look back to the time that gave birth to Woodstock and enlivened the civil rights and anti-war movements, among others. As one who is carrying the flame of that time and can now pass it on to those of us in whom that seed of revolution is ripening, what advice and insights do you have to share?
JM: Yes, and we need to see the concept of “revolution” in archetypal terms in order to see the parallels. Uranian “revolution” is about more than politics. Right now it’s primarily about information exchange. Technology has democratized communication and data access (net neutrality is the quintessential symbol of this); and it has also revolutionized the way people think and learn (Jupiter). It isn’t just the habits and interests of cyber-natives, but their mental patterns, too, that are wildly different from those of older generations. The increased availability of almost unlimited information is the Uranus-Jupiter blessing; AND is its curse. Neurologists are finding that multi-tasking and speed -- the speed with which information is coming at us these days -- are showing up in changes in the physical structure of the brain.
In terms of collective ideas, the public arena is once again on fire (Aries). This time round, though, it is happening against the backdrop of epochal breakdown; as indicated by the Cardinal transits surrounding 2012 (which are being particularly hard on the US [Sibley] chart). So it has a very dark edge. Most obviously we see this in the raucousness of the public conversation: in the polarization and extremism of politicians and pundits, in the sophisticated manipulations of advertising, and in the exorbitant scale (Jupiter/Uranus) of entertainments such as blockbuster movies and stadium concerts. Everything is big, extreme, urgent and rushed. Uranus gets humanity’s attention by shocking it with outlandish spectacles, and Jupiter exaggerates it.
As with the last time Uranus and Jupiter conjoined, society is reeling with crises; structures are falling apart; the tried-and-true is under siege. And in the chaos, new ideas are buzzing around – a lot of them self-serving and reactive, born of panic – while others of them are ingenious (Uranus). I believe everyone knows in their bones that we’re on the cusp of the ages. In the previous Jupiter-Uranus period, I remember feeling exhilarated; it was very exciting. There is even more reason to feel that way now - now that the stakes are higher. There’s a sense that we don’t have much time. In the 60s the looming dread was of the atomic bomb; now it’s environmental degradation, happening faster than anyone would have thought possible.
Although the issues were different, we had a similar mix of ideologues and true visionaries who grabbed the mike. There’s always a bell curve in human groups - a bell curve of awareness. Where there is crisis, geniuses and lunatics come out of the woodwork. So now, in this time of ecological calamity, we have advanced thinkers stepping forward with ideas about clean fuel, sustainable agriculture, ecological building methods. And the forces of reaction – clinging with fear to the old ways -- are over-the-top, just as they were back then. In 2010, there is a more entrenched concentration of wealth and power into a tinier segment of the population than there was, making social change very tricky; but on the other hand there is less naïvete in the general public about the plutocratic nature of things.
TH: Can you envision a way that a breakthrough could happen? And is one potential of Pluto in Capricorn that those with the wealth and power get an even stronger grip on it? (But let’s not vote for that!)
JM: Yes, Pluto exposes entrenched corruption and decay, so that whatever is rotting can eventually be replaced with something new and workable. So this is what we see happening to all things Capricornian: authoritative institutions like government, and financial networks. That first step, of revealing what’s old and nonviable, puts right out front all the toxicity that’s been accumulating. When Pluto went into Capricorn in 2008 the banking industry was unveiled, its tricks revealed. And as you suggest, the old guard is not exactly bowing out gracefully. Whatever’s on the way out does tend to get more extreme; entities can get ugly as they die. The 1% of humanity who own most of the world’s wealth are not going to give it up voluntarily. They are becoming more brazen in their power-mongering, until there is a systems collapse. Since Pluto’s ingress in 2008, financial inequities between the haves and have-nots have been growing exponentially all over the world. This is a long, painful process of breakdown that has to happen if there is to be breakthrough.
TH: What energy do you feel was birthed in the cycle of 1968-69, that is ready to expand even more now?
JM: It’s as if the 60s transits broke through the crust of the terrain and now the shovel is digging deeper down – and it’s not a shovel any more, but a bulldozer.
People’s understanding about the impact of human systems on the environment started to quicken back then. My generation wasn’t introduced to the idea of an Earth in peril; we were taught that industry meant progress. Pollution was barely mentioned. In the 1950s we learned it wasn’t nice to litter, and that was about it - that was the extent of our environmental consciousness. Then the back-to-the-Earth movement arose, as part of a mass youth egress from materialism. Middle-class young people started vacating the suburbs and moving to farming communes. It was beautifully idealistic, though it was mostly a personal lifestyle choice, ungrounded in what we now think of ecological theory.
But then people started doing their homework, the scientific community contributed some bone-chilling facts and figures, and an awareness came into being about the economic and political forces behind global pollution. The environmental movement was born. Which is more than a movement: it’s really the crux of humanity’s burgeoning awareness of itself.
And I think there was a more general radicalizing that had its spark back then. The idea arose that ordinary people (Uranus) had the right – even the obligation – to question old, taken-for-granted ideas and institutions (e.g. patriotism, the Pentagon, corporations). It was revelatory, at the time. This degree of free speech and freedom of thought had almost no precedent in the 1950s. When I was growing up, the only role models I had for rebellion were Marlon Brando in his black motorcycle jacket, and the beatniks. Now, the public has given itself the license to reject authoritative institutions without a second thought (a dangerous proposition, when ignorance and fear are in the mix. Take the Tea Partiers: they’re bankrolled by oil billionaires but fancy themselves anti-establishment. In their misreading of American history, they’d dismantle the separation of church and state, among other aberrations).
During the late 60s there was a sudden mass questioning of everything previous generations had held sacred: patriotism, sexuality, the nuclear family, the subservience of young people to their elders. All of those institutions are now being called to account in such a way that it makes that earlier period seem meek by comparison.
Again, though, it is not a question of evaluating this development as “good” or “bad”. Outer planets like Uranus and Pluto are extreme; their transits trigger brilliance, when used consciously, and craziness when used without awareness.
Now all our formerly sacrosanct institutions are getting thrashed in the court of public opinion, and are crumbling from their own corruption and obsolescence (Pluto squaring Uranus). The Catholic Church is fighting for its life; in the USA, distrust of government has grown into a movement; the military has fallen from its pedestal and the ways of big business have been exposed. People are far less naïve, not only about these institutions specifically, but about the propaganda engines – advertising, for example – that used to keep them above question.
TH: Yes I agree that people are far less naïve, and at the same time, it seems that many folks are in deep denial. But I suppose that is a sort of hangover from the 50s as well…
JM: Yes, denial is huge right now -- especially in the USA, given the Neptune-Chiron conjunction on the US (Sibley) Moon. The American populace has been afraid and impressionable – that’s Neptune -- vulnerable to grand-scale charlatanism. Chiron tips us to the sense of helplessness that we are feeling as old sureties crumble under this Cardinal transit cycle, with the Uranus-Pluto square building. Where there is collective pain (Chiron) there is a desire to target scapegoats (Neptune). The Tea Party thing got going in early 2009 when the conjunction hit the national Moon, and they’ve made incumbent politicians the scapegoat.
What’s interesting is there was a tense moment there, just after the bailouts, when the potential existed for all that “Main Street” anger to be aimed at corporations, not government. The deeper truth was just about to explode, about the plutocracy we live in: how the system is rigged to support a tiny corporate minority, with government support. But just in time (from their perspective), the powers that be, such as the billionaire Koch Brothers and their cohorts, glimpsed this potential and averted it, using Fox Nets as their propaganda organ.
Right now, the genuine rebelliousness that was simmering within the Tea Party platform has been co-opted. The narrative has reverted back to the conventional Left-vs.-Right scenario rather than the top-vs.-bottom scenario which is how the country is really structured. But the drama is far from over. The Uranus-Pluto T-square to the US chart is just getting started.
TH: What could this new generation of activists and revolutionaries learn from the previous generation?
JM: That’s an interesting question. I don’t know if there’s any prophylactic for youthful folly, which was definitely part of it. Some of us had a wild expectation in the 60s that there was going to be a revolution in the USA. There was one, of course, but it was in every realm of society except the one we were focused on: government.
The “consciousness raising” I was into in the late 60s was narrowly focused on political change. I now see this as a limiting approach, especially in the USA, where “politics” is a big-money spectator sport staged between two halves of a ruling duopoly, and very few people think outside of that box. Most of us weren’t tuned into the psycho-spiritual work that needed to be done.
There were offshoots of the counter-culture – the Wiccans and tarot readers, who raised goats and followed lunar cycles; they were the forerunners of what became the New Age movement and spiritual feminism. But those of us in the anti-war movement were mostly out-to-lunch on anything spiritual, or even psychological; we had not considered the inner work that is a necessary part of the process. We didn’t see that self-observation is a necessary prerequisite if one is going to contribute effectively to the larger group. These days I would phrase it this way: we can’t be productive activists unless we’re “living through our charts.” That means knowing who we are, as individuals; grounding ourselves in our own unique authenticity.
These days people are much more aware of their inner life. Of course, not everybody meditates or practices astrology; but thousands take yoga and read Deepak Chopra. Esoteric concepts have gradually infiltrated the popular lexicon – consider the word “karma”, for example: it’s now part of everyday speech. In general there’s a more fluid mixture today of spiritual understanding with the rest of life.
We can see examples of this within the modern ecological movement. It’s geopolitical, social, and spiritual at once. Many young eco-warriors, like Julia Butterfly Hill, seem to have achieved this balance. Another example of a modern role model who integrates the political and the spiritual is the Dalai Lama, who stands for the transcendence of violence but who refuses to deny the calamity of the Tibetan occupation.
There’s still a tendency for political thinkers and spiritual thinkers to be dismissive of each other’s viewpoints, or at least, accuse each other of getting their priorities wrong - which is something we did plenty of in the 60s. But consciousness seekers, as a group, seem to be increasingly unifying these two aspects of life, and I think this represents a profound evolutionary change.
TH: Tell me more about what you mean by “living through your chart.” What would it look like to get this “right” and what would it look like to have a weak response?
JM: Living through the chart means pledging our allegiance to our natal potential, seeing it as our most authentic truth; rather than seeing ourselves as the product of outside forces, such as childhood conditioning, or seeing ourselves deterministically, as if our make-up was fated to be a certain way. For us astrologers, this might mean reconnecting with our natal map as a gestalt, accepting each piece of it as irreplaceable, and withdrawing attention from the apparent conflicts in the chart (which we tend to pump the most energy into). It’s about focusing our attention at the whole marvelous totality, as if we were positioning ourselves at a magic invisible point at the chart’s center.
From that vantage point, we allow the highest potential of each of the various components, by letting them talk with each other via their various geometrical relationships. I think we often get held up by the analytical process, categorizing certain parts of our chart as “benefic”, others as “afflictions”. This isn’t wrong, it’s part of the learning curve for most of us. But to make our chart a living, breathing spirit guide implies an acceptance that’s more than intellectual.
TH: Richard Tarnas points out that the theme of expanding freedom (Uranus) will be edited and added to in the diachronic cycles that repeat moving forward through time. We can trace Uranian themes in the current cycle to their origins in the past cycles by listening to their echoes as heard within the ongoing struggles of the women's movement, civil rights movement, ecology movement, and more recently the gay rights movement. A look at these issues alone would lead us to think that progress will be made in these areas as we move forward. And with Jupiter and Uranus in Aries, one could make a case for expecting great strides and powerful new beginnings.
But the current cycle is markedly different than that of the late 60s. This one is predominated by the powerful energies of the Uranus-Pluto square (2007-2020), the last of which coincided nearly exactly with the Great Depression era (1928-1937). As if that weren't enough, the Saturn-Pluto square (2008-2011)* joins the mix, adding more complexity. And so the plot thickens. In what ways do you see this helping or hindering the personal and global revolutions that inspire this generation to change?
JM: Yes, the cosmic echoes are there, but the ante has been upped. People have begun thinking globally and existentially, whether they want to or not. Apocalyptic imagery is streaming forth from religious fundamentalists, and from the doom blogs. Utopian scenarios are being envisioned such as the arrival of benevolent UFOs, like a deus ex machina , to save humanity from itself. Some see all this turmoil as the last gasp of the Age of Pisces. Most Western astrologers see what’s happening in terms of the Cardinal transit series, perhaps starting with the ingress of Pluto into Capricorn, then moving into the Cardinal T-Square last summer. As a group soul, we manifested a series of world events to match the intensity of the transits, as we always do – events of unprecedented clout.
Per Natural Law, the generations alive today have been carefully prepared for all this. The Mayan calendar was presented to modern seekers by Jose Arguelles in the 80s, which put 2012 on the map for popular culture. Although there is speculation about the calendar and its interpretation, it’s interesting how the modern mass mind picks up on great moments in history: we can see how deep a chord has been struck by the whole idea of 2012 by the fact that the year got its own action movie.
All sentient beings are aware that Big Change is afoot. Make that all entities, whether we humans classify them as “sentient” or not: every stone, every molecule is involved -- as the Bioneers say, “It’s all alive; it’s all intelligent, it’s all connected”. The Big Questions are being asked. Unlike in the 60s, now the subject is nothing less than ecocide. The earlier transit cycles you mention saw humanity mired down in arguments about racism, nationalism and all the other –isms; whereas, now, we’re asking ourselves whether we will, all together, as a globe, extinguish ourselves from rising seas, lack of clean water, systems collapse.
What’s the same is that the transits are eliciting the same kind of reactions that accelerated social change elicited in the counter-culture years. It’s freaking some people out and inspiring ingenuity and idealism in others. During these years, roughly 2008 to 2022, everyone who's not asleep is reeling with a sense of crisis. But we need to remember what these transits are for, in a mass evolutionary sense, rather than getting caught up in their symptoms. Crisis is our prompt to become decisive and conscious. So we have created, en masse, ecological calamity, and all manner of sociopolitical craziness; and we have also created a reality where advanced thinkers are stepping forward, and where ordinary people are able, through the internet, to access more information than ever before in history.
We are having to face the fact that material injustice has become deeply institutionalized, to the point where barbaric inequities exist: a teeny-tiny segment of the population controls 99% of the world’s wealth. But at the same time, we also have far less naivete about it. Ordinary people (Uranus) are getting hipper and hipper to the plutocratic underbelly (Pluto) of things. So humanity's got a steep learning curve here, and we also have all the resources to meet it.
I’m not a predictive astrologer. I don’t think the future is fixed, something already set. I think we create the future moment-by-moment, based upon how conscious we are. This revolutionary period is offering us crash courses in consciousness. The transits are cosmic questions, and it’s up to us to supply the answers.
TH: Jessica, you associated the words “ordinary people” with Uranus. I’ve heard Uranian insight described as sometimes emanating from “the obvious questions that no one has thought to ask.” But I’ve always thought of Uranians as “the outsiders” and the “ordinary people” as the insiders. Can you illuminate your understanding of this?
JM: Yes, both ideas are part of the planet’s lore.
Here’s a case where the sign does not match its ruler in all ways, as Rob Hand has pointed out. The “common man” idea derives from the connection between Uranus and Aquarius, the sign of humanity as a species. Tradition has linked Uranus with democracy and the rights of the individual. It was officially sighted between the American and French revolutions, where social change was triggered by the rebellion of the non-titled masses –“ordinary people” – from the system of the old guard. As the higher octave of Mercury, it’s a mental planet; so its power is primarily conceptual: that of advanced thinkers challenging the status quo.
But Tarnas’ development of the Promethean archetype clarifies the meaning of Uranus further by suggesting that in order to instigate change we have to break rank, and risk being excluded or even punished. There’s an implied contrast here between the Uranian impulse and some collective stagnancy that it’s coming up against -- something that needs to be to interrupted, threatened or updated -- the way outsiders and upstarts threaten Saturnine agencies, such as regimes, social assumptions and outdated schools of thought.
TH: What is your advice to those clients who are showing up “reeling with a sense of crisis” about the current state of the world?
JM: I try to get people to reconnect with their belief that there are no accidents. If they’re in my office, they’ve already signed up for this belief. Going to an astrologer rests on the presumption that where and when you were born has meaning - and if that’s true, then how could anything in your life be arbitrary? But most of us don’t follow through with the implications of this idea. Which are that everything in our reality is there for a reason; even our soul’s choice of what country to incarnate into, and what era to incarnate into. So the crises of our collective environment must be part of that karmic plan. I remind them to take spiritual responsibility for this. And the ways they can do that is spelled out through the natal chart and its transits.
TH: I’ve noticed an increase in collective meditations. Several groups (such as Lynne McTaggart’s Intention Experiment) are attempting to join large numbers of people in simultaneous meditation. Since you believe in our free will to affect the future, do you think this is a good use of our energies? And how does this fit into an understanding of the current transits?
JM: I find such projects very compelling, and apparently they have been proven to be effective.
I think that the urgency of these times is inspiring people more avidly than ever before, to pursue the direction their natural skill set inclines them in. Certain individuals are predisposed to engage in group practices --a chart with strong Aquarian and Pisces might lead someone to the meditations you speak of – and others are predisposed to express themselves in political activism – someone with a lot of Aries, for example, might be more drawn to being a lone leader. The corollary to this idea is that we’re more effective when we arrive at a course through self-knowledge – by living through the chart. We decide what to do not from any outside prompt but because we did the inner work to know which activity matches our essential spirit.
I think the ways that we can best respond to the current transits is suggested by, specifically, Uranus and Pluto’s transiting positions; and, generally, by our dedicating ourselves to living through our chart. This means pledging and re-pledging allegiance to that idea we were talking about earlier, that we were each born here and now for a very particular set of karmic reasons, and remembering that we each have all the resources we need to do meet the challenge creatively.
Jessica Murray is the author of a new book At The Crossroads: An Astrologer Looks at these Turbulent Times; as well as Soul-Sick Nation: An Astrologer’s View of America.; Jessica can be reached at www.mothersky.com___________
*Dates taken from Cosmos and Psyche tables, using 15° orbs.