by Nick Owens, Agent 37

On 4 April 2011 at 1:37pm UTC, Neptune ingressed into Pisces.  It will remain in Pisces until 5 August 2011, when it returns in retrograde motion to Aquarius, only to re-enter Pisces on 3 February 2012.  Thereafter it will not exit Pisces until 2025.

Coming so close after the ingress of Uranus into Aries, which occurred over the course of the last year, this promises a further change of the flavour of collective experience, and resulting instability, lasting from around now all the way until this time next year.  Although one could also argue that it has really been since early 2008, when Pluto changed signs from Sagittarius to Capricorn, that we have, as a global population, been most recently subjected to huge transformations in our sense of the world and its future.  Uranus changes signs roughly every 7 years, Neptune every 13 years and Pluto anywhere between every 11 years and every 32 years, depending on where it is in its orbit (its orbit being so much more eccentric).  At times like now, when sign-changes of the outer planets occur very close together, events seem to pile up on top of each other, and the geopolitical landscape seems somehow more intense.

For example the period 1968-1972 was marked by Uranus entering Libra, Neptune entering Sagittarius and Pluto entering Libra, and corresponded to the height of the ‘hippie’ movement, the Moon Landing, the demonstrations and riots against the Vietnam War and in favour of civil rights for disenfranchised groups (women, blacks, gay people), the publication of the seminal and prophetic document Limits to Growth, the peaking of US mainland oil production and the removal of the dollar from the gold standard which paved the way for the subsequent oil crises and conflicts of the mid-seventies and beyond.

In the last three months, a period including changes of sign by both Uranus and Neptune, we have seen uprisings across the Arab World, yet another Western military intervention, this time in oil-rich Libya, marches and anti-government demonstrations in Europe and North America and then, literally within 24 hours of Uranus moving across the World Point into 0º Aries, a massive earthquake, tsunami and nuclear catastrophe in Japan.  With respect to the dreadful events in Japan, the sudden viciousness and literally earth-shaking violence of the earthquake caused its own damage, but the inundation by water which followed seemed to be all the more destructive and frightening.  This seemed to mirror the sudden violence and explosive force of Uranus entering Aries, followed by the vast oceanic dissolution of Neptune entering Pisces.

Neptune itself corresponds to gradual and seamless changes in reality that work so subtly and slowly and with such hypnotic force that we are frequently not even aware of their effects until they have long passed.  We underestimate the magnitude of these changes at our peril, just as a tsunami may pass almost unnoticed in the open ocean, but somewhere where it clashes with unyielding structures, it unleashes its chaotic fury.  Examples of physical phenomena that evince this quality of softness or blurriness, where distinct boundaries are impossible to find, include the gaseous and liquid phase states of matter, together known as fluids (especially large pools of fluid like the ocean or the atmosphere), electromagnetic radiation of whatever wavelength, and sound waves.  Such physical phenomena are associated with a sense of immanence, like they totally surround the subject, an all-enveloping experience of immersion or subsumption.  Arising from such boundlessness and lack of clarity is the psycho-perceptual experience of intoxication, the rendering into submission, hypnosis, sleep, trance, like enchantment in a spell, or being overcome by fumes, or inundated by powerful waves or currents.  The cause, the source, may not be apparent, may be invisible, mysterious, inscrutable.  But the effects, however ephemeral, penetrate to the core of one’s perceptual and emotional experience.  The experience of the Neptunian realm of reality is often confusing because it challenges us to define reality at scales where definition and singular truth themselves start to lose meaning.  Socially and politically, Neptune tends to correspond to ideologies that have a compelling sense of idealism or a narrative of deliverance from the imperfections of the world into a utopia of perfect order.  It also says something about our sense of what it is that contextualizes or surrounds our reality frameworks, of what it is that is ‘out there’ that contains our every notion and hence implicitly conditions our beliefs about the world; this could be a philosophical position, a religious belief, a political ideology, a metaphysical argument, a cosmology or a delusion.  But rather like the proverbial fish blind to the water in which it swims, we are often entirely unaware of the presence of these frameworks, and may even be unable to stay sane without them.

For the past 13 years (since 1998), Neptune has been in Aquarius, the sign of diversity, individuality, innovation, networking and groups.  This has corresponded to a variety of social and political phenomena around the globe which have acted as crystallizations of the archetypal meaning of Neptune as filtered by the Aquarian perspective on life.  The internet has been primary among these phenomena.  Allowing free, liberated, easy access to multiple viewpoints, vast amounts of creativity and opinion, and the formation of networks of the like-minded, this technology has totally transformed human communications, as well as the media, the arts, commerce, education, science and technology and popular culture generally.  Aquarius is about distributed nodes of creativity, it reifies the independence of the common individual to stand apart from the herd, and Neptune idealizes this into a virtual reality of multiple and changing identities, each catering to a different group or association.  Notice how television programs featuring group dynamics have appeared over the past decade – Big BrotherThe Biggest LoserSurvivor, Dancing with the StarsAmerican Idol, etc.  We have become intoxicated by each other – our idiosyncrasies, our little peccadilloes, how despite our differences we can all accept each other for our common humanity.  This is truly an Aquarian bromide, an early twenty-first century salve for our perpetual seeking for greater meaning to our suffering.  Neptune’s sign placements and aspects to other planets describe the ‘cult’ of the times, that quintessential perspective on life, that underlying set of assumptions which frame our outlook on life, and which act as a seemingly more constant base-note to the changing harmonies of time.  So, for example in the 1970’s when Neptune was in Sagittarius, fashion, popular culture and film seemed to resonate with themes of exploration, exotic culture, religious eclecticism, space travel and spiritual development – witness the Steven Spielberg blockbuster movies like Star WarsE.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the bell-bottoms and kipper ties, the jarring and vivid colours as well as robes and exotic jewellery, and the terrible deadly religious cult of Jim Jones.  All of these being very Sagittarian themes – expanding horizons, spiritual development and moralizing myths writ large as swashbuckling universal truths.

Of course the negative side of Neptune’s stay in Aquarius has also been evident in the characteristic way that we have been entranced, lulled into a dreamy reverie of self-delusion such that our grasp of what is really happening around us is weakened.  In the sphere of politics we have seen the rise of the focus-group, the abandonment of any sense of deep principle in policy development and a curious sameness descend on the main players in the field.  While in one sense the internet has raised the power of the individual within society, it has also caused people to disenfranchise themselves from political activity, as individualized patterns of consumption and a sense of improved recognition of our social differences and enhanced capacity for complex social affiliation and networking has perhaps resulted in us forgetting about the need for real leadership, which is what politics is all about.  Because the reality is that there are many many problems affecting our environment and our species that require massive shifts in planetary consciousness, massive changes in the direction of what we owe to the world as opposed to what we can get out of the world.  Traditional, conventional politics has been subverted in the last 10-15 years by an ideology of non-ideology, a sort of vacant empty space, where politicians’ views and ideas are just what they have been told to say by their market research gurus.  And we all sense this, we know this is happening, yet we do nothing about it.  This is the dark side of Neptune in Aquarius – the sense of political apathy, of comfort in the illusions of globalization, of neoliberal economics and ‘the end of history’ and the disinclination to awaken from the trance of individualism and the cult of everyman.  For Neptune in Aquarius, dreams of utopia lie in images of an electronically networked intelligent global society, liberation from the stultifying strictures of social convention – but also from the practical, on-the-ground realities of physical, emotional and spiritual suffering and injustice that surround us in the real world, not the virtual reality of cyberspace.

After 13 years of this dream, the wheel now turns yet further.  Moving into oceanic and subtle Pisces, we will start to see levels of deception and lies so gross that they border on delusion; whole movements of people believing things about the world, about the future, about humanity, beliefs that cannot be shaken, whether these notions are rational, irrational or just completely bizarre.  There will be a contagion of hysteria, of hysterical fears about things that elude firm description, typically invisible or insensible things, perhaps radiation, pollution, chemicals, hormones or drugs, silently undermining and eroding our sense of what is real.  An attitude of bewilderment with events will slowly develop, a sense of chaos or of being mired in intractable confusion.  Disillusionment with those who peddle comforting illusions will be as pronounced as the headlong rush into escapist denial of our planetary problems, or perhaps more particularly, our human problems.

But equally there will be an idealization of ecological humility, of giving back, giving up, sacrificing that which must be let go.  Perhaps also pervasive feelings of guilt and depressive negativity, although also the possibility of a more refined and realistic sense of spiritual brotherhood, and a deeper connection with the common needs that we share, with our common burden of suffering.  A fashion for the monastic, for isolation or hermitage and for devotion to all that suffers in life.  But as the Piscean pair of fish swim in opposite directions, forever tugging at each other, there will be extremes of escapism and hedonistic abandonment that will make the 1960s seem like a picnic.
It is interesting to observe the events surrounding the Fukushima nuclear disaster to see an early example of the sense that Neptune in Pisces conveys.  The leak of radiation as well as radioactive particles has been continuing since the earthquake and tsunami struck and the explosions that occurred at the plant in the succeeding days.  Initially it was all over the news, experts were wheeled out to calm everyone down, and opposing experts hyped up the fear.  There was a widespread feeling that the true extent of the disaster was being covered up, or at least played down.  Radiation levels and radioactive particle concentrations were reported both in Japan and all around the northern hemisphere, but it is hard to know what these numbers mean – it all appears to confusing, deceptive, frightening, and yet the disaster itself seems to have largely dropped off the news programs.  Even stranger, acceptable limits for radiation exposure are suddenly yanked up  in the US, and President Obama confirms that more nuclear power plants will need to be built.  The true extent of the deaths, illnesses and deformities which resulted from the 1986  Chernobyl disaster is now emerging (probably just under 1 million deaths alone, according to Russian, Belorusian and Ukrainian medical researchers, compared to a few thousand according to the World Health Organisation), as well as the conflicts of interest that abound from the level of the International Atomic Energy Agency down through national nuclear regulatory bodies and nuclear plant operators themselves.  Just as the invisible radiation itself can be inflicting damage to your body without you knowing about it until many years later, so the corruption and institutionalized secrecy and deception of the nuclear industry has been slowly undermining its claims and its credibility.  We have only begun the first chapter of the awful story that is Fukushima, but the true extent of its significance to the world has not yet been appreciated perhaps.  We have certainly seen denial, dissembling and distortion of the truth, just as we saw them in the Gulf of Mexico last year when Chiron entered Pisces.  With Neptune now ensconced in this sign too, a pervasive sense of toxicity is arising.