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Astrology on Current Events in Popular Culture with Bill Streett

A Psycho-Spiritual Approach
to Transits


with Bill Streett / October 2005


For the uninitiated, transits are typically considered the cornerstone of predictive, modern astrology. Transits occur when planets make specific angular relationships to the positions of the planets in one’s birth chart. Transits are not isolated incidents but are happening all the time and correlate with the minor to life-changing incidents, maturation periods, psychological shifts, and transformations in our lives. When planets transit important factors in your birth chart, they “light up,” ignite, catalyze or emphasize the energy and psychological factors associated with the factor being transited.

Too often, transits are approached from a perspective of correlating with either a concrete determinism (that is, transits are the signal that a specific, easily predictable event is about to unfold) or a lack of accountability (the universe is a system of causes upon which we can attribute our various successes and failures). However, at a deeper level, transits represent an invitation to communion with something greater than the limitations of the separate self. Arguably what distinguishes New Age spirituality from the Judeo-Christian tradition are techniques and ideas that allow direct spiritual access into something transcendent or divine without the mediation of dogma or a spiritual leader. From this spiritual perspective, transits can allow one to relate to something beyond the individual self.

Before describing astrological transits from a technical point of view, that is, before defining them in precise terms, it is arguably best to utilize some analogies when discussing the underlying principles of transits and how they work. I will borrow two examples from my childhood. On a particular trip to Disney World, I fell in love with the amusement ride known as “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.” Sitting in a small vehicle, the ride’s participants are whisked and jerked around into different rooms, with each room having a particular atmosphere—each room was in marked contrast relative to the room that preceded it. Exhilarating as it was stupefying, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride quickly became a favorite ride of mine, one that I would want to ride over and over again to the chagrin of my parents. We will return to how this describes transits, but for the moment let us enter into a second childhood reminiscence.

The second childhood memory that can help elucidate what transits involve concerns a particular children’s book. The book featured the travels of a penguin as he circumnavigated the globe, and, like a lot of children’s books, this particular book was interactive. The gimmick and selling point of the book—the wow factor—was that a cardboard cutout of a penguin could be manipulated by a magnet. That is, a magnet would guide along the penguin as he went along on his journeys across the world. The illusion to a small child was that the penguin was moving by some unknown force, as the magnet was hidden beneath the page.

Each in their own way, these memories can serve to illustrate the core concepts and guiding principles concerning astrological transits. The example of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride speaks to the experiential quality of life as it evolves. If we are conscious and aware of the rhythms and patterns of our life, then we might notice that many episodes of our life are radically divergent relative to the episodes that came before. Standing where we are right now in our lives reflect back 3 years, 5 years, or even 10 years. Are not the current experiences, motivations, and environments different—perhaps radically so—from time periods that came before? From the perspective of the soul, the answer is unequivocally yes.

If indeed life has its own distinct episodes and chapters, then who or what is doing the changing? Is the ego making conscious decisions to write different chapters in our life or is something else? The childhood example involving the book with the magnetic penguin speaks to this dilemma—the sense that some force or forces are guiding our life’s journey in various directions.

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride alludes to the soul’s truth that life is constantly changing. Like being on an amusement ride where we are whipped around to different rooms, the experiential quality of life’s constant change is reflected by astrological transits. The example of the penguin’s children’s book refers to the deep mystery of life’s ever changing flux. Are we in charge of these changes—a comfortable illusion we often cling to—or like the magnets that shape and contour the penguin’s travels, are there deep and powerful forces that guide our life’s evolution?

Keeping these core principles in mind—that transits concern our rapidly changing evolution and the deeper mystery of life—we can now speak of transits in more precise and technical terms. Transits occur as planets move about in space making significant angular relationships to the positions of the planets at the moment of birth. We may think of the positions of the heavens at our birth as a snapshot of our soul’s potentials. As planets move about in space relative to the snapshot of the heavens at our birth, we experience different possibilities and potentials. Just as in Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, we change rooms and experience different possibilities and potentials in our lives when planets make major angular relationships to our birth chart.

Transits are not only one of the most powerful techniques of astrology but they are powerful. Period. Not only do they unlock a hidden dimension of the universe and our life’s meaning in the cosmos, but they illuminate something like a global mind or universal intelligence that is informing, permeating, and infusing everything we experience, from the most mundane periods of life to the most powerful and transformative experiences in our individual and collective lives. Transits may be utilized by different people for different reasons, but if one believes that our experience on earth is to understand, to know, and to discover, then transits are one of the deepest, amazing, and illuminating methods to true knowledge that we have yet to unearth. The more one applies the truth of transits to one’s life, the more the divine mystery opens up, the more one’s perceptions change, and the more one’s orientation changes. Through transits, one learns that the earth and one’s life are not meaningless and arbitrary, but one opens up to a new world of meaning and significance.

Breaking through the
Newtonian-Cartesian Paradigm

From the vantage point of scientific materialism, the possibility for the legitimacy of astrological transits is both absurd and untenable. There is a fundamental incongruence between the world view of science and the world view of astrology. From the world view we have inherited from Western science, the universe is machine-like and devoid of any intelligence, accept the intelligence arbitrarily produced through the blind machinations of Darwinian evolution. Astrology, however, has held and still holds that the universe is patterned through and through with a deep intelligence, an anima mundi, or world soul.

The cosmology of some ancient cultures viewed the night sky as a dome, where stars were not unlike holes in the dome which allowed light to shine through. Not unlike a giant, upside-down strainer or colander, the night sky filtered light into the universe. Analogously, as the stars were seen as portals to a light beyond the dome, transiting planets can be seen as gateways or portals to archetypes, or universal dimensions of human experience. This vantage point is simply not defensible nor plausible under the implicit assumptions of scientific materialism.

In no small way, astrological transits can break down the hold of the Newtonian-Cartesian paradigm, the prevailing mindset of the Western World since approximately 1650. Although a break down of this world view occurred with the results from quantum physics and Einstein’s theory of relativity, the basis of these theories are so far removed from everyday experience that one can comfortably lead one’s daily way of life as if nothing really ever changed or was revolutionized. This is simply not the case with transits. If one experiences the maturing or constrictive energy of transiting Saturn, the stimulating wildness of transiting Uranus, or the dissolving, unifying quality of transiting Neptune, then one has a direct experience of something that is in radical contrast to the mindset and world view of the Newtonian Cartesian paradigm. In a similar way in which ancient cultures saw the stars as illuminating something beyond the dome of the heavens, astrology affords an illumination into something beyond the material world, where the planets serve as symbols into something beyond three-dimensional reality.

Increasing Empathy with Others

Empathy is one of the characteristics of emotional maturity, and is considered a defining characteristic of emotional intelligence. Carl Rogers, the humanistic psychologist, defined empathy as follows: “The state of empathy, or being empathic, is to perceive the internal frame of reference of another with accuracy and with the emotional components and meanings which pertain thereto as if one were the person.” (1) Although empathy is found in animals, it cannot reach the level of sophistication and complexity as seen in human beings.

Astrological transits can be a method of deepening empathy with others. When one goes through a significant transit, in a sense, one is participating with an energy that is larger than one’s self, and one is able to connect with universal themes. Transits allow one to feel into—empathize—with individuals that may possess a similar configuration not by transit but in their birth charts. When one endures a Saturn transit to one’s natal Sun, for example, one can develop greater empathy with the individual that is born with the combination. Through transits, one is able to understand to a much greater degree than the psychology of others, because one is able to directly experience archetypal themes that contour and design another’s psyche. It some sense, transits can eliminate the guess work when trying to “step into the shoes” of another individual; they grant tremendous insight into another individual’s psychology.

Often individuals use astrology as tool for control over life’s circumstances. Still others still use astrology as an instrument for self exploration and personal growth. However, one of astrology’s great untapped potentials is to transcend the narrow confines of self-interest and to understand the psychology of others. When one endures a difficult rite of passage in life as characterized by a challenging transit, it may be seen as an invitation to cultivate compassion with those that are challenged by a particular energy not just for a short period, but in a lifetime. In this instance, one may use one’s transits not solely for self gain or self interest, but to broaden and deepen one’s empathic connection with others.

Connection with Transcendence

Almost all attempts to define the relatively nebulous domain of spirituality include transcendence as an integral expression of this domain. Transcendence may be defined as the experience and appreciation of a dimension beyond self, or a path beyond ego. Astrological transits may be used as a timing device to demonstrate when a heightened sense of the transcendent may be available to one’s experience.

To some degree, all astrological transits may be assumed to be spiritual or transcendent in capacity, because all archetypal energies connect us with a sense of something larger and greater than our selves. However, certainly the outer planets of Neptune and Pluto carry expressions of self that are beyond typical, mundane experience and can be considered the planetary symbols most associated with the transpersonal or transcendent. Transits from Pluto and Neptune can demonstrate times in our lives when incorporating spiritual or transcendent dimensions into our lives takes precedence over and above our normal biographical concerns.

Neptune is certainly the planetary symbol that is most often associated with spirituality and transcendence. Greg Bogart, a therapist who has discussed the transpersonal implications of transits from Neptune and Pluto, suggests that “[there exists] the human yearning for transcendence, for the peace that only comes from experiences best described as timeless, ecstatic, sacred, or mystical…Neptune symbolizes the expansion of our consciousness into dimensions beyond the mundane, material world…It represents our longing for spiritual unfoldment toward the state of enlightenment of Self Realization.” (2) Significant transits from Neptune can align our consciousness with a heightened recognition of the importance of spirituality. During Neptune transits, we may connect with a mystical subpersonality, commune with nature, integrate meditation in our daily lives, or incorporate numinous dimensions of reality in some capacity.

Neptune transits may be seen as overtly spiritual because they have a quality that most would identify as heartfelt, unitive, and peaceful. Pluto transits have a uniquely opposite flavoring, pitting us in the darker terrain of our life. Once again, Greg Bogart suggests, “Neptune is the transpersonal ideal, the vision of unity, enlightenment, and universal compassion. Pluto is the ordeal that tests us in preparation for the transpersonal life, purifying us of self-centered intentions and motivations.” (3) Pluto transits, often painfully and forcibly, rip us from our attachments, our ideals, and our illusions. So, although transiting Neptune and Pluto have radically different qualities associated with them, they may be seen as two sides of the same coin. While Neptune may gently ease us into a state of grace and transcendence, Pluto may rather tear us apart from our attachments and what needs to be outgrown.

Recognition of the Tao

Transits may also be an extremely important way of articulating something which has always eluded concrete definition: the Tao. The Tao is “the intelligent ordering principle behind the unceasing flow of change in the natural world.”(4) Like a river of eternally changing phenomena, the stream of individual and collective consciousness, according to the Tao, is eternally present yet never static. Although the heart of an Eastern philosophical tradition, the Tao has several analogues in many of the world’s wisdom teachings: Chi (Chinese philosophy); prana (Vedic though); Ki (Japanese thought); libido (psychodynamic theory); vital energy (homeopathy); luminiferous aether (science); or élan vital (Henri Bergson). Although there are important distinctions between these terms, all terms point to the intuition that all phenomena move through some sort of medium or substance that is impossible to concretize but can only be known through reflection upon one’s experience.

Transits are a way to uncover the logic of the Tao, this medium that appears to carry life ever onward. Although as the Eastern mystics suggest, “the Tao that can be named is not the Tao,” transits do allow one to understand the dynamic unfoldment or logical progression of the Tao in one’s life. The Tao is also a useful tool for understanding transits because the metaphor of the river of life that is essential to the Tao often provides an antidote to our Western way of viewing life with discrete divisions and distinct endings and beginnings. The more flowing, fluid way of entering into the dynamics of transits that the Tao affords allows a more accurate understanding of the presence of transits in our lives.

Seeing through the Visible World

With the advent of quantum physics in science and the rise of depth psychology, the twentieth century was referred to by author Richard Panek as the “Invisible Century.” In psychology and science, a seeing through occurred into dimensions of experience that suggested that the visible world of three-dimensional reality is shaped by forces that are not readily seen. Thus, the pioneers of psychology and quantum physics plumbed the depths of their respective areas of study with empirical tools to unearth the rather amazing finding that there are things which guide and contour life of which we were not fully conscious.

In order to fully appreciate the nature of transits, it demands a perceptual shift of great magnitude. The invisible world is never on the periphery of one’s sensing organs, but can only be seen through with intuition and faculties such as imagination. Often the enigmatic “eye of the soul” is the name given to the sensing tool that can discriminate and perceive things in the invisible world; however allusions to the eye of the soul can often be off-putting to those who prefer to see the world in a more literal, less symbolic fashion.

The Jungian analyst June Singer wrote of the strange relationship between the visible and invisible worlds: “The proper relationship of the one to the other is in a commitment to the process of bringing about an understanding between the two worlds.” (5) The commitment to studying transits is an excellent way to bridge the seeming incommensurability of the invisible and visible world. As transits defer to both the empirical and the symbolic, the literal and the archetypal, the in-depth study of transits can illuminate the rich interplay between these two worlds.

Conclusion

Astrology is a tool, and like any other tool or medium, such as the latest advances in technology, there is no intrinsic value within the tool itself. As such, the study of astrological transits has no inherent spiritual or ethical value, but, used properly, it can propel one into a much deeper relationship to one’s self and the world in which one inhabits. Although there may be no inherent value in the tool of astrological transits, there does seem to be an inherent egalitarianism to its study. For those weary of spiritual matters and who do not believe in anything besides the material world, astrological transits can be an excellent gateway into spirituality because there is a bridge to the empirical, sensory world. For those already on a spiritual path, astrology almost invariably deepens one’s notion of what spirituality is because of its complexity and potential for depth.

(1) Rogers, C. R (1959). A theory of therapy, personality and interpersonal relationships as developed in the client-centered framework. In S. Kock (Ed.), Psychology: A study of science: Vol. 3. Formulations of the persona and the social context. New York: McGraw-Hill.

(2) Bogart. G (1996). Therapeutic Astrology: Using the Birth Chart in Psychotherapy and Spiritual Counseling. Berkeley: Dawn Mountain Press, p.184.

(3) Ibid. p. 191

(4) Definition from Wikipedia.org

(5) Singer, J (1990). Seeing through the Visible World. San Francisco: Harper, p. 220.