'These are Difficult Times'


We may be a divided people, with diverse interests and divergent ideologies. But beneath the surface, I believe we all agree on at least one truism: These are difficult times.

It hit me when I heard Tom Brokaw utter those words on his nightly news broadcast—'difficult times'—as if this characterization of our current moment in history were in fact a given, itself a piece of news. While I don't necessarily take anything I hear on the news as 'truth' (read last week's comments for examples of conflicting news truths), this idea that we may be presently living through a challenging era did resonate with me as true.

I wondered, Are there those who would disagreement with this sentiment? Republicans or Democrats? Traditionalists or radicals? The powerful or the disenfranchised? Whether we admit this knowledge into our daily lives or not, I think we all, to some degree, know it. These are difficult times.

On the most simplistic and general (and US-centric) level, just compare the present with, say, the period of the late-1990s. We were in an economic boom. We were still youthfully excited about the promise of the Internet and other new technologies to improve our lives. Teen pop faced a long-overdue resurgence, thanks to our introduction to Britney Spears. The worst political scandal in the country centered on whether our president had lied about having sex with his intern. I remember sensing a thrilling buzz in the air, thinking to myself, 'These are exciting times.'

Nowadays, the economy sucks. The halcyon days of imagining the Internet would serve a magical purpose have shifted into the reality of it as just another way to spend money and/or waste time. Britney Spears has proven her biggest talent is as a tabloid trainwreck. And now the political lies are about more substantive topics such as massive terrorism-related deaths and the true purposes behind war. Presidential lying of all types is inexcusable, but I'd rather know that my president is trying to cover-up marital infidelities rather than complicity in unnecessary international atrocity. My historical comparisons are admittedly crude, cursory and superficial, but they represent an attempt to put words and examples to a subtler and difficult-to-verbalize, but nonetheless real shift in the cultural zeitgeist over the past 5 or so years.

In so many senses, the year 2000 clearly marked the initiation of this shift. Most obviously, the numerical switch to years starting with a '2' activated our collective realization that we live in 'new' times, for our long-held fantasies of what life would be like in the year 2000 finally gave way to a reality initially mitigated by fears of a 'Y2K' crisis. In April of that year, the US stock markets logged record declines, indicating that the dot-com bubble had burst and sending the economy into a slump from which it hasn't yet recovered. And, of course, November's presidential election not only brought a change in the national governing party, but did so in an election with dramatically ambiguous results, creating wide popular mistrust of government and polarization that continues to mark American society.

Astrologically, 2000 brought the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, an event that occurs every 20 years and initiates a new cycle of political and social trends. A brief look back at the most recent Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions—1940-41: the height of WWII, altering the political map of the world, triggering the Cold War; 1961: the inauguration of JFK's Camelot, the escalation of Vietnam and social unrest; 1980-81: welcome to the Reagan years, with its media mastery and trickle-down economics. And then 2000, the start of something new again.

At the time of the most recent Jupiter-Saturn conjunction four years ago this week, Pluto in Sagittarius was opposed to the Sun, Venus and Mars in Gemini. On election day 2000, Jupiter was in Gemini, opposing Pluto in Sag. This reiterated theme of the two opposing signs, Gemini and Sagittarius, is of utmost importance in understanding the tone of these difficult times in which we live. Once Saturn moved into Gemini and opposed Pluto in Sag from Aug 2001 to May 2002, it spawned a painful purgative pressure against existing structures, plunging the depths of human experience in order to rebirth our world in a transformed state. Of course, this pressure played out most notably in the events of Sep 11 2001 and the terror- and war-filled developments that followed. As we all know all too well, we've never been the same.

This Wednesday night's Full Moon refocuses our emotional energies in this arena, as the Sun-Moon opposition falls across the same Gemini-Sagittarius axis, at the exact degree (13 Gem/Sag) where Saturn and Pluto first opposed each other in Aug 2001. Gemini enjoys lots of information, conversation and mental stimulation, but prefers to refrain from commitment to a single viewpoint to allow for variety and variability. Meanwhile, Sagittarius is single-minded in its pursuit of truth and higher meaning, doesn't have time for unnecessary details, and rarely hesitates to voice its opinion loudly and directly.

When balancing these energies, we must remain open to multiple stances and not silence them with impatient assurance that we're right, yet we mustn't get so bogged down in profuse trivia as to distract ourselves from what really matters. And by no means does this dynamic affect us only on the political level. If, during these difficult times, other people's crazed noisemaking and haphazard commentary threatens to unsettle our commitments to our personal values, we may have to tune out to tune in.

To echo and intensify this balance between the two-sides-to-every-story and the noble-convictions-toward-moral-ideals, Venus in Gemini makes another opposition to Pluto in Sagittarius. Venus is a key player right now, as she is currently moving retrograde, causing us to attract multiple appealing surface-level options but making it more challenging to determine one's value as compared to another's. We want to believe what sounds good or looks pretty, but deeper truths lurk beneath the veneer. Any single account may not be as 'fair and balanced' as it purports to be. Beware of politicians who accuse other politicians of 'playing politics' (um, excuse me, what is your occupation, after all?). Take note of rhetoric that seeks to undermine others' opinions by reductively labeling them 'rhetoric'.

These times are not merely difficult but unusual in nature, in case you haven't noticed people acting somewhat strangely, and you can thank Venus for it. As part of her retrogradation, Venus will visibly 'transit' the Sun on June 8, a rare event that hasn't occurred since 1882. Astronomers and astrologers alike are excitedly hailing this event, which is like an eclipse in that Venus passes in front of the Sun and shows up as a small round object to those lucky enough to view it.

Interestingly, I have not found astrologers in agreement on what exactly the significance of this Venus transit is, only that is the major occurrence of the year. No astrologer alive has ever lived through Venus's pass across the Sun, so none has had the primary experience of sensing its impact. I definitely have my ideas about it, involving petty veneers chipping away and a reoriented commitment to valuing love, which could involve a battle with the anti-love forces… but you'll have to check back next week for a fuller account.

This much I know with certainty: These ain't no ordinary times, that's for sure!