January was bleak, in more ways than one. Midway through the month, my family lost a brave, smart woman to an aggressive cancer. Carol was gone way too soon; she wasn’t even sixty. And not long after she died, the whole world turned white, and the snow pinned us in our houses.
So in February, I am ready to learn whatever it is I’m supposed to learn from all this. I want the snow to melt, making slow rivers on the sidewalks and the streets. And I want wisdom to seep into my mind, bit by bit, so that I can make it through the rest of the winter, and whatever future winters come my way.
Outside, as I write this, it’s warming, and I can hear the snow sliding off the roof. On my desktop, there’s an 18th century painting: a lady in pale blue silk, with a long nose and soft, mousy brown hair. Her name was Elisabeth, and she looks calm and friendly as she sits for her portrait, as relaxed as anyone could be under such a large, diaphanous hat.
For the painter, Adelaide Labille-Guiard, all that mattered then was adding the right amount of green to the background, bringing out the pale tones of the portrait. Neither of them knew that seven years later, Elisabeth – who was sister to the king – would be beheaded in the Reign of Terror, and Adelaide would be burning her canvasses of the royal family, in order to save herself.
I look to Elisabeth for wisdom because her life and death are a closed circle, 222 years in the past. Surely when we see the entirety of a life, we can parse its meaning. Instead, I see a labyrinth of shifting fortunes, love and loyalty, fear and pride. And then there are larger weather systems that alter the paths of hundreds of people, although each person falls as an individual.
Astrologers study closed circles all the time, mapping out the flow of energy, correlating the shapes we see with other shapes from the past. But we are always feeling our way, because life is an experiment that can never be replicated exactly. And the messages we read are always slightly garbled, waiting for us to smooth them out and turn them into a reasonable probability.
Sometimes I resist this process of reading the chart, of making it yield something practical. It often gives useful information, but I always wonder what I’ve lost. What richer messages am I ignoring? What mysteries won’t yield to language?
Once I went to a workshop that presented the planets as literal gods, and each birthchart showed the way we surrender to these gods. But most of us are not willing to surrender, to give up our sense of autonomy, even when we sense we’re surrounded by something looming and powerful.
January called to mind those hard and demanding gods. The month has been powerful, relentless, like an avalanche of snow scouring a mountainside. And as we end the month, we’re stripped down to our bones.
And this comes from Pluto, symbolic of the calloused hand of destiny. It’s ironic that a dwarf planet shows up when we have this feeling of being swamped by oversized fates which we can’t control. But January was very Pluto-driven. First the sun conjuncted it, and then Mercury slowed down to a crawl, and stationed right next to Pluto. As February begins, it’s still there, and when Mercury eases away in a few days, Venus will move in and take its place.
How can one learn anything from these Pluto aspects? You’re just trying to survive. And yet this is when we learn things on the deepest level, in our bones and teeth and hair. When we’re in survival mode, we’re trapped in a room with our wildest and hungriest selves, and no formula will turn these into docile pets. But at some point, often years later, we honor the parts of ourselves that sacrificed everything, that became unrecognizable, in order to show us the way out of that room.
About midway through February, Pluto will stand alone once more. There will be no planets conjuncting it, no henchmen to do its bidding. The sun, Mercury and Venus will all have moved into Aquarius, and this is definitely a more hopeful and autonomous sign than Capricorn. The focus will turn to friendship and community. Suddenly, there will be more room to move around, to try something new.
Aquarius allows objectivity, a certain distance between an experience and its meaning. We don’t have to learn everything through the body, through the hard and barren earth, through the shovel and the rock. Knowledge will circulate more freely among people, and of course, there will be plenty of clashes of opinion in February, because people never agree on what’s true. And the further you are from survival mode, the more truths there are.
And then on February 19, the sun will enter Pisces for the last, dreamy month of winter. This is the month when we all need our private escape routes, in order to imagine the green we’ve forgotten. This is the month when people leave their bodies without a whisper, hoping that there are other worlds with flowers and soft breezes. But this is also the time when we incubate whatever we want to be born in the spring.
For now, we’re buffeted by winter, and it’s all too real. It may be too soon to say what we’ve learned. All we can do is hunker down and study the face of time. It’s the devil we know all too well, and the wisdom we always gain the hard way.