This essay was published as a column in SageWoman, Winter 1999-2000. On this Black Friday, the day we’re mind-controlled to “go shopping,” the essay feels particularly germane, given that Neptune symbolizes the antithesis of materialism.
THE SIREN SONG OF NEPTUNE
For years now, whenever anyone asks me, “What do you do?” I respond: “What level do you want to talk on?”
That usually stops them cold. They mumble some excuse and back away. A few are stimulated, intrigued; my response makes them wonder about themselves, what they do. What level do they want to talk on? The ice breaks. We have wonderful conversations.
I started this practice because I was so frustrated with that question, “What do you do?” The question usually means, “What do you do to make money?”
What I “do,” has little or no connection with money. In fact, what I “do” has no value in the world of the usual person who asks it. So why throw pearls before swine? My question to them effectively screens out all but kindred souls.
Back in junior high school, we were once assigned a homework report for Social Studies, on “what-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-up.” The textbook list for what were considered female occupations — secretary, nurse, bookkeeper, etc. —l ooked dreary, but then, I was no proto-feminist, because so did the so-called male occupations. Nothing looked good to me. Reviewing the list of possible occupations made me unaccountably depressed.
At that young age I had no way of understanding what triggered my depression. Not until I was 31 years old, and began to study astrology, did I recognize that incident as an early clue to what I would now call my “Neptunian” path.
In astrology, the planet Neptune governs all matters spiritual. Through Neptune, we experience divine discontent, that gnawing emptiness that can not be filled with material things. Neptune pervades the space between the lines, the mysterious invisible energy residing above, beyond and within the material world, that “in which we move and have our being.” In scientific terms, one might identify Neptune with the (unfortunately discredited) “ether,” a subtle all-pervasive fluid flowing through and linking all things appearing as separate into one undivided whole. Neptune is the universal ecosystem and, quite possibly, the universal solvent.
While all of us are called to Neptune, few are chosen. Most fall by the wayside. In an attempt to satisfy our longing for Spirit, we substitute “evil spirits” — out of a bottle or in a joint, food and liquid “treats” of all kinds. Or we accumulate more and more educational degrees, amass more and more money, build bigger and better houses, fill them with things, buy bigger and newer cars, boats, computers, TVs, RVs — you name it, all in an ultimately fruitless attempt to fulfill the soul’s hunger for meaning, to drown out that ever-present inner voice whispering, “Is this it? Is this all there is?”
Take me, for example. I have Neptune within only two degrees of the Midheaven of my natal chart. The Midheaven at the top of the chart is what one is reaching for, one’s path or destiny. Thus, my path in this world is a spiritual one. I cannot escape it. Any attempt to deflect my energies from Neptune’s direction meets with disaster. (Think about the word “disaster,” or dis-aster, and its meaning: to turn away from the stars . . .)
Not all are called to blend spiritual and material concerns so directly. Most people can, without violating their natures, play out existing roles in society, for which they are more or less equipped, or can become so with training. Teacher, lawyer, doctor, chief — all are necessary, and each of us is usually naturally equipped for some niche that society offers.
There are some people however who, like me, are weird: we have the signature of what astrologers call “outer planets on angles.” For us, one or more of the three outer planets (Uranus, Neptune or Pluto: those with cycles longer than our lifetimes) are on the Midheaven or the Ascendant (the horizon), or on one of the two points opposite them. To have an outer planet on one of the four angles of the chart is to be called to a life which is decidedly not normal.
In the case of the Midheaven, what is affected is the path. My path has been one that, since I was 30 years old, is consciously Neptunian. The deciding event? September, 1974, when I was suddenly fired from the only real job I ever had, branded as “too experimental” for that experimental college in California.
This event was life-changing, and of course, devastating. A terrible blow to the ego. I had been on a professional career track, aiming to be a college professor. I had even attained my Ph.D. from Boston University the year before, despite a dissertation which called into question the entire foundations of western philosophy. I “got away with it” that time, shielded from failure by my mentor, a university gadfly who, himself in the throes of his own midlife crisis, had utilized me and my “highly unusual” dissertation as his tool for needling the academic world.
But I didn’t get away with it the year following that. This time I had no shield, no mentor. I was on my own. “Free to be me.” My ego ran rampant. After one year fomenting extreme havoc at New College of California, then a fragile start-up only two years old, I was fired, summarily, by the trustees, who told the president (who had supported me): “Fire her, or lose your endowment!”
Afterwards, a teacher whom I had admired very much during my one year there said something to me which stung at the time, since I had assumed that at least he would support me: “You,” he said, “are the most intuitive person in this school. But what you have to teach you are too young to know.”
Fifteen years later, when I was 46 years old, I founded Crone Chronicles: A Journal of Conscious Aging. It was as if this man’s prescient remark had returned as an echo, to tell me that now was the time to begin the Neptunian work for which I had been born.
Or, I should say, it was time to begin the next phase of that work. For I have been working with Neptune ever since the New College of California fiasco. That firing was what fired me into becoming an astrologer. Within only months of my demise there, I was staring at my birthchart, wondering whether it was really a map, whether it could help me understand the horrible thing that had happened to me.
The cycle of Neptune is 165 years. Since its cycle is longer than the experience of one lifetime, we will never, ever, understand its full meaning. To fully understand Neptune would be to experience its entire cycle: the meaning of any planet is its cycle. Since we cannot fully incorporate the cycle of Neptune into our lives, it follows that we cannot control the way it works. Neptune is a power larger than our own, and its subtle energies work through us in mysterious ways. All we can do is surrender. Surrender to Love. Surrender to the work of the Spirit as it seeks to move us in directions which we know not, but which, when followed, create beauty and awe.
People with outer planets on one of the four angles are difficult to understand. Either their personality (the Ascendant) is strange, or they pick strange partners (the Descendant), or their home life is strange (the Imum Coeli), or, as in my case, their path itself is strange (the Midheaven).
Moreover, especially in the case of an outer planet on the Midheaven, whatever happens in the life becomes publicized. Life is not lived in private. The fogs and delusions and addictions of Neptune are as public as any eventual conversion to a spiritually-based life.
One man I knew with Neptune on the Midheaven, an English professor, routinely came to class drunk. His students preferred him drunk, as only then did his wildly dramatic side entertain them. I don’t know what happened to him. Whether he was ever able to let go of the demon rum.
Another young man I know, also with Neptune on the Midheaven, when only 20 years old decided to seek help for alcohol and drug abuse — something his fraternity college classmates indulge in routinely as “partying.” That young man, by separating himself out from the crowd and seeking help for his addictions, took the first step towards the spirit, and the spirit’s path.
In my early 30s, even after my wake-up call at New College, I was addicted to everything I could get my hands on. The only question, when I woke up in the morning, was: what shall I smoke first, a joint or a cigarette?
As Neptune is present at the onset of addiction, so it is present at the release of addiction. Neptune puts us through delusionary, illusionary, foggy, confused states; ultimately Neptune dissipates our energy, to the point where we must finally surrender, give up, give in to the spirit’s call. The illusory satisfactions of money, things, co-dependent relationships, substance abuse of all kinds — all dissolve into the subtle, all-pervasive effervescence of the planet Neptune.
Because our society encourages addictive behavior, when we surrender to Neptune’s call, we find ourselves alone. The initial steps in the many stages of surrender to the path of Spirit are solitary. Solitude is a test. A major initiation. Can we let go of the seductions of the world? Can we move down through the layers of personality to uncover the soul? Can we stop everything, really stop, and listen to our heart’s song? Can we cease our continous restless movement and sense the shifts in the breeze? The turning of the tides? The phases of the Moon?
Eventually, we do come to rest in the still quiet center of ourselves, the eye of the storm, the turning point of the world. Nestled securely within our own center, we plunge into the present moment — and lo and behold, the moment expands! What was a mere glimpse dilates into wide-angled panorama; the trickle swells into an ocean. We are not alone. We are surrounded, surrendered to the oneness, the All and Everything, the pulsing heart of a cosmos which connects us not only to our own soul’s joy but to the tender interior of one another. The solitude which we embraced as fate transforms into communion, the mystical body, the silent symphony of souls.