Jupiter-Saturn-Pluto themes in John Barleycorn through Jack London and Robert Burns

I came across this passage today which my father, the Jack London scholar in my family, had sent to me a couple of years ago. Both my dad and I grew up very near the old Jack London ranch in Glen Ellen, California and my dad is a docent at the state park there now, often leading silent meditative hikes for folks wanting to connect with the place in a deeper way.

This passage comes from John Barleycorn, an autobiographical novel focused on themes of drinking, alcoholism, and masculinity (published 1913). 

“Wander with me through one mood of the myriad moods of sadness into which one is plunged by John Barleycorn. I ride out over my beautiful ranch. Between my legs is a beautiful horse. The air is wine. The grapes on a score of rolling hills are red with autumn flame. Across Sonoma Mountain wisps of sea fog are stealing. The afternoon sun smoulders in the drowsy sky. I have everything to make me glad I am alive. I am filled with dreams and mysteries. I am all sun and air and sparkle. I am vitalised, organic. I move, I have the power of movement, I command movement of the live thing I bestride. I am possessed with the pomps of being, and know proud passions and inspirations. I have ten thousand august connotations. I am a king in the kingdom of sense, and trample the face of the uncomplaining dust…. And yet, with jaundiced eye I gaze upon all the beauty and wonder about me, and with jaundiced brain consider the pitiful figure I cut in this world that endured so long without me and that will again endure without me. I remember the men who broke their hearts and their backs over this stubborn soil that now belongs to me. As if anything imperishable could belong to the perishable! These men passed. I, too, shall pass. These men toiled, and cleared, and planted, gazed with aching eyes, while they rested their labour-stiffened bodies on these same sunrises and sunsets, at the autumn glory of the grape, and at the fog-wisps stealing across the mountain. And they are gone. And I know that I, too, shall some day, and soon, be gone.”

― Jack London, John Barleycorn

Jack London, who was born with a Jupiter-Saturn-Pluto T-square (also in a grand cross with Uranus and possibly his Moon –– the birth time of 2pm has a Rodden Rating of B), likely wrote John Barleycorn during the year of 1912 when Saturn was transiting conjunct his natal Pluto, opposite his natal Jupiter; and Pluto was transiting trine his natal Saturn. Saturn and Pluto were, at that time, tightening into the August 1913-June 1916 conjunction which would coincide with the first world war.


Jack London natal


John Barleycorn itself is an old folk ballad from the British Isles which chronicles the life cycle of barley as it is grown, harvested, and made into alcohol. The great Scottish poet Robert Burns published his version of John Barleycorn in 1782 while a Jupiter-Saturn conjunction made multiple passes conjunct his natal Pluto.


Robert Burne 1782 John Barleycorn


In Burns’ version John Barleycorn is buried and reborn (Pluto’s themes of passage to and from the underworld may be seen here), and then in the Autumn the reapers come with their scythes (here we see the common Saturnian image of the reaper with his scythe who rings in death at the harvest). John Barleycorn of course, is made into alcohol which gives courage and joy (Jupiter) but not without the taste of death, as we can see from London’s both buoyant (Jupiter) and bleak (Saturn) reckoning with it in the passage above.


John Barleycorn: A Ballad

by Robert Burns, 1782

There was three kings into the east,
Three kings both great and high,
And they hae sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn should die.

They took a plough and plough’d him down,
Put clods upon his head,
And they hae sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn was dead.

But the cheerful Spring came kindly on,
And show’rs began to fall;
John Barleycorn got up again,
And sore surpris’d them all.

The sultry suns of Summer came,
And he grew thick and strong;
His head weel arm’d wi’ pointed spears,
That no one should him wrong.

The sober Autumn enter’d mild,
When he grew wan and pale;
His bending joints and drooping head
Show’d he began to fail.

His colour sicken’d more and more,
He faded into age;
And then his enemies began
To show their deadly rage.

They’ve taen a weapon, long and sharp,
And cut him by the knee;
Then tied him fast upon a cart,
Like a rogue for forgerie.

They laid him down upon his back,
And cudgell’d him full sore;
They hung him up before the storm,
And turned him o’er and o’er.

They filled up a darksome pit
With water to the brim;
They heaved in John Barleycorn,
There let him sink or swim.

They laid him out upon the floor,
To work him farther woe;
And still, as signs of life appear’d,
They toss’d him to and fro.

They wasted, o’er a scorching flame,
The marrow of his bones;
But a miller us’d him worst of all,
For he crush’d him between two stones.

And they hae taen his very heart’s blood,
And drank it round and round;
And still the more and more they drank,
Their joy did more abound.

John Barleycorn was a hero bold,
Of noble enterprise;
For if you do but taste his blood,
‘Twill make your courage rise.

‘Twill make a man forget his woe;
‘Twill heighten all his joy;
‘Twill make the widow’s heart to sing,
Tho’ the tear were in her eye.

Then let us toast John Barleycorn,
Each man a glass in hand;
And may his great posterity
Ne’er fail in old Scotland!


What the F*ck is Going On? (3)

(This is part 3 of a 3 part series. Read part 1 here, and part 2 here)

A few months ago I had a dream about a great wave. In the dream I was one of many people on a group of large but ramshackle rafts that had been constructed out of scraps: things like shipping containers, old playground equipment, etc. We were out to sea and in some kind of dire situation when. On the horizon, I saw a giant wave building in approach. We had enough time to see the wave, to feel the swell pull us down and then up the vertical face of its solid, moving, cliff of water; and enough time to think something quick like, “oh wow” or, “holy fuck” or, “I guess this is it?” before we were swallowed and funneled –– pressed flat down into the abyss. Underwater my eyes were closed: I have a fear of being underwater at real depths; and I didn’t know which way to swim to reach the surface. Then, a hand touched my shoulder. I opened my eyes, my feet touched the silky sandy bottom, and there was a man with an eagle tattoo across his abdomen pointing up and miming, “Go!” I pushed off and kicked like hell and broke the surface with burning, empty lungs. There were only a few of us who made it.

Seasoned archetypal astrologers will look at this dream and see a few themes: Neptune is the ocean, the wave. Saturn is the gravity, the real possibility of death. Some might say that the eagle and the man are manifestations of a Solar hero/ine. And Pluto is the mystery of the depths, the chaotic loss of control, and the portal of renewal. As astrologers, we understand also that there might be different meanings, experiences, or interpretations of this dream which are all archetypally fitting and relevant. This is what we refer to as the multivalence of the archetypes.

Multivalence translates roughly to having many levels, and each of the planetary archetypes from the Moon to Pluto are, by many calculations vastly multivalent. How is this possible? I don’t know? How is any of this possible? Don’t make me try to answer that! All I know is as the years have crawled by and my practice has deepened, I have grown to know the planetary archetypes as closely as family: I can recognize their handwriting whether they’re in a rush or taking their time. It’s what some refer to as the Archetypal Eye.

Working with this knowledge of archetypal multivalence I will now introduce our major players for today: Saturn and Pluto. Saturn, with its 29-ish year orbit, is archetypally linked to themes of boundaries, death, time, endings and finality, maturity and elder-hood, patriarchy and conservative regimes, control, hard work and reality (as opposed to fantasy), things that take time, things that last, hard-earned wisdom, and security. Pluto, with its 250-ish year orbit, is linked to themes of the death/birth/rebirth mysteries, change, chaos, sex, obsession, possession, what’s been hidden, kept secret, or occluded; magic, the occult, power, the underworld, destructive and regenerative transformation, the biological and scatological processes of death, sex, and rebirth, the cycle of compost: from putrefaction to consumption to fertility, and so on.

Historically we have seen Saturn-Pluto alignments correlate with periods of conservative empowerment; tension and aggression from conservative or controlling factions; depth work on the part of people attempting to heal old, repressed, or taboo cultural wounds; and slow-built resilience from oppressed people who have built strength through time and maturity to compost whatever power had been holding them down. When the Saturn-Pluto conjunction came into this tight alignment, Uranus –– the planet of quick change, breakdowns, breakthroughs, and the trickster –– which is at the end of a 12-year square to Pluto, began its much shorter square to Saturn. At the same time the Saturn-Pluto conjunction was joined by Mars and Jupiter. Mars, bringing the heat of quick decisions and emergency, and Jupiter contributing to the vast expanse of the emergency. With the added complexity of Uranus square Saturn-Pluto (plus Mars and Jupiter) we are seeing a global emergency erupt, and in the wake of that an overwhelming scale of unequal power dynamics have been revealed through breakdowns in crucial systems, such as public health and the economy. The political side of this is particularly here in the United States where our Executive branch has become a trickster on steroids careening us into a dire situation where the ship’s captain, working on a thin but massive sense of self-importance, claims there is no iceberg, while we sink.

Let’s take a breath. These things take time to digest. How’s your body? Do you need to stretch? Take a sip of water? Make some toast? Look at a tree or flower out your window or in your garden? You can come back to this any time –– we have time.

I have spent much of the past five years studying Saturn-Pluto movements and Saturn-Pluto people. Partly this has been my way of coping with the knowledge that this time was coming, though I didn’t know exactly how it would unfold. Partly I have been drawn to the combination because I have it in my birth chart, in a wide conjunction tied tighter by an inner planet, Venus. I love Saturn Pluto. I love the way it lays bare whats happening under the surface, beneath the face and the masks of the every day. I love that it meets us at our depths and doesn’t ask us to pretend or lie about how hard or powerful life can be.

The social and historical areas where I’ve been most drawn to work with this combination are in a period I spent learning about the Zapatista movement –– whose famous 1994 uprising took place under an exact square –– and in restorative justice processes, which has many Saturn-Pluto correlations from Dine (Navajo) healing circles, to work in prisons, and RJOY (Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth). Restorative justice is a very good example of the way we can create a container (Saturn) to face the unfaceable (Pluto) and build community that has the ability to transform harm into healing (Saturn-Pluto). (For a great piece on Saturn-Pluto correlations with restorative justice look for Max DeArmon’s essay, “Forging a New World: Collective Karma and the Saturn-Pluto Archetypal Drama.” in Archai: The Journal of Archetypal Cosmology, no. 5 [2016]).

So, how do we get through this wave and make it to the surface? Saturn-Pluto is intense, deep, at times scary, and awesome. One question I ask myself when working with this dynamic is, “how can I show up in this situation with deeper integrity than I thought I had?” or, “in what ways is this pushing me harder, deeper, and slower (agonizingly) than I ever thought possible and how can I step down into this path with honor?” In these times I think a lot about elders. How can I honor elder-hood by patiently, deeply, and naturally stepping into it myself? How can I honor the natural processes of the Earth by living in tune with its rhythms of compost, chaos, and fertility? How can I tune in to time as a depth perception?

For me these days this looks a lot like working on boundaries: no, I cannot be on zoom, facetime, or texting all day even though I’m lonely; no, I cannot dissociate into endless TV shows for weeks on end; no, I cannot forget to eat, eat all day, or eat only toast with butter and honey, and a dusting of cinnamon (even though it’s really one of the best/yummiest foods IMHO); no I cannot sustainably drink a glass of wine or a cocktail every night –– it makes me groggy and crabby the next morning and isn’t even fun when I do it all the time. With boundaries comes creativity: yes to long mornings, yes to slow walks and staring at the treetops (I am lucky to be able to do this in my neighborhood), yes to the entire BBC miniseries of War and Peace and also yes to finally reading it? Maybe? Yes to phone calls instead of texting. Yes to crying when I need to let the feelings roll out and down my cheeks. Yes to carving out time and courage to write this and put it on the internet…eek! But, yes to it, because I don’t know when I will have another chance: life is sweet but severe and time is final.

This was a long one. Thanks for sticking with me. Saturn-Pluto is a slog, but here we are. I extend my love to all of you. If you want, you can take a minute to sit and enjoy one of my favorite songs of the moment: Tender by Blur. This is what I like to listen to on my porch when the sun is fading and I’m rounding out another day of solitude and so many other things.




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Join me tonight at 7:00 pm Pacific time for an astrological conversation with Rick Tarnas, Chad Harris, Laura Michetti, and myself. For more information visit the Facebook event page: Gimme Shelter: Reflections and Strategies for our Current World Transits

After tonight the recording will be available on the PCC Forum website.

*Edit* The recording of our presentation is now available here.

What the F*ck is Going On? (2)

(This is part 2 of a 3 part series. Read part 1 here)

Welcome to part two, wherein we take a technical turn toward me trying to teach you some of this language we call astrology. Let’s imagine we’re a surfer. We love to surf. There is no day like the days we can get out into the water and no weather big enough, flat enough, good enough or bad enough to keep us out. So, you love waves even if they crush you; even if they pin you to the bottom long enough to make you forget your name, because the other side of that is the blissful thrill of riding, floating, being carried by something –– within something –– that’s bigger and more creative than you could ever attempt to understand. This is life!

Let’s think of our solar system: it’s roughly a plane of circling planetary bodies –– a flat circle if you like, kind of a fried egg with a sun-yolk at the center. The farther out to the edge you go, the longer it takes to make the full circle; thus, Pluto, which is the farthest takes about 250 years to make the trip (it’s a little wobbly so let’s not get too caught on particulars just now). The next closest is Neptune at about 165 years, then Uranus at 84, and Saturn with just about a 29 year orbit. These four planets are what I will refer to as the “outer planets,” because apart from Saturn they exist beyond the edge of what a person can see with the naked eye. Because these planets take so long to go around the Sun, when they come into an angular alignment with one another it tends to last a long time –– long enough for us to really feel it.

Right now, we are in the middle of an alignment between Saturn and Pluto. They are conjunct, which is astrology for at the same spot in the sky from where we’re looking. This conjunction lasts for about three years according to the calculations I have been taught within my lineage. (Warning: we’re getting techy) Some astrologers calculate transits with a 1 or 2 degree orb, meaning that they’d say this Saturn-Pluto conjunction is lasting only a couple of months, but in my lineage we calculate world transits with a wider orb because many years of data suggest that the archetypal field of events which correlate to the signatures of these planetary archetypes are experienced from a wider berth than just the tightest part. So, we’re right at the crest of a Saturn-Pluto wave that has been building for about two years and will continue to plow and settle for the rest of 2020 and into 2021, roughly. To give you a little perspective, the last time Saturn and Pluto were conjunct was 1980-84; when they were last opposite was 2000-2004, the era of 9/11.

The exact conjunction of Saturn and Pluto was on January 12th this year. It’s mid-April now and January 12th already feels like a year ago. I don’t know about you, but this winter was hard for me. From about mid-December through the end of January I dealt with some severe depression and anxiety within a range of topics from the very personal to the collective: I felt like I was getting so much older so quickly, like the climate crisis was nearing collapse (remember the Australian wildfires? Yep, that was just happening); I felt the weight of countless limits, regrets, losses, and increasingly impossible dreams pressing down on my unprepared, fragile humanity. That was January. I don’t need to make a list for you about what we’re dealing with now, in the time of Covid-19.

When these big world transits swell we experience them both personally and collectively. They take their shape and space in our inner lives, relationally, in dreamtime and non ordinary states, and in our outer lives socially, culturally, politically, and globally. It is my opinion that one of the best ways to use astrology is as a cypher for the past to decode ways to live with more depth, lucidity, and integrity within the present. I once heard the Bolivian sociologist Sylvia Rivera Cusiqanqui describe a non-Western relationship to past and future as orienting with one’s face toward the past, standing in the present, and stepping backwards into the future. As historical and counseling astrologers we are pattern trackers, sitting and examining a weaving of archetypal bumps and grooves which works itself on a loom as old as time itself. By studying the patterns of the past we can turn our backs to the future, but with a readiness that is only feigned by facing forward. Each new thread can be played, woven, pressed into the pattern with care, or at least with some deeper awareness.

In the next and final part of this series I will describe in more detail the archetypal signatures of Saturn and Pluto, and I’ll weave in a couple other planets who have joined the alignment over this winter: Mars, Jupiter, and Uranus. I will also try my best to offer a few constructive insights into how to be with these archetypal energies and not be totally consumed by fear, anxiety, or dread, because I know how these things can worm their way into those regions of our minds sometimes, and part of the duty of translation is to offer a full spectrum rather than a skewed half-word.

Until tomorrow.

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If you are really itching to skip ahead and read about the planetary archetypes you might like the essay written by my teacher Rick Tarnas, An Introduction to Archetypal Astrology.


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Join me this Thursday evening at 7:00 pm Pacific time for an astrological conversation with Rick Tarnas, Chad Harris, Laura Michetti, and myself. For more information visit the Facebook event page: Gimme Shelter: Reflections and Strategies for our Current World Transits

What the F*ck is Going On?

(This is part 1 of a 3 part series)

Archetypal cosmology is a language of patterns woven through time and histories. Astrologers learn to read this language as it correlates to the rhythmic chorus of the planets in our solar system and so, in times like these when the movements crescendo, we are often asked to try to explain what the f*ck is going on. Has anyone else been wondering about that recently?

I’m writing this in mid-April of 2020, almost five weeks into my state-mandated isolation during the Coronavirus pandemic. I’m doing alright, really. The days are rolling in and out like waves and I seem to have found a rhythm in it. My weekly cycle tends toward two days of despair and frayed nerves with lots of crying, followed by three days of feeling like I quite enjoy being home all the time and not even having to think about wearing button-pants, rounded out by another two days split by worrying about my loved ones/the world/everyone who is struggling more than me, and just staring out into the void. Amidst all of this I am working from home for my day job, attempting to not fall completely flat as a doctoral student, trying my best to get my cardio in, and giving astrology readings when I have the time. I am lucky to have work. I am so lucky to have work! I realize that I am very lucky to have work. And at the same time, right now, when the world is a very uncertain place and I’m working with three good days per week, working is very, very difficult.

Through everything; the worrying, the fear, the sporadic irreverence, and the sobbing grief, I am deeply grateful to have the language of astrology to contextualize this time. And if you would like to know more about what I understand regarding the patterns of whatever it is that’s happening now, you may keep reading.

Explaining astrology to non astrologers is difficult. It’s like trying to describe a foreign language to someone who doesn’t speak it. In person and over my zoom readings I tend to use my hands a lot (“see, this is a square and this is how it works,” [hand movements it would take paragraphs to describe]). I’m going to do my best to make this brief because if you’re anything like me right now you don’t have much of an attention span for anything longer than a couple of pages (cue a 5 minute mental digression to best practices for maintaining a sourdough starter, or how many pole beans you’d need to plant for an entire season if you had the space, or when you’ll be able to hold your friend’s newborn again…)

One way to describe the effects of transits – the movement of the planets, including the Sun and Moon, in our solar system relative to our position on Earth – is to use a wave metaphor. One might look ahead at the transits to their own birth chart just as a surfer would look out at the sets of waves rolling in at their favorite spot before going out into them. If we can observe the patterns and rhythms of the waves – how and where they are breaking, how often they come in, if there is a pause between sets, etc – then they might have a better chance of knowing what kind of ride they’re in for. It would be laughable to suggest that a surfer could change the waves, just as we cannot change the kneading of the outer planets that plays through our lives, but a surfer might take a different board, wear a different wetsuit, or choose to duck or ride based on the pattern if they know them. Are you still with me?

Major outer-planet transits happen slowly, like waves unfolding in slow motion. They build, crest, and settle. Depending on the length of orbit, these  transit waves might last for months, years, or decades. They might have one crest or they might have two or three. Part of how the patterns play out is the way we ride them.


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Join me this Thursday evening at 7:00 pm Pacific time for an astrological conversation with Rick Tarnas, Chad Harris, Laura Michetti, and myself. For more information visit the Facebook event page: Gimme Shelter: Reflections and Strategies for our Current World Transits