Ship of Fools
The following is an excerpt from my 2013 Astrological Almanac, a handy tome with daily, monthly and yearly astrological analysis, an ephemeris, a plethora of essays, and more. You can grab yourself a copy here.
The old gods of the oceans, rivers and lakes stir. The water nymphs and apsaras awake to frolic and seduce. Cthulhu, in old R’lyeh, cracks open an eye. The paths that lead to understanding the mysteries of water open, and gather many in their currents.
The Mighty Waters
One of 2013’s distinguishing features is that there is an unusual abundance of planets in water signs. The year begins with Saturn in Scorpio and Neptune in Pisces. A little past the halfway mark, in July, Jupiter enters Cancer, where it be until 2014. In addition to these three distant bodies holding court in aquatic signs, all 3 of Mercury’s 2013 retrogrades occur entirely within water signs. Because Mercury spends much more time in the areas in which he chooses to retrograde, that means that Mercury will spend more days in water signs in 2013 than he will spend in the signs of the other 3 elements put together. Finally, the North Node, one of the two eclipse points, also spends the entirety of 2013 in a water sign- Scorpio.
This preponderance of the planets in waters signs gives the year a number of characteristics. On a physical level, it points to events literally involving water. The inevitable floods, storms and tidal waves that have become a consistent part of climate change are certainly augured, but so is insight into the patterns the govern the mighty waters. The dynamics of the water cycle will get greater attention, as will the inhabitants of undersea kingdoms, learning more about familiar creatures and likely discovering new ones as well. As both the deep sea marine biologist and petroleum engineer can tell you, there is much to be discovered beneath the waves.
On a political level, a focus on watery areas is highlighted, especially those that are disputed or are key portals for global trade. The South China Sea, in which islands are claimed by a host of East Asian nations, is a good example. Potentially oil rich, those islands whose ownership hardly mattered 5 years ago have now become political flashpoints. The United States has also declared that its priorities will shift away from parched oil fields of the Middle East to the vast Pacific realm.
The element of water is about understanding the hidden forces behind apparent motions, the pattern of the waves, the motives hiding the blood. This superabundance of planets in water signs asks us, collectively and personally, to remember that we are residents of but a tiny island of solidity amidst a universe of energy in flux. There are mysteries afoot, but then again, there always have been. Both scientific and religious discourses will benefit from the return of the inexplicable.
On a personal level, 2013 will throw people into the deep end of the pool without warning. The metaphorical danger is drowning. When the current is too swift, our craft capsized. When the way to shore is uncertain, we run the risk of falling beneath the waves. On a psychological level, this is what happens when we’re overwhelmed by thoughts and feelings we don’t understand, dragged to confront issues we didn’t even know we had.
The surfeit of water makes 2013 thick with… feelings. It will be a difficult year to avoid the emotional level of things, as the tide will wash back all that you throw away. It will prove difficult for the earthy types that prefer to stick to the facts, fiery types who’d rather act first and delve into motives later. The rational air type will fare better here, as air’s ability to dehydrate, to evaporate, to analyze will be utterly crucial in making sense of the various floods. Watery types may feel at home, their emotional intelligence and ability to subtly navigate invisible currents of great value.
It’s a year to learn to swim, as no matter how fierce your battleship is, there’s no guarantee you won’t get tossed overboard from time to time. 2013 will test and enhance our emotional intelligence, as well as our ability to function in situations where the way forward is not clear.
There are periods of 2013 that offer a strange sort of trap. Not an earthy enclosure or cell, but a prison of water as far as the eye can see. This is the labyrinth of absence, the utter lack of walls a jail cell. Here we will find roads where there are none, invisible pathways created by the current alone.
The deep and powerful currents of 2013 carry us inevitably back into the teeth of the Uranus-Pluto square, whose presence continues unabated through 2013. The themes these warring titans bring are unavoidable- quakes in existing power structures, the rapid emergence of potent new cultural and technological forces, and on a personal level, stories of confinement and freedom. Both the Phoenix and the Crow follow our ship wherever it goes, and all the islands we happen upon in our Odyssey will be in various stages of revolt, crack down, death and rebirth.
The mighty waters of 2013 stand ready to wash away our preconceptions, to cast us adrift into parts unknown. Though the terrors of storm and sea threaten, any journey into the unknown must, by definition, also be a journey of discovery, and discovery’s two children- wonder and horror.
We therefore cast off in the ship of fools. The ship of fools was an artistic motif in Renaissance European culture, a metaphorical amplification of a practice for dealing with the mentally ill at the time. According to French social philosopher and historian Michele Foucault, people paid ships to take on the mad as cargo, relieving the town or city of the burden of the mentally ill. These ships were said to sail from port to port, collecting but never ejecting the fools that populated them. It was also thought that in their ongoing travels, the mad might find a cure they might never discover at home.
Some debate remains as to how wide spread this practice was, but regardless of how many sailed aboard these floating sanitariums, it inspired an artistic motif that ran through a number of literary and painted works, the most famous of which was “Das Narrenschiff,” by Sebastion Brandt, and Hieronymous Bosch’s “Ship of Fools,” whose image graces the cover of this very almanac.
Bosch’s Ship of Fools extended the metaphor beyond the psychic margins. All of society is represented aboard the ship. The fools are not merely those operating at the fringes of society, but all of us. For who truly knows where life will take them, and in hindsight, who is truly wise? Although it could be viewed as cynical, it is, in fact, an epistemological reality. We don’t know everything simply because we can’t. Admitting to this is less cynical than it is humble. Thus, it is all of us in the ship of fools, though not because any of us are particularly stupid or insane. We are fools here in the sense the Tarot card of the same name suggests— ready to step off a cliff and plunge into a new world— a fresh adventure. Our skiff will take us through new stories, unfamiliar narratives, the likes of which only make sense in the reflected light of ancient tales. The fool’s inescapable vice is ignorance, but his virtue is humility, the wisdom of the limits of knowledge.
We are only fools in the sense of “mentally ill” or “stupid” if we insist on treating the novel sights we greet along the way with familiar names and categories. A rhino is not a thick horse with horn, nor is it a unicorn. We can see in the journals of early explorers the temptation to categorize entirely new things and situations using familiar categories is nearly irresistible. But we need to make room, not only for what we discover about our world, and ourselves, but also for new ways of thinking about them. For the waters we will enter into this year are not unlike the beautifully distorted maps of antiquity, which warned of dragons, monsters, and sea serpents in uncharted areas. So pack your bags and put on your dunce cap— you’ve got a ship to catch.
2013 Quarterly Walkthrough
The year begins on a pragmatic note, with several planets grumbling their way through Capricorn, each pondering how best to adapt to a world intent on changing. There is a tension in January between pragmatic pressures and idealistic potentials that continues throughout the month, with the balance sliding to favor the idealistic and the experimental toward the end of the month.
February begins where January left off, ideals and ideas running strong. Yet very early in the month, planets start sliding into Pisces, taking things sideways. The clocks all start melting in mid February, when 2013 hits us with the year’s first big inundation. From the middle of February until mid March, there will be five planets in Pisces, one of those bodies being a very retrograde Mercury, guaranteeing a supremely surreal month. The equinox sees the waters replaced swiftly with a series of wildfires as the planets emerge from Pisces into raging Aries.
2nd Quarter- Fire, Sand and Speed
The second quarter of the year begins with an angry mob of planets scorching their way through Aries, each conjoining Uranus and then squaring Pluto, kicking off a variety of revolutions, empowerments and calcinations. Phoenixes choke the skies.
However, come late April, the focus shifts to the problematic pastures of Taurus. Venus, the Sun and Mars all plow through the fields here, turning up all manner of buried treasure and damning evidence. The lunar eclipse in Scorpio followed by the solar one in Taurus guarantee that our in time the pasture will be subject to a difficult karmic undertow and a variety of big shifts.
After the blacklight disco of the eclipses, Mercury and Venus speed ahead to join Jupiter in Gemini, just in time for another exact clash between Uranus and Pluto. Rapid changes, brilliant insights and a crazy pace define the late days of May.
During early June Mercury and Venus plop into Cancer’s tidepools, beginning the longest and deepest flood that 2013 has to offer. On the solstice the Sun joins them and not long after, Mercury goes retrograde in the sensitive sign, setting up the next quarter’s high seas adventures.
3rd Quarter— Stirring the Great Cauldron
July begins with the majority of planets in water signs, yet more join the pool party early in the month. The remainder of the month is a sequence of uber potent grand water trines, followed by t-squares with Uranus and Pluto. These configurations boil insight and emotion in the same cauldron as revolutionary lightning and crushing necessity. This mixture seethes and bubbles throughout July and into August, testing the structural integrity of our vessel. The end of July offers the choppiest waters, as Mars, Uranus and Pluto tussle— a very destabilizing mixture.
August sees the warm Sun in Leo evaporate some of the excess waters, but the depths still hold sway. The majority of the month is dominated by Jupiter’s dramatic t-square with Uranus and Pluto, which opens the way for both epic opportunities and monstrous defeats. The potential prizes grow even more tantalizing and perilous as Venus joins Uranus, Pluto and Jupiter in a righteous grand cross that dominates the last third of August.
The Virgin offers us some solid ground to stand on during the first half of September, drying us off and helping us to count our plunder and repair our battered vessels. Saturn and Pluto provide a series of reality checks here, grounding us out after a season of wild seas.
4th Quarter— Pressurized Water Reactor
October begins with some challenges to balance as the Sun makes its way across the Pluto-Uranus opposition, jostling what equilibrium was gained in September. It is really the second half of the month that’s interesting, though, as it begins the year’s third and final inundation. The Sun follows Mercury into Scorpio, connecting to the deep flow already overseen by Neptune in Pisces, Jupiter in Cancer and Saturn in Scorpio. Amidst the rushing waters, Uranus and Pluto make another exact square, letting loose a potent flare of transformative/destructive energy. This fierce current, steered by a retrograde Mercury, takes us through another pair of eclipses.
This plunge through a series of transformative tunnels spits us out on the shores of December, dried off but in the midst of growing strangeness. December is subject to Venus’ retrograde station in Capricorn, and Mars’ entry into Libra, the sign of his next retrograde, shadowing the month with unease. Venus stations retrograde on the Solstice and Mars clashes with Uranus and Pluto during the last week of the year, unleashing a fair amount of chaos. Just as the new drama unfolds, 2013 ends, leaving us with a cliffhanger finale.