Discovering the dharma of a generation
Wrestling with a “Big Idea”
The idea that informs this article has been fermenting in my head for the better part of a decade. The notion of using astrology to define generational identity—while well-established within the astrological community—is virtually unknown to the public at large. This is a real shame, because I believe that this astrological approach has some very profound insights to offer society, particularly in these critical times.
But it’s one of those “big ideas” with such broad implications, that it’s hard to know where to start. Having gathered all my thoughts on the topic into an outline for a book, I landed on a working title: Collective Souls: Discovering the Dharma of a Generation. It was a grand idea, but the task proved daunting. The sheer scope of parsing out all the implications of shifting public perception of such deeply ingrained generational models and replacing them with an astrological approach presented me with a heavy lift. Which is why ten years later, the book still lives exclusively in my head.
But amid the current cultural crisis we are facing, it feels lazy and selfish to not be sharing these insights publicly. So I’ve decided to use Medium as a means of presenting these ideas in digestible chunks and publishing them as a series. In the end, who knows, maybe I’ll finally have the book I’ve been waiting a decade to write.
Our first task is to establish the foundational framework of an astrological approach to generations. It’s actually quite simple: we use Pluto. As the outermost planet in the solar system, it takes Pluto 248 years to orbit around the sun. Thus, it spends an average of about 20 years transiting through each of the 12 signs of the zodiac—which correlates with the average length of a generation. So if you were born when Pluto was transiting through the sign of Leo—as it did from 1939 to 1956—then you are a member of the Pluto in Leo Generation. If you were born between 1956 and 1972, you are a member of the Pluto in Virgo Generation. And so on, yielding a consistent cycle of 12 generations that repeats every 248 years.
By using Pluto’s orbit—a consistent cosmic clock of time—we can thus draw very clear lines of distinction between successive generations. We are no longer beholden to some arbitrary cultural distinctions as a means of determining where one generation ends and the next one begins. By referencing this “cosmic clock”—built into the very fabric of our solar system—we have a universally-consistent generational demarcation system. Pretty cool.
Now, let’s address a few likely objections to this approach right up front. Here are the top 3:
- Total Skeptic: “Astrology is total bullshit. There’s no science behind it. It’s a new-age, airy-fairy pseudo-science that has been completely debunked by ‘real’ science. Stop wasting my time.”
- Stoner Skeptic: “Dude, Pluto isn’t even a planet any more. It totally got demoted to a “dwarf planet” back in 2006 by the International Astronomical Union. Get a clue, Brah.”
- Rather Astute Skeptic: “Your assertion that Pluto takes an average of 20 years to travel through each sign of the zodiac is misleading. Because of Pluto’s extremely elliptical orbit, it takes just 9 years to transit Scorpio (where it travels closest to the Sun) and 30 years to travel through Taurus (where it is furthest from the Sun). In fact, each of your “Pluto Generations” will be of varying lengths, thus making it a poor metric for drawing generational lines. Dismissed.”
These are all reasonable objections. Let me address them each in turn.
- Science is awesome. It is incredibly efficient at measuring stuff and creating an inventory of the physical world. It landed us on the Moon for God’s sake—it’s powerful! But it only tells part of the story. Reason alone cannot account for everything in the universe, let alone life on this planet. Left-brained, logical thinking and the scientific method has itself been elevated to quasi-religious status in our modern society. But it has its limits. That’s why our human brains evolved with two hemispheres. Astrology requires that we also utilize our right brains—to intuit that there are things beyond our ability to explain or measure that nonetheless present themselves as true and valid. Real inquiry requires an “open-minded” approach. Every great scientist from Newton to Einstein also believed in a God.
- Dude, you’re totally right. Pluto got dissed hard by the IAU. And I’m sure being labeled a “dwarf” was a devastating blow to its planetary ego. But that didn’t stop it from continuing to “act” like a planet, i.e. orbit the Sun in perfect rhythm with all the other planets of our solar system, like some magnificent clockwork, collectively dancing in a cosmic ballet that has endured for 4.5 billion years. Take it all in, Brah, it’s mind-blowing stuff.
- This is a rather astute observation: Pluto’s orbit is indeed extremely elliptical in comparison to the other planets. As it approaches perihelion (orbiting closest to the Sun) it actually travels inside the orbit of Neptune for a while. Then when it moves to aphelion (farthest from the Sun) it travels way out into the farthest reaches of the solar system. This is highly irregular… and kind of amazing, really. And you’re right, Pluto’s elliptical orbit means that it only averages 20 years per sign, but actually spends anywhere for 9-30 years in each zodiac sign. Yet this itself is cyclically consistent, and may reveal a particular “pulsating rhythm” at work in the unfolding cycle of generations.
So we need to establish a few things as we build our foundation for pursuing this idea of a planetary approach to generations.
- We need to accept that while science has not been able to detect a measurable “mechanism” for why the orbit of the planets in our solar system might affect humans living on Earth, there is nonetheless an observable correlation between planetary positions and human behavior. The fact that the gravitational force of Moon not only affects the tides, but also women’s menstrual cycles and spikes in “lunacy” during a full Moon offers us reason to suspect that some yet to be measured energetic forces might be at work. Without needing to demonstrate causation, we can agree that there is indeed a powerfully palpable correlation. Jung’s ideas of synchronicity aptly describes the phenomenon of planetary influences as observed by astrology, as Richard Tarnas brilliantly demonstrates in his seminal work Cosmos & Psyche.
- We need to acknowledge that despite Pluto being demoted to a dwarf planet, that it still “functions” like a planet and thus continues to possess the potential to exert a mysterious yet efficacious force on human activity and behavior.
- We need to understand that because of Pluto’s highly elliptical orbit, its use as a generational marker will necessarily create some generations that are longer and some that are shorter. And we must be open to the possibility that this may in fact indicate some particular pulsing rhythm to the generational cycle that is synchronous with this phenomenon.
OK, with these preliminary assumptions in place, we can proceed to erect our scaffolding for the astrological model, which we’ll build using archetypes.
12 Archetypes of the Zodiac
The concept of the zodiac is quite ancient, dating back at least as far as Babylon in the 1st millennium B.C. Evidence from the oral traditions of ancient India suggest its origins could be much older. But in either case, our human ancestors have been observing the “wandering stars” (the literal definition of ‘planet’) as they plotted across the sky for thousands of years. As a way of charting these cyclical movements, the ancient skywatchers divided the celestial sphere up into 12 equal sections, each being “owned” by a particular god or deity who was thought to embody a certain constellation of stars.
As each of the planets “wandered” through these distinct sections of the sky, our ancient ancestors started to observe and correlate the effects it was having on their human behavior. What they have bequeathed to us in the form of these 12 signs of the zodiac is what they understood to be no less than “the soul of Nature.” To the ancient mind, these 12 signs of the zodiac represented living entities, transcendental beings or forms— “gods” if you will—through which all living things manifested. Everything in the phenomenal world is expressed through a combination of these 12 primary archetypes.
These 12 signs of the zodiac are intimately linked with the seasonal rhythms of life on Earth that unfold over the course of each solar year. They mediate our connection with the soul of Nature. The signs of spring—Aries, Taurus and Gemini—bloom with the potential of the freshly planted seeds. The signs of summer—Cancer, Leo and Virgo—absorb the Sun’s energy and facilitate the growth to full potential. The signs of fall—Libra, Scorpio and Sagittarius—signal the harvest and the reaping of just rewards. And the signs of winter—Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces—demonstrate the perennial cycle of life, death and rebirth, as that which withers, dies and decays returns to the soil, only to be reborn in the fertilized seed of the next seasonal cycle.
Encoded in these 12 powerful archetypes is the rhythm of all life on this planet. This is the cyclical reality of nature with which we humans have been in an “intimate relationship” throughout the entirety of our 300,000-year history as a species. And for the last 10,000 years we have courted this mutual understanding and developed a rich dialog with the phenomenal world. And astrology is the symbolic language of this cosmic relationship. Astrology is the first and oldest science of humanity. We have been conducting an ongoing experiment, investigating the dynamic relationship between the cycles of the planets through the zodiac signs and their corresponding effects on human behavior, for millennia! Which is why the “data” of astrology continues to resonate to this day..
But a few hundred years ago, we “divorced” ourselves from astrology as a cosmic mediator to our symbiotic relationship with nature. By virtue of our choosing to “go steady” with a new lover—scientific rationalism—we have effectively “stepped out” on our relationship with the Gaia, slowly turning her into something to be dominated, harnessed and controlled, divvied up and commodified. What was once a beautifully-balanced and loving relationship has devolved into a form of global sadomasochism, all in the blink of an historical eye.
Many of the challenges we are facing today are a direct result of this profound change in our relationship dynamics with the natural world. The current collective crisis in consciousness we are all suffering will require culture-wide psychotherapy. And this is where a revival of astrology and the archetypal worldview may prove therapeutic. We need to reconnect with this powerfully symbolic and mythic language and reintegrate these concepts as a way of helping us navigate the depressing malaise of our postmodern meaning crisis.
A sense of a reclamation of the archetypal worldview has been percolating through our culture in recent decades. In the 1960s, astrology experienced a revival. Inspired by the work of the 20th century’s most prolific astrologer, Dane Rudhyar, a new generation of astrologer’s began embracing his concept of a “person-centered” approach to astrology, and reintegrating astrology into psychology.
This idea of “reintegration” is important. Because astrology was intentionally “disintegrated” from psychology at its founding. In the early 20th century, in an attempt to promote psychology as a legitimate new science, many of its pioneers sought to distance their theories from any connection to the ancient tradition, even though much of their theories shared many of astrology’s concepts. While this may have helped legitimate psychology as a modern social science, it did so at astrology’s expense. While psychology went mainstream, astrology was forced further underground—relegated to parlor games and weekly horoscope columns.
Yet the fingerprints of astrology are all over the various theories of personality that populate our current psychology. And the revival that has been underway since the 1960s is gaining momentum. There is a growing trend (perhaps born of necessity) to reconnect with this ancient and applicable tradition. Currently 26% of Americans believe in astrology. That number is significantly higher among Millennials, perhaps because they sense a lack of perspective and recognize the need for a deeper framework to help make sense of the fragile world in which we are currently living.
When we consider that history’s most profound polymaths—from Plato to Copernicus, Newton to Jung—all explored and embraced this astrological worldview, it lends credence to its call for renewal. Recognizing the legacy of an unbroken chain of continued usage of these archetypes throughout human history indicates that they likely contain some very powerful truths and real wisdom as testament to their enduring value. Perhaps it’s high time we endeavor to reincorporate them into our cultural framework, reinfuse our sense of enchantment with the natural world and reunite our relationship with Gaia. We’ve steered this mother ship into some pretty precarious waters. It’s time for a major course correction.
I hope this preamble has made a strong case for reviving an archetypal framework and putting it to use in formulating an astrological model for understanding generational cycles. In the next article, we will begin to overlay the astrological perspective on top of the conventional model of generations.
Here’s a preview of some of the topics we’ll explore in upcoming articles:
- We’ll discover that the generation we have identified as “Millennials” is in fact two distinct generations, each with quite unique talents and characteristics—one embodying the intense power dynamics of the archetype Scorpio, the other embracing the more high-minded philosophical propensites of Sagittarius.
- Similarly, we’ll see that “Generation X” is composed of two unique subsets of cohorts as well—one possessing the critical yet humble characteristics of Pluto in Virgo, the other embracing the notions of balance, fairness and equality through the primacy of relationship as characterized by Pluto in Libra.
- We’ll also examine the “Baby Boomer” generation and discover that their outsized influence on the world stage is rooted in a deeply felt need for creative self-expression, dramatic displays of power and a penchant for narcissism, all embodiments of their Pluto in Leo archetype.
- We’ll examine the current generational fault lines and see why the Leo-dominant Baby Boomers are reluctant to let go of their firm grip on power; why the next-in-line Virgo-minded GenXers are reluctant to take the wheel; and how the power-hungry, leading-edge Millennials, with their Scorpio-inflected intensity, are willing to tear down the whole system and transform society as we know it in the process.