The Age of Pisces has a set of very clear problems that we have had to face and resolve. These problems are symbolically represented by the sign Pisces and its associated planet, Neptune. As in the Age of Aries with its Libra shadow or counterpoint, however, it is clear that the Age of Pisces also has its contrapuntal current, which is characteristically Virgo. The last two thousand years have been focused in the struggle between the primary urge of Pisces, which is the aspect of human behavior that relates to the right brain and the innate ability to intuit, believe or perceive as a whole, and Virgo or the left brain, which is rational, logical and analytical, but also linguistic, mathematical and technical.
Robert Ornstein maintains that it is the left brain that actualizes the impulses emanating from the right brain. Astrologically speaking, Virgo physically actualizes the mental impulses of Pisces. Whereas Pisces has been the primary archetype of our age and relates humans on a mental-spiritual level to nature, Virgo is secondary and accounts for the artificial, but practical, structuring of human expression and experience. Although the two hemispheres of the brain constitute one brain and each functions independently of the other, the degree to which they no longer complement but compete determines the degree of imbalance and, therefore, levels of psychological health. Likewise, the Pisces/Virgo polarity expressed through our cultural behavior needs the same complementarity and balance.
The last two millennia in this Age of Pisces have been filled with cultural and spiritual lessons leading ideally to the balance between mind and matter, between left and right brain, between spiritualism and materialism. We have experienced in the development of Piscean civilizations a profound dialectic between these fundamental principles, and in many ways the dialectic has been experienced as an imbalance–a dis-ease in the culture and civilization. The imbalance in the Pisces/Virgo polarity is not completely unconscious, however, and we are often acutely aware of the cultural dilemmas it creates. In Western Euro-American Civilization, the dilemma first appeared near the turn of the last millennium.
How the Dilemma Developed
Something happened during the Virgo Era (the sixth 180 year period of the Age that began near the end of the 1st Century BCE) about a thousand years ago that shifted the primary emphasis from Pisces to Virgo. Jose Arguelles, in his book The Transformative Vision (1976), says it was the initial triumph of “Techne” over “Psyche” and marked the shift from spiritualism to materialism, from aesthetic to ascetic philosophy, from an intuitive, visionary approach to the world to an imminently rational, steel-like logical approach. It’s clear that at the turn of the last millennium, during the Virgo Era, the shadow side of the primary Pisces focus began to dominate European consciousness. The triumph of Virgo over Pisces reached its climax at the following mutable square in the Sagittarius Era, 1414-1594, when Europe came to dominate the world and the Renaissance encouraged the new materialism and humanism.
The primary focus of the age should be Pisces, but theoretically speaking, if the primary focus of any age is concentrated to the extreme without the balance of its sign of polarity, it may be necessary to experience an extreme swing to its opposite, as the culture grows and develops. In our history, the excesses to which the Church went to recreate the negative Piscean features of the Roman Empire and to dominate the world eventually required adjusting and balancing. It became necessary to recognize the spiritual autonomy of individuals and to develop more sensitivity to others. The Church, as the dominant expression of the culture, needed a strong dose of Virgoan self-analysis and criticism, and practical adjustments to the realities of a growing European sophistication.
However, true objectivity was not reached and the new Virgo qualities were expressed as a projected shadow onto the world much like the Aries/Libra qualities were in the previous age. This shadow side began to dominate European consciousness. First, the Church began losing its spiritual foundations as the political structure of an increasingly secular world. The reaction of the priesthood was an extreme, ascetic puritanism which undermined the tolerant, open spirituality of Christ’s teachings. An important dilemma was developing between the original Piscean concept of faith and a new Virgoan requirement for objectivity and perfection.
By the turn of the age’s first millennium, the conflict had led to mandated celibacy within the priesthood in an effort to keep them pure and Christ-like. A disastrous political struggle ensued between Church and State over who had the power to ordain priests and crown heads of state. In the end, liturgical dogma and adherence to sets of rules took the place of true morality. Western Civilization had essentially lost its faith. We lost our ability to trust in our relationship to God, developing instead a canon of rules and regulations, which forced our adherence to ideals of purity and salvation. A puritanical mentality replaced the original Christian acceptance and openness to others. This openness had been a product of compassion and the tolerance and acceptance of sin as central to the human condition. Although human nature and sin were still synonymous and the importance of sin in the human condition still emphasized, tolerance of it was rejected as the shadowy expression of the Virgoan counterpoint.
The Dilemma in the Late Middle Ages
As the new millennium progressed, the culture went through two distinct phases separated by a long period of decay and transformation. First, the culture became very romanticized during the High Middle Ages with its feudalism and chivalry (the Libra Era, the 7th 180 year period of the Age). With the collapse of feudalism and chivalry as the economic and political foundations of the culture, the civilization was thrown into a maelstrom of horrendous war and devastating plague (the Scorpio Era). Then, just as magically, a new European identity and optimism were born beginning in the 15th Century. It heralded the beginning of world exploration and the Renaissance. It was the new Sagittarian Era (the 9th 180 year period) of the age. It took many years, but a large number of classical Greek and Latin texts made their way to central and western Europe after the Crusades. Once these texts were discovered, read and translated by the medieval scholars it generated a great deal of intellectual excitement. Europe had rediscovered its cultural, intellectual and spiritual roots.
It’s ironic, however, that the Renaissance was a result of looking back to the ancient Greek and Latin classics. It glorified those classical accomplishments and denigrated the native, medieval European, and more specifically the French and German contributions from the 12th Century in their mysticism, epic literature and culture of courtly love. That very European impulse of the Libra Era was heavily criticized for its superstition, religiosity, Mary cults and ritualized social behaviors at its square during the Capricorn Era (the 10th 180 year period). The culture had become enamored with a quasi-mystical perception of Reason and a new rational objectivism.
The ancient texts were viewed as the product of geniuses in a golden age of Reason, ignoring completely the fact they were infused with the perspective of mythology and polytheism, which were considered pagan and superstitious from a traditional Christian point of view. Yet, the European intelligentsia, in a mood of self-criticism and self-rejection, raised their misguided view of Reason to near divine stature. Reason was God working through Man. Reason alone could solve worldly human problems, because it was essentially divine. But this created a view of the spiritual as superstitious and divorced from the material world. Reason was substantial and not ethereal or superstitious. All answers to the questions of life could be found in logical reason, which only Man possessed. Therefore, the answers could be found in the intellectual problem-solving capabilities of Man. All we needed to do was observe and test the behaviors of nature and humans to determine what was natural and divine. This, of course, implied that the only reality was material and mechanistic. In other words, Virgo reigned supreme over Pisces. The whole person was intellectually and philosophically torn apart, the mind separated from the body. We were left with a profoundly influential spiritual materialism.
The result was a polarization of European culture, creating art as separate from science, astrology separate from astronomy, and eventually everything spiritual was suspect if it didn’t reflect the view that the universe was a machine and God the divine architect. This polarization had reached its first cultural expression in Martin Luther’s Reformation and Calvin’s radical Protestantism. The reform replaced Christian mysticism with a form of worship devoid of ritual and decoration–ascetic on one hand, yet raging fire and brimstone on the other. It replaced the New Testament as the guide and teacher of Christ’s message with a new view of the New Testament as an absolute extension of Mosaic Law. As such, the Bible was now seen to be as inseparable from God as the Trinity. It was no longer the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, but rather the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost and the Word of God. In truth it was a Quaternity. True Christianity could supposedly only be found in Biblical scriptures as a blueprint for correct thought and behavior. The New Testament was now absolute law continued from Moses, in spite of Christ’s warnings in Matthew 5 that he had come to show the way beyond the old Mosaic Law–that He was its fulfillment and starting point for a new humanity. It replaced the Piscean mysteries of Christ as the Compassionate World Savior with Virgoan rules and requirements for “salvation.” So-called Piscean good-works were rejected in favor of a Virgoan hard-work ethic viewed both as punishment and penance. Piscean tolerance and compassion were forgotten in the fear of hell-fire and brimstone damnation by the Protestant extremists and their illogically extreme discrimination, prejudice and criticism of traditional, Piscean, religious expression.
Of course, the Catholic Church was also guilty of this extreme discrimination and prejudice, particularly in regards to the scientists exploring new avenues of understanding. The Spanish Inquisition and the Counter-reformation were both sordid examples of the violent religiosity of the Church and its intolerance of perceived heresies. In the end the psychological and moral truths expressed in the holistic teachings of Christ were twisted into codified ritual and practical rules and regulations for getting into heaven. The original notion of Christ as the personal inner guide leading one to an intimate relationship and reconciliation with God was rejected as heresy in favor of an absolute sense of an historical Jesus as the only possible path to God. The inner development of the individual was ignored and a nearly dictatorial requirement that one follow an abstract set of external, social rules established by the Church and disguised as morality developed in its stead. The original conflict between the Gnostics and Orthodox Christians of the 2nd and 3rd Centuries had developed into a tyrannical orthodoxy controlling European consciousness. The whole person was spiritually, intellectually and philosophically fragmented and the mind separated from its physical body. There was heaven and there was earth, there was space and there was matter, the former good the latter evil–and never the twain should meet.
This Reformation and period of religious turmoil created civil wars that raged for thirty years and devastated central Europe. This period also brought continued inquisitions and the counter-reformation, revolutions and the violent attempt to eliminate heresies and other inimical elements within European society. Those who were not Virgoan thinkers, i.e., those who were Piscean visionaries and holistic thinkers, astrologers, herbalists, etc., were either heretics or insane, either to be killed or imprisoned in insane asylums. Even in the Peace of Westphalia, which ended the fighting between Catholics and Protestants, they merely agreed to tolerate each other. Forget honoring and respecting each other’s differences. In the end only a rigid Catholic or Protestant Orthodoxy was acceptable as spiritual life. Religion divided Europe very uncomfortably between north and south. Even today, Protestantism dominates in northern Europe, while Catholicism reigns in the south.
Shadow Dancing: The Dilemma in the Modern World
The Age of Pisces began to cast a long Virgoan shadow. Our spiritual, non-mechanistic past had been amputated and a new empiricism and rational objectivism replaced it like a prosthesis. The extremes in that Piscean past needed a good Virgoan adjustment, but Piscean truths and the important spiritual values were not integrated into the new Virgoan view of life and the world. For out of this period developed the foundations for Macchiavellian behavior and the rationalist-materialist philosophies of Smith, Ricardo, and later Marx. On the one hand these philosophies informed the new industrial capitalist economies, and later Marx’s reform of the initial philosophies resulted in state-centered socialism/communism. Then Mussolini and Hitler twisted the philosophies once again to create fascism and national socialism. All had one thing in common: they were predicated on the role of the Virgoan/Protestant work ethic as “labor” in the economic life of the nation and the ideal which ultimately binds you to the State and, in fascism at least, “frees” you from your self–Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Makes You Free). The communist and fascist models were both tyrannical systems, which ultimately spawned the gamut of nationalist tyrants throughout the Twentieth Century.
That is not to say that the Protestant churches and their parishioners are or ever were either Marxists or Nazis. These extreme rationalist/materialist philosophies extrapolated underlying assumptions of Protestantism and used them to form their own ideologies. Their connection is only in their development from the same cultural sources originating in the Virgoan shadow of the age. This connection, however, can clearly be seen today in the Aryan, white-supremicist churches of North America.
The authoritarianism of the Virgoan shadow reached its peak during the 17th and 18th Centuries absolutely repressing and suppressing the Piscean, right-hemisphere intuition and holistic thinking, battling these perceived “irrational” elements of the culture and the collective psyche. The success of objective realism in philosophy, empiricism in science, the socio-religious persecution of gays and witches, enslavement of the West Africans, and the genocide of Native Americans articulates the crowning achievements of the Virgoan shadow. Beginning in the late 18th Century, however, as the Age of Revolution (the Aquarian Era of the age) began, these repressed Piscean functions began re-emerging in the form of rebellion against the authority of the Church and State, underground political activism, counter-cultures, artistic romanticism and democratic political movements.
In 1776 the world was shocked by the American Revolution, then in 1789 by the French Revolution. Although political in purpose, both revolutions, in part, sought a limitation in the power of the churches within government. In the United States, the revolutionary leaders succeeded in creating a new government that clearly separated Church from State, yet in its liberal and libertarian way, allowed the individual freedom of worship. This was a clear sign that there was a growing Piscean effort to rebalance the polarity–an effort to integrate the Piscean spiritual perceptions with the Virgoan practical requirements of a secular society. This balancing act, however, was not wholly successful and the great dilemma held fast to the culture. We were developing politically, economically and industrially, but spiritually we were seemingly on the road to ruin. Our secular developments were spectacular, but wrought havoc on non-Western cultures and people.
The destructive effects of the Renaissance, world exploration and colonialism in the New World, Asia and Africa, i.e. slavery, exploitation of resources and genocide, finally returned full circle to Europe and its wild child, the United States, but not until the beginning of the 20th Century. As the Industrial Revolution intensified, the world was militarily controlled by the Western nations who had expertly engineered and mastered it. We had moved far enough away from the primary urge of Pisces for Nietzsche to have suggested that God was dead, marking a collective spiritual crisis. The extent of Virgoan, technical and industrial domination of the West, its alienation from Piscean spirit and loss of its own faith in the mystical and the divine, was paid for in the end by its own irrational self-destruction in World War One with the use of its own technological weaponry, explosive wizardry and scientific prowess.
At the same time, European colonialism in Asia and Africa spawned liberation movements that challenged the European powers. Ironically, the movements were based on Euro-American political and economic models. India and China went into violent revolt against their European colonial masters. After World War Two, when colonies in Southeast Asia and Africa were refused their independence, nationalist revolutionary armies were formed in open opposition to their benefactors. Vietnam and Algeria are prime examples. Piscean energy was continuing to emerge in the context and matrix of this Aquarian era (11th 180 year period) revolutionary spirit. It was an echo of the revolutionary movement that opened the era back in 1774-1775.
By the 1950’s it was clear there had been a total split in human consciousness, possibly symbolized by the splitting of the uranium atom and the creation of the atomic bomb. The energy released into the collective psyche was just as destructive to the old social-psychological order as the energy released over Hiroshima–and arguably just as necessary. But the horrifying sense of impending disaster put us in a very petrified, rigid state of collective mind. In a desperate attempt to control these powerful forces of change, the societies in the West became steeped in a dreadful superficiality. There was a glorification of conspicuous consumption and an extreme social conformity achieved through suburbanization, heterosexism, and machismo. In the United States a mood of white supremacy prevailed fed by strengthening Jim Crow laws. And for all races there was a growing dread under the politics of paranoia known as McCarthyism. We were holding tight to an idealized past–so tight we were cutting off our flow of creative energy and turning on ourselves.
The Communist Bloc countries experienced a similar reaction. Soviet paranoia, only very marginally warranted, made them aggressively defensive, pathologically dishonest and neurotically nitpicky and annoying. They were frozen in an immovable bureaucracy controlled militarily, economically and ideologically from the Politburo and KGB in Moscow. The Cold War was turning icy and Atomic Diplomacy was the medium for all international relations. The Virgoan shadow had descended upon us in a form we called the Iron Curtain. It had seemingly reached its most terrifying, psychological degree of darkness. The Pisces/Virgo imbalance created at the turn of the last millennium had now reached a point of cultural psychosis. The European and American civilizations had simply become paranoid schizophrenic, splitting a frightened world in two.
In 1953-54, however, as the Soviets exploded the first hydrogen bomb, and the Pisces Era of the age began, Aldous Huxley published The Doors of Perception, which is a treatise and guide to right-hemisphere, Piscean realities and the nature of the non-rational mind. The publication became the philosophical inspiration for the Beat poets and writers and the hippies of the late 1950’s and 60’s. Jose Arguelles (The Tranformative Vision, 1976) believes Huxley’s book set in motion forces that would ultimately compensate for the imbalance in culture and consciousness. It was, after all, the transition period into the last 180 years of the age. The astrological key is Pisces/Pisces.
The previous Aquarian Era successfully shattered the archaic structures no longer useful to the future. A new political impulse created from ancient Greek democratic values had spread by means of revolution throughout the world. But it also brought a terrifying scientific materialism and economic socialism–abstract, aloof, and not predisposed to accepting the value of the individual or the responsibility of the State to the individual or the environment. However, it also laid the foundation for the development of human-scale technologies and an awareness that majority rule can mean tyranny for a minority. So, as the shift into the Pisces Era occurred, we began slowly realizing that the previous Great Polarization in Western Civilization had to end. Ban-the-Bomb and anti-war movements, civil rights movements for Blacks, women and gays, etc., began dissolving the barriers between people, albeit not with a struggle.
The Dilemma in the Postmodern World
Yet, before these movements developed any momentum, the new consciousness found expression first within the arts. The world of art became fully immersed in non-representational abstractions. We began reading the violent, prophetic poetry of Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti and the ecologically conscious poetry of Gary Snyder. Novels by Salinger, Kerouac and Kesey expressed an attitude of spiritual strength over the angst and alienation of our emotionally drained society. Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neil and Clifford Odette gave us the dramatic studies of the irrational mind working its magic behind the neurotic behavior of their self-destructive characters. Elvis brought the rhythms of African-American culture into the homes of white America, reawakened the culture’s sexuality and opened the door to an awareness of race and sexism. We then heard the lyrics and music of Bob Dylan, the poet-laureate of the post-war generation, expressing the reemerging Piscean sense of the impending collapse of the old order and the social change that was required to rebuild the culture. We were getting back to our Piscean roots. The polarity so long weighted down by Virgo was beginning to rebalance itself.
The United States, the dominant force of the 20th Century, was suddenly faced with its own duplicity in the unfolding history of Virgoan abuse of non-Western cultures. Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus and black students began attending Central High in Little Rock. The Vietnamese refused to allow continued Euro-American domination of their homeland. Instead of encouraging the continued uprising of the Piscean spirit by means of Aquarian based political revolution, out of which the United States was born and for which the Civil War was fought, the U.S. resisted the strengthening demands for Piscean compassion and political and social justice. America required military action against itself to fight segregation. It also turned its back on its own political and spiritual heritage, siding with the fading forces of colonialism in its fight against Vietnam, in order to maintain some perceived status-quo of power and reason between itself and the Soviet Union. The United States fought to maintain the Virgoan repression and discovered that the power of the Piscean socio-political energy and its passions cannot be suppressed forever. Dylan had prophetically warned us. Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti also prophesied the pain and guilt we would feel in this discouraging confrontation with ourselves.
The centralized powers of the former Soviet Union were inevitably faced with the same dilemma in their industrial development and environmental destruction, within their borders among clashing ethnic groups struggling for recognition if not survival, and in Afghanistan where their hubris led to defeat. The irrational forces that were then let loose, led by the new Soviet leader, Gorbachev (not surprisingly a Pisces!), brought the Soviet Union, as a product of this millennium-old Virgoan tyranny, to utter collapse. The long-suppressed irrational mind has finally broken through the tyranny of Virgoan rationalism that had set itself up as absolute authority in the late 17th Century. But it is fitting. We are now in the last era of the Piscean Age and we will experience the great summation and synthesis–reconciliation of the opposites that have polarized humanity for the last millennium. That is not to say, however, that there will be no reactionary resistance from those cold, shadowy Virgoan corners that still exist. The reconciliation is not complete. In fact, we should continue to expect strong, Virgoan criticism of and reaction against these growing waves of social and cultural movements originating in this general, Piscean cultural subtext.
The puritanical Virgoan tendencies that developed in the medieval 11th Century and came to dominate the world in the 16th and 17th Centuries, are still evident in the order of our present day body-politic. The current conflict between freedom of artistic expression and conservative, puritanical government supported by politically active religious groups; between astrology and science; between conservative, orthodox Christians and gay people; and the soul-wrenching struggle over abortion-rights and the place of women in the society are all very clearly articulated examples of this Pisces/Virgo dilemma and the resistance of the archaic, entrenched Virgoan mentality to the resurging, original Piscean principles. In general, all of the cultural conflicts involving the struggle for human and civil rights against the traditional morality of the last millennium are an expression of this deep-seeded cultural dilemma.
As we come closer to the end of the Piscean, i.e., Christian Age, we will see a growing emphasis on Piscean themes: transcendence, unity, inclusiveness, collective connectedness, psychic wholeness, greater service and sacrifice, faith, compassion, spiritual and emotional creativity. To move once again into the realm of Pisces, however, may mean abandoning some of our social standards, technologies, industries and governmental forms that have developed since the Middle Ages. But it also promises new standards, technologies and governmental structures more in tune with Piscean principles in order to create a more stable and peaceful transition to Aquarius. But no matter how much we idealize the future, the transition will not be easy–historically they never have been and there’s no reason to believe the next transition will be any different.
The future will be a direct result of our Piscean past. Unless we truly learn the lessons implicit in the historical Piscean spiritual teachings, our Aquarian future may look dismal, indeed. The primary Piscean requirement for all people, nations and cultures is to give consciously of oneself, so that others may benefit, regardless whether there is agreement about moral or ethical positions. This is commitment to life. This is, in effect, love. If this is not to be the case, then we need only look back at the Aquarian era horrors of Nazi Germany as our model of the future.
The Third Reich was born on January 30, 1933, under the sign of Aquarius in the Aquarius Era of the Piscean Age. Like all the signs and all the ages or eras, there is a shadowy side that challenges the primacy of the times. With Aquarius it was and will be the negative absolutism and totalitarianism of Leo. With Pluto’s transit through Leo between 1939 and 1958, the world found out how powerful this negative influence can be. (And as an interesting astrological side-note, Judaism was founded during the Age of Taurus, so as a spiritual tradition it is “Taurean.” As Pluto, the planet of death and transformation, transited Leo, it squared or was in dynamic tension with Taurus, the astrological signature of the Jews. In the 19th century, when Pluto transited Taurus, there was also a serious wave of anti-Semitism in Europe.)
Let us hope that the current trends in the world are not the last Neptunian illusions associated with Pisces. The socio-political processes seem to indicate the beginning of a great reconciliation of the opposing forces, symbolized by Pisces and Virgo, which have dominated life for the last millennium. If so, then the coming shift to Aquarius will be a joyous one–not without risk, but definitely full of hope. Social well-being and social responsibility (Aquarius) will be the keynote of the civilization, but not without an attending magnanimity and respect for individual differences in self-expression and self-actualization (Leo). If this great reconciliation is indeed illusory, our future looks rather grim. The Aquarian Age, with all of our romantic, utopian Piscean dreams swept into the dustbin of time, will be a totalitarian nightmare. The French, Russian and Nazi revolutions, all historically related to important astrological events involving Uranus and the sign of Aquarius, will become the source of inspiration for charismatic tyrants over the next two millennia.
It may also be the case that, even if this great reconciliation becomes a reality, periodically over the next century and a half, dictators and tyrants may temporarily come to power mesmerizing their populations and manipulating them in the name of chauvinistic nationalism or religion (both negative Piscean themes). Although the primary values of Pisces may once again dominate the culture in a positive sense, contrapuntal Virgoan impulses will continue to challenge us until those primary values are permanently internalized into our being and consciousness. The so-called irrational mind may be the source for our moral and spiritual development (Pisces), but extreme one-sidedness creates the opposite desired effect. We know this most distinctly from the history of Christianity. The extreme, irrational religiosity of the medieval Church with its indulgences and bizarre superstitions, needed the Virgoan criticism to balance it. The Virgoan underside of Pisces points to the reason and discrimination necessary to know the difference between, for example, charismatic tyranny and true leadership. Without this reasoned discrimination and skillful discernment, we become lost in oceanic emotionalism, illusory religious bliss and paranoid psychic impressions that can only lead to confusion and terror.
Conversely, extremely one-sided Virgoan approaches–where reason becomes dogmatic absolutism, and the ability to discriminate reasonably becomes instead racial discrimination, xenophobia, ethno-centricism and homophobia–need the balance of compassion and moral openness to others. Late 20th Century American fundamentalism and the recalcitrance of the U.S. government and the Vatican in matters of AIDS, condom use, sexual orientation, etc., are clear examples of Virgoan sensibilities without the Piscean compassion, openness and willingness to embrace the human condition as it is. The lesson here is not about tolerance. Tolerance doesn’t go far enough. It’s about acceptance and forgiveness for our mutual humanity.
Ultimately these are the necessary lessons of the Piscean Age as the astrology of history reveals them, in order that our transition to the Age of Aquarius begins on a constructive note. It is a question of balance between intellect and soul, mind and body, theist and atheist, space and matter, female and male, gay and straight, pro-life and pro-choice or any other dichotomy that exists in our culture today. It is a question of balance between Pisces and Virgo, the dominant astrological themes of our age. May the dilemma and struggle be resolved in peace.