Note: This article was written in the spring of 1993 and published, I believe, the following autumn in the Oregon Astrological Association’s publication called “The Ascendant.”
The Uranus/Neptune Conjunction and Cultural Change
by Gary Lorentzen
Across historical time, there are planetary forces at work giving each historical period a series of specific planetary conjunctions that seem to represent the seed periods for historical and cultural change. These astrological events are the cyclical conjunctions of the planets Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. Although the conjunctions of these four planets create six possible events, here in the early 1990s, it’s of high interest to examine the conjunctions of the planets that govern this period. In our case, they are Uranus and Neptune. Uranus is associated with the sign Aquarius, the sign of ‘modernism’, which has so profoundly shaped Western culture. It’s also the sign of the coming new age, to which so many of us enthusiastically and romantically look forward. Then there is Neptune, the ruler of Pisces, which seems to be the signature of the current, deconstructed, Postmodern period as well as the current Piscean Age. Together these two planets compel us to behave and perceive in new ways that break down old structures and universalize everything that was previously contained exclusively within one culture or society. Let’s examine the historical significance of these two planets when they come together in the sky.
One of the most dramatic astrological events, the conjunction of Uranus and Neptune occurred again on February 2, 1993. This conjunction happens only about once every 171 years and we just witnessed the beginning of the new drama. That is, we are now in the middle of the new phase relationship between the two planets. Uranus represents the sudden mental spark that causes a succession of new, fresh concepts to come forth, which challenge existing traditions and beliefs. It reveals the relationship of the individual to society and represents the individual as a unique, contributing member of society. Neptune, on the other hand, represents the elan vital or vital spirit that captures the imagination of a society or culture, moving that community of people into new realms of perception and belief, and providing the new paradigms of religion and philosophy with new social institutions to carry out the messages and ideas.
Uranus/Neptune in the 15th Century—Fire in the Mind
We know from history that the conjunction of 1478-79 resulted in the birth of the Renaissance, neo-Platonic Humanism and the Age of Exploration of the unknown world. It occurred in mid-Sagittarius in the Aries decanate and brought entirely new, pioneering efforts at a broader understanding of the world we live in. It also heralded those contemporary geniuses such as Botticelli, Michelangelo, Raphael, Da Vinci, Durer, Georgione, Erasmus, Ficino and Sir Thomas More, all of whom exemplified the Sagittarias/Aries principle of the individual ego as philosopher, artist and intellectual pioneer.
Politically, Spain was unified, which, as a result, became the leading nation of Europe and wealthy enough to become the leader in world exploration. But it also brought the Spanish Inquisition, which was created to stamp out growing and expanding awareness of religious, spiritual, philosophical and scientific truths that heretically contradicted the long-held, ignorant beliefs and traditions of the omnipotent, but weakening Roman Catholic Church. The conjunction, however, succeeded in changing the mind and face of the world through exploration, colonization, the development of commercial capitalism and the rediscovery of the intellectual achievements of pre-Christian Rome and Greece. It set the stage for the Reformation in the Church, the growth of Protestantism and the complete secularization of government.
The symbolism of Sagittarius and Aries as the two defining principles or archetypes behind the changes is revealing. Key phrases and concepts for Sagittarius include: the urge to expand, growth in political and religious awareness, adventurous exploration, rejection of ignorance, and the development of seed-ideas that change the course of history. For Aries, the concepts include: pioneering efforts and achievements, the individual as master of his own fate, aggressive self-interest, growth of ego-centered behaviors that lead to individualization, and a self-involvement that leads to direct confrontation with others. Together, the two principles shaped the prototypical ego-as-artist/philosopher, the expansion into and exploration of the new world, the developing awareness of the human condition as earth-centered and earth-bound, i.e., secular humanism, and, unfortunately, the aggressive spirit of the church to promote and defend its long-standing religious doctrines.
Uranus/Neptune in the 17th Century—Romance and Self-Interest
The next conjunction occurred in 1650 in the Leo decanate of Sagittarius. This marked the end of the Renaissance just as the previous conjunction marked the end of the Middle Ages. The conjunction in 1650 witnessed a new shift in paradigms away from the aggressive religiosity of the Sagittarius/Aries past and its inquisitions, towards a new, liberal set of beliefs that tolerated individual and denominational differences and a new freedom of intellectual and religious inquiry. It firmly established secular humanism in the consciousness of Western culture, where “Man” was the focus of attention: his pursuit of happiness, his freedom, his potential, his free exercise of love and will. These are the principles of Sagittarius/Leo. It marked a new period of philosophical and intellectual optimism coupled with political romanticism and artistic excess.
However, the Leo decanate’s romantic influence in politics remained for the most part in theory and was not fully implemented in practice, other than the efforts in England with its ‘Glorious Revolution.’ The birth of the United States a century later, originally based on these romantic principles of enlightened government and reason, generosity, and respect for the individual, was the only development which came close to the theory. The ‘State’ grew more and more rigid, absolutist and all-powerful. In France, where the torch of European leadership had passed from Spain, the king declared, “L’etat c’est moi!”– I am the State. Each state in the Western world became a law unto itself (Sagittarius/Leo), creating a very competitive international system of treaties and alliances.
Philosophically the Western world was becoming extremely romantic and intellectually narcissistic. The great thinkers of the period, Descartes, Newton, Leibnitz, et al., believed in a truly pure intellectual objectivity, which, in reality, was nothing more than purely mechanistic philosophy. Reason was divine and rational thought could solve all human problems. The result, on the one hand, was the development of empiricism and the scientific method, which admittedly expanded people’s awareness of the natural world and destroyed the power of the Church to rule the minds of the people, but which also denied the validity of other ways of knowing. If it wasn’t empirical, it wasn’t true and this was an absolute law.
With the ever weakening power of the Church, the new Age of Reason and secular humanism denied the existence of a spiritual, open Universe, replacing it with a God as architect, the generating source of both design and power that moved the Great Machine. This new mechanistic consciousness became as tyrannical a force over the mind as the Church had once been. A great split in consciousness had occurred, where any sense of the spiritual or mystical was suspect and any way of knowing other than empirically was considered pseudo-science or superstition. Rational thought became the only way to know anything and it even went so far as to declare itself the very source of existence: cogito ergo sum–I think, therefore I am. From a non-empirical perspective this is utter non-sense. It is nothing more than the ego’s intellectualization of itself–the egoic product of an intellect that confirms itself. But the symbolism of the conjunction in Sagittarius/Leo is clear: the spark of the intellectual creativity is colored by a self-centered, self-important philosophy of humanism and further shaped by the Neptunian delusions of divinity. Reason was divine. Reason was God itself.
The openness and liberalism of Sagittarius, however, did give rise to a revolutionary spirit (Uranus/Neptune) that first manifested in England’s Glorious Revolution, which in turn became the model for the American and French Revolutions and then finally expressed itself at the close of the cycle in the Latin American Revolutions of 1820. The revolutionary cry was for personal freedom and the pursuit of happiness with enlightened self-interest–a perfectly Sagittarian impulse.
Uranus/Neptune in the 19th Century—Economic Self-Interest vs Social Benefit
The next conjunction occurred on March 21, 1821 at exactly three degrees of Capricorn. The old Sagittarius influence was gone and an entirely new, modern impulse was shaping the expression of Uranus/Neptune. Commercial capitalism was replaced by industrial capitalism and a growing state capitalism. Colonialism came into its own as states consolidated their holdings forming extended, global empires. Almost immediately, however, there was a reaction to this trend in the form of a growing socialist/communist movement that applied the lessons of the previous cycles to a new, scientific materialism and scientific state management. But the conjunction took place in Capricorn in the Capricorn decanate. The impulse to move away from the old Sagittarian idealism was strong, and a new, more practical, economic idealism was forming.
The purpose of the new scientific materialist movements was to create a more humane society (Neptune) by forcing a social equalization and redistribution of the wealth (Uranus) by means of a neutral, objective, scientifically managed State (Capricorn). Colonialism and industrial capitalism began concentrating the world’s wealth into the hands of a few wealthy industrialists and empires, leaving the rest of the world and other social classes to be dominated and exploited. For those victimized by irresponsible capitalism, the new scientific, i.e., dialectical, materialism seemed their only hope and the socialist/communist labor movement captured the imagination of the world.
Uranus/Neptune in the earth sign Capricorn, produced this socialist, utopian ideal (Neptune) of dialectical class struggle and a state (Capricorn) controlled by revolutionary dictatorship (Uranus in Capricorn) of the industrial workers institutionalized into unions (Neptune). But the movement itself and governments it spawned were so Saturn-bound they never could fulfill the revolutionary promises of Uranus/Neptune as a political and social ideal. The conjunction took place in the Capricorn decanate and the Aquarius douad. The revolutionary spirit was willing but the body-politic was not with the heavy Capricorn influences.
There were other significant changes in the way we thought about the world, that reflected a growing social realism and a radical departure from the romanticism associated with the previous Sagittarius/Leo period. The new Capricorn impulse brought opposition to the old, traditional Natural Law in which the Catholic Church was steeped, and which Kant expounded in his philosophy. The new concept was called objective idealism (Neptune in Capricorn) and it criticized the accepted subjectivity of religion and the philosophy of Kant. Hegel became the conduit and spokesperson for this new Capricorn objectivity. He emphasized that the power of reason (Uranus) was, in fact, transcendent (Neptune), but progress toward individual freedom (Uranus) was only possible within an enlightened, authoritarian state (Neptune in Capricorn). Furthermore, the hard realities of history (Capricorn) had to be spiritualized (Neptune) and the experience of freedom turned into an individual, psychological experience (Uranus) for which the State could bear no responsibility or support. In other words, freedom, per se, was a psychological reality for which the individual alone was responsible to create in his/her own mind. The State was the optimum means by which society was ordered and the body politic controlled. Individual political freedom, as such, need not exist.
In effect, the new objective idealism became social realism and Western culture lost its spiritual footing. Although Hegel accepted that a transcendent reality existed, it was strictly in the mind of the individual and had no place in the State’s management of society. The mechanistic universe of Newton and Leibnitz had found a socio-political expression.
1821 marked the death of Napoleon Bonaparte, who had become the epilogue to the previous Uranus/Neptune conjunction in Sagittarius/Leo. He was the great dictatorial (Leo) benefactor (Sagittarius) who sought to create a unified Europe embodying the principles of the French Revolution: brotherhood, freedom and equality. Unfortunately, those principles belonged to the previous cycle and had no place in the modern developments to come in Capricorn/Capricorn/Aquarius. They were too indefinable and too broad for the new, scientific, rational society.
The Congress of Vienna in 1815 dissolved the dream, responding to the entrance of Neptune in Capricorn. The question for the Congress was what to do with a Europe torn asunder by the Napoleonic Wars of Unification. They had the chance to rebuild Europe anew and base the new system on the revolutionary models of the past. The United States, however, were still so young and the revolution was still considered by the European powerful to be unworkable and a socio-political heresy that could only end in chaos. The Congress, under the leadership of the Austrians and Prussians, opted for a return to a pre-Napoleon system of absolute monarchies heading large empires. Apparently, in their rationalism, they were not aware that by 1818 Uranus would enter Capricorn and by 1820 be in orb of conjunction with Neptune.
The whole year before the exact conjunction, as Uranus approached then retrograded and approached again, was ripe with revolution around the globe–but most intensely in Latin America. Spain began losing its control of the Americas and was literally thrown out of the western hemisphere finally in 1899 with their defeat in the Spanish-American War. But beginning in 1820 people began agitating for unification of nations and states with common cultural and political bonds. Germany, Italy and France began slow, but inevitably successful political movements toward unified nations. Italy succeeded initially, but Germany failed in its bid for unification and struggled through social and political revolution in 1848. Finally, under Otto von Bismark in 1871, the various German states unified under the Prussians. The ancient Holy Roman Empire of the Germanic Peoples which had been destroyed by Napoleon was reorganized as a primarily Prussian venture.
The reality was, this Uranus/Neptune conjunction of 1821 re-aligned countries and their political boundaries. These changes then became standard until after World War One. This particular conjunction, however, always promises agitation for an idealized freedom and the expression of a revolutionary spirit. Despite the ever-increasing control of the State, a rugged individualism (Uranus in Capricorn) was vying for its place in the consciousness of a culture (Neptune) dominated by powerful monarchies and aristocracies (Capricorn).
In other areas the new conjunction in Capricorn intensified the Industrial Revolution and insured its continued development and success as a basis for an economic system that will ultimately have to be re-examined in this current cycle which began with the conjunction in 1993. Since both industrial capitalism and state capitalism grew out of the same period, and both became very extreme–monopolistic on the one hand, communistic on the other– their inherent value to society lasting into the future will be questioned during the period following this conjunction. If industrial capitalism can prove flexible enough to adapt to changing needs and political requirements it will survive. State capitalism in the form of totalitarian socialism has already proved itself uncreative, inflexible and inefficient and is now inconsequential to a large degree. However, we shouldn’t expect any radical departure in existing world views and philosophies after 1993. We can talk of new world orders, but the underlying Capricorn influence will insure that the power of traditional political systems and the State will remain intact, although Uranus/Neptune always brings adjustments and re-alignments of political and economic ideologies.
Based on the history, it would seem wise to acknowledge that the seed-ideas for this new cycle exist already in the margins of society. The messages from those in society who can be characterized as Uranian and Neptunian need to be heeded by the mainstream. One or more of those marginalized groups will become the basis for a future mainstream. From an astrological point of view, it seems that the role of these Uranian and Neptunian groups is to foment change in the mainstream, ultimately bringing changes of direction with new social values and ideals. Each cycle in turn hopefully brings greater degrees of social responsibility, respect for individual rights and tolerance for social diversity. If those voices from the margins are ignored, all too often we reap the negative influences of totalitarianism, terrorism, intolerance and paranoia as the mainstream becomes locked into itself, stultified and decadent. This could be our so-called new world order, if we aren’t paying attention now.
Even the conjunction of 2163-64 will again be in Capricorn. What began with the 1821 conjunction will not complete itself until the period of time following this future conjunction. Only with the last conjunction in Capricorn and the following transit of Uranus and Neptune into Aquarius shortly thereafter, will we see a true New World Order on par with the new developments after the first conjunctions in Sagittarius and then Capricorn. In other words, our future path has been vaguely determined along the same lines as they have since the early 19th Century. That was the true beginning of our modernism. Although we may refer to our current time as postmodern, it is still after a fashion “modern.” The new culture which will be as different from us today as we are from the Middle Ages will not appear until the end of the 22nd Century. We are, however, at the beginning or in a “new” phase of the Uranus/Neptune cycle and it’s clear to everyone that a shift has occurred and that we are embarking on a slightly altered direction from our past.
Uranus/Neptune in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries
The current situation has had Uranus and Neptune in Capricorn since 1989. We have seen a Saturn transit over them creating, first, a Saturn/Uranus conjunction then a Saturn/Neptune conjunction. Those states and institutions which had their origins at earlier conjunctions of these planets, particularly Saturn/Neptune in 1917 and 1952-53, saw a restructuring of their political and economic systems. In the case of the USSR, which formed on the heels of the Russian Revolution (Saturn/Neptune, 1917), the recent Saturn/Neptune and Uranus/Neptune conjunctions have literally brought the house down. But then Saturn/Neptune, when negative, is nothing but a house of cards anyway and the Soviet Union was remarkable in maintaining itself through two conjunctions. With the 1993 Uranus/Neptune conjunction we were witness to an ideological revolution that repudiated Lenin and Stalin and ripped at the very soul of the Russian people.
Although the Capricorn influence continues to maintain the State as we have known it for the last couple of centuries, the Uranus/Neptune influence demands greater individual participation in the governmental and economic/ecological processes of the nation. Where there are large pockets of alienated citizens, extremely radical, reactionary political movements will develop. These movements are usually based upon an idealized (Neptune) sense of the past and misplaced national importance (Capricorn). The Uranian influence will bring this out particularly within rebellious fringe groups of younger people or other groups who have traditionally maintained a separate life-style from mainstream America and Europe. Although, as previously mentioned, some of these groups have positive messages with strong implications for the future, and the mainstream needs to pay close attention during the time just before, during and after the conjunction.
The Uranus/Neptune principle also demands greater autonomy and sovereignty for nations that have previously been artificially attached to larger states or coercively held within a powerful sphere of influence. Thus the Baltic States now have their full independence, the Balkans are re-emerging through bloody civil war and ethnic conflict, Quebec is still agitating for its independence, and the Central Asian Republics are reeling from ethnic violence as their central authority in Moscow collapses, no longer providing an effective buffer. This urge to find some level of autonomy is also evident in the struggle of the Chechnyans against Moscow. Blacks in South Africa have succeeded under this conjunction in ending Apartheid and establishing a majority government with a new constitution. Yet, where it is a matter of mutual benefit and open consensus, nation-states are banding and bonding together in unions, confederations and reunifications. Germany, the European Community, the Confederation of Independent States, GATT and NAFTA are prime examples.
To review, the Uranus/Neptune conjunction of 1478-79 occurred in the Sagittarius Era of the PIscean Age (in the precession) and in the Aries decanate of the sign Sagittarius (by transit). It heralded the Renaissance, world exploration and pioneering intellectual and artistic genius. It also marked the beginning of new philosophies, religious ideals and new views of the world we live in, which then helped bring about the Reformation in the early 16th Century.
The conjunction of 1650 took place in the Leo decanate of Sagittarius (by transit) and in the Capricorn Era (precession). It brought about the Baroque period in art, literature and music, all of which were very embellished, ornate, exaggerated and pompous in style (Leo). It also created the new political absolutism in government, particularly in France and Russia, and a growing secular humanism that emphasized Man in relation to his world.
The 1821 conjunction took place in the Capricorn decanate of Capricorn (by transit) and in the Aquarius Era (precession). It set the stage for an entirely new paradigm of social, political and economic development, which we now describe as modern. It marked a major departure from the centuries old medieval European culture. This modern period was characterized by industrial and state capitalism, colonialism, socialism/communism, monopolistic corporate business and large world empires. Technological and industrial developments began to increase rapidly after the conjunction, changing forever the face and character of European and American cities and culture. During this cycle of Uranus/Neptune, the West’s own technological and industrial prowess and skill would become the means for its own self-destruction in two world wars. In addition, the State would eventually be given the task of policing and controlling business practices, providing social and economic safety nets for its citizenry and in America establishing an income tax to finance World War I and all future bureaucracies. The State became the social savior, whether the society wanted or needed to be saved at all. This was true in all Western nations to varying degrees, but it became the modus operandi in the old Soviet Union. The arts became increasingly abstract and heavily psychological until they finally exploded into complete non-representational impressions and expressions of the ego-as-artist.
The 1993 conjunction occurred in the Taurus decanate and the Leo douad of Capricorn (by transit) and in the Pisces Era (precession). I think we can expect a growing emphasis on the role of the individual in economic and ecological processes and less of an emphasis on a state-managed economy. The Taurus/Leo influence should bring an emphasis on the individual’s creative contributions and productivity. In terms of the State, if it isn’t productive and seeking creative solutions to problems, it won’t fly with the voters. At its best, this conjunction will bring to consciousness the need to be effective, responsible, productive, and creative with a great deal of integrity. At its worst, it could produce a tendency toward self-indulgent vanity, class-divisions, elitism, dictatorship and other absolutist ideas in government. We may see a serious decline in state capitalism in favor of commercial entrepreneurship, even less protectionism in trade, and more open international markets. A growing conservative/conservationist mentality will favor generosity and respect for the productive, creative individual/ entrepreneur, as long as the environment and the ecology are attended to. It may well be one of the most creative periods in modern and postmodern history with Venus-ruled Taurus and the expressive Leo qualities that underlie the conjunction. The arts community may well be challenged to develop something like a universal aesthetic. There will be a growing interest and participation in the arts, particularly in practical crafts and the performing arts. (Taurus and Leo influences) It will certainly be a time when the world will practically and creatively open lines of communication allowing the individual intercourse with the entire world without worrying about national laws and borders. The miniaturization of communication and computer circuitry will bring an entirely new meaning to the word democracy. Cyberspace (read: UranusNeptune) will become an increasingly familiar frame of reference and domain for everyone, just as the machine, engines and industry did at the last conjunction.
Transportation and communication technologies seem to be the most important technological themes of this conjunction. The development of the railroad and telegraph occurred after the last conjunction. Further advances in these areas continued throughout the cycle. The automobile, airplane, office technologies, etc. are good examples. Since this latest conjunction in 1993, we have experienced an explosion in computer technologies and a renewed commitment to space and planetary exploration. We can also expect a revolution in transportation technologies and their application. Those ideas which were cutting edge before the conjunction, but which had no possibility for practical application, may well find a place in the societies of the near future. Electric automobiles, Personal Rapid Transit Systems, high-speed rail, and new reusable space vehicles may well become practical realities most everywhere in the next century.
In the realm of society, culture and politics, diversity and tolerance will be ever-strengthening themes. The difficulties will intensify over social acceptance versus mere tolerance of minority groups of all kinds. The nature of the Uranus/Neptune conjunction is to honor diversity (Uranus) and accept with full heart and soul all groups of people (Neptune). Capricorn, however, as a principle, is very tradition-bound and slow to change. The nature of the sign and the nature of the planets in conjunction are incompatible. Historically, such a combination has created serious social polarization. The Uranus/Pluto conjunction in Virgo in 1965, for example, created waves of revolutionary social change (Uranus) which required deep, permanent alterations in standard social behaviors and attitudes (Pluto). The underlying Virgo influences found those changes unacceptable and attempted to stop them at all costs. Whether it was in academic institutions, government bureaucracies, the military services and their policies, the environment, health practices or labor (all governed by Virgo), there was profound resistance to the social changes that were being demanded. But the reality of these planetary conjunctions as seed-periods for future development, insures that those advocated changes eventually happen. Thus, freedom of speech on college campuses was legally protected, and government bureaucracies, although exploding in red-tape, were confronted with the demand to simplify if not to disappear all together. The military was profoundly affected by the protests against their actions in Vietnam and in the end its budgets and power were severely curtailed. New awareness and concern over health issues and the environment completely changed the way we view food, nourishment and our interaction as industrial nations with the environment. The incompatibility of Virgo’s earthy, intellectual conservatism and the demands of the Uranus/Pluto combination created severe social discord. Yet, the message and vision of the planetary conjunction ultimately prevailed over the resistance of the conformist, inhibited Virgoan mentality.
So, whether there will be true tolerance for diversity is questionable anywhere in Western culture for the short term under the Uranus/Neptune in Capricorn influence. The underlying fixed nature of Taurus/Leo (the decanate and douad of the conjunction in Capricorn) with the conformity demanded under Capricorn, may not allow for the kind of openness to diversity that is intellectually and philosophically valued, but hard to find expressed within the society at large. Uranus/Neptune, in principle, forces us to examine our prejudices, intolerance, and bigotry and brings to us ideals of compassion and understanding (Neptune) of individual differences and social diversity (Uranus). But, historically, the culture seems not to be able to assimilate all of the ideals that are intellectually expressed at the time of conjunction, and some of those good intentions and ideals lie dormant and latent, especially if the nature of the planets is incompatible with the nature of the sign. This is especially true of Uranus/Neptune in Capricorn. There will be a period of cultural lag with such a conjunction before the positive realities of the conjunction can permeate the whole of society. And it won’t happen without a struggle.
The Uranus/Neptune conjunction every 171 years offers very dramatic turns of fate that open an individual or a nation to possibilities of fulfilling dreams and finding a unique niche in the world. For nations, it offers the opportunity to restructure and realign national identity, interests, purpose and intent. Usually there is a strong wave of revolutionary fervor and spirit among the people, and at the very least, a strong agitation for change, if the conjunction falls on an angle or aspects the Sun, Moon, or triggers a powerful conjunction of planets in the national horoscope. But beyond national borders, in general world culture, one can expect increasing changes that lead to a more universalized and ecumenical culture. All of Western culture, even those nations like Russia and regions like Latin America, which have historically only been in the cultural margins, will move closer together in trade, economics, the arts and common defense. Depending on the history, there will also be the potential for countries and nations who have not been part of the dominance of the West over time, like China, to integrate into an increasingly globalized system. This implies the need to redefine international associations such as NATO, the U.N., or any other such agencies, which still have a mission created by the needs of the previous period.