Tuesday, December 27, 2011

An astrological recap of 2011

We've made it to the final week of 2011. It's been a very busy year astrologically, and there's plenty more to come in 2012. Before we celebrate the new year, let's take a look back at some of the biggest astrological developments of the past 12 months...

One of the most important themes of 2011 was manifestation. A wide variety ideas, beliefs, even fears and dangers, all percolated up into physical reality this year. We saw protests, the physical manifestation of unrest and the desire for change. We saw terrorist attacks and environmental disasters, the manifestation of our fears. We saw political change and political gridlock. Astrologically, we can thank (at least in part) the sign of Aries for a great deal of this.

Aries, the first of the 12 zodiac signs, is the sign of initiative, of action, and is the point of physical manifestation in the zodiac. Aries is associated with the spring equinox, the time of new beginning and new growth. In January of 2011, Jupiter moved from Pisces into Aries- the planet of justice, optimism and expansion, spurring initiative and opportunity in a very direct, physical way.

Later, in March of 2011, Uranus moved into Aries as well. Uranus, slower moving and carrying more long-term intensity than Jupiter, helped spur the rebellion and the imperative to take real action for independence and freedom around the world as it made its way into Aries. This event encouraged individuals around the world to take action in standing up for their beliefs, and protests became ubiquitous (so much so that Time's Person of the Year was "The Protester"). This manifestation led to real change, though unfortunately was not lacking in violence (another association of Aries). Many thousands of people died as they challenged corrupt rulers, and unnecessary violence and brutality have become commonplace.

It's a-mace-ing how many of these images are peppered around the internet.

While Aries was the focal point for manifestation, Neptune moved into the deep waters of Pisces, beginning in April. Neptune hasn't been in Pisces since shortly after its discovery in the mid 1800's. As the planet of creativity, imagination, spirituality and illusion moves into its home sign of Pisces, the sensitivity of our collective consciousness is heightened. The usual boundaries of perception are misty; the lines between ourselves and others less solid. Now, as in the mid 1800's, Neptune in Pisces can show us creative new developments in art, music, fashion and spirituality... as well as new drugs, new diversions, new ways to retreat from the the intensity of life. We may also see changes in policies toward the ocean, and water resources are bound to have a heightened roll in years to come. Have a beer (but not too many!) and open up to your creative side.

We had a brutal Mercury Retrograde when Mercury opposed Neptune this past summer. The deeper themes of Neptune- creativity, consciousness, boundaries- added deeper, much more difficult lessons to the usually mundane reminders of Mercury retrograde.

Saturn and Jupiter moved into opposition earlier in 2011, pitting the need for individuality and pioneering optimism (Jupiter in Aries) against the responsibility and structure within our relationships and obligations to others (Saturn in Libra). Tensions mounted this year between being spurred into rebellious action and being aware of our responsibilities in connection to others.

Finally, towards the end of 2011 we saw Mars enter Virgo, a much needed "nose to the grindstone" period for the planet of action, energy and drive. In Virgo, Mars is forced to focus on details, and we have the energy and focus to take action on our everyday "dharma". This can also lead to a buildup of nervous energy and stress, however, so it's also an important time to assess our relaxation techniques and express anxious energy in a constructive way (not a bad time to consider exercise or yoga to keep the body's energies balanced).
Bending and weaving our way through Mars in Virgo... or is that stretching a metaphor?

So, what is there to look forward to astrologically in 2012? Quite a bit. The big doozy astrologers have been anxiously waiting for is Uranus squaring Pluto, a volatile aspect that hasn't been seen in quite some time. There are plenty more events as well (posts to follow!) that should make for a busy 2012. I hope you'll join me in toasting the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012, and I hope to share more with you in the new year!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Celebrating the winter solstice- the next Gruit project

Bog Myrtle. Sort of like hops' crazy great-uncle, who misses the good old days.

Happy Winter Solstice! Also called Yule, Yuletide, Jul, Midvinterblot, and other names increasingly difficult to pronounce (or type), the winter solstice is celebrated the world over as a reminder of the importance of community, merriness and hope as we pass through the longest night of the year. In European history, especially, it's time to break out some drinks, too. What better to celebrate the long history of this special day than to consider gruit ale?

You can read my post here from November of last year about making gruit ale, the pre-hops libation of Northern Europe consumed since antiquity (although more or less falling off the map from the 1400's to the present, new interest in old brews is reviving Gruit once more). To celebrate the Winter Solstice (which is also the time when the Sun enters Capricorn), I brewed this particular gruit with wintergreen, an herb associated with Saturn, and most of the traditional gruit herbs. It was wonderfully interesting, but it's time now for a new celebration of the Sun entering Capricorn- winter sowing of gruit herb seeds!

The herbs that make up the basis of gruit flavoring are Wild Rosemary (couldn't find much about the astrology of this herb), Bog Myrtle (associated with the planet Venus), Yarrow (Venus), and often Mugwort (Venus and the Moon). These perennial little shrubs grow naturally in the highly acidic, peaty, often boggy soils of Northern Europe's traditional landscape. Because of the long, sometimes harsh winters there, these plants have developed protective mechanisms. In the case of Bog Myrtle, Wild Rosemary and Mugwort, new seeds require a period of cold stratification to germinate. This simply means that snow and ice fall on the seeds, pressing them into the ground, then slowly melt, then more snow, which then melts, etc. This process slowly breaks down a protective layer on the seeds, allowing them to germinate in springtime.

This is a wonderful website offering seeds and planting information for a variety of herbs with a history of traditional use in medicine and ritual. There's a bit on the page about wintering seeds that mentions how sowing seeds in the middle of winter dates back at least to Roman times. Sowing seeds in the middle of winter provides the period of cold stratification necessary for germination. Sowing on the Winter Solstice, in particular, ensures that the days will be increasingly longer as the seeds undergo their transformation, oriented them towards the upcoming growth of spring. Plus, what better way to celebrate the Sun in Capricorn, the sign of discipline, practicality and patient ambition? Capricorn urges us to have the responsibility to plant the seeds of the future wisely. Then, hopefully, around the time the Sun bursts into Aries... some gruit herbs should be on the way!

Unfortunately, its difficult to get Wild Rosemary seeds even in their native Europe, and all but impossible here in the U.S. Luckily, there's a New World cousin called Marsh Rosemary or Bog Labrador (aka Labrador tea), with the same climatic requirements, and I found some of those seeds online. And I had planned on sowing Mugwort seeds, until I found this little dude growing in the alley behind my work:

Unlike the other herbs, Mugwort is relatively common, though generally goes unnoticed. It grows in urban and rural areas alike, often along roadsides facing the south. Sure enough, I found this little dude by the alley, on the southern side of a fence. I gently dug him up, put him in a cup and carried him home on my scooter. He's doing well, which means we're 1/4th of the way there already! Yarrow is going to be planted in spring.

As for the Bog Myrtle and Marsh Rosemary, here's the process...

I have a plastic pot with holes drilled in the bottom, a bale of peat
(acidic dead plant material, just like the seeds' boggy native soil),
a bag of humus (richer, denser for nutrients and stability), a bunch of
pine needles I found while jogging (provides further acidity and a
protective top layer)

I mixed peat with warm water and humus, then added a big scoop of dirt from the garden patch to help balance the potting mixture and add more nutrients.
Here's the completed potting mixture with the seeds sprinkled on top. The Marsh Rosemary seeds were like dust, they were so small...

Here's the pot in position behind the north side of the house, out of direct sun but exposed to the necessary snow and ice winter will provide. The acid-enriching and protective layer of pine needles is spread over the top, with seed packets for identification.

A little candle to celebrate this year's Winter Solstice Sowing. I walked away for 5 minutes, then realized I'd left a lit candle in a giant pile of bone-dry pine needles. After a brief reassessment, I placed the candle in the window for the night.

Now it's time to tap into Capricorn's patience and wait. No maintenance required, just hopeful thoughts that in 3 or 4 months these little guys pop up. Then it's just a matter of ensuring that plants from Northern Europe survive a St. Louis summer...

How about you, readers? What "seeds" are you sowing for the year ahead? 2012 is bound to be an intense one! (plenty of posts to follow about that...) Leave a comment!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Mars in Virgo part two: Practicing the practical

One of the challenges of using astrology is translating "astrologese" into practical, everyday terms. "Astrologese" refers to the unique jargon used in astrological description and interpretation. This language is just as particular and complex as any other field of study, but one of the key elements that distinguishes the field of Astrology is its application to our individual lives. You may be quite content to never need an explanation of the role antimicrobial pharmodynamics play in your life, for example. But, if an astrologer tells you you're having a Saturn return, this is an immediate and challenging event, and you'll probably want to know what that really means.

Well, with Mars (the sign of energy, action taking, drive) in the sign of Virgo (practicality, precision, detail) there's no better time to take a closer look at the day to day, practical implications of what Mars is up to. In other words, a brief translation from astrologese into ordinary parlance.

Some of the best tools for translating astrologese are key words. Key words have an immediate impact when you see them, and help to get a richer understanding of the significance of astrological events.

Some key words for Mars:
Aggression, drive, urge, passion, physical
(themes relating to energy and how energy is expressed and action is taken)

Some key words for Virgo:
meticulous, diligent, analytical, critical, worrying
(themes relating to analysis, precision, and the concern for details)

In addition to these thematic key words, the signs and planets also rule or are associated with objects and events in our daily lives.

Things ruled by Mars:
muscles, blood, male anatomy, soldiers, athletes, knives, fanatics, energy

Things ruled by Virgo:
pets, health resorts, hard work, the harvest, bookkeeping, crafts, details, criticism, tension

To synthesize these key words and rulerships, we can consider how these elements combine.
The themes of energy, drive and passion in Mars are filtered through the caution and attention to detail of Virgo. This energy can lead to a bit of stress (which we may all feel even more intensely with Mercury being retrograde for another couple weeks or so). However, this combination also pares down Mars' intense drive to a more practical level of which we can take advantage in daily life.

The aspects of our lives ruled by Mars or Virgo may be affected in different ways for different individuals, and as always will be affected by where Mars in Virgo is traveling in your chart (and what else it touches- a personalized astrological consultation can help in this area). In general, however, you may find your attention drawn to health matters (and how you take action on your health), anything associated with crafts, pets, your productivity in or outside the workplace, and the potential for both great concentration and great restless anxiety or tension in whatever you consider to be "work". Remember the themes of Mars in Virgo for guidance on how you can tap into the productive potential of this event!

What do you think, readers? Where is Mars in Virgo traveling in your natal chart? Where has your energy been focused lately? Leave a comment!