2017 Newsletter

For tens of thousands of years, we have walked across this earth, spreading far and wide in search of opportunity. We hunted and finally settled as we learnt to produce crops and domesticate animals; building towns then great cities across the world. We painted in caves, decorated our palaces and temples, creating beauty. And we fought; wreaking destruction upon each other, until realizing that it was better to use our skills to improve ourselves.

But that realization is fragile: our democracies and institutions, courts and charters of rights, are undermined by our ambitions and discontents. Our passions continue to rule us as we seek further opportunity, power and pleasure around the world. And now, an abyss is before us – one imposed by environmental limits. We are falling into that abyss, and however hard we try to overcome it, by persisting with what we have done before we are only falling deeper. If we are to move forward as one people of earth, we cannot continue with the same old dogmas and behaviors. We have to find new and different ways of dealing with this challenge.

Soon the crisis will increase. We cannot predict the timing or details. Most likely it will take the form of sea level rise and increased temperatures bringing flooding and monsoon failure. Islands and cities will drown and agricultural land will be lost. Desertification will cover vast areas and weather patterns will become unpredictable. Desperate people will need water, food and medicine on scales never seen outside of war. Inevitably, there will be conflict. As sea levels continue to rise millions of displaced people from places like Florida and Bangladesh will need new homes. Coastal nuclear facilities will need to be rapidly decommissioned and emergency, coalition governments around the world will need to employ their militaries on disaster management and engineering works.

In the face of this crisis humanity will either succeed in overcoming its differences of class, wealth, race and religion, or fail. Failure would mean unmanaged retreat to the few places on the planet that remained habitable after war, toxic contamination and climate change have done their terrible work. Success would mean the advent of an unparalleled global unity and adaptation to either stop or ameliorate the most damaging effects of man-made climate change. We have to imagine what success will look like as we cannot afford failure.

Success means living together in peace.

Success means living in harmony with the environment.

Peace and harmony within is the first step to peace and harmony without.

 

2016 Newsletter

2016 The Lunar Year of the Fire Monkey

Why does man act like a baby monkey? A baby monkey believes in self reliance even when it has no such capacity.  We should cry to the Mother for help.  We should not be like the baby monkey and try to live on our own.

Ramakrishna Paramahamsa

 
This time last year we noted that the situation of nomadic peoples would come to the fore in the year of the Wood Sheep; but we never imagined that a form of enforced ‘nomadism’ would be central to world news, with the migration of thousands of displaced peoples across the Mediterranean into Europe. Sadly, the ethical dilemma facing Western countries due to the arrival of thousands of refugees and economic migrants has yet to be adequately addressed. Now, with the movement of the Chinese lunar year from Wood Sheep to Fire Monkey it seems that a more unstable and conflict-driven year lies ahead.
 
Monkey is intelligent but also impetuous, crafty but often quarrelsome, rebellious and highly adventurous. Above all, Monkey is a pretender, and for this reason monkeys make great performers. This trickster energy, combined with the fire or ‘red’ aspect of the Lunar New Year, indicates a year of reversals, surprises, mischief and quite a bit of disorder! In cultural terms the year will have a quality of intense excitement, wildness and offbeat innovation - Elvis Presley burst on the world music scene in the last Fire Monkey year, 1956, as rock and roll entered the popular music charts. In terms of politics we can expect armed struggles for independence or power in several parts of the world, along with wide interest in socialist and even anarchist values. Fierce battles for independence were begun in Algeria, Cyprus, Hungary and Cuba in 1956, while a newly socialist, post-colonial Egypt seized control of the Suez canal. The American Declaration of Independence was signed in another Fire Monkey Year. We can expect ‘revolutionary’ forces in some parts of the world to be pressing for advantage, inspired by apparently benign but possibly flawed ideologies. But the forces of reaction may push back with equal force, as in Hungary at the end of 1956, when Russian tanks entered the country.
 
The Fire Monkey brings an aspect of the mind into play that is risk-taking, innovative, power-hungry, and potentially explosive.  Fire Monkey initiates actions that push the limits, deliberately seeking the undermining of established order, albeit often for idealistic reasons.  Sometimes this can be healthy, even inspirational; but it may later become apparent that the agents of such sweeping change had seriously flawed agendas. When Henry VIII dissolved the English monasteries in a Fire Monkey year, his planning was not just self-interested but also muddled, leading to much wanton destruction as well as corruption. And while the American Declaration of Independence is an inspirational document, its own flaws have had a troubling impact on subsequent US history (these include the right to carry arms, along with the exclusion of women, slaves and ‘Indian savages’ from the ‘universal’ rights it proclaimed).
 
On a global scale, Fire Monkey’s arrival suggests that a crucial stage may have been reached in our addiction to fossil fuels and the gleeful pricking of the skin of the earth by the petro-chemical and mining industries. The last two Fire Monkey years witnessed major developments in the oil and gas industries, such as the drilling of the first offshore oil wells in 1896. In the same year, technical breakthroughs that would have huge implications for our subsequent oil dependence included Henry Ford’s first motor car and the first precursors of modern aeroplanes. But there were also intimations of a future energy crisis, with peak production being reached in some American oil fields in 1896 and peak oil itself predicted in 1956 - a year of severe petrol rationing in the UK after oil could no longer be transported through the Suez Canal.
 
So will this new Fire Monkey year see one last attempt to extract as much fossil fuel and minerals as we can before calamity comes?  Unfortunately this year’s ongoing opposition between Jupiter and Chiron (flanked by the Lunar Nodes) suggests a year in which our collective ‘monkey mind’, while pretending omniscience, will continue selfishly to harvest the fruits of the earth, blind to the self-inflicted disaster that lies just ahead. This aspect is closely involved with the year’s first solar eclipse on March 9th, so collective inertia on the climate crisis may be dramatically highlighted at that time.
 
In a more positive light, Fire Monkey has the potential to reveal the delusions of the mind, exposing the ego, psyche or false soul to be self-serving, addictive, arrogant and driven - a monkey-like trouble-maker!  Indeed when used by a master, monkey play can inspire profound spiritual insights; the great Indian guru Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, who often used a trickster-like wisdom to enlighten his disciples, was born in a Fire Monkey year. Ramakrishna expressed an early devotion to the monkey-god Hanuman (pictured), who exemplifies the dynamic but selfless virtues of the true spiritual devotee.
 
These auspices for the coming year emphasise that it is time for the deeper wisdom, compassion and love of the soul to prevail over our monkey minds and self-serving egos.  Familiar quarrels over securing the best deal for ourselves - the juiciest fruits on the tree of life - now need to be put aside.  If this year is to see a rising tide of mental and physical restlessness, let us be prepared to channel this monkey energy into forms of ethical action and sustainable creativity, replacing self-motivated competition with wise cooperation and a dynamic expression of spiritual devotion.

Nicholas Mann & Philippa Glasson


2015 Newsletter

Year of the Wood Sheep


A Sacrificial Antidote to our Toxic Lifestyles?
 
Wednesday night’s New Moon signals the start of a new lunar Year, when we will leave the impetuous and dynamic Wood Horse behind and move into the rather calmer energies associated with the Wood Sheep (sometimes called a Ram or even a Goat in the Chinese zodiac). This is a move from a ‘yang’ or masculine animal to one whose energies are ‘yin’ or feminine, so the strength, expansiveness and pioneering energies of wood should be expressed more harmoniously and flexibly than in this past year.
 
Those born in a Year of the Sheep are said to be caring and compassionate, introspective, intelligent, artistic and peace-loving. Whilst very supportive of others these individuals are also highly sensitive as well as independent, and like the straying sheep or goat on the mountainside may seek solitude from the flock from time to time, to seek out new experiences or perhaps to cultivate the inner peace they value so highly. Sheep often have a strong spirituality and can become sources of wisdom or spiritual insight in a community.
 
The sheep when ruled by the expansive and pioneering energies of wood typically has high moral or spiritual principles and can be extremely innovative and dynamic in their chosen field. Their creativity may be of the entrepreneurial variety, as in the case of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, or be a form of pioneering artistry, as in the case of novelist Jane Austen or visionary artist J M W Turner. Wood Sheep’s compassion may enable it to embrace the flaws and foibles of humanity in a socially astute artistic vision, like that of Austen, or it may produce a philanthropist such as Gates.
 
The sheep has been our companion for some twelve thousand years. One of the first animals to be domesticated, today we associate flocks of sheep with the bounded and settled landscape of our rural farms. Yet in fact, the sheep’s changing pasture needs, and ability to provide food on the move, suited the nomadic lifestyles of early pastoralist societies particularly well.  Gradually these herders began to use sheep wool not only to clothe themselves, but to cover and furnish their dwellings, gers or yurts. 
 
In China today, the sheep is fairly marginal to the diet and economy of its urban centres, and instead remains closely associated with the region’s tribal peoples: turbulent ethnic minorities like the Kazakhs and the Uighurs, as well as the Tibetans. These peoples, who follow Muslim or Buddhist beliefs, still graze their animals on the steppes and grasslands of China’s North-Western region, near the start of the legendary Silk Road. Regarded as ‘underdeveloped’ because they are nomadic or semi-nomadic pastoralists, the traditional lifestyles of these herders are now seen as a threat to ‘national social development,’ and often blamed for the onset of desertification in a region. In this sense, the ‘scapegoated’ Chinese sheep may be taken as a symbol of an emerging global conflict - between different lifestyles and attitudes to nature, as well as between tribal peoples and urban societies - which we can expect to come to the fore in this Wood Sheep Year.
 
In the year of the Wood Horse we saw wood’s negative attribute of anger (the capacity to burn out of control), in conjunction with the impetuosity of horse, driving a disturbing tide of violence in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Ukraine.  The gentle and sensitive sheep will promote a calmer atmosphere. But in spite of sheep’s image in the Chinese zodiac as a meek and biddable animal, its symbolism is more complex than may initially appear; indeed, the Chinese appear to regard it as curiously ambivalent, in part because of its alternate identities of ram or goat, but also presumably due to sheep’s close association with their still wild North-Western provinces. So it is worth noting that those influenced by the Year of the Sheep can be stubborn and even fierce in defence of their home, country, or personal space. Some major protests as well as uprisings have begun in Wood Sheep years, including Rosa Parks’ refusal to tolerate segregation on American buses, the Jacobite rebellion, and the American War of Independence. Hence this year is likely to present us with a few surprises, as well as some important challenges.
 
Purification or Dealing with Toxins
 
The particular timing of this new lunar year can give us some important clues to the likely nature of these challenges. For this year it coincides with Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent in the Christian calendar. This inaugurates 40 days traditionally associated with fasting, self-scrutiny, and acts of spiritual purification before the spiritual renewal of Easter. At the same time, today’s (February 18th) new Moon is conjunct the planetoid Nessus, named for the wily centaur who played a mysterious role in the death and rebirth of Heracles, the Greek hero. As Nessus was dying from one of Heracles’ poisoned arrows, he advised Heracles’ wife to weave the hero a shirt which would include cloth that had been dipped in the centaur’s blood. But when he put on the deadly shirt of Nessus, the hero’s skin was consumed by the same poison that he had extracted from the venomous Hydra and used against his enemies; in extreme agony, he had no option but to sacrifice his human life to end his suffering. Afterwards, the gods placed Heracles among the stars. Its connection with this combination of Christian calendrical and astrological symbolism suggests that this new lunar year will require some level of self-sacrifice from humanity, if we are to transmute the dangerous toxins - in the form of fossil fuels - that we now realise we have been using far too extravagantly, and without sufficient care for ourselves and our environment.
 
The bounteous gifts of sheep to humanity - firstly its meat, milk and skin, and later (from about 6000 BCE) its abundant wool - throw into relief this animal’s immense generosity. The Old Testament reports that it was their fertile flocks of sheep that made the nomadic patriarchs Abraham and Jacob prosperous, and that from these flocks they made many thankful offerings to their God. And just as a sheep is the sacrifice deemed most fitting in the Old Testament, so of course in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross he was seen as a sacrificial lamb of God. To sacrifice means to make sacred—from sacer, ‘sacred,’ and facere, ‘to make’.  Giving up something is usually easy, of course, when it is either obviously harmful or of no real value to you - like giving up chocolate for Lent! But to give up something of great value is much harder. It seems likely then, that this Sheep year will ask us to review our own concepts of generosity and self-sacrifice, and above all to reflect more deeply on our attitudes to living in harmony with nature. Sheep may also ask you: who - or which principles - will I choose to guide me at this time?
 
Major Astrological Aspects
 
The demands placed upon us by the gentle sheep may touch us deeply; the vulnerable lamb certainly makes a direct appeal to the heart. But the 2015 year of the Wood Sheep does not imply much respite from the global turbulence of this era, which is still dominated astrologically by the square aspect of those clashing titans of our solar system, Uranus and Pluto. The last exact square of this epoch-making aspect forms on March 17th, so while the aspect overall remains in force until June 2017, this spring should inaugurate a final act in the global dramas that began to unfold from 2009.
 
In the last six years, we have seen many movements seeking progressive reform or even revolution (Uranus) clash with the forces of corporate power and/or political control (Pluto), often with great violence. It may seem at present that the Plutonic forces of reaction and repression have largely won the day. Many initially idealistic movements that appeared at the start of this aspect have seemingly been betrayed by ideological differences, above all in the Middle East, and succumbed either to brutal repression or cruel fanaticism. (Something quite similar happened, equally tragically, in another historic meeting of these two planets, when the French Revolution embraced its short but bloody Reign of Terror.)  But new internet-powered movements of popular protest and resistance have become increasingly effective over this period, in spite of state opposition, and growing awareness of our addiction to fossil fuels is one of the most hopeful signs to emerge from this tumultuous period.
 
To some extent, we can see idealism dampened by a series of harsh reality checks this year, as limiting Saturn spends much of the year in square aspect to visionary Neptune. Yet this testing aspect can teach one how to earth a vision in practical ways, while Saturn-Neptune aspects have also been associated with the theme of sacrifice. At the same time, groups pressing for constructive change and reform should be boosted by the creative trinal aspects formed by Jupiter and Uranus, in early March and around the Sumer Solstice. These aspects signal some unexpected good fortune, along with creative insights or brain waves that can show the way forward, bringing breakthroughs to previously stuck situations.
 
Saturn-Neptune will be in a tight square on November 30th of this year, at the start of the Paris climate talks. The Sun will be exactly conjunct Saturn on the day they open, and both these planets will be very close to the royal star Antares, the heart of the constellation of Scorpius, as if to signal the great importance for humanity of these deliberations. Antares with the Sun is said to convey mental alertness, strategic ability and courage, but of course the reputation of the Scorpion centres on the sting in its tail. Like the Hydra’s association with Nessus, we can see the prominence of the scorpion at this time as a reminder of the need to confront the toxins that have been released into our planetary environment by humanity. It seems taken for granted that the countries of the world will be unable to meet the targets necessary to prevent runaway climate change. But in the year of the Wood Sheep, the hard choices that will surely face our species should begin to appear more distinct. Much of humanity can already see that, for the sake of future generations, we are now being asked to make important sacrifices, the first and most important of these being to give up our addiction to toxic fossil fuels.
 
Thus it seems that in this Wood Sheep year we will face many reminders us of what it really costs to live sustainably, with respect for all life on earth. How will we take care of both our planet and ourselves without these seemingly irreplaceable energy resources?  Yet inaction on our part will not be an option when the first great, man-made, climate catastrophes hit.  If we want to avoid or at least reduce the likely impact of such catastrophes we are going to have to find a tremendous amount of the Wood Sheep’s generosity and self-sacrifice, in order to build a low-impact society that is sustainable, peaceful, caring and just.
 
Nicholas Mann & Philippa Glasson