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2012 - A Round-up of Planetary Movements This Year
Written: December 2011-January 2012
Published: 25th January 2012

The purpose of this article is to review what I consider to be the most important and interesting of the planetary movements and configurations during this new year. There's a strong element of deeming to this, in that other astrologers surveying the year ahead might pick out other features of the astrological landscape to highlight, based on their own reasoning of what's most likely to colour human experience in the next 12 months. And of course, nothing is exhaustive or complete: this is an overview, and won't drill down into detail, because the purpose is to provide an understanding of a year-long expanse, so that, as the details unfold day by day and week by week, you are continually in the position of being able to retain your bearings in the bigger picture.

In line with that, this article is formed into three stages, ranging from the broadest changes heading towards the more shorter-term.

We begin with Sign changes, followed by major aspects and aspect configurations, and end with the retrogrades of the 3 innermost planets of the solar system, Mars, Venus and Mercury.

Slower planets' Sign changes
Pluto, Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter

To me there is a subtle step-change going on this year, indicated by the Sign-changes of the outer planets. It signifies a subtle shift in the thematic background of everything, from fashions to politics to medicine to morals to ideals to inventions to fears to hopes to moods, and so on. Although some of the planets have already changed Signs, this year has all of them either in the early degrees of the Signs, or at the end of Signs and moving into the first degrees. To me, this is significant, because it represents not only a changing of gears, but a prevailing psychological sense of being in a new phase. A cautionary note: because of societal conditioning which exaggerates the biological facts on which it is founded, a lot of us tend to associate newness with hope and positivity, and we often come a cropper when we do so, because hopes can so easily and subtly shift us into being out of touch with reality. Ironically this can mean that we miss the real opportunities, as well as hinder us from forestalling any problems before they happen.

Keeping with our approach of starting with the slowest-moving planets and proceeding towards the faster-moving so that we sketch out our broad picture before filling in the finer points, we begin with Pluto.

Pluto spends the whole year going forwards and backwards within the first third of Capricorn, between 7 degrees and 9-and-a-half degrees. The collapse of establishment figures and institutions continues, but so does their renewal in forms that are not always conducive to the well-being of the whole and the parts. The fact that Pluto is some way into the Sign shows that the changes which initially came as shocks are now becoming expected as part and parcel of what it is to be alive in the present time. The resources which Capricorn and Pluto represent need to be dredged up from the depths, without plundering the Earth in a way that pollutes, degrades and rapes it. The predominant thematic background is one of rape versus the law of permission.

Next we have Neptune, which goes into Pisces in early February and spends the rest of the year going forwards and backwards in the first 3 degrees of the Sign. Neptune was discovered in 1846 and on the date of discovery it was in the last degrees of Aquarius, so humans have only been aware of Neptune for one of its orbits round the Sun. A planet in its own Sign is more able to be in touch with and express its own nature, modified only temporarily by its aspects and midpoints with other planets. This suggests that we will get a better understanding of Neptune than we've had up till now. The main theme is one of collectivity, rather than differentiation. The danger is that individual voices - of people and of independent nations - become snuffed out in the uncritical worship of unity. The strength of this placement lies in the power of compassion, which depends on an imagination fully in touch with reality, not adrift in illusions or delusions.

Uranus begins the year at just under 1 degree Aries, a Sign which it very briefly entered in 2010, staying there for just 2-and-a-half months, but which it entered proper in March 2011. Because it is returning to the starting point of the Zodiac itself, there is a strong theme of newness, and a vigorous rising up of energy. This is fundamentally a placement of rebellion and an assertion of the right to self-determination without interference or obstruction. Knee-jerk separations and assertion of utopias do not take us towards a better life, despite their appeal. The creative essence of this placement is tremendous, but takes a mature psyche to welcome and assist - but not attempt to control - this essential rejuvenating vibrancy.

Saturn goes into Scorpio in October, late in the year, and is the last planet to join the others in the early degrees of the Signs. Saturn in this Sign wants to bring forth a new life and sets about structuring it, but has its downfall if it succumbs to control-freakery and rigidity. As a god of agriculture, Saturn is theoretically well-placed in a Sign of fertility from under the surface of the Earth, but the human tendency to manipulate in the face of both real and paranoically-conjured threats leads to strangulation of the life that wants to come. Consequently the need is for trust to be built, rebuilt, and rebuilt again, so that genuine partnership produces the synergy that this Sign so desperately craves and needs in order to bring forth its bounty.

Jupiter has already been a third of the way into Taurus (since June 2011) but starts the year at 0 degrees all over again, having just been retrograde before stationing and turning direct on Christmas day. Jupiter is quite rapid, in some ways akin to an inner planet, so by June it will have zipped through Taurus and gone into the first degrees of Gemini where it will stay until the end of the year, going back and forth but not at any time in 2012 getting past more than half of the Sign.

So, in general, a year of subtle beginnings that needs us to be wise midwives and nursemaids.

Next we turn to the major aspects and configurations that the outer planets will form during the year.

Slower planets' major aspects
Pluto, Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter

Starting with the biggie: much to my relief, and perhaps yours too, the Uranus-Pluto square is finally exact this year!  Over the next few years there are a series of exact squares between these two and they've been within orb now for the last few years, but this is the moment we've been anticipating. The first exact square is in June, and the second is in September. This aspect colours the whole year very strongly, as all of the inner planets will repeatedly cycle through all the possible aspects with it, reflecting us being able - if we wish - to have a look at its themes from all possible viewpoints, as if studying a wild animal from every possible camera angle throughout its daily life. A few years ago I published an article discussing the thematic elements of this aspect, so I won't say much here. Suffice it to say that in summary this aspect is about breakthroughs of all kinds. We want to proactively invite, make way for, encourage and prepare the ground for the life-enhancing breakthroughs, and work to draw trends and tendencies away from the life-diminishing or life-extinguishing variety.

Quite some time ago I looked into the frequency of exact aspects Uranus and Pluto, and found two facts that are important for us in getting a feel for and navigating our times. I never got round to publishing it, but it fits here and is useful to know about: the first is that when these two planets make aspects to each other, there is normally a series of either 3 or 5 occurrences of exactness, i.e. the aspect is exact either 3 or 5 times. That's the norm. From 1000AD to 2100AD there are 17 periods during which these two planets form a square, and of that total of 17 occasions, 13 of them were times when there were either 3 or 5 exact squares. Which leaves only 4 occasions that don't fit that pattern. Of those remaining 4, 2 were occasions when there were 7 exact squares, and 2 were occasions when there were 9 exact squares. The decades were: the 1230s (9x), 1490s (9x), 1750s (7x), and 2010s (7x). So we are having 7 exact squares, which is quite rare during the last millennium - it happens only 4 out of 17 times - basically, a quarter of the occasions, as opposed to three-quarters of the occasions.

The second is to do with that the span of time when the aspect is within orb. Using the same time period - 1000AD to 2100AD - Uranus and Pluto are within 8 degrees of a square for a minimum of 6 years, and a maximum of almost 15 years, with the most frequent time-span being 6-7 years. The current series of squares is within an 8 degree orb for more than 11 years. You're probably now wondering when those years start and end: they started in 2008 and will end in 2019, with the middle point of the aspect series taking place in the year 2013. As a comparison the last series of squares between Uranus and Pluto first came within an 8 degree orb in 1929 and left the 8 degree orb for the final time in 1937, with the middle of the aspects being 1933. The last occasion when there was such a long-lasting series of Uranus-Pluto squares was in the 1750s, and before that you have to go back to the 1490s and the 1230s. So, in summary, in the 1100 year time-span I looked at, there are only 4 occasions when the series of squares lasts more 10 years, and we are living in one of them.

Another 'at long last!' - or maybe a few of them - is that from the UK's point of view some of its Pluto transits are either exact or extremely close this year. Firstly, transiting Pluto in March and May is exactly conjunct the IC in the nation's chart. Throughout March, April, May and right at the end of December Pluto is within 1 degree of being conjunct the nation's Sun - the closest pass being the second week of April when Pluto stations and turns retrograde at just 0 degrees 37 seconds of separation. Pluto has been within orb of these for some years now, and last year it exactly squared the country's Ascendant and Descendant, but coming within 1 degree orb of the Sun puts the aspect in a position of undeniable closeness and predominance. At the same time as these aspects of Pluto, Uranus is exactly on the UK's Descendant, opposite its Ascendant. The UK not only as a country but as a legal construct will experience the various themes of the Uranus-Pluto square particularly strongly, and is being called upon to express what it represents constructively. I hate to say this, because it's so hackneyed and cringeworthy, but - the downsides notwithstanding - the UK has a massive opportunity in this configuration.

2012 opens with Saturn and Neptune in trine with one another,
but the aspect doesn't become exact in the early part of the year, nor was it exact in 2011 after it first came within orb. What it does this year is eases off, and then comes back in October, when it will be exact on the 11th. By then both Neptune and Saturn will have changed Signs, so that what began as an Air trine becomes a Water trine, reinforcing the idea of a subtle shift of gears this year. The inexact trine shows something taking place on the mental and/or social level, whereas the trine in the latter part of the year indicates a change constellated in our emotional underpinning and subtle inheritance through the human family. Saturn-Neptune trine in Water Signs asks us to make wise use of imagination and our compassion, and warns us to take active steps to guard against the darker and wilder side of our and other people's fantasies which usurp, distort and corrode our daily life through political imposition, cultural spreading, and interpersonal projection.

Scattered throughout the year there are numerous T-Squares. If we exclude the Moon for a moment, we find that all but one (in January, involving Sun, Jupiter and Saturn) are formed with the Uranus-Pluto square. There are also a couple of Grand Trines - in March and May, both involving Mars and Pluto, and taking place in the Earth Element. There are other aspect formations during the year as well but the most interesting to me is one that takes place in late September, around the 26th. It involves the Uranus-Pluto square and shows how it interweaves with the faster-moving planets.

There isn't a name for the type of aspect configuration that is formed. It involves not only aspects but midpoints too, which is why stood out to me. It involves two squares: the Uranus-Pluto square, and a Venus-Mars square, but they're arranged in such a way that Venus also aspects Uranus and Pluto, and Mars also aspects Uranus and Pluto. These two pairs are arranged a bit like butterfly's wings: you could draw a line down the middle and they'd mirror each other. But that's not all, because the Sun is opposing Uranus. All these aspects are so-called 'hard aspects', which in astrological harmonic theory are the aspects based on dividing the circle by 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and so on. In this configuration alone there are several midpoint links - to name but two: Venus on the Uranus/Pluto midpoint; Uranus on the Venus/Mars midpoint.

Transiting positions on 26th September 2012

But even that's not all either, because three of the remaining planets are forming a Grand Trine: the Moon, Mercury and Jupiter. Mercury also makes an 8th harmonic (sesquiquadrate) aspect to Neptune, while Jupiter is at the midpoint of the Sun and Neptune. How do these separate configurations fit together? Mostly through 10th harmonic (decile) aspects: Sun to Jupiter, Moon to Pluto, Mercury to Mars, Uranus to Neptune. Throw some septiles and undeciles in for good measure and you have a little bit of everything with all the planets connected directly or indirectly by both aspects and midpoints. If your chart or the chart of someone close to you is strongly aspected by one of these outer planets, this could represent a time of subtle yet complex insights and changes, lots of little, almost imperceptible shifts within the context of a larger circumstance or situation.

Swifter planets' retrograde phases
Venus, Mars, and Mercury

Now let's talk about the inner planets doing their backstepping, because this year all three of them will be going retrograde, starting almost at the outset of the year.

First, a short overview: From the latter part of January until April Mars appears in our skies to fare backwards. From May to June Venus does likewise. And in March, July and November Mercury does the same.

What Mercury and Venus have in common is they both have a two-fold nature. When they go backwards they change from morning stars to evening stars or vice versa. For Mercury this is a regular interweaving, happening several times every year, whereas for Venus it happens less frequently - once every nine-and-a-half-to-ten months. Their cycles around the Sun have this in-built cadence. Mars is different, because its orbit is further out than the Earth's. When Mars is retrograde it is visible to us through the entire night, coming close to the Earth too and so is well-placed for observing in the sky. Mars turns backwards on the 24th of January, and doesn't turn forwards again until the 14th of April.

Both Mars and Venus do their backward motion in Mutable Signs and, interestingly, cover almost the same degrees: Mars stops and turns back at 23 degrees of Virgo and travels backwards down to 4 degrees Virgo; Venus stops and turns back at 24 degrees Gemini on the 15th of May, traversing all the degrees down to 7 Gemini which it reaches on the 27th of June. They meet just as Venus transits the Sun's disc in early June - the Sun and Venus (retrograde) conjunction is square to the retrograde Mars. Statisically-speaking, in recent centuries Venus and Mars go backwards in these Zodiac Signs more than in any other, so the Sign placement isn't at all unusual. You might want to check in your chart which houses these two Signs are placed in and see if Mars, Venus or both will cross any planets or cusps.

This year Mercury will be going back through the Fire Signs but in two out of three instances will cross from Fire back into Water. That should be an interesting twist! Both Elements are to do with imagination and intuiting your way to weaving past and future through the present moment. Taking these one by one..... Mercury on the 12th of March turns backwards and goes from Aries to Pisces, turning direct on the 4th of April. In July it stays in a Fire sign without retreating back into Water - it stops and turns back on the 15th, until it turns direct on the 8th of August, staying in Leo throughout. And in November it stops going forward on the 6th, moving backwards until the 26th and crossing from Sagittarius back into Scorpio. Mercury always represents linking things in any case, but because it will be weaving two Elements together that meaning is all the more relevant.

The relevance of these backward-moving phases depends on how they link with your own chart, and the charts of the people around you at home, at work, and so on, as well as the charts of the country you live in. First check the houses they'll first stop in before turning back, and then check if, while going backwards, they'll move past any natal planet or natal house cusp. You might also want to check if they'll oppose or square anything, but be careful not to get bogged down in too much detail - it's easy to find yourself losing sight of the wood once you start looking into all the trees.

Related links:

Uranus-Pluto series of squares - article & video
[read article]
[watch video on Vimeo]
[watch video on YouTube]

Pluto transit to the UK's national chart
[read article]

Mars retrograde in 2012 - blog entry & video
[read blog entry]
[watch video on Vimeo]
[watch video on YouTube]

Venus retrograde in 2012 - article & video
[read article]
[watch video on Vimeo]
[watch video on YouTube]

Mercury retrograde in 2012 - video
[watch video on Vimeo]
[watch video on YouTube]

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Astrology for the 21st Century - Bringing the sky down to Earth

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