“It’s a hard world for little things.”
Night of the Hunter (1955)
This summer, we had the good fortune to spend some quality time with two of our out-of-towner granddaughters, ages 12 and 7. Needless to say, the girls lit up the house with excitement worth a post all on its own, but for this post, I’m more concerned about the way our stalwart little travelers were shuttled back and forth between here and their east coast home. And the way their experience was shockingly different from the travel experiences of thousands of migrant and refugee children these days.
On our end, we experienced the really helpful “unaccompanied minors” program offered by the girls’ airline carrier. The protocols were reassuringly secure: strict ID procedures were followed, and pertinent information for the traveling children, their parents, and the parties picking them up and returning them was carefully documented and loaded onto a bar-coded bracelet the girls wore from starting point to pick-up point on the other end.
Aside from the obvious analogy to checking and tagging one’s luggage, the system was very friendly and efficient—the girls’ received all kinds of attention during their flights and they were not allowed to disembark without their designated flight attendant, who stayed with them throughout the pick-up procedure. All things told, it’s a great system that fills a real need for many families spread out across the country.
Unfortunately, not every “unaccompanied minor” who hits the road can count on such a happy experience. Again this summer, Central America is gushing unaccompanied children, fleeing from vicious gangs and other deadly threats in their home countries. An August 23, 2016 report from UN News Centre says that in the first 6 months of 2016, 26,000 such children were “apprehended within U.S. borders,” trying to find safe haven. Close to another 30,000 families (mostly women and children) were also apprehended. This, despite the very real “risks of being kidnapped, trafficked, raped, or killed on the journey, a report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) found.”
Most troublingly, these numbers are but a small fraction of the greater child migration problem worldwide: Children fleeing the brutality of ISIS and the Syrian, Yemeni, Nigerian and South Sudanese conflicts (among others), in which civilians and children, schools and hospitals are routinely targeted in what amount to heinous war crimes.
Children are also fleeing other forms of chaos and hunger in the Middle East and Africa, falling afoul of human smugglers who extort their families for every dollar they can raise; children are drowning in the Mediterranean because these smugglers routinely overpack flimsy rubber boats with human cargo and take few safety precautions.
In another tragic case, on the Pacific island of Nauru, a refugee center where would-be migrants are detained by Australian officials for years at a time (and then never allowed to migrate after all), reports have surfaced not only of horrific living conditions, but of over 1,000 instances of children being assaulted (often sexually) and abused.
As one UNICEF representative put it, “It is a silent and desperate situation—out of sight and out of mind. Yet tens of thousands of children face danger every day and hundreds of thousands more are prepared to risk everything.”
Which brings us to the astrology of this tragic global situation, now in its 12th recorded year. To simplify an impossibly complex situation, this post will explore two key questions:
First, what is going on in the Cosmos that makes the world’s children so vulnerable these days? (Or, to follow the lines of responsibility, what’s going on that the world’s adults can’t or won’t take better care of the world’s children??). How have the children of Syria, for example, become such expendable materiel in their government’s vicious campaign to regain control?
5-year old Omran Daqneesh’s stunned and bloody picture in an ambulance in Aleppo tore our hearts out last week, but the powers-that-be haven’t budged an inch away from targeting civilian centers. As always, innocent children pay the price for the savagery of adults.
Child poverty is at record highs in the U.S. and across the globe. In the U.S., 44% of our 72 million children (under 18) live in “low income” (between 100%-199% of the Federal Poverty Threshold of $24,008 for a family of four with two children) or “poor” households (below 100% of the FPT); worldwide, 1.3 billion children live in extreme poverty (less than $1.25 per day). Children in civil-war-ravaged South Sudan are dying daily of hunger—children are recruited as suicide bombers by some terrorist groups and are employed as child soldiers in others. The list of atrocities against children is chillingly long.
In light of all that…
Second, why, isn’t there more of a concerted worldwide effort to tackle this situation? This is far easier said than done, with 60 million people (roughly half of them children) currently on the move, either displaced from their homelands by war, terrorism or other deadly conditions, or simply migrating for some small shred of opportunity. Some millions are on the move because their environments have been ravaged by the warming climate, there is little to no water, and/or food production has become impossible. They are the “canaries in our global coal mine” who did very little to cause global warming, but are quite unfairly suffering the brunt of it.
To explore this second question, we’ll narrow the frame to one small slice of the picture that lends itself to astrological interpretation: compassion fatigue. This very real phenomenon—an insidiously damaging expression of passive aggression—probably enabled numerous genocides in history, and it appears to be a major force undermining relief efforts in today’s crises as well.
Timing is everything
Most of the statistics and situations I’ve cited above are current to 2016, so to examine the first question about “what’s going on in the Cosmos,” we’ll look at a chart set for the Sun’s ingress into Aries on March 20, 2016, in Greenwich, England. As mentioned above, the first small traces of this crisis surfaced 12 years ago in 2004, but it’s been a slowly-unfolding disaster that reveals something new every year and this year is no different.
Traditionally, Greenwich, England is used in charts for global events and issues, since it correlates with 0° longitude. It’s certainly appropriate when we’re speaking of migrants from around the world being dispersed wherever the winds of fate and the mercy (or lack of mercy) of others blow them. Considering this chart should give us a global perspective into how we got to the crisis point we’re seeing in the news today.
Chart 1: Aries Ingress 2016, March 20, 2016, 04:18:41 a.m., ST, Greenwich, England.
Aquarius rising. This chart has the fixed sign Aquarius on the Ascendant, so traditional astrology would view it as the horoscope for the entire solar year, from March equinox to March equinox. As such, we can see that it tells quite a story. Aquarius rising—especially disposed by a fiery aggressive Uranus in Aries in the 3rd house—suggests that daily life will be characterized by turmoil, possible violence, and that transportation and schooling will be erratic at best. Life in a war zone is another way to put it.
Mars in fiery Sagittarius disposes this volatile Uranus from a position sextile the Aquarius ascendant and conjunct the chart’s MC, so clearly the solar year took off with a bang, setting the pattern for the treacherous year ahead. These dynamics were certainly seen in the hatred and xenophobia on the rise in Europe (and the U.S.) by this time: a steady stream of migrants had poured into Europe during 2015 and many Europeans were beginning to object to their nations’ “open-door” policies, staging protests, blaming migrants for a host of unfortunate events, and so on. The list of child fatalities—mostly from drownings in the Meditteranean—was growing rapidly.
Saturn in Sagittarius trined Uranus in Aries. This aspect is key to how this entire chart has been expressed so far in 2016: Saturn and Uranus co-rule the chart ASC and 1st house, so their fiery trine essentially unleashes that energy via the ASC, establishing the character of the year in the process. As we’ve seen, it’s been a year of clashing priorities between philosophical/ethical concerns (Sagittarius) and aggressive self-interest (Aries).
Saturn is weaker in Sagittarius than Uranus is in Aries, so this even-handed looking trine has actually been more weighted towards the Aries agenda. Aries is often associated with childhood (1st month of the new solar year), so Uranus’s volatility in this sign has been problematic for child welfare. As we’ll see ahead, Pluto chimes in here, making things even more difficult.
We’ve seen how this Sagittarius-Aries dynamic has played out many times already this year: the European Union has suffered deep divisions among member states over the migrant crisis along these same lines of dispute, and a number of emergency meetings took place in early 2016 to rein in the worst of it.
This aspect also reflects the deal struck between the EU and Turkey in March 2016, just before the new solar year dawned. It was perceived by migrants as oppressive, but it was justified as a way to discourage the smuggling of migrants across the Mediterranean and to maintain Turkey’s cooperation with the EU for sheltering and accepting migrants. Although it probably did little to actually stem the human tide (smugglers simply find other routes), it was an attempt to impose some sort of order on the chaotic stream of people crossing those waters.
The agreement was also an important attempt to calm the growing anti-immigrant/right-wing nationalist sentiment that ignited with a vengeance in Europe during 2015. In mundane astrology, right-wing nationalism is often associated with Saturn and Uranus in combination, and with the sign Aquarius, so this 2016 chart has reinforced rather than rolled back that development.
We saw the results of that in the so-called Brexit vote this past June in Great Britain, when concerns about immigration (among other issues) fueled a surprise vote to leave the EU. Many voiced immediate concerns for the integrity of the EU overall going forward, and that story will continue to unfold.
Saturn (Sagittarius) T-squared Jupiter-NNode (Virgo) opposition to Venus-Neptune-Chiron-SNode (Pisces). Concerned with the inhumanity of the growing nationalist sentiment, in April 2016, Pope Francis invited 12 Syrian Muslim refugees (3 families with 6 children between them) to live in Vatican City. This “gesture of welcome” accompanied the Pontiff’s visit to the refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, a destination for migrants trying to reach Greece. For more information about the astrology of this particular event and about Pope Francis’s career of compassionate outreach, please see the April 16th post here.
In that post I argued that the Saturn-Jupiter-Neptune-Chiron dynamics in play during these mutable times reflect both the wounding, extreme challenges faced by the refugees (death by drowning, homelands inundated with overwhelming forces, families torn apart, etc.) and the responsibility (Saturn) Humanity (writ-large) has for making structural adjustments (mutable Saturn-square-Jupiter) that allow for compassion and healing (Neptune-Chiron) in response.
When Zeus (Jupiter) and Poseidon (Neptune) got their heads together in mythology, things usually went badly for the people, but perhaps Venus’s role in this aspect (she is exalted in Pisces, after all) is to soften the harsh edges of these arrogant gods. It’s hard to say if that’s happened—just today NPR news acknowledged that the combatants in Yemen’s civil war are routinely “ignoring humanitarian laws,” targeting civilians with barrel bombs as in Syria.
Besides, falling square Saturn, Venus may actually represent hardship for women and female children, who are particularly prone to rape as a weapon of war and oppression. Bottom line, there is no ease for anyone in the affected areas.
Add in the transiting Nodes and we can sense the hand of Fate tossing people on the waves (Pisces) and the urgent need for pragmatic solutions (Virgo). The shocking picture published last September of 3-year old Aylan Kurdi, his lifeless body washed upon the Turkish shore after a failed attempt to reach Greece, said it all. Since that time, Italian rescue boats have been routinely meeting refugee boats half way and guiding them into port—a pragmatic solution that has probably prevented many fatalities.
Virgo also rules military service, which is perhaps another pragmatic solution, especially if it’s used to balance out the nebulous, chaotic Piscean dynamics of crisis with precisely-targeted tactics.
Neptune in Pisces wields tremendous power to undermine Saturn’s limitations and rules (especially with a weakened Saturn in Sagittarius) and we underestimate Neptune’s force at our peril. The horrific targeting of civilians and children in the world’s conflicts these days is very likely Neptune’s doing: its Piscean force simply washes away the “rules of engagement” meant to shield those populations. In just one more heinous report from Syria today, a family in Aleppo lost all 5 children in a barrel-bomb attack by Syrian government forces.
Ironically, Neptune also rules the antidote to the horrors it unleashes—compassion. We’ll see how that dynamic fits into this story ahead.
Pluto (Capricorn) squares Uranus (Aries) and trines Jupiter-NNode (Virgo). Pluto is usually lurking in the background whenever global power plays and fundamental transformations are in the works, and this chart is no different. The 12th house is the absolute best position for “lurking” in the background, and that’s where we find Pluto, manipulating the mutable chaos roiling the world for who knows what powerful agenda. Terrorist organizations and the shadowy financiers behind their efforts are certainly a possibility—any shady threat that combines power ambitions with a deeply amoral, Machiavellian ethos are candidates here.
In Capricorn, Pluto’s insatiable quest for resources and market power has worked in concert with Uranus’s volatility in Aries to drive the violent growth in human trafficking and modern slavery we’ve witnessed lately, and exploited children have been at the heart of this growth. Millions of children, whose tiny fingers make them valuable tools, are put to work mining cell phone minerals, sorting seafood catches, picking toxic materials out of electronic devices for recycling, etc.
Blood & Earth: Modern Slavery, Ecocide, and the Secret to Saving the World (Spiegel and Grau, 2016) by anti-slavery activist and writer Kevin Bales reports on a host of grim realities that have Pluto and Uranus’s fingerprints all over them. Pluto’s trine to Jupiter in Virgo only enhances the power at stake in terms of resources and finances; it also suggests that the world’s military forces are somehow engaged in protecting these Capricornian power stakes. It truly is a “hard world for little things.”
In the Bible’s account of Noah’s Ark and the cataclysmic flood story, when the flood waters receded, Yahweh expressed regret for destroying humanity (all but Noah’s family) and promised to never do so again.
The Babylonian version of the story is very similar, but with more gods: the god of the oceans, Ea, voted to spare humanity from the flood, but was outvoted by his fellow gods, and so Ea compassionately warns one righteous man, Utnapishtim, to prepare his family for the inundation.
Whichever tradition we prefer, this archetypal moment planted the seeds for Neptune’s connection to compassion, and forever divided Humanity’s story between pre-diluvian—when the gods routinely destroyed mankind for their own selfish purposes—and ante-diluvian—when the gods offered an “olive branch” of compassion to their creations.
Unfortunately, ravaged areas like Aleppo, Syria seem to have regressed to pre-diluvian times, only the “gods” are now sitting in government offices directing aerial attacks on innocent civilians.
Today’s more helpful godly interventions—often manifesting as assistance from FEMA in the U.S., or the Red Cross and countless other aid agencies abroad—only happen after the disasters, but do little to prevent them. Prevention falls in Saturn’s wheelhouse, and with the prolonged Saturn-Neptune square (and a weakened Saturn) we’ve been experiencing, it has fallen far short of the need.
So, what is compassion fatigue, and how does it fit into this story of wounded childhood? This term is usually applied to caregivers who begin showing signs of emotional and psychological trauma after placing the needs of others before their own for prolonged, intense periods. Such fatigue is often discouraging and disillusioning, and it can make caregivers doubt the value or point of their efforts.
We can only imagine how difficult daily life is for those trying to help children dying from malnutrition in places like South Sudan, for those working in search and rescue operations in barrel-bombed cities, for those trying to push uncaring bureaucracies to protect child workers/slaves, and so on. It’s a wonder such aid workers maintain any optimism at all.
The disillusionment and despair experienced by caregivers in these situations is patently Neptunian: the sense that no matter what they work their hearts out doing, it will never be enough because the powers-that-be will always overwhelm in the end. Swimming against a tidal wave never goes well.
Today’s Saturn square to Neptune from fiery Sagittarius only deepens the fatigue: Sagittarius is compelled to reach out for more, better, higher, and the confidence it inspires that anything is possible is easily undermined by Neptune’s passive aggression.
Importantly, the related phenomenon of donor fatigue robs these laudable efforts of their support because donors begin feeling that no matter what they give, it too is never enough. The logic of donor fatigue is similar to that of compassion fatigue: “I can’t solve the world’s problems…Why am I responsible for what’s happening over there?...I’ve got my own family to think about…” and so on.
Neptune can unfortunately enable compassion and donor fatigue by offering an escape via desensitization and conspiracy thinking. “Look at how aid agencies exploit these kids to extract money from us…who knows where the money we give goes?...” When things are managed badly in these organizations, a public trust is broken and everyone who needs help suffers.
Trouble is, we can also succumb to Neptunian denial about this deep Neptune-Saturn dilemma: coming to grips that we’re all in these crisis times together, whether we like it or not—and then, what to do with that knowledge. Extending the watery analogy, we can try to divide the Earth’s oceans on a map (Saturn), but in the end, all oceans are connected and work as a holistic system to keep our planet liveable. Basically, the health of one ocean affects the health of all. This collective perspective (Neptune) is essential, but our compassionate impulses can also get lost in the sheer magnitude of it all.
That’s where the ability to shift perspectives back into Saturnian mode can also be helpful: this mode helps us break large-scale problems into manageable pieces (Saturn) and to work on one priority at a time. If we can still keep the larger perspective to see how all the small pieces fit together, all the better. Simply put, to make a difference, we need to make judicious use of both Neptune and Saturn!
It’s easier to talk about balancing out Saturn and Neptune than it is to actually do so, of course, but does this mean everyone should just give up caring about the world’s children until today’s difficult cosmic weather passes? Even Noah’s flood waters receded eventually. Or perhaps that’s the higher challenge of these times—Neptune demands we dig deep into our spiritual reserves for the way forward, to make a leap of faith (in whichever direction suits us), and to surrender to mysteries beyond our comprehension.
Saturn toughens us up and steels our determination, and together, this duo can instill much-needed resilience in us. I am reminded of the amazing story of Yusra Mardini, an 18-year old competitive swimmer who, with her sister, had to flee her home in Syria and cross the Mediterranean on one of those flimsy rubber boats.
When the boat's engine failed, she, her sister and others jumped into the water and swam it to safety. Settled since September 2015 in Berlin, Germany, Yusra found her way back to competitive swimming and was awarded a place on the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team in Rio de Janeiro. That’s resilience, and given the means, such young people are going to carry on in this world, doing what needs to be done.
In the end, Neptune reminds us that we need each other; used wisely, Saturn provides productive systems and means to act on those needs. Maybe we’re not as helpless as we sometimes feel?
Raye Robertson is a practicing astrologer, writer and former university English instructor. A graduate of the Faculty of Astrological Studies (U.K.), Raye focuses on mundane, collective-oriented astrology, with a particular interest in current affairs, culture and media, the astrology of generations, and public concerns such as education and health. Several of her articles on these topics have been featured in The Mountain Astrologer and other publications over the years. Raye can be contacted by comment here, or at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Raye Robertson 2016. All rights reserved.