Whenever I go past the alley of trees in this picture, I think of how somewhere between them may be the
gateway to a parallel Oxford. In His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman's fantasy trilogy, Will Parry, the boy hero, creates an invisible portal into another dimension by cutting a hole in the air with the "subtle knife". The spot where he does it - between two hornbeam trees - is just up the road from where I live.
Sunderland Avenue, North Oxford,
In the books, there are two Oxfords: Will's, which is ours, and Lyra's Oxford which is what this place would be if the world worked in a slightly different way. Lyra's Oxford is familiar, with its river and canals, its ancient university but strange also. For example, everyone who lives there carries his or her daimon, something like a soul but not quite, in the shape of an animal.
And we have had our own invisible portal this summer. The planets lined up for a few months in a pattern that gave us a glimpse into the future. The gods pulled back the curtain, and have now pulled it to again, while we digest what happened between May and the end of August.
July 23, 2010. T-square.
This summer, the heaviest hitting planets lined up in a tight T-square configuration - a right-angled triangle with Pluto at the apex in Capricorn. Astrologers have been talking about this "Cardinal Climax" for years. It's part of a longer period of dramatic planetary alignments that began in 2008 and will end in 2015. In other words, it started with the election of America's first black president and the global economic crisis and ends with…?
On the chart to the right, look at that big red triangle - that's Uranus conjunct Jupiter opposing Saturn conjunct Mars and both squaring Pluto. You can see that there's a lovely blue rectangle too - that's temporary, caused by the Sun and Moon sending out little helping hands to the big bad outer planets, and easing this fierce configuration just as it snaps into place.
Because they move more slowly, the outer planet configuration is more powerful and lasts much longer. All the outer planets are in Cardinal signs - the signs where stuff begins. Aries is the first sign of the Zodiac, so when any planet arrives at 0° Aries its beginning a whole new trek through the 12 signs.
Uranus hasn't been here for 84 years, so this is a really serious beginning. What's more it hasn't been at this point with Jupiter in hundreds or thousands of years. So this is a new beginning for Uranus, the planet of modernity, revolution, surprises, shocks, electricity, change, computers, flashes of insight - made bigger by the planet of expansion Jupiter.
What's more Uranus is opposed by Saturn the planet of contraction and boundaries and rules and the status quo. Something in the status quo shifted forever this summer. With these outer planet movements, hindsight is a beautiful thing. We may not know exactly what's shifted for a while, but I can tell you this, we will look back and say, 'Summer 2010 - that was where it all changed."
Pluto, planet of transformation and plutocrats, of course, moved into Capricorn (big business, structures) in 2008 -exactly when the world economy went into convulsions. It's a very slow moving planet, so it's still only at 3°. But it's at a tense aspect to both ends of the opposition. The economy, capitalism and big business are under huge stress - but that doesn't mean the plutocrats are defeated. As we all know, this summer saw a return to bonuses, indeed megacorps such as Newscorp flexed their muscles even more aggressively. Big business may in fact be getting stronger, with Pluto, the planet of global enterprises in the sign of global enterprises.
June 22, 2010. Grand Cross.
In a natal chart, you'd look at the sign opposite the apex of the right angle - in this case Cancer - for some answers to how the tension might be resolved. Earlier in the summer, in June, the Sun crossed that point, filling in the empty house for a while and creating what's known as a Grand Cross.
What happened on the 22 of June then?
Well, I've just had a look at the BBC and was rather startled to find two big things immediately.
In Britain George Osbourne announced cuts cuts cuts in his emergency budget - and put the fear into all of us. (Just as an aside here, the last time the planet of restriction crossed the UK ascendant at 7° Libra, we had Geoffrey Howe's brutal budget in 1981.)
Barack Obama sacked Stanley McChrystal head of NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Make of that what you will.
Here are some other things that happened around the world this summer.
The gulf oil spill went on and on.
I wrote a big post on this
The wars went on and on.
Although allegedly the US has pulled out of Iraq.
The flood in Pakistan
The fires in Russia
Floods in Niger
Drought in Peru
Britain elected a coalition for the first time since the WW2
Australians elected a coalition (and the first woman PM)
The World Cup took place in Africa for the first time and several nations that used to have empires disgraced themselves.
The vaunted economic recovery failed to materialise
The US passed far-reaching financial legislation
Sarah Palin didn't go away, instead she got stronger and scarier.
I'm sure you can add a few more yourself. And ask yourself, is there a pattern?
Right now, with so many planets retrograde (apparently going backwards in the sky), we have a chance to look back at this strange, fearful, golden summer and try to figure out where we are - both personally and collectively. Have we moved (metaphorically) from Will's Oxford to Lyra's Oxford?
If the planets' subtle knife opened the door into the future - what kind of future is it for you?