Across the Universe

     Movies     Star of the Bards




With Obama stirring up everyone's hopes with his charismatic vision and presence (he is a Leo, so it comes naturally) plus the added glamour of the Kennedy clan passing on JFK's torch to him; with the war in Iraq echoing the war in Vietnam; with the call for CHANGE getting louder and louder, is it any wonder that pundits are comparing or downplaying the echoes to the 60's we're all feeling?

I don't know about you, but I lived through the 60's and I just know they're back! It's a feeling, it's the similarities of social unrest – and it's something more cosmic. I know it because among the many things I do, I am an astrologer. I know that a cycle that began in the mid-60s is coming up to its first crisis point in 2010 and some of the planets that formed that cycle are now transiting the degrees that were so important for the 60s. These energies are stirring up the pot – change is in the air. But what are we going to do about it? Because all the good energy in the world can go to waste unless We The People do something. And that especially includes our Artists, for they can give us a deep perspective on what's happening to us and to the culture.

Now before you reject the idea that Astrology has any pertinence to this energy of change we're feeling, please read on. My astrologer friend Caroline Casey says, “Believe nothing. Entertain possibilities! Astrology is not a belief system; it is a [symbolic] language of the dynamic interplay between our interior life and the exterior world.” All we can do in the face of the immensity of life is to entertain possibilities. Why not imagine, for a moment, that these possibilities exist? That we are connected to our planet, to our solar system, to our galaxy, to each other. Scientists know that we are affected by the Solar cycle of sunspot activity as well as by the Moon's cycle. And did you know that most of Western civilization's greatest philosophers and scientists were also astrologers? Check it out for yourselves.

But before I talk more about the astrological influences of our times, I want to say that Julie Taymor's brilliant movie “Across the Universe” brought me right back to the 60's on a visceral level. This movie could have come right out of John Lennon's imagination: the movie could have been made by the Beatles – it has the feel of who they were and what they did together. So if John and George are listening from the Beyond, and to Paul and Ringo, I want to thank the Fab Four for giving us another chance to really hear their music and amazing lyrics, and re-visit their music's significance for all our lives during those wonderful, turbulent, tumultuous years.

First, though, I want to talk about the archetype of the Bard, because we need to understand why our artists are so important to our lives and to these times of change. Archetypes are the patterns that shape our human consciousness. They are the images of the instincts that make us human. The archetype of the Bard acknowledges our collective need to understand ourselves through images, to give coherence to our lives through stories and song. And because of that need within humanity, some people resonate with this archetype and are called to became the storytellers of their tribes. Bards help shape their societies by singing about the shared values of the tribe, teaching the next generation about their duties, their capabilities, and their place in the world. Stories from the desert speak of the need to share everything, for otherwise no one survives in the harsh landscape. The stories of the Celts shaped their view of warriors as being sensitive, boastful, brave and honorable. Troubadours of the Middle Ages shaped their society through their songs of courtly love. Bards are the ones who remember, the poets, the news-givers, the truth-speakers, and the visionaries of their people who see the truths of their times and give their people a perspective on them.

All ancient peoples had someone who represented this archetype of the Bard, the storyteller, the singer of songs. In those societies, Bards were highly honored, and they had the power and the responsibility to influence their people's beliefs. In our modern culture, our singers and storytellers are still honored with money and fame, although not many are worthy of being called True Bards. Those who are in it for the money and fame are the ones we call entertainers. Because most entertainers don't take their responsibilities as Bards seriously, we sometimes forget that our artists really have this power to teach us about our world, for the power of the Bard resides in the Imagination.

Each of us can tell our own stories, but it takes someone bigger to shape and recreate our collective story. That someone, or someones, is the True Bard. That's exactly what the Beatles did for us in the 60s. They were True Bards because their music still speaks to new generations. And so is Julie Taymor, the amazing director who created this Beatles rock opera “Across the Universe”. This movie re-awakens us to our collective story of change that we experienced in the 60's. It says, our story is still with us. The question is, what are we going to do about it?

If you haven't seen Across the Universe” yet , run out and rent it right now. Besides its considerable high production values – the settings, the dances, the costumes, the feel make it delightfully magical to watch! - it simply tells the story of the 60's as it unfolded within our psyches to the soundtrack of the Beatles' music. Their music shaped my consciousness as well as expressed what was going on inside me and everyone else I knew. And now my children and anyone else who loves the Beatles but weren't there for themselves can see how those times might have played out in our lives.

The story itself is simple and fun, yet complex and psychologically astute. If it was a novel, I'd say it was an historical fantasy. Part Beatle images and lyrics (one character says of another, “She crept in through the bathroom window.”); part semi-biographical (Sadie as a Janis Joplin character/Bono as a Timothy Leary/merry prankster character/a band playing music on a rooftop); part social commentary (draftees in formation carrying a Statue of Liberty on their shoulders are they trudge through the jungles of a miniature Vietnam singing “She's so heavy” from “I Want You”). Across the Universe” has it all. The raw emotions of the songs come out through the acting. It's a mesmerizing mix of social commentary and youthful longing, hope and love.

Taymor's use of imagery is symbolically astute. The movie opens with images of wildly breaking ocean waves superimposed with images of social unrest, and then a young woman – Lucy, the love interest. Many people have dreams of tidal waves, and one of the symbolic meanings of these dreams is that the collective unconscious is stirring – all of our culture's repressed values and needs are rising up and overwhelming collective consciousness. And the beautiful young woman is an image of the New Feminine Spirit that is arising in the collective unconscious – a spirit that demands that we pay attention to the repressed feminine qualities of life – connection, compassion, intuition, feelings, nurturing, love and life. Taymor ends the movie with a heartfelt cry of “All You Need Is Love.” The rest of the story shows us how this is played out.

The story itself is true to the 60s. An all-American teenager, Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), leaves home to follow her older brother Max (Joe Anderson) to New York after her boyfriend dies in the Vietnam War. In Liverpool, Jude (Jim Sturgess) leaves his work in the shipyards and comes to New York and meets Max, and they all end up living at singer Sadie’s (Dana Fuchs) Greenwich Village apartment along with JoJo and Prudence. This youthful 'family' experiences the turbulence of the 60s together.  There’s naïve Lucy whose eyes are opened to the possibilities of life beyond her 50's, sheltered upbringing; adventurous Brit Jude who breaks away from his working-class roots to make it as an artist in New York; Lucy’s brother, Max, a college dropout who eventually gets drafted and sent to Vietnam; Sadie, a Janis Joplin-esque rock singer; her guitar-playing lover Jo-Jo, who comes from the riot-torn streets of Detroit; and a closet lesbian named Prudence. As these sympathetic characters go through the ups and downs of life in the 60's, we share their growing consciousness that the most important thing in life is LOVE. I left the movie feeling and knowing that this is still True!

Now it's time for the astrology! I'm using information from an amazing, award-winning book called “Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a new World View” by Richard Tarnas, a professor of philosophy and depth psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. Tarnas spent 30 years researching astrology, (at first to debunk it!) and came away with the view that there is a direct connection between planetary movements and the archetypal patterns of human experience. He explores the planetary cycles and how they play out in human cultural events.

In the 60s, two planets aligned in the heavens in the sign of Virgo – Pluto, the planet that represents the archetypal energy of death, re-birth and evolution, and Uranus, the archetypal energy of revolution, innovation and freedom. They were joined during the exact conjunction in 1966 by an opposition from the planet Saturn, representing the archetypal energy of form, authority, maturity, frustration, and constriction in Pisces, the sign of the collective unconscious. In 2010, these three planets will again be in alignment, expect now in a three-sided 90 degree aspect to each other. The alignment is one of tension which propels us into action.

Tarnas states: “I was encouraged to examine the possible existence of historical correlations with planetary cycles when I encountered a number of highly suggestive patterns in which certain cyclical alignments between the outer planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto) coincided with major historical events and cultural trends of a distinctive character, as if the specific archetypes associated with those planets were emerging on the collective level in periodic cycles.” (pg. 141, C&P)

Because of the great distance of both Pluto and Uranus from the Sun and the Earth, their cycle is one of the longest between two planets, lasting anywhere from 113 to 142 years (because of Pluto's erratic orbit). When Tarnas went back to study what happened during proceeding conjunctions and oppositions of these two planets, he found that each time there were similarities of cultural expression – back to the times of Spartacus in ancient Rome!

What Tarnas found was that the archetypal principles related to these two planet found full expression in the 60s. The planet Uranus correlates to Promethean characteristics: “emancipatory, rebellious, progressive and innovative, awakening, disruptive and destabilizing, unpredictable, serving to catalyze new beginnings and sudden unexpected change.” The planet Pluto is associated with Dionysian characteristics: “elemental, instinctual, powerfully compelling, extreme in its intensity, arising from the depths, both libidinal and destructive, overwhelming and transformative, ever-evolving... possessing a prodigious, titanic dimension, empowering, intensifying and compelling in whatever it touches on a massive scale.”(pg.142, C&P)

Each time these two planetary energies synergistically merge, they produce “widespread radical social and political change and often destructive upheaval, massive empowerment of revolutionary and rebellious impulses, and intensified artistic and intellectual creativity. Other distinctive themes of these historical periods included unusually rapid techniological advance, an underlying spirit of restless experiment, drive for innovation, urge for freedom in many realms, revolt against oppression, embrace of radical political philosophies and intensified collective will to bring forth a new world. “ (pg. 144, C&P)

Not only were these planets in a conjunction alignment during the 1960s, they were also in conjunction from 1845-1856, when there was a wave of revolutionary upheavals across Europe, China, Japan, India and the Ottoman Empire. When these two planets were in the opposition alignment from 1896 to 1907, many social and political movements were born – progressive labor movements, the Women's movement, the black civil rights movement and the beginnings of socialism. Before that, another opposition took place during the decade of the French Revolution, 1787 to 1798. The word “revolution' came into “wide use in the 1790s in its present meaning of sudden radical change of an overwhelming nature, bringing into being a fundamentally new condition.” (Pg 144, C&P).

The revolutionary impulse during all the 60s and the French Revolution wasn't confined to politics, but occurred in every aspect of cultural life: “in the music heard, the books read, the ideas discussed, the ideals embraced, the images produced, the evolution of language and fashion, the radical changes in social and sexual mores. It was visible in the incessant challenge to established beliefs and widespread embrace of new perspectives, the movements for radical theological and church reform and anti religious revolt, the drive towards innovation and experiment that affected all the arts, the sudden empowerment of the young, the pivotal role of university communities in the rapid cultural shift. And it was evident above all in the prodigious energy and activism of both eras, the general impulse towards extremes and 'radicalization' in so many areas, the suddenly intensified will to construct a new world.” (P. 145, C&P)

Without making me trace back the historical evidence back to the revolution of Spartacus, let's just say that these facts do point to a possible correlation between astrology and world events. If so (please at least entertain the possibilities) what do we have to look forward to in the next few years?


First, understand that the 60s was not a unique cultural event that will never be repeated, although for we Baby Boomers, it was an utterly unique experience.  But it is being repeated now, on a higher level, if you will. We do have to continue the revolution.  But we can't get upset that it got sidetracked.  The old always tries to pull us back into its clutches before we really break free.  That's what I love about astrology.  Not that it sets up a certain 'fate' but that it works through cycles, and that lets us know that there are certain energies to contend with within the cycle.  The moon cycle is the best metaphor for it.  In terms of the 60s and this particular conjunction of Pluto and Uranus, we've been in a new moon through crescent moon phase, which means that the energy was first an unconscious upwelling of new ideas and energy and then, when we catch sight of what we really need and want to do, we are pulled back by all our fears and our conditioning.  It's at the quarter moon phase that we finally go on the hero's journey and make the break from the past. 

 Pluto and Uranus are about to come to their first square aspect – like the quarter moon phase of the lunar cycle. A square is a challenge – a call to action. The real Hero's Journey.   If we are not living in such a time, I don't know when that would be.  This is when we have to step up and stand for those values that we all proclaim we loved in the 60s.   What will make this next stage of the 60s revolution even more challenging is that the planets will be in Cardinal signs – the signs that signify the Solstices and Equinoxes. So it will be a dynamic and energized time, and it is vitally important to get it right this time. We will have to change the way our culture does business, by reigning in corporate power. We will have to grow up and become responsible, both as individuals and as a nation so we can save our environment. We will have to treat the rest of the human race, and other nations, as our equals, and understand that we are all in this together.   We might even have to take to the streets again, like our friends, the French.   If we do, the cosmic energies will be with us.

Are you ready?

Earlier I said that these two planets were transiting over the degrees of the 60s conjunction. The Uranian/Promethean wake-up call is ringing in our minds, hearts and souls as we've witnessed the Plutonian revelations of truth about our government, our religious beliefs and our technological advances.   As for artists, Uranus is in the sign of Pisces, exactly opposite the 60s conjunction.  It's half-way around the zodiac and so in a way, it's having its midlife awakening.  Since Pisces is so full of imagination, deep spiritual insight and artistic vision, it is our artists who need to awaken so they can wake the rest of us up by telling us the stories we need to hear.  So we can imagine what this new phase of the 60s revolution might look like.

Julie Taymor's wonderful movie “ Across the Universe“ should be at the top of your list!