Deconstructing the Grand Cross
A Present-Centered view
By Glenn Perry
For months the astrological community has been ablaze with commentary on the grand cross in cardinal signs, exact this very day, April 23, 2014. A grand cross entails four planets occupying approximately the same degree in four different signs, all of which either square or oppose one another. Pluto in Capricorn, Uranus in Aries, Mars in Libra, and Jupiter in Cancer currently occupy the 13th degree of their respective signs, adding an even more ominous note to the proceedings.
At the time of this writing a cursory review reveals that most astrologers focused on prediction of likely events. The usual suspects are included: wars and revolts, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, monetary crises, the end of the world and general mayhem.
Astrologer Zell Bodine writes on Facebook: “Will the Cardinal Grand Square Explode This Week?” She continues: “It’s like three warehouses full of fireworks, TNT, and nuclear fission materials with three fuses, one each, leading straight to them. And Mars holds the other end of all three fuses, ready to light three matches on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.” Zell goes on to list other, more positive possibilities, but it is a compelling metaphor that illustrates how easy it is to be alarmed by the aspect in question.
Rather than attempt to predict events that, in fact, are already occurring, I would like to deconstruct the configuration into its respective parts and interpret it at a process level. Astrological configurations admit of two levels of interpretation: process and content. Process is the underlying, archetypal dynamics that operate at a more abstract level, whereas content pertains to observable behavior and events. The general rule is that content mirrors process. Tangible outcomes provide a vehicle and catalyst for an evolutionary process that is endlessly unfolding. In this article, we will take a look at some of the more dramatic expressions of the grand cross, while keeping in mind that such events exemplify a deeper, archetypal reality.
The Grand Cross: Some Preliminary Remarks
World transits can be distinguished from personal transits. The latter pertains to planetary movements in relation to natal charts. Unlike personal transits, world transits are pervasive and affect everyone generically. They apply more to the collective psyche.
There is a tendency to think that dramatic configurations like a grand cross can be isolated in time as if they are singular events, like a wayward comet smashing into the earth’s crust. In actuality, every planet is continuously engaged in a synodic cycle with every other planet. Synodic cycles mark the period of time it takes for any two planets to move from their conjunction to the opposition and back again, thus completing a full circle. Synodic cycles are punctuated by the same 30-degree angles that comprise the tropical zodiac. Aspects, in effect, derive their meaning from the signs that correspond to those angles. An opposition, for example, has a Libra quality since Libra is the sign that marks the 180 degree angle from the vernal equinox (0 degrees Aries).
Each pairing relates to broad themes that crystallize into focus whenever there is an aspect between the relevant planets. And as the planets move out of aspect, these same thematic elements recede into the background. This rhythmic unfolding and enfolding serves to remind us that any current transit is but the latest chapter in a never-ending story co-authored and continuously updated by the respective planets. A world transit is a phase of development in an evolutionary process that has no beginning or discernable end. Every planetary aspect, therefore, has an ancestral line, earlier incarnations in which those two planets made the same aspect in different signs. And while there will be similarities between the respective incarnations, there are differences, too. Just as the adult form of an organism is different from its juvenile phase, so later forms of a transit will tend to manifest in more mature ways.
Significantly at the present time, several dyadic pairings are coalescing into a more complex story—a grand cross—comprised of not two planets making a single aspect but four planets making six interdependent aspects:
- Pluto square Uranus
- Pluto opposed Jupiter
- Pluto square Mars
- Uranus square Jupiter
- Uranus opposed Mars
- Jupiter square Mars
Each of the above aspects is considered ‘hard’, meaning they denote stress and conflict between competing aims. Squares correspond to the signs Cancer and Capricorn, and as such are aspects of containment and control. They signify that the respective planets have to exercise restraint in relation to one another in order to prevent unwanted outcomes. If properly integrated, squares can be utilized in caring ways and harnessed for significant accomplishment. Similarly, oppositions are comprised of complimentary opposites engaged in open conflict, which can only be resolved by compromise. As Libra angles, oppositions afford opportunities for true partnership in which each planet balances and enriches the functioning of the other. Given that the grand cross is comprised of four squares and two oppositions, representative events will be characterized more by the square than the opposition. Squares are like hammer and anvil; irresistible force meets immovable object. Two or more powers locked in dynamic tension struggle to maintain control. In the end, some sort of compromise (opposition) must be affected. Stripped to its bare bones, this is the grand cross.
Also significant is the fact that each planet of the grand cross is in a particular sign, which adds four additional variables to the mix. In total, we have four planets in four signs making six aspects—thus, 20 variables—all working together as dynamic parts of a complex whole system. As with any complex system, the interaction of component parts will produce emergent properties that do not exist at the level of the parts that comprise it; in effect, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Given that any single variable has a multiplicity of meanings that when combined with other variables can produce an exponentially greater number of outcomes, it is a stupendous task indeed to predict exactly how these 20 odd variables will manifest. Since the human mind is only capable of dealing with a limited number of variables at once, interpretation of a complex scenario like the grand cross is akin to putting together the pieces of a puzzle. Eventually, the whole comes into view.
It is fascinating to observe how events invariably reflect the meaning of world transits. In general, however, we are much better at seeing these connections in retrospect than via prognostication. Astrologers are enamored with their ability to predict the future (however poorly), and the general populace seems to assume that this is our proper role. Personally, I believe there is greater value in using astrology to understand the archetypal meaning and purpose of events that are currently unfolding; that is, to use astrology to more fully and consciously live in the present rather than worry anxiously and helplessly about an uncertain future.
Study of archetypal dynamics helps us recognize the significance of events—not just events on the global stage, but also those within our businesses, communities, and families. Focus on prediction of world-shaking events like wars and earthquakes can be misleading in that it suggests only those events are likely to occur. Yet, the same configuration that is reflected in global events also manifests through the myriad happenings of our individual daily lives, albeit in a more subtle manner. World transits are equal opportunity employers: they affect everyone, everything, everywhere. This point was driven home recently when a client was discussing her exasperation with a dysfunctional university where she was employed. The problems of the university could have been lifted from the daily headlines pertaining to our dysfunctional federal government, for they were identical in microcosm.
Uranus square Pluto
When interpreting an aspect, it is advisable to start with the slower moving planet, for a planet’s influence is inversely proportional to its speed: the slower the planet, the more powerful. It follows that Pluto is the dominant player and proper place to start in our analysis of the current grand cross. Since it is forming aspects to Uranus (opening square), Jupiter (opposition), and Mars (closing square), we can expect that Pluto’s presence will be particularly salient in the world at this time. The dark lord is spreading its influence into the domains ruled by each of the planets it aspects. Each will be deepened, intensified, and rendered more passionate; each will be imbued with a transformational imperative.
The opening square to Uranus has been felt for several years now, as Pluto first squared Uranus in June 2012. Due to retrograde motion it will have been exact seven times by the last square on March 16, 2015. Squares between these two planets rarely occur more than once a century. Accordingly, this aspect is more of a backdrop to the current grand cross, though its effects will be expanded by Jupiter and inflamed by Mars for the remainder of the current month. Pluto has intensified the Uranian impulse for collective evolution and cultural revolution, infusing Uranus with a do-or-die mentality. This has taken different forms in different countries since 2012, being most pronounced in nations that are already unstable, as exists in much of the Middle East; and less so in countries that are more stable, such as the United States and China.
The signature event of Uranus square Pluto is the Arab spring that has morphed into a seemingly endless winter threatening Egypt, Libya, Syria, and their neighbors. Dysfunctional dictatorships are being threatened by radical uprisings demanding greater freedom and economic opportunity. In the United States, this same pressure for change is embodied in conservative (Tea Party) and liberal (Occupy) movements locked in an intense ideological battle for the future of the country. Conservatives, favoring Pluto in Capricorn, advocate for elimination of administrative waste and inefficiency, opting for smaller government, lower taxes, and fewer regulations as the surest route to deficit reduction and economic prosperity. Too much change and social engineering (Uranus) is seen as a threat to fiscally responsible policies that would otherwise be employed to achieve a balanced budget and solid, measured growth. Liberals, on the other hand, favor Uranian solutions for social justice and the reduction of income disparity between rich and poor via higher taxes, more deficit spending, and expansive government programs that redistribute wealth.
It is noteworthy with the opening square that the relationship between Pluto and Uranus is in a Cancerian phase, for that is the sign that corresponds to the opening square. As with Cancer, opening squares have an inhibiting, restraining effect. Just as the Sun at the summer solstice appears to slow, come to a stop, and then reverse its course by moving progressively lower in the sky over the next six months, so the opening square signifies a slowing and potential reversal of course in the relationship between the respective planets. The current synodic cycle of Uranus and Pluto began in 1964-1967 when the two planets were conjunct. In the United States, this period corresponded to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s ‘great society’ and ‘war on poverty’ that entailed the inception of government entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid and welfare. Designed to eliminate poverty and care for its citizenry ‘from cradle to grave’, entitlement programs are the heart of the welfare state. Likewise in China, the 1964-1967 Uranus-Pluto conjunction triggered the launch of Mao Zedong’s ‘Cultural Revolution’ that sought to implement socialist policies that would assure a more equitable (re)-distribution of wealth.
With the opening square, it is precisely what began during the conjunction that has to be reappraised and, if necessary, reversed in order to assure sustainable progress. Johnson’s entitlement programs that began with the conjunction are now thought to be unsustainable and if continued in their current form will bankrupt the country.
As with any aspect, the relationship between Uranus and Pluto goes both ways. Not only does Pluto intensify and deepen the Uranian impulse for progress, but Uranus radicalizes and objectifies the Plutonic impulse for transformation. While this can have myriad effects in Plutonic realms of medicine/healing, human sexuality, and all things associated with depth and death, it is apt to be especially noticeable in economics. Pluto rules the financial realm. In accord with the square from Uranus over the last few years, there has been increasing evidence that the global monetary system is outdated and dangerously unstable. This is most obvious in the out-of-control deficit spending of western hemisphere nations, including and especially the United States. Some kind of substantive reform in monetary policy seems inevitable and likely to occur before the last Uranus-Pluto square of 2015. It is against this backdrop that Mars and Jupiter’s contribution to the grand cross must be considered.
Jupiter opposed Pluto
Jupiter is associated with justice, laws, ideologies, religions, doctrines, and belief systems in general. When opposed to Pluto, this dimension of life is deepened, intensified, and rendered more extreme at least partly in response to Pluto’s transformational imperative. Unintegrated oppositions have a pulling-apart quality characterized by reciprocal influence and mutual resistance. The result is a see-saw effect with first one planet then the other vying for dominance. We can expect intense ideological battles involving various factions attempting to convert the other to their own (opposing) point-of-view. This is palpable, for example, between religions like Islam and Christianity, racial divisions like blacks and whites, competing parties such as Democrats and Republicans, and rival economic policies such as Keynesianism and monetarism.
While the religious extremism of groups like al Qaeda has been conspicuous for decades, there’s been a spike in reports of religious extremism during this current Jupiter-Pluto period. Only last week there was a flagrant al-Qaeda meeting in Yemen that included over 100 members openly planning to launch attacks against foreign interests. Within days, U.S. drone strikes killed 55 al-Qaeda militants, the most recent strike being only yesterday. Of course, this event is best understood in the context of the entire grand cross. Mars square Pluto can correlate to terrorism,1 while Uranus in Aries opposed Mars is an apt signature for radical militants whose violent intentions triggered a high-tech, immunizing response from the skies—a lethal drone strike, perhaps the ultimate example of blowback.
On a related note, the traditional Christian story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ—itself a Jupiter-Pluto event—was celebrated this Easter weekend accompanied by numerous stories of the persecution of Christians at home and abroad. The synchronicity of the grand cross with Easter is interesting in light of the fact that crucifixion of Christ on the cross is an apt metaphor of the grand cross configuration: the shocking death (Uranus-Pluto) of a religious figure (Jupiter) by violent means (Mars). Other Jupiter-Pluto reports this weekend featured the upcoming release of the religious film, Son of God, the final scene of which is the crucifixion. Producer Mark Burnett admits the film is unabashedly evangelical with the goal not merely to entertain but convert—a Plutonic intention that will surely divide the true believers from their secularist/atheist counterparts.
Another dramatic example of Jupiter opposed Pluto has been unfolding this week at the Nevada cattle ranch of Cliven Bundy. A long simmering feud between Bundy and the federal Bureau Of Land Management (BLM) boiled over in charges that Bundy owes back fees for his cattle grazing on federal lands. Jupiter-Pluto dynamics are perfectly encapsulated in legal judgments (Jupiter) against Bundy’s family and home (Cancer) with regard to his alleged indebtedness (Pluto) to the federal government (Capricorn). The footprint of this opposition is also plainly evident in the legal dispute over whether states or the federal government should control public range lands. Bundy’s revolt would not have made news except for the fact that armed federal agents replete with attack dogs and snipers surrounded his property. This, in turn, triggered a response by local militia groups coming to Bundy’s aid armed to the teeth in defiance of federal agents. Critics charge that the Bundy standoff has brought into sharp focus the overreaching (Jupiter) of the federal government in violation (Pluto) of state’s rights, a point we will return to shortly.
Bundy subsequently made racially insensitive remarks about African Americans having a better life under conditions of slavery than they do on welfare, which ostensibly was Bundy’s attempt to castigate the federal government for enslaving people by keeping them dependent. Only a few days later, the issue of race again exploded in the national news when the owner of Los Angeles Clippers professional basketball franchise, Donald Sterling, was banned from the NBA for life and fined $2.5 million after recordings of him making racist comments were made public. This sparked a national debate on race and the extent to which the United States has become increasingly intolerant of racism, whether of whites against blacks or blacks against whites. All of this is consistent with a wound (Pluto) surfacing in relation to issues of justice (Jupiter), as one might expect when Jupiter and Pluto engage in open dialogue via the opposition. As always with Pluto transits, an opportunity presents itself for a deeper level of integration—in this case, literally the deeper integration of a minority (blacks) within the majority (whites).
Uranus square Jupiter and opposed Mars
When Uranus and Jupiter square off we can expect changes in conventional morality, established laws, and religious tenets, to name a few. When forming a hard aspect to Jupiter, Uranus tends to objectify and challenge standard interpretations of any belief system. Judicial activism is a good example. It occurs when judges decline to apply in a neutral and unbiased fashion constitutional law (Jupiter) according to its original public meaning; instead, they decide cases based on subjective policy preferences in an apparent attempt to bring about social change (Uranus).
Something similar occurred a few days ago when U.S. president Barack Obama signed a law enacted by Congress to deny entry to the U.S. of an Iranian ambassador, Hamid Aboutalebi, who was involved in the 1979 hostage crisis during which fifty-two Americans were held for over a year. In signing the law approved by Congress, Obama stated he would consider it “advisory” and not binding. Critics charge that like his predecessor, George Bush, Obama is reinterpreting laws at his discretion and doing an end run around Congress in the process. On Monday, April 21, he rewrote federal law again by extending his power of ‘pardon’ to allow the early release of drug felons—heroin and crack cocaine dealers—incarcerated under draconian sentencing regimes that by today’s standards would seem excessive. Advocates are seizing the opportunity to file thousands of new clemency petitions.
These examples serve to illustrate the general trend when Uranus and Jupiter are square. Certainly there are innumerable other challenges and rebellions against conventional law/morality occurring at the present time, most of which we will never know because they do not rise to the level of national news. Accordingly, we must content ourselves with a few examples that serve to illustrate the larger principle.
Returning to the Bundy ranch, the Nevada cattleman made it clear that he does not recognize the federal government as having jurisdiction over his cattle—or anything else, for that matter. Instead, he regards himself solely as a citizen of Nevada and subject to its laws alone. Bundy is the tip of the spear in a general populist revolt against federal laws that confiscated over 80% of Nevada land for pet projects like protecting the desert tortoise, leaving ranchers with scant range for their cattle. On Saturday morning April 12 in a perfect display of Uranus square Jupiter, a crowd of protestors rallied under a banner that read “Liberty Freedom for God We Stand.” Armed BLM rangers were poised to commence a round-up of Bundy’s cattle for trespassing on—what else, federal land. The agents were heckled and chided as Bundy addressed a crowd comprised not only of neighbors but White Mountain Militia and the Praetorian Guard (local militia groups rallying to his defense). “We definitely don’t recognize the BLM director’s jurisdiction or authority, his arresting power or policing power in any way,” shouted Bundy. “And we’re about ready to take the country over with force!”2 According to The Guardian,
A tense, hour-long standoff then ensued at the mouth of Gold Butte, the preserve where the cattle were corralled. Militiamen took position on a highway overpass, offering cover as horse-mounted wranglers led protesters to face off against heavily equipped BLM rangers and snipers.3
Jupiter square Uranus was not the only aspect in play during Bundy’s revolt. Mars is also a key component since it opposes Uranus and squares both Pluto and Jupiter. As the fastest moving of the four planets in the grand cross, Mars operates like a trigger that inflames and escalates tensions contained in the more enduring T-Square of Pluto, Uranus, and Jupiter. Like Bundy himself, Uranus-Mars is the incendiary, rabble rouser, and firebrand that incites action in the service of Uranian change, which often takes the form of breakups, rebellions and liberations. Mars, of course, is the impulse to do battle, whereas Uranus rules progress. When these two planets interact by opposition there can be fiery confrontations between pro-change forces and forces pitted against them. Note that Uranus in Aries is opposed to its own dispositor—Mars. This correlates not only to angry exchanges between rival factions but also blowback as occurred when armed federal agents surrounding Bundy’s ranch incited protestors to arm themselves in response. Throw Pluto into the mix and the situation has devolved into an ugly power struggle with no-holds-barred, clenched-fist intensity. Jupiter’s contribution has been to expand the issue into a vociferous debate on federal overreach versus states rights.
Again, the Bundy crisis is notable not so much for its own sake. People can legitimately disagree over who is right or wrong. What makes the standoff so remarkable is the extent to which it encapsulates all the elements of the grand cross. Recall that four squares signify an emphasis on containment and restraint in order to prevent unwanted outcomes—in this case, a deadly civil war. The BLM is the hammer, Bundy the anvil. Irresistible force meets immovable object; two powers locked in a struggle for control over land. While the four squares reflect the nearly unbearable tensions involved, the two oppositions hint at the possibility of compromise. In the midst of the crisis the BLM was ordered to suspend their round-up and return Bundy’s confiscated cows, though some had already been killed and buried in shallow graves. At present the situation is far from resolved.
The real poster child for the grand cross is the political crisis in Ukraine that has captured world attention. Although occurring on a grander scale, in almost every respect it exactly parallels the Bundy crisis in the United States. Last November the Ukrainian government decided to abandon a trade agreement with the European Union and seek closer ties with Moscow. This sparked a revolution that by March 2014 resulted in a new interim government that sought to restore and strengthen ties to the west. Meanwhile, pro-Russian factions seized government buildings in Crimea, a semi-autonomous republic on Ukraine’s southern border populated by an ethnic Russian majority. On March 16th Crimea’s parliament issued a referendum with official results stating that 95% of voters supported union with Russia. Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, immediately signed the treaty absorbing Crimea into Russia, the first time the Kremlin expanded its borders since World War II.
The Crimean referendum entailed a change in law by virtue of a special ballot put forth to the electorate. As such, it exemplifies Uranus in Aries square Jupiter in Cancer—an immediate and revolutionary change (Uranus Aries) in the legal status of a country (Jupiter Cancer) via a managed process that contained and reflected the feelings of the populace (opening square).
Following Putin’s orders, 40,000 Russian troops quickly massed on the Ukrainian border to assure that the transition went smoothly. This, however, emboldened Russian-speaking Ukrainians in eastern swathes of the country who likewise want greater autonomy from the new government. Over the past week—April 14-22—tensions escalated as Mars moved into position to oppose Uranus and square both Pluto and Jupiter. Roving bands of local militia seized control of government buildings and shot at Ukrainian soldiers who sought unsuccessfully to disperse them. Dozens of fighters were killed or wounded on both sides. By April 15th Putin declared that Ukraine is on the brink of civil war.
On April 17 more fighting broke out in the eastern regions as 200 pro-Russian Ukrainians demonstrated on the streets against the government in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital. Fearing for the safety of ethnic Russians, Putin said he hoped not to have to use his “right” to send Russian troops into Ukraine. On April 18, pro-Russian separatists declared they will not be moved from occupied buildings until the ‘illegitimate’ government in Kiev is also removed. Moreover, they demand a referendum granting the region broad independent governance and the Russian language “special status”. While the Kiev government says it is willing to decentralize some of its power to Ukraine’s eastern regions, they will not allow a referendum until the militants disperse and disarm. Once again, as in Nevada, it is a hammer and anvil situation. Irresistible force meets immovable object; a deadly standoff reflecting the grand cross.
Summary and Conclusion
Understanding the astrology of the time enables us to see the connection between events like Bundy’s revolt in Nevada and the pro-Russian revolt in Ukraine. In both instances, armed separatist forces are threatening a civil war against a central government they believe is encroaching upon their freedom. Bundy argues that the BLM has no jurisdiction over his land. Likewise, pro-Russian separatists argue that Ukraine’s central government has no jurisdiction over their region. Armed militia in both instances has spontaneously taken up arms against a superior power. Legal debates rage over unjust laws that need to be overturned. Separatist sentiments abound. In Nevada as in eastern Ukraine, strenuous efforts are being expended to contain the conflict and de-escalate hostilities on both sides. Compromise seems possible, but has yet to be implemented.
These events are sensational expressions of the grand cross wherein its primary elements are overtly and dramatically displayed: Plutonic violation, Martial forces, Uranian rebellion, and Jupiterian disputes all locked together in a pressure cooker threatening to explode. And yet, it has not. Thus far the period has not been one of unbridled violence and bloody revolution. Rather, it has been characterized by control and containment of threats. Standoffs, deadlocks, and negotiated truces have been the order of the day. Given the extreme tensions of the grand square—like a molten river of lava rising to the tip of its banks—it is noteworthy that the potential for destruction has been restrained to the extent that it has. Of course, the period is not over; we can only pray the levees hold.
Meanwhile, enormous efforts are being extended to find solutions to conflicts that have exposed fault lines in the structures and foundations of society. All of this makes sense when we consider the nature of the grand cross, which is more like a strait jacket than a frontal assault. The person within the strait jacket may be quite powerful and experiencing tremendous frustration; he is, after all, involuntarily restrained. Yet, it is precisely the function of the strait jacket to protect the person from harming himself or others. This is an apt description both of the grand cross and the world events in question.
If I might, allow me to extend this metaphor further. Our man in the strait jacket is ultimately forced to turn inwards to reflect upon his predicament, for until he can find a more constructive expression of his feelings and impulses, he cannot be released. This may lead him to remember and resolve old wounds, experience new insights, and knit together competing aims in ways that once applied allow for substantive achievement. Given the nature of the news media (they have to sell advertising) the viewing public will only see him struggling in his straight jacket howling in protest. When he is at last released to achieve the dream he envisioned during his time of struggle, the media will have moved on to the next crisis—perhaps a desert tortoise trampled by mad cows.
No doubt there are innumerable positive instances that encapsulate the full array of variables involved in the grand cross. Integrated versions are surely occurring in fields that fly below the radar of national headlines: medical breakthroughs combating deadly diseases, advancements in predicting tornadoes, technological innovations in robotics, significant research discoveries in archaeology, peacetime applications for drones, progress in harnessing nuclear fusion, revelations exposing the power of faith, new legislation to reduce the national debt, and on and on. Everyday people simply marching to the beat of the grand cross, admirably and nobly.
1 The Guardian, “Federal rangers face off against armed protesters in Nevada ‘range war’. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/13/nevada-bundy-cattle-ranch-armed-protesters
3 Perry, Glenn. “Mars square Pluto: Death in a Pressure Cooker,” at: http://www.aaperry.com/index.asp?pgid=113