Le Neptiste Molly Johnstone: Part 3
Welcome to Le Neptiste, a column of the Real Imaginal online magazine, dedicated to the re-enchantment of Neptune.
The planetary archetype of Neptune carries the impulse to create art, to experience divine beauty and its play of creativity which longs for expression in our lives and in our world. Neptune is to dream, to imagine—that is, to bring into existence that which doesn’t exist; to birth or to witness, and to be enraptured; to access the divine spark, the love which animates the cosmos. Neptune heralds the mythic dimensions’ endless giving birth through planet Earth, beckoning all beings to drink of the imaginal.
Le Neptiste features interviews with artists, examining their natal charts, transits and work in some depth, with a focus on both the fulfilling and the problematic sides of embodying Neptune in a disenchanted world.
This is the third part of our first series featuring Molly Johnstone, a 34-year-old artist working in mixed media, photography and poetry, currently living in Sedona, Arizona. You may view and purchase prints of some of Molly’s art on her site dissolution images.
We left off of Part 2 discussing the natal chart as an evolving portrait of archetypal patterning rather than a static snapshot of a moment in time. Molly had pointed out that Pluto has been transiting all of her planets since she was seven or eight years old, when it first made a 0° angle (conjunction) with Venus, which means over twenty-five years of her life have been saturated by the transformative energies of the lord of the underworld, Pluto.
I notice that as Pluto finishes conjoining Molly’s natal Mars, it will begin to make a 90° angle (square) to its natal position in the generational transit—affectionately referred to as “Pluto square Pluto”—that everyone born through the mid-1980s will experience in their mid to late 30s. She points out that there will actually be a Saturn-Pluto conjunction in the sky, such that the next world transit of Saturn-Pluto will be focused on Molly’s natal Pluto.
“Intense,” I say.
“I need to get ready,” Molly declares.
Saturn-Pluto periods of time correlate to an examination of one’s life down to the very foundations, an inexorable and irresistible process which is nicely encapsulated by Franz Kafka’s observation that “You can hold yourself back from the sufferings of the world…but perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering you could avoid.” (Kafka himself is born with a Saturn-Pluto conjunction.)
Saturn-Pluto transits invoke a process meant to remove whatever life structures are dead and no longer purposeful to one’s greatest calling to this world; all that which may hold one back from a more authentic belonging to the world will come under close scrutiny, and any rotten floorboards (or more) will have to be replaced. Ultimately, Pluto wants life to be lived in the present and Saturn is all too happy to assist with that program when it comes to clearing out clutter and other obstacles to growth.
It could be a very scary time for one who is not rooted in some identity and pulled along by the invisible, mysterious trajectory of one’s belonging to the world. What would be destroyed or refashioned or repurposed, in absence of the edifices of the material world? Honoring Saturn as much as possible now by settling into some sort of social role and continuing to define contours of a worldly identity will likely make that period of time much more productive if not easier for Molly.
Has your art been woven into a spiritual path for you? Or is it something that feels more parallel?
True to the overwhelmingly Neptunian cast of Molly’s natal chart, she describes a slow process of discovering that her art could serve to discover her, or reveal her. Immediately after high school, Molly took up undergraduate studies, where a comparative religion class stretched her mind open to multiple new universes, and she was able to take photography and drawing classes to hone her skills and allow native artistic talent to emerge more fully. But it wasn’t until her 2nd to last term in graduate school, when a sacred arts class offered by the Women’s Spirituality Department opened in her a new creative impulse which not only generated new work, but allowed her to see the connection between her own psychospiritual developmental path and artmaking. Molly explains that her newly awakened creative drive began to emerge from an inner process, so that rather than making representational art of external objects in the world, or simply creating something aesthetically pleasing, from that turning point, her art took on a life of its own.
As Molly was graduating from the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), I was just joining and I attended her final presentation made to represent the culmination of her Master’s degree studies. Many of us in attendance were struck by the depth of imagery, feeling and experience within Molly’s means of expression. She says she was in mortal terror during the presentation. Her 12th House emphasis really speaks to the desire to be hidden, behind the scenes and away from the limelight, but it is impossible to both hide out from the world and show up in it. Speaking of that presentation, Molly says, “It was an initiation into my artisthood.”
On that count, the transits are striking.
As the transit wheel above shows, Molly was experiencing transiting Saturn forming a 90° angle (square) to her natal 12th House Sun-Moon conjunction during her final term at CIIS, and it was exact on the day of her final presentation. Major transits from the planet Saturn are typically representative of threshold crossings, and the angles of conjunctions (0°), squares (90°) and oppositions (180°) can provide vivid examples because the “problematic” nature of Saturn is usually on display at these times. As discussed previously, Saturn wishes for us to travel with no more than we actually need, so that we can continue in our growth and becoming and being in ways which are genuine to who we are, rather than miring in fears around who we are not. A person might also experience tests of readiness to wield authority, and actually receive many gifts during major Saturn transits. But whether Saturn is in taking or receiving mode (or both), such transits can correlate to a great confrontation with our illusions, doubts and unnecessary worries, and how these orbit around our notion of “authority,” particularly concerning what factors influence our life decisions, but also in relation to our social roles.
The experience of fear during major transits from Saturn is often lamented and at the same time, I say to Molly, the mythologist Joseph Campbell emphasizes that fear is always the guardian of the threshold of transformation. In every myth of the heroine or hero (which we could psychologically term “the ego,” or astrologically, “the Sun”), fear is essentially the guardian who is encountered as the heroine progressively steps into her larger story of belonging to the social and cosmic order. In fact, I say to Molly, if you are not afraid, you shouldn’t step across the threshold! A lack of fear means you aren’t ready. You really don’t know what you’re getting into.
“I find the soul to be terrifying actually,” I say and we both laugh. “Because it is wild, it is not a production of the ego…and when we encounter [the soul], it’s going to change us. It’s going to transform us, this ego, the sense of self.” I explain that my understanding of this is that the wildness of the soul—that mysterious layer of identity which makes one a unique character in the cosmic story, such that animating our soul identity contributes to cosmic creation and renewal—is not necessarily mundane or of this world; it’s transpersonal, it’s beyond our personal, rational sense of the world, and it’s not necessarily civilized. Hence, the soul can be experienced as dangerous…because it is.
If we reject soul, it’s dangerous because the cosmos is not reborn through us and our particular “part in the play” becomes stunted or distorted, often sneaking up on us from outside of our awareness, with destructive or at least lamentable consequences. If we embrace soul, it’s also dangerous because the status quo of the ego is sorely threatened, as is the culture around us. Should any of us choose to take the authority—Saturn—required to birth this “uncivilized” and deeply creative dimension into Earthly being, our lives and the lives of those around us will be deeply affected. There are various dangers everywhere.
During Molly’s initiation into artisthood, transiting Pluto was conjunct her Ascendant, which correlates to a complete transformation of the way that one moves through the world, and how one is seen by the external world. I personally consider Pluto to have much to do with soul as I presently define it, because of its wild, evolutionary energy which urges everything to live, and to live from a whole heart. We may uncover soul by looking in the dark and hidden places—Pluto’s province—for that is where soul seems to most readily lurk, awaiting the one who is mature enough to go poking into fragmentation, difficulty, contradictions within oneself, the messy parts of being human. The “taboo” nature of Pluto’s evolutionary expression of wholeness is well-expressed by the depth psychologist Edward Edinger, who says,
What is a crime at one stage of development is lawful at another and one cannot reach a new stage of psychological development without daring to challenge the code of the old stage. Hence, every new step is experienced as a crime and is accompanied by guilt, because the old standards, the old ways of being, have not yet been transcended.
Following a transit of Pluto by hard aspect (conjunction, square, opposition) to the Ascendant—which will only happen once in a lifetime, greatly increasing its significance—an individual simply will not be the same afterwards. It can be experienced as a time of great confusion, as rejected or disowned parts of ourselves spew forth and we struggle to make sense of who we are, or what our world is. Successfully surrendered to and engaged with, however, this transit can make way for deep power to come through us, as life energy which had been sequestered in, for example, “holding things together” and maintaining happy appearances, is ultimately freed to flow through a more healthy being who has found an ally in his or her demons. The aim, it seems, is not perfection, but wholeness.
Finally, referring to the natal chart with transits above, the nature of Molly’s revelation is expressed by the Venus-Mars conjunction making a 90° angle (square) to Pluto in the sky which is forming a T-square with Molly’s natal Jupiter-Saturn conjunction. Venus-Mars is very much the artist, and Pluto is empowering and deepening it beyond simply creating aesthetically pleasing crafty sorts of items, and even suggests an artistic expression which transforms who it touches—especially its maker. The total aspect pattern, including Jupiter-Saturn, strikes me as indicative of the dedication and effort which Molly will have to marshal in order to live into her 12th House, Neptunian potential. I emphasize to Molly that her Jupiter placement suggests every chance of success, that her hard work will pay off as long as the investment is genuinely made. Making Jupiter-Saturn about great (Jupiter) devotion (Saturn) to her personal growth and her own particular needs—as opposed to what anyone else might deem “normal”—will bring much success, for the necessary boundaries it forms with the outer world.
It is all too easy for Molly to lose sight of compassion for herself and to overwhelmingly experience the suffering of the world—quite literally—and in following installments of this series of Le Neptiste, we will discuss what it means to be “grounded,” the dangers of identifying with suffering—especially the archetype of “the suffering artist”—and the temptation to grandiosity against which every Neptunian type must be forever vigilant, mindful again of life’s aim towards wholeness, rather than perfection.
 Disenchanted refers to the modern experience of the world and its phenomena as devoid of cosmically ordained meanings and purposes. The term “disenchanted” (entzaubert) was popularized in the early 20th century by the sociologist Max Weber and describes a world which is approached “in terms of neutral facts, the detached rational understanding of which [gives] the human being an unprecedented capacity to calculate, control, and manipulate that world” (p. 20, Cosmos and Psyche, Richard Tarnas). Tarnas notes that the human “ambition to emancipate ourselves as autonomous subjects by objectifying the world has in a sense come full circle, returned to haunt us, by turning the human self into an object as well—an ephemeral side effect of a random universe, an isolated atom in mass society, a statistic, a commodity, passive prey to the demands of the market, prisoner of the self-constructed modern ‘iron cage.’ …For the cosmology of a civilization both reflects and influences all human activity, motivation and self-understanding that take place within its parameters. It is the container for everything else” (ibid., p. 33).
 The transit of Pluto square natal Pluto will come later and later in life for those born after the mid-1980s, as Pluto moves much more slowly through the signs of Pisces, spending 25 years there, Aries (29 years) and Taurus (32 years), compared to the 12 years Pluto drifts through Libra, Scorpio (11 years), and Sagittarius (13 years). This is due to Pluto’s eccentric orbit around the Sun.
 Franz Kafka, July 3, 1883 in Prague, Czech Republic (time uncertain, use a noon chart).
 This reflects the depth psychological notion of the cosmic push towards wholeness, and any seasoned astrologer can attest that a planetary archetype which is ignored and not given its due within the context of one’s chart and life, will become rather cranky and “act out” in various ways. As Jean Houston warns us, “Don’t bore the gods.” To give a Neptunian example, rejected spiritual aspirations could appear as a literal loss of self through an addiction. Conversely, accepting that one has spiritual aspirations, one could embrace a metaphorical loss of self through devoted service to others or to a humanitarian cause, which whether or not one espouses a particular creed, reflects spiritual aspirations in the sense that spirituality speaks to an experience of something greater-than-oneself. Note the intense devotion which addicts have to their addictions, often accompanied by a willingness to sacrifice everything for it, even themselves. This powerful urge, if brought into wholeness and thus health, could be expressed quite positively.
 Edward Edinger, Ego and Archetype, p. 21.
 A T-square aspect pattern is formed by two planets in an opposition alignment (180°), joined by a third planet in square (90°) alignment with each planet of this opposition. Here, transiting Mars-Venus (in the sky) is forming an opposition to Molly’s natal Jupiter-Saturn, and these are both being squared by transiting Pluto (in the sky).