An Interview with Erin Sullivan
With Mary Plumb
The Mountain Astrologer, March 1995 (Vol. 8 No. 3)
In this interview, conducted in Oxford, England, Erin discusses with Mary Plumb the social and educational differences of astrology on either side of the “Big Pond”; she outlines the changes that astrology needs to experience to survive the millennium; she discusses the advent of Pluto in Sagittarius; her own work and ethics, especially in the writing of her classic breakthrough book, Retrograde Planets.
Her ideas, set down here in 1995 seem prophetic, and indeed, highly relevant today.
TMA: Erin, you are a Canadian and have spent lots of time in the US. What brought you to England?
ES: I came at a time when I had reached a threshold, both in my personal life and my professional work. I had reached a peak, a level of restlessness and I wanted to work in a way that challenged and stretched me as a thinker and an astrologer. I had never thought of coming to England ever before in life, which is amusing considering that my grandparents were from here [Ireland and London] and it is “roots” for me.
I needed to move and make a change, and I was doing all sorts of astrology around it: looking at progressions, transits, relocation, A*C*G.
In January 1989, 1 had the first of three squares of Saturn to my Moon. I had predicted that the cycle of the forward motion, retrograde passage, and the final direct motion of this transit (along with transiting Jupiter opposite transiting Saturn in the sky). I figured that September of 1989 would move me to a new place, but I had no idea where. There I was with this fabulous foreknowledge that all astrologers have, without any idea of what was actually going to happen! I had made a list of five cities and was being very practical, and none of them was London, England.
But, in May of 1989 1 came to London, at the invitation of the Centre for Psychological Astrology, to do a seminar. About a year before that I had talked to my friend and colleague, Howard Sasportas, who said, "Your work on Saturn is very interesting, you know, you should write a book on it."
At that time he was the editor of the Contemporary Astrology Series, and when I was invited to at the Centre I had already submitted a proposal to Penguin, Arkana, CAS for my book Saturn in Transit: Boundaries of Mind, Body and Soul, which then was contracted while I was in England.
When I got here [England] in May 1989, it couldn't have been better, it was absolutely beautiful. The weather was perfect, it was England at its high point; what everybody's always talking about, what people live through the winters remembering - one or two beautiful days out of the year! Only this one lasted for six weeks, so I thought it was heaven. London was so exciting - all great writers have come here to write a book, it seemed to me, so this was a major fantasy that began to congeal.
My idea was to come to London to work on my book, as well as to really contemplate my life in a new way. It would challenge me, I would practice astrology - I would have i who had been blitzed, bombed, evacuated, holocausted, who had from roots so far back that they couldn't be measured. I thought, is fantastic! I will take this opportunity, terrifying as it is, to go off to a foreign country all on my own. So I did, and a large part of it included the fact that Penguin was seeking a new editor for the Arkana Contemporary Astrology Series. They had talked to various people and then asked me if I would do it, and I said absolutely.
It has been a phenomenal opportunity to be able to assist other people to bring to earth their ideas. It was interesting, too, in the historical sense of my own work, because of my interest in how we evolve as individuals and how our destiny unfolds - how the seeds of the adult obviously lie in the child and the child is the father of the man, or, in my case, "mother of the woman." In 1974 1 had begun a little magazine called The Ecliptic for the British Columbia Astrological Society.
I was the editor and focused on soliciting work from other people. I always felt my work was in part, a midwife's job, which didn't diminish my sense of personal ambition or my own ego, which is involved in getting my ideas across - I've always loved ideas. But because I love ideas, I love other people's ideas as well - I am always interested in what everybody thinks. So the opportunity to commission and edit the CAS for Arkana was very exciting, and though certainly not at all financially rewarding, it is very rewarding in the community sense.
It is interesting that I started off twenty years ago with this little journal, and here I am today, having the opportunity to be involved with some of the most exciting potential in the astrology world, in terms of publishing. I do believe that our limited series does publish very, very good quality work. That was part of why I came to England and I'm still here five years later.
What differences do you see between astrology in the U.S. and England?.
England is the seat of schools; the entire educational culture is based on a kind of high-focus, narrow intellectualism, thought there exists a very rich array of ideas. There are many “schools of thought” where information is contained in a safe place so that a broad-spectrum think or an itinerant can access each one, through books lectures and classes, and pluck for them the vast ideas that have been dreamed up out of the zodiac and the planetary array. It is a very elegant system and there are many ways to view astrology. This is the exciting aspect of being in a collegiate society based on ideas, not star-power in the American way.
England is like the University of Astrology with lots of different colleges therein: The Centre for Psychological Astrology, the Company of Astrologers, the Faculty of Astrological Studies, the London Lodge, The Huber School, the Jeff Mayo School, just to name a few highly credible educational organizations - all are here. It is a debate oriented society also, as English eduction trains and educates one to debate and discuss.
It can be quite fruitful. I have an intellectual home here in England in that I do believe in rigorous thought. I do believe that one must always examine one's ideas for flaws, which doesn't mean I'm not an intuitive person, because I am. The fact is that in England if one is an educated person, one has gone through the system and has been trained in a debate-oriented way, which may appear hostile to other cultures, when it's not here.
The educational system in America is not like that. It is quite open and broad, and one's options are left open until much later in the educational process. This can lead to fuzzy thinking and a rather endearing but naive openness to whatever the next new idea is. New Age thinking and so on.
Clearly this can lead to a profusion of confusion . . . the geography alone of the U.S. makes "centers" almost impossible and "stars" (i.e. people) the focus. In England, the "centers" are the focus while the "stars" are less imposing. America is also based on fundamental religion, with a revolutionary veneer, and the right to pursue happiness paramount. It is inculcated into everyone that you can do whatever you want, so that spirit of revolution and change is strong.
I think it is also a symptom of a modern disease called choice, or too many choices. I think we have the best of both worlds in two worlds - the openness, freedom, and exploration of the pioneer mind in America, and the tradition-bound, highly rigorous, very focused hierarchy of thinking in England. There is a difference between the two and, quite frankly, I like both, I need both.
Do you have a sense of the 'leading edge' thoughts that are alive in the world of astrology today?
I do have a view of contemporary astrology because I'm in it - I penetrate it and I move around a lot. I have the great good fortune of being able to go to many different parts of the world and work with astrology and meet a lot of people. There's something about the time now that makes me unsure that there is a “leading edge”. I really don't know that that would be the correct term. But we are in a moment in time, unprecedented in history, when astrology has reached a point where it is a global consciousness, everybody knows about it - everybody!
No matter where you go in the world - a major city, or a suburban area, or a country house - you can make one or two phone calls and put yourself in touch with an astrologer or a group, anywhere. Astrologers are part of the world, and they are also working within a social structure and system, and all systems are changing, becoming internetted or webbed. So astrology is no longer an isolated body of thought, and that interactive aspect of our work - the fact that so many of us go to so many places, and people come to us - is the breakthrough. It's a marvelous, social breakthrough that is in the collective, global experience now.
As astrologers living in this very open milieu, what work do you see us actually doing now?
I think that as a collective, astrologers are participating in a major peak in the known history of astrology, and have been arriving towards this summit since the 1920's, accelerating rapidly since the 1960's, and reaching fever pitch in the 1980's and 1990's. In part, this is directly related to the fact that the Pluto-in-Leo generation is the largest generation of people ever born.
Previous times produced fewer people, and per capita, this means more astrologers abound in the post-war bunch. The proliferation of the modern view, the intense focus on “the individual” in astrology, is also part of this phenomenon. Natal astrology has become highly developed as the culture has become increasingly focused on the individual. We, and here I mean specifically the Pluto in Leo generation, are largely involved in personal acclaim and want individual recognition for our work.
This causes great problems and also stimulates good eris - strife - in the field. We seem to stimulate each other by arguing fine points of unprovable ideas! However, things might need to shift. For astrology to survive, ideally, personal acclaim will have to come second to collective gain.
How do you see that happening?
We need to look back to 1964-65 when the Uranus-Pluto conjunction was opposed by Saturn in Pisces. This marked a turning point in social order, a challenge to all existing structures. And it was also the coming of age of the Pluto-in-Leo generation, the beginning of the birth of the new ideals. As astrologers born in immediate post- World War II, we are the largest group of our type, and we have been the front runners in this astrological peak. We are in medias res our Saturn return for the birth of the new astrology. We had mentors - Lilly, Jones, Rudhyar, Adams, and others, but the post-war generation took its radical vision into the work of astrology and produced the vast body of work now extant.
When I speak to younger astrologers (that is, the people born post-1965) in various parts of the world - South Africa, Australia, Eastern Europe, and far-flung places - I am hearing a different voice, a different mind. It is one which finds astrology a natural thing to be involved with, whereas we “elders” have had to struggle to find a comfortable place in the world. We've worked very hard to create a world for the new minds to work within and, as with raising children, we must not tell them what to do, but simply watch to see what happens.
The transition into the airy, spacious, and inspired planetary array - Saturn in Aries trine Pluto in Sagittarius with Uranus at the midpoint of the two in Aquarius (Spring 1996 and 1997) - will herald the hope of the new astrology. I am not speaking specifically of new ideas, per se, but a new mood, a new tone, a new global relationship between astrologers and astrology.
This Aquarian/ Sagittarian activity in the heavens into the early 2000's sets the tone for a movement which will not have such intense focus on the individual astrologer, but more consciousness of the collective in which the individual [astrologer] is significantly participating. Naturally there will continue to be individuals who are more prominent and who will make tremendous contributions, but the ambition (i.e. motive) will be more global.
Astrology itself will become more important than astrologers. The individual will become responsible for the collective. This means that astrologers will need to change, which they will do because that is the nature of collective evolution.
There are so many innovative thinkers in astrology now, along with a renewed interest in the past.
Yes, there is a plethora of fresh ideas being born. I hesitate to say "new" because new ideas in astrology are very rare, as we are operating from an old tradition, and building upon bases that have been in existence for thousands of years, much longer than we actually know, I'm sure.
I firmly believe that, as astrologers, we are tapping into the archetypal levels, where we get our information. Therefore, on one level nothing is new under the sun, and we can examine in detail every idea and theory as it evolves, whether it's today's new book or the reclaiming of our ancestral ideas (vis a vis Project Hindsight, for only one example), but we're still going to find that it's not new. Nothing is new; it's all based upon previous notions, there is nothing new under the sun, but only new ways of exploring and explicating.
So we are at a point not necessarily of new discovery but of the burgeoning and refining and exploding of ideas, as well as a reclaiming of our lost history. We are reclaiming our past and collating as many ideas as we can as quickly as possible. There is an implicit message in all of this.
It would seem that by the time we move into the new millennium, a great body of work will have been reclaimed, assembled, collated, and disseminated. It will remain to be seen what the new, younger Uranus-Pluto generation (1960's) and subsequent generations of people will do with this information. I rather doubt all this flurry of activity is for naught. It feels terribly exciting to be part of this crescendo.
My feeling is that we are the future historians, assuring that our thousands of years of gnosis is not lost. Clearly we are setting up a legacy for the future astrologers in the world. New breakthroughs might come, yes, but really it seems that currently we are about securing a present in order to create a future -future which, even at my relatively young age, I might not see. I personally feel very responsible about disseminating as much material as I can, small contribution that it is. Hence, my desire to aid others in publishing their ideas.
I want to ask you about your book Retrograde Planets. Iheard you speak on retrogrades at UAC in 1989 and was stunned by the obviousness and simplicity of what you said, although I had never noticed it before - that if a planet is in opposition to the Sun it has to be retrograde.
Yes, that is one of the profound simplicities in the elegance of our solar system! I had been working in astrology for twenty-five years and had the desire to write a book on retrograde planets, and then the opportunity to get into the research and contemplation of planetary motion and systems came through my contract with Penguin. When I started to work on the book, I had a couple of things in mind, but in the process of writing one discovers things that one never knew existed.
When I realized what I was seeing while working on the system I was absolutely floored! I was frozen, I couldn't even begin to write. I could only keep checking the ephemeris and making notes and noting when planets went stationary, when they went retrograde, how long they spent retrograde, how long it was before they stationed retrograde and began to speed up in motion.
I was seeing it more and more clearly everyday, but was absolutely incapable of articulating it. I literally became what I have to call ,religious' in the course of the writing because I thought, "I have seen something that no one has ever seen before. How am I going to do it justice? How am I going to articulate what I've seen?"
Once I began to write, I wrote the book very quickly, in about five months. I would retreat from my word processor at about 11:00 at night absolutely blinded. I became extremely dyslexic in the course of it (interesting, considering that it was on retrogrades). I literally could not hand write. I was keeping an avid journal at the time and would transpose letters.
I became so involved with the motion of the planets that I could feel it. I literally became enchanted by what I perceived as a system so elegant that no individual human being could ever really fully articulate it or live it in the whole of their lives. It was really a very big challenge to be able to write that book and retain a sense of my own humility because I felt almost supernaturally charged when I was doing it.
I felt so good when it was done, so purged, as if for my whole life I had worked towards that moment. It was like when I was four and I looked up at the sky and thought, "I'm going to see something that nobody's ever seen before." It was my debt to astrology. I feel complete, let's put it that way. I feel very complete with that book.
I think your book beautifully articulates that the solar potential is being served by the transpersonal planets; the sense of ego is so great, really.
It's fabulous, it's huge, we should become as big as we can possibly become. We have a focus and we are, in fact, agencies of a solar purpose. Our egos are entirely bound up with the whole collective focus. The ego should be as big as the universe, if it's possible, because it needs to incorporate the Self, which is, of course, eternal, infinite in its capacity.
What can you say about Pluto in Sagittarius?
Pluto in Sagittarius brings to my mind a confrontation and the [eventual] reconciliation between the principles of the two gods, Hades (Pluto), and Zeus (Jupiter).
Both are ruthless, but just. Both have powerful, inexorable laws which are in conflict at this time in our cultures. One rules the sky (Jupiter) and the other the deep world of the shades, the underworld. Pluto is moving into the sphere and manor of Jupiter, and Pluto in Sagittarius is a “truth transit” - there will be no stone left unturned, no truth left unspoken or hidden in its wake, and its foray into the high, lofty, moral domain of Sagittarius will bring great shocks to orthodoxy and rigid dogma.
And that includes us as astrologers. Pluto will scour the “human made” laws of culture to find the truth of nature and natural law, and this can only enhance the truths of astrology. There will likely be a discovery that is revelatory, that reveals why and how astrology actually does work. This might not come from an astrologer, but inadvertently from some far-out physicist or independent thinker. We might be too close as astrologers to see this truth ourselves.
There will emerge the truths of the mysteries of the natural world found in the symbolism of Hades - earth, natural law - and the symbolism of Zeus - the cultural, intellectual law. Nomos, the Greek word indicating cultural law, versus physis, the Greek word meaning natural law, has long been a philosophical dialectic. We find today that physis or nature, is appalled by what nomos, culture, has done to her. Our own split in astrology between that of the emotional, personal, intuitive aspect (nature) and the heady, intellectual, number-crunching (culture) will likely become more synthesized once the great philosophical debate subsides to a dull roar.
Pluto remains in Scorpio until November 1995...
Yes, for the last ten years, of course, we've had Pluto in Scorpio and it has been weighty and ponderous and incredibly important for the scouring of the soul, both individually and within the collective. Every code of ethics has been overturned and we have explored all aspects of the demonic and the sublime, and I don't think we could take much more!
The movement, attitude, and physical demeanor of a planet is in absolute harmony with its astrological attributes. The fact that Pluto spends thirty-two years in Taurus and only eleven in Scorpio, its tail on fire racing to the future, to Sagittarius, speaks volumes about the danger of the transit of Pluto through Scorpio, the peril of the collective. The purging and the dealing with obsession that each individual has undergone in the course of Pluto's transit through Scorpio has been immense.
We have explored the darkest recesses of our souls and examined our nastiest bits, become caught by obsessions and moved by compulsions, and really have viewed the nature of man in the most phenomenal way - from the most sublime to the most demonic.
But the late degrees of Pluto's transit in Scorpio also brought the square from Saturn in Aquarius as well as the final conjunction of Uranus and Neptune. By early January 1994 Saturn and Pluto made their final square and Uranus was slowly moving out of Neptune's orb. If we think of Uranus as the individual and Neptune as the collective, we have had a necessary loss of individual identity in the light of collective rebirth during the Uranus-Neptune conjunction.
That, to me, was what the Uranus-Neptune conjunction was about.- the loss of all boundaries. Uranus has lost its usual clear as a bell presence and has passed through the collective womb of Neptune to be reborn in a new way. It will take several years for clarity to emerge.
The clarity that will ensue with Pluto's movement into Sagittarius (concurrent with Uranus' entry into Aquarius) marks the end of what has been a global depression in the last year or so. We had a very tight square between Saturn and Pluto, and it represented the terminus - Saturn, which is the end of the visible solar system, and Pluto, the guardian of Hades, beyond which we know nothing. They meet, everybody gets depressed, everything closes down and starts to deal with death.
We have Pluto entering Sagittarius. which has its own issues, but at least it's not going to be all about death. It's about hope and change. As of the spring of 1995 we will be able to say yes, not only is there hope, and we are going to be able to see it. In the spring of 1996 this will be stronger, and then again in February 1997 when there is hard evidence the planets will line up is this way: Pluto at 5° Sagittarius trined to Saturn at 5°Aries, and Uranus and Jupiter. too, at 5° degrees Aquarius at the midpoint.
It's like a breath of warm, fresh air; the tight square yawns to open and lets is much, much more in the way of space, freedom, breakthrough. To have Uranus and Jupiter at the midpoint of Saturn and Pluto breaks the spell of this gloom and depression; we are now more 'made up' of ourfutures than our pasts! Now we move into this time of Pluto in Sagittarius, and Uranus in Aquarius, and people can breathe again.
It does strike me that if there is going to be disruption and difficulty, it will be in the area of religious orthodoxy. as I spoke of earlier. Initially, I think rigid orthodoxies will rigidify and crack under Pluto in Sagittarius, breaking down, which will lead to a re-thinking and re-imagining of our relationship with the divine, as individuals and as collective groups. The initial chaos of the entry into new signs is a good thing for it inevitably produces a new order. Chaos is the Genesis of all things.
Thus, we will have to endure a phase of Chaos, and loss, of a scouring of ethics, beliefs, policies, creeds and codes of behaviour - the world will undergo a purge but it will be based on ideology, not territory.
The promise of the trine after the challenge of the square...
Yes, Saturn moved along and now  is separating from that square and creating an opening up, not a closing in. It's not like the trine coming back to conjunction, it's the trine separating from conjunction, so we have the heavens yawning, opening up with Saturn trine Pluto, which says, "Now we can creatively manifest all that we learned during the intensive focus on the inner self in the last few years, and now we have a great opportunity to be inventive - because Uranus hits the midpoint of Pluto and Saturn.
It says "Let's free ourselves up from all of that depression and plodding and obsession and work." The last years of Pluto in Scorpio have required a tremendous amount of personal integrity to get through. And that's why so many strong people will emerge with a vision that's quite clean and clear, having been purged. Although it has been difficult for many, at the same time there was a seed of excitement - all of the opportunities that we've been raving on about since 1964 will actually be with us.
We are now there. It was so lovely to be of the 1960's consciousness because I could envision the future (along with many, many other people) but I didn't realize that it was going to take 30 years.
With hindsight and maturity, I really do recognize much more the significance of the passage of time. I think that's what Saturn was doing in the last couple of years - it was saying, "Well, you know, it does take time, it does take work and effort, and the rewards that are going to come through obviously have to do with breakthrough in communication on a very personal level, the interactive relationship between human beings and also the global network of systems communications, so we are all part of it."
However, the most remarkable fruit of the last decade, which culminated in the blending and fusing of Uranus and Neptune, is the return to magical thinking. By saying this, I don't mean an antediluvian regression, but a synthesis of compartmentalized consciousness. We are able now to think both magically and critically!
Mary Plumb: Thank you, Erin
Erin: Thank you.