Adolescence: A Psyche in Progress
by Erin Sullivan
First Published in Issue 5, April 2000
“Apollon” The Journal of Psychological Astrology
Adolescence marks the first step toward conscious individuation. Out of the tantrums of the two-and-a-half year old, and the cleverness of the seven-year old, into the assertiveness and confidence of the 10-year old, there emerges suddenly a mysterious thing. At the first opposition of Saturn to itself, a new being materializes through the psyche.
As always, astrology recapitulates ontology, and now we find that biological, neurological, psychological, phenomenological and all the ‘logicals’ cadence into perfect synchrony.
Recently several significant neurological research reports have validated that the adolescent brain functions in ways different from the child, and vastly different from the twenty-something young adult. We all knew that, but the advent of technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging, neuroscientists have discovered that the adolescent brain is far from mature. Sandra Witelson, a neuroscientist and McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, says, “The teenage brain is a work in progress”. This is a work that develops in fits and starts.
Thank God for magnetic resonance imaging! Would we ever have suspected otherwise? Seriously, this quantified announcement gives parents and teenagers alike a lot more credibility in this mechanistic world – they now can prove that they are not in their right minds – parents and teens alike!
But, of course, they are in their right minds, but the implications of “right” changes and fluctuates, and at times in the teen brain, right simply is not a concept, nor is wrong. Their brains are testing responses to social patterning. Until recently, it has been assumed that a child is all grown up, and ready for proper decision-making by puberty. This is as erroneous as assuming that at age 21 that one is “all grown up”.
Working with psychological astrology, we know that the astrological cycles and measurement show these conventional statements not only to be misleading but also lie at the root of adult neurosis. In itself the expectation to be “all grown up” is terribly illusive, because I know personally, as do my elderly clients, that one is never done with growing… indviduation is a transitive verb, it is never finite. We are always growing, we are never grown – psychically that is.
Saturn in opposition to its natal position causes the delicate balance between the inner Self and the rapidly changing ego – the sense of “I am-ness” – to be severely threatened. The homeostatic principle is compromised, and thus there is no sense of sameness in the teenager – it is always “different”. There is no real sense of order, or centre, hence so much chaos. Every symbol of authority has some quality about it that fairly begs for challenge. Both parent and child have been unconsciously participating in a symbiotic relationship that must separate in order to mature into a good parent/child relationship.
The difficulty is that the child of fourteen knows his or her limits, but resents them. The deep Self is becoming urgent in its demands for expression. The unbearable yearning that the young man and woman feel is the prima materia for the opus of life – literally the raw material out of which character is moulded.
The ages from fourteen to about sixteen-and-a-half recall the “terrible two’s” on a more sophisticated level. The Saturn opposition provokes an acute sensitivity to ambivalence and hypocrisy; the more a young person experiences hidden messages, fluctuating or uncertain values and double standards in the home, the more defensive and uncertain will be his response to authority… and, the more vulnerable he will be in society, where there are nothing but those questionable standards in evidence.
Temenos for the sacred traveler
It appears we are never more brain-active than in this critical juncture in the maturation process. New technology validates the suspicion that teenagers do not have all their circuits wired, they are not fully connected. They are, indeed, transitional, liminal creatures. In ancient myth, any individual in transition was considered to be protected by the gods because they were not safe, they were without walls – between a known point of departure, and a yet-to-be achieved destination and thus, were sacred.
Liminality is a term I use to describe the status of being “in the threshold” of change; it is a state of provisional and transitional being – the word itself is derived from the Latin limen, threshold, and the earlier Greek, limn (limne) – sea, pond, basin, lake. Psychologically, it is a place where one is not who one used to be, but not yet who one is about to become. Sea journeys (Odyssey) are associated with liminality (mid-life), crossings of great waters (I Ching), and so on. And adolescence is life’s first great crossing-over and thus, a state of sacredness, and one in which there is much wisdom and much madness and filled with loneliness and isolation.
One very important thing for a teenager is her own space. A temenos, if you will, a place wherein no stranger can penetrate, no enemy of the soul might pass. This is a “room of one’s own”, a place where health standards may need to be enforced but where values, tidiness and habit cannot be infringed upon. If a kid’s old cocoa cup has become a green and purple furry science-project, mother may retrieve it, but only upon invitation. The temenos of the teen room is for his or her own sanity, and thus, the sanity of the household.
As we shall see, there is a work in progress here, and the hermetically sealed alembic of the Room is necessary for this first step on the path of individuation, and, a place to feel, be, and think as one is, not as one should be. This room could be thought of as the Hermes place, wherein the opus of life is being mysteriously processed, privately, secretly and safely. Similarly, they need privacy in the mind, a place that is sacred and sacrosanct – where they are not pried at endlessly. A kind of “inner” room of one’s own.
The astrological Mercury is the planet of youth, and of childhood, but is also the planet which governs our perceptions, all five of the senses and all our intake and process of data, information and so on. Mercury runs the messages from parts of the brain to each other and from the brain to the body, and vice versa. Thus, Mercury represents one of the first stages of growing up, discriminating and understanding. Mercury is both the five senses as a group as well as the extrasensory perceptions as states of awareness – hence, the mercurial temperament.
The apparent instability of the teenager’s behaviour is directly linked to his or her “work in progress”… that is, his or her literally fluctuating neuronal discharges, linkages and chemical flows. One minute the kid is loving, the next slamming the door. Still being forged are the connections between neurons that affect not only emotional skills, but also physical and intellectual/mental abilities. That means it is unreasonable to expect teens to organize multiple tasks, or to grasp abstract ideas that have not originated within themselves. These undeveloped links lead to many of the so-called symptoms of teenagerhood: aggression, depression, moodiness, self-absorption and its attendant isolation. That there are neurological and biological effects that are associated with these behaviours is helpful – it means that more understanding can be offered the young journeyer, and his or her careers.
Wild at heart
In the limbic system, where raw emotions such as anger, passion, and extreme joy are generated, there is a hyper-developmental period in adolescence which creates the wild mood swings that the child goes through. Yes, child, because the teen brain is more akin to his or her child brain that to the eventual adult brain he or she will have.
The limbic system, located deep in the brain’s interior, is associated with gut reactions – or the primal urge. This is the function that gives us “goose-bumps” when suddenly we see a large snake, or come upon something scary; or when our “hair raises”, which is a literal experience of our vestigial pelts rippling at the implication of danger, fear, or, at the other end of the spectrum, surprise, pleasure, excitement and foreknowledge.
In adults, the primal urge, or the limbic emotional responses are modulated in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that lies just behind the forehead, and acts as a kind of mental guard, keeping watch on many parts of the brain, including this wild limbic system. The prefrontal cortex is the seat of civilization, and we know that civilized behaviour is not yet set in the child or the adolescent (and, not in aberrated adults).
Executive functions are not part of the teen brain… making wise decisions is simply not routinely possible, thus cannot be expected. As their brains mature, so do their capacity for considered decision and appropriate emotional response. One well documented test on the function of the limbic systems and the prefrontal cortices in adults and teens showed something rather remarkable. Magnetic resonance imaging machines take pictures of brain activity every three seconds or so in order to see what parts of the brain is being used during various types of processing.
Adult brains, the scientist discovered, light up in both the limbic areas and the prefrontal cortex when looking at pictures of facial expressions of fright, and when startled suddenly. Their alarm system is connected to their capacity to comprehend the degree of danger within nano-seconds. In teenagers, however, the prefrontal cortex was almost dark, while the limbic system lit up! Hence, their alarm system is not yet wired to their intellectual rationalization function.
Thus, early teenagers are not yet developed to read social signals, like facial expressions, body language or other implicate messages that we send unconsciously. So, a teen might say to her mother, seeing a frown on her face, “What did I do, why are you mad at me?” when the mother is angry with someone on the phone with whom she’s had a disagreement. The 15-year-old daughter may not know, prefrontal cortically, that is, to discriminate in a sensible manner – the teen daughter will limbically rush off to her room, slam the door, and feel put upon by her mother who frowned at the wrong time. Mother, meanwhile is exasperated, thinking or even saying, “Do you think you are the only person in the world?” Quite.
So, in the course of this rather lengthy growth period, of about three to four years, the parent is even more important in some ways, than they were in other stages of development. Received wisdom says early childhood experiences create the primary trauma zones, but this is clearly not true. Primary trauma zones are in accord with personal transits coupled with a numinous event. Both factors need to be present for trauma to occur. And, when there are major generic transits and personal natal transits and events, then we have the material for both trauma and growth.
Trauma associated with abandonment, abuse and unfair judgments from parents and adults is more traumatic and more damaging in many, many socially developmental ways, than at any other age. Because the advent of adolescence is marked by the first opposition of Saturn to itself, it initiates a time of serious reorganization of the physiological and psychological homeostatic principle (the stay-the-same principle).
The dangers of authoritarian abuse, hypocrisy and ambivalence are more destructive at this age because it is Saturn itself that is the keynote planet. When the adolescent runs up against authority that isn’t authentic, then he or she rightfully resents and ignores warnings and admonitions, and turns inward to seek self-authorization for actions.
The problem with that response lies in the absolute fact that the teen brain is not prepared for such a magnitude of problem-solving, and hence finds him or herself lonely, fearful, angry and possibly endangered. Positive reinforcement of the teen’s need for boundaries and focus helps that person become more capable of eventually making “good” decisions and “safe” behaviours part of his or her life.
Use your brain!
Good judgment is learned, true, but one cannot learn it if one does not have the necessary hardware. This hardware is installed in the time-period in which the pre-frontal cortex is in development. For instance, teens seem unable at times to decide the order in which tasks need to be accomplished, and find that they are overwhelmed when faced with “simple” decisions, like in which order to wash the dishes, talk to a friend about homework, and read the book for a report due that afternoon at class. They can collapse at this inundation of task function – what am I saying, I can collapse at that, and apparently my prefrontal cortical civilizing is done!
That teenagers leap before looking is also normal, that they enter dangerous situations is assumed. Their modes of reckoning appear to be illogical. A teenager will drive without a seat-belt, get into a car in which his companion is drunk and driving, she might go with an unknown man without thinking, they might smoke cigarettes in the face of universally known danger, and so on. They get yelled at, “Are you stupid?” And, no they are not stupid, but they are “coming” from a different place. Parents and adults need to be aware of this – ideally, they must listen first, then guide them accordingly.
There is an attraction to novelty. Novelty is attractive to all intellectually stimulated people, but this kind of novelty has a frisson of danger to it. “Sex, drugs and rock ’n roll” was the media’s theme of my own adolescence [post-W.W.II], but that was only a small part of the archetype. In fact, it was a collective statement of political, spiritual, consciousness and philosophical revolution that fed into religion, politics, world-awareness, economics and freedom of speech and action!
The Uranus sextile to itself at 14 brings in the revolutionary touch and quickens individuation. The Promethean foresight that the teenager has is remarkable, and must be heard – listeners, however, will be required to edit the emotional affect and the strident tones in order to really hear the message of the future. They “know” who they are about to become, and thus, are the megaphone of the future. It behooves the over-40 person to hear this, because it will hint to them of conditions in their own latter years.
Also, Uranus has to do with witnessing. The wise person witnesses his own behaviour and moderates or augments it; a teenager witnesses and generally fines fault. The sky god, Ouranos, from when comes the astrological Uranus was a critical, masculine god who loathed imperfection. So does the teenager – especially, his or her own apparent flaws. From this critique can come great compassion… also, it can bring depression and rage.
The quest for the parents
In the 6th-century BCE poem by Homer, the Odyssey, Odysseus’ son, Telemachus sets out to find his father. The Telemachia is the interior story cast within the tale of the mid-life quest of his father. This is an archetypal situation where the son must find his father. In doing so, he must then overcome his [father’s] weaknesses and flaws as well as his own. The father-quest is an inner quest often enacted as a genuine search for meaning and contact with the actual father. For boys who do not have good father contacts – either their dad or significant men around them – their journey to father is long, hard and sometimes never fully achieved.
In part, this male journey involves a separation from mother, and as much as this might sound harsh, it is as necessary as cutting the umbilicus at birth. A mother knows in her heart this must happen, and if she is skilled in doing this for her son, then she will always have a champion. If she doesn’t withdraw her own projections on her son, then she will always have a baby. To paraphrase Robert Bly, the poet, “he might have to steal the key to the wild man’s cage [his own masculinity] from under the sleeping mother’s pillow” – a man tied to his mother after 18 will have a hard time with women in his adult life.
Women seek out the father too, but often to appease him, not to overthrow him. Agamemnon and his brother Menelaos, along with their troops and a thousand ships were waiting to set sail to Troy. In the course of the assembly of the ships and troops, a stag, sacred to the independent goddess Artemis, is killed in a moment of boredom by one of the waiting men. In retribution, Artemis becalms the sea, and orders that Agamemnon must sacrifice his most valuable possession, that being his lovely young daughter, Iphigenia.
Iphigenia is sent for, under pretext of marriage to Achilles. After comprehending what her true fate is meant to be, she pleads with her father to save her, then runs wildly through the woods, like a young stag herself, and, finally, worn out, she returns and offers herself for sacrifice.
We are led to believe that she does, heroically, go to the altar willingly. Is this the altar of marriage or of sacrifice? This is often unclear in the lives of some adolescent girls. And, fathers, though not always as culpable as Agamemnon, often have sacrificed their teenage daughters for less than the reputation of the Greek army.
It is essential that a teenaged daughter is allowed to individuate away from her mother – especially if she is very much like the mother. From womb to womb a woman’s fate is woven, and daughter’s fate must not be to carry the mother’s pain, often which she willingly does. And, in being able to define herself as “not mother” she generally arrives back to a comfortable conclusion about her own role, and so does mother. A teenage girl needs to feel she is her own woman, rather like Persephone who does eat the pomegranate, but also returns to the earth – hence, to her mother – to fulfill her destiny as a whole and self-identified woman.
There are many female archetypes that are more prevalent in these times – the return of the various goddesses other than Hera, the obedient wife, means that new modes are more available to women. As with men, women have had their focus sharply adjusted in the latter part of the 20th century, and since now we are only days into the 21st century, it is too early to predict what will emerge collectively.
Icarus and Persephone:
archetypal teenagers on the loose
The most astounding aspect of adolescence is the preoccupation with mortality, while not yet taking it on board. This is the time in life when indulgence in existentialism – not as a degree course – is at its most intense. Teens are obsessed with death. This is the first time in life when the biggest questions are asked and answers sought. Teenagers are fascinated by the dark domain of Hades. They are fearful of death, yet often seek it out consciously or unconsciously.
When we stumble across our mortality (and some teenagers have experienced the loss of a grandparent, even a parent, or family member), we are suddenly sobered. Yet it is this very fear of death that catapults the experimental adult into positions of extreme danger! The paradox! Eros and Thanatos are ensnared in a passionate grip. The life force (Eros) and the death-wish (Thanatos) are intertwined always, but the teenager has only just come upon this dialectic.
And, he or she works it overtime. Death-defying acts, the teenage wasteland, the dark night of the soul – all are the romance of the young. Give teenagers danger, give them thrills, challenges and mind-altering experiences if you can – ones which will hardwire them to perception, discrimination, emotional survival and the thrill of success. They need to find ways of aligning their wildness with their civilization – and discovering how to do that is a huge challenge to both adults and adolescents.
The neurons that link emotional centers to many other parts of the brain that produce feelings of intense pleasure are the same set of neurons that are affected by certain drugs – cocaine and methedrine and all associated compounds that are “speedy” and stimulating. Thrill-seeking is part of growing up. I call it the Stage of Immortality; when one is either walking in existential despair or leaping off tall buildings. This phenomenon is also present in the puer/puella psyche, in the psyche of adults who simply cannot get enough of the thrill of death-defying acts – either racing, hang-gliding, bungee-jumping, getting drunk or diving into myriad relationships. Dionysian acts of ecstasy are part of the religious fervour of the adolescent… and, indeed, were rituals in the ancient world geared to internalizing the gods and “standing outside oneself” – the literal meaning of ec-stacy.
The phase of immortality goes along with this “thrill-seeking” aspect of young adulthood. Pluto, the “unseen one” suddenly becomes exotic, erotic and desirable.
The release of dopamine, one of the brain chemicals, or neurotransmitters is what is responsible for these action-stimulating experiences. That shaman of all cultures employ this ecstatic method for healing and divination says much – the teenager is seeking godliness or near-godliness. This desire when over-reaching is called hubris. And, sadly, teenagers are not exempt from hubris, and as we’ll see, there are mythological predecessors.
Not much has changed since Icarus flew too close to the sun and Persephone was seduced by the exotic Hades.
Icarus and Phaethon at the reins
Icarus was the son of a prominent architect in ancient Greece. Daedelos was a legendary craftsman who was said to have migrated or was exiled from Athens to Crete, where he was implored to construct a hollow cow for King Minos of Crete’s wife, Pasiphaë. Pasiphaë had developed an obsessive compulsion to make love to a sacred white bull, a gift to Minos from Poseidon. From this strange union, the Minotaur was born, and Daedelos was then contracted by Minos, to build a labyrinth to house and hide the Minotaur. Already there are implications of adult miscreance in the background of Icarus’ origins!
After Daedelos had completed the construction of the Labyrinth, he was detained by Minos, who imprisoned him on Crete. Daedalus conspired to escape, and made wings of wax and feathers for himself and his teenage son, Icarus. They flew off the coast of Crete and soared high into the sky. The surge of novelty, of adventure that suffused Icarus clearly was not mediated by his prefrontal cortex, and his limbic was in full throttle, and up, up he rose. Daedelos cried after him, “Stop, stop my son, you are flying too close to the sun! Your wings will melt, and you will fall and drown!” The rest is myth, Icarus flew too close to the sun, flaunting hubris at Helios, and his wings melted, and he plummeted into the sea.
Could Icarus help himself? Was Daedalus an irresponsible father?
Similarly, in Saturn in Transit, I relate the story of Phaethon, son of Helios himself. Briefly, Phaethon’s mother Clymene, sends him off on his adolescent father-quest, after his peers taunt him that Helios is not really his father at all. Helios receives Phaeton joyfully, thankful he has such a beautiful demi-god son, and asks him what he most wants from him. Phaethon eyes his father’s chariot, longing to drive it, and asks to propel the chariot of the sun across the sky for the day. Helios realizes his error instantly, and tries to offer less daunting gifts. To no avail.
Phaethon hops on, and even though Helios tries to dissuade him because he loves him very much, crying:
Beware my son! I do not want to give you
The gift of death; there is time to change your prayer.
Of course you want the most convincing proof
I am your father. That I give you, surely,
By fearing as I do. I am proved a father
By a father’s fear. Look at me! You see my face;
Would you could see my heart and all the cares
Held there for you, my son.
Phaethon can no more see the love in his father’s face than any other impassioned teenager might on the brink of adventure. Phaethon holds his ground, and Helios, fearing for the universe, hands him the reins of the chariot. Phaethon careens out of control across the heavens, creating havoc and leaving destruction in his wake. The earth cringes, rivers evaporate and dolphins hide as Phaethon, who “does not know in which direction/To turn the reins, does not know where the road is,/ And, even if he knew, he could do nothing”. Phaeton too late rues his headlong urge; he crashes the chariot and is destroyed.
The testosterone rush of the adolescent boy overpowers his intellect, and these tales of ancient sons are not much different than of our own.
Persephone’s phantom lover
The woman’s journey is also hormonally assisted. Her needs are exactly the same as the son’s – to challenge the authority of her parent, to be the one to “do it differently” and to follow her heart to wherever it leads. But, rather than “up” to the heavens, as in the case of the boy’s journey, it is “down” – into the earth as is woman’s place.
Persephone, the daughter of earth goddess Demeter and sky god Zeus, was with her girlfriends, wandering in the fields of asphodel during a break in their school-lessons. All the girls were cautioned not to separate, but to stay in a clique together, for who knows what lurks outside the safety of the female pride.
Persephone, a goddess herself, perhaps felt exempt from such admonitions – but then, too, clever mortal teenagers feel exempt from warnings from boring schoolmistresses and overzealous mothers.
Inevitably, she wandered off, indulging in a reverie of her own, drawn perhaps by the sweet-pungent scent of the Narcissus flowers that clustered on a certain hill, leading to a small gully. She found herself lingering there, in the hollow depression full of Narcissi, when all of a sudden, the ground cracked open, and up rushed a golden chariot driven by an unseen master. She was taken.
Most of Persephone’s story takes place in the glamorous realm of Hades – the underworld of the shades. And, like the fathers in the stories above, Demeter was demented with fear and grief. Her story is the story of all mothers who “lose” their daughters to the mysteries of womanhood. Demeter spent a whole year in violent mourning, seeking her disappeared daughter, and fighting for her return when she was told by a sheep-herder, Triptolemos, that Persephone had been abducted by Hades, her own brother!
Demeter knew exactly what had happened then, and in her prefrontal cortical maturity, understood the implications. She summoned Zeus, Persephone’s father – also a brother of Hades – and demanded her return. Zeus didn’t seem to think much wrong with the deflowering of his daughter, it all being in the family, and so on. And, there was a catch.
If Persephone was to succumb to the seduction, symbolized by eating three seeds from the fruit of the underworld – the pomegranate, she then would be bound to the god Hades for eternity. Persephone was easily manoeuvred, as many young girls are by exciting, exotic, dark, bad-boys on motorcycles or golden chariots. Enchanted, she bound herself to Hades, and became Queen of the Underworld.
Now, Demeter was persistent, as mothers are. She employed Hermes to act as go-between, and a bargain was struck: Persephone would be allowed to return to the earth’s surface for part of the year, and then, return to her lover-husband for another part of the year. This story is the origin of the mystery school of Demeter, as well as the charter myth for the seasons of the earth, but more importantly to us, now, is the mythic parallel to the romance and seduction of the adolescent girl on the limb of womanhood, longing for love in dark and mysterious places.
Coming of age
So, as we see, all this neuronal development, and chemical discrimination, along with the emergence of sex hormones, challenge the stability of the teenager for about four or five years. Surges of testosterone at puberty swell the amygdala, an almond shaped part of the limbic system that generates feelings of fear and anger. This accounts for the rise in easy irritation and aggression in both boys and girls. Increased levels of estrogen at puberty are responsible for the sudden growth of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that processes memory. The larger the hippocampus, the better the memory.
The hippocampus in girls grows proportionally larger than it does in boys. This helps explain why women are better than are at remembering complex social relationships, and organizing and managing multiple tasks, all the while monitoring the emotional affect of a situation.
It is thought that one of the last steps to maturation of the brain is the coating of nerves with white matter, myelin, which is akin to the insulation around an electrical wire. This coating allows electrical impulses to travel down a nerve faster and more efficiently. Hence a toddler is less coordinated than a ten-year old. It now appears that this final stage of neurological/physiological maturation is not complete until the early twenties, around and after the waning Saturn square to itself at 21, and closer to the second Jupiter return at 24.
The nerves that become sheathed in myelin during adolescence connect areas of the brain that regulate emotion, judgment and impulse control (that old limbic!) are formed earlier in girls than boys. This may help explain why teenage girls, still wild at heart, are often more emotionally mature than boys. There are obviously cross-overs and myriad combinations, but girls who are primarily fire and air sign types are more impulsive than boys who are primarily earth and water sign types.
All this implies that we are hard-wiring our brains in adolescence… and, thus, do have some choices. Many teenagers instinctively are aware of this development within themselves, and seek out ways of developing certain aspects of themselves about which they are coming to awareness. For instance, does the young man want to “hard-wire” himself toward sports? Physics? Helping profession? Literary aspirations? Music, dance, art? Or, is he being grafted to crime? Drugs? Violence? Mayhem? Couch-potato? All are there!
This hard work of wiring means that kids are more susceptible than adults to the effects of drugs, alcohol, tobacco and marijuana. It is not a cool thing, because it is possible to permanently alter the balance of chemicals in the brain, thus the psyche is prevented from unfolding as it was seeded to, and the “folds” of the psyche are rerouted to accommodate synthetic stimulation. It is a good idea to allow that balance to achieve itself if at all possible. That is why teens must be encouraged to avoid these things, not because they are illegal. (Even in the east, in Morocco and parts of India where hashish a way of elderly life, that privilege is granted only to the elderly. Similarly in Asia and the orient, where once opium was the approved drug of the elderly, it was not condoned in young men).
The teen brain knows only natural law not mandated law. Threats of imprisonment, deprivation of goodies, flogging or public humiliation will not work – remember the limbic thrill of the dangerous adventure? Did Icarus listen to Daedelos? Did Persephone think “If I eat the pomegranate seeds, I will be bound to Hades for eternity and that would really upset mother”? No. Then neither of them did.
Aphrodite Urania was midwived by Kronos, and she has a role in the emotional and social development that is so turbulent in adolescence. An opposition aspect is a Libran type of aspect, with a first-house to seventh-house implication. The dual goddess comes in with her attendant, Eros, will all her wiles in full bore. The adolescent is lifted to the highest place of Platonic love of truth, beauty, wisdom and truth, and is plunged fully into lust, sexuality and the sensual world of his or her own type.
Too, this is the first time a young person experiences love on a peer level – often falling in love with an older mentor, or a heroic figure, or a famous performer as a safe place to practice love and romance. As the need for relationship becomes keener, toward fifteen and sixteen, the capacity for self-examination deepens. Adolescents become poets, philosophers, artists, all ardently exploring the vastness of the universe for the first time. Then they begin to notice peers, and fall in love with more accessible beloveds – someone in their own peer group.
Aphrodite’s domain over this era continues as the adolescent develops more deeply into the transitional stage. She not only rules love and desire, she also symbolizes values, justice and ethics. All these aspects of the human psyche are first truly tested in groups of teens and within each young person him or herself. Saturn opposition at childhood’s end is the time when all externally imposed values are challenged, found wanting (naturally) and moderated according to the individual, and, more significantly, according to the current times that the teen is in, and thus, fore-shadowing the future aegis of that generation. There is a lot of crying, “It’s not fair!” And, a sympathetic parent will agree to this, there is a lot going on that isn’t fair. And, they need to find the fairness in the world as it is seeded in themselves.
The gathering of the tribes
Jupiter is the god-planet of organized beliefs, tribal affiliation, ideological mind-sets, transitional individuals and consensus dogma. Tribal affiliation is so very important in the process of adolescence. Because teenagers are transitional beings, they are sacred to Zeus and to Hermes, guides of the liminal soul and the traveling person; and, by the by, to Hekate the goddess of the underworld. Adolescence is when we identify not only our philosophical affiliations, but our individuality in relation to the collective.
Tribes are identified in indigenous cultures by their markings: jewellery/adornment; hair style; clothing or lack thereof; marking – tattoos, piercing, scarification; mobility – cars/bikes/skateboards; social hierarchies – techy, goth, hippie, nerd, jock, druggie, punk and so on; ideologies: orthodox; heterodox; atheistic; pantheistic; naturalist; intellectual and so on.
At the time in life when individualism is so important, kids seem to be most attached to labelling themselves in accord with an uncanny implicit “call to adventure” – even those who stand outside the status quo of their ranking peers, have an aura of their own – the outsider, the misfit, the geek, the fat boy, the retard, and so on. All the things we don’t like to admit to when we are limbically sophisticated. All these rituals of ordering should help us realize that the adolescent is expressing his or her most core Self, not the refined, semi-civilized “self” of the post-Saturn return person who will emerge at the first Saturn return (around 29).
Crossing the threshold: making sense of it all
In the eighteenth year, Saturn forms a trine to itself, and being a closing trine it has the qualities of Jupiter and the ninth house, and Sagittarius. The experiments of the 14- through 18-year period are now applied to a working philosophy. This age also coincides with the Saros cycle, the advent of the return of the Moon’s nodes to their natal axis. The nodes are associated with incarnation and the purpose of the incarnate life. A life-path often emerges out of this phase; a working pattern begins to develop and the final stages of the liminal phase of adolescence is technically over. This is the time of creative manifestation of the trials and tribulations, successes and achieved wisdom of the adolescent transition.
Very often, a vocational calling is heard at around eighteen or nineteen, which will be reviewed and shifted to a new level at the next nodal return – age thirty-eight, and the advent of mid-life. And, thus begins the working model of the adult to be.
Referring back to the Jupiterian ethos of this phase, it heralds freedom of thought, action and deed. The world of justice and ethics rises to meet the mind of the youthful philosopher. As with the Saturn opposition, where a sense of justice is developing on an interpersonal level (the Venus influence), this period too sees a growing sense of justice – however, a larger collective is involved and there is a powerful sense of social justice. Maturity has brought to the mind an awareness of politics in the sense of the intricate mechanisms and behaviour patterns that underlie the interaction of people in society. Matters political and judicial, world conditions, and the ideals that will create new societies are of unending concern to the new citizen.
Although the wiring in the brain still is completing its circuitry, the last thrust of the limbic and the fast encroaching establishment of prefrontal cortical sensibilities(!) are creating the future – yours and mine.
So, when you say to your apparently silly teenager, “Use your brain”, be assured that they are – and more actively, interestingly, challengingly and radically than you are!