(Image: The Martyrdom of Imam Ali by ya-alkarbalai)
The astrological Neptune is associated with illusion, dreams, drugs, hallucination, escapism, nebulousness, compassion, and suffering. All of these associations and more are accurate, yet such lists do not give us the root meaning unless we dig deeper. In this short post we aim to discuss the root level of Neptune and one of the ways it tends to manifest in individual charts when considered psychologically.
The Trans-Saturnian Planets
The three trans-saturnian planets (Uranus, Neptune, Pluto) are the symbol of a threefold process of spiritual transformation within the individual. It is my own theory that these three planets are in fact one process, described from three different angles. In other words each planet holds the qualities of the other two in addition to its own more specific quality. These planets refer to that which seeks constantly, on occult levels, to transform the individual into something more than they are; to make the individual a conduit for the Divine. Uranus primarily works on mental levels and provides shocks to the ego and what it "knows" by creating seemingly illogical experiences, paradoxical in their nature, and unfathomable, except as "random", to the ego-mind. Next Neptune comes to dissolve boundaries, personal values and emotional structures. Neptune erodes the attachments that have been built over this lifetime and arguably over many lifetimes. Finally (and it seems as though few reach this stage) Pluto crystallizes the process begun by the other two planets. Pluto takes one face to face with mortality and with the illusion of death ("Nothing is ever born, and nothing ever dies" says the God Yama). Pluto tends to make things irreversable; the before and after, defined by Pluto, is so strong that it may be called a death and rebirth.
Often times one or two of these planets are more prominent in a natal chart. If only one of them is prominent then what is indicated is that the mode of transformation symbolized by that planet is primary in the life of the person, and that the other two are very much present but not at the forefront like the one may be. For example if Uranus were the only one of these three to hit major points in the chart, then what would be indicated is that the primary mode of transformation for this person would be through that which Uranus represents (simply understood this is a challenge to the mind specifically, to open to non-dual levels of awareness). Through Uranus the individual can be lead to the other two stages of conscious growth, represented by Neptune and Pluto.
The Trials of Neptune
Each of these planets challenges directly two or more of the seven planets of antiquity. This is because these seven planets refer to the structure and content of the individual ego and its connection with whatever social whole it is a part of. The planets challenged by Neptune are primarily Venus, the Moon, and Jupiter. Venus refers to love and to the sense of value, and at the level of ego consciousness this love usually manifests based on personal desires and on those values impressed upon one by the society. It is highly dualistic. Neptune demands that love and value be dissolved and depersonalized so that one may access an impersonal level of love, one in which all is loved and accepted indiscriminately, regardless of personal values and desires. The Moon represents attachments to the past, one's habits, that which brings one a very personal and emotional sense of security. The Lunar function blocks the Neptunian drive for depersonalization and non-attachment. For the person with many attachments, and psychic structures of identity, Neptune's influence is felt, experienced, and perceived as malefic. Finally Jupiter refers to one's ability to expand oneself, and this basically means participating within a greater social whole as an individual ego-identity. Jupiter helps to awaken an individual to greater possibilities, social and spiritual, when functioning in a healthy manner. When the Jupiter function is imbalanced it can instead mean greed and gluttony, prideful expansion, etc. or a lack of social connectedness and greater purpose (a lack of faith). Neptune also expands the individual, but does so beyond him/herself. Neptune is the experience of oneness with all that is, the mystical union with the One Life. At a certain point the individual no longer needs the Jupiterian type of expansion to grow and all that is left is to expand beyond expansion itself!
Neptune is illusion and suffering only when that which it represents (universalization, depersonalization, defocalization, etc. of individual consciousness so that one becomes in touch with the truth that all is one and that nought is separate) is resisted by the ego. The universal, non-dual nature of what is called Neptune by astrologers is resisted by most individuals because for many people just being, rather than being a set or series of somethings, is terrifying to the ego-consciousness, which defines itself by the illusion that it is fundamentally, intrinsically, separate. So what happens when an individual resists the Neptunian pull toward "nothingness"?
When Neptune makes dynamic aspects (conjunction, square, opposition) to any of the personal planets, one possibility is for the individual to manifest what may be termed "false martyrdom syndrome". They must sacrifice themselves for the benefit of other beings, or so the ego tells them. Neptune has eroded, to some extent, the personal level of their consciousness and so they feel some sense of non-separation with other beings, be they plants, animals, or people. But because the ego wants always to retain its sense of separateness, it makes this sense of non-separateness its own and proclaims "I must help these beings, I must take on their suffering, for who else can? Only I am strong enough to".... and then all the way in the back row a whisper comes... "Then I will be appreciated, I will be known, I will be fulfilled" etc. The problem is the sense of "I" (the ego) and the inability to accept things the way the are and to act impersonally. Such people still view things dualistically, as though they are a person helping another person (or another being), rather than that they are the Divine helping the Divine. Because they still consider themselves a person they still suffer themselves, and often times they do not understand why others do not help them in the same way they help and save others. Or they don't understand why others won't let them save them. They have expectations ("I will save you and you will consent to be saved by me"), and when those are not met they often times become more attached or bitter about the whole thing when all is said and done ("I need to keep trying to save this person even though they won't let me" or "If only they would have let me save them all would be well"). In a sense these people are addicted to suffering. Neptune has a tendency to blend the individual's emotional body with everything else, so these people really do very often feel the suffering of another directly and on a level where there seems to be little or no difference at all. Yet they act to change the situation before they have accepted the situation as it is. They cannot accept, impersonally, what is happening and so they, as an ego, must work to save or to change it (whatever the situation). They long to redeem others because they themselves long for redemption.This is what most mean by compassion, yet true compassion is not a doing, but a being. One must be Compassion. Only then can one act compassionately.
A note on Neptune's "rulership" of Pisces.
The modern planetary system of rulerships is not the same as the ancient. One does not and cannot supplant the other. This is so because ancient rulership (which makes use of only the seven visible planets) is purely logical and astronomical (this will be explained in more depth in a future article). The modern form of rulership is instead more psychological. Therefore Neptune has a similar effect on planets as when they are placed in the sign of Pisces, yet it does not rule the sign in a classical sense. It would be unwise to look to Neptune as ruler of Pisces, instead of Jupiter, when attempting to make predictions or to describe something very concrete within the chart. What we want to point out is that Pisces marks the end of a cycle and the gestation period for the birth of a new cycle (Aries) and Neptune also marks a kind of gestation before the birth of what might be called Avataric consciousness (Pluto). Pisces marks a phase of dissolution within the greater zodiacal cycle, brought upon by an expansion of those materials created during the rest of the cycle (Jupiter) so that only the seed (that thing which it was the cycle's purpose to create) remains to give birth to the future. This seed is Venus, exalted in Pisces. A person with personal planets in Pisces may manifest some of the same things we see in an individual who has Neptune prominently aspecting personal points/planets, yet thus far it seems that without these dynamic aspects from Neptune directly to personal planets, such a person does exhibit marked differences. The main difference, conceptually speaking, lies in the fact that Pisces constitutes the final phase in the 12-fold yearly cycle; a cycle representing the natural structure of time and the unfolding of events on individual and collective levels, whereas Neptune refers to a phase of radical deconditioning which leads us beyond time and beyond individuals and collectivities. These won't be explored further in this article but we did want to bring this to your attention as something to ponder.
Example Chart illustrating Neptune and false martyrdom
(This is the chart of a client who agreed to allow me to divulge certain details to the general public)
Neptune is in a close square aspect to the Saturn/Moon conjunction, from houses 11 to 8. Before we can understand the manner in which this square manifests as unhealthy self sacrifice to others, we must do a very basic analysis of the chart. There are four planets in the 7th and 8th houses, plus the North Node and the Part of Fortune are alone in the 7th. While the 7th house is relationships (generically) and partners/enemies of all kinds (more concretely), the 8th is the partner's money/moveable wealth or possessions (because it is the 2nd house from the 7th). The 2nd house also refers to self esteem or self worth because it denotes whatever sustains the self or personality (1st house). Money and material possessions (and the way we approach such an area of life) are directly related to our self esteem. In fact one might say that money and possessions are a physical manifestation of self esteem. This is important because the planet ruling the rising sign (Saturn) is placed in the 8th of other's self esteem. The Moon (emotional security) is there and Jupiter (lord of the 2nd house, or the native's self esteem) is in the 8th by whole sign houses. The lord of the 7th (the Sun) is in the 2nd house showing money and self esteem coming from partners. Mercury, ruling the 8th, is in the 2nd house, showing that the partner's self worth and money has much to do with the native's (which has much to do with the partners!). Finally the square from Venus to Mars shows a tension between harmony/self esteem and desire for relationship (this on the most basic level). With the North Node, Part of Fortune, Pars Hyleg (at approximately 12 degrees Leo), Mars and Jupiter in the 7th, there is a tremendous emphasis on partnerships or others, in the life of the native. Uranus (which we won't elaborate on here) is also opposing Venus and squaring Mars, showing that relationships, personal values/love and initiative are being radically challenged to be less personal and thus Uranus shows that many shocks to the ego will occur through relationships (again there is more here but for the sake of brevity).
The Moon and Saturn (the two planets representing the structure of the ego) are square to Neptune, meaning that there is a tension between the sense of identity, of "I", and the urge to dissolve the ego into the the waters of unity consciousness (Neptune). This kind of tension makes the native very open to the emotional states of others. Neptune's job is to dissolve the identity so that the native may become attuned to true compassion (which is egoless and which demands nothing in return). The square shows resistance to this. The native (Saturn/Moon) is resistant to this Neptunian pull toward the impersonal. This manifests as the native sacrificing much of their own physical and emotional well being so that the other people in their life may be happy. This is in fact a coping mechanism for the unfocalization caused by Neptune. The native, in order to feel a sense of identity, of importance etc, must save others. As the Moon rules the 4th house by exaltation (family and parents), the native also made great sacrifices to their parents and family which created a lot of misery for the native. Neptune is also in the 11th and Jupiter (ruler of the 11th) in the 7th/8th, meaning as well that this kind of self sacrifice happens also toward friends and that friends tend to take on a more 7th house role in the life of our native.
The Moon rules the 6th house of service to others and we also find located in that house and the sign of Cancer, the Part of Spirit, denoting the native's deeper intentions. Thus service to others is also a huge theme in the life of our native and the Neptune square to the Moon also creates a tension with regard to this theme of service. This is because service must also be made impersonal, just like the rest of the life areas connected to this Neptune (the Moon makes everything very personal!).
An aside to the above
We note as well that Neptune trines Mars and the Part of Fortune, yet we wish to say little about this at this point in time because it is more often than not that the trines/sextile aspects to the trans-saturnian planets have little meaning beyond a future hypothetical future manifestation. This is because until the native can deal constructively (instead of destructively) with the meaning of that square to Neptune, the flow represented by the trine may not have an opportunity to manifest in any sort of concrete way. A glance at what others have written about Neptune trine to Mars on the internet reveals a very shallow level of delineation focused merely on character traits, divorced from the context of any specific charts, and not actually useful for individual growth. It is our approach to remain silent on certain aspects and configurations in the chart when their meaning does not reveal itself through delineation. If a chart isn't treated as a whole then we are just looking at vague character traits which don't appear related to one another. It is also best to not try and intellectually understand everything in a chart because the important parts will reveal themselves to you almost as if they had a mind of their own and were reaching out to tell you something.
Here is the little we will say:
As Mars is a symbol for our ability to act, our initiative to carry out our will, we can say that the most direct and harmonious path to what Neptune represents is through a sublimation of personal desires and initiatives; a depersonalization; perhaps what has been called in India, Karma Yoga, the Yoga of action. On a less nebulous level Mars rules the 3rd house, 10th house, 12th house (by exaltation) and disposits the Sun in the 2nd house. We can thus speculate that these houses may give us a clue as to what areas of life the native needs to contemplate on an impersonal level. To say anymore about this would require more space, as we would need to do a deeper spiritual analysis of the chart.
It is not Neptune that "afflicts" the personal planets but rather the personal planets who "afflict" Neptune. The sense of "I" (the ego) resists the urge toward universal consciousness and therefore, from a spiritual perspective, the suffering the individual experiences is nearly always traceable to the fact that they resist, in some manner, the constant pull to be more than an individual. Neptune and the other trans-saturnians must be directly experienced in order for an astrologer to really understand how to interpret them in a chart. Much of the explanations of these planets given are derived from an intellectual space rather than a direct experience. Nonetheless even without direct experience such planets offer great keys to how an individual is being challenged to evolve in this life.