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Varuna is depicted in many ancient illustrations as being driven on a cart, bearing a hangman’s noose in his hand, though his face is not particularly menacing. In fact, it seems serene and pleasant, as if he were perfectly comfortable with the fate he is delivering, or the basic fact of which he is reminding us. Varuna was also the lord of waters, ruling over oceans, rivers, streams, and rains—those things which give us life, and which so easily take it.
In total, this is a rich image, evoking a bit of Pluto, some Neptune, some of the Hanged Man and his cousin, the hanging Nordic god Odin, a bit of The Chariot and a little Shiva for good measure. And we have some of Jesus, the most famous “hanging god” of our current era. The thing to remember is that Varuna is older than all of these other gods and symbols, and was for a brief eternity considered the supreme deity beyond it all—the very Heavens Himself. Yet Varuna (unlike Pluto or Shiva) is, in his essence, a creation deity. His function is to create, initiate, and renew life with his divine waters.
His mythological counterpart, Mithra, worked to actively hold society together by being the lord of agreements and contracts, which are so important to human coexistence. Mithra seems to be a kind of dharmic figure, focusing on right action rather than the consequences of bad faith. Varuna seems a bit more karmic, concerned with what we have done, and the consequences, but offering a warning for future action. The main drift of this pair was, You better keep your word and abide by your contracts, or the punishment is death.
Varuna is the name given to one of the newer planets orbiting our Sun, in 282 years, a little beyond Pluto (248 years) and not quite as far as Xena/Eris (557 years). Varuna was discovered in 2000, the last year of the millennium, so it carries the implications of that transition in its original coding. It was also given minor planet catalogue number 20,000, so both by discovery year and by identity, it reduces numerologically to 2, which translates to relationships.
The symbol of Varuna is that which is too large to comprehend. In this respect, it has some attributes of the 12th house and Pisces—overwhelming or incomprehensible aspects of life that act out of sight or in the deep background. When they rise to the surface, making a rare appearance, it’s good to notice.
One astrologer who has done some interesting work with Varuna is Juan Revilla of Costa Rica. In an e-mail conversation a few years ago, Juan explained to me his interpretation that Varuna is “behind everything”—a potent and ominous force lingering in the far reaches of our lives. Astrological associations noted by Revilla include the impersonal laws of nature (as opposed to human nature) and the incomprehensible cosmic order (as opposed to the order of society). Questions of the gain and loss of reputation, and the issue of immortality through fame, seem inevitable with this planet. Varuna (discovered in water sign Cancer, and still there) addresses the punishment of liars and those who violate contracts.
It is interesting that, later in history, Varuna was demoted from a supreme creation deity to one ruling a quadrant of the heavens, with the specific theme of water. Some astrologers thus feel he is the lord of “demotion,” though I prefer to think of him as the Equalizer.
So here, we have an interesting image of Saddam Hussein appearing in the form of Varuna. The last memorable appearance of this archetype was in the summer of 2005, when we had two Full Moons in Capricorn, at the midpoint of which was a New Moon in Cancer, conjunct Varuna, the karmic lord of waters with his noose.
Hurricane Katrina happened a few weeks later, and after that, Hurricane Rita. Thousands of Americans died, a vast region of the country was destroyed, and the government broke its contract with the people. I think it’s fair to say this was truly a low point not only in the Bush administration but also in our lifetimes and in the life of our nation. Any other president would have been tarred and feathered for such incompetence. But we have learned to set our standards so low with this presidency that such a catastrophe seemed normal.