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Scratch Some Virgo, Find Some Pisces


Photo: Eric Francis Coppolino
  • Photo: Eric Francis Coppolino

The late, great horoscope writer Patric Walker once wrote, “Scratch a Pisces and you’ll find a Virgo under their skin.” Though this was a cute one-liner that I read in the New York Post, Patric was alluding to a real astrological principle: the “opposite” signs contain each other. In a sense, they’re not even really opposite; they are aspects of the same thing, and in this way a polarity of two signs—any two signs—works as one entity.
When signs on both sides of the polarity have planets or notable events in them, this is especially noticeable—and that’s what’s happening these days with Virgo and Pisces.

Mars is currently in Virgo, making an extremely rare eight-month visit that includes an approximately 11-week retrograde. (The retrograde extends between January 23 and April 13.) That’s placing an unusual emphasis on Virgo, since Mars does not usually move that slowly, and because (particularly when retrograde) it’s not considered the best fit for Virgo.

On the other side of the sky, Chiron is currently in Pisces, where it will be into 2019. Then Neptune is due to arrive on February 3, and it will remain there until 2025. These are slow movers that will change the shape of the world, our perception of the world, and our experience of existence.

Such events, taken together, qualify as the full activation of the Virgo-Pisces axis—what I will call the axis of practical imagination. Virgo expresses the technical side of nearly anything, based on its tendency toward integrated or applied knowledge. Pisces expresses the imaginative side of the psyche, which can often inspire the more practical modes of expression.

The two have to work together in order for much of anything worthwhile to happen. Think of the circuit board and all the ingenuity required to create it as an expression of Virgo. Think of the concept “Macintosh” as an expression of Pisces. To do anything innovative, it’s necessary to have both ends of the polarity working, which is the challenge that both artists and technicians face every day. Usually someone is oriented toward one side or the other—they like the creative end but not the practical end—or vice versa.

Mars in Virgo: The Mind on Fire

Let’s start with a careful look at the Virgo side of the polarity and come back to Pisces. Mars in Virgo is the mind on fire. This placement can represent a drive for integrity, impeccability or even perfection. Healing and self-improvement can become obsessions. There is the drive to fix things. If Mars in this sign turns on itself, the result can be a painful and even tortured neurosis. Casting Mars retrograde in Virgo in the best light, I see an inquiry of some kind, a questioning of conventional values, and an intellectual quest that continually questions itself.

This is not going to be so comfortable for everyone, however. If Socrates was right about an unexamined life not being worth living, a good few people may be getting the message that it’s time to do things differently. The self-critical attribute of Virgo is famous. Add to that Mars retrograde and it may be time to open an astrological support hotline.

On the other hand, this will be excellent astrology for those who are in therapy, doing spiritual counseling or who are devoted to their healing—as long as they convert judgment into compassion and perfectionism into the intention of gradual improvement. In “Reality Check,” my 2012 annual edition, I interpreted Mars retrograde through the signs as a systems check for the astonishing events of

For retrograde hunters, the last time Mars was retrograde in Virgo was in 1997, but part of that cycle happened in Libra, so we did not get the full effect. Mars did something similar in 1950, splitting a retrograde between Virgo and Libra. Mars spent a little piece of its 1995 retrograde in Virgo as well.

The last all-Virgo Mars retrograde was the famous one that took place in early 1965, famous in my mind, anyway, because Mars passed through the Uranus-Pluto conjunction. Doing so, it stirred up a lot of collective energy, helping spark what we think of as the 1960s. That conjunction, which happens less than once per century, combined the revolutionary power of Uranus with the evolutionary power of Pluto and set many things in motion.

In January, Lyndon Johnson made his “Great Society” speech. This was the era of “guns and butter.” Two months later, he sent the first combat troops to Vietnam. The Civil Rights movement was on fire in Alabama, where James J. Reeb, a Unitarian Universalist minister, was beaten to death—one of several members of the clergy to be killed by the KKK. In April, the first anti-Vietnam War march, organized by Students for a Democratic Society, drew 25,000 people (and that was just the first of many impressive antiwar protests that year).

In May, 40 men burned their draft cards at the University of California at Berkeley, and marched a coffin to the local draft board. Good thing, too. By July, Johnson nearly doubled both the ground troop count in Vietnam and the number of men drafted. (He also signed the Social Security Act of 1965, which provided for Medicaid and Medicare). In other words, the historical era that we actually think of as the Sixties emerges during the Mars retrograde of 1965.

Births from this specific era of 1965 include Trent Reznor, Robert Downey Jr., Eric Cantor, and Sarah Jessica Parker. A piece of timeless artwork that manifested in this moment was the recording A Love Supreme by John Coltrane. The Beatles recorded “Ticket To Ride,” a song about abortion. (Later in the year, they went full-on psychedelic, with “Day Tripper,” “Nowhere Man,” and “Norwegian Wood.”)

And This Is Now

We are now having another all-Virgo Mars retrograde, the very first since then. What’s interesting is that we are once again in a potent Uranus-Pluto phase—the square. This is the first Uranus-Pluto quadrature (90-degree type) aspect since the ‘60s, and it’s pretty easy to feel the resonance between our era and that one. This Mars retrograde will awaken Uranus and Pluto in the natal charts of many people born in the ‘60s. It’s fair to say that for a while, the world will feel a little more like home to ‘60s babies—though this isn’t just about Virgo.
Our current Mars retrograde also arrives with a Pisces awakening. At the moment, Venus and Chiron are in Pisces. The Sun arrives for a month in late February. And most significantly, Neptune is about to arrive, which will shift the story of the world and allow the realm of imagination to be more tangible and accessible. When the question is one of method, we find a counterpart in purpose in its counterpart energy, Pisces. When it’s one of proof (in Virgo), we have a matter of faith (in Pisces). Looked at another way, our problems are never solved by technology alone. They are solved by the creative use of creative technology.

What our era has in common with the mid-’60s (indeed, nearly the whole decade) is once again the presence of Chiron in Pisces—something that blended the focusing power of Virgo with the softer light of Pisces. I think of Chiron in Pisces as being the side of the ‘60s that was about love, peace, and beauty. This was a spirit represented, among other manifestations, by The Beatles, who provided a soundtrack and embodied a peace-loving, creative ethos available beneath all the turmoil of the era. Their musical repertoire also tracks the speed with which the era progressed. (It was just 15 months from “A Hard Day’s Night” to “Yesterday,” though it seems like a lot longer.)

We’re now entering a time of history that will make the ‘60s seem like a day at the shore. The Uranus-Pluto square that fully takes hold in June describes an extended phase of awakening, creative expression, and surges forward in many necessary aspects of life. Yet this radically progressive astrology is forming in a world where the human spirit has been all but moralized or legislated out of existence; or worse, subsumed in advertising. Still, we have the strength to wage ideological battles and attempt to prove our points either intellectually or with intellectual bullying.

Beneath the hashing out of supposed right and wrong, of evidence and proof, of bombastic rhetoric, there is a softer reality. Amidst the chaos we’re witnessing and, indeed, about to witness, there is a calm voice speaking and asking reasonable questions, if anyone is willing to listen.

Of course, there are always those who want us to believe what defies reason and rationality, and plenty are ready to do so, thinking it’s much easier. I think we needed to take notice when Karl Rove made his famous comments making fun of the “reality-based community”—that is, everyone who did not worship at the altar of his delusions. We live in a culture that already extols image above substance, and there’s hardly a day when we can get that going in the right order.

Mars retrograde in Virgo is a reminder to check the facts, to check your logic, and to test your perceptions against some other metric. Yet the thing to remember is that all the facts in the world don’t add up to the truth. All the proof in the world does not tally up to something that makes sense. The final gesture of bestowing something with the blessing of “being real” comes from each of us. Let’s consider the rational/irrational spectrum a bit differently, with a physical metaphor.

During the 14 years that have led to Neptune ingressing Pisces, we’ve had Neptune in Aquarius (between 1998 and early 2012). Much like Virgo, the realm of Aquarius describes patterns of information, and studying those patterns could help us establish some basis by which we can assess what we perceive; that is, determining what’s real and what’s not.

During this era, the Internet has manifested as a way to give many people access to knowledge and factual information, but for the most part, it has a different purpose. During those 14 years of Neptune in Aquarius, the Internet went from something that existed in relatively few households into something that everyone carries in their pocket. What started as the realm of academic research, repositories of information, and a foundation of knowledge has transformed into a realm dominated by fantasy, shopping, games and entertainment.

The Internet has also manifested in everyday life as a communication medium, replacing everything from leaflets to mail to the telephone to shortwave radio.

I would offer two early thoughts about Neptune in Pisces. First, consider that the emergence of the Internet as we currently know it—a kind of fantasy shopping dimension—is more about the lack of imagination than too much of the stuff. Neptune in Aquarius encouraged us to use imagination a certain way—basically, in the most effective way to either make money or spread propaganda. There is relatively little beauty for its own sake on the Internet. Neptune in Pisces is a reminder to honor precisely that: beauty and truth for their own sake.

Second, we have learned something about communicating over a nonlocal network, by which we’re linked through wires, fiber optics cables and wireless portals. It’s time to move away from this metaphor and recognize that we’re all connected, and we all influence one another, without all the gadgets.

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