Maritha on Counseling

Maritha Pottenger

We are searching for birth times for more psychotherapists. We will continue our discussion of various modalities of therapy, with charts of originators in later issues. Meanwhile, this issue will be a slightly different column.

Ecclesiastes says:

“To everything there is a season, and

a time to every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down and a time to build up;

A time to weep and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and

a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get and a time to lose;

a time to keep and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate;

a time of war, and a time of peace ...”

In the wisdom of Confucius, we are told:

“At 15, I set my heart upon learning.

At 30, I had planted my feet upon the ground.

At 40, I no longer suffered from perplexities.

At 50, I knew what were the biddings of heaven.

At 60, I heard them with docile ear.

At 70, I could follow the dictates of my own heart, for what I desired no longer overstepped the boundaries of right.” (p.326, Levinson)

We know, through history and literature, that the concept of stages or seasons in one’s life is quite ancient. Far back into the records of mankind, we find evidence that the idea of cycles and a universal pattern to the human life has been around for a long, long time.

Cycles are, of course, the backbone of astrology. We deal constantly with various planetary cycles, our own Earth’s daily rotation cycles, and various stellar cycles. The interplay of a variety of cycles is what creates the horoscope—a unique blueprint of the individual born at that particular time and place. No one else has our exact horoscope; no one else has our exact personality.

Yet we sense a generalized pattern to human lives that seems universal. The corollary in astrology is the patterns of the major transits. The transiting planets are there for all of us simultaneously. Their aspects are appropriate for all of us, though they will hit each natal (birth) chart in a different area. Their contacts to the birth chart will indicate the areas and issues pertinent for that individual. And the outer transits, that is, particularly Jupiter and beyond, return to their birth positions about the same age for every individual on Earth. Thus, we have clear, age-linked cycles. For example, every person on Earth will experience transiting Saturn on her/his natal Saturn about ages 28 to 30. (The major odd ball is Pluto. Because Pluto’s speed is so varied, Pluto transits hit different generations at different ages. The first Pluto square to its natal position is in aspect for people now in their fifties. That square hit some individuals in their late sixties. And those of us born in the early 1950’s will experience transiting Pluto square natal Pluto as a part of our mid-life crisis in the early to mid-forties.)

Although the historical background shows clearly a sense of rhythm in people’s lives, Western psychology is just beginning to recognize how important cycles and stages are in the adult, as well as the child. Formerly, psychology looked at developmental stages up to adulthood, and then stopped—as if nothing changed after that. One major exception was Carl Gustav Jung, who, coincidentally, knew about astrology. Jung emphasized adult development and changes long before other psychologists paid heed. Researchers are finally realizing now that major fluxes and shifts take place in adulthood as well.

Definitions are very helpful in any discussion, to clarify issues. The concept of a life cycle implies to me a process or journey, having both a beginning (birth) and an ending (death). It is entirely possible that the biological cycle of birth to death on Earth is but a part of a much larger rhythm. The concept of reincarnation suggests that this life is but one of many—one stage of a long, growing cycle.

But even within this life, we can see underlying, universal patterns. Of course there are individual and cultural variations, but major themes appear. Certain stages, it seems, all of us go through. Certain ages are highly significant for the majority of people. Our lives can be analyzed, psychologically, as consisting of several eras or periods, each with its own developmental tasks. Each period in life seems to be a part of a fixed, universal sequence that is closely tied to the age of the individual. People face similar issues, choices, decisions, at similar ages.

It is quite fascinating to look, as an astrologer, at the data from psychology regarding life cycles—some of it quite recent research. We can correlate the crises and growth periods psychology has found with the major transits of astrology. One very major warning: almost all the psychological research has been done by men, about men. Women’s experience has been ignored. We must consider societal barriers (conditioning, discrimination, etc.) and how they might affect women’s handling of transit cycles. Obviously, socio-economic class and race will also influence outcomes and must be considered.

One of the major theorists on the life cycle is the neo-Freudian, Erik Erikson. He proposed eight stages of life, each with its specific goal or task to be accomplished. The first three cover the ages from birth to around age seven. The fourth stage begins around age seven, and Erikson calls this: “Industry versus Inferiority.”

The individual is developing competence. Children in this stage receive systematic instruction. They learn to produce in order to gain recognition and approval. They are adapting to a tool world and developing skills. They learn the fundamentals of the technology of their particular culture.

Erikson sees this as a most decisive stage. The child learns to work with others. Labor is divided. There are two main dangers here: one is that the person will fall into a sense of inferiority and inadequacy and give up. Inner and outer hindrances have an influence here. Oppressed groups can more easily fall into this. Danger number two is that the person will come to see his/her work as his/her main or only worthiness. The person identifies with the job and becomes, in Erikson’s words, a “conformist and thoughtless slave of his technology and of those who are in a position to exploit it.” (p. 261, Erikson)

Astrologers recognize age seven, of course, as the first square of Saturn to its natal position. Seven years is also about the period in which Uranus transits one sign. And the progressed Moon mirrors the transiting Saturn cycle. Traditionally, astrologers have watched the so-called “hard aspects,” i.e. the conjunction, opposition, square and semi- and sesqui-square (which are also called octile and tri-octile) with the outer planets to discern significant times of crisis or turning points within the life. The softer aspects, i.e. sextiles, trines, semi-sextiles, are considered to indicate periods when life tends to flow, without major shifts or crises.

The number seven has long been recognized as significant in life. For example, the “Seven Year Itch” is widely recognized in folklore as a significant time of crisis in marriages. The age seven crisis seems to mirror quite well the psychological principles of Saturn: an emphasis on duty, competence, work, responsibility, etc. The two dangers pointed out by Erikson mesh very well with the two extremes Dr. Zipporah Dobyns warns about with strong Saturn (or Tenth House, Capricorn, etc.) She calls one extreme “self-blocking:” people who give up, stop before they start due to feelings of inadequacy, fear of failure. The other extreme, Dr. Dobyns calls “over-drive:” trying to do it all, constantly working, performing, trying to achieve, one’s worth tied to one’s productivity and control of the material world. One function of oppression and discrimination in our society is to encourage oppressed groups to go into self-blocking. Women, Blacks, etc. are conditioned to start believing they are less competent, capable, etc. than people in power.

The Saturn cycle does seem particularly significant for a lot of people. Perhaps this has to do with the structural emphasis of Saturn, and people’s tendencies to get locked in and boxed in. Saturn symbolizes the material, physical world: our handling of reality and its limits. Solon, a Greek poet and lawmaker in the seventh century B.C. divided the life cycle into ten periods of seven years each—an exact correlation with the Saturn cycle:

“0-7 A boy at first is the man; unripe; then he casts his teeth; milk teeth befitting the child he sheds in his seventh year.

7-14 Then to his seven years God adding another seven, signs of approaching manhood show in the bud.

14-21 Still, in the third of the sevens his limbs are growing; his chin touched with a fleecy down, the bloom of the cheek gone.

21-28 Now, in the fourth of the sevens ripen to greatest completeness the powers of the man, and his worth becomes plain to see.

28-35 In the fifth he bethinks him that this is the season for courting, bethinks him that sons will preserve and continue his line.

35-42 Now in the sixth his mind, ever open to virtue, broadens, and never inspires him to profitless deeds.

42-56 Seven times seven, and eight; the tongue and the mind for fourteen years together are now at their best.

56-63 Still in the ninth is he able, but never so nimble in speech and in wit as he was in the days of his prime.

63-70 Who in the tenth has attained, and has lived to complete it, has come to the time to depart on the ebb-tide of Death.” (p.326, Levinson)

Today, we can go beyond Solon’s limiting consideration of males only, just as we go beyond his ending the life at age seventy. Another explorer in this area was the Spanish philosopher, Jose Ortega y Gasset, who delineated five stages in the MALE life:

1. Childhood, age 0-15

2. Youth, ages 15-30.

3. Initiation, ages 30-45

4. Dominance, ages 45-60.

5. Old Age, ages 60 and up.

(p.28, Levinson)

Obviously, the Initiation (earning one’s way up the success ladder) and Dominance (controlling generation—politically, socially, economically) Stages have had a very different meaning for most women than most men. Similarly, certain classes of men had a large measure of dominance; others had relatively little.

Jose Ortega y Gasset’s formulation clearly fits the Saturn cycle very well: each of his stages is about one half of a Saturn cycle: from conjunction to opposition, and from opposition back to conjunction.

One of the more recent studies of the (male) life cycle, completed by Daniel Levinson and others, resulted in a book: Seasons of a Man’s Life. Levinson found four major periods in the male life cycle of about twenty-five years each, some overlapping each other. Childhood and Adolescence occupied years 0 to 22. Early Adulthood occurred from about 17 to 45. Middle Adulthood spanned the years from 40 to 65. Late Adulthood was from 65 on. Levinson suggested there may be an additional (fifth) period, which he calls Late, Late Adulthood, beginning around age 80.

According to Levinson, the “life structure evolves through a relatively orderly sequence during the adult years ... (with a) series of alternating stable (structure building) and transitional (structure-changing) periods.” (p.49, Levinson)

In every stable period, we (assuming much of this fits for women too) build a life structure with which to pursue our goals and values. Each stable period has its own tasks. No stable period lasts more than ten years, usually only six to seven years. (Again, our Saturn number occurs.) Transitional periods end the existing life structure and give the opportunity for a new one. They are times for reappraisal and examination of choices. Transitional periods generally last four to five years. They are times of separation and loss, when we are finishing the past and starting the future.

Logically, we might assume that transitional periods ought to correlate with “hard” aspects in the transits, and stable periods with the “soft” aspects, but it might not be that simple. For one thing, usually we have a mixture of aspects. Also, a crisis is an opportunity for growth, even though we may reject the opportunity or even flee from it in fear. If we build well and solidly, yet with room for improvement and further growth, our life structure will handle any stress, including that symbolized by “hard” aspects. We adapt to fit the new situation. If we lock ourselves into a structure and cling stubbornly to a way of life which no longer works, we may have problems, even with “soft” aspects. The important message, from both psychology and astrology, is that the only constant is change. No life structure, no matter how well built, lasts more than ten years. We must be aware and open to our potential choices and opportunities. (This is true on a societal as well as a personal level. There are several strong configurations in our world’s near future, which suggest to me we are being presented with the opportunity to grow—whether we like it or not. People WILL learn to share more equally, without special privileges, or the changing world will force us to learn.)

If we continue looking at the life cycle and transits in more detail, we come to Erikson’s next stage. It is called “Identity vs. Role Confusion” and lasts from about ages 11 to 18. Young people are seeking a sense of who they are—through a career, through relationships with the opposite sex and peers of the same sex, through questioning and examining. Fear of the unknown may impel them towards overdoing conformity to their peer group. Anxiety may add to their intolerance of differences. They need a stable, dependable sense of identity. This corresponds to Ortega y Gasset’s Childhood stage and a portion of his Youth stage, and fits in well with Levinson’s Period #1 which he calls Childhood and Adolescence. (We can note differences in training and conditioning. E.g., young women are encouraged to seek their identity more through other people, especially a relationship with a man, while young men are more encouraged to seek their identity through achievement in the world, e.g. a career.)

People get their first Jupiter Return (that is transiting Jupiter conjunct natal Jupiter) around age 12. For many, this is the beginning of puberty and all sorts of new vistas are opening up. Wider choices appear before us. We begin to question and re-examine our goals and values. It is a searching, seeking, time—all appropriate Jupiter activities.

Around 14 to 15, we get (transiting) Saturn opposite (natal) Saturn. Also around 15, we get Jupiter square Jupiter. I don’t know how many of you remember age 14, but I do. I can remember saying at the time that it should be abolished. People should go from being 13 straight to 15! For me, it was a miserable time of not fitting in, of not knowing what to do or how to be, but knowing what I was doing was certainly not right. I was in the out-group in almost every way. I took the perfectionism of Jupiter, the search for an ideal, and the critical nature of Saturn to create a most uncomfortable blend.

In many societies, 14 is an age for initiation into adulthood. Puberty rites of passage, often physically painful, mark the transition from child to adult and commonly occur around ages 13 to 15. The Jewish Bar (Bas) Mitzvah is one example of such a rite of passage.

(The rest of this column will be in our next issue.)

Copyright © 1980 Los Angeles Community Church of Religious Science, Inc.

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