The Shortest Day

Friday 2nd of April 2021
Jupiter & Saturn and moon

Over the last few months I have blogged on a number of occasions about ideas from Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary. One of the main thoughts in this book is the benefit of having a clearer sense of the differing roles of the left and right hemispheres of the brain and seeing how they can work together and yet provide something different from each other. I am starting to write this on the 21st December and there are two aspects to that particular day which bring me back to this theme.
This is the shortest day of the year (at least in the northern hemisphere). Some people associate this “turning of the year” with the possibility of new starts and opening up to moving forward in a different way. That message can also be seen as a parallel to part of the Christmas story in the birth of a child who comes to be seen as making new things possible. At the same time, the fact that we are in the middle of the winter gives this a certain starkness and points up the fact that new beginnings often come out of a “pruning back”. That would be part of what an agricultural society could see as happening both without and within at this time of year. This has come out in the re-telling of the Christmas story partly through its linking with “midwinter” and partly in ideas like the birth happening in austere surroundings.
There is another event which coincides with the solstice and which, intriguingly, brings home some of these ideas in a different way. Over the last few days I and my family have been watching Jupiter and Saturn approach each other in the sky, from our viewpoint at least. They are due to be so close to each other this evening that they will effectively form one “star”. As I write, clouds are in place which are blocking the view of the night sky, but we are hopeful that we may yet see this. (Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way in the end where we live).
According to astrological tradition, Jupiter and Saturn have contrasting symbolism. Jupiter is often seen as related to expansion and growth and so is compatible with ideas of new birth. Saturn is sometimes described as “negative” but a deeper analysis of this gives a slightly different flavour: Saturn’s associations are with focus, discipline and order or structures, perhaps even discarding what is no longer relevant or useful, whether by working something through or leaving it behind (or both). One way of summarising this would be through some ideas inherent in the word “challenge”.
There is therefore in this conjunction of planets and in the solstice itself a combining of two different dynamics. What I want to do now is to link these back to The Master and His Emissary and the ideas within it and also to examine, as I have been doing over the last few months, what relevance this has for the climate emergency. I have found that working with this Jupiter/Saturn pattern has helped to explore some of the subtleties, complexities and even contradictions inherent in some of the dynamics of what underlies the climate emergency and responses to it.
Part of the value of the left hemisphere is very often described by Iain McGilchrist as being in its sense of focus, which links very well with the resonance of both Saturn and midwinter, just as bare-branched trees have a very different appearance and thus a different feel to them from a bushy summer manifestation. Iain McGilchrist also often points to the right hemisphere’s ability to take in new information, which I would link with the “new birth” aspects I have pointed to.
I confess that I am left wondering whether the fact that the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn is coinciding with the solstice is to wake us up to certain matters. I believe that the most pressing and the most important is the climate emergency, notwithstanding the pandemic. Indeed, the pandemic has probably obscured at least the urgency of what we face in relation to climate change. However, I have also found over the last few months that it has highlighted some issues which I believe are also relevant to facing up to climate change.
We desperately need fresh perspectives to overthrow our current structures, not least our economic systems. The reason I say that is that, in very broad brush terms, our economic systems are based on a very left-hemisphere approach. Amongst other things, this means that they tend to be short-term and based on a very limited view of what is important. It is the right hemisphere which offers a broader context in many different ways. It is also the right hemisphere which will bring in new ways of seeing things, not least because it is more open to the sort of continuing feedback which points out what has changed in our overall environment to which we need to respond. In the context of climate change, this includes the continuing scientific data about temperature and related effects e.g. re ice sheets, sea levels, animal and plant reactions to changes etc.
At the same time, I believe that it is important that we don’t neglect the contribution that the left hemisphere can make within this context and, in order to help to talk about some aspects of this, I’m going to move back to the Jupiter and Saturn images that I referred to previously. I’m going to talk about economic growth. In terms of economics, Jupiter could be thought to refer to our nature as a species to develop new endeavours and reap the benefits including financial ones. It could also be said that there is a strong “Jupiter dimension” in the determination to continue to expand economic activity. There is a great deal of complexity here, but I am going to simplify this by suggesting that, however positive the right hemisphere can be, by making a growth in economic activity such a significant or even the sole goal in economic terms in our developed societies, we have turned this right-hemisphere aspect into something of the left hemisphere.
What the left hemisphere is able to offer in a positive sense is a concentration or distillation which comes from what might be seen as narrow, but equally brings the possibility of taking a step forward through what might seem like constriction. However, there is also the possibility that we are misguided in this particular focus and that we are depriving ourselves of a wider perspective. The left-hemisphere or Saturn dimension may not be doing us any favours in that respect.
Talking about this in terms of Jupiter and Saturn, perhaps because they give us a cosmic dimension rather than being about human individuals’ brain structure, somehow gives me a stronger sense of the flux between these two essential elements. It may seem strange to say that two objects which are so distant from us can give me hope. Perhaps it is the need to lift my eyes above the horizon which is part of this or maybe there are other elements at play. Even more than that, seeing these two bodies at least appear to move in the sky in relation to each other is a reminder of the subtleties of the different types of interaction which we need to be part of the work around climate change and also my own need to continue to be aware of these dynamics.

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