By Anne OrteleeClients appear at our door, natal charts in hand, seeking guidance, knowledge and consolation. They are looking for answers about their soul’s journey through life. Often, they are mired in a swampland. Astrology offers a unique perspective as it accurately describes the flora and fauna of their current swampland, as well as the path out and when this particular visit will be over. Our vocation as students of the stars is to assist our clients as they cope with their losses, changes and challenges.

Dr. James Hollis’ observations and suggestions from Swamplands of the Soul: New Life in Dismal Places speak to the task required in each swampland. As Hollis says, “There is a developmental task … implicit in each of these dismal places. In every case, it is some variant of gaining permission, leaving a dependency, or finding the courage to stand vulnerably and responsibly before the universe. In every case, we are challenged to grow up, to take on the journey, with greater consciousness. While such enlargement is often terrifying, it is also freeing and brings dignity and meaning to our lives.” I’ve combined Hollis’ thoughts with the planets, or flora, of the swampland to help you become a more effective tour guide. The planet can be natal, progressed or transiting ~ If you see a planet active in your client’s chart, you know which swampland they are in.

Many of the developmental tasks of the swamplands require on-going assistance over a long period of time and beyond the scope of a two-hour astrological consultation. Your job as an astrologer is to validate the client’s current reality of a swampland and identify the task at hand. If it is a psychologically conscious client, add the age and area of life to focus on. Encourage them to seek on-going help from a trained therapist, counselor run support group or self help group like AA, Al-Anon etc for the duration of the progression or transit. Let them know the highlights, peaks and valleys and duration of their journey in the swampland ~ very valuable information and unique to astrology.

Guilt: Saturn. Guilt is responsibility. Part of developing as a human is accepting responsibility for the consequences of one’s choices. Saturn marks our conscious choices and critical turning points. Guilt can reflect a lack of permission to be oneself combined with the power of early authorities. However unconscious a person was when they made a choice that made another suffer, acknowledging it and admitting error is the beginning of wisdom and the path to release. Task: Dealing with guilt in a mature fashion involves recognition, recompense (where it is possible~ remember symbolic actions count) and release. It includes forgiving yourself, a critical and difficult step. Otherwise good energy is wasted on the past and blocks new options. Ask your client “Against what are you defending yourself?”

Grief & Loss: Saturn, Pluto, Uranus & Neptune. Loss is central to our lives. Starting with losing the womb, if we live long enough, we will lose everyone and everything we care for. Because we value the loved one or object, we need to grieve it and be conscious of what we have learned and internalized from the person, place or thing. Nothing lasts, people and situations change. The value always remains.
Task: Encourage your clients to take part and act as participants in the letting go process, creating rituals that soothe, and honoring the loss. Convert the loss into the on-going life and honor it. Nothing that was important is lost if we celebrate its value.

Betrayal: Pluto, Uranus & Neptune. Our innocence is lost when we are betrayed. Only someone we trust can deceive us. Hollis states: “Betrayal sends us shrieking towards individuation.” When our fundamental assumptions are shaken, considerable growth takes place.
Task: Using our capacity to forgive the betrayal frees us. Help your client learn from their wounds to understand if they are repeating a childhood pattern. Avoid suggesting revenge as it binds them to the past. Help your client see where they were collusive in the process of their own betrayal ~ it is a dance for two (or three in the case of Pluto).

Doubt: Saturn, Uranus, Neptune & Pluto. Doubt is the fuel of all growth and change as well as an honest form of humility. If we take a position that can’t reflect on or critique itself, we are fascistic, monolithic and stuck (insert your own George W. Bush joke here!). We are asked to let go of what seemed clear and protected us. Having no doubt mires us in a swampland.
Task: Deal with the fear of change when doubt makes us question our certainties about ourselves. Shed our old skins and beliefs to grow. Encourage your client to risk the increased anxiety that doubt brings.

Loneliness: Saturn, Neptune, Uranus, & Pluto. Life begins with separation. Our connections are never sustainable or complete. We are mortal, alone in the universe and no one can save us or protect us from death. There is no magical “Other” who will rescue us. Our aloneness allows our uniqueness to unfold.
Task: Affirm aloneness as a value rather than a threat. We overrate the value of relationship and underrate the value of solitude. The antidote for loneliness is to embrace it. Suggest your client enter the woods where there is no path.

Depression: Saturn & Neptune. Our culture has a fantasy goal of unmitigated happiness. Depression is our culture’s shadow. De-Press literally means pressing down of our soul’s purpose and energy when we are blocked, thwarted, denied, or violated by the world. Depression means our psyche wants to enlarge itself and break free. Task: Ask your client, “What is the meaning of this depression?” Explore with your client the difference between what happened in the past and who they are today. Abandon the legitimate hope and wish of the inner child to be accepted and seen while learning to love and nurture that inner child yourself. Take the risk feared most.

Desuetude: Saturn, Neptune & Pluto. When we are listless, joyless, bored, adrift, we lack energy for our journey. Life provides us with plenty of energy. When we run against our soul’s grain, it removes our energy. Often we override our soul to be productive sending energy into soulless tasks. If we ignore our soul, our symptoms intensify. Task: Ask “Is this right for me?” and “What task am I avoiding?” Make feelings conscious and then act on them. Teach your clients to use the ebb & flow of energy as a guide ~ if it is right, the energy is available. Serve the soul and the lost energy comes back. Live the life called to.

Despair: Saturn & Pluto. Despair is to be without hope, prospects, or alternatives. The forces aligned against us seem greater than our powers to resist or defeat them. While in the dark night of the soul, one wishes for instant transformation. Task: Embrace the wish for instant transformation to catalyze the dynamic of change. Encourage your client to sustain the struggle and move from being a victim to the hero of their story. Transform pathetic to tragic. Don’t deny the terrible feelings. Suffer through the feelings to whatever awaits beyond despair.

Obsession: Neptune & Pluto. Obsession is an idea that invades the mind with sufficient power to take over the will and direct behavior. It springs from whatever cannot be owned or made conscious. There is a secret buried in the childhood memory that must be faced and outgrown. The secret reminds us of our fragility, failure, and shame as it degrades us. Something caused the secret to spring into memory so obsession takes over the consciousness and causes anxiety. We address the anxiety with a reflexive behavior to silence the unbidden secret. Obsessions are actually rituals to lower our anxiety.
Task: Affirm for your client that an adult is capable of bearing the unbearable. Face the thoughts, so they lose their power. Make the unconscious dynamic conscious. Confront the thing that was too large for the child to bear or assimilate. Know the deeper truth.

Addiction: Neptune & Pluto. Jung said, “Addiction is the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness.” We want to merge and connect with a higher power. Addictive patterns are defenses against angst and anxiety management techniques. As anxiety builds, we indulge in a repetitive behavior that allows us to connect and merge. With connection, anxiety recedes. Whatever we cannot deal with consciously is projected onto a person, substance, or behavior. Guilt and shame erode the strength needed to confront the addiction. We are in a hell of our own construction. We serve it. Only our descent into hell can free us from it.
Task: Surrender the fantasy of control and suffer the loss of belief that the ego can control it. Deconstruct the addiction to find the primal unassimilated idea buried. Bear the unbearable, think the unthinkable, and suffer the insufferable in order to be free. Go into an anxiety state, feel the feelings, go through it and break the tyranny of the emotions.

Anger: Mars & Pluto. Anger comes from angh meaning ‘to constrict.’ Family and societal constriction is unavoidable so anger is inescapable. As children, we were often stopped in our honest expressions of anger. Anger was experienced by the authorities as anarchic and disruptive to the social order. Anger is a legitimate reaction of the soul to its wounding. Repressed anger often appears as a long term, low-grade depression.
Task: Acknowledge anger and track it’s origin. See what suppressing it does to energy flow. Anger can become a vital energy available for healing and furthering desires of the soul. As long as our clients stay wound identified, they remain stuck in their victim hood. While original wounds can rarely be completely healed, what they have come to mean can be reshaped and re-visioned.

Fear: Saturn. Fear is often quite specific. We fear dogs because we were bitten. Fear is a defense against anxiety. Fears are normal and natural. Our fears are how we perpetuate our own wounding. We are responsible for our lives, what we have become, and done to others. Our fears point to where we self-abuse, commit self-destructive acts and undercut our own potential. We are our own worst enemy when we collude with fear. We move towards life when we acknowledge the angst directly, know ourselves to be fragile beings and are grateful. What we make conscious, face directly and deal with as an adult, frees us from bondage to the past. We are more important than what we fear.
Task: Face and go through the anxiety around the fear to remove its potency. Acknowledge where we ourselves are the problem in refusing to face our fears. Encourage your client to do the thing they fear most.

Anxiety: Uranus, Saturn, and Neptune & Pluto. As we move out and live fully in the world, we experience an increase in anxiety because we are human. Fight or flight is the choice as we face things that scare us. Anxiety becomes a problem when it prevents us from living our life fully. We are conscious of how thin the thread of life is. Anxiety enlarges our lives as we face the journey ahead, exploring our talents, depths, heights, and daring to believe in ourselves. Daily we are asked to choose between depression and anxiety ~ fear or growth.
Task: Consciously imagine outcomes and look at the worst-case scenario. Help your clients figure out a plan. Remember to breath. Let it go. What you look at no longer owns you. You are free. Run from anxiety and you run from your life. Moving forward into unknown. Make your fears your agenda.
Hollis, James, Ph.D. Swamplands of the Soul: New Life in Dismal Places. 1996. Toronto, Canada: Inner City Books, University of Toronto Press, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Anne C. Ortelee