Many years ago, in a time before mobile phones, when skateboards were cool, trousers were high-waisted and hair sharp, a shadow came across the land. Dozens of beautiful princes were cut down in the fullness of youth by a mysterious wasting plague.
The sexually transmitted disease AIDS was named in 1982; in 1984 the HIV virus was identified; in 1986 a British public information campaign called Don’t Die of Ignorance had a major impact on a generation… Sex was never the same again. It was the first government sponsored STD awareness campaign and widely copied around the globe.
During this period, Saturn was in Scorpio — from November 1982 through November 1985. Saturn is, of course, the grim reaper, and Scorpio rules the genitals. The symbolism is stark. Pluto, lord of the kingdom of the dead, the land of shadows, swiftly followed Saturn into Scorpio back in the 1980s. The two worked together, in particular reaping young men, although they were not the only ones to die of AIDS. Pluto stayed in Scorpio for another decade after the grim reaper had moved on.
AIDS is still a scourge in Africa and Asia. But in the West, thanks to advances in medicine, it is no longer a death sentence. The public awareness campaigns, which emphasised the fact that anyone could catch AIDS, apparently did change behaviour in the West too, making it easier to contain the epidemic.
This passage of Saturn through Scorpio (2012-2014/5) has seen no such public health scare, but the story of AIDS does help us to see how Saturn in Scorpio might work. For a start, Saturn in Scorpio delineated new rules about sex, a Scorpio concern.
In fact, Saturn drew a line under AIDS. It was the beginning of the defeat of the disease. Once it was named and the virus correctly isolated, boundaries could be set. Saturn is about endings and limitation. During the previous period of Saturn in Scorpio (1953-1956), the elimination of polio started through mass vaccination. This led to the near eradication of the disease globally — although we have been reminded recently that polio is still with us as it threatens the children of Baghdad and Damascus and Aleppo.
Scorpio is one of the signs of healing, but not in the sense of caring. Scorpio is about excision — remember its traditional planet is Mars, which rules the scalpel. Scorpio cuts out the cancer, digs out the neurosis, lances the boil, lasers the tumour, and stitches the wound. In 1953, with Saturn in Scorpio, the first open-heart surgery was performed. Scorpio cuts to be kind; Saturn keeps the surgeon steady.
It looks this time around as if we may see an end to malaria – which would be wonderful (and partly thanks to Saturn in Scorpio Bill Gates). But here in Britain, at least, there is another boundary issue no one dares to speak of — when do we allow people to cross the border between life and death?
Every health professional I talk to says the same thing: we need rules about dying. We have rules — the ancient Hippocratic oath — that order us to revive someone so long as life is possible. But what about the quality of that life? And what if we prolong life for another month or another week, what is the cost? Does that balance against, say, vaccinating a child against polio?
Now that life is prolonged by pharmaceuticals beyond dignity, what’s the cut off? That’s Saturn in Scorpio.