December 20/21 - January 20/21
Cardinal Earth: Achievement
Objectively: Like the holiday season during which it occurs Capricorn culminates an old cycle (Christmas/pagan Saturnalia). And initiates a New Year. Sun makes its southern turn at the winter solstice, then slowly climbs north. Personality emerges from a collective reality by asserting individual ambition.
Subjectively: The midnight hour. Another day begins in the depths of night. The light of ego consciousness rekindles within a group identity. A separate self, validated by achievement, rises through a social or spiritual hierarchy.
Capricorn: Duty. Accomplishment. Initiation into a higher state.
Capricorn begins at the winter solstice, year's longest night. The fervor of Sagittarian tribal enthusiasm has burned out, its political ideologies and spiritual inspirations reduced to tired clichés. Self stands alone, without consolation, in the cold and dark. Yet the tide has turned. Day's lengthening light reveals a frigid, unforgiving world. Here only the strong survive. Capricorn is born.
Winter's bitter austerity demands realism: respect for facts, rationing of possibilities, recognition of limits. The harshness of this bleak landscape forces competence. Competence begets confidence. Confidence generates character. Real character, carved by necessity and tested in adversity. It has no room for excess baggage. Elaborate theories, grandiose pretensions, murky emotions mar the simplicity, obscure the elegance, of Capricorn's focused clarity.
One might think this grim: a life hardly worth living, the drudgery of a gaunt and joyless survival machine. Yet Capricorn's hard won abilities bring profound fulfillment. Perfect execution under pressure generates a high and austere exaltation. Excellence is its own reward. It can only be earned, never given.
Capricorn begins at Earth's alignment with Sun's interstellar trajectory.1 It grounds a cosmic movement that regenerates the annual cycle on a spiritual level. (In contrast to Aries' springtime biological renaissance.) Out of the year's foundation in the void it creates something from nothing. Does this not mirror the work of God?
In Capricorn the great work of individualization begins anew. Sagittarius returned self to its collective roots, bearing a fiery prophetic truth. Capricorn revives a quest for individual distinction. Ego is emerging from the tribe, not immersing into it.
This happens slowly. A nascent identity must first adapt to its surroundings, passing trials of natural selection and social validation. Only by meeting the demands of its environment does it gain the strength to assert its own power over it. Thus a small `child develops by doing what its parents expect. A young student must graduate through the elementary levels, learning a compulsory curriculum of ABCs before s/he can learn to think independently (Aquarius). Capricorn acquires skills and develops innate talent, step by rigorous step. It confirms its own value by meeting objective criteria of achievement. This certified performance lays the foundation of personal credibility. And perhaps even of public eminence.
In the same way, every human embryo reenacts the entire history of the race in the womb. 'Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.'2 It grows from a single cell to an undifferentiated cell mass to a triple layered blastula and on through fish-like and mammalian forms until it reaches its own human level. As with the physical body, the psychological self can only reach its full stature by experiencing and mastering every intermediate stage. This takes difficult work over a long time.
Capricorn conserves the tried and true as the core of future growth. It builds on precedent, adds to past accomplishment. Capricorn represents a long heritage condensed into the material form of the present.3 Its complementary sign, Cancer, remembers and feels its psychological essence, in living moods, dreams and sensitivities. Capricorn develops it externally, through achievement, role and rank in the collective enterprise.
Capricorn subliminally understands the age-old effort it took to get here; cherishes a history of which we are the growing tip right now. It accepts the responsibility that comes with our inheritance of a human condition that is the gift of four billion years' evolution.4 For some this becomes a crushing burden, the weight of a world they did not ask to carry. For others an incentive to live up to a sacred trust, an obligation to countless forgotten ancestors. And to a few it lends the authority of time itself, as an exemplar of all that came before that they carry on into the future.
Capricorn is driven by a need to prove its worthiness for such an endowment. Most do so by competently enacting a social function, putting ethics, work, family and country first. Some by spectacular demonstrations of ambition, climbing the hierarchical ladder to a pinnacle of power. Or at least keeping up with the Joneses in a rat race to nowhere. Some by grueling effort, showing real merit earned the old fashioned way. And more than one might think attain a higher state by displaying grace under pressure in circumstances known but to God. They light a candle in the dark, ignite the spark of a larger destiny, because nothing else works for those who live for more than personal ends.
From respect for the past comes resolve to make a future. Capricorn senses the hard road we have taken from molecules in a puddle to men on the Moon. Thus it instinctively understands that anything can be achieved consistent with physical law and human nature. It only takes time: perhaps a protracted struggle, perhaps in a perfect seizure of the moment.
From experience and in line with its realism Capricorn plans. It is the most strategic of signs. It takes the long view, has an objective and knows how to get there. Whether or not that goal proves worthy is the issue. Capricorn has the patience, stamina and will to enact an actual agenda: not a spiritual aspiration (Sagittarius) nor a utopian vision (Aquarius) but an astute compromise between soaring hopes and sober means. 'Politics is the art of the possible' defines an attitude extending to science, business, culture or that most exquisite endeavor of all: the art of living.
For all of its seriousness Capricorn is also a joyful sign. The rebirth of light initiates it. The tough and lusty goat symbolizes it. Capricorn appreciates the sensual reality of our brief life. Its common distortion into narrow purpose and harsh discipline reflect a fear that comes from its proximity to the shadow, the dark side of a year and of an ego. It knows its own fragility in the depths of night and winter; feels in its bones that all things run swiftly to a final end. Yet it slowly, steadily, shrewdly develops the courage to carry a brightening torch through the night. Overcoming fear leads to a deep and somber ecstasy of triumph over circumstance.
Yet even the sweet taste of victory eventually turns to ashes. Capricorn experiences the test of rise and fall, the fleeting nature of all worldly success. Glory fades, usually with unexpected consequences. Will it cling to withered memories; decline into bitterness and despair at their passing? That happens all the time. Or will it savor the very brevity of its moment in the Sun, alive between the two eternities?
Acutely aware of the heights, Capricorn often feels inferior to their challenge. It can then sink into morose resignation, fatalistic depression. Or rise to the sweet melancholy of difficult duty done against impossible odds. Capricorn learns the lessons of limitation through the very audacity of its ambition, which can never be fully realized. And yet the effort alone makes its own achievement.
Capricorn stands at the summit of objective accomplishment. It realizes how tiny it is in comparison to the mountain it has climbed. And how ephemeral. Yet it also understands how far it has come. Isaac Newton, the Capricorn who first explained gravity and invented calculus, said it best: 'If I have seen further than other men, it is because I have stood upon the shoulders of giants.'
Capricorn recognizes its status in society, with the corresponding responsibilities. It is solid because it is in solidarity with the group from which it came. In the following phases ego necessarily detaches from this source in order to grow. Aquarius becomes entranced by a futuristic vision, Pisces by an idealistic dream. Aries through Cancer turn toward development of personality in its own right. Leo displays it to the world. Virgo brings it to relative perfection and dedicates it to public service. Capricorn reaches the zenith of that effort; emphasizing ego as the vehicle of a group identity and enabler of its goals.
Capricorn embodies the peak of all that one can be in the world under present circumstances. The next, and final, two signs, Aquarius and Pisces, provide glimpses into future potential: they represent a coming dispensation, a new order. Yet Aquarius flies into mental madness, Pisces dissolves into emotional meltdown, without Capricorn's grounding in the reality principle.
The tenth house, Capricorn's subjective correlate, and any planets in it, indicates the general nature of one's calling: profession or station in the community. It can also refer to spiritual initiation, consolidation of a higher state of consciousness. The house cusp that the sign of Capricorn occupies indicates the area of life wherein that mission is fulfilled. The position and aspects of Capricorn's ruling planet, Saturn, shows how: actual performance of that function, whether through formal office or spiritual attainment.
To do so Capricorn is not guided solely by personal criteria of conscience. Rather it acts in accordance with a sense of duty towards its communal context. This usually means upholding a conservative interpretation of traditional arrangements.
Duty, and the discipline it entails, defines Capricorn's driving motivation. Duty can mean dull regimentation; a refusal to think; an escape from accountability in easy submission to another's will. (Whether that be a more powerful individual, or the herd.) It can involve acceptance of unpleasant burdens, in the service of its own growth or group need. Or an iron will to do the dirty job that must get done: perhaps for career; perhaps for the team. It can be a drive to do the right thing just because it is the right thing. Self-respect then becomes involved with morality, either as a legalistic code or as a genuine sense of principle.
Most fundamentally, and rarely, duty means living authentically as made in the image of God. Uncompromising faithfulness to ego's soul purpose. Like Zen enlightenment this is the easiest thing in the world - and the hardest. It demands complete commitment to inner truth despite convention, peer pressure or fantasy. It means fully, and joyfully, saying yes to a larger fate. Consenting without reservation to a God-given destiny. Swearing 'I do' to the sacred marriage of self and soul.
Thus Capricorn's seriousness. It instinctively knows that every action is a final and complete statement of self. An identity oath. Time is short and opportunity limited. One must get it right, here and now. This is the final exam, which cannot be retaken. Judgment day, enacted in every moment, which will never be given back.
This can lead to fear; a paralyzing sense of inadequacy; guilt for falling short. Self-loathing, with a futile attempt to deny it in the vanities of ambition and false triumphs of competition. A cynical 'realism' about personal insignificance, projected onto others in the denigrations of one-upsmanship. Or internalized as a sullen sadness.
Or it can generate a slowly growing realization that one stands before God in judgment because one is god-like. Tiny as it may be, the human being embodies the shadow of God on Earth. It dares to live in the valley of death; is willing and able to consummate spirit's purpose on the material plane.
Capricorn exhibits this growing identification with the divine in an ever-deeper appreciation of the world as it is. No need to hope for heaven. Just this is perfect. It only requires the courage to accept it. Thus Capricorn accepts a flower as a simple thing of beauty, made all the more precious by its finitude. Fast fading color and perfume adds poignancy to its fragile loveliness. Never again will it blossom. Yet amidst all the eons of time and light years of space it is the beauty: fully real, just now, just so.
Capricorn describes love for what is rather than what could be. Fidelity to facts. It accepts the inherent limitations of phenomenal knowledge. This can degenerate into gloomy doubt. A denial that anything exists other than the immediately visible. At its lowest, Capricorn degrades the imagination to the contours of an ego, denies possibilities beyond the ken of small minds and petty goals. Shrivels everything to a mean spirited zero sum game where my gain is your loss. Falls into an amoral pragmatism where anything goes to win the crummy prize:
'Well is it known that ambition can creep as well as soar.'5
At its best Capricorn insists on a rigid code of excellence; strict adherence to the letter of the law. This follows from its survival ethic. You cannot break the laws of physics. Or supersede the requirements of biology. Therefore, by extension, you should not rebel from fundamental principles of the social contract. Instead live up to its highest standards. This can mean challenging an established corruption of them.
Every individual completely depends on the community: as mammals with our prolonged dependence on parents, as culturally conditioned citizens who could not survive without the contributions of others who provide our food, clothing, shelter, safety. Our private egos could not even think without the linguistic tools and mental concepts developed over thousands of years. Thus each of us owes a debt to society, to be paid by enhancing its character and participating in its future.
Capricorn portrays a sense of obligation for owing so much to the commonwealth. Some interpret it as a need for absolute compliance with the minutiae of bureaucratic regulation or religious ritual. Others understand it as cooperation with a group consensus, implementation of agreed principles. Some succeed and are promoted. Others surpass conventional expectation and take the next step in evolution. A few reach another level altogether to demonstrate a more inclusive awareness of the greater good. This compels admiration and sets new guidelines for general emulation.
Capricorn demonstrates emergence of an individual from the community: not as an autonomous ego, but as an avatar of its shared values. This can play out as a stifling internalization of group norms, or their projection through control over others: conformity or ambition. On its highest level the Capricorn energy field shapes personality into identification with a demanding spiritual law. Then moral authority amplifies its practical ability to create a singular exemplar of common purpose.
1. See figure below.
2. Ernst Haeckel, 1843-1919, German biologist
3. For example, one's brain literally embodies an evolutionary mountain arising within the skull's hard shell. At its base the spinal cord of nerve pathways bulges into a brain stem, an automated instinctual center processing sensory stimuli and physiological functions. Above and around it wraps a limbic layer, the site of emotional response, present only in mammals. Crowning this, the cerebral cortex forms the outermost perimeter of our biopsychic architecture, a strata of consciousness bearing cells attained only by primates and cetaceans (whales and dolphins).* Abstract thought and subtle psychic states flash among its intricately woven neurons. They can do so only by virtue of their supporting structure: three pounds of living matter more complexly organized than the physical universe of stars and galaxies.
* Fish and reptiles have superbly honed instincts, and a degree of intelligence, but they do not have the neurological architecture enabling them to ground higher states of consciousness. Other types of animals, such as some birds and cephalopods (octopi and squid), are also quite intelligent although their brains are structured differently from those of mammals.
Regardless of neural organization every animal participates in a shared sentience. We know by their behavior that all creatures experience fear. And curiosity. Surely this has an internal subjective side even if that is not organized at the level of self-awareness.
4. Each of us relives a condensed version of this history in the womb. After birth we all pass through every developmental stage of the human condition during our slow maturation into adults. As the consciousness theorist Ken Wilber points out, no matter how enlightened a society we may create, every new citizen will enter it at square one, as a helpless baby who will take decades to learn the ropes.
5. Edmund Burke, 1729-97, Anglo-Irish author and statesman