My husband hails from faraway New Zealand, and we often daydream about moving there. Yet despite the promise of living in a beautiful place with truly outstanding dairy products, and possibly hobbits, we’ve never managed to make the move. Over the past twenty-five years, the U.S. has become his home. And as for me—well, I have a somewhat tortured history when it comes to making big moves.
I was born in rural, southern Indiana, a place that probably has never been described as exotic. I never imagined a larger world until the summer I turned six, when we visited relatives in the dizzying, palm-dotted mecca of Los Angeles. Everything was so big, flashy, and loud! I had a good time that summer, but I wasn’t sad to return home to our familiar corner of the planet. For me, then as now, there was no place like home.
Four years later, when my mother decided we should move to Los Angeles permanently, I dug in my heels. I didn’t want to leave my home, my family and friends, my school, the wheat field where I used to lie on my back for hours and look up at the big, open sky. Suddenly Los Angeles, a mildly amusing vacation destination, seemed threateningly foreign, a blinding maze of asphalt, freeways, and taco stands.
Well, I was only ten years old, so I lost that battle. I’ve lived in southern California for most of my life now, and it’s hard to imagine living anywhere else. I would miss the enchiladas, just for a start. I’ve come a long way from the days on the farm. I’ve traveled to foreign lands and married a man from a country which, a few years before our wedding, I would have been unable to locate on a map. I eventually became the first in my family to graduate from college, a sort of foreign country for the mind.
But I’ve never completely outgrown the Indiana farm girl parochialism. I’m still a little wary of unfamiliar food. I’m unenthusiastic when my TV channel-surfing husband pauses on a Chinese film with subtitles. And I am ashamed to confess that, on occasion, I have made uncharitable assumptions about other people based solely on the fact that they are different from me.
The irony is that Sagittarius, the sign of the pilgrim—the traveler to other lands—was rising in the east at the moment of my birth, and a cluster of planets were hovering in the part of the sky we call the ninth house, the house of Long Journeys Over Water. I came into the world, it seems, to sojourn, and to sample the world’s cultural delights.
But I am a reluctant pilgrim, born with many planets in signs that are fixed by nature, intractable, bent on holding onto and mastering the known instead of expanding into the unfamiliar. A creature of habit, I would be happy to spend every day in the same place, with the same people, doing the same things; but the world has had other plans for me, periodically placing me on a collision course with upheaval and the unfamiliar.
I suppose, like many of us in the United States, I can trace my uneasy relationship with foreignness to my Puritan ancestors. These pilgrims came to the New World in search of religious freedom, yet it took them less than a century to begin burning people at the stake for practicing different religions. Confronted with a native people who were so different, they wasted little time in waging war with them. Such were the consequences of Puritan pilgrims refusing to adapt to their new land, determined to remake the New World in their image.
But while the chart most popularly used for the United States has the Sun in clannish, protectionist Cancer, it also has Sagittarius rising. As a people, we are wary of the unfamiliar, but with Sagittarius leading the way we must continually grapple with it. The uneasy combination of our immigrant tradition and a strong ethnocentric streak propels us toward perpetual cultural improvisation. It is to our credit that many of us, Puritan ancestry notwithstanding, acknowledge the wisdom of accepting different cultures on their own terms and learning what we can from them. The great strength of Sagittarius is its flexibility in the face of the unfamiliar. But as the recent election proved, bigotry has not disappeared, and even many who are not bigots can be persuaded to vote for one. As Saturn in Sagittarius moves through the first house of our nation’s chart over the coming eighteen months, we will reap the consequences of those decisions. I believe history will judge us for them.
Sagittarius, at its best, reveres the truth. And this Sagittarius New Moon aspects both Saturn and Neptune, a reminder that embracing the unfamiliar requires intellectual honesty, and acknowledging the limitations of one’s personal reality. Sagittarius is the emperor with no clothes, who is so enlightened that he laughs at the absurdity of his nakedness instead of denying it. It is the pilgrim and the native, sharing a meal at the harvest table despite having not the slightest idea how to talk to one another. It is the Indiana farm girl who constantly evaluates how much to adapt and yield, and when it’s essential to dig in her heels.
Someday, we may or may not sell our house, pack up our cats, and head for a new life in the South Pacific. Part of me is excited at the prospect. But despite experience, age, and hindsight, I’m still a reluctant pilgrim. I might look back in the years to come and point to this as the moment when I should have done everything in my power to leave, but it’s just as likely that this is still exactly where I need to be. In the dark of the New Moon, the jury is still out. For now, I’ll just enjoy the enchiladas, and let the hobbits take care of themselves.
© 2011, 2016 April Elliott Kent