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It Is Summer There

My husband was born in the southern hemisphere, and the fact that their seasons are opposite ours has always fascinated me – stories of Christmas spent at the beach, for instance, as we might celebrate our major summer holiday, Independence Day. Pondering this seasonal quandary, I once asked him whether January was called winter or summer in New Zealand; it seemed like an intriguing question until it flew out of my mouth and immediately hit the pavement like a dodo, finding out the hard way that it’s a flightless bird. And extinct. “Duh!” I hastily answered myself, but Jonny is kinder than I am. “No, no, it’s a good question,” he assured me.

And in a way, I guess it kind of was. Anyway, I can see what I was getting at. What does “summer” mean if it includes Christmas, with its residual secular connotations about the return of light and so forth? And astrologically, what does “Capricorn” mean if the sun’s journey there corresponds to hot, languid days, so antithetical to Capricorn’s stiff-spined reputation?

The way we practice astrology in the west is based on the seasons, with Aries and spring marking the beginning of the seasonal cycle, the starting point on the wheel. It is a system that speaks to the truth of our northern/western orientation: Aries happens to be the sign that ushers in spring, and we feel spring, in our bones, as a surging, sappy call to action and enthusiasm. The sign Cancer feels like summer to us, hot, endless days lying on the beach, the coconut stench of suntan lotion, romantic longing. Libra is the crunching leaves and tingly air of autumn. And by the time we reach Capricorn, it is winter here, our energy contracted into layers of clothing and short, cold days. The light is thin and weak, and that’s exactly how we feel – out of energy, our light fading, like the moon at its last quarter.

So this uncomfortable, contracted, low-energy experience is what informs our mythology of Capricorn. We make him Scrooge, all wiry and dour and pitiless, the taskmaster who drives his employees to work even on Christmas day; we fear him, and his ruling planet, Saturn, like we feared our dad on a bad day. They are, like winter, mean and harsh, and only the hardiest survive their tyranny.

But while it is winter here, it is summer there, down under. The days are long, the temperatures are warm, people are drinking cooling beverages with ice and straws. The pace is languid; people go on vacation, not – as here – because they simply can’t bear another gray day in the workplace, but because it’s summer, and the sap is rising and they feel they will burst out of their skins if they don’t have a little fun.

Well. How to find Capricorn in all of this?

A summer place

When it is winter here, it’s summer there – and it’s all called Capricorn. Even when it’s coldest outside, somewhere in the world, deep below us, there is a warm place to tap into. And just below our dry winter skins, if we could slough them off like a lizard does, we would find rosy, touchable flesh, aching for the surf. We would stretch out, barely dressed, on the sand and let its heat rise up and iron us flat. Our minds would be empty, completely empty of all ambition and drive, of the need to be somewhere else, somewhere in the future, different and better people leading exemplary lives. We would just… be.

The beauty of Dickens’ Christmas Carol is its eloquent retelling of the Capricorn myth. Scrooge, a dry and brittle man who seeks only material success, is transformed by an encounter with the spirit world (Capricorn, symbolized by the sea goat, has a little-vaunted spiritual side). Confronted with spectral visions of what he is, what he has been, and what he will be if he keeps going in the same direction, Scrooge “sees the light” – it is, after all, a solstice tale – and opens his heart to the true wealth of friends. He recognizes, at last, that the poorest of his employees is the wealthiest of men, because he has a loving family. Seeing that the only way to find real success is to be part of a tribe, Scrooge unbends like a rose in late June and stuns his friends with a sudden warmth to rival a summer bonfire on the beach.

We don’t know exactly what happens to Scrooge the day after Christmas, but I like to think that he learns to take it a bit easy and not work so hard. My imagination straps him into a 747, then dumps him out onto Bondi Beach where he stretches out, soaking up the sun, drinking Australian beer and redefining the whole idea of Capricorn.

Winter solstice: the time of reckoning

At winter time, the artificial constructs of time decree a new year is about to begin. But our seasonal hearts experience winter differently, as the apex of an energetic cycle begun in the spring. In the cold, weak light of winter, November’s incantations are realized, and all is revealed for what it truly is. We are either rich enough to buy holiday gifts and leave extraneous lights burning throughout the house, or we are not. We are happy because we have chosen to be so, or angry and unhappy because that was our choice. Winter solstice is a time of emotional reckoning and self-examination; like Scrooge, each of us must confront his or her own ghosts of the past, present, and future. In the long, dark days of winter, there is a lot of time to brood about what went wrong in the past and what might go wrong in the future.

Our fourth house/Cancerian selves are the foundation on which all happiness is built. It’s why Bob Cratchit, with his loving family, is wealthier than Scrooge, who has a lot more money. But we can also learn from Capricorn that money and success are not synonymous with soulless selling out – unless we create that false dichotomy. Sometimes what’s needed is simply to redefine success.

When it is winter here, it is summer there. And just below the surface, toward another pole, is exactly the thing that we seek. Somewhere in the South Pacific, right now, a young child – just beginning her summer vacation – is kicking her bicycle and whining “I’m bored!” All she needs is a little bit of Capricorn’s winter persona, to add a drop of happy direction and structure to her days. And you, wondering how you will get through the cold, dark days ahead, need only reach out and touch the warmth and light of Capricorn’s summer side. Invite him into your home by lighting every candle you can find, singing at the top of your voice, and filling your house with delicious food and drink and people who make you laugh and who understand your heart. Because like Scrooge after his transformation, I’ve never met a Capricorn in my life who didn’t love a good party.

© April Elliott Kent




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