“The struggle itself toward the heights
is enough to fill a man's heart.
is enough to fill a man's heart.
One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
~A. Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus.
~A. Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus.
|Artwork by The Chewu|
The myth of Sisyphus is one of the most poignant insights into the archetypal process of becoming , which idealizes process over achievement. According to the myth as a punishment for revealing the secrets of the gods, Sisyphus is condemned for eternity to roll the rock up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and then to begin the process once again. Sisyphus’ story represents the willingness of man toward acts that even though they may seem futile, speak to the urge toward total rebirth, celebrating the frustrations of human existence. Sisyphus’ story is a story of aspirations and actual limitations which can transform the human condition. In the language of Astrology Sisyphus’ story echoes the upcoming conjunction between the planets Mars and Pluto in the sign of Capricorn.
Martian qualities filtered through the sign of Capricorn describe the kind of will-power that is methodically, consciously directed and determined to get things done. In spite of its presence in the outskirts of the solar system, Pluto in Capricorn speaks of the physical realm as the key transformative energy of the transpersonal. Here, the subconscious energies to refine oneself are attuned to the forces of perseverance and ambition, calculated effort and exceptional determination of one’s mind and will power to transform. Hence, Pluto in Capricorn demonstrates that even transpersonal or transcendental realms do have immense and tangible power. Combining the expressions of the two planetary principles, Mars in Capricorn steps into the Plutonian mountain goat fields with an agenda in his mind: to pursue personal achievement and transformation driven by his willingness, physical potentiality and perfectibility, yet facing his deepest desires and urges.
It is wonderful how Sisyphus’ myth expresses both the planetary-sign principles of Mars and Pluto in Capricorn, and integrates their angular relationship—in this example the conjunction—not only self-destructively, but also positively as I will explain. In Greek mythology Sisyphus was believed to be the founder of Corinth and like Odysseus was both glorified and stigmatized as “the most cunning of men”. His name has been synonymous with deception, when he decided to rebel against the gods and share their powers by breaking down the boundaries between the divine and the human. The story of Sisyphus’ descent to the underworld as punishment for this defiance against the gods appears in a few versions, but the central theme is the same: Sisyphus betrays Zeus’ secrets and he is condemned to push a rock up a hill in Hades, only to have it roll down again once he reached the top.
Although the myth here denotes that death is part of the natural process of life, and a form of punishment, especially for those who are trespassers of the divine mysteries, Sisyphus steps in the underworld with his own agenda. Ambition, selfishness and lust for power drives Sisyphus to outwit Pluto, the god of the Underworld by persuading him to demonstrate the use of his chains, and then he tied up the god in his own capturing device. Pluto became a prisoner in his own home, while Sisyphus’ improper use of force and will delivered humans from death, at least temporarily. If we extend the threads of this story and tie them to the expressions of the planetary principles as described earlier, we can easily recognize how Sisyphus’ myth is attuned to astrological language.
|Artwork by Paulo Vinlua.|
Sisyphus’ meeting with Death resonates with the disharmonious expression of the Capricorn energies and qualities of Mars and Pluto when conjunct. In a state of disharmony and discord, Mars/Sisyphus to avoid death upon his meeting with Pluto decides to pursue his selfish aspirations. Merging with the Plutonian transformative energies, Mars willfully manipulates others to serve his own agenda. To avoid the pain of facing his own death—symbolically and literally—Mars/Sisyphus ruthlessly uses any means to meet his aspirations, deepest desires and compulsions, rather than his limitations. Infatuated with the Plutonian power of rebirth and regeneration Mars/Sisyphus fails to achieve his personal transformation and positively transmute pain through effort and experience. Mars’/Sisyphus’ hard work to trick Pluto does pay off, but fails to experience his ideal self, where the triumph of his will-power will not overthrow the counter-will of the gods.
|Artwork by Vladimir Kush|
The fact that Pluto was chained and nobody could die did not alleviate the fear of death. The upcoming conjunction of Mars and Pluto can be experienced in harmony with the higher universal law, which dictates that the principles regarding rebirth and transformation could help man to ameliorate the anxiety of dying. Mars’ self-determination and urge can be used not to defend oneself against “death”, but to accept the urge towards total rebirth. Using his calculated vision and raw primal energy, Mars in Capricorn or Sisyphus can redefine the seemingly burden of the infinite rock-rolling cycles. In order to experience harmoniously the planetary principles of this aspect, Mars needs to internalize the transformative cyclical process of Pluto applying both human perfectibility and transcendent excellence. Each one of us must train his/her inner Sisyphus to discipline his will and accept his limitations, yet to transmute them through effort and intensity of experience. A positive expression of the Mars Pluto conjunction does not paint a futile and hopeless Sisyphean labor. On the contrary it may inspire man to reengage in this cyclical process without the consolation of achievement.
Sisyphus’ myth exemplifies the effort of man to assert the powers of his own free will and aspirations to achieve a transparent excellence; this is one of the main themes that the conjunction of Martian and Plutonian energies represent. So, is this Mars-Pluto conjunction nothing more than a Sisyphean labor? Focusing on Sisyphus’ ascent over the hill rolling the rock, we see an aspiring man. Focusing on Sisyphus’ descent we see the suffering defeat of man’s aspirations. What may seem as a cyclical rock-rolling punishment, which is symbolically related to the elemental earthly qualities of the physical senses and the here-and-now reality of the material world—attuned to the Capricorn qualities too—is only a reminder that all human endeavors involve both aspiration and frustration. But if we focus on both aspects of this cyclical labor, or on both aspects of the Mars-Pluto conjunction then Sisyphus and ourselves are capable of experiencing the wholeness of human existence, not as a finished form but as a process.
On a last note, we know today of two lost plays about Sisyphus written by the ancient Greek tragedian, Aeschylus: Sisyphus the Runaway [Δραπέτης] and Sisyphus the Stone-Roller [Πετροκυλιστής]. The existence of these two clearly distinct epithets attributed to Sisyphus seem to allude nicely to the major themes that the conjunction of Mars and Pluto represent. The Sisyphean archetype synthesizes both aspects of the Sisyphean cyclical labor, where free will meets the aspirant man, but it does not reduces his experience and effort to futility. The Mars-Pluto conjunction is an opportunity to “roll in the deep” both as a Sisyphus the Runaway and as Sisyphus the Stone-Roller.
~S. Arroyo, Astrology, Psychology, and the Four Elements (1975)
~D. Cunningham, Healing Pluto Problems (1986)
~E.M. Simon, The Myth of Sisyphus: Renaissance Theories of Human Perfectibility (2007)
~K. Pietruczuk, “The Sisyphus Plays of Aeschylus,” Museum Helveticum 68 (2011) 129-140.