Saturn in Virgo: Handmade Nation

Folks, something really big is happening out there. As usual, I’m late to the party and I’m going to wax nostalgic about my Army brat childhood somewhere in this post.

First, kudos to Gastriques, my faithful tipster, who sent me a link a few weeks ago about Etsy, a eBay for handmade crafts. Duly noted, but not yet a trend in my mind. Then, last Thursday, while I was reading The New York Times (which used to benefit from the insight of Gastriques), I noticed an article in the Home section about the modern-day mother of Handmade Nation: a crafty chick called Faythe Levine.

So far, so good. Then I noticed that Jim Kunstler, my guru on the post-oil future, has written a book called World Made by Hand, a novel about an apocalyptic future where we’re not knitting sweaters for fun or to express our creativity. Handmade Nation, World Made by Hand: I sense a trend here.

Today, I stopped on Main Street in Beacon, N.Y., to participate in our “Second Saturday,” where there are always lots of gallery openings and other interesting happenings (as they used to say on Mod Squad. I stopped by Paper Presence to admire the window full of origami cranes, a continuation of the dream of Hiroshima victim Sadako Sasaki, and then stepped into a garage-cum-workshop with saws, hammers, and other tools artistically displayed on the wall.

This was the venue of the Handmade Calvacade of Etsy vendors that rolled into Beacon. The vendors were mostly hipsters from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who had to restrain themselves from rolling their eyes when I asked: “What’s Etsy?” Of course, I knew, but the journalist in me had to play dumb to get information. I bought a couple of really cool tote bags made from embossed Indian burlap sacks and decorated with ribbon and beads.

The Handmade Calvacade seems to be a younger, groovier version of the craft bazaar that is well-known to church ladies and militry wives. I remember in the early Seventies when my Mom complained that the general’s wife at Fort Riley, Kans. was snubbing her because she didn’t knit enough hats for the Officers Wives Club’s Christmas bazaar. Yes, crafty folks can get catty and petty.

What’s driving all this hipster interest in making things by hand? It’s definitely Saturn in Virgo, which is fueling an appreciation for craftsmanship. But I believe this trend is being electrified by the opposition with Uranus in Pisces. By buying something handmade at Etsy, I’m declaring to the world that I’ve rejected the crap at the mall in favor of unique things made by hand, and I’m on the cutting edge.

The handmade movement seems a little more gritty and low-budget than the upscale arts and crafts exhibition held in places like Lincoln Center and Grand Central Terminal in New York. It also seems more political than artsy-fartsy.

Making things by hand can indeed be revolutionary. Think of Gandhi with his spinning wheel, exhorting Indians to reject the textiles made in British mills.

Who is the loser in the handmade movement? Wal-Mart, with all its cheesy Chinese goods. Who is the winner? Wal-Mart, the only store in my neighborhood where you can still buy fabric by the yard, an embroidery hoop, thread, and other tools of the crafty trades.

Let me leave you with my reminiscence of the coolest mall I ever visited. It was in Japan, where peak shopping experiences abound. The mall that blew my mind was near Mount Aso, Japan’s largest active volcano. This was a place where you could drop in unannounced and learn how to make handmade paper, arrange flowers, or do calligraphy. Yes, I was a consumer. I was spending money. But after two or so hours, I left with something I had made by hand.

What did the adults do with the kids? Well, this crafts center mall had day care, a working farm, and a petting zoo!

I’ve got to study Japan’s chart, but I think this nation epitomizes the yen (pun intended!) to make something by hand. I also think the Land of the Rising Sun has a great appreciation for nature and generally knows how to live in a civilized fashion, though I can do without the special slippers for the loo.

I’ve written previously about the Japanese version of Ikea, a store called Muji, which I think epitomizes Saturn in Virgo.

Obviously, the crafts revival has been percolating for quite while in the U.S. It never went out of fashion if you were a member of 4-H and working on a quilt for the county fair. But the handmade movement seems ready to go mainstream in a big way.

What are you making by hand? It’s not too early to start making your holiday gifts because I’m predicting this will be a Handmade Christmas, Yuletide, Saturnalia, Hannukah, and Kwanzaa.

Saturn Oppose Uranus: Recycling the Revolution

Yesterday, I bought a T-shirt at Wal-Mart with a peace symbol on it that was made out of recycled Coca-Cola bottles. It cost $5.

Take a moment to ponder that. It blew my mind, as they used to say back in the day.

A friend of mine recently told me she thought the energy crisis spelled the end to the green movement. However, I don’t think she’s quite right. I think economic woes may put ecological concerns on the back burner for a little while, but they’re not going away.

Still, I understand that when people are “locking in” heating oil prices that are more than twice what they paid last winter, they sometimes forget to bring their hemp shopping bag to the store.

Nevertheless, the Saturn/Uranus opposition, which is exact for the first time on Election Day, is going to bring about revolutionary changes in this country that were first proposed by the counterculture of the Sixties, which wanted to “get back to the land.”

Saturn is the Establishment — Wal-Mart and Coca-Cola — while Uranus epitomizes revolution, in this case, the cry for peace in a world struggling with war, and the desire to save the earth by recycling.

As anyone who lived through the Sixties and early Seventies knows, multinationals are adept at merging the counterculture with capitalism to sell more stuff. I grew up with Peter Max posters for 7-Up on my walls and happily chirped, “I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company.” You can watch the commercial on YouTube here.

Having said that, given the influence that corporations wield over our lives, I think they need to be congratulated when they are doing something valuable for society. So kudos to Wal-Mart for those new bins where you can deposit plastic bags for recycling and hats off to Coke for making T-shirts out of plastic bottles.

In the mid-Sixties, Saturn in Pisces opposed Uranus in Virgo, which was moving toward a conjunction with Pluto that became exact in 1966. As transiting Pluto moves backward in Sagittarius in the sky right now, forming a T-square with Saturn in Virgo and Uranus in Pisces, we’re going to get a blast from the past. So get out your needle and thread and start embroidering your blue jeans!

The square between these planets doesn’t become exact until they change signs. However, the Sixties redux window that I’m looking at is between Election Day and Thanksgiving Day, when Pluto moves back into Capricorn.

As most students of astrology know, we’re going to have a Saturn/Uranus/Pluto T-square in 2010 that echoes the one we had in 1931. But that’s a different vibe — think Grapes of Wrath. This Saturn/Uranus/Pluto lineup is more of a Sixties thang. So, as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young once sang, don’t be afraid to let “your freak flag fly.”

With this kind of astrological picture, don’t be surprised to see a conservative elected to the White House that we all get to rebel against. Somebody has got to play Saturn in this equation. I can’t take credit for this theory; Ray Merriman has been talking about it for a while.

On a personal level, watch closely this fall to see whether you decide to take the role of Saturn, the taskmaster, or Uranus, the revolutionary. As I said, Pluto is part of the picture too, which has the potential to add a deadly element to the picture. We could see the return of revolutionary groups like the Weathermen or the Black Panthers. These groups didn’t want to work (Saturn) for change (Uranus) within the system. They wanted to blow up (Pluto) the system.

Up on the Farm

Now that I’ve sung the praises of Main Street the place, let me talk about Main Street as a state of mind. When  I use Wall Street and Main Street in the same sentence, what I’m really comparing is equities vs. commodities, stockbrokers vs. farmers. I know Main Street is composed of merchants, not farmers, but it’s a useful handle to describe the heartland. 

When I lived in Kansas in the 1970s, the farmers drove Cadillacs. Many people have this idea of farmers as hayseeds, but these guys had ag science degrees from Kansas State. They knew about economics, weather forecasting, and hedging in the futures markets.

Now there’s no question that many of those farmers who used to shop on the main street in Chapman, Kans. aren’t in the farming business (yes, it’s a business) anymore. They may have lost their farms to the banks when the commodity markets crashed in the mid-’80s, prompting artists like John Cougar Mellencamp and Willie Nelson to sponsor the FarmAid benefit concert.

Or they may have sold out to agribusiness. In farming, as in many other businesses, it’s getting harder and harder for the little guy to make it, unless he’s got an angle, like a fancy organic label that he can market to the rich city folks. According to the Guardian, more women are trying their hand at small-scale farming in the U.K.: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/mar/05/ruralaffairs.features)

Agricultural policy is something I’d like to learn a lot more about. I learned a little while working for a London-based consulting firm called Third World: EEC in the summer of 1981. Dr. Peter O’Neill and Uma Ram Nath, who run Third World, did their best to educate me about sustainable development and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the European Union, but a lot of it was over my head.

The thing I came away with that summer is that the Brits thought CAP was a sweetheart deal for French farmers. Of course, when I told my student friends that I was working for Third World, they thought I was a groupie with the reggae band: http://www.amazon.com/Ultimate-Collection-Third-World/dp/B00005KBBC/ref=pd_sim_m_title_4

Despite my ignorance about global agricultural policy, I’m certain it’s going to be restructured while Pluto is in Capricorn. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is crushing farmers in Mexico, while in India, small farmers have been committing suicide in droves because they can’t make a go of it.  As a financial writer in a country that pays a lot of lip service to free markets, I’ve heard plenty about Japan’s “stupidity” in protecting its rice farmers.

It never seemed like a mistake to me. Anyone who has ever read Pearl S. Buck’s “The Good Earth” knows the value of land can’t be tallied only using dollars or yen. There’s a lot of psychic wealth involved, for both the farmers and the nation as a whole. In the case of Japan, where there’s not a lot of land, the government extends farmers the kind of  preferential, even reverential, treatment that some Western nations give to religious institutions.

I don’t subscribe to any end-of-days theory, whether in the Bible or the Mayan Calendar. I do like to follow cycles though, and I think the farmer is going to be in the catbird’s seat pretty soon — whether it’s from raising corn for ethanol, speculating in the futures markets, or being able to grow food for his family during a time of shortages. But he probably won’t be spending his money on a Cadillac, unless it’s a hybrid.