The Division Bell | Planet Waves for November 1999 | By Eric Francis


"Ancestral," by Via, Studio Psycherotica. Photos below: First, faces of prisoners after the liberation of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. Second, the main yard of the forced labor camp. Source: German historical archives. Image of Comet of the Moon (Hale-Bopp) from Astronomy Picture of the Day.


The Division Bell
Planet Waves for November 1999 | by Eric Francis

Now frontiers shift like desert sands,
as nations wash their bloodied hands
Of loyalty, of history, in shades of gray.
.......-- Gilmour/Samson, Pink Floyd

I missed the '14-'18 War,
But not the sorrow afterwards.
.......-- The Clash

IN THE STATE OF FLORIDA, a debate is now raging among politicians and legal experts over the ethics of the state's electric chair. In late October, the United States Supreme Court, which hears fewer than 100 cases per year, issued a stay of execution and agreed to hear the case of a condemned prisoner named Anthony Bryan after his attorneys presented photographic evidence and other testimony that "Old Sparky" is really a torture device that incinerates its victims live. Florida's chair has been around for 76 years, yet a provision in the U.S. Bill of Rights banning "cruel and unusual punishment" has been standing quite a bit longer. When the nation's highest court last examined use of electric chairs around 1919, household electricity was a fairly new concept, and New York's use of this then-innovative device was reviewed and given the okay.

....... For the next 80 years, the question has largely been ignored by public officials and the public, as the young, the disabled, the mentally incompetent, the insane, and, as it turns out, those innocent of any crime, went to their deaths at the hands of the government, often amid much political grandstanding, backslapping and public cheers.

.......Gov. Jeb Bush, the son of the former U.S. president, recently told reporters he was disappointed that the court has halted his state's executions, since his top henchmen feel the electric chair is really quite humane and functioning perfectly. Officials can say this to the public, and the reporter including the statement in an article is not required to get quotes from psychiatrists assessing their sanity. Of the 38 states that currently practice the death penalty, four still use the electric chair. Several use the gas chamber. In the state of Washington, a prisoner can be hanged, and in Utah and elsewhere, one can face the firing squad. Most states and the federal government now use the PR-savvy lethal injection, which reduces murder to a convenient, sterile, medical procedure. By what morality the bureaucrats, doctors and executioners who take part in these premeditated killings are exempted from the same legal review that their victims once faced, I am not sure.

.......I raise this point now because it's about eight weeks before the great leap into the future, the "turn of the millennium." Though most of the attention around this supposed step forward has surrounded computers, cruises and product marketing, I bring up the death sentence because, of all the spiritual issues that the human family is now facing, the use of state-sanctioned murder remains an awesome moral and religious crisis, symbolic of many others. We arose in protest over state killings in the Baltic nations and East Timor, belated though our response was. Yet in America, many people who claim to be followers of Jesus, partaking of a religion supposedly based on forgiveness, are fierce advocates of the heartless revenge ritual that takes place each day in death houses across the country. To be sure, many of those involved in the execution process go to church every Sunday.

.......Great Britain and nations across Europe long ago abandoned peacetime executions as an act of simple humanity. Perhaps this is because, as I have noticed personally, these older cultures tend to be more emotionally and intellectually refined than the United States. Or maybe it's because they have clearer memories of the century that is about to end, and thus have a deeper commitment to ensuring that history does not repeat itself. America could stand to learn from their example.

.......In the late summer of 1998, I spent two days with my friend Maria Henzler at the memorial at the former Buchenwald Concentration Camp, near the city of Weimar, Germany. A few days earlier, to gather background, we had visited the Ilvers Gehoffen neighborhood in Erfurt, a few kilometers away, where one of the earliest concentration camps was installed in an industrial building surrounded by numerous apartment houses. It was there that I got my most visceral sense of the psychology of state killing. The hundreds of local residents who were direct witness to the earliest Nazi atrocities in the summer of 1933, which were carried out on people singled out because of their anti-Fascist political beliefs, were terrified to say anything about what was happening, because they, of course, feared they'd be next. Instead, they buried their heads in extra pillows as they slept, to muffle the sounds of human suffering.

.......The effects of this psychology, in my opinion, are not lost on the modern American public. The death penalty does not deter murder; it does not save money; it merely creates subconscious terror of the government. And it spreads the responsibility for killing among the people who applaud and stand silent as a victim meets his or her demise. One killer is eliminated (assuming the condemned person is actually guilty of a crime), and millions more are created.

.......After some days in Erfurt, Maria and I were ready to go to Buchenwald. After turning into the camp's entrance, we drove for several kilometers down the Road of Blood, which was hand-built by prisoners of the German Reich. We parked in the old parade grounds of the SS, where the Nazi special military in charge of the concentration camp system marched and did the goose step. Entering the place, which is as large as a major state university campus, is crossing into another dimension of reality. It is impossible to describe the feeling of being there, except to say that I kept getting the sense that the whole world was tilted to one side. As we walked through the prison yards, the mass graves, and the beer garden where the SS officers drank ale and laughed, we gradually slipped into shock.

.......Walking among the ruins, kicking foundation stones of destroyed Nazi buildings into the exposed basements, it was only too clear that what occurred on that ground had happened mere moments ago. I was born in 1964, and I consider myself fairly young. That was just 19 years after the camps were liberated. The 1940s may feel like the distant past, though this is a kind of wishful thinking. As we explored the camp and museums, viewed the prison uniforms and crematoria, the autopsy room and the artwork created by survivors, I remembered again and again that what I was looking at had happened yesterday, and that many places, it is still happening today.

.......While at Buchenwald, I spent a lot of time thinking about the atomic bomb, and how it threw the shadow of death across the fifty years that followed its first use on a population in the summer of 1945, just weeks after Buchenwald was liberated. I thought about the U.S. government's documented program of testing the bomb on its own military and its own citizens, including the populations of Nevada and New Mexico, through the 1950s. I thought of the horrifying Cold War that spanned the following decades, the development of the hydrogen bomb, the terror about the Russians and the panic that led to something called the McCarthy hearings, at which many men and women were essentially put on trial for treason for their alleged ideas, including things they wrote in plays and fictional books. I remembered, as I often do, the horror of Vietnam, and of America's undeclared wars in Central America. I thought of Mumia Abu-Jamal and the more than 5,000 people on death rows in American prisons, and the millions of people, predominantly black men, who once again find themselves in slavery as inmates of the prison system, locked into factories, working for pennies a day, year after year.

.......Then there is the environmental question. Extensive documentation obtained in lawsuits against chemical and electrical manufacturers reveals that there has been an intentional plan throughout this century to poison workers and destroy the environment for profit. Reading these documents, which has been one of my responsibilities over the past eight years, is as nauseating and disorienting as walking through the prison yard at Buchenwald. In plain English, on corporate letterhead, executives strive to get away with murder for the sake of their business agenda, and they succeed. A scant few have gotten in minor trouble. Most have gotten rich. Pollution of the planet with dioxin, PCBs, uranium and plutonium amounts to a slow-motion holocaust, granted, with some benefits for the population, but just as deadly, just as devastating to the loved ones of the dying and dead, and just as cold and calculated.

.......One of the mottoes of Holocaust survivors and humanitarians is "never again." But what of all this?

.......We like to think that times have changed since the World War. We convince ourselves that the world is getting better. We lull ourselves into sleep with new products, with "controversies" over Teletubbies, with the trance of technology, and with the incredible stress of our personal and professional lives. We take our just rewards -- Friday night out, a little vacation, a tryst with a lover -- and then we go back to the grind, in which we forget, and forget, and forget.

.......Now we are looking ahead with bright eyes toward what may come in the future, with the culture feigning ignorance of what has so recently been, and what today persists. And we do so with very good reasons. The 20th century, if it is to be remembered honestly, should be seen as one of the greatest blights in human history. This is not because it is so much worse than all other times; though to be sure, this century has had some very low points, and has been the scene of great suffering. Yet there have been many cruel and treacherous moments along the road of humanity, when the darkness of our own collective shadow rose up to haunt and terrorize the souls of people, and most of these times have been in the past 500 years. What sends chills through my body is not how terrible life is today, but rather that we think we're so much better than other times in the past. We believe, because we are, for the moment, prosperous and enjoying our high-tech lives, that we are blazing forth toward enlightenment, toward freedom and the final conquering of nature through technology, and that the turn of the century and the third millennium will somehow automatically be the dawn of a new era.

.......I'm not saying it won't be. Who knows, it just may. The constant anguish is getting boring. But what I am saying is that if it's going to get better, then we need to pause now, and remember what happened here, and look at what is happening now. Because on that holiday night, on the long-awaited New Year's Eve 1999, as millions celebrate and some people spend $50,000 on lavish parties and limousines and flights around the world on the Concord, as we revel with intoxicated celebration, many thousands will be in prison cells because they can't afford a lawyer, or for the color of their skin. There will still be people freezing in the cold and starving, whose suffering, ignored by the vast majority of people, could be allayed by pennies, and by something that is at once far less costly, but somehow far more of a sacrifice -- awareness, and the willingness to help people. We may hold ourselves as enlightened for recognizing of the suffering that "it's their karma" that got them there, without recognizing that it's to our individual and collective detriment to ignore their plight. In turning away from pain, we directly contribute to its creation.

.......This leads us to some important questions. In a time of transition such as we are currently in, how do we deal with the past? How do we, as ordinary people, deal with world crisis? How do we begin to face the problem of evil? And, if we discover that we are sleeping, how do we begin to wake up?

.......Perhaps astrology can shed some light on these questions. There is a pattern in the chart for Y2K, New Year's Eve 1999, that, in my reading, reveals a great deal about the nature of the transition.

....... Advances in technology have been responsible for many celestial discoveries in the 20th century. But there are special ones which stand out from the rest, pioneering revelations that change the way we think about the universe. One of these occurred in 1930 -- the discovery of Pluto, a frozen world at the edge of reality. Astrologically, Pluto represents something that in spiritual terminology we now call "shadow stuff" -- the dark side that humans tend to make believe is not there, and then suffer the consequences of. Less than three years after this planetary discovery, Hitler assumed the office of Reichs Chancellor, and began the systematic extermination first of political dissidents, then Jews, Gypsies, and people of every European nation.

....... Another major discovery of this century was Chiron. Its first official sighting was in 1977. As with Pluto in the decades after its discovery, most astrologers remain in ignorance of the meaning and importance of this planet. Chiron, the first "centaur," or half-man, half-horse of Greek lore, was a surgeon, healer, archer, ethicist and musician. He is considered a righteous warrior, a defender of his people, and was the mentor of the great heroes of ancient Greece -- Jason and Heracles among them, and the god of medicine, Asclepius, was his student. Chiron's discovery heralded the still-emerging age of holistic consciousness, in which we are beginning to acknowledge what some call the "mind-body-spirit" connection. If Pluto is about collective darkness and subconscious forces, then Chiron is about light: of spiritual revelation, awareness, and even the precise laser-light of modern surgery.

.......These planets share the important distinction of being leftover artifacts from the early solar system, and are believed to be largely unchanged by time and thermal processes. They are remnants of our planetary beginnings. And, astrologically, they represent long-denied aspects of human nature: our inherent ability to sicken and kill (Pluto), and our inherent ability to heal and bring things to awareness (Chiron). Alternately, when used with clear intent, Pluto represents our ability to grow and evolve both as individuals and as a species, and Chiron represents the wounds we suffer which either kill us or make us strong. But to deny either or both of these energies is to miss the point of modern, growth-oriented mysticism. Yet like it or not, they are now here, with us and among us, alive in consciousness. We will have to live with the awareness of these influences as long as we're alive, and from this, there is no turning back.

....... On July 19, 1941, at the peak of Nazi atrocities and about five months before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, there was a conjunction between Pluto and Chiron, which occurs about once every 60 to 70 years. This conjunction was invisible even to scientists, because we did not yet know the position of Chiron and were not even conscious of its existence. Yet the conjunction still occurred; it still marked time for later historians to go back and retrieve important data. At the time of this event, the United States and Great Britain, with the cooperation of Canada, Bermuda, and the French and German resistance movements, were involved in a long covert war against Hitler, documented by the historian William Stevenson in his outstanding 1978 book, A Man Called Intrepid, the biography of one of Churchill's covert military officials. Like the conjunction of Chiron and Pluto, this operation, codenamed ULTRA, was invisible, but very active. The Japanese and German codes were being cracked, and a great deal of sensitive military information was intercepted and put to use against the enemy. The war did not end for four more years, but key elements of victory were assembled at this time.

....... Shortly after the conjunction, though ULTRA continued, the war went above-ground, and the United States finally came to the aid of Europe in visible ways, with the consent of the people. Victory over the Nazis was a monumental triumph over darkness, though in many ways it was short-lived. Whatever military analysts may say about the necessities of doing so, it remains true that the United States opted to commit genocide against the Japanese, using the atomic bomb on civilian populations, killing and maiming untold numbers of people who had neither interest in nor influence over the Japanese government, and contaminating the gene pool with radiation for countless generations to come. The United States began its own path of world conquering, and, when true history is periodically revealed, the list of American atrocities in any given decade easly rivals those of the Nazis.

....... Conjunctions mark the beginnings of cycles. Like when the Sun and Moon meet and create a New Moon, the conjunction of Chiron to Pluto was the new phase of that cycle. In the 58 years of the most recent cycle, we have seen, if we're looking, what the capitalist powers have made of the world, including rigging the whole place with explosives.

.......And now, as we come to a new conjunction -- incredibly, exact on Dec. 30, and 31, 1999 -- we arrive at a new point of potential beginning and renewal, and, more than anything, the necessity for awareness. This is the first Chiron to Pluto conjunction to occur when the existence of both planets, and when the realms they represent, are actually known and understood, however vaguely. And it comes not a moment too soon.

.......Though the lights of the world shine bright into the atmosphere and our cars and electronic equipment gleam with hope and power, we live in dark times. We live in a stressful, numb, materialistic era. For most, money is God. A sleep of ignorance seems to blanket the world in many places. The tides of the emotions, the winds of the mind and the earthy matter of our bodies all bear contamination with the waste-products of our time in history. We carry the poisons of our years, and we seem to collect more every day. We tune into the media, and are suddenly swimming in a sea of lies, most of which many people swallow whole.

.......Yet there are other currents, and they are just as real, and far more important. As the decades have passed, there has been wave after wave of consciousness and resistance that has rolled in to challenge the authority of the Dark Father. They have all had their effects. While being the work of the small minority of people, they have had their impact on the collective mind.

.......From the resistance movements during the World War to the literary and artistic movements through the decades, the anti-war protests of the 1960s and 1970s, equality movements by blacks, gays and women and those who have supported their rights, and the spread of the holistic movement coinciding with the sighting of Chiron, have all slowly done their work. The dominant beliefs of just ten years ago can today seem totally archaic, as ours will seem in five years or one year. Ignorance may still be statistically prevalent, but it is thin, it is weak, and we are all just one thought away from clarity and understanding, and these qualities, many people are now seeking avidly. Not all those who claim to be involved with these trends are sincere. Yet many are. There are millions who devote time each day to sincere prayer for world peace, and who live accordingly. There are others who consciously and willingly work for the light, whether as healers or as secretaries, and whether their efforts are on target or misguided may, in the end, matter very little.

.......This conjunction occurs in the sign Sagittarius, the astrological symbol of wisdom and world culture. There is a modem company called Global Village, an appropriate name for an organization that helps bring together the remote corners of the planet through the internet. We now get to have friends and correspondents in many countries of the world, with whom we can correspond for free. While "the powers that be" went about their continued pillaging of poor nations, and the corporate marketers sold us ever more electronic equipment, there has, miraculously, been allowed to grow the world's first two-way mass medium, the internet. It is possible for ordinary people to spread news and information around the planet in moments. Perhaps we're still clumsy with this awesome tool at our fingertips. We are just learning to trust it, and ourselves with it. Most users of this network are still unaware of its real potential, yet it's clear that in the months and years to come, even the slightest degree of collective awakening will send out ripples of intelligence throughout the whole sphere of consciousness. And this would be very dangerous indeed to a dark force that thrives on ignorance and mental slumber.

.......Drunken revelry may seem to dominate the world scene the night the century ends. Odd religious cults may create wild or morbid stunts that gather attention for a moment. It's impossible to say now what people on the fringe have planned for that night, or what world managers have up their sleeves, though we'll certainly find out soon enough. Beneath it all, the light of spirit is doing its work. Filaments of awareness spread around the globe. Contacts are being made, connections formed, long-lost friends reunited, networks are expanding, and long forgotten but vital information rises to the surface of awareness, where it can be put into conscious use. Those who are listening, and listening well, will surely hear the division bell.++


For further reading: Related Articles by Eric on civil rights in modern-day Germany are below. Chronologically, the two articles that follow lead up to Eric and Maria's trip to Buchenwald. These links take you to Rob Brezsny's Real Astrology page, for which Eric is a writer. There are not links directly back to Planet Waves from there, so remember where you are.

Walking on the Moon (part one of a series)

Hell's Bells (part two of a series)

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