Emerging Archetypal Themes:
Aquarius, Community & “Milagro Beanfield War”
WATER! What would we do without it? Our human bodies are comprised of 80% water. Without water, we die. When there is no water, the land dries out and turns into a desert. When there is no water (feelings) flowing between people, we are left to stand alone in the face of the vastness of the universe. The truth is, WATER IS LIFE!
Like the Wasteland of the Arthurian legends, our civilization has created a wasteland—both externally and internally. With the central pillar of our society the accumulation of profit coupled with rugged individualism, we have allowed the Earth to be raped and pillaged and the waters and air to be poisoned. At the same time, patriarchy has relegated our feeling life to irrelevancy, denying the truths of the heart. With profit as the main goal, we are too easily caught up in the old Protestant ethic: if you are rich, God loves you. If you are poor, you are a sinner. This religious belief, coupled with capitalism, creates an inner wasteland of hopelessness and fear of death.
So despite our external riches, our inner life suffers. People aren’t built to survive in the wasteland. Our souls need something more than money to make life worthwhile, otherwise we fall into depression, anxiety, fear and anger. That’s why the wasteland can only be healed by the Holy Grail, the watery feminine aspects of life, love and community.
What does this gift of water have to do with the fixed air sign of Aquarius? Called the sign of the Water-Bearer, the constellation of Aquarius is most often imagined as the figure of a man pouring water from a jar. The ancients imagined that this whole section of the night sky was a great celestial sea: Aquarius is surrounded by the constellations of the Whale, the Fishes, the Dolphin and Eridanus—the River Po. For when the Sun passes through the sign of Aquarius, it heralds the rainy season in these ancient lands. The symbol for Aquarius, two wavy lines ≈≈, seems to represent undulating lines of water.
But the astrological sign of Aquarius is considered a fixed air sign, representing rational intelligence and social interaction. Aquarius is more concerned with Ideals than feelings—the awakening of the Mind and its vast potentials, as well as the urge for true freedom. The brilliance of the Aquarian mind seems to reflect the working of the Cosmic Mind. That’s why Aquarius is so often related to the Archetypal world. Carl Jung saw the coming Age of Aquarius as an age when the archetypes are lived consciously by humanity. If this is the truth behind the image of the Water-Bearer, than we can say he is pouring out the watery contents of the collective unconscious for us to access.
Aquarius calls us to stand up for our ideals. And it does this through community. When we band together, we create a stronger energy than when we stand alone. The water of our feeling life connects us to each other and to our ideals. That’s why the symbol of Arthur’s Round Table is so apt for this sign. We are called to become a community of equals.
The Milagro Beanfield War
Robert Redford’s 1988 movie, The Milagro Beanfield War, is a poignant reminder of what we have to lose if we continue to allow profit and consumerism to displace family, community and our connection to the Earth. The movie is delightfully enchanting without being preachy, with characters you care about, music that fills your heart and images of both the beauty of the nature as well as the ugliness and ruin our modern life-style leaves behind. It is magical-realism at its best. And it certainly exemplifies the Aquarian ideal of the strength of community to combat even the biggest Goliaths.
The movie is multi-layered, thanks to John Nichols’ novel and screenplay. On the outer level, it’s a story of the conflict between a poor Hispanic town and the powerful land-developer who wants to turn the surrounding land into a high-class resort. On a more personal level, it’s about a young man’s inability to find work in his own community and how the very lack of real community makes this takeover of the land possible. It’s a story of passionate beliefs and surprising accidents which lead to the return of water in their lives. But the deepest level of this story deals with belief. It’s about belief in the powers of the unseen spiritual realities, belief in our ability to overcome tyranny, and belief in the power of community.
The star of the movie for me was the character of Amarante, exquisitely embodied by Carlos Riquelme. Along with his Coyote Angel sidekick, a tricksterish Robert Carricart, they play off each other to perfection as the old wise man and his guardian spirit. They stand for what is good and solid in life and so can see the bigger picture taking shape around them. They know what needs to happen if they’re to save the village. And these two old coots do it! Along with a little help from their friends.
Redford evokes an enchanting atmosphere from the very first frame. The desert at sunset—at its best. The Full Moon infusing the scene with magic and mystery. A strange wind comes blowing through the night, carrying with it a haunting song, which grows into a joyous shout, swirling up dust and dancing along the hillsides. There is the Trickster, playing his flute and dancing with the wind. ‘Til dawn. It’s a new day.
Our Coyote Angle is on a mission, to wake Amarante up to the dangers facing his community. Amarante is the oldest man in the village and talks with angels and the dead. He is open to the Unseen Real and so is the perfect person to listen to the call of Wisdom.
Old Coyote tells Amarante the truth: It’s your town that’s dying. Amarante treats him as the nuisance he is because of course the first time we recognize a deep truth we don’t want to hear it. It will disturb our routines.
Next we get to meet all the townspeople of Milagro (meaning Miracle), who are unique and delightful. There’s Ruby (Sonia Braga), the town mechanic and passionate energy behind renewal whose motto is, ‘Let’s get to work’. There’s Bernie (Ruben Blades) the local law officer, mediator and peace-maker of the village, who’s open to the Unseen Real himself and senses a change coming with the wind. We have forest rangers, and the old men’s brigade, local characters and Shorty (James Gammon), Devine’s gruff but kind overseer and Flossie Devine (Melanie Griffith), relegated to the role of dumb blond with a heart-of-gold wife. Not only is this story about community, it also creates community with these unique characters.
Then we finally get to meet our hero Joe Mondragon—perhaps the new Pendragon? Joe (Chick Vennera) and Nancy (Julie Carmon) Mondragon are poor, still in love and have 3 kids. Joe can’t get construction work with the new resort going up (Miracle Valley) and in his frustration and righteous anger, he kicks open the water gate by his father’s old bean field. The bean field has gone dry and brittle because the town’s water rights have been taken away—and the water diverted for use at Mr. Devine’s resort.
Joe is the only hold-out on selling his land to Devine, but out of work with a family to support, he’s now considering it. Old Amarante lives across from the bean field and seeing Joe there, begins to describe how beautiful the field used to be when his father worked it. As Joe allows himself to see the beauty of his home and the water sinking into the land once again, his anger turns to determination. He’s going to let the waters flow and plant his family’s bean field again.
Amarante heads into town to casually mention that Joe is watering his bean field. The news quickly spreads through town, causing consternation, curiosity and excitement. Ruby rushes over to the bean field and joyfully acknowledges that she always knew Joe had some greatness in him. Soon the whole town comes to watch as Joe plants his beans. The town’s energy is shifting, spiraling around the running water and the bean field.
As the news spreads to Mr. Devine, the inevitable conflict starts to take shape between the rich land-developer and the poor farmer. But first, we need more characters to help Amarante and Coyote carry the story forward. We’ve seen the waters of feeling come back into play. Now we need the head to follow suit, because we need to unite our heads and heart in order to overcome tyranny.
First there’s Charlie Bloom (John Heard), a burnt-out, retired hippie lawyer—big time progressive lawyer and crusader of lost causes—whom Ruby tricks into helping explain exactly how hurtful the resort will be for the townspeople. And then there’s Herb, an Eastern graduate student come to study indigenous people in the Southwest. His eager openness to experience is coupled with an innocence that is endearing. His journey at Milagro grounds him in his body and leads him to a belief in the power of Spirit. Herb becomes fascinated with Amarante, who prays to saints, especially to St. Jude, Patron of Lost Causes. His love for Amarante opens his mind to the power of archetypal energies. I’m happy to say both of these intellectuals do learn to think with their hearts!
And then of course there’s the villain—over and above Mr. Devine (Richard Bradford), the developer. It’s Christopher Walken as Kyril Montana, and as old Coyote tells Amarante, ‘the bogeyman just came to town’. Need I say more? He is the brains behind various schemes to stop Joe. In his marvelous way, Mr. Walken continues to portray the male repression of feelings which comes out as violence.
As Montana strategizes ways to stop Joe and Bloom from rallying the townspeople, Coyote Angel tells Amarante, ‘you’re gonna need a big sacrifice here’. The idea of sacrifice—to make sacred—is important to remember as we work to change our world. Yes, it does involve sacrifice—sometimes even a death. This wonderful story reminds us that if we stand for our ideals and aren’t afraid to embrace the sacrifice—of time, energy, vision, death—we end up succeeding.
This marvelous movie speaks to all of us who want to change the way the world works. As Ruby says, “What good is a hometown when everyone you know is gone”. Aquarius speaks to our need for community. And it also speaks to the need to open up to the archetypal forces of Spirit. As Amarante explains to Herb, “People have forgotten how to talk with angels, who have time to spare.” The Milagro Beanfield War reminds us of the important things in life.
Mr. Redford is a well-known environmentalist, a true Bard in the old sense—the storyteller and wisdom keeper of the tribe that has a responsibility to comment on the welfare of his people. The Milagro Beanfield War is Mr. Redford’s love-song to the Earth and to the beauty of the human spirit. It’s a moveable feast of sensual delights, feeding our ears, our eyes, our hearts and our spirits. I think this is his best film.