Planet Waves by Eric Francis | Doing Pluto

Doing Pluto

Planet Waves | By Eric Francis

Let us not talk falsely now
The hour is getting late.

Above: Pluto with Charon
Credit: R. Albrecht (ESA/ESO), NASA

WE WERE ALL IMPACTED PERSONALY by the events of Sept. 11, a rare date in history that becomes indelibly infamous. Or rather, we took it personally, as if something had happened to each of us, and as if some response were required. "Feeling helpless in the wake of the horrible Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed thousands, Christine Pearson baked a cake and decorated it like an American flag Monday," The Onion newspaper reported in its now-legendary Sept. 26 edition. They were kidding, but they were onto something.

What really happened to most people on Sept. 11 and the days after is that they watched television. Horrible, terrible, non-fiction TV, but it was in fact the tube. Exceptions would be anyone who was near the terrorist attacks, or anyone who lost coworkers, friends and family. Those who commute to lower Manhattan have strange experiences: trucks are still being searched as they enter the city, and people in cars are questioned. There is the whole scene down there, the skeletons of the buildings surrounded by tents, wreckage trucks, demolition workers and the Army and the National Guard; if you've seen that, or helped out, you surely have a sense of the reality. If you live in lower Manhattan, you know something we don't. If you had a view of the World Trade Center from your home in Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island or New Jersey, you may have seen some strange sights. This was definitely a big deal for metro-New York.

The rest of America watched TV, just like usual. Let's get personal. Have you missed a meal, or lost a limb?

Yet something most definitely happened to all of us in those days. Part of it was the shock of the news, television or not. But there was something else that defied understanding. It was as though a force was turned loose in the collective subconscious world, ripping through all of us at the levels just below where language can express any sense of it. Many people's lives are in havoc, upheaval or outrageous situations for no apparent reason. There is a sense of precipitous change -- change, that is, at the edge of a cliff or the point of a gun.

Something truly occurred, and that something involved Pluto, otherwise known as Shiva the destroyer. Our world is, and will be for some time, under the influence of a pint-sized, nitrogen-coated chunk of water, ice and rock 2793 million miles from the Sun. His name is the Roman version of Hades, the god of the underworld. He is an elemental force, a fire beyond fire with the power to shatter wind, rain and earth. In 2001 and 2002, Pluto is opposite Saturn in the sky; the Earth is between them. Saturn holds things together; Pluto tears them apart. We are suspended in the opposition. Pluto and Saturn have a 33-year cycle. Its rhythm times the rise and fall of empires, the start of both world wars, and the peak of the Vietnam war.

Mythology and astronomy cast Pluto as the lord of Hell, but astrology tells another story. No astrologer, it is safe to say, underestimates Pluto or takes him for granted, or none does so for long. Largely thanks to the work of Jeffrey Green and his spiritual mentor, Yogananda, we recognize Pluto as the evolutionary engine in the astrological chart. While society may twist and crumble, and while emperors may rise in power, on the inner level, Pluto is the ultimate influence we cannot deny. Anyone who has consciously gone through a Pluto transit have seen and this at work: Pluto is the uncompromising force for change, the catalyst for growth, and the slowly moving point of no return. Once Pluto has been through our lives, and it does not happen often, nothing is quite the same.


New Worlds

Before the modern planets (Uranus, Neptune, Pluto) were discovered, Saturn was the guardian at the edge of reality. Beyond Saturn was the firmament, the chaotic world of the unknown; comets, visitors from the outside, were horrendous omens. Saturn took on the symbolic meaning of the limit, necessity or bottom line. Saturn is the god of time, structure, and, as the keeper of the edge, he is the lord of death. But when a new planet was seen with a telescope in 1781, the modern world and all its revolutions came bursting in. The wall around reality as it was known was broken. Some of that terrifying cosmic insanity became embodied, planet by planet, in new social processes.

Uranus, appropriately, overthrows people and things (like governments and old ideas), and is the energy associated with many inventions. Some astrologers feel this planet should have been named for Prometheus, who stole the fire of the gods and gave it to humanity. His bottom line is expect the unexpected.

Neptune addresses mysticism, drugs and questions of truth and lies. His reality spectrum runs the gamut from compassion to delusion. He often works invisibly. When he is prominent in a chart, the meaning might be you'll never know, or it might be that a genius spirit is present. Both of these planets tell us a lot about the 20th century, but not the whole story.

Pluto was discovered in 1930, as Hitler was rising to power and between the world wars. Pluto was not considered a legitimate planet; Raphael's Ephemeris, the bible of the British astrological world, did not list his longitude until the 1970s, as if in denial. We might take Pluto as some kind of death harbinger, but usually it's more like the Death card in the Tarot, the death of reality as we know it. With Pluto, what we call life or death questions give us the in-your-face treatment, and a deep inner power enforces a limit on human stagnation. When structure gets too high, too mighty, too egocentric or too ignorant of themselves, Pluto eventually shows up. With an orbit near 240 years, this planet takes its time, but time is on its side.

Pluto is believed by most to be the outermost known planet, and, like Saturn was before telescopes, is the guardian of a new kind of edge. Beyond Pluto is interstellar space, representing the subconscious, the unconscious, the seemingly unknown, the realm beyond the mind. We now know that Pluto marks the zone of a whole region of tiny planets, called the Kuiper Belt, which some astrologers are studying carefully. Pluto, its most massive member, is its ideological king, the god of the other-world.


Unforgettable Fires

When Pluto makes contact with degrees where it or other planets were when we were born, we get a phase of direct experience, called a transit. It is simple to pick these times out of the ephemeris and the most hardened skeptic would agree that something was up. At such times, we have always reached a limit.

The limitation Pluto imposes has less to do with adhering to outer structure, expectations, or following a programmed sense of inner responsibility (like Saturn), but rather imposing the necessity to follow one's evolutionary path. This is to say, under Pluto's guidance, we are compelled to respond to the necessities of our soul's journey. To do this, we are presented with circumstances that teach us we indeed have a soul, and that it actually has a mission. However you may feel, these ideas turn out to be beyond the grasp of most people, who simply wonder why they are in pain and don't get what we now call the lesson. For this reason, we can get a sense of why the world so often feels like it is devoid of soul energy, of the expression of meaningful inner truth. And we can see why so many people require incredibly painful experiences in order to grow or wake up.

Speaking of waking up, Pluto deals with the subject of sex on the hormonal, orgasmic and control-based levels, the ones we usually prefer to ignore, or to ignore the power of. These issues will come up as real-life circumstances; we get to choose how we handle them.

Pluto experiences, including sex and relationships, are more or less painful to the extent that we are able to embrace the inner truth of who we are. They will be extremely difficult if we ignore our reality totally, deny that we have feelings, deny that our actions have consequences, and pretend that our lives have no impact on others, or that others do not touch us. Some people, under Pluto experiences, manage to cling to denial to the point where they do not survive in their current body. But in a similar way, when Pluto moves through sensitive parts of one's natal chart, the sense of reincarnation can occur within the current life: we end up somewhere else, and somehow, someone else.

Pluto is especially visceral right now because he is opposite Saturn. This is friction on a literally astronomical scale. When the ancient and modern rulers of The Edge meet, history thrashes. But the same astrology that affects the world at large also affects every person's astrological chart. This is what we are feeling now, as individuals. We can see that our denial was blocking our view of reality. We can see that we lived in high towers that were not safe. We discovered that enemies could reach us. We discovered vulnerability. We discovered change. Something happened. It is still happening.

On a personal level, Pluto transits arrive with an intense sense of pressure, overwhelming necessity, urgency or pain. Its themes include obsession, the failure of reason, a sense of insanity. We might take on the power of Pluto and feel unusually ambitious, powerful of strong; such feelings may lead to success, or disaster. While such feelings are more or less potent depending on how exact the transit is, it's fair to say that some important element of every person's chart is now picking up Pluto and Saturn right now. So it is very personal to each of us. And, as happens with Pluto at the more intense moments of its cycle, there are collective events to reflect the sweeping inner and relationship changes we must face.


When Progress Comes Due

There are two ways to do Pluto: a little at a time, or all at once. As an astrologer, I suggest you opt for the 'a little at a time' plan. All at once usually comes after a long, long delay in acknowledging one's own imperatives. The relationship or job that should have ended 10 years ago doesn't get past Pluto. The emotional condition we ignore, the state of denial, the simple urge for change, comes due with the arrival of Pluto. We felt it coming, of course, but there were always more important things. So when Pluto shows up, clean your house one closet at a time; make one minor change at a time; take the steps you know you need to take at a slow, steady pace, working toward a larger goal. Pluto merely wants you to make progress and consider its messages, not work miracles (the miracles happen as a result of gradual progress).

You will act on the energy, or it will act on you; face it, or you will get hit in the face. This may seem harsh, but Pluto does not negotiate, and where Pluto is present, astrologers have their most pressing responsibility to clients.

If you are feeling unstable, freaked out or extra nuts, Pluto is probably acting on you. If you are also feeling excited, passionate or like change is imminent and that is beautiful, then you are probably acting on it. As Steve Forrest says of Pluto in his excellent work, The Book of Pluto, we can take the high or low roads, and both are usually available. It is possible to seize new energy and new opportunities, or be reduced to bitterness and a sense of failure by refusing to embrace the moment. "The high road is always there, but will we travel it?"

"How can we live kindly and gracefully while sitting on the hormonal powder keg?" he asks. "It boils down to one fundamental theme: truthfulness beats goodness. Wholeness in oneself is a greater virtue, and a more stable one, than all the conventional expressions of saintliness rolled up into one glorious greeting card." ++

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 Graphic above from the Rosette Nebula in Hydrogen, Oxygen, and Sulfur. Credit: T. A. Rector, B. Wolpa, M. Hanna.