Pluto in the Age of Eris
By Eric Francis

ASTROLOGY DOES NOT know how to deal with new planets. It does so grudgingly, pessimistically and rarely. Astrology tends to be obsessed with predicting the future, but stuck in the ways of the past. We could do with less of both.

And if you believe that, it's a great time to be alive. I say this because we are in a moment when we need to create the future rather than predict it, and also when we have access to the visioning power of astrology to help us do so. As for new planets orbiting our local Sun, in late 2006 Eris got catalogue number 136199. The catalog includes only those objects orbiting our Sun, including asteroids, Centaurs, and a wide diversity of objects further out than Pluto.

You haven't heard of most of them, if any. If you follow astrology, maybe you'd heard of Sedna or Varuna, relatively recent discoveries beyond Pluto. You've heard of Chiron, which has made an unusual splash since its discovery in 1977. These planets got a little press, but nothing special, and certainly not what they deserved. The schools kept teaching that there were nine planets, and astrology for the most part kept feigning ignorance.

Eris raised a ruckus because she was the first discovery of a planet bigger than Pluto, and also the furthest object known from the Sun. That in turn raised the long-dormant semantic issue, more germane to astronomers, of whether Pluto was 'actually a planet'. But it took more than 136,000 discoveries to get sufficient attention of astronomers to acknowledge the existence of these new planets in a way that got public attention, or to make any decision at all regarding the definition of a planet.

This was an appropriate enough entrance for the Goddess of Discord, but let's look at it more closely. If astrology uses the solar system as a model for the psyche, what does it mean that there are now this many planets that we can potentially consider? Forget, for a moment, what they all mean, or that there are too many to memorize. Let's just acknowledge the fact that they exist, and concede that Eris is their representative. In essence, Eris sums up everything that has been discovered since Pluto, as well as many discoveries before Pluto that have been swept under the rug by most astrologers -- principally, asteroids.

Let's briefly recap the history of planetary discovery, which is a relatively new phenomenon.

New planets have come along since the discovery of Uranus in 1781. Before then, just the visible planets were known, and because they were visible without the aid of a telescope, we can presume they were known for a while. There were also comets, and these have a singularly terrible reputation among the superstitious and in Western astrology. They were long assumed to be bad news, and to many astrologers, they still are.

As the first planet discovered by science, emerging around the time of two great revolutions (the American and the French), the archetype of Uranus had the themes of innovation and revolution. This was the exciting new edge of reality; the dawn of a time when science and progress would begin taking over as the new central paradigms of reality. Uranus possesses these properties to the present day, even though the edge of consciousness has been redefined several times since.

After Uranus, the next things that started showing up were asteroids, beginning about 20 years later in 1801 with the discovery of Ceres. By 1807 there were four asteroids, and the fifth -- Astraea -- was not discovered until 1845. Astraea was something of a harbinger: a year later, Neptune would finally be discovered, after many close calls. I have no idea how astrologers initially responded to the existence of Uranus and the asteroids, and I have never seen it written about. I've only seen an early monograph on Neptune, including an introductory comment to the effect of, "A ship sank around the time of the discovery. This cannot be good."

Pluto was discovered in 1930 and seems to have been meet with some skepticism by the deans of astrology. It did not make it onto the longitude tables of Raphael's Ephemeris until the late 1970s, after a delay of nearly 40 years. Starting at some point (I don't know when), its position was listed for the first of every month on a table stuck back at the end of the book, around page 37. This was in case an astrologer was curious about keeping up with the latest discovery of science, without the publisher wasting too much space. Or maybe it was something else: the publisher could list Pluto without admitting being too forward; too presumptuous. After all, we didn't know for sure what this thing was about, or whether something so small could have any 'effect' at all. So why pay it too much credence?

Meanwhile, in those 40 years, many things Plutonian were happening: European fascism and the Holocaust, the rise of psychology, World War II, the development of the Bomb, its first use and the nuclear arms race, the Sixties and the sexual revolution (which was started by Alfred Kinsey in the late 1940s). But during these years, you had to go digging to find the position of Pluto, in case you wanted to investigate the astrology of the moment. I imagine that it was even more difficult, perhaps even impossible for quite a while, to find an ephemeris to cast Pluto into a birth chart from before the discovery. For a time, the natal position of Pluto for living people was truly esoteric knowledge.

But why? Were people afraid to admit the existence of Plutonian themes? Was it all too dark? Did it require too much originality to delineate a new planet? Was it too much work? Was there something inside ourselves we were avoiding? Consider those issues and then let's consider Eris. As was foretold in the myth, we may have an inclination to avoid her.

PLUTO HAS COME A LONG WAY from being the Lord of Hell to the planet of evolution and transformation. Yet for decades, Pluto has defined the edge of reality, and that edge has been about death. Think of all the ways, recited above, that death dominated the news in the 20th century. Pluto is about power, and the ultimate power is to kill. Plutocrats -- the big corporate bosses, as they are called -- control the world's material resources, and that equates to a lot of power over life and death; who eats and who does not.

The second ultimate power, which manifests on an individual level, is the power to fuck someone who doesn't want it. Pluto is often associated with sex, but it's typically the shadow of sex. As such, Pluto represents the shadow of violence that all men possess; and the psychological shadow material that women tend to project onto men. Pluto represents something of the ultimate psychological fear, that of being raped and murdered. This is the unspeakable fear, the thing that women don't want to say to men for fear that it might become true, or might make them angry. Many women still live as if this is the bottom line in male-female relationships.

It would seem an exaggeration to respond to the question, "Why don't you trust him?" with the response, "He might rape and kill me," but that's often what's percolating around down there.

Anyone who has done deep psychological or spiritual work knows how powerful these shadow thoughts are. They are ancient, and they hold the human race prisoner. Brought to the surface, they give us the ability to go to the deepest roots of our fears and turn them into fuel for growth. This almost always works. Fear has much more power to hold us hostage when we refuse to talk about it, look at it or think about it consciously. Bringing shadow to the light is one of Pluto's most useful functions, and this is one reason why Pluto has become, in the minds of most modern astrologers, the planet of evolution and transformation.

Beginning in 1978, planets were discovered beyond Pluto. The first was a binary object orbiting with Pluto, which technically counts as beyond. The next discovery was 14 years later, of an object in a distinct orbit, called 1992 QB1. You never read about this anywhere but on Planet Waves, and even minor planet specialists seem reluctant to touch this one -- I have no clue why. From 1992 onward, there has been a steady, indeed, astonishing flood of discoveries beyond Pluto, but still Pluto got to be the keeper of the edge; the frightening edge beyond which there was nothing but even more frightening chaos. Kids were still reciting, "...Just Showed Us Nine Planets."

The focus on Pluto was like focusing on an illusion. After 1992, the idea that Pluto was the furthest planet was simply not true. Let's just look at the catalog numbers. I am not sure when 1992 QB1 got its catalog number, but it was given 15760. By the time we got up to Eris in 2006, we were up to 136199. In other words, an additional 120,439 discoveries had been catalogued. True, many were asteroids; many were Centaurs, buzzing around in the realm between Saturn and Pluto. But a lot of them were objects beyond Pluto. So this once-sharp, distinct edge was getting fuzzy, but few people had a clue.

THEN ERIS SHOWS UP. We get a planet named for the ultimate sneaky bitch of mythology; the jealous, excluded one who plays on the vanity of the gods and in the process starts a world war. The discoverers thought it was appropriate to name a planet for the goddess of discord in a time of global discord, but with astrology we need to check the historical phenomena, and the individual as well.

Eris has an orbit of 557 years, which in the scheme of things seems not that much longer than Pluto's orbit of 251 years. But she has an extremely elliptical orbit. Consider that she is currently further from the Sun than Sedna, which has an orbit of 10,666 years. I find how far out she is one of the most interesting things about her psychological profile. The edge suddenly moved such a huge distance compared to previous times, it's as if Eris's stuff is so deep it's almost completely inaccessible. And yet, following the model of the solar system, we are grasping toward it.

Eris, who in effect reveals these hundred thousand-plus new planets, represents the fact that we're all far more complex than we think. Marketing culture still may be able to get us to buy Diet Pepsi with the false promise of sex, but just because people believe lies does not make them simple. In fact, it's more likely that our complexity is what's being used against us; a lie has a way of simplifying that which is too complicated to understand.

Eris represents a feminine equivalent of Pluto. Where Pluto is rape, murder and genocide, or perhaps just fucking and death, Eris is the insidious mind-fuck that is the hallmark of the shadow feminine. She is what is not trusted when another woman says, "I just don't trust women." She is what men overlook when they are being manipulated. She is the aspect of the feminine that feminism pretends does not exist.

You could say she represents a stereotype or caricature, but so does Pluto. If all men are potential rapists and serial killers, all women are potential manipulative, insidious bitches who marry guys to con them out of their real estate. Remember, this is all about the projection of shadow, which is the projection of fear. The ultimate fear of men (by women) is that they are "going to fuck me." The ultimate fear of women (by men) is "she's going to mindfuck me."

With Pluto, we have this idea that, "He just can't help himself, he could do it," and with Eris, we have the idea that, "She can't resist, she feels powerless so she's going to get revenge, no matter what the consequences."

There are some other excellent delineations of both Pluto and Eris (please see their pages in the planet section), but this gives you a crude idea of their most contrasty feeling. Of course, they're both irresistible. Nobody can resist Pluto, and if Eris wants you, she's going to have you -- all of which adds to their fear factors; they both essentially point to the fact that people are helpless. So we had better leave them out of the ephemeris.

Because Eris has concealed or revealed (as you prefer) the existence of these 136,198 prior discoveries, she is the master of psychology, which is of course too complicated to actually understand. We know this from her myth, and the loremasters of ancient Greece were certainly commenting on something that they had observed, whether you call it biased or not. Men may have physical strength, weapons and nerve on their side, but women have the knowledge of psychology, a certain interior awareness that helps them navigate through the world.

With Eris and these many other minor planets factored in, we also have the image of something more complex that exists beyond the faux edge previously held by Pluto, and that edge is understanding ourselves beyond the fear of death, or the worship of death. Eris is about looking honestly at how complex we are, and consequently, sizing up the chaos that exists within us because we have no agreed upon model of the psyche in our current time of history. Death was a supreme deity for a while, but at the end of the day, most people believe that there is an afterlife.

The idea of death is something that stalks us, and in the process, conceals something subtler. When you pull back the curtain of Pluto, of this idea or concept of death (which is in its essence false0, what you get is depth. Depth is complicated, it's a bother, it takes work. It's simpler to believe that fucking and murder are all that stands between you and the edge of the cosmos. If astrology is going to avoid Eris, you can be sure that part of it is because of who she is, and also because if we deal with her, we also have to look at those countless other worlds that were discovered in the days and decades before we heard of her.

WHILE WE ARE ON THE TOPIC of dwarf planets or minor planets, let's visit with Ceres. She has many points of interest. First, as the first asteroid, she is minor planet 1. Properly, her name is (1) Ceres, just like Pluto is (134340) Pluto, and Eris is (136199) Eris. When Ceres was discovered, she was considered a planet. Why not? She certainly looks like a planet and orbits like a planet.

Ceres is the goddess of the harvest. I have just decided on my keywords for Ceres: Food First. She was discovered in 1801, and as the other four major asteroids appeared through 1807, she was reclassified as an asteroid, basically putting her beneath the radar of astrology. Not that astrology was doing too much that was exciting between the early 1800s and the 1960s when a kind of revival started happening, but one would think that the emergence of feminine archetypes would mean something.

It was perhaps too early in history to consider the potential for overpopulation, mass famine, agribusiness and genetically modified crops, but it's not too early today. Ceres calls attention to food, issues of food and sustenance, the business of food, and the coming food crisis associated with the price of petroleum and the loss of our fresh drinking water supplies.

Food is complex, both physically and emotionally; it is associated with everything from one's mother's breast to the need to support one's family. If Pluto represents a kind of outside boundary where death looms, and Eris represents an outside boundary where the vast complexity of human nature looms, Ceres is calmly holding her own, far closer to the center of the solar system, reminding us: on this planet, it's all about eating every day.

If we thought about it for a moment, this would make life a lot simpler, but of course, food is not simple. Consider dieting, junk food, body image issues, sugar addiction, chocolate addiction, bulimia, the obesity epidemic and just what exactly is in what we eat. All of these are tied up in food. All the psychology in the world we need to know about is invested in food. All the life or death themes we could ever shake the point of a gun at are tied up in food. All the cunning manipulation, forceful inhumanity, predatory instincts or unstoppable sexual urges we could ever dream of are tied up in food.

Food represents the most tangible form of the idea that the Earth is our mother. We can go as far out in the solar system as we want, seeking explanations for existence and models of the psyche that rearrange the idea of death so we can actually see what it is. But while we're here on this planet, food is one of the few things that every human and every other living critter has in common -- as Paul Simon said, "Food is the bottom line for everyone."