In Search of Pluto

Dear Friend and Reader:

Mercury retrograde is in full effect right now. Each one of these phases, which happen about three times a year, has its unique pattern, its own distinct feeling and its special challenges. Currently, Mercury is retrograde in Capricorn, and on Jan. 4 will track back into Sagittarius, changing to direct motion on Jan. 8.

One interesting thing about this Mercury retrograde is the dance that it’s doing around Pluto. The two planets formed an almost-conjunction, before Mercury stationed retrograde and backed off for a while. That happened Monday, Dec. 19, the day that the Electoral College installed Donald Trump as the next president of the United States.

Mercury will complete the conjunction to Pluto on Jan. 29, after the retrograde and after the inauguration takes place. That looks like a real ‘oops’ moment, complete with various forms of ‘we should have known’, ‘what were we thinking’ and ‘I wish it wasn’t too late’.

Many people were wondering whether Mercury stationing retrograde on the very day that the electors met would derail that process. Yes, it was an impressive synchronicity. It might have meant less happening the day before or the day after, but stationing on the day-of means that whatever Mercury retrograde represents has been injected into the DNA of the Trump presidency, assuming he takes office on Jan. 20. Since politics is largely a game of pretend and deceive, there’s not much that could stop him at this stage.

The Uncertainty Factor

Meanwhile, Mercury retrograde is adding to an already strong uncertainty factor. Many people are deeply concerned. They range from groups who need special protection (the disabled, women, blacks, immigrants and Muslims) to people who just need a stable society so they can get through the day or conduct business. At the moment, we seem to live with nothing but questions.

Front page of the Wall Street Journal from September 2008.

Then of course there are the people who are compensating by heaping on the false certainty. The president-elect and all his men — the best and the brightest — are sheer geniuses, and soon the nation will be swimming in money. A Trump supporter explained that to me recently.

Mercury retrograde so intimately involved with Pluto, Capricorn and the machinations of the new president taking office suggest that what we’re now seeing is a setup for something in the future.

To my eye, the setup involves the immediate political situation here in the United States, but I think the scope is much deeper. The conflict into which we’re heading is part of a much larger process that’s been unfolding for a while and has yet to come to a head.

The Pluto in Capricorn journey began in 2008, just before the “subprime mortgage crisis” became the Great Recession, with its many bank failures, plus the TARP and AIG bailouts. We live in a time when the structure of society is changing. This is easy to read astrologically: Capricorn represents the foundations of culture and its institutions. Pluto is so powerful that it can drop the World Trade Center like marionettes (that aspect was Saturn opposite Pluto in 2001-2002).

The Pluto Return of the United States

The United States has Pluto in Capricorn. Pluto was not discovered yet in 1776, though it’s well documented that planets have effects long before we know about them.

Thomas Paine; his 50-page pamphlet “Common Sense” was published in Philadelphia on Jan. 9, 1776. It argues against allegiance to the British monarchy while providing strong arguments for American independence, and became an instant bestseller in America.

Pluto moves so slowly that it takes 250 years to go around the Sun. With Pluto back in Capricorn, what we’re experiencing for the first time is the Pluto return of the United States. The first exact contact of that transit is Feb. 20, 2022 (or 02/20/2022, which is some interesting numerology indeed). That seems a long way off, I know.

Because the United States has Eris in early Capricorn and many planets in Cancer, we’ve been in this process for a while. In fact, I would say that the Pluto return of the United States is the entire duration of Pluto in Capricorn (2008 through 2024), though for a number of reasons (beyond just the exact return) the peak will be 2020 through 2024.

One of the best ways to get the feeling of a planetary return is to track the cycle back in time. Salient phases of the cycle are first quarter, opposition and last quarter — the Pluto first square, the Pluto opposition and the second square. This is similar to the phases of the Moon.

Understanding this cycle does not predict the future. Rather, it helps us understand the past to some extent, and locate ourselves in the present. The alignments are points of intensified growth, crisis and opportunity. Let’s look at those previous three phases and see what we learn.

First Pluto Square (or waxing square) — approximately 1845 through 1855. This was the beginning of the age of the machine and the industrial revolution. The peak of this cycle was the conjunction of Uranus and Pluto in Aries, in 1850 and 1851. We usually associate Uranus conjunct Pluto with the 1960s; here, I’m talking about the previous conjunction.

Uranus combining with Pluto brings breakthroughs in science and industry, which would be an understatement for the mid-1800s.

Eventually, very nearly everything would be mechanized, and the many handcrafts that dominated the rural and agrarian life of the United States would become quaint relics, or made obsolete.

Miner ’49ers — the Gold Rush arrived with the first Pluto square.

Yet it was also the peak of slavery. This was due to the invention of the cotton gin, which made processing cotton easier, allowing industry to meet public demand. But this required slaves to plant and pick the cotton. The United States went from 700,000 slaves in 1790 to 3.2 million slaves in 1850.

In that year, a law called the Fugitive Slave Act was passed. This made it legal to capture slaves who escaped from the south to free states in the north. I found this troubling bit of history in Wikipedia: “Slave owners needed only to supply an affidavit to a federal marshal to capture an escaped slave. Since a suspected slave was not eligible for a trial, the law resulted in the kidnapping and conscription of free blacks into slavery, as suspected fugitive slaves had no rights in court and could not defend themselves against accusations.”

Talk about conflict. In the land of the free, humans were not only considered property; those born free could be captured and taken to the south, merely based on the color of their skin. Meanwhile, the Underground Railroad (the abolitionist movement) was picking up momentum, setting up the country for the Civil War.

By the way, my friend Kevin Paulsen is a scholar of climate change issues, and he said that the first scientists discussing the issue of carbon in the atmosphere, and the negative effects it might have, spoke up around 1850.

Pluto Opposition — approximately 1930-1940. Pluto was in Cancer, opposing the U.S. natal Pluto in Capricorn. This was the Great Depression and the New Deal. The peak of the cycle was 1935 through 1938. The United States was going through its most tumultuous and unstable period since the Civil War.

Women making sandwiches in the WPA school lunch program, which served over 1.2 billion school lunches to children. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt was doing what he could to keep the country stable during the Depression. This era, technically called the “Second New Deal,” arrived with the Works Progress Administration, the National Youth Administration, the National Labor Relations Act, the Social Security Act and many, many similar programs. Roosevelt presided over a massive expansion of government and began to create what would become what we now call the “social safety net.”

The federal government as we now know it is largely the product of these years. There was considerable resistance to New Deal programs from big business, which was pushing its usual every-man-for-himself point of view.

Seen one way, this was a low point in American history. Seen another, a great many enduring public works projects, and works of art, came out of New Deal programs, and many people were protected from the worst effects of the Depression.

Still, it was not enough. The United States was building a military economy, and it was not until the U.S. was involved in World War II that economic conditions truly improved. That came at the cost of a permanent war-based economy, or what became known (in the words of Pres. Dwight David Eisenhower) as the Military-Industrial Complex.

Second Pluto Square (or waning square), approximately 1975 through 1985. The square was exact in 1982 through 1983, so peak years were the early 1980s. This was the rise of the new conservative movement in the United States.

Ronald Reagan was president. The “small government” approach really meant trying to dismantle the social safety net that Roosevelt and later Pres. Lyndon Johnson had put into place. It was also a time when social forces began attempting to reverse many of the strides forward of the 1960s and 1970s.

Lieut. Col. Oliver North, left, and his attorney Brendan V. Sullivan Jr. testifying before the Congressional Iran-Contra committee in mid-1987. Photo by Jose R. Lopez/The New York Times.

During this era, many churches became Republican clubhouses and the Evangelical and Dominionist movements began to infuse politics. These edgy people, like their Islamist cousins, think the world is ending and that it’s their job to help it along.

Pres. Ronald Reagan’s “trickle-down economics” were being accepted like the cult of the new order. Deregulation was the theme of the day, and it led to problems. The Savings and Loan Crisis, now all but forgotten, created a contained depression, staunched only by federal programs like FDIC insurance on savings deposits.

The Iran-Contra affair came out in 1986, which involved the revelation of the U.S. covertly selling weapons to its enemy Iran (to be used against its then-ally Iraq), then illegally diverting the profits to the Contras in Nicaragua, who bombed schools, hospitals and farming cooperatives.

The stock market experienced a serious crash in 1987. Yet despite these setbacks, what became known as the neoconservative movement continued to grow. Current Middle-East wars have their modern origins in this era.

The Score So Far

It would seem that major Pluto transits immediately precede the most chaotic phases of history; they are associated with economic instability or enormous changes to the economy; and they often precede major wars.

The first Pluto square preceded the Civil War, the opposition preceded World War II and the second square arrived with covert wars in Central America and the Middle East, followed by Bush War I, Bush War II and the Obama Drone Wars. It seems like the whole fourth quarter of the Pluto cycle is one endless war, which came on the heels of Vietnam and Korea, which followed World Wars I and II and the nuclear arms race and Cold War.

Excuse me while I scream. There, now I feel better.

Which Leads to the Present

We are now in the Pluto return phase of U.S. history. If the story so far and current events tell us anything, we’re at a crossroads. Without any reference to partisan politics, or to whomever might be president, every single issue we face as a society and world community is poised to come to a head.

Pluto, taken by New Horizons on the morning of July 13, 2015.

The most significant one is climate, since that impacts the fate of the Earth. The United States could indeed lead the way to lowering the carbon footprint of the world, but we are not doing so. Then there is the national debt of the United States. Due to the combination of budget deficits, interest on previous debts, and an obsession with simultaneous wars and tax cuts for the rich, the government’s debt is ballooning by the day.

Economic problems usually come with social problems, because people are experiencing anguish and, in turn, they need someone to blame. Socially, the United States seems ready to rip apart, but reading about conditions in 1850 made me feel a little better.

It seems the deeper we go into this predicament, the less anyone can do. It’s true that under the influence of Pluto transits you will feel powerless until you claim your power. A lot of people have to decide to do that, if we want to get anywhere. I often remind myself of the words of Sting: There’s no political solution to a troubled evolution. And evolution is indeed what Pluto calls for. Yes, it can seem like grow or die. That’s not a difficult choice to make. Or is it?


Planet Waves Monthly Horoscope for January 2017, #1131 | By Eric Francis

Aries (March 20-April 19) — Integrity means integration: aligning your outer life and your inner life. Your charts draw a stark contrast between the two, describing a world within you that bears little resemblance to what you present to others. This worked for a while; though to facilitate your sanity and your growth, you will need to bring them into alignment. Perhaps what you’re experiencing inwardly has no easy expression in words. It may be so deep as to elude your awareness, or feel so private that you could never reveal yourself. And it’s easy to choose an appearance or persona and express that to the people around you, who may have no idea whatsoever what you’re really going through. Yet you’re past the time when you can abide the pressure that this causes. Start by being truthful with yourself, and then take steps each day to live uncompromisingly in that reality. Invite people you care about into your inner world. Let your face match your true feelings. When asked, or when you feel moved, give your real opinion. Let your actual needs and desires guide your decisions. Most of all, you would be wise to avoid putting on appearances or what the esoteric literature describes as ‘glamours’. From these experiments, you will tap into your true strength, which is about standing in your most honest reality as a day-to-day, hour-to hour journey.

Taurus (April 19-May 20) — You may not consider yourself a public person, though you are in that you set an example for so many people. You do this in ways that may often be invisible to you and that others may feel more than they notice consciously. It’s therefore essential that you strive to feel good, to be productive and to keep your sanity in our obviously insane times. You are the one among the people you know who embodies your values in your daily actions, and that’s the quality to strive for. There is, as well, a spiritual dimension to you that is profoundly influential to others. Spiritual questions, which abound and for most people are vexing, come down to matters of sex and death. Everything about being a ‘good person’ or ‘better person’ is brokered through these two bottom-line issues, and they become the root of all uncertainty. It happens that you actually have some strong footing on these aspects of life. Listen to the problems that people are describing and let them inform you. When you’re given the chance to help, you would be better off helping people formulate intelligent questions rather than providing answers. Focus on stating problems in a way that they can be solved. Restate the seeming problem, and rework the form of the question, so they lend themselves to resolution. This is essential to the art of healing.

Gemini (May 20-June 21) — It’s essential that you think strategically, which at the moment includes thinking methodically. It’s one thing to have a plan; it’s another thing to have some sense of the steps you must take to enact that plan, with an ongoing review to make sure you’re actually making it happen. You have extraordinary manifesting power right now. You also have considerable room for error, so you want to document your progress and review it ongoing. If you do that for a while, your thought process will open up into an expanded creative space. That is to say: the idea that comes to you might far exceed where your methodical process was heading. In musical terms, a melody is more beautiful than scales, but practicing scales gets you to the melody. You might doubt what you discover when you arrive, or question whether your inspiration is valid. Try to suspend judgment, or the need to explain away creativity. Rather, use your disciplined approach and make something beautiful. This whole description might apply to negotiations with another person or with a business. Your astrology is reminding you to persist, patiently and with goodwill, through a process that might take a few weeks. The breakthrough point is after the current Mercury retrograde, when that planet forms a conjunction to Pluto on Jan. 29. Slow and steady till then. Check your work, then take the next step.

Cancer (June 21-July 22) — Keep an open mind. Practice being circumspect, which is to say: circling around your own thoughts and experiences to get as many points of view as possible. One influence is pushing you to focus and at times be narrower in your thinking. Another describes ideas, feelings, images and messages from remote parts of your consciousness flooding in. You don’t need to explain this away, rationalize it or pretend it’s not happening; you are opening up, and that’s an invitation to take a gentle approach to what you perceive as reality. What you are learning, you need to know; and remember, true understanding takes time. One of your deepest needs is to stand on level ground with others, rather than to experience them as so much more powerful than yourself. The most potent evolutionary movement is coursing through your experiences of relationships. People around you seem to be changing; though really, the ground on which your relationships stand is shifting and moving. Rather than clinging, this is inviting you to be open, vulnerable and sincere with the most intimate people in your life. The only power they have is the power that you give them. You get to decide how vulnerable you are. Yet you also know that if you don’t open up, you cannot experience the closeness that you crave. In choosing whom to do this with, it’s essential that you be thoughtful and selective.

Leo (July 22-Aug. 23) — This will be a highly productive year if you don’t allow yourself to get enmeshed in the problems of others, no matter how close they are to you. To accomplish this may take all your discipline, though it will be worth it. The place to start is the agreements you have with others. Every agreement is a contract and every contract is a map to the future. When you make any arrangement with another person, you’re involved in an envisioning process. There are some currently existing agreements that need to be brought to full clarity. This will indeed have an impact on the relationships; some people may resist clear understanding, and you may find pockets of resistance in yourself. Be honest with yourself about those feelings, and investigate them even as you work through them. Most of what you want from life, be it intimacy, creativity or wealth, is shrouded in some fog and confusion, and you have the power of spirit to penetrate the mists. You might use a strategy of choosing the most difficult material and going there first. This will deal with the intimidation factor. Once you’ve resolved what seems like a difficult problem, you will be dauntless about the easier ones. One last thought: note early and often the fact that you cannot change others. They can only change themselves, if they are actively willing; and that is out of your control.

Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22) — Actual creativity is not exactly straightforward. It often leads one through a maze toward an unknown and unexpected destination. This is much more interesting than paint by numbers or Guitar Hero. And the results, though less predictable, are more fun and more interesting. The generative process, that quality of mind or soul that brings forth ideas, ultimately happens inside you, though others can have interesting roles in your process. Some might arise through conflict. Others might arise through the process of mentorship. Allow yourself to be provoked. Be eager to find the flaw in your thinking and don’t blame the messenger no matter how much they may annoy you. Take the information you get and make the most of it. Learn from people you disagree with. In personal relationships, your planets suggest being open to people who desire you. Currently the way of the world is to bob, weave, avoid and rebuff. Yet you have actual options for intimacy, and you seem to be burning with curiosity. The only thing that could stand between you and what you have available is courage. The thing to remember is that you don’t need to control every facet of the outcome in order to feel safe or allow yourself to take a chance. You might have more fun if you experiment with situations where the outcome is open-ended and uncertain.

Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23) — You are continuing to shore up your security base: that is, your emotional foundations, your independence and your ability to rely on yourself. This calls for accessing a level of depth that is currently out of fashion. You’re being prompted to ask questions that don’t have easy answers. And you must summon courage that people around you are unlikely to have much interest in. Yet you cannot delete your deepest needs, and you cannot pretend that you have ideas about life different from many of the people around you. This is calling on you to stand apart from your family and their viewpoints. This is not a new story, though you’ve reached a point of urgency. You need closure on the past, and you need to stand on your own feet as a full-fledged adult. As you do this, two things are likely to happen. First, you may get resistance, whether active or passive. Summon the courage to define your own reality and to stand apart, no how much pressure others may put on you. Once you reach escape velocity, it will feel amazing to embrace your desires and your needs. Second, you will gradually start to see the actual common ground you share with others. Shared values and common needs are the only basis for real relationships. But your own independence comes first and foremost.

Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22) — It goes without saying that Scorpio is the sign most associated with sex; even electrical engineers know that. Yet the depth of your current involvement with this subject matter is impressive, even on a lifetime scale. You are in a moment of maximum growth potential, peak creative potential and an unusual ability to facilitate the process of others. Few have made contact with the nexus that joins their personal creativity, their sexuality and healing. When this nexus is disrupted, bad things happen. When it’s allowed to be what it is, when your energy flows and you are open to change, positively beautiful things happen. Therefore, persist with your experiment into the ways that loving eroticism is a form of healing. One thing you may stumble into is the fact of sexual and emotional abuse, whether it happened to you or to someone you care about. It’s a fact of our current landscape; both because it actually happens, and due to our society’s refusal to address the issues honestly. That’s your job. You are the one with the courage, strength and knowledge to stand solidly in your truth. Focus the discussion on what exactly is created by procreation. The actual healing force comes through love and pleasure, not obsessing over problems. Keep shifting the flow of ideas and feelings in that direction and you will be told everything you need to know.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 22) — You seem to be taking possession of yourself. Yet you don’t want to be any more attached to yourself than you prefer other people to be attached to you. You like space, and the freedom to define yourself. These are the same ideas that can guide your relationship to yourself. The one thing you might look at carefully is the influence of your family. Physical distance from them does not resolve that on its own. You might review what they taught you about money and see if those ideas serve your growth and happiness. Where emotional matters are concerned, pay careful attention to anyone or anything that makes you angry. Though it’s usually considered a ‘bad emotion’, the transformative power of anger is real; and because there is so much anger in the world, using it for some wholesome purpose is necessary. Your conflicts will teach you who you are. Once you figure out their message, you don’t need to overindulge them. Rather, pay attention to your feelings and how you respond to others. What seems to be a slight annoyance might be concealing something deeper and more passionate. There’s a reason that both Tantra and Buddhism respect anger, which is that used consciously, it has the power to transform your life. The key is awareness, and the desire to grow. These you have, and can offer in any situation.

Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20) — You have more impact than you may think — in ways that have not necessarily occurred to you. You must measure your words carefully, which means being aware of your thoughts and saying what you mean. Yet as the evil genius Frank Luntz suggested, it’s not what you say, it’s what people hear. It would be fair to say that you cannot take anything for granted. You cannot assume you are understood; you cannot allow others to guess what you’re feeling, nor allow yourself to speculate about their feelings. It may take all your discipline to clear this particular fog, though the results will be worth the effort. A measure of consistency is called for, though given the pace at which you’re growing, you’re not the same person every day. To compensate for that, you must at least be aware of your positions yesterday, today and tomorrow and at least admit that you’re changing your mind on a fairly regular basis. Admit your own contradictions, lest others feel that they’re going mad or that you don’t care about them. It would serve you well to be verbal and demonstrative about how much you care, and to do that rare thing of backing your words up with actions and decisions that reflect your point of view. This will teach you that you draw your true power from the strength of others, not from their weakness.

Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19) — What good is fear? It has a purpose. It can be useful, for a moment. Yet that purpose is not to run your life. We live in such fearful times that this fact alone is frightening: the way so many people are paralyzed from taking the meekest action, or allowing themselves to feel or be vulnerable. I know you’re concerned about this, mainly because you feel it. Your example to the contrary is starting to make sense to others. Think of yourself as a messenger of courage. You’re starting to find a place for yourself in the world, in a way you never have before. You’re accomplishing this in a quintessentially Aquarian style of knowing when to apply firmness and when to use flexibility. Yet the best progress you can make would best be thought of as internally, out of conscious awareness of others. When you experience fear, resentment, hostility or aggression in any form, turn your awareness inward and address your feelings through prayer, forgiveness or process work (all of which leads to forgiveness, so you may as well start there). You may find that this is far more effective than your usual practical, reasoned intellectual approaches. Inner work matters, yet it’s often misunderstood: the first thing to do is to reach into yourself and ask for help. If you bring the small willingness, spirit will respond with the Great Rays.

Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20) — Let yourself feel the truth of what you want. When you do that, you might recognize that desire is complex. There’s no easy explanation for who and what you’re drawn to, and I suggest you not try to simplify or rationalize. Most of all, I suggest you not try to ‘pathologize’ — that is, come up with some explanation that says there’s something wrong about who you are or what you want. Among the experiences you’re inescapably drawn to is healing. The hotter your feelings, the more deeply you admit to your own needs; and the more you exchange with others, the more you will make contact with your desire to feel better. That translates to expressing your unfettered desire to explore your psyche, your creativity, the world around you and the people who show up willing to play. You’re reaching a point where you simply must be more expressive. That means discovering, allowing and sharing a range of feelings on a wide range of subjects. It means exploring your inner reality, where you may find things that seem to make no sense, until you hang out with them for a while. Do your best to suspend all judgment and allow yourself to be who you are. Allow yourself to go to your full depth. No, not everyone will be able to go with you, but at least one person understands.

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