Key Life Transits, Part 1: Pluto Square

Key Life Transits, part one: Pluto Square

THERE ARE two kinds of astrological transits, or personal planetary events: the kind that are specific to certain individuals because of how their chart is set up; and the kind that affect large swaths of the population based on the year of birth. Strangely enough, the ones that affect entire sub-generations are no less intense, interesting or meaningful than the ones that are highly specific to an individual.

Events that affect whole generations were described by Barbara Hand Clow as key life transits, and the term works for me. Most of them happen within a specific, fairly narrow age range, though there are several involving Chiron that are specific to when you were born and the age ranges of which change rapidly as the years go by. Those involving Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are fairly consistent; the age of Pluto transits are consistent for long periods of time, but the trend for the past century has been toward much younger Pluto events.

Since there are a number of dimensions to each key life transit, the best way to handle this is in a series, which this week will cover Pluto square. This affects people around the ages of 34-36. In the next weeks we will cover the Uranian opposition (for people around 39-42), the Saturn return (for those around 28 to 31 and 58 or 59), the Neptune Square (now affecting those around 40-42), and then the Aquarius Chiron return (for people 50-52 years old). And to get a clue, we really need to look at the Nessus-Hylonome conjunction that spanned the 1950s and the 1960s — maybe sooner rather than later.

Because this column is responsive to world affairs, it’s not always possible to publish a series like this consecutively — but I will do my best. These are relatively easy articles to write, and I would rather to do each in more depth, rather than my original plan of covering several in one week. What you will get is a basic primer on outer planet astrology.

I’ll do each transit in three main sections — the basics of the original placement (for example, Pluto in Virgo), the basics of the transit (for example, squared by transiting Pluto in Sagittarius) and some specifics about how the transit may shape up for people born with a planet in a specific sign.

Those people now experiencing their Pluto squares were born between late 1967 and late 1971. This is a fairly wide range of birthdates, designed to be a little more inclusive rather than exclude anyone. If you’re on the older side of this group, you have been experiencing the effects of your Pluto square; if you’re on the younger side, they may first be coming to the surface.

When astrologers talk about an aspect like the Pluto square, what we mean is that the current position of Pluto has arrived at 90 degrees to the position of Pluto when you were born. The long way to say it is ‘transiting Pluto square natal Pluto’, and the short way, when you churn them out of your kitchen like croissants, is Pluto square’.

These days, this transit happens around the age of 35. Because Pluto has such an elliptical orbit (taking 12 years to go through some signs, and 20 to go through others), people born in or around 1920 did not experience their Pluto squares until they were about 53 years old. Gradually as the century progressed, the transit became consistently earlier. To put this simply, life was simpler then, and young people today go through a major test of their mettle at an age nearly 20 years younger than their grandparents did.

Pluto square (like all Pluto transits) is an approximately two-year process that is the next big thing after the Saturn return. In a sense, it is a test of the integrity and commitments of the Saturn return. And Pluto goes deeper; whereas the Saturn return is about making those necessary changes, adjustments, commitments and [hopefully] structuring/restructuring one’s work land relationships in a more sensible and more satisfying way, the Pluto square is a deeply internal process. To describe it, we could borrow the title from the Neil Young song, Hello, Mr. Soul.

A Brief Comment on Pluto

Pluto was discovered in 1930 and a book did not appear on the subject in English until the mid-1980s. Pluto was not listed in the longitude tables of Raphael’s Ephemeris until the late 1970s. It was stuck in a little table in the back. It has been a controversial subject and, it seems, one that old-school astrology would have preferred to avoid.

When a book finally appeared, it became an enduring bestseller in the astrological community because it was a pretty good book, and because it was the only one there was.

But Pluto was only the beginning. It was the first of the elliptical orbit crossers — that is, planets with a highly elliptical or egg-shaped orbit, which cross the orbits of other planets (in this case, Neptune). Today we know of many such planets, the next of which was Chiron, the first of the Centaur planets. All of these planets are about healing, dedication to life, and reclaiming lost territory known in spiritual traditions as the soul.

There is a debate now over whether ‘Pluto is a planet’. This is because unbeknownst to most astronomers, Pluto was the first discovered member of a new region of space, called the Kuiper Belt. For people worried about whether your planet will be ‘downgraded’, I assure you it will not. By several important definitions it firmly qualifies as full-fledged planetary critter, not the least of which is its impact on people and society from an astrological standpoint. Pluto has opened the way to understanding and acceptance of other outer planets, such as Sedna, Xena, Varuna, Chaos and Quaoar.

Pluto in Virgo

Pluto was in Virgo from 1957 through 1971 (and a shade of 1972). This is one of the placements that says Sixties Kid. There are several others, such as Uranus in Virgo, Neptune in Scorpio and Chiron in Pisces. Pluto in Virgo is an extraordinarily idealistic placement, with a drive and dedication to service, healing, and development of the mind. At its best, it is the essence of dharma: action that holds the world together. People with this placement are capable of incalculable amounts of work, and can give themselves over to a cause larger than themselves for years.

This is a quality easily co-opted by the corporate world. Because their impulse is not to do something glorious, but rather to make themselves useful, it’s possible to set aside one’s own creative drives and, in a sense, sublimate them into something that just seems necessary at the time, within any given situation.

The previous generation, Pluto in Leo, prefers to do things that are fun and profitable, and (given half a chance, which is not always the case) will move onto the next thing as soon as the previous one fails to fulfill this purpose. Leo is a hot, expressive and dramatic sign, and this is emphasized by Pluto. Virgo is an introspective, introverted, mental and often self-critical sign and Pluto concentrates these qualities. The study of these two placements is helpful at understanding how Pluto transits affect whole generations, and how individuals reflect the astrology of their specific generation.

At the time Pluto in Virgo people were born, there was an extraordinarily outward movement in Western society, expression of personal freedom, idealism, and doing the right thing. There was also, for many, a fairly long party. This was mostly about Pluto in Leo people experiencing a transit of Pluto in Virgo. Then the times changed, they ‘grew up’ and moved onto other things of a seemingly more adult nature.

Millions of Pluto in Virgo babies were born during this phase and were encoded, as it were, with a 60s ethos in a much more internal style than their counterparts who lived through the era as young adults and, in all fairness, really did their part to change the world. But now as John F. Kennedy said in his inaugural address, the torch has been passed to a new generation. Perhaps we are late bloomers, but the Pluto square is a time of awakening to original purpose.

There are some Pluto in Virgo people who, throughout their lives, have held onto this core purpose and not digressed; at a relatively young age they have made some significant and lasting, though not necessarily glamorous, contributions. There may also be an inferiority complex (typical of Virgo) or excessive self-criticism about what has been achieved. By contrast with Pluto in Leo, it’s not nearly as visible. There may be the quality of not seeing what has been accomplished, and given the obsessive and enduring quality of both Virgo and Pluto, the accomplishments are likely to be significant.

Others have kept the flame of their ideals alive, running them on a second track, in the background, or developing them slowly for future use. Pluto in Virgo people seem to be good at this trick; they don’t seem to forget what is important to them, and though they may go through many changes dictated by necessity, they have the gift of holding onto that inner ethos.

More than half of people born with Pluto in Virgo — and the great majority born in the 1960s — have Uranus in Virgo as well. This combination was a massive watershed in the 20th century, indeed one of its most amazing turning points. Pluto seems to dominate the conjunction. But within everyone born from 1963 through early 1969 is the influence of Uranus in Virgo, which is on some level the need to express oneself in service in a truly innovative way. Uranus + Virgo says revolutionary + thinker.

My sense is that there are quite a few people who do this quite well, but because of the introverted nature of Virgo and the constant feeling that there is always someone who can do it better, we just may not hear from them as often as we hear from Pluto in Leo people, most of whom are pretty sure they have a grip, and have a right to exist.

It’s Not the Sixties Anymore

There is one additional expression of Pluto in Virgo that may affect everyone with this placement, on some level. I do not say this to romanticize an era in history that is simultaneously maligned and exploited by mass culture, but rather to point out what is obvious to me after years of devoted study and conducting many hundreds of interviews during astrology sessions.

Individuals born with Pluto in Virgo, and in particular through the late 1960s and early 1970s, were born at a time when, at least in some places and times, it was considered sane to have important things on one’s mind; to take up the goal of improving society; and to feel that people really could stop ‘the war’. There was a sense of urgency that at the time was culturally sanctioned, at least within major subcultures.

To the extent this was a fleeting experience for society, it’s permanently encrypted into the minds, hearts and souls of Sixties babies. There was a moment of history when it was really okay to look out for one another, and to share some spirit of inclusiveness. We now live in a time when changing the world was never more [actually] urgent, but at the same time, never more trivialized. We are indoctrinated, with astonishing vigor, into an ‘every man for himself’ attitude (both men and women alike), where people are treated, and often treat one another, like consumer products.

Socially and politically, we watch travesty after travesty go by, and society itself does not respond. We barely see individuals respond in an outward and vocal way. And living through this can be a frustrating experience because it is, to put it simply, difficult to get anyone excited about much of anything. I will not go into the reasons for this here; there are many and they are complicated. It is just a fact.

Someone with Pluto in Virgo wrote to me last night and said, “I have lots of ideas I want to get going, having something to do with changing the world in a small way that even an obscure, fairly unimportant person like me can do simply. As soon as I am ready to take action, someone wants to engage me in what feels like endless discussions of minute details. The details all have to do with their input as to why my idea will make people feel small because it is so big. I start out feeling good about myself. Good that I have a voice and know how to use it. Ultimately I wind up feeling horrible because apparently I have missed some detail that is Earth-shattering and controversial to someone, and I wind up feeling misunderstood, alienated, separate, different and alone and for the most part, like I just exited a brutal boxing match with a great big black eye, and I’m not even entitled to take up space on the planet.

“I think the message I’m supposed to get is that others have tried to change the world and that gives those people a lifelong membership to being on the Board of Directors of people who have tried to changed the world, and I need to go through them, or else. Is there an application I need to send away for?”

Well, I don’t know about an sending away for an application, but there must be an online form to fill in three times.

We might well ask: does all this work, or work on ourselves, actually get us anywhere? As individuals or as a group? With Pluto in Virgo, the sense of accomplishment is itself what may be the elusive factor. Perhaps it has something to do with a very Pluto in Virgo subject: that of being Lost in Cyberspace.

Pluto Square Pluto

For most people this is a pretty challenging transit, bringing up material values, and necessities from the core of the psyche. Deep phases of questioning, as well as an obsession with purpose and a few good wrenching changes and life crises, all add up to a whole lot of growth.

But it’s a great time to get one’s life together. Even if the Saturn return went well, and we found a job we like going to every day, and moved on from the horrid marriage, the Pluto square has the feeling of really getting things straightened out. But it’s not so cut and dried; the idea is more like, okay, I have to do this impossible thing, I don’t know how, but I have no choice.

Pluto is often associated with what some describe as the baser instincts (power trips, obsessions, and so on) but it works out to be one of the more spiritual impulses; that is, it drives us closer to our core purpose, and the action of the Pluto square is a real trip to the center. And as the ruler of Scorpio is twice involved, the Pluto square may bring up the topic of sex and not just sex but the tense topic: best sex of one’s life. Like for instance: have I ever had it, will I ever have it, am I having it now, will I keep having it, was that it. Virgo often is associated with the emotion of guilt, and a lot of this may be worked out at the time of the square. When the Pluto square, concerns about best sex can return to comparatively ordinary. This, in the end, may actually be a more fulfilling theme because without the pressure of the square, sex may just be a little more relaxing.

These external shifts and changes at the time are generally the result of inner movement. Indeed, once the Saturn return has passed, this is true of all key life transits. It’s not that the Saturn return is superficial; it’s just more clearly practical.

At the Pluto square, the feeling is more do or die. Do what? Do whatever is necessary. It can be a time of resolving deep-seated emotional issues and, particularly with the Virgo placement, getting one’s mind together. Of course, there can be the feeling that one is losing that same mind, but that’s what happens when there is a metamorphosis; the old form goes through a radical change and the new form completely replaces it. The new form is closer to the essence than the old one.

In situations where the expression is not so dramatic or where there is less conflict involved, the Pluto square can be a time of consolidating one’s gains, moving to a new level of internal mastery, or refocusing on what is truly important. This is truly a time when evolutionary necessity dominates life. This can lead to some genuine breakthroughs, of the internal variety.

The square is an aspect where internal tension is the force that leads to breakthrough. A square involves an aspect from a planet in another sign of the type of the original sign, in this case, a mutable sign. This can involve being spurred to action by deep internal motivation, or resolving an internal paradox or conflict that was preventing action.

Sag Pluto square Virgo Pluto

Sagittarius is a fire sign: it is extroverted, daring, confident, oriented on action. People who have planets that are either strong or well-placed in this sign tend to be optimistic and care not what others think. None of the hesitancy or self-doubt of Virgo or Pisces is present; the dualism of Gemini is either fully resolved or embraced as an asset or birthright.

These are the qualities that become available at the time Sagittarius-Pluto squares Virgo-Pluto. All of the energy and reflection that has been stored up over a lifetime becomes available for expression, but in the process, the Virgo side needs to go through its crisis of existence, and decide that it really does exist.

Sagittarius has a certain righteous quality that is completely alien to Virgo, and which Virgo greatly benefits from. The Sagittarian big picture can rescue Virgo from its obsession with the nitty-gritty. There is a push to come out of one’s own mind (and the endless process of perfecting it), be in the world, as part of the world.

The resulting crisis comes as a result of a total psychological reorientation. It really may feel like a bout with insanity.

Really, it is a matter of totally updating one’s files. You could look at Pluto reaching 90 degrees as a more modern version of the same energy. In attempting to understand this development process, it would help to study the crosses of the zodiac; in this case we are talking about the mutable cross, which consists of Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius and Pisces. All of these signs contain many of the same qualities, but experienced or expressed in entirely different ways. You could say they all see one thing from four different points of view.

Virgo and Sagittarius have a lot to say about spiritual development and what to do with it. Virgo will focus on the task for its own sake, which is necessary during any phase of training, education, development, or technical mastery. Sagittarius sees every process as part of the world. Beliefs are there to be acted on. Ideologies become religions and universities. The point of having the world is to change the world. What others think or how they may feel matters a lot less than what is at hand now.

This is typical fire sign thinking, and may come as a serious shock to those with Pluto in Virgo, who have often grown accustomed to focusing on internal development. In the real world, we have a lot of people with Pluto in Virgo who have become very good at their spiritual practice or intellectual art but to whom it would not occur to make their way in the world. At worst, there may be a feeling of being too pure for messy politics, too humble to strive for real achievements, and needing to have things right in theory before daring them in reality.

At best, we have the quiet revolutionaries, whose ideas will reshape the foundations of consciousness and whose tireless work will endure for generations. But to those gathering skill, knowledge, or expertise, the Sagittarian influence is suggesting that there is a wide world out there, and that world is waiting.

If the Virgo side of the discussion sees a crisis and wants a few extra years of therapy, the Sagittarius side says get an astrology reading, sort out the basics and lean on the throttle. Hope for the best, which doesn’t always come to be, but heck — at least life isn’t boring.

— with contributions by Deirdre Tanton and Jenny Singer

Additional Resources

Oh Fuck! It’s Pluto | by Eric Francis

Born in the Sixties (series) | by Eric. Part One
Part Two | Born at the Right Time
Part Three | From Then to Here

I have covered the Dick Cheney shotgun incident in Astrology Secrets Revealed on Jonathan’s web site. There is also a good discussion of Quaoar and Nessus in this edition. The ASR column will resume weekly format. Please send in your questions and comments. I am counting on Planet Waves readers for astrologically and socially relevant material for this column!

Planet Waves by Eric Francis
Weekly Horoscope #598, February 17, 2006

Happy Birthday Pisces!
The Sun square Mars in your solar return chart is spurring you to action, and action is what will characterize your year. This is not one of those laid-back fishy times where you pass around the bottle of Rumplemintz, swilling your way to calm ecstasy. Rather, it’s a time of being decisive, ambitious and for sure, a little restless. What you need to remember is that people in your environment will be both responsive to your emotional needs and sensitive to your words, so choose your words carefully and make sure you understate your case before you overstate it.

Aries (March 20-April 19)
Mars has finally changed signs for the first time in more than six months, meaning that the atmosphere and energy of your life are suddenly shifting in a big way after many small and sluggish ones. This is one of the great contradictions of Aries: Mars takes an incredible amount of time in one sign and like a slingshot races through the other 11 signs. But what the sojourn in Taurus is saying is that, even for an Aries, slower is sometimes better, and feeling is at least as important as expressing yourself. Slow but steady wins the race.

Taurus (April 19-May 20)
The series of developments that have come through your life the past two seasons have, by all indications, eased some of the pressure and your sense of burden. But you will look back and be grateful for the time when you had to make fast progress, challenging decisions and act far more assertively than is your usual style. How did it feel? Well, it’s not over. You have some decisions to make about money. They may seem wrought with contradiction, but you will see how simple they are when you remember the goals you have set for yourself.

Gemini (May 20-June 21)
Mars has finally made its way into your birth sign. You have been through a prolonged, at times genuinely strange period of time when standing down your fears — both old and new — has been a 24-hour-a-day experience. It would seem you’ve finally noticed that many facts of the physical world that others seem to easily take for granted, are nothing you can take for granted. You may have noticed the way your thoughts have a way of materializing rapidly into physical reality, and how physical reality can morph into a wispy little dream. The question is: what can you cling to, and the answer is, you don’t really need to cling to anything.

Cancer (June 21-July 22)
The time has arrived to begin moving further afield than the territory you’ve come to know so well. You’ve had inklings, clues, ideas and desires about doing this for quite a while. You have not entirely got over the feeling accumulated during the long stretch when Saturn was in your sign, pushing you into a much smaller box than the five-dimensional space you now occupy. Yet in order to find out how big the world is, and how much freedom you have to explore it, you’re going to need to step across the threshold of your front door and give it a try. The Sun in Pisces, illuminated by Uranus and the mighty Mercury, is luring you to do just that.

Leo (July 22-Aug. 23)
Someone is driving a hard bargain or creating a drama, but you’re having no part of it. You are the generous type and are often willing to concede to the needs or demands of others, but for the most part, this is all a bluff and a distraction. In terms of the current discussion, the more energy you put in, the more will come back. So I suggest you do something very modern, which is withdraw your awareness from anything that you don’t want to develop, and invest it in everything that you do want to develop, and do it promptly, and with some gusto. And it is a fact, other people really do need to mind their own business.

Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22)
The sudden surge of energy on the mutable cross — the Sun entering Pisces and Mars entering Gemini — are likely to be stirring up some fear, loathing, passion and the quest for action. I suggest you take the next couple of days and set some goals for yourself. I say this because anything you begin in earnest now, you have a high probability of succeeding at in the next couple of months. There will be moments during this stretch of the timescape when you’re sure you’re getting absolutely nowhere, and feel overwhelmed with insecurity. And I assure you that in those times, you have the very least to fear and are the closest to your goals and your true life path.

Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23)
The Sun gracing the wellbeing angle of your solar chart is providing a burst of energy and the inspiration to take better care of yourself. While it’s usually a good idea to emphasize the physical aspect of living, it would seem you’re becoming aware of, and giving a name to, a mental habit or pattern that you can develop to great personal benefit. There’s an element of releasing past negative conditioning — a theme of your life these days — but more to the point, you’re constructing an identity around the idea that for you, participation in life must always contain that element of beauty and kindness. Be glad that there are some things you’re not cut out to do.

Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22)
Action is quickly following on the heels of ideas, and they are good ideas — so act with precision. Remember passion? Of course you do. Embrace the necessary element of risk, because that is the reality factor. Be ready to stand your ground, but to do so gently, and remember that most people are too busy being at war with themselves to ever take on the world in a meaningful way. You now have a magnificent chance to heal a division or rift within yourself that has negated your progress many times in the past, but this is not merely an exercise in personal growth; it is an experience of exploring life.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 21)
Sometimes developments come out of nowhere, but everything comes from somewhere, even if you don’t know where from. And usually the answer is you. You may experience something that feels like an effect without a cause, and you may wonder just how you could be so fortunate; and the answer is you have set up your life in such a way that allows for just the kind of process that is taking place. You have many reasons to feel safe in the world, but none so good as you really are your own best friend — a relatively rare feat. This makes it easy for people to be loyal to you, but please don’t take that fact for granted.

Capricorn (Dec. 21 – Jan. 20)
By now you’ve seen the benefits of flexing with the breeze and riding the tide. The more you learn to do that, the more successful you will be this year and in these very days, because in your life as it’s developing, just about everything comes down to going with the flow. If others seem to be insisting on unacceptable terms, make sure you notice, and then come back with another plan that you like better. Propose that. Keep doing this for a while and sooner or later you’ll find something you agree on, but not until after you’ve worked down the resistance of a seeming adversary in a distinctly Piscean way.

Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19)
Okay that was a big one. How did you do? You actually seem to be skating along just fine; thinking quickly is one of your strong suits, when you have the incentive go get off your butt and do it. Although the Sun is about to leave your sign and the pressure is abating, I suggest you keep your brain warm and your hand on the gear shift. Because when you discover how valuable and worthwhile a particular idea you’ve been working with really is, you will notice you’ve got a lot of incentive. But beware: this idea is going to change you. It’s anything but a neutral force. And by all indications, it’s about to be turned loose on you and the world.

Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20)
Work has its rewards and rewards have their work, but the relationship between the two can be a bit elusive. Sometimes you have to really look for the rewards, and sometimes you know exactly what they are. I don’t think you’ll need to be doing too much analysis these days. Developments by the end of the week and into early next week should help you make up for any disappointments or complications of the recent past, and more than that, help you build on your considerable successes. But I suggest you do nothing resembling rest on your laurels. The stars are in a fine alignment for ideas like, ‘make your own luck’, or ‘build on your talents’.

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