Postcards from the Edge

Dear Friend and Reader:

Our friendly little robot flew through the Pluto-Charon system on Tuesday morning, and people are talking about it. It’s beautiful how much everyone seems to care. Mike Brown, the discoverer of Eris and the demoter of Pluto, was right the first time around — Pluto is a cultural planet. Regardless of what it may be scientifically, people care, and they love Pluto.

Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of Pluto, shown at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, where Pluto appeared.

The Internet memes are flying. “So you dumped me years ago. But now you’re driving past my house real slow.” People actually understand why that’s funny.

And that’s about the shape of things, except that New Horizons is going pretty fast, more than 40 times the speed of sound. It made the three-billion-mile trip to Pluto in just nine years. Not terrible, given that we’re not using antimatter propulsion.

The Onion added to the discussion, reflecting on what humanity has learned from our recent visit to the edge of the solar system — that the former ninth planet is “similarly cold, desolate and uncaring as the rest of the universe.”

All week, my mind has gone back to covering the demotion of Pluto in the summer of 2006. Astronomers didn’t even have a decent photo of the thing. There was exceedingly little data to work with.

Astrologers knew more than astronomers. The New Horizons mission had just been launched six months earlier. But scientists voted to declare Pluto “not a planet.” This was your basic Wonderland logic of holding the execution before the trial. Science is becoming famous for this kind of logic (for those who notice), as it takes the place of religion in our society. In other words, science as publicly practiced often no longer depends on logic, reason or data but rather on the pronouncements of people who call themselves scientists.

Were it put to a popular vote, I am sure people would overwhelmingly decide to keep Pluto as a planet. This would be the one truly bipartisan issue. On some other subjects you could say, well, the scientists know more than the general population. The people in white coats have the data. However, in this case, until this week, any little kid could have matched the knowledge of the most advanced scientists.

So now Pluto is officially minor planet (134340) Pluto, having earlier missed its chance to be given the honorary designation (10000) Pluto; for a long time, demotion was unthinkable, and many scientists objected. As a result, minor planet catalogue number 10000 was assigned to Myriostos, an ordinary main-belt asteroid discovered in 1951. That word is Greek for ten-thousandth, a nod to the many scientists who helped discover the first 10,000 minor planets.

One of the first-ever closeup photos of Pluto, showing ice mountains up to 11,000 feet high. The lack of craters indicates that the surface is quite young, no more than 100 million years old.

Now we’ve finally got some clear photos of Pluto, so the discussion of what this thing is will finally have some substance. There are plenty more photos coming than the few that we’ve seen — astronomers running the mission say that it will take 16 months to download all the data from the flyby. Clearly dialup is not fast enough for this job. They really need to upgrade to cable.

New Horizons will not be parked in an orbit around Pluto. Currently it’s being pointed into the shadows cast by Pluto and its binary partner (Charon is not really a moon). This will allow New Horizon’s cameras to photograph the atmospheres of Pluto and Charon. Analysis of the light that shines through the atmosphere will reveal detailed data about their composition.

Then the piano-sized craft will continue deeper into the Kuiper Belt, where it will be aimed at other objects, as yet to be announced. At the moment there are about 1,000 known objects orbiting in the space beyond Neptune. There are probably millions. [If you’re interested in the history of the Kuiper Belt, check this article.] Very little is known about the Kuiper Belt, so this Pluto mission represents the potential for real discovery. Pluto was the first object ever found in the Kuiper Belt, but the existence of a populated region of space beyond Neptune was not confirmed until the second discovery, that of 1992 QB1, 62 years later.

Eventually New Horizons will proceed into intergalactic space, hopefully to be discovered by some distant civilization that will make a blockbuster movie about it.

Whispering About Astrology

The astrological implications of this require some imaginative thought, though there’s plenty of fodder for that. When Patric Walker, the great horoscope columnist, once described Pluto as a “meaningful little planet,” he was understating matters, with a hint of irony.

Pluto describes just about everything that humans struggle to deal with. It’s the home of the taboo subject — be it any species of sex, death or change. It represents all of the natural aspects of life that people tend to deny. That is why Pluto transits are often experienced as ‘intense’ — they are phases of catch-up with what has been left behind.

Composite image of Pluto and Charon from before the closest approach.

When Pluto shows up by transit, the results can feel like anything from relentless pressure to cascading changes to some form of catastrophe. How Pluto manifests seems to be associated with how much resistance to change the person is willing to put up.

When contemporary astrologers describe Pluto as an evolutionary influence, they’re really talking about all the implications of sex, death and change. Aleister Crowley had the right idea when, writing in the 1930s, he described Pluto as the prime-mover. It is that thing in consciousness that drives awareness from the instinctual and emotional levels.

One of the main responses to Pluto is denial. That may work for a while, but it will never work in the end. Pluto will eventually make itself known. Someone who is resisting change and pretending that they don’t feel the impulse to grow is flirting with inviting change in some catastrophic form. Where Pluto is concerned it’s better to take things incrementally, steadily, and to lean into the changes with a longterm commitment.

Pluto can, if necessary, invoke the principle of “change or die.” As a result, death and threats of death have become one of the few dependable ways that people actually grow. The age of Pluto as the outermost planet was also the age of megadeath, beginning with the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany starting just three years after the discovery. It’s been nonstop war and holocaust since then — continuing with Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Central America, East Timor, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq and many others.

The most distant known planet in the solar system has a way of defining the edge or the limit of consciousness. When Pluto’s classification was changed to dwarf planet, that opened a few possibilities. One was that Neptune, as the official most distant planet, would be the edge, and denial would continue to prevail.

Artist’s conception of the New Horizons spacecraft approaching Pluto. Image: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute (JHUAPL/SwRI).

Or, seen another way, the many new objects beyond Neptune would be co-chairs of the edge. By the time Eris was discovered in 2005 and Pluto was reclassified in 2006, there were already many interesting discoveries beyond Neptune — the first (as yet unnamed) 1992 QB1, is a much gentler provoker of change, using experiences of voluntary submission and surrender to the growth process.

Quaoar is about family patterns and how they spread into society. Varuna is about leveling the field of life, and describes the necessity for integrity and honor.

At the time of Pluto’s reclassification to dwarf planet, which was prompted by the 2005 discovery of Eris, I had two basic thoughts. One was that it was time to pause this megadeath consciousness of the 20th century, and consider the possibility that other planets might do a better job of expressing various bottom lines of reality. Not everyone needs a gun held to their head in order to change, and those who do will get their wish.

My other thought was that science, in declaring Neptune the official edge, was reverting to a kind of mystical consciousness. That is, those whose lives were supposedly devoted to the collection of data and the careful testing of clearly defined theories were declaring that in the end, this whole business of assessing what we experience is all about belief.

This was abundantly clear in their making a historic decision defining a planet for the first time with nearly no data about what the Pluto-Charon system actually is.

Bringing Awareness Back to Pluto

If you’ve been following my somewhat obsessive media studies program the past six months, you’re familiar with the idea that a TV camera or microphone is an extension of our senses. The same is true for a robotic spacecraft sent to a distant world. More than delivering information to us, we are taken there, to get a closer look.

Dr. Mike Brown of Caltech, professor of planetary astronomy, who led the team that discovered Eris, Quaoar, Sedna and many other outer solar system bodies. Photo by Kevin Ferguson.

Now humanity is getting its first real look at Pluto. Considering that from an archetypal viewpoint, our senses and minds are being presented with something new being revealed about something old. We are getting to see, and in truth experience, Pluto with much greater clarity. This will precipitate an effect in consciousness.

In mythology, Pluto is said to wear a helmet of invisibility, and take people hostage to the world of death. We have, at least, discerned that Pluto is about a lot more than that, at least potentially.

With clear images of Pluto we can look at the death aspect and also learn about the other things that it represents. We would go a long way toward having clear thoughts and a real discussion about, for example, the evolutionary power of sex.

Connected to that is the Plutonic subject matter of clearing away all the emotional debris that interferes with intimacy: jealousy, control, guilt, fear of surrender, obsession and more.

We could go a long way toward coming out of denial of our need for change, and of the influences that drive us to change.

When it comes to addressing these things, looking at Pluto with open eyes and from an astonishingly close distance can only help. The whole Neptune thing was not working — for example, we have no business getting our sex education or reproductive health policy from fundamentalist religious bigots.

Said another way, on the most important issues of existence, those bottom lines of sex, death and change, we need some clear boundaries. If astrology means anything, a good close look at Pluto will help us with exactly that.


Weekly Horoscope for Wednesday, July 15, 2015 #1058 | By Eric Francis
Aries (March 20-April 19) — Stand your ground. I don’t mean fight, and I don’t mean in a defensive way. I mean define your boundaries, your territory, your state of mind, and claim these things as a kind of basic entitlement to existence. There seems to be the shadow or specter of some parental authority that you’re feeling, which is clearly an element of your past. It’s too often true that such influences leave people feeling like there’s no space on the planet for their feelings, their desires, their needs or even their body and possessions. I am here to tell you that there is room for you, though you need to stretch into it. You must establish your entitlement within your own consciousness, and then spread that into the world. If you feel guilt, persist. If you feel fear, persist. Take these as signs that you’re on the right track, since guilt in particular is evidence of claiming back internal emotional territory. As for fear, you simply don’t need that. You have far more creative things to do with your energy.
Taurus (April 19-May 20) — You will be amazed how persuasive you are, if you have any persuading to do. You don’t need to be forceful; you merely need to be clear. Your own inner clarity will lead to the possibility of directness of a kind that you may notice is unusual for you. What you’re experiencing is the reality of having more than your mind made up, and more than a little wind behind you. You now have the full force of the currents and tides propelling you. Therefore, you don’t need to exert too much energy. You just need to choose your words carefully. It would also be wise never to meet force with force, or anger with anger. Always stay 10 degrees cooler than your environment, and make sure that you interpose some delays between thinking, speaking and acting. Slow down your mental clock speed; you’re likely to want to move quickly. Take the extra time and listen, look, feel and otherwise pay attention. You are reaching for precision, so look for your opening and make your moves when you feel in your body that the time is right.
Gemini (May 20-June 21) — Now is the time to take action on financial matters, which under this astrology is likely to include both a plan to earn more, and an equally important plan to take inventory and organize your resources. By now you recognize that you’re looking at income potential that is as yet unrealized. You must be wondering what it will take to get the gold out of the ground. What it will take is carefully devising a strategy, then knowing when to stick to it and when to modify things. You may also need to temper your generous nature, for the sake of self-care and the ability to be supportive of others in the long-run. But you don’t need to make any excuses for being fully willing to support, sustain and nourish yourself. It would be abundantly healthy for you to focus that as a primary goal, with bold determination and actual happiness. Also notice any interference you may be getting from any voices in your mind or perhaps from those in your social circle. You don’t need to justify yourself and you would be wise to sidestep the temptation to do so. Just proceed with your intentions and plans with as little discussion as possible.
Cancer (June 21-July 22) — Wednesday’s stunning New Moon in your birth sign is a reminder that it’s time to live your life your way. You can afford to take this a few shades beyond what you might normally think of as your personal prerogative. It’s true that you have considerable responsibilities, though you’ve come a long way in your ability to fulfill them in style. Therefore, lean on your talent and your ability a little more than you might, as a way of creating some space for creation and recreation. Indeed, you might consider bringing that creative/recreative viewpoint into everything that you do. There are those times when your work flows, and when your creativity carries the day. If the past two years of your life are an exercise in anything, it’s about how to tap into that quality. It’s a talent of its own, and to get there you have to be willing to take a chance or two. But more than anything you need the willingness to do what must be done, when it must be done, without hesitation.
Leo (July 22-Aug. 23) — Jupiter and Venus in your birth sign are offering you protection and a hint as to how much abundance is possible. It’s as if events of the past year have been preparing you to experience your own independence. Yet what you now must do is maintain your flexibility and an open mind. More than anything you need to cultivate the habit of stopping yourself when you doubt your own potential or talent. If you find yourself in self-effacing mode, or trying to talk yourself out of your desires, pause, and see if you can get a handle on where that influence is coming from. It’s your job to make up your own mind about who you are and what you’re capable of. This doesn’t mean the world owes you anything. Rather, potential translates to the option you have to work for what you want, to focus real goals and to make yourself useful to others. There’s a significant difference between your personal gifts and using those gifts in some form of commerce. Once other people are in the scene, you must focus on the relationship above all else.
Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22) — Venus is working its way toward your sign, where it will do something interesting — it will stay put in early Virgo for nearly two weeks. The way that looks, you may at once feel like a vastly gifted person, though at times racked by fits of insecurity. This is an opportunity to address both — what to do with your gifts, and what to do with your insecurity. The two don’t cancel one another out. But you will ultimately choose one or the other. Remember this basic equation: You cannot be self-possessed and reject yourself at the same time. You cannot love yourself and doubt yourself at the same time. Self-possession is acceptance and love means surrendering your doubt to some other force in your personality that will guide you in the direction you want and need to go. More than anything I suggest you learn the talent of generosity with yourself, rising above any influences to the contrary that may well have run your life until now.
Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23) — For a Libra you sure are in an ambitious, even conquering, mood. It’s about time, too. Focus your goals and connect them to the sense of resolve that you’re feeling. Notice the elements of why you feel the way you do. One of them is confidence in yourself. You’ve come to this observation before — when you have that, you can do anything. You might ask yourself where it goes when you don’t have it; I would say that some clouds from the past block the light of the Sun. Now you can see clearly and feel the heat, which is really your own energy radiating from inside you. Even still, be wary of doubt. Notice when you have the vaguest, slightest hint of doubt in yourself. Try to identify whose voice it is. Much that we think we do to ourselves is really the residual toxicity of what was done to us in the distant past. You have the choice to reject those influences, though you would need to replace them with the clear sensation of who you are, not in the past but right now.
Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22) — ‘Spiritual’ is often a byword that describes subject matter that can be emotional, psychological, sexual, physical or on any other subject. In this case, ‘byword’ means language that avoids real subject matter. In our culture, so influenced as it is by New Age thinking, we have this idea that there’s a spiritual solution to everything, and that even the ancient Egyptians levitated the blocks in the pyramids with their third eye. But one might better speculate that really, it was engineering and hard work that got the job done. It’s true that you’re feeling influences that might be described as spiritual or religious or mystical. But I suggest you focus your mind, your intentions and most of all your resolve, and get the real work done. In my experience, we get the best results from spiritual agency when we’re willing to make an authentic effort. Part of that involves developing a sincere vision for your life, and having an authentic relationship with your own notion of commitment. You must know what you want and what you’re willing to do to make it happen. Undoubtedly, you know that involves actual change.
Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 22) — You must set the terms of your agreements. It may seem that it doesn’t matter who proposes the arrangement, or writes the contract, though I’m here to remind you that it certainly does. Take control of your language. This includes business arrangements as well as the words and ideas you use to express your feelings and your desires. Be abundantly clear in everything, and make sure you notice the places where you’re inclined to leave out a detail, or to make a compromise without being asked. Regarding your professional goals, I suggest you be as specific as you can about what you want or what you intend to do. As you do this, be mindful of any tendency you have to judge yourself, or to set some limit on what you think you’re capable of. This is very difficult for most people, who tend to inflict on themselves the same ridiculous limits that were set on them by early caregivers and authority figures. The very theme of the coming months is for you to identify and exceed those limits.
Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20) — It’s time to get a handle on relationship matters. You seem to be living in a retro world where only the past matters, or alternately, you’re struggling in some way to find the present moment and get real. The only thing the past has to offer at this point is a map of what you don’t want, and some information about some errors in judgment, particularly about your own power. It appears that others are willing to be direct with you, which you may find disorienting. Directness is about the moment. You will find this worthwhile, as others respond to you with generosity and equanimity. The real factor that’s mediating your experience is your willingness to receive. This is likely to be more challenging for you than you’re willing to admit, though that would be a good start. You may have this idea that expressing your vulnerability (which you must do to accept anything offered to you) gets you into some kind of overcommitment. What is that about? Is it really true? Remember, you gain more influence over your life by making decisions than by avoiding them.
Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19) — You are forming bonds now that may last a lifetime, and that certainly are influencing your world right now. Remember that any real connection is a form of collaboration. I know there’s some skepticism about working with people you love, but the truth is that any loving relationship that is based on something real is indeed a form of working together. You in particular need close bonds with your colleagues. Aquarius is not as chilly a sign as astrology books make it out to be. Far from it, in fact; but you need, in many situations, to express your affections in practical ways. Pay special attention to the people you work with. Reach for, and feel, the undercurrent of trust that is essential to any productive encounter with other humans. While you’re doing that, in all ways seek to improve your life, and those of your friends (which to you often amount to the same thing). Be bold about this. You are at a vital, potent point of beginning on all of these subjects.
Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20) — Your astrology is pulsating with creative and sexual energy. You must be feeling this, and it’s likely that others around you are. The thing to do is express, express, express. Well, that and notice the world around you. Notice the beauty, notice the conflict, notice whatever there is to be seen, felt or experienced. You have an open invitation to involve yourself in existence, and a wide latitude for how you interpret things. That is the true nature of art. As for expressing — that is the opposite of things like repressing, suppressing and depressing. If you notice guilt, brush it away like a fly. Guilt only has the power over you that you give it, so start investing in love and beauty. I mean aesthetic and sexual, specifically both. Let whatever and whoever turns you on, turn you on. I know there are rules and by now you know that most of them are bullshit. You exist, you have a right to see and look and feel and encounter people, and ideas, and the whole universe for that matter, boldly and directly. Call that and nothing else being alive.

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