Pluto in Planet Wiki

Research Notes

GENERATIONS of astrologers were trained that Pluto -- properly, the Pluto/Charon system, because it's a binary -- was the edge of reality; the bottom line. For time immemorial through the pre-scientific ages it was Saturn; then Uranus was the first planet discovered by science, in 1781, and for a while (as science rose to prominence), it was considered the edge; then came Neptune in 1845 ((Neptune was discovered in 1846)), and for a while it was the last planet out. During most of these years, astrology was in decline, and was not a particularly popular art form like it is today. We view these historical markers in retrospect.

Today, every living Western astrologer who writes or practices was taught that Pluto (discovered in 1930) was the furthest known planet and thus represented the edge of consciousness or reality as we know it. In astrology, the location and speed of a planet (particularly the last planet out) are important metaphors for its psychological and historical meaning. As the farthest known planet, the connotation was that Pluto represented, in a sense, the most fundamental concepts that the human race or individual person had to confront -- and for decades this was true.

Pluto in the mythology of the Romans is the king of hell, or of the underworld. As a planet, its discovery coincided with a long phase of history -- beginning with Hitler, then proceeding with Stalin and finally picked up by the Americans -- that could be summed up in two words: death works.

Genocide was the dominant theme of the 20th century, often the product of war. This tradition continues into the 21st century but with perhaps less vigor. The genocides of the 20th century (from Auschwitz to Cambodia to Kosovo to Rwanda) were in turn fueled by the cresting of industrialism, massive growth in global population and a struggle for world resources. It was the Age of Oil. On a global level, all these themes contain important references to the astrology of Pluto.

The atomic bomb was first used 15 years after Pluto's discovery, and plutonium was named for a heavy, extremely toxic, artificial metal created to quadruple the power of the bomb. This may not seem like a personal issue, since we are seemingly unlikely to find ourselves under a mushroom cloud. But every person alive today has grown up under the shadow of the bomb; its presence has influenced our thinking, our world view and our cosmology, and our perception of ourselves. We all know, on some level, that it could all be over in 15 minutes -- a fact that is a product of the age of Pluto.

Early in the Pluto era we also had the wide scale acceptance of psychology as a kind of religion or dominant mental paradigm, and with that came the vague awareness of and to some extent acknowledgment of the unconscious. Like psychology, Pluto is pervasive and ubiquitous, but largely invisible. For example, while we may not think of psychology daily, we can be sure that the advertising creators who impregnate or in truth seize control of our minds with their ideas and images think about it every minute.

(Notably, Both psychiatry and modern fascism had important roots in Austria and Germany, an interesting set of coincidences.) The unconscious is a region of the mind akin to the underworld, and thus a logical topic for the astrological dominion of Pluto. The unconscious is presumed to be preoccupied with sex and death, vividly Plutonian issues; it has no boundaries, and is shared by all people; and like Pluto of mythology, it can kidnap you and take you down there as its prisoner -- of insanity, perversion, greed or cruelty. Oh, and death.

In working with Pluto, it is vital to not take the shadow side as the only side there is, and to not completely overlook the shadow side. In other words, we need to keep a balanced view. It helps -- a lot -- that we now have the more awake and aware qualities of Chiron to at least inform our astrology, even if we don't work directly with it. If awareness is an attribute of successful experience with Chiron, it certainly is an attribute of mastering the energy of Pluto.

Evolutionary Astrology

In the mid-1980s, someone named Jeff Green brought out a book called Pluto: Evolutionary Journey of the Soul. This book, the second one ever on Pluto and the first in the English language (the first, many years earlier, was in German and has never been translated), posited that Pluto is a kind of spiritualizing influence, which Green proposed represented "the soul itself." Despite all the other connotations of Pluto, this idea was intuitive.

A similar idea had already been proposed by Isabel Hickey in the late 1970s in a short pamphlet that later became part of her seminal book, Astrology: A Cosmic Science. Hickey proposed that there were two sides to Pluto, the second of which she associated with Athena/Minerva: wisdom and protection. She suggested this double nature, and its implied choice and its responsibility for integration, before science had discovered that Pluto was a binary planet.

Green's book was accepted with enormous energy by the astrological community, and he in turn became a cult figure (first in Seattle, then beyond) and the father of a kind of religion called Evolutionary Astrology.

In his book, Green argues that Pluto's natal position represents the prior impulse of the soul from past lifetimes as it expresses in the current one. This influence works closely with the lunar nodes and the planets that rule the lunar nodes, such that Pluto, the nodes and their rulers function as one integrated system in the chart.

Green suggested that opposite Pluto was a "polarity point" that indicated the current lifetime's evolutionary impulse. Green, throughout much of his research, was unaware of Chiron and the fact that Chiron was opposite Pluto through much of the 1960s, thus giving that polarity point a more-than-theoretical existence. [He told me that at the time of his initial research, he was not aware of Chiron when I asked him about it at the 2002 UAC conference in Seattle].

From a technical standpoint, Evolutionary Astrology can be summed up thusly. Pluto, the South Node, its house and its sign ruler, represent the past impulse. The polarity point (i.e., the point opposite Pluto), the North Node, and its house and sign ruler, can be summed up as the new territory, the current life impulse. There are special cases, such as when one of the node rulers is conjunct one of the nodes or square its axis, and different interpretations of the "evolutionary state" are offered.

While presenting itself as a modern theory, Evolutionary Astrology served to focus attention on the meaning of the houses (which, Pluto-styled, were a place of obsessive focus). It commenced a genre of books about planets that organized themselves by house and sign. Green called attention to the function and importance of the lunar nodes as an influence (until that time, largely ignored or overlooked), and it helped astrologers recognize the importance of the planets ruling the lunar nodes.

On two counts, Green embraced the idea that the chart functions as a device to help us reconcile polarities -- Pluto and its opposition point; and the nodes.

The technical method works pretty well overall as a chart reading tool. Perhaps most important, it views Pluto in the context of other chart factors. Evolutionary Astrology itself is loaded with doctrines, including an imposed belief in reincarnation, that are not inherently related to astrology and might not be so helpful to astrology students.

According to his ex-wife Laurie Burnett, Green's work was influenced by and to some extent guided by Paramahsana Yogananda (Mukunda Lal Ghosh, one of the founders of the American spiritual movement), by that time acting out-of-body (he had died in 1952 and Green encountered him in a dream vision around 1980). The influence of Yogananda accounts for Pluto taking on the themes and colors of Vedic astrology, with its emphasis on the nodes and reincarnation. Notably, however, Vedic astrology does not concern itself so much with the conscious growth of the soul but more with its purported destiny.

In any event, because of this one book, when Pluto finally took on some popular currency, it was associated with spiritual growth and the urgent development of the soul. In this context, we could view this philosophy as an attempt to embrace the shadow of all the subjects historically associated with Pluto. It was also a way to put into context some of the extremely difficult experiences that people sometimes have around Pluto transits -- one of the usual functions of religion: a platform for the idea that suffering is not meaningless.

Notably, the first popular book on Pluto and the first popular book on Chiron appeared within about one year of one another in the mid-1980s. It is noteworthy that both entered the consciousness of astrologers at about the same time, representing a polarity of related concepts. Both included the idea that the chart is a kind of growth tool and that pain is your teacher.

In her Chiron book, Barbara Hand Clow notes that while Pluto represents a largely unconscious process, Chiron represents a conscious process (not always true, but more often than Pluto). The two create a kind of polarity and, when the natal chart, transits and the client's biography are studied, will often seen to be acting in tandem.

Interestingly, Chiron (discovered in 1977) was a discovery made in the interior of the solar system rather than the next planet out. The discovery of Chiron, while generating some excitement, was not given much credibility by mainstream astrology and still lacks that credibility today. The action of Pluto is undisputed and seemingly understood.

When finally a new planet was discovered in 1992 beyond the orbit of Pluto, it was entirely ignored by astrology, and to this day remains omitted from nearly any discussion on avant garde astrology lists, even those dealing with new discoveries. That planet was the still unnamed 1992 QB1. Perhaps everyone was still processing all this Pluto and Chiron stuff; perhaps it was because QB1 was never announced outside the astronomy community; perhaps it was because it never got a name -- but QB1 has not quite become the depraved, debauched worldwide cult I once envisioned.

Pluto as Dionysus

In his 2006 book Cosmos and Psyche, Richard Tarnas presents the idea that Pluto is the representation of the collective id. The id is the instinctual ground of nature. It's often described as the uncontrollable, primal aspect of the psyche that is not constrained by boundaries or ideas. This is the aspect of the psyche that, in theory, must be contained in order for society to function or even exist at all. Indeed, stuffing down the id is what we mean by "civilized." It is not surprising, then, that our civilizations, having denied this energy, perpetuate so much mass-scale violence.

Tarnas says that Pluto can be compared to Dionysys, the Greek god of grapes and divine madness. Dionysus liberates us from our ego structure and sets free the primal urges and needs we carry around.

For a basic summary of Dionysus, we can look to Wikipedia, which describes him as the "Greek god of wine, [who] represents not only the intoxicating power of wine, but also its social and beneficial influences. He was also known as Bacchus and the frenzy he induces, bakcheia. Bacchus is 'manifestly non-Greek', Burkert asserts (1985:163). He is the patron deity of agriculture and the theatre. He was also known as the Liberator (Eleutherios), freeing one from one's normal self, by madness, ecstasy, or wine. The divine mission of Dionysus was to mingle the music of the aulos and to bring an end to care and worry. There is also an aspect of Dionysus on his relationship to the 'cult of the souls', and the scholar Xavier Riu writes that "Dionysus presided over communication between the living and the dead."

He writes of Pluto, "Observations of potential correlations with Pluto by astrologers in the subsequent decades [after the discovery] suggested that the qualities associated with the new planet in fact bore a striking relevance to the mythic character of Pluto, the Greek Hades, and also to the figure of Dionysus, with whom Hades-Pluto was closely associated by the Greeks. (Both Heraclitus and Euripides identified Dionysus and Hades as one and the same deity.) Closely analogous to Freud’s concept of the primordial id, “the broiling cauldron of the instincts,” and to Darwin’s understanding of an ever-evolving nature and the biological struggle for existence...embodying the powerful forces of nature and emerging from nature’s chthonic depths, within and without, the intense, fiery elemental underworld."

In other words, Pluto is the tap into the deep unconscious, with its unspeakable needs, its lack of respect for authority and structure, and its connection to liberation from the ego whether through intoxication, transformation or death. When we work with Pluto consciously we can express the energy in constructive ways, and in some instances, master it. When we suppress Pluto, it becomes a shadow energy that haunts us as death, the fear of insanity, insanity itself, or the sense that our sexual desires will destroy the structure of our lives. When contained in shadow form, Pluto tends to manifest as oppression, genocide and warfare.

When expressed in conscious ways, it manifests as passion, the drive for deep connection, and the power to change oneself and to an extent, society. Pluto may be accessed through mind-altering substances, but also through inner work at the time of a Pluto transit. It is the Plutonic force that is responsible for what some call "ego death" that occurs in many such situations, leading to a common keyword for Pluto, transformation.

The 'Is Pluto Really a Planet?' Controversy

After the discovery of the Kuiper Belt with 1992 QB1, we had the emergence of archetypes beyond Pluto.

The most famous one was discovered in 2005 and became Eris. It was not until that discovery that anything in the Kupier Belt made much of a difference to much of anyone at all. However, during the late 1990s and into the 2000s, a debate silently brewed over whether Pluto was really a planet, or rather merely another thing in the Kuiper Belt. In light of these mounting new discoveries now known to exist around and beyond it, a preponderance of opinion in the astronomical community began to weigh against Pluto being considered a planet.

There was some dim awareness that Pluto was at least the king of the Kuiper Belt, but as with nearly all new discoveries, most astrologers presumed that the meaning of the other, newer Kuiper objects either did not exist, or could not be grasped.

As far as mainstream astrology was concerned, the debate over Eris was the only publicly accepted clue that things were about to change. Pluto was no longer the edge; the edge was getting fuzzy, indicative of a breakdown of our concept of personality and our notions about both death and the unconscious. The unconscious was no longer a void; gradually, a collection of at-first nameless archetypes began to collect in the form of planetary discoveries.

There were now additional objects that might be factors in defining the edge, and the inner solar system was being populated by dozens of Centaur planets whose actions seemed to resemble Pluto's in many ways. It seemed inevitable that astrology would need to confront the issue of a 'minor planet' -- particularly since Pluto itself was taking on more and more of the astronomical characteristics of a minor planet. It is an orbit crosser; it is a small, icy body (though not all minor planets are); there were many new discoveries in its region; and it had always been somewhat controversial, difficult to discern and was long ignored.

In August 2006, the International Astronomical Union met in Prague and made the following decision: Pluto, Ceres (at the time an asteroid) and 2003 UB313 (Eris) would be grouped as Dwarf Planets. There were at the time more than 50 other planets that qualified for this designation.

While it's popularly believed that "Pluto was demoted," what actually happened was that a new grouping was created; and that the mainstream astronomy community finally recognized that minor planets had to be accounted for in a coherent way. Ceres, which had originally been designated a planet, was recognized again and her name became recognized by many who had not heard of her before. Pluto being classified as a dwarf planet opened the way to recognition that other dwarf planets could be equally influential. Eris did her job of upsetting the known order of things, and pointing to the fact that the edge, the concept of the personality and the nature of the solar system are works in progress without clear boundaries, indicative of the postmodern nature of her being.

Because mainstream astrology takes its lead from science, this pried open astrology's and the public's mind -- if just a little -- and put the astrology community on notice that it, too, would have to reckon with minor planets. It is interesting that astrology is not embracing this with more energy, though it's also clear that into the high 90th percentile of astrologers were caught off-guard by the development regardless of how many years it was in the making.


Notes from prior articles

More are on the Talk page, with references cited.

"Pluto is a particularly sharp knife; a hot torch; a point in the personality where there may be focus to the level of obsession. This can be self-obsession, or an extreme focus on a viewpoint, or on growth. It can also emerge as celebration and revelry, or the drive to get rid of the old and change ourselves, or society, for better. Pluto represents the brightest light of soul, and some of the deepest shadow of psyche. But it does not grant, or remove, integrity. Our decisions do these things. Astrologers need to be particularly sensitive to the fact that while the planets shape our personalities and may reflect our karma, everyone really does have a choice in what they do and how they respond to existence.

"Admittedly, the kinds of dimensions that Pluto usually represents are not the ones that people commonly do well with, inherently, or as they express themselves as passion, sex, power and the extremely strong personality type. Face it, the Western world is pretty milquetoast, and these days, the solution to everything is to ignore it or stuff it. But we are still learning about the Pluto archetype."

Finally, in 1930, we have the outermost conventional planet, Pluto (now demoted to “minor planet” status), discovered at the Lowell Observatory in the United States. My Zimmerman mythology dictionary tells me that Pluto is, "The Greek name for the king of hell, or for hell itself; his other names are Ades, Aides, Aidoneus, Hades and Pluton." It's clear that this was hardly an inviting or tempting energy for astrologers to want to dabble in casually. And, first came Pluto, then came Hitler, who came to power in February 1933 and started the Holocaust, or all-consuming fire (holo = whole, and caust = burn, like in caustic), a hellish enough image to make the point.

But Pluto, as he works astrologically, is not so simple. His primary function or effect is to drive evolution forward. Pluto, akin to Shiva the Destroyer of Hindu mythology, does indeed burn off old karma, remove old situations, and get to the heat of the matter. People with strong Pluto placements are able to cut to the truth, and push others to do the same. But Pluto rarely manifests as an entirely welcome energy. He is difficult to take all by himself, far more difficult than the other outer planets, none of which are especially easy to accept, comprehend or work with alone. They are all forces far beyond our control, greater than we are, affecting millions of people and compelling us to deal with the ultimate realities of life and death. Pluto takes what seem to be the most negative forces and possibilities and, with awareness, transforms them into constructive experiences and learning. But this is often extremely difficult because the further away planets are, the more difficult their energy is to grasp or comprehend.

Mythology and astronomy cast Pluto as the lord of Hell, but astrology tells another story. No astrologer, it is safe to say, underestimates Pluto or takes him for granted, or none does so for long. Largely thanks to the work of Jeffrey Green and his spiritual mentor, Yogananda, we recognize Pluto as the evolutionary engine in the astrological chart. While society may twist and crumble, and while emperors may rise in power, on the inner level, Pluto is the ultimate influence we cannot deny. Anyone who has consciously gone through a Pluto transit have seen and this at work: Pluto is the uncompromising force for change, the catalyst for growth, and the slowly moving point of no return. Once Pluto has been through our lives, and it does not happen often, nothing is quite the same. There are people who need to be told that Pluto is not a force that one can resist safely. Attempting does not count for valor, and does not help anyone; and by the time Pluto shows up, it has been clear for a LONG time that change is necessary. In the best world, we feel the changes both as they are necessitated and as they are approaching, and we work with them. But often, Pluto is what ultimately saves us from being stuck.

The thing with Pluto transits is that they are not structural, or transformational in the way that Saturn transits (for example) are. It is more like they are cellular. It is not the form so much that changes as the substance, but the form comes along for the ride. Pluto to Sun is a transit that involves the core fiery self; the expressive aspect of the self; something more real and essential than the personality (which is represented more often by the Moon).

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

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

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

There are a few ways that Pluto transits typically feel. All the different expressions can show up, but sometimes one dominates. -- A long, endless push -- Obsessive tendencies in the self or with partners -- A series of changes over which one seems to have no control -- Drive for control and power, and some struggles as a result -- Isolation -- Need for solitude -- A lot of sex energy, intense like you've never felt it before -- Sense of purging and regeneration -- A super potent, fairly long spiritual test -- Some kind of disaster that frees you instantly

Not everyone experiences all of these with a Pluto transit. It depends on you, and on your chart.

Pluto is what Pluto represents. It is not just a planet; it's an archetype, and one that is extremely active in the human story. When you check history going back 2,000 years, you see the Pluto cycles like you see the New York City skyline landing at JFK. That archetype inherently represents that which we tend to deny the most and what we need the most for both individual growth and evolution as a culture. But we seem to be in even deeper denial than usual these days, which is largely due to fear, and also that we're being confronted with so much change so fast, and so much manipulation.

Denying Pluto would be saying, in effect, that "it's okay to not deal with this stuff." We could, of course, find it in ourselves to be more outraged about war and torture, and the lying and conniving of our "leaders" that got us there. Instead, we tend to revel in images of war on television. Then in the United States, ever increasingly, like many places dominated by religion, we teach our children "abstinence" instead of teaching them about their feelings and their bodies. Hate and prejudice are open season; discussion of love and erotic subjects are still often felt to be taboo, scary and wicked, something not done in polite company. And we wonder why everything is so weird.

There is so much to reflect on here. And it is all so interesting. But let's start with two pretty basic ideas. Just because the International Astronomical Union voted to take away Pluto's "status" as a planet (like the Boy Scouts revoking the Eagle rank of a scout who later in life comes out as gay, hmm) does not mean we can erase the history of science. As Mike Brown, the discoverer of Xena and many other "dwarf planets" was find of saying before last week, Pluto is a cultural planet -- it is accepted by society, school kids, and apparently NASA (which is spending billions on a space probe now en route to Pluto). The technical definition is something else.