The Foggy Edge of Neptune

The Foggy Edge of Neptune

Dark spots on Neptune. Photo by Voyager 2 team,
1989, courtesy of APOD

BUT WHAT does it all mean? You know, astronomers reclassifying Pluto as a dwarf planet, along with Ceres and 2003 UB313/Xena. First, I feel compelled to say, Pluto is laughing.

And I assure you, it all means something. But the more interesting part is why. Let’s cover that first. The rest of the story, the impact on astrology, is going to take some time to develop, because these things can never be seen quickly — but mostly because the decision will almost inevitably be revisited. I say this in part because of reaction within the scientific community; in part because of a cultural rebellion that has already begun; and lastly because the astrology of the vote tells me so. I mean, Pluto was reclassified without a space probe ever having reached the planet. One is on the way — and the director of the program, called New Horizons, has called what happened in Prague an embarrassment.

So, history will recall that the astronomers made their decision this week without a single clear image of Pluto to work with.

Still, let’s do some interpreting of these events. They are rich.

Why it’s all so interesting to me, besides a rare, publicly displayed scientific controversy, is because an archetypal drama has been unfolding — and continues to do so. For one thing, we have female archetypes coming into recognition (Ceres and Xena, and a discussion of Pluto’s moon Charon, which I feel is a feminine archetype) and we have a story about Pluto and Ceres, who are old rivals from Greek and Roman mythology. Most of all, we have the imagery and story of our culture, as told in the story of the planets, reflecting a time of great historical change, and, I would dare say, a measure of progress.

What is an archetype? Even if you don’t think you know, you do know — that’s because you’re reading an astrology newsletter, and astrology works specifically with archetypes. Write this on the wall: an archetype is a cultural process that reaches from the widest level of social and physical patterns of history, right down to the life of an individual, indeed, to the deepest level of the unconscious, dreams, their character, artwork, self-concept, and so forth. This is why what astronomers do has cultural meaning, and individual meaning.

Archetypes are alive, but having existence on many levels, they blur the supposedly clear line between “real” and “unreal.” An archetype is something whose symbol is so strong that it means as much in a dream as it does in reality. It crosses the borderlines of consciousness. The concept and the actual ‘thing’ are deeply embedded in thought and experience. Here is a kind of local example. Let’s say you had a powerful relative, a grandmother. She had an enormous presence when she was alive, but now that she’s gone, she exerts an equally pervasive presence, because you love her, and she exists either through her memory, or when you dream about her. So, she’s ‘dead’, but she’s ‘alive’. This is because she’s an archetype. Her existence is both inside and outside you.

Pluto is another excellent example, though on a much wider scale. This is the Roman god of the underworld, whose idea and image have oddly endured through many cultures, by many names, for millennia; and who is also a — I’m tempted to say planet — in space orbiting our Sun, which adds to Pluto the idea and experience of a cycle, since this thing called Pluto orbits the Sun. Oddly, the Pluto cycle comes with distinct changes and developments that relate to specific processes that we associate with the ‘god of the underworld’ which means something different to everyone, but all those different things have something deep in common.

Calling from the Depths

A planet is a presence in a region of awareness or space. Whether it’s there or not is like the difference between a house with somebody home, and one with nobody home. In psychological terms, Pluto’s presence calls awareness to the world deep underneath the ego (normal consciousness and self-concept), where we find both the shadow material of the psyche, and deeper in, the soul.

Pluto is a planet in our individual natal charts, having a specific set of messages for us, and its cycle has dominion over this aspect of our lives — what until recently (due to astronomical discoveries) symbolized the deepest  (i.e., most distant) part of us. As such, it can represent some of our most important life missions — our soul work, if that term means something to you. All the properties of Pluto work together and are related to one another. In one form or another, they will arise when the planet Pluto is active in our individual charts, or in world transits such as the currently developing Saturn opposite Neptune.


Astronomers don’t have clear pictures of the Pluto-Charon system, but have still voted to take away its ‘status’ as a ‘planet’.

This multi-level quality of an archetype is a neat trick, of which Amway would be jealous if it knew about it, and it helps explain what a bunch of guys in Prague have to do with us, with what I am writing today, or with the culture, in terms of their declaring Pluto “not a planet.” Why does this make a difference, besides to textbook manufacturers? Why can somebody born with the Sun in the sign Scorpio write me a letter and say:

“I assume you’ll quickly be writing a piece on what it means for us Scorpios now that Pluto is no longer classified as a planet? Do we revert to being ruled by Mars? I have no doubt you have already considered this topic as this ridiculous saga has unfolded, and am most anxious to hear from you on the subject. I’m a subscriber, so I expect I’ll see something in my inbox before long…looking forward to that.”

Note the power in the writing…and the intensity…and her quality of being above the game…the sense of her own authority, and the assumption of my being on her schedule…the relating of money to concrete expectation…and language so psychologically penetrating that she reached deep into my mind and compelled me to act, indeed getting the very results she desired in a matter of mere hours (and yet she will no doubt be surprised that it worked so well — her letter reveals her hesitancy in the form of a misplaced question mark at the end of a statement). You gotta love Scorpio, of which the modern ruler is Pluto and the ancient ruler is Mars. But tell me, does she sound any less Plutonian after the ‘demotion’ of Pluto?

Mars was the planet associated with Scorpio long before Pluto. While astrology has all but forgotten this fact, responsible astrologers, sensitive to both ancient and modern traditions, have not. In any situation where you are considering something involving Scorpio, I suggest looking at Mars first and Pluto second — go in the order of discovery. Imagine what an astrologer reading the chart just 100 years ago would have done without the benefit of Pluto. I’m lucky, I had an astrology teacher suggest I do this way back at the beginning, so that I would see every chart from both the ancient and modern perspectives.

I would propose this week’s development is a message to Scorpios who follow the path of astrology to re-dedicate themselves to both the path of Pluto as the journey of the soul, and to the important issues of Mars in their journey in the world. The two have much in common, including telling the story of our relationship to our desire nature. While Buddhist philosophy says that desire is the root of all suffering, Indian philosophy suggests that Kama, or deep erotic desire, is the source of all spiritual growth, wealth and happiness.

We have not heard the last from Pluto, or from the scientists who study it, and I don’t know a single astrologer who would not concur that Pluto is still the modern ruler of Scorpio. The astronomers in Prague were definitely picking up on something when they rearranged their ideas, but they don’t have authority over the practice of astrology, which goes beyond their particular reach, a fact which they would no doubt affirm. Yes, astrologers deal with their ideas, and we get to interpret their actions. Many of us seek whatever wisdom we can from the work that they do, and heck, I take any opportunity to correspond with one. Yet historically, astrologers came first. Astronomy would not exist if astrology had not existed before; and we know things, and go places, that they do not.

One thing we work with is cycles as they relate to history. The cycles of Pluto are evident going back thousands of years before Pluto was ever discovered (if you want an eyeful, get yourself a copy of Cosmos & Psyche by Richard Tarnas). So Pluto works, whatever you may call it, whether you know it’s there or not, and whether you like it or not. But what is changing is our model of the cosmos, and consequently, our inner cosmos.

A Revised Model

In astrology, the solar system is the model of consciousness. Astronomers don’t generally think this way, however. The scientists in Prague were like the chorus in an archetypal opera with a cast of thousands, following a script they were not aware even existed. By voting the way they did, they did not exactly dictate something, but rather were responding to a process already underway in the world.

I would sum that up a few ways. One is that their change in status of Pluto represents the world’s attempt to deny the dark side, no matter how dark it gets. We have certainly been very blasé about all the dark news that has come blazing through Western civilizations in the past five years, and for the most part, we have let politicians manipulate us with fears that they themselves instill in us. With that denial comes a corresponding loss of growth.

Denying Pluto planetary status reflects the cultural movement that “it’s okay to not deal with this stuff.” We could, of course, find it within 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 now 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.

The relationship of astronomers to the archetypes themselves seems, as befits the discussion of the outer regions of the solar system, to be deeply unconscious. For example, I have not read any IAU congress memos this week about whether the god of the oceans or the god of Hades should at this time in history be counted as the last official deity in space. They’ve just been taking about what should or “should not be a planet.”

Fogging the Edge, or Clearing it Up?

By saying “Pluto is not a planet,” what they are in effect (not directly) saying is that Neptune is now the edge of consciousness in the officially sanctioned model of the universe, and hence, the psyche. They are also saying that we now go back to the 1846 model of consciousness.

Let’s go back to the way things were yesterday, when Pluto was counted as the last planet out Let’s pretend we’re in a nice conference center in Flagstaff, Arizona and I’m conducting a beginner’s astrology workshop. I would start by saying something like this.

In the ancient world, Saturn was the most distant planet, and all that it represented was considered the bottom line of reality. Saturn was like the clear, firm edge at the known reaches of the solar system. This edge represents our bottom line obligations: our parents, the structure of society and our social roles, church authority, the government (which was the same as the church for many years, and remains so today), and a set of inflexible ideas about life.

Through all of antiquity, Saturn represented a boundary, beyond which was the unknown, the scary and chaotic firmament of the cosmos. Inside that perimeter, we felt pretty safe, though of course, those outer regions were still active deep within us, and would surface as taboos, scandals and big shifts in history.

When something would come inside the boundary and visit from deep space, people would freak out — comets, which are visitors from the outside, were almost always considered bad omens, and even today they can have that effect.

When Uranus was discovered in 1781, a new world was born. The first planet discovered by science represented the dawn of the age of science. A planet that was born in the age of the great revolutions (including the French and American) became the planet of revolutions (political, industrial, creative, scientific, and finally a revolution over unquestioned church authority). And this became the new edge of reality. Uranus became associated with Aquarius, the sign of fraternity and invention. This was in an age when the great men were those of the enlightenment: Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson pop into mind, speaking as an American. But of course the revolution of science went far beyond ‘enlightenment’ and we soon found ourselves in a society increasingly dominated by technology.

When Neptune was discovered in 1846, the edge moved out further and the theme changed yet again. Neptune is the planet of idealism and denial, as well as a certain kind of mystical spirituality that is somewhat difficult to grasp, if you can grasp it at all. In this era, you had guys like Marx and Engels putting out their highly idealized view of Communism (just one year later, the Communist Manifesto appears), it is the Victorian age, where people are enjoying wild perversion and acting prim and proper (denial), and we have the dawn of the age of photography through the 1840s — leading to an age dominated by the “realistic” photographic image, which is a wide Neptune theme of the purest essence. An age of mysticism and spiritualism follows; names that pop into mind are the mystic Gurdjieff and someone whom we think of today as being very spiritual, Abe Lincoln. In its most negative expressions, Neptune deals with lies, denial and addiction.

This is the horoscope for the discovery of Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh on Feb. 18, 1930, 4:00 pm, Flagstaff, AZ. A horoscope is a map of the heavens that corresponds to human events and awareness.

In 1930, shortly after the end of World War I, Pluto was discovered and declared the edge of reality, precisely synchronous with the rise of fascism in both Latin America and Europe. It was also the time that Gandhi began his satyagrahamovement, and showed us an alternative to violence that really can work if people are committed to spiritual growth. There is also a worldwide depression going on, a major environmental disaster in North America (the dust bowl, covered last week), as well as psychoanalysis becoming an established movement in the academic world and in medicine.

In this era, Wilhelm Reich was looking closely at sexuality, much more closely than traditional psychoanalysis did, and he was one of the first people of the modern world to do so. Indeed, Pluto represents all these underworldly themes, and comes to be associated with the themes of Scorpio: death and regeneration. We’ve had plenty of death and, by that measure, plenty of opportunity for regeneration since the discovery of Pluto.

When you teach astrology, you basically point out that Pluto, as the most distant accepted planet, is the thing that represents the bottom line, in any particular era. And indeed it would seem that we have lived through a prolonged era of Plutonian reality, including the nuclear arms race pushing the world to the brink of annihilation and pretty much leaving us to dangle there. Pluto is associated with Scorpio and the 8th house, whose themes include business deals, investment banking, and the affairs of the dead (think of all these corporations that today dominate the world, most of which were founded by long dead businessguys).

So here we get a clue of how archetypes are associated with both cultural and human development and are also artifacts of the era in which they surfaced. In a way they seem to define the ‘bottom line’ of the years that follow. And now we have something really interesting happening: for the first time, somebody has moved the bottom line backwards, or rather, inward.

Pluto has now been reclassified as a minor planet, officially a “dwarf planet.” This is a kind of commentary on the Pluto archetype and its relationship to existence, and science proposing a redefinition of the model of the psyche, and of collective consciousness.

Neptune has been declared the foggy new edge of reality. However you may feel about Pluto, consider how appropriate this is, to be deemed the bottom line. Neptune deals with delusion, denial, drugs, dreams, idealized visions, imagery, and in Aquarius, the mass media (some would say in any sign, Neptune has dominion over the mass media because it creates a mass trance). What stands between normal awareness (the inner reaches of the solar system) and what we previously were being told the bottom line was (Pluto) is just precisely the denial trip that Neptune represents.

Alternatively, Neptune represents the visions we’re capable of — as well as compassion and our direct connection to sprit.

But for most people, it’s the place where they struggle with boundaries. And our culture is certainly in a huge boundary issue right now with truth or lies. It’s been described as a post-truth era in politics, when the media plays no role in keeping politicians honest. We have the widespread acceptance of the word “truthiness” to describe how full of shit so many people are, and how they get away with it. Wikipedia tells us, “Truthiness is a satirical term coined by Stephen Colbert in reference to the quality by which a person claims to know something intuitively, instinctively, or ‘from the gut’ without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or actual facts.”

We had that famous interview in The New York Times Magazine where a Bush administration official blasts people who don’t accept the lies of the administration for being “reality based.”

The real issue is our relationship to ‘spirit’ and also our relationship to truth and lies. The way we survive in the Western world these days is by denial. It seems to be one of the only ways we’ve actually found to cope with the rise of the Plutonian sphere into full-consciousness. It’s as if all this Pluto is way, way too much, so we go into denial, turn up the air conditioner, and turn everything into a drug.

Neptune is associated with the last sign of the zodiac, Pisces which is truly reflective of the times in which we live. While we are certainly in an era where control and many other Plutonian themes are ever-present (how many passwords and pin codes a day do you enter, and how often do we hear about death?) it would indeed seem that the real issue is Neptune.

And if 424 astronomers have turned back the clock on the model of the solar system and the psyche to before Sigmund Freud was born, before the Civil War and before The New York Times ever came out, we have a truly relevant commentary on how backwards our thinking is these days.

And if 2003 UB313, also called Xena, is not being given planetary status, maybe it’s because we’re afraid of what’s down there, or not ready to go there. But we can, at least, find it in our charts, and we know that the new territory exists — and that sooner or later we’re going to get there. For now, we have plenty to consider in the realm of Neptune’s domain of truth and lies.

While we’re at it, Neptune represents water. And the world is in a major, granted, largely unspoken water crisis right now, and this surely calls attention to that fact. The crisis involves too much of the wrong kind of water in the wrong place: fresh water in the oceans, salt water on the land, not enough rain many places and way too much many others. Paul Simon said that food is the bottom line for everyone.

I say it’s water.

Weekly Horoscope for Friday, August 25, 2006, #626 – By ERIC FRANCIS
Aries (March 20-April 19)
If you feel overwhelmed with details, surrender to your passion — the inspiration behind whatever mission you’re on. The energy in the background is every bit as meaningful as the focus and effort you’re investing into so much service-oriented work, but if you come from the center you’ll find it less tiring and more inspiring; with the Sun and Moon joining for a New Moon in Virgo this week, the details will take care of themselves. You may find yourself renewing a commitment that’s been meaningful to you going back a rather long time, but taking an entirely different approach. Family Focus: This is a great week for annual checkups and other health maintenance.Taurus (April 19-May 20)
With the Sun in your empathic sign Virgo, you’re now free to take the chances you’ve been dreaming of for so long. As you’re so fond of reminding others, all you need to do is get out of your head. You will know you’re doing that because your choices feel risky, like you might get in trouble, or like you’re concerned about being judged by others. That’s the key to knowing you’re on the right track. If you’ve come through a time when all the feelings seemed real but the opportunities didn’t show up for you, you may find this formula helpful. Family Focus: You’ll be reminded many times this week how much more intelligent most children are than most adults.

Gemini (May 20-June 21)
Your perspective is changing so quickly, you may not even trust your own beliefs or ideas. Not only can you trust yourself, you must — and you have every reason to. Experience has shown that you can adapt to pretty much anything. This week’s New Moon boldly says put confidence first on your list of personal aspirations, and waste no time going there. Speak up and notice that people trust what you have to say. Take action and notice that in response, the world gives you a chance to show what you have to offer. Family Focus: Now is a time for a spontaneous family reunion or homecoming. Start making calls.

Cancer (June 21-July 22)
Practice some restraint on your financial activities; keep control by knowing where you stand at all times, and making sure you have enough cash on hand for a special project or commitment that’s truly meaningful to you. This seems to be about an investment in your future, which more than being about material property is about an idea or a project designed to help you develop on a deeper level. Recent efforts to get the word out about something close to your heart reveal that slowly and gently work much better than the fast and furious attempt. Family Focus: Get the kids out to the country this weekend, and take them to a farm store.

Leo (July 22-Aug. 23)
This week’s magnificent New Moon in the self-esteem and resources angle of your chart is encouraging you to work with others more than ever. The main skill you have going for you is diplomacy, and you’re in an excellent position to negotiate anything you need, particularly for a purpose larger than just yourself. Build on a sense of mission rather than obligation. Don’t be afraid to allow your charm to get more results than your intelligence; you have plenty of both available. Family Focus: Close loved ones may be feeling some frustration this week, so don’t let it get to you.

Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22)
The Sun and Moon enter your sign together this week, a potent reminder that you are young and that you are at a point of beginning in your life. But they also remind you to gradually work toward inner harmony between feeling and outer expression; between your emotional world and your sense of identity. And there is a tap on the shoulder to re-center on your life mission. The image is one of balancing out opposites. As events develop in the coming days, you’re likely to feel like you have every reason to live for the moment, and you do. Remember well what you learn: you’re far stronger than your fears. Family Focus: Keep careful track of what your kids are up to.

Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23)
You must balance the awesome potential of the situation with realistic expectations. Indeed, if you take a minimalist approach, even presuming that nothing special will come from so much promise, you’ll get the best results. Be clear with yourself about what you want. Let your dreams be real, and dream them out loud. That may seem presumptuous, that is, a little like you’re faking or taking the role of another, but this is simply not true: you are doing something different and unusual and that is why it feels so strange. Family Focus: Your maturity and leadership are being asked for now. Remember to see both sides.

Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22)
A moment of truth is approaching, where you will be able to go with a certain plan you’ve been building for more than a year with renewed commitment — or let it go. In any event, something is changing in relationship to your past, and how you apply past knowledge today. There is also the question of a debt you seem to be owed for work or talent that you gave generously on the promise of something in recompense. You may think you’ve got too much invested to drop the whole thing, but I suggest that you at least give yourself permission to consider that possibility. You’ll feel better if you do — and the choice, either way, will be that much easier. Family Focus: You can depend on the support of your friends much more than you think.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 22)
Jupiter in Scorpio, the strongest placement in your chart at the moment, is developing in an angle that you cannot see, but which you can definitely feel. The suggestion is that you’re at a great advantage but somehow cannot put your finger on how or why that is. At different times it shows up as different things: an opening, an unexpected opportunity, or sliding out of a problem you thought would grab hold of you. No doubt you’re protected, and enjoying the benefits. So I suggest you push your luck rather than question it. Family Focus: The concerns of one of your parents may be weighing on you; why don’t you call?

Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20)
Keep clear with partners and colleagues as a contractual or financial situation heats up yet again. There seems to be so much at stake, but in truth, there is more than enough to go around and everyone has something to gain. The pressure to make a decision is on, but a factor you cannot foresee works strongly to your advantage. Maintain a high level of communication and attention to details and the precise order in which certain events are planned. But the best thing you can do for everyone is tattoo the idea of a win-win scenario into everyone’s mind in very bright colors. Family Focus: Remember that your partner is someone with whom you can share deep concerns and secrets.

Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19)
You’ve had a taste of what people really feel, and by now you should have no doubts about their depth of commitment — or lack thereof. Those who are with you are with you, and they see the need to live with intention and devotion; count on this. The important thing is that over the coming week, you not only resist any tendency to doubt or lose faith in yourself — but that you actively seek the encouragement you need. You may feel that so many others around you are so strong, that you have little to offer. But this second statement is simply not true. Family Focus: Remember that everyone needs space to themselves.

Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20)
More is changing than you may yet imagine, but at least the universe is playing all its cards face-up. Address one challenge at a time rather than attempting to anticipate the future. Important efforts simply must go right the first time, and you’re the one who needs to keep an eye on the big picture. More important, though, is keeping yourself and others grounded on the spirit of the times. In the beginning of any process is the feeling; the necessity; the sense of mission. How you get there is another question. The love you put in is the love that will come out. Family Focus: Loving partnerships really are the nucleus of a family, and you can now begin a whole new chapter.

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