November 15th, 2020

The United States’ Pluto Return: A Primer-Part 2

“You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.” — William Blake from Proverbs From Hell

Carl Jung tells of a conversation he had in 1925 with the chief of the Taos Pueblo in northern New Mexico. The chief, Ochwiay Biano, was describing to Jung the strange Europeans who have come west and invaded his world. He said:

“See how cruel the whites look. Their lips are thin, their noses sharp, their faces furrowed and distorted by folds. Their eyes have a staring expression; they are always seeking something. What are they seeking? The whites always want something; they are always uneasy and restless. We do not know what they want. We do not understand them. We think that they are mad.”

Biano’s impressions unwittingly walk us straight into the second house of the United State’s horoscope — and it’s lone occupant Pluto.

His words summon the spirit of Manifest Destiny, the ideological mania that impelled the country’s campaign of brutal conquests, diplomatic duplicity, and diaspora — the seeding of the ‘American Dream’ that displaced or destroyed indigenous settlements from coast to coast.

Psychologist James Hillman, in one of his poetic riffs, described the fuel of American hubris (and its forever recurring fever dream), as a lust for, “Consumerism, mammon, competition, speed, and greed — urban sprawl — cult of the quick, quick fame, quick success, quick fixes.”

Hillman intuited the innocence and arrogance of the dream — born of “willful stupidity, willful ignorance” — wasteful and fearful but most of all angry and entitled.

The United States’ second house Pluto mirrors this fervor for ‘settler colonialism’ — a sprawl that originated with (and was rationalized by) the nation’s already entrenched dependence on slavery; an enterprise firmly established when the colonies were transforming into a nation.

House of Hades

One of the frequent questions I receive from clients — those with a cursory understanding of astrology is: “What in the hell are the houses?”

I try and explain, “Things are happening in the sky, and the houses of the horoscope tell us where it’s playing out for us down here on Earth.”

The origin of the astrological houses is a near apocryphal mystery. As Deborah Houlding explains in her stellar book The Houses: Temples in the Sky, students are wrong to associate the houses with numerological values, or the houses’ seeming similarity to the meaning of the signs of the Zodiac.

The houses have a powerful philosophical basis of their own — distinguished and developed through centuries of historical observation and metaphorical application.

The Zodiac locates the planetary positions in space, as measured and marked by the Earth’s ecliptic, but it is the houses — related to the Earth’s daily rotation — that brings the cosmic canopy down to the Earth. As Houlding notes: “The planets signify, the signs describe and the houses locate.”

You can think about them in a literal way: You walk into a particular house and are overtaken by the ambiance  — the decor, lighting, colors, and smells. Each note imparts a general impression of what the house is ‘about’ and who might dwell there.

If your home is a bohemian loft designed for Avant-garde artists and your Christian grandmother from Idaho — let’s say she’s a stand-in for Saturn — comes to visit, you can imagine her reaction — the sort of affect her ‘meeting’ generates.

Another way to consider the houses is alchemically, where the house acts as an alembic or retort — the glass vessel that contains and protects the ignition of elements and compounds.

Planets that reside in a particular house absorb the moods and colors of the house — and also, depending on a house’s juxtaposition to the horoscope’s ascendant — the house will amplify or obscure the planet’s innate function. This later point, borrowed from classical astrology, is important to consider when delineating the complex chemistry of a second house Pluto — natally or nationally.

Over time, modern astrologers defanged the second house and removed from its welcome mat the names assigned the house by ancient astrologers, names such as Gate of Hades, Gate of Hell, or Portal of Pluto.

These underworld descriptors refer to the house’s location in the midnight terrain — the bottom half of the horoscope. Houlding explains how the lower hemisphere “was one that related to the hidden process of renewal, returning fertility which celebrated its appearance at the [chart’s] ascendant.”

The Egyptians considered the nadir — and the lower half of the wheel in general — as the underworld or resting place for the dead. With its passage through this terrain, moving back to rise again at the ascendant, the Sun was imbued with the riches of the second house — the fertile soil and precious metals; the byproducts of Hades’ realm of darkness and renewal.

Considered in this light, or darkness rather — you can see how there is an intensification of consequences when Pluto resides in a house already associated with Plutonic themes.

As mentioned above, this becomes complicated when the second house is considered in light of classical chart interpretations. Making no aspect to the ascendant (the point of sunrise — of manifestation or consciousness), planets in the second house occupy a blind spot within the horoscope.

As Pluto works best unseen, this doesn’t bode well for how an individual or a nation will consciously engage with the themes associated with a planet in the second house. I know from work with my clients, many years will often pass before planets placed in this section of the wheel are embraced or blended into consciousness.

The Wandering Nuclear Reactor

Pluto, regardless of the planet’s location in a chart, is an outlier within the solar system. A renegade oddball. The planet’s exaggerated orbital path is oval-shaped and incongruous; a side view of our solar system shows Pluto drifting off into untenanted space, assuming angles to the Sun unbeknownst to the other planets and their designated reception of sunlight.

Especially remarkable is that every 290 years, Pluto breaks rank and comes closer to the Sun than Neptune in its orbit; this phenomenon, known as perihelion, lasts for approximately twenty years. What kind of symbolic reading might this spatial rearrangement of order imply?

Let’s consider some theories and past examples of Pluto usurping Neptune’s orbit.

The years leading up to the American Revolution, from 1736 to 1747, were hallmarked by a short Pluto perihelion. Renassaince man Dane Rudhyar, who was the first astrologer to attempt a symbolic reading of Pluto’s orbital eccentricity, considered such periods seminal, where a new but disruptive impetus is instilled into the usual order within the solar system and thus within the corresponding life cycles of an existing culture.

In his book New Mansions, For New Men he offered a fantastic take apart related to this mid-18th century phenomenon:

“This period … marked the beginning of what we have called elsewhere the great Avataric Period, which encompasses the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Three centuries; three new planets discovered; three totally different rhythms of human living — the Uranian vibration of the eighteenth century which brought the Revolutionary era, democracy (a new principle of social structure) and electricity — the Neptunian vibration of the nineteenth century which brought communism … spiritualism, humanitarianism, and the total change of the substance of human behavior — the Plutonian vibration of the twentieth century which is manifesting through the modern hells of war, but also through the slow birth of a new world-consciousness.”

Pluto also experienced another Neptune-crossing perihelion, the most recent, between 1978 to 2000, a significant phase shift where the fallout from the convulsive mid-sixties counterculture movement went underground — losing many of its proponents to drug overdoses or mental excursions that moved people completely off the map of participatory life; while the more pragmatic activists found ways to persist and inculcate their revelations into sociopolitical aspirations. A seed-planting that preserved the integrity of the counterculture’s Zeitgeist.

The point here is that in many ways the spirit of what we witnessed during the mid-to late-sixties — the reassertion of paganism, magic, astrology, and Eastern philosophy — and the accompanying societal upheaval, where epic strides were made with civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights — are echoes of the same revolutionary spirit that forged America into a nation-state. Echoes of the former Pluto perihelion and the revolution associated with it.

With Pluto’s impending return to its position in the United State’s birth chart in 2022, a thematic recapitulation is gaining momentum, setting off both of the planet’s previous orbital disruptions, those moments when Pluto was brought not just closer to the Sun but also to the Earth.

This is a subject for another essay, but it’s important to highlight this unique feature regarding Pluto’s orbit. Why? Because it is the place that the planets occupy in the solar system that imparts significance within the play of light that is central to astrology’s lexicon.

Burnt Offerings

It’s ironic that cliche and caricature have killed off our astrological understanding of Pluto. Pop astrology has buried the planet beneath lifeless New Age jargon. Dead language that prevents our imagination from supporting the perceptions worthy of a planet associated with death.

And so I dread pushing through the sludge to forge words that might bring new life to Pluto — yet another irony when I think about it.

And to think about Pluto is something I’ve done throughout my studies and 45-year practice as an astrologer.

My sense of Pluto is empirical — a felt awareness that never touches bottom. I’ve Pluto conjunct the ascendant which makes me a dark glasses wearing ambassador for the renegade planet. And providing ballast over the years are my meditations on Dane Rudyhar’s lifelong inquiry into the three outer planets beyond Saturn.

To the student astrologer, I recommend allotting serious time to Rudyhar’s research, his approach is high octane Sagittarian transmission: inspirational and poetic — blazing and revelatory. Tough reading that carves grooves in your brain. It is also useful for cultures, like ours, caught in crisis.

What makes Pluto complex as an organic force or function, are the planet’s occult properties. Again, here’s another threadbare term that’s lost its fangs. Occult: from the Latin occulere — for ‘covered over’. Hillman notes: “What one knows about life may not be relevant for what is below life.”

Allusions to the Egyptian underworld again — chthonic, sulphuric, dark energy, dark matter. Inside out and upside down. The Egyptians carried into extreme detail the reversals of the underworld. The denizens there progressed upside down, feet up, heads down. Dutch historian J. Zandee writes: “People there walk with their feet against the ceiling. This has the unpleasant consequence that digestion goes in the reverse direction so that excrements arrive in the mouth.”

That which is considered shit from our living perspective becomes nourishment from the Plutonic view. This image better than any other aligns Pluto with the concept of enantiodromia.

This principle, borrowed from the Greeks, deserves our attention when Pluto’s degenerative/regenerative force starts spinning, amplified as it is, in the US’s birth chart, during the planet’s cyclic return — leaving the culture dusted with its enantiodromic fallout.

Jung, who brought this Greek concept back to life describes enantiodromia as “the emergence of the unconscious opposite in the course of time. This characteristic phenomenon practically always occurs when an extreme, one-sided tendency dominates conscious life; in time an equally powerful counterposition is built up which first inhibits the conscious performance and subsequently breaks through the conscious control.”

I can’t think of a better way to describe how Pluto functions within the various processes that transform any living (or dead) organism — or culture.

Jessica Murray writes in her book Soul Sick Nation: An Astrologer’s View of America (referenced in the first part of this essay) of Pluto’s manner:

“In the process of breaking something down and renewing it, tremendous power is released…it is intense and thorough, for it has built-up slowly from invisible depths. In the chart of a country, this takes the form of formidable forces that operate below the surface of collective consciousness, accumulating their power slowly enough to occupy an entrenched and relatively unquestioned position.”

The power or law that governs these complexities is, for all its ubiquity (approximately 150,000 people die each day on Earth) resisted, denied, shunned, and censored. Conversely, it is also sought, coveted, and hoarded when it takes the outward form of wealth and the power associated with ownership.

Pluto morphing within the second house of a horoscope can attract gangsters, black marketers, gang leaders, and Mafiosi. But also shadow accountants, profiteers, prostitutes, and pimps. Pluto remodels its house into cells, hidden passages, deep wells, middens, and dark corners; it’s treasures hidden in vaults or off-shore bank accounts.

Given the second house’s association with possessions, resources, and ownership, imagine what transpires when any of the above-mentioned characters set up shop for the long haul.

By its sign placement in Capricorn, Pluto deadlocks and opposes the overamped optimism associated with the United States’ stellium of planets — nearly half of the solar system — in Cancer. The Sun, Mercury, Jupiter, and Venus all reside in close proximity of a conjunction in the sign.

This quartet of planets in Cancer (a sign associated with origin, birth, and progeny) alludes to our idealogy of unlimited growth and unchecked prosperity (the tent pole of the American Dream). But entwined with the optimism is a complicated obsession with comfort and an obsession with security that borders on the paranoid.

When asked in a survey some years back, what age most Americans would prefer to live the rest of their lives from, a majority answered somewhere between the age of 12 and 16. Perpetual teens. James Hillman once described America’s endemic national disease as an “addiction to innocence.”

“There is an uncomplicated innocence to Cancer,” Murray notes. The sign’s “imagery is that of family picnics and apple pies. But as an unconscious water sign, its central impulses are also darkly primitive, fed by the Mother/Child archetype. This suggests that the world’s greatest superpower is actually driven by the fear and yearnings of an ingenious child, one who is all bound up in its own safety and comfort.”

For a nation, this beacon of innocence makes for complex relationships on the world stage. One of Cancer’s most charmingly annoying habits is the urge to mother and nurse, whether invited or not. Too, its assumption that what America considers valuable should interest the rest of the world, too,

The Jupiter in Cancer part of the conjunction in Cancer amplifies this tendency to grandiose proportions, where the inclination to protect and guide becomes invasive and controlling. Within its own boundaries, the nation’s urge for safety and security requires constant surveillance — thus we have the largest military complex in the world.

Follow The Money

Murray asserts that resources associated with the second house “vary from era to era; but whatever a society’s treasures are at a given time — be they diamonds or dot.com stock — they are as characteristic of that culture as language and native dress.”

In a chapter titled Money Neuroses, Murray defines dozens of ways we might interpret the USA’s Pluto placement. I’ve focused on several that echo the symptoms of our collective moment as a nation. The amalgam of turmoil, retribution, and purging that define the spiritual tenor of 2020.

I’ll focus on five for this essay:

• Slavery. The key component, Murray writes, “of the darkest chapter in American history — the Civil War…this war was essentially about the nature of ownership. With slavery Pluto took the idea of territorial control to its most literal absolute extreme — one group of humans made possessions of another group for material gain.”

• Unhealthy impulses towards ownership. “Ubiquity,” Murray notes, “has made American materialism unremarkable; indeed, greed has become legitimized as a function of social success.”

• Haves and Haves Not. Murray explains that with Pluto in the second house: “America is destined to explore the most extreme reaches of the wealth/poverty polarity.”

Despite the blaring chasm between the 1% and the rest of us, “America remains obsessed by the fiction of its own classlessness.” This disparity fails to register, Murray adds, “because it is too grotesque to assimilate…The mind boggles. The natural urge is to shut down and look away.”

This fits with traditional astrology’s description of the second as being unaspected — ‘disconnected’ or ‘unseen’ — by the chart’s ascendant — the point that marks the entry of light as awareness. Being void of view, a planet that is placed in the second house is akin to having a stranger living under the floorboards of your home while you remain clueless of his existence.

• Mass Privatization: Murray again: “We have entered an era whereby resources once thought to belong to the commonweal are now auctioned off to the highest bidder.” This level of greed is overpowering, dismantling values that were once universally considered off-limits to personal gain.

• Capitalism on steroids. Murray asks: Why do Americans take capitalism so personally? And answers: “It is because, in the collective mind, capitalism has become fuzzily equated with democracy.” Add to this the odd logic — the conflation of democratic greed with patriotism.

Murray cogently details more in this chapter but I’ve highlighted these particular qualities to make sense of the forces at work forging a tipping point as Pluto nears its 2022 return in Capricorn.

As a prelude, a global pandemic has flipped the entire country into a condition of enantiodromia — where one condition strangely turns into its opposite. For America, this Plutonic mutation marks a course toward a seemingly fated set of reversals — karmic corrections and tricks of fate, where comeuppance balances the gross disparities within the wheel of time.

Viewed cinematically you can consider Pluto in the second house of the USA’s chart as the essence of Margaret Mitchell‘s Gone With the Wind. The South’s unchecked arc of ascending wealth — won off the back of slave labor. The persistent threat of war. The arrival of the Civil War. The punishing incineration of the South. And finally the nation’s exhaustive reconstruction.

With the nation’s Pluto return these plots are revisited and recapitulated, though costumed differently. Central is Trump’s autocratic regime and the Gollum-like creatures — Stephen Miller and former adviser Steven Bannon — who script the particulars of the narrative’s theme or ideology.

A similar moral obstinancy equates the Trump presidency with the same libertarian fantasy that consumed the pre-Civil War South and its secession from the Union. The COVID pandemic is the new warzone — complete with martial uniforms: the mask-wearing Unionists and a rebel-like Confederacy of science-denying patriots.

Roiling in tandem are the protests and incendiary riots related to the entrenched racism and festering grudges, both holdovers from the Civil War. The summertime dismantling and drowning of Confederate statues and monuments are in keeping with themes related to the nation’s Pluto return: What any culture erects to withstand the passage of time — their metal and stone symbols of immutability — are usually the first to go in the early stages of a cultural invasion or breakdown.

Trump’s plummeting poll numbers, the crashing economy, and disastrous COVID response seem obvious notches in his ongoing denouement. But within the disorienting realm of a Pluto-evoked enantiodromia — each of these disasters is just another component of “flooding the zone with shit” — Steven Bannon’s phrase for overwhelming a system with obfuscation and denial.

You can’t make this shit up! Think about it: Flooding the zone with shit is an apt description to mark the prelude to a nation’s Pluto return.

Shock Doctrine

Astrology operates free of morals, values, and rectitude. Those conditions are projected into the art by the humans who created and employ it.

And so what is a disaster for one segment of the population, is a gold mine for another — a feature within this world gone upside-down moment where disaster capitalists eye the ruin and financial fallout associated with COVID as keen opportunities to do more of what is such an entrenched tradition in the US. “There’s gold in them there foreclosures!”

This year — with its metaphorical supersharp 2020 vision (formerly the name of Kanye West‘s campaign for the presidency) has trained us to forgo the urge to assemble meaning and deduct an outcome for the future.

The Saturn Pluto conjunction in January of 2020 felt like a disassembling of our meaning-making capacity — landing the bulk of the populace in a suspended state of chaos and void. For more specific details on this effect see my private report on that particular decade-defining aspect.

The Saturn Pluto conjunction was followed in the spring by Pluto’s conjunction with Jupiter. This merger was finally perfected just days ago, right as Trump entrenched himself in denial — refusing to concede to Joe Biden‘s victory.

The New York Times wrote recently of this bizarre post-election bardo, “… this might have been the most unsettling, and uncertain, few days in Trump’s Presidency.” And astrologically, considering the confluence of Jupiter and Pluto, this confirms bizarre mutations (Pluto) of how power moves through any organized system (Jupiter).

Astrologers forget that although they might be privy to understanding the epic cycles that astrology tracks and provides commentary for, those same astrologers, as relates to a Pluto return, will not live long enough to see the imagined resurrection that’s to follow. All Phoenixes do not necessarily arise reborn, sometimes the weight of the ash is too much to surmount, pushing a failed organism or system deeper into Pluto’s remaking process.

As I ask my clients when this topic dominates our time together: “If we’re already on the Titanic, how does one live a life, or how do you perform or behave when the ship’s going down?” And this is the question I advise my friends and clients to ponder during this prelude to the US’s Pluto return in 2022. Life goes on but cultures, states, dynasties, and empires rise and fall.

Part of the disconnect many people experience today relates to the fact that there is no historical perspective to give a sense of honor to the particular moment in time they have been born into. The technological revolution that began during Pluto’s recent perihelion does not allow for backward glances — the future is everything — even if arriving at tomorrow kills us. Thus we’re stranded and tapping at our devices — sending Morse Code into the void.

My Titanic question is a fitting one for the Pluto return itself. To appreciate the profundity of the closing cycle means looking through a glass darkly.

We’re forced to see beyond the con of Ronald Reagan‘s “It’s morning in America” — to see through the spent myth of it; to release the sort of mind-grip that Kurt Vonnegut ascribed to one of his characters in Slaughterhouse-Five:

“Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops.”

In Part 3 of this essay we’ll consider in more detail how the closing phase of any cycle might be interpreted to reveal guidance and strategies for living through unprecedented times. Also the karmic meaning of the United States’ Dweller on the Threshold.
Part 4 will conclude with an in-depth discussion with Jessica Murray, author of the book Soul Sick Nation.

Opening collage by FW/Gustave Dore and photographer Olivier Douliery.



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