This article was first published on 21 September 2007 at the old C*I*A – Zone X blog.
I was reading about the subprime mortgage meltdown in the USA the other day; it sort of segued into a general read-up about the Federal Reserve and the whole notion of a private corporation charging the entire population for the privilege of using their banknotes. Apparently the notion of a private group of men who benefit from the financing of whole nation-states was seen for the con that it is as far back as the days of the American Revolution. Even Lincoln in the 1860s could see the threat of a private financial oligarchy, and was responsible for introducing ‘greenbacks’ as currency issued and backed by the government alone.
However by 1913, the balance of political power in Washington DC was such that enough politicians could be bought off to enable the passing of the Federal Reserve Act, and the establishment of a private corporation that loans money to the US Government, the Federal Reserve. In case you didn’t know, the ‘Federal’ in Federal Reserve is purely an epithet – it is not part of the federal government, it is a purely private corporate entity that bestows to loan the people of the USA their everyday currency, at a price. If you look up the Federal Reserve in a phone book, it will not be listed under federal agencies, because it isn’t one – it is entirely private. Why, you ask? Why can’t the government just use its own power (as entirely derived from the people that it represents) to issue currency? The answer is that, unfortunately, we are not ruled by our elected governments (if, in fact, you can even call them elected at all); we are ruled by stupid, blind, avaricious men who have no insight into their ignorance. These men abrogate the power that can never healthily be utilised by a single person, they worship this power and sell their entire lives, their very soul, to the feeling of control over others. They never undertand the basic truth that power can never be possessed, like it is a commodity; power transcends our very individuality, it is a greater force in which we share, a power which we tune into from time to time to propel us through times when something inside us dies. As a result they, mostly unknowingly, inflict great hardships on their fellow human beings, for really no ultimate meaningful gain at all.
All this language is very Plutonic. And only next year, Pluto in the chart of the Federal Reserve, reaches its opposition to its natal place. The harvest is being reaped; the results are shown as clearly as they can be; the ultimate culmination of this energy is fully illuminated for all to see. People are seriously talking about a collapse of the dollar, a sudden crisis of confidence in the entire system of wealth creation, a feeling of having to start again with a different appreciation for reality (the Jupiter-Pluto conjunction at the Sagittarius/Capricorn cusp this austral summer is representative of this).
I always feel Pluto when I enter a situation where I am involuntarily moved to feel an emotion – it’s like I’m taken on a rollercoaster ride of feelings, always frightened that I will be discovered for the weak, needy, gutless little thing that I am inside. Like I’ve had my clothes torn off me against my will. That’s Pluto. But why is it so intense? I think it is to do with the sheer immensity of the cycle which it sweeps in time; 248 years is a looooooong time – many times a human lifespan, and so not necessarily sympathetic to individual human concerns, like trying to stay alive, for example.
To illustrate the mundane application of Pluto’s cycle, I have explored its complete transit of a chart using the example of the Act of Union of England & Wales with Scotland, in 1707. Now this is when the island of Great Britain became one legal and coronial entity, and hence I think is of immense significance to what we now refer to as the UK. Although Ireland joined with Great Britain in the Act of Union in 1801, to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, most of it seceded again 121 years later and became an independent republic, an act that Scotland has not experienced to date. For this reason, I regard this chart as a very good one to use for the present-day entity of the UK.
All cycles can be understood in terms of a simple metaphor, that of the four seasons of temperate climes. In order to understand this metaphor, it is useful to visualise the start of the year being at the vernal equinox, i.e. at the time when the Sun is crossing the celestial equator towards the hemisphere in which we happen to live. In the Northern hemisphere this is the Aries equinox, and in the Southern hemisphere it is the Libra equinox.
At the vernal equinox, or at least during the season of spring at which time the vernal equinox occurs, new life emerges through the surface of the earth as plants which have been quiescent throughout the winter begin to stir into life. This is analogous to the ‘seed moment’ of a cycle, i.e. the start of the cycle. When the cycle we are studying consists of two planets’ relationship with each other, this part of the cycle corresponds to the conjunction or ‘New Moon’ phase. In the context of an individual horoscope, this corresponds to the position of the planet at birth.
Ninety degrees further around the cycle, we encounter the opening square aspect. This is analogous to the summer solstice, the point of full flowering, the time when the purpose of the original seed is displayed for all to see. This is a time of commitment to purpose, in spite of changed circumstances. It is a time of fluorishing of life in all its colour and vigour, the peak of natural vivacity, the lush and fragrant warmth of midsummer promise. This corresponds to the first quarter phase in the lunar cycle and the first square of a planet to its natal position in a given horoscope.
Another ninety degrees further around, we come to the 180º point from where we started, analogous to the autumnal equinox. This is where the plant bears fruit, where it disseminates its essence, where its seed is dispersed, where it releases its very identity into the collective matrix. This is the opposition point: things cannot develop any further in a positive, outgoing, growing direction; rather, they must start to decline, to shrivel, to concentrate, to conserve and to prepare for hardships ahead. This corresponds to the Full Moon phase of the lunar cycle and to the opposition point of a planet to its natal place. Finally, after a further ninety degrees, we arrive at the 270º point, or the closing square aspect. At this stage we have reached the depths of winter, the fallow, resting and preparatory stage of the life cycle. It is at this time that harshness of environment and the absence of life take centre stage. This corresponds to the last quarter of the lunar cycle and the closing square of a planet to its natal place. As the depths of winter recede, we find ourselves back at the vernal point, where a new cycle of life begins again.
It is possible to examine the myriad other aspects which relate different stages in the cycle to the starting point, in between the four stages mentioned above, e.g. the sextile and trine aspects (60º and 120º respectively), or the quintile aspect (72º). However, for the purposes of this exploration of outer-planet cycles it may be simpler to restrict ourselves to the conjunction, opposition and the opening and closing squares.
Pluto takes 248 years to orbit the Sun. Unlike the rest of the major planets, Pluto has an orbit which is significantly at an angle to the plane of the solar system, and is more elliptical than the other planets’ orbits. This means that it tends to pass along some parts of the ecliptic faster than other parts. For example, it took around 10 years to pass through Scorpio (between 1984 and 1995), but around 32 years to pass through Taurus (in the nineteenth century). The effect of this is that, depending on when one was born, the opening square, opposition and closing square of Pluto to its natal position may occur at an earlier or later age. For example, an individual born on 1 January 1910, with Pluto at 25º Gemini will experience the transit of Pluto squaring its natal position (25º Virgo) in 1968-69, or almost at the age of 60. Contrast this with an individual born on 1 January 1960, with Pluto at 6º Virgo, who will experience the same transit (Pluto at 6º Sagittarius) in 1998, which is only at the age of 38. This is a very significant observation, as it points to the possibility of more clearly distinguishing between psychological issues which occur at certain stages in the lifespan being related to astrological cycles, and those which seem to be universal life patterns. Further, it suggests that individuals of different generations may find that the archetypal experiences signified by these aspects mark their generations out in a certain way.
Back to Pluto’s meaning. Pluto represents the awareness of the universal forces of destruction and renewal which are at the very core of the fundamental mysteries of life: birth, biological determinism, genetic inheritance, reproduction, sexuality, death, collective power and social control. Perhaps a good metaphor for the Plutonian archetypal experience is that of puberty: one is forcibly pulled through a metamorphosis of body and mind, enduring changes which are both intensely compelling yet frighteningly uncontrollable, to emerge as the butterfly from the chrysalis – transformed and ready for adult life. Being an outer planet, this archetypal energy is impossible to fully harness or encompass within a single human mind or spirit – it moves through us at certain times and we must let it pass rather than fight it or attempt to possess it. When Pluto is strongly configured with other planets, events and appearances become tinged with crisis, with the emotional intensity of survival and animal instinct, and we become more conscious of how we respond to the flows of power in the social matrix.
At the opening square of Pluto to its natal place, the very essence of the Plutonian archetype comes out in full bloom – the individual displays the positive, creative and socially transformative potential that lies at the interface of the person and the society in which he or she is a part. This is the stage when the person realises and acknowledges the fact that society enacts its collective crises through individual people who make individual decisions about how they use their power to transform their environment. This stage of the Pluto cycle is the stage of recognising the nature of Pluto, of seeing it for the force that it is, of understanding the pervasiveness of the power to transform at every level of our lives. Once witnessed on this very personal level, it can be wisely understood and this wisdom used for good, or it can be misapprehended and used for purposes of destruction.
On a more immediate, personal level, this stage of the Pluto cycle corresponds to the dawning awareness that political realities, i.e. matters related to how power is shared amongst people, are personal realities, all the time, everywhere. Every decision made, no matter how seemingly frivolous, is gravid with potential ramifications on the lives of others, on the environmental matrix, on the future, and on our very evolution on both personal and collective levels. To come to terms with this reality is automatically to align oneself with only one of two opposite philosophical and ethical perspectives: to accept one’s place in the greater scheme of things and dedicate one’s life to helping humanity to evolve; or to assume that one’s own survival is of paramount importance, and any and all considerations relating to the rest of the species or indeed the rest of the universe, are entirely irrelevant. There is no in-between with Pluto, and at the time of the opening square situations tend to arise that will present us with this dilemma.
At the opposition, which can only be reached at a minimum of around 90 years of age, but can be as much as 190 years, the harvest of what was built and cultivated in the previous years is reaped. The true extent of the implications of what was started at birth becomes apparent. In the typical human lifespan, such events may not be readily apparent, but they be observed more easily in charts for mundane events, such as the inauguration of nation-states or coronations of royalty. Looking at the transit of Pluto opposite natal Pluto for the chart of the United Kingdom of Great Britain in May 1707 referred to above (Union of England and Scotland, 12 May 1707 at 12:00 PM GMT (1 May 1707 OS), London, UK), occurred in the years 1780-1798, during which revolutions against royalty occurred in France and also in the newly-formed United States of America. In this example one could argue that the seed of consolidation of power in one monarch (in the radical chart, Pluto is in Leo) will inevitably result in the fruit of revolution from the people in opposition to this. It is precisely such titanic forces of immense power and collective will that take so long to mobilise and to disperse, that are symbolised by the long slow cycles of Pluto.
The closing square of Pluto’s transit to itself corresponds to the time when the impact of the destructive qualities of the Pluto archetype and the harshest circumstances of its reality become centrally apparent. There may be a renewed effort to re-vivify the ideals of the seed moment, to try to return to the glories of the past, despite an underlying deep recognition that this particular entity, idea or paradigm is dying, is decaying as all things naturally must do. Looking again at the UK 1707 chart, we can see that the last-quarter square of Pluto to itself took place in the period from 1866-1883. This was the period when the era of Pax Britannica came to an end; the long period dating back to the end of the Napoleonic Wars, during which Britain claimed unrivalled world power and prestige as an industrial powerhouse and naval force, came to an end with potent unification movements in Italy and Germany, and the end of the Franco-Prussian War. The effect of these events was that Britain’s role as sole superpower came to an end, and the age of the New Imperialism began, when European and American powers carved up the globe between them. Hence, we can see that while the political and royal entity started way back in 1707 was still very much alive and powerful – and indeed under Victoria its power was formidable – it was entering a period of crisis, a period of trying to hold onto what it felt was its natural dispensation, even though it was really the beginning of the end of that dispensation.
By the time of Pluto’s return to its natal position at 20º Leo, in the early 1950s, Britain was a different country altogether, its position as pre-eminent power ceded to the USA (and perhaps the USSR at the time) and its political culture markedly more socialist and less sympathetic to monarchical executive privilege.