(Be sure to see the Addendum below the article.)
Do astronomers know something that astrologers don’t?
Pluto is just about exactly at the center of our Milky Way galaxy, from our viewpoint, a position it occupies only once in two-and-a-half centuries. Yet, like the Rodney Dangerfield of heavenly bodies, it can’t get any respect. Astronomers have declared it a dwarf. On August 24, 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) announced that Pluto would henceforth be considered a “dwarf planet,” along with Ceres (formerly an asteroid) and the recently discovered “Kuiper Belt Object,” 2003 UB313, which it would later name (see below). In one day, 2500 people made a decision for all of us, for history. Well, I could round up 2500 astrologers in one day to vote Pluto back in the pack! It’s powerful and it belongs in astrology even if astronomy doesn’t revere it. “It was always small, but mighty,” is my response. Instead of removing it from astrology charts, I’ve added Ceres.
There is no world-wide governing body of astrologers to make momentous decisions like there is in astronomy. Though astronomers and astrologers don’t converse much, astronomical designations can definitely affect astrological interpretations. Astronomy is the fraternal twin field that cast off astrology in the Age of Enlightenment (which some astrologers call the Age of EnDarkenment). It has provided the “food” for astrology for centuries. Astrologers welcomed the planets Uranus and Neptune into its fold. Beyond Neptune, though, lies the possibility for many more heavenly bodies, little things less than true planets. Pluto was the first to be discovered there, just as Ceres was the first to be discovered in the belt of thousands of asteroids between Mars and Jupiter. Astrology had already fully adopted Pluto before astronomy slowly got around to deciding what to label it. It would take a mental downshift now for astrologers to let it go.
Scientists tend to view phenomena through the lens of cause and effect and physical properties. They are quick to point out that Pluto can’t possibly have an effect on us because it’s so small and far away. They could try to open their minds to conceive that influences may emanate from something other than gravity. After all, Newton’s theories seem primitive now compared to Einstein’s. The wild-haired genius was smart enough to know that when you dig deep enough into science’s guts, you end up staring divinity and awesome mystery in the face. The latest thinking in quantum physics is that electrons moving around the nucleus of an atom have an effect on one another. What is our solar system but a macroscopic version of the microscopic atom?
Thus far, the discovery of each planet viewable only by telescope has coincided with developments in technology and the collective mindset. Uranus, the planet of rebellion, was found by telescope in 1789 at the time of the French Revolution and the American Constitution. In 1846, the next planet was discovered, Neptune, associated with beliefs, spirituality, religion, alcohol, health (thus of illness and infection) and oil. This was near the time of Pasteur’s discovery of germs (1857) dispelling the prior belief that spirits cause disease, the discovery of oil (1859), and the founding of the Salvation Army in 1849 by William Booth (no relation to me).
Whether or not you call it a planet, Pluto followed suit in corresponding with developments in line with its association, coinciding (roughly) with the discovery of the explosive element Plutonium in 1940, which gave us the power to destroy the world and – by facing that possibility – the ability to keep from doing so.
Once upon a time, the most scientific minds of the day were certain of theories we laugh at in the new millennium. Today’s speculations lay the trail for tomorrow’s truths. There was gravity before Newton, relativity before Einstein, and there’s always been astrological influence. Someday some genius will “prove” astrology “scientifically.” Until then, I’m as proud to “believe in astrology” as a scientist is proud to believe in science (except that few scientists realize their worldview is a philosophy). In my opinion, science is a religion, the belief that everything that exists is measurable, describable and knowable. I pity people who haven’t experienced anything mystical and magical that’s unfathomable. They should get away from light pollution and spend an evening staring at a sky-full of stars, preferably on the night of a meteor shower or a lunar eclipse!
Astrology isn’t likely to let go of a planet it has already embraced and for good reason. The mythology associated with the original planets of our solar system provides clues to the planets’ astrological traits. Mars, the god of war, signals aggression; Venus, the goddess of beauty, speaks to attraction. We expect that the mythological associations of the names for any newly discovered heavenly bodies will correspond to or signal what those bodies represent astrologically. But it’s not that astronomers are playing God when they name these bodies, but rather that synchronicity (Carl Jung’s concept) is at work, connecting our collective human psyche with eternal archetypes. To paraphrase Descartes, if Pluto did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it. It may be that in some way, we need the principles that Pluto embodies. We need its push to clear the deadwood out of our lives to make way for something new. We need inspiration for transformation, awareness of collective resources, and a connection to those who have crossed over. We can’t throw the Pluto baby out with the astronomical bath water! BUT we can (and likely will) embrace a more elevated status for the grand dame, Ceres. Indeed, that’s the good news of the IAU’s decision: Ceres, the heavenly body representing fertility, harvest and Mother Nature, got a promotion, while the bad guy Pluto, the planet associated with death, sex, the underworld, organized crime, power over others, bombs, Plutocracy and all things scatological and taboo, got demoted.
Now that Ceres is a considered a planet (albeit a “dwarf”), maybe it will become the ruler of Virgo. We’ve known about Ceres for over 200 years and many astrologers have already been plotting its position in birth charts, especially since the 1970s. The feminist movement prompted a closer look at four asteroids named for female deities: Ceres, Juno, Vesta and Pallas/Athena. Ceres’ nurturing traits bear a resemblance to the Moon’s affairs. Ceres is also associated with grains (it shares a root with the word cereal), which do have a connection to Virgo. When it was an asteroid, it wasn’t granted any rulership, as is the case with another asteroid, Chiron. Discovered in 1977 between Saturn and Uranus, Chiron is now commonly used in charts by astrologers but without rulership status over any sign.
Not long after the momentous August decision, the IAU gave 2003 UB313 a name: Eris, in honor of the Greek goddess of discord, chaos and strife. I had been hoping for something with woman-power in it and had been excited about the rumor that Xena would be chosen. (This was the name proposed by the planetoid’s lead discoverer, astronomer Micheal Brown of Palomar Observatory in California.) I’d like to see humankind move beyond the violent male deities of patriarchal Roman and Greek cultures and send the signal to our collective consciousness that feminine qualities have strength worthy of being emulated. I guess the message here is that as an equal to Ceres and Pluto, Eris symbolically tells us that life and death exist alongside unknowns, and that life isn’t neat or simple or easy. But there are always new things to discover!
Don’t expect astrologers to make any changes about re-classified or new planets (dwarf or otherwise) immediately. When Pluto was discovered in 1930, it took some time for most astrologers to place it in charts and it was decades before agreement was reached to assign it rulership over Scorpio. In fact, some astrologers today stubbornly cling to Scorpio’s traditional (pre-Pluto) ruler, Mars. Ancient techniques still in use now, like horary astrology, use only the traditional planets visible to the naked eye: Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. That number, seven, corresponds neatly with the seven notes in music, the seven chakras in the body, the seven days of the week (each named after a planet) and the seven colors of the rainbow. Who says there are only seven of these items? Who says the universe is necessarily so neat?
Though Pluto’s now a dwarf, I continue to put it in my charts, and of course, I now add Ceres. Once astrology chart software offers Eris, I suppose I’ll pop her in there, too. Maybe Eris is here to teach us how to live in the turmoil that is life. If we’re lucky, we can learn how to embrace chaos, like the Tower card in the Mother Peace deck where a figure atop a turret grasps a lightning bolt in each hand in a show of power. Though the common usage of chaos denotes confusion and disorder, the root of this Greek word for space is related to the words gape and yawn. So open up to chaos, to the number one meaning for the word (from Webster’s New World Dictionary & Thesaurus): the disorder of formless matter and infinite space, supposed to have existed before the ordered universe. Chaos theory suggests that without chaos, life would not exist!
Life is in flux. Our understanding of our solar system and our universe is in flux. Our consciousness is expanding; our evolution is ongoing. We’re in the midst of another major shift in our culture, in our consciousness and perspective. We can’t yet imagine what leaps we’re about to make. Kuiper Belt Objects like Quoaor and Sedna show us that there is more to our solar system than we previously knew or suspected. Their cycles are much longer than what we have so far encountered, like Sedna’s orbit of 10,500 years. The average time for it to pass through each of the twelve signs means everyone born for eight centuries could have Sedna in the same sign! What might that mean?
So many questions. So much time. The bottom line is: time will tell. And the bottom line message from our astronomical brethren is:
Down with death. Up with life. Recognize the value of chaos and strife.
An Addendum to the article
In 2008, the nomenclature committee of the International Astronomical Union re-visited its previous new term “dwarf planet” and replaced it with “Plutoid” for bodies that orbit our Sun beyond Neptune. This applies to Eris, but not to Ceres since it is between Mars and Jupiter. It might get a new term “Ceroid” named for it before the astronomers are done modifying terms.
Eris moves through the zodiac very slowly! Its 557-year orbit means it spends several years at just one degree. For instance, it was at the 22nd degree of Aries from 2006 until 2010. Only occasionally does it emerge from its background drumbeat to show its disruptive face. Its first big challenge came courtesy of an opposition from Saturn in Libra, exact Oct. 27, 2011.
For a very interesting side note, read these comments from Michael Brown, one of Eris’s discoverers.