by Steven Forrest
reprinted with permission from The Moutain Astrologer, August 2007 issue
Pluto’s recent demotion to the status of “dwarf planet” upset a lot of us It shouldn’t. We astrologers have been calling the Sun and Moon “planets” for a long time. We have, in other words, a long tradition of using the term “planet” differently than astronomers do. Experience has taught us that Pluto simply works like one—we know it’s a “planet” and we really don’t need anyone’s approval before we use the term.
Even better, most of us have had some fun thinking about upcoming Pluto transits for those astronomers in the International Astronomical Union who demoted Pluto! How would you like to explain that one to the Lord of the Underworld?
But there are deeper, more disturbing issues here. We need, collectively, to address them. Astrology’s bones are being rattled, and it’s not just by a bunch of academics quibbling over slippery definitions.
Lately, it’s fashionable to say that astrology as we know it goes back only to the 3rd century B.C. in Greece. I laugh at that idea when I think of the hard evidence—evidence as “hard” as Stonehenge, the Great Pyramids of Egypt and of Teotihuacan, and the Venus-temple known as Newgrange in Ireland.(1) Those are the traditions I feel living inside me, personally. Who actually imagines that Stonehenge was merely an eclipse-calculator, and that the people who built it never felt that the sky was speaking meaningfully to them? Our lineage is ancient, and it is not limited to the Mediterranean world.
However old astrology may be, it was shaken to its roots just 227 years ago when William Herschel discovered Uranus. Suddenly the venerable system of “seven planets” (counting Moon and Sun) simply didn’t reflect reality anymore. “As above, so below” had been astrology’s philosophical cornerstone for a long, long time. We either had to abandon it, or deal with this new planet that upset everything. We dealt with it.
Today, there are astrologers working in Classical, Jyotish, and Renaissance traditions who prefer to ignore Uranus. I am confident that many of them get excellent results. They have my sincere respect. I’ve also heard brilliant, helpful modern astrological analyses based only on the Sun and Moon. But who could honestly look at the reality of human experience and argue that a transit of Uranus over, say, your natal Sun is a non-event? This “invisible planet” produces results that are quite palpable. Again, kudos to those doing traditional forms of astrology—they have a lot to teach us. But if they try to pretend that the last two thousand years have taught us nothing, I just shake my head. Uranus is real, and it is not the only new astrological reality. There is a new solar system out there.
Astrology swallowed the discovery of Uranus whole, and nowadays only a small minority of us would dare ignore it. Interestingly, we found that while Uranus has its own unique energetic signature, it works basically the same way that the other seven planets do. In other words, if someone has Uranus conjunct her Ascendant, that planet’s fabled independence or zaniness is strongly visible in her outward character. If someone has it conjunct his Venus, his intimate life will reflect those “peculiar, eccentric, or unusual” qualities we have come to call “Uranian.” Learning to work with a new planet—while it was confusing to the “seven planets” crowd at a theoretical level—turned out actually not to be so difficult. And of course, the bonus was that the inclusion of Uranus made astrology more accurate. Before 1781, I’m sure that many an astrologer was baffled to see someone’s life turned upside down when “nothing seemed to be happening in the chart.” Knowledge of Uranus—part of the objective truth of the solar system—made us stronger.
We then had a few decades to reflect—it was another sixty-five years before Neptune entered our vocabulary. That happened in 1846. After that, eighty-four years (precisely one Uranian cycle!) passed before it happened again: Clyde Tombaugh discovered yet another new planet: Pluto. That was in 1930.
At a human level, the astrological community had time for digestion between these discoveries. By the middle of the last century, finding and absorbing new planets had become almost a routine event—and generations of astrologers had time to chew on their riddles. For those of you who know modern astrological culture, it was as if Dane Rudhyar put out some theories in 1936, Liz Green commented on them in the 1980s, and Moses Siregar III gave Dane and Liz a Reality Check in 2007. Time and collective experience are powerful filters. They separate wheat from chaff very effectively.
The critical point is that astrology stretched to include these three new planets without having to throw away entirely the elemental principles upon which it had been founded. By this I mean that these new planets, like the classical ones, seem to have intrinsic meanings which were then modified by Sign placements and by aspects to other planets, and then expressed outwardly in Houses—they behaved, in other words, just like Mercury or Jupiter. To include them in the system, we didn’t have to change the paradigms upon which our thinking was founded. We only had to complicate it a bit, and wrestle with some hard, ongoing questions about planetary “rulership” of Signs.
I know that people practicing any of the older traditions may be frustrated by my simplifications here. But what we are facing today is vaster than anything we’ve faced before, to the point that I believe these distinctions among the present and former astrological traditions will soon pale before the pressure of emerging reality. As a community and as a tradition, we’ll “hang together, or we’ll hang separately.”
First, a bit more history. Just twenty years after the discovery of Uranus, a planetary discovery appeared to happen again: Giuseppe Piazzi. discovered Ceres in 1801. It was at first hailed as a new planet—after all, other than the occasional comet, we’d discovered nothing but planets until then, so the assumption was natural.
Then, just one year later, Pallas was found—in basically the same orbit as Ceres. Astronomers and astrologers had always understood planets as occupying separate orbits, so something strange was going on here. Then Juno was discovered in 1804 and Vesta in 1807, all in similar orbits between Mars and Jupiter. It was quickly recognized that these bodies were in a different class than Mercury or Uranus. The term “minor planet” was coined, and later our more familiar word, “asteroid.”
By the early nineteenth century, the solar system was clearly becoming a more complex place than we’d ever imagined. Did these asteroids have meaning? Yes, for sure—anyone who explores them quickly realizes that they are significant symbols. A lot of astrologers have worked with the so-called “Big Four” asteroids—which actually are only the first four that happened to be to be discovered. (Hygiea, discovered by de Gasparis in 1849, is actually a lot bigger than Juno.) But my aim here is not really to interpret asteroids. Many astrologers are far more knowledgeable about them than I am. Demetra George’s book, Asteroid Goddesses (2), is a great place to get started. I would also like to call attention to a wonderful article in the last issue of Mountain Astrologer, John Challen’s “The Expansive Mirror of the Asteroids,”* and also to Martha Lang-Wescott’s Mechanics of the Future: Asteroids. * If you are drawn to this branch of the astrological world, a practical way of staying right on the cutting edge is to get involved with the Asteroid Special Interest Group (SIG) of the National Council for Geocosmic Research. (3)
The observation I do want to underscore is that, even though asteroids are quite demonstrably real in their astrological meaning, the majority of present-day astrologers do not use them. Psychologically, it is easy to understand why. Once we added Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto to the system, it was already getting confusing. There is a natural, understandable hesitancy to over-complicate the picture. We can’t stay on top of it. The mind rebels. We get nervous.
And maybe we should— as of September 17, 2006, there was a total of 341,328 known asteroids. 136,563 of them have permanent official numbers, and 13,479 have official names. (4) Many more remain to be discovered. Current estimates put the total number of asteroids above one kilometer in diameter to be somewhere between 1.1 and 1.9 million. No astrologer could possibly use them all. If you tried to do an astrological consultation including all of them, and you worked sixteen hour days, giving each one a single minute, that session would take nearly six years to complete.
This does not mean that asteroids are not real! “As above, so below” still works, down to incredible levels of precision. Here are a couple of examples taken from the web site of asteroid researcher, Jacob Schwartz. (5) The asteroid Lust is on Monica Lewinsky’s Midheaven—and of course, no matter how complex the woman’s inner life may actually be, her public persona (Midheaven) will forever bear the mark of her “lustful” sexual relationship with Bill Clinton. In Clinton’s own chart, the asteroid Monica opposes the asteroid Hillary.
The larger asteroids are amenable to deeper forms of psychological analysis, while many of the smaller ones seem to add elements of startlingly refined, but ultimately rather minor detail: the names of Bill Clinton’s wife and his lover being in opposition in his natal chart, for example. It’s astonishing—but it only astonishes, without telling us anything we didn’t already know.
With thousands of named asteroids and more coming every day, the potential excitement is tempered by the feeling of being overwhelmed by trivial information. One could be forgiven for a feeling of nostalgia about the simpler days of “seven planets.” But should we succumb uncritically to that feeling?
This emerging problem of burgeoning, over-abundant celestial symbolism is now over two centuries old. It is the “elephant in the living room” of the astrological community. We dealt with Uranus, Neptune and Pluto by treating them, more or less, like the classical planets. We jammed them into the old system, made them fit our old paradigms. We’ve essentially dealt with the asteroid “problem” by sweeping it under the carpet.
But the plot continued to thicken. Chiron was discovered in 1977, orbiting out beyond Saturn, far outside the familiar “asteroid belt.” It came to be called a “Centaur,” which is defined as an asteroid-like object orbiting between Jupiter and Neptune. Shortly after Chiron was discovered, another Centaur—Pholus—was discovered. It’s even bigger. Now we have many more.
You can learn a lot about these discoveries, and stay current, by visiting the web site of astrologer Philip Sedgwick.(6) By the way, I’d like to honor Philip here. He proposed the names for two of the Centaurs, Thereus and Elatus, which were accepted by the International Astronomical Union. Other astrologers have named Centaurs too. Melanie Reinhart contributed Nessus. Robert von Heeren offered Asbolus and Chariklo. With Zane Stein and others, von Heeren also contributed Hylonome. With Philip Sedgwick and others, he named Cyllarus. John Delaney named Echeclus and Crantor. (6)
As an anthropological observation about the “tribe” of astrologers, I find it interesting that while Chiron has caught on in a fairly big way, it’s hard to find an astrologer who can even name another Centaur! Pholus is bigger than Chiron. How many of us can even locate Pholus in our own natal charts? Again, the “overwhelm” factor seems to be making itself felt. As a group, we astrologers are turning away from the objective complexity of the modern solar system, and the reasons are more psychological than rational.
But maybe we should! We can’t spend six years sitting with each client. Unlike the astrologers who lived before 1781, we must now edit the solar system! There is no choice. It is growing too complex for us. But our unspoken strategy of ignoring that emerging complexity, of pretending that it is not happening, is beginning to unravel.
In 1992 the system blew wide open. The first “Kuiper Belt Object” was found: a planet-like body orbiting beyond Pluto. (“Kuiper” rhymes with “viper,” by the way). Astrologers note that in 1992 the paradigm-shifting conjunction of Uranus and Neptune was beginning. Clearly, the basic “myth of the world” was about to change. The cycle of conjunctions between these two planets is 171 years long. Last time it happened, it brought us electricity, fossil fuel-driven mass transportation, and the collapse of European colonialism—the beginning of the modern world, in other words. Uranus-Neptune conjunctions are a long story and not the one I am telling now, although if you are interested I do have a detailed recorded lecture about it available (7). Suffice to say that the real mythic significance of the early and middle 1990s is not yet fully appreciated. I am very confident that the discovery of the first Kuiper Belt Object in 1992 will be remembered by future astrologers as even more pivotal than the discovery of Uranus two centuries earlier, and that we will merrily exult in the “I-told-you-so” fact that it occurred under the paradigm-shifting alignment of Uranus and Neptune.
1992 was just fifteen years ago. Today, over eight hundred Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) have been discovered. They are all farther away and generally much smaller than Pluto—which is already pretty little by planet-standards. Astrologers have mostly ignored them. In a sense, so did the astronomers—until ignoring them became impossible, when, in 2003, another KBO was discovered. With this one, now known as Eris, there was a crucial difference: it was bigger than Pluto. If Pluto was a planet, then how could Eris not be called one too? Astronomers could no longer ignore the issue. What did the word “planet” actually mean?
The NASA website ran a headline, “10th Planet Discovered” on July 29, 2005.(8) If astrologers felt a little nervous at the thought of yet another planet to add to their consultations, imagine the poor astronomers! They quickly realized that if both Pluto and Eris were truly planets, then there might actually be about eight hundred more of them.
And those were just ones that had been discovered so far. Estimates for the total number of these KBOs with diameters over one hundred kilometers run toward 70,000—although it is worth noting that the total mass of the Kuiper Belt is probably very low, all together equaling or just exceeding that of the planet Earth.
Quickly, the International Astronomical Union moved to contain the damage. Meeting in Prague in summer 2006, they famously (or infamously!) downgraded Pluto—and Eris—to the status of “dwarf planets,” declaring that there was now a total of eight planets in the solar system.
According to the I.A.U.’s Prague definition, to be considered a planet, a body must meet three criteria.(9)
First, it orbits a star. In other words, moons that orbit planets don’t count. Fair enough.
Second, a planet has “sufficient mass for its self_gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a . . . nearly round shape.”
Third, a planet has “cleared the neighborhood around its orbit.” In other words, its gravity has swept up the local cosmic debris, and it orbits in solitary splendor, unlike the asteroids which often share very similar orbits.
Regarding, the second criterion, “roundness,” there is much debate. Most of the little asteroids look basically like potatoes. The asteroid Ceres is massive enough to be fairly round. That’s why the I.A.U. upgraded its status to that of “dwarf planet,” like Pluto. But the trouble is, Pallas is pretty round too, and so is Vesta. And if you look at Jupiter through a telescope, you can easily see that it is quite distinctly fat around the middle—not round in any precise sense. Being “round, more or less,” hardly qualifies as a rigorous scientific standard! There’s just too much slack in the term. “Round” is a word like ‘beautiful” or “boring,” unless we define it as perfect sphericity. But then none of the planets qualify.
Similar objections exist for the fuzzy third criterion—that a planet “clears its orbit.” The Trojan asteroids are locked in gravitational resonance with Jupiter and share its orbit. More fundamentally, various forms of cosmic debris are simply whizzing around the solar system all the time, cutting in and out of all the planetary orbits. That’s why we probably ought to be worried about the “Near-Earth Asteroids,” which cross our own orbit regularly. One of them took out the dinosaurs sixty-five million years ago, and who knows what tomorrow may bring? Earth itself hasn’t even “cleared its orbit.” Are we not a planet?
Alan Stern, principal investigator for NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto, put it this way, "Tell me where else in astronomy we classify objects by what else is around them? It's ridiculous." He added, "I just think the I.A.U. has embarrassed itself. . . . If you read the definition that they have adopted in that room today, it is scientifically indefensible."(10)
Some astrologers, eager to defend our own status quo regarding planetary definitions, have been eager to criticize the I.A.U. too. But if Pluto is going to remain a planet, then Eris must surely be considered one too—and probably Sedna and Quaoar, along with Rhadamanthus, Varuna, Orcus, Chaos, Deucalion, Huya, Ixion . . . and many others not yet found.
We can kiss the status quo goodbye, in other words. That’s over.
Here, in my opinion, is the quintessential problem: the word “planet” is a cultural artifact, nothing more. It has no final meaning. It is a word left over from the days before telescopes, when the sky we beheld was far simpler. With the discovery of Uranus, the word “planet” began to betray us, although it took us another two and a quarter centuries for us to realize it.
Never in the long history of our craft have we faced a challenge of this magnitude. If the word “planet” collapses, what is astrology? How do we begin to think about what we do?
There is a strong temptation to turn away from the enormity of these questions and take safe intellectual refuge in historical forms of astrology. Once again, I am not criticizing those who study such traditions. They have a lot to teach us. That work was rooted in a time when astrology was not marginalized, when it was instead integrated into the bedrock of the then-contemporary worldview. The intellectual cream of society applied its intelligence to its study. I appreciate those who are digging up these traditions. But I do want to be wary of the reactionary psychological impulse to turn away from complexity and ambiguity, and to take refuge in “the good old days.” The solar system, truth said, is vastly more complex than we are eager to admit—and vastly more complex than it was conceived to be a couple of generations ago, let alone in ancient Egypt, India, or Greece. A third of a million known asteroids! Eight hundred known “planets” beyond Pluto! No wonder we are nervous. What shall we do?
Our ace in the hole is that we can still rely on our unfailing Hermetic principle: “As above, so below.” The structure of the solar system continues to reflect the structure of the human mind. There is proof of this. Many of us have reflected on the historical synchronicities connected with the timing of the discoveries of Uranus (the American and French revolutions), Neptune (the Communist Manifesto, and Spiritism), and Pluto (nuclear energy and the widespread cultural integration of psychological language).
But the discoveries of those three planets were just the first few drops of rain in the desert. Since 1992, there has been a downpour: not just one new planet, but a deluge of them. To help us keep the faith, we can run a quick check on the continued viability of the Hermetic concept of “as above, so below.” The solar system has become more complex. Has our sense of the complexity of the human mind also deepened in the past two hundred years? Do we simultaneously entertain many more avenues of perception and belief systems than did our great-grandparents? Is practically everyone identified with some “minority perspective?” Are we now in a multi-cultural era? Does life simply feel more complicated? I think so. “Below” is sill looking like “above.” Developments in astronomy are still reflecting cultural sociology. Hermes Trismegistus still reigns!
The new solar system is real; it is meaningful; and it is not going to go away. For astrologers, it is the challenge of our Age to figure out not only what it means, but also how to cope with it intellectually and in the astrological counseling room of the future. Clearly, old styles of piecemeal astrological thinking are not going to succeed.
I don’t know the answer, but I’d like to suggest a starting place. Here is a radical suggestion: Let’s experiment with dropping the word “planet.” Dump the baggage, and then at least the possibility of clear thinking arises.
Furthermore, our customary approaches to astrological symbolism are not going to cut that much mustard. We need to think in terms of integrated systems rather than separate, compartmentalized planetary categories. Let’s look at the solar system with a fresh eye. And let’s look at it from a perspective that would literally have been beyond the scope of the imaginations of our ancestors: from the observation deck of a star ship poised a trillion miles above the north pole of the Sun.
Look down. What do you see? Almost lost in the brilliant solar glare, whipping around it with incredible speed, there are four tiny spheres of rock: Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. Two of them have significant atmospheres. Two don’t. But structurally, all four are about the same: little round worlds made of stone, all sitting close to the central fire, and flitting about it at high speeds.
Next out, there’s a big, wide haze. That’s the asteroid belt. Even Ceres, by far the biggest of them, is less than one-fifth the diameter of the smallest of the stone-worlds, Mercury. It’s clearly different—just part of the haze. (10)
The haze of dusty stone thins a bit as we continue to head outward, away from the Sun, although we can still see it extending diaphanously beyond the main asteroid concentration. But our eyes are quickly pulled away from the thinning haze by the spectacle that hits us next. Here, beyond a doubt, is the solar system’s main attraction. It is another group of four spherical bodies—but this time they are gigantic, gaudy balloons. One of them has a flamboyant set of rings around it. As we squint we see that the others do too. They’re surrounded by retinues of asteroid-sized moons.
These are obviously different from the little stone-worlds, and obviously dominant. They move slowly and majestically, unlike the nervous twitter of the inner four. They are made of gas, thickening into a viscous matrix without true surfaces. And they are huge. The very smallest of them (Uranus) is fully four times bigger in diameter than the biggest of the stone-worlds (Earth), while the biggest of them (Jupiter) is thirty times the diameter of tiny Mercury. One of them—Jupiter—even has a moon (Ganymede) that is significantly bigger than the entire “planet” Mercury! Another—Saturn—has a moon (Titan) with lakes and a thick, cloudy atmosphere.
There is just no comparison between these gas giants and Earth or Mars. Other than the Sun, these four bodies are clearly the main features of the solar system. In their glare, you might not even notice the little stone worlds.
Consider: if you were on that star ship, would you use a single word to describe both the tiny, frenetic stone-worlds and these gas-giants? If you could see the solar system this clearly and truly, would you have ever invented the single word “planet?”
Let’s go further. Beyond Neptune, we come to another haze of stone, although its texture is rougher. It’s a beach made of pebbles rather than a beach made of grains of sand. And the ocean beyond it is the ocean of deep interstellar space. If you squint, you can see tiny spherical Pluto—just half the size of Mercury. (Neptune, the last of the gas giants, is over twenty-one times bigger in diameter than Pluto: clearly in another class.) Eris, much farther out, is just slightly bigger than Pluto, but still tiny. And the rest (so far as we now know) are much smaller.
This is the solar system as humanity now sees and understands it. This is the current metaphor-in-the-sky upon which any truly contemporary, state-of-the-art astrology must be based. Here is the actual “above” which we now find ourselves “below.” Human consciousness, after enormous effort, inwardly and outwardly, has attained this pinnacle of understanding—and if a few thousand years of astrological experience mean anything, then this new understanding is now holding a mirror before the human mind. It is the task of modern astrologers to make sense of this reality, lest astrology become a museum piece, divorced from the present-day experiential realities of modern human beings. If astrology is going to retain its core philosophical underpinning—that mind and sky are locked in resonance—we simply cannot ignore the sky as we now know it. We cannot pretend that the last two thousand years of observational astronomy have not happened.
Still avoiding the pitfalls of the archaic, misleading word “planet,” what exactly do we see out there? Clearly, the Sun is in a class by itself. Then there are two totally distinct, unified groups of major bodies, each composed of four worlds. Separating these two groups like a punctuation mark, there is a dense field of asteroid-haze, which gradually tapers off as we come to the gas giants—and then maybe something a little more complex than asteroid-haze begins again out beyond the gas-giants, finishing off the edges of the system. Synchronicity declares that this “Kuiper Belt” is something we are only beginning to grasp—and not only in outward scientific terms, but also presumably in terms of its mysterious inward human significance.
What can we make of all this? I don’t really know exactly. But I have been giving it a lot of thought. Here is a suggestion for a “systems” model of current planetary astronomy. Please question it and argue against it—that’s how astrology goes forward! The chances of any one single person, myself included, being “exactly right” about all this in the next century are minuscule.
THE ROCKY WORLDS
I’m going to start off with something that might be a big mistake. But somebody’s got to jump off the cliff . . .
Since we never see the Earth in the sky, it can’t be an astrological factor—at least so long as we stick to the geocentric system. Heliocentric systems may have a bright future, but I am going to continue with geocentrism until it is “proven guilty,” since it has served us so well for so long.
So, rather than using the Earth in this system, I am going to substitute the Moon. There is at least a good rationalization for this. The Moon is actually half again the size of Mercury, and clearly would be another “rocky world” if it were orbiting the Sun freely. And Earth = Moon is a plausible formula, since they are so bound together in the structural model of the solar system. And unlike the Earth, we see the Moon in the sky.
So, in this proposed perspective, we have four rocky worlds: Mercury, Venus, Moon, and Mars. I believe that these rocky worlds represent primal, foundational “animal” factors in human consciousness.
MERCURY is simply the senses themselves—the in-built capacity of any organism to perceive and interpret its environment. Paramecia do it, gophers do it, and so do we.
VENUS and MARS are clearly sexual, for starters—again, a clear, compelling “animal” factor in us. But I think we can get even more primary than that. Venus attracts and Mars repels. What can be more basic to human experience than attraction and avoidance? Desire and revulsion? Love and hate? Beauty and ugliness? Joy and suffering? Ask the Buddha. Venus and Mars correlate with these two elemental organismic motivations. Venus is the pleasure we seek and Mars is the pain we avoid.
MOON correlates with the urge to eat and to feed, to heal and regenerate, to rest, to establish a “nest,” and to protect the young.
The point is, all these rocky worlds relate to truly primary functions of organismic consciousness, which are not limited to humans. As the inner animal is part of us, so are these stone worlds.
Just for clarity, I’d like to emphasize that I am not using the word “animal” pejoratively, but rather in a healthy pagan sense. Hallelujah for the flesh! It’s good to be alive. And Goddess help those who are ashamed to be animals!
Let me add that, as these “stone-world” functions interact with higher levels of human awareness, they potentially take on loftier coloration. Mercury becomes the entire edifice of language and thus of the collective memory of culture: the stories and ideas that bind us together over millennia. Venus becomes Art, and the self-transcending aspects of love. Mars rises to healthy competitiveness, which breeds excellence, and also to the high-warrior’s capacity to protect the innocent and the defenseless. The Moon turns into the richness of our psychic lives, and the soulful feelings of our unbreakable commitments to each other.
But they couldn’t do any of it without the uplifting influence of . . .
THE GAS GIANTS
With the matched quaternity of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, our “systems” analysis of the solar system moves into new territory. In broad terms, we enter a realm of psychic functions that seem only to reach their fullest flower in human, as distinct from animal, consciousness—with one interesting exception I will mention at the end of this section.
JUPITER. Hope, and a sense that tomorrow might be better than today—that we ourselves might become greater and “more.” Humans, some of them at least, consciously seek self-improvement, seek “to be all they can be.” We are status-conscious. We like glory. We like to be “cool.” Has an eagle ever consciously prided itself on flying higher than any other eagle in history? Has a tiger ever sought to be declared “Most Ferocious” in its high school yearbook? To be remembered for it? These drives toward expansion, and toward having a place in the collective memory are the essence of Jupiter. They are not animal functions.
SATURN. One very practical definition of Saturn is that it refers to the ability to do what we don’t feel like doing. Self-discipline, in other words. Or self-discipline’s cousins: morality and integrity. Is the urge toward abstract Excellence part of our animal consciousness? The urge to restrict and constrain ourselves according to principles? To delay gratification? To achieve self-respect? Animals don’t seem to consider these matters. Saturn is also much connected to our uniquely human experience of time. We conjecture about tomorrow. We think about getting older. Do monkeys?
URANUS. Individuation. The Tibetans teach us that stupidity is a “sin,” and that if we indulge in it, we will come back as animals. This is a difficult teaching. By “stupidity,” I think they mean “dummying up,” which means using intellectual laziness to get us off the evolutionary hook. And they suggest that the results of that error involve our being reborn into the animal kingdom, where the critical element is endless repetitiveness—in a word, boredom. Animals do the same things, over and over and over again. (11) We humans, alone among the creatures, seem to have the Uranian capacity intentionally to change our very natures. If you have self-awareness enough to be reading this magazine, you’ve probably done that as an individual—changed, consciously and intentionally. We seek to become different from each other, to distinguish ourselves from others of our species. Again, do monkeys? Collectively, we humans are the apes who learned to fly. We are the apes who went from Kitty Hawk to the Moon in sixty-six years. There’s individuation!
NEPTUNE. Even the physicists have now confirmed what the mystics have been saying since the beginning of human time: the universe is simply not three-dimensional, and it is logically indefensible to think of it that way. Other dimensions are folded into the ones we see. Neptune represents the capacity to know those facts in your bones, to experience those truths directly. It is the place you go when you “let go of yourself.” It is about meditation and higher states of awareness. It is about the mechanisms of conscious dying. Squirrels and eels show no evidence of engagement with these states of awareness. It’s a human thing. Animals generally don’t prepare their beloved dead for another world. This quality of awareness—the notion that beyond the “planetary” realm of ego there lies the “deep space” of consciousness itself—is Neptune’s domain.
A couple of modifiers: In writing these words about the distinctions between the stony-worlds and the gas giants, I am aware of being perhaps a little too rigid about the distinction between humans and animals. I personally believe that I have met a few cats who were not only more pleasant company, but also simply more conscious than some humans. I believe there is actually some overlap in evolutionary levels among the species. In writing what I have written, I am aware of simplifying the distinctions between people and animals so that the core principles become more readily visible.
I would also add that animals who live with humans quickly begin to take on some of these “gas giant” qualities. We’ve all seen dogs who seem to feel guilty or ashamed, or cats apparently suffering embarrassment after some ill-fated aerobatic move. Among cats in the wild, eye-contact is a sign of aggression.(12) But with my own cats, I have sometimes indulged in the quintessentially human practice of long, soulful eye-contact. They’ve learned a significant human behavior, and, I think, they’ve learned its meaning as well. I believe this may be an important key to some of the metaphysics behind the Divine Plan for human/animal friendships. But I am not going to go there in this article—the subject is too vast.
Beyond Pluto lie the “Trans-Neptunians.” The term comes from the astronomers, and I suspect it has a big future. It may very well replace the term “Kuiper Belt Object.” I personally feel that the I.A.U. was totally correct in realizing that Pluto was not a “planet” in the same sense that Neptune or Mercury are, but that they draped themselves in idiocy in the eyes of future historians of science by failing to realize that the real issue is simply that the word “planet” itself needs to become extinct. Like their intellectual ancestors twenty generations ago, they’ve done the equivalent of bending over backwards to defend an earth-centered solar system. Their definition of “planet” is as tortured as those pre-Copernican “crystalline spheres” that showed the Sun orbiting the Earth.
So, after Neptune, what is there? With Neptune, we triggered a faculty of transcendent perception—but perception of what? The next dimension, Heaven, the astral world, the dharma kaya . . . . (no shortage of words here!) . . . .Tir Na Nog, the deep self, the Happy Hunting Ground, the Bardo, Westernesse, the Land of Faerie . . . choose your metaphor.
What exactly do we see there? Don’t answer philosophically. Be an astrologer: let the structure of the solar system itself answer the question. Let “below” be reflected in “above.” Beyond Neptune we come to Pluto. That means that beyond Neptune we enter, essentially, the Unconscious Mind. (I quickly add that the soul itself is part of the Unconscious Mind—the simple proof being that most of us are unconscious of it!) Here, starting with Pluto, we enter a realm of “angels” and “demons,” of gods, goddesses, archetypes, complexes, alternate realities. Whatever it is, it’s bigger than we are!
PLUTO. The Guardian of the Gate. How perfect it is that Pluto spends twenty years or so of its two-and-a-half century orbit actually inside of Neptune’s sphere. Like a Shaman, it crosses between our world and the next one. Like Casteneda’s Don Juan, it “moves fluidly between the worlds.” I suspect that, in the future as more trans-Neptunians are discovered and understood, we will realize we that we have made our interpretations of Pluto too broad; that its meaning is more focused than we thought, and that the archetype of the Shaman will be seen as increasingly the heart of the Plutonian matter.
In the spirit of Pluto, we step into the Unconscious, we step into the Shamanic Realm—and the first thing we feel is scared. We want to resist, to deny, to control. Maybe we “surrender” to those chaotic impulses and we become the darkness we fear—we become Evil, or mad. But maybe we are braver. Maybe we can face the Dark Night(s) of the Soul, without losing the gifts of integrity that Saturn has given us. If so, then we pass though the Plutonian portal and enter the Realm of the Sane . . . those who are then free to explore further.
This is critical information: people are still alive today who were born before Pluto was discovered—before the portal to the Unconscious opened. How the world has changed! We now live in an Age in which psychological and spiritual work are inseparable. No longer will we idealize “saints” who have not reckoned with their rage, their despair, their mothers, their fathers, their sexuality, their wounds, their shame. That era ended in 1930, when Pluto entered our consciousness. Just think about asking a celibate, presumably sexually inexperienced—or sexually numb, or horny—priest for funky, grounded advice about the challenges of an erotic partnership that’s been going on for fifteen years. Hard to imagine? Welcome to the new paradigm.
I have some thoughts about some of the other Trans-Neptunians. I am quite excited about them actually. Experience is suggesting to me that Eris has more to say to us than maybe Rhadamanthus (another Trans-Neptunian “planet”). But I don’t know, maybe I am wrong. That may just be because I personally have a Moon-Eris conjunction, which is beginning to become very meaningful to me as I slowly, nervously, unlock its symbolism.
I’d gladly write an article about Eris, but first I would like to see what the astrological family thinks of this article. Is this too much? Is this just too weird? Welcome to the 21st century. Welcome to a synchronistic world in which Eris—goddess of Discord—has just been discovered. Look around you. Isn’t the symbolism perfect? Have you ever seen a world in such discord—even the astrological world?
I want to underscore that I am convinced that piecemeal interpretation of the new planets will only drive us into despair, error—or labyrinths of arid theory. We need a macro-view. We need a new system. We can’t do this planet-by-planet. There aren’t nine or ten of them anymore; there are millions.
In summary, the New Solar System seems to be presenting us with three basic classes of symbols—plus some interesting “haze.” We’ve got “rocky worlds.” These seemingly correlate with primal “animal” functions. We’ve got “gas giants.” These represent higher, more expansive possibilities in terms of ego-development or self-realization. Then there are the trans-Neptunians. Their message is that, if we are not too hung up on the rocky worlds, and we manage to make some progress with the gas giants, it appears that a new possibility arises: one that involves identifying with transcendent functions in ourselves . . . not just “perceiving” higher worlds (that’s Neptune, an ego-function), but actually entering them directly, however heavy and “psychedelic” that experience may be.
The “haze” of asteroids is something to which I have given short shift here. My guess, inspired by Melanie Reinhart’s work (13), is that these bodies are a kind of “lymphatic system,” which is connected with healing and regeneration within the harder structural elements of the “planets.” They also seem to resonate with the”dust” of endless details that constitutes so much of the minute-to-minute focus of mundane experience.
Astrologers, using only their naked eyes, standing atop Pyramids and Ziggurats, surely helped their people. Surely, they were as intelligent and wise as ourselves. But, paraphrasing Isaac Newton, “we stand on their shoulders, so we can see a little further.” We may celebrate individual genius, but the genius of the human family is slowly moving forward, sharing and remembering, seeing a little more deeply into the cosmos—and thus into ourselves.
I can easily imagine astrologers a hundred years from now laughing out loud at what I’ve written here—but I feel very confident that the wisest among them will say, “Whatever his errors, these were truly the questions of the Age.”
1. Knight, Christopher and Robert Lomas, The Book of Hiram, Element (Harper-Collins), 2003
2. George, Demetra. Asteroid Goddesses: The Mythology, Psychology and Astrology of the Reemerging Feminine ACS Publications (June 1986) * Challen, John.“The Expansive Mirror of the Asteroids,” The Mountain Astrologer, February/March 2007, page 32. *Lang-Wescott, Martha. Mechanics of the Future: Asteroids. Treehouse Mountain, 1991.
4. A good introduction to the current state of asteroid science can be found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asteroids
5. Jacob Schwartz, PhD. http://www.asteroids.com
6. Philip Sedgwick’s website (www.philipsedgwick.com)
7. See “Again The World Ends: Uranus Meets Neptune.” recorded by Steven Forrest
9. ASTRONOMY magazine, on-line. “It's official: I.A.U. demotes Pluto.” August 24 and 25, 2006. Francis Reddy http://www.astronomy.com/asy/default.aspx?c=a&id=4474
10. Planetary diameters taken from Zeilik, Michael, ASTRONOMY: The Evolving Universe, 1982, Harper & Row, New York.
11. Trunpga, Chogyam. Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, Shambala 1987
12. Morris, Desmond. Catlore, Crown 1987.
13. Reinhart, Melanie. Saturn, Chiron and the Centaurs: To the Edge and Beyondem>. CPA Press. 2002.
Astrology lecture by Steven Forrest on 2 important lifecycle transits: The Saturn Return and the Uranus Opposition of midlife.
Based on the concepts in this article, Steven elaborates on the meaning and potential of new planets being discovered in our Solar System.