“The inspiration of a noble cause involving human interests wide and far, enables men to do things they did not dream themselves capable of before, and which they were not capable of alone.”—Joshua Chamberlain, 20th Maine, 1888
“The time to stand has come at last… let the drums start their long, long roll...”—The Glory, from The Civil War (musical)
Beginning this summer—June 24 to be precise—we have the first of many dramatic square aspects between the planets Uranus (in the sign of Aries) and Pluto (in Capricorn), as they instigate impossible-to-ignore dynamic tensions over the next three years. All in all, they will look squarely toward each other 7 times, the last aspect being on March 16, 2015. In order to do some justice to this prolonged engagement of planetary powerhouses, let’s spread our wings, explore the archetypal patterns involved, and perhaps see how we might engage, during this historic period of revolution, with what Abraham Lincoln once referred to as “the better Angels of our nature.”
Uranus and Pluto are huge energies, and they inspire nothing less than revolutionary change (the Uranus part) and transformation (the Pluto part). As “outer planets” their reach is collective. And while their impact is collective (affecting the whole), individuals are part of that collective. When Uranus and Pluto impact our personal lives, their aims are impersonal, greater than just me or you. Huge energies!
Now, it seems to me that revolutionary change and transformation are familiar terms these days, as the world in which we live shakes, rattles and rolls daily, and change on multiple levels seems to be the nature of our times. Before Uranus even begins its first square to Pluto, we have seen governments and tyrants fall, a massive tsunami, multiple powerful earthquakes, barbaric riots in otherwise civilized cities, political protests, radical economic swings, unprecedented and unpredictable lines of tornadoes, sink holes, historic wild fires and other extreme weather patterns, and countless bizarre murders. We might be forgiven any exhaustion that has crept into our lives in the wake of extensive, multi-leveled, rapid change. Looking ahead, then, Uranus-Pluto makes me ask in exasperated tones, “What!?! There’s more?! We’re only just beginning?” And with that, a Medusa-like paralysis sets in as I stare at the dark and tangled mess ahead of us. How to deal with this? How to not freeze up?
A first key here might just be that the real changes involved with “revolutionary change” and “transformation” are taking place at the invisible level. This is important. Transformation really occurs at a deeper internal level which cannot be seen or easily grasped. The physical reality of things will continue to shift, quake, rock, burn, riot and rot for some time—that’s part of Uranus in Aries and Pluto in Capricorn. At the outset, however, we can consider that transformation is first and foremost beyond the level of form. It is trans-form, after all. Transformational change is psychological change and archetypal change, changes which occur at the soul level, deep within, at the mythic and imaginal realm of the psyche. This is what I want to explore here. First up, let’s look at Uranus and Pluto.
URANUS and PLUTO
You can read much more about Uranus in my previous post here. For the purposes of this post, Uranus in myth is Ouranos, the sky god, the sky itself, and the starry heavens. Ouranos is not just the sky above, however—horizon to horizon—but rather the whole blue sky wrapping itself around the entire earth. As sky rather than earth, concept over matter, Ouranos-Uranus is a bit hard to grasp and hold, requiring us to reach out beyond the traditional world of form. Unbridled, Uranus is the Rebel that bucks traditional form, and the Revolutionary that breaks free from previous patterns to engage new and uncertain terrains of life. Uranus is erratic, eclectic, exciting and electric. His nature is innovative and inspired. His ideas (more like principles) are noble, always seeking to better the human condition. When he strikes, like lightning, he strikes quickly and suddenly, kind of like those YouTube videos that go viral so quickly. Who knows what catches fire next? To acknowledge Uranus is to acknowledge the unpredictable nature of life. Life simply cannot be predicted. This is amplified in times of great change. As Joshua Cooper Ramo writes in his book The Age of the Unthinkable, “Change produces unpredictability and surprise. That means that any time we push for change... we have to prepare ourselves for the fact that much of what we’ll get is unpredictable.” The Internet has Uranus in its origins, a still-new technology interconnecting the globe in ways we can never fully grasp, and if you think of how much the world has changed in unpredictable ways since the Internet began, you begin to sense what Uranus is about.
Pluto, on the other hand, is death and transformation. In myth, Pluto is the god of the Underworld, that mysterious, shadowy realm of the dark unlit depths within. In the days of sundials, when the light of the Sun reflected the time of day, as the Sun descended into the Underworld each evening and darkness fell, the world would once again become time-less. Likewise, the Underworld is that timeless realm of the soul, that place only the soul could enter after leaving the human world behind (death). As the Lord of the Underworld, Pluto’s grave task is to oversee the rich, dark shadows of soul, its tangled webs, ghostly presences, troubled fates and haunted stories that reach back for generations and generations.
Pluto transits in any zodiacal sign reveal the stench and messy decay within anything well past its natural expiration date. In Capricorn this is the structures that hold worldly authority, be they governments, big business corporations, other institutions both literal and figurative, or Time itself.
On a much deeper level (where the Lord of the Underworld prefers to be met anyway) Pluto is the richness of the life experience in the ever-present shadow of death, the value found only in that dark vale, discovered only by lifting the veil of the ordinary and the literal, and peering within. Inside and underneath the visible is always the in-visible. Pluto actually means “riches,” and refers to the kind of wealth found in the aftermath of the most difficult experiences life has to offer – crises, deaths, and other tragedies – as well as in the most meaningful soul to soul exchanges between people, the kind of connections that get under your skin, far beneath the surface level, and irrevocably change your whole experience of life.
I caught a glimpse of Pluto in The Lord of the Rings, when Gandalf warns Frodo, “Do not be too eager to deal out death and judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends.” Pluto is the wise god who sees more ends than most, for he sees all ends of life. When we meet Pluto we meet the end, and in Pluto’s Underworld all ends meet. Somehow Pluto manages to tie together the frayed ends of the long threads of the fabric of life, threads that weave and extend far beyond the span of any one life, one time, or one place. Again from The Age of the Unthinkable: “Dead trees can continue to play a role in a forest’s ecology for decades, providing nutrition and shelter for animals even as nitrogen leaches from their dead branches into the ground, fertilizing new generations of plants.” This is true of human lives as well, seen as we reach back toward the literature, poems, paintings, and stories of ages past, the memorials and jewels left behind by the dead to nourish and fertilize our current lives and the black soil of imagination. Think: Dead Poets Society. This is Pluto. Life after literal death is always the beginning of soul life. And because Pluto’s realm is timeless, what we call the after-life is never really “after” anything (no time, no “after”) – it is always present, now. In every moment, in every person, in every thing, in every place, and in every shadow, soul lives.
What is by now hopefully obvious about Uranus and Pluto is their vital connection to the invisible realm, the eternal realm, their connection to our interior and the “other side” of life. The planets Uranus and Pluto (and Neptune) cannot be seen with the naked eye, and symbolically they connect us with the things in our world which cannot be seen with the naked eye. To engage with Uranus and Pluto is to engage with the invisible world.
OK – so what? The world is still changing at a freakishly rapid and unsettling pace. Anxieties are high. Crises continue to mount. Still feeling a bit like Perseus dealing with Medusa?
Well, the other piece I want to note here before you and I freeze up and seize entirely is the actual myth of Medusa and how our hero Perseus confronted this figure of overwhelming darkness and fear: through reflection. Perseus was able to solve his Medusa syndrome by not looking at her directly. He looked at her indirectly—in the reflection of his shield—and acted accordingly. In other words, we can look backward through reflection to gain a wider and deeper perspective on what’s happening, and through reflection can gain some genuine insight. And that’s what I want to do now. Let’s gather up what we know about Uranus and Pluto, hold our reflective shield in hand, and go back—perhaps in unexpected Uranian style (surprise!)—to the year 1861, in Charleston, South Carolina, and look at the U.S. Civil War.
AFFAIRS OF THE HEART
The U.S. Civil War is not directly connected to this Uranus-Pluto square (though Aries is the sign ruled by Mars, the God of War), and I am by no means an historian or expert on the Civil War. We’re off to a confidence-inspiring start, yes? If you’re wondering what I’m up to, just remember Pluto, and do not be too eager to deal out death and judgment just yet. Hang in there and you’ll see what I’m up to.
What began as a war to maintain the unity of the United States ended up as the harrowing, heart-rending and heroic fight between the North and the South to end slavery in the name of freedom. There are many facts, many battles, and many key figures from that particularly dark and formative time in the history of the United States. Its significance can never be underestimated. And, there are volumes upon volumes written detailing the war from many angles. I want to take just one dynamic in particular, however, and look at the invisible nature hidden within, to see what it might reveal archetypally, and how the end of the Civil War—in Plutonic fashion—might be very much alive and active in the psyche of the United States today. And, because the United States today has a profound impact within the whole globe, it seems important.
If at the ground level the Civil War was between the northern United states and the southern Confederate states, there might be something significant if we zoom in on the archetype of North and the archetype of South. See, north and south aren’t just literal directions. Yes, we can look up (north), and we can look down (south); and we can see above and below. But we can also feel uplifted, and we can also feel down in the dumps. North and South exist in our images of ascending to heaven or descending into hell. We have flights of fancy, or downfalls and depressions. North and South are present in songs like “You Raise Me Up” and “Rolling In the Deep.” With a timeless archetypal perspective, North and South become much more than they initially seem.
To build on this further, in North we have the spirit, with its uplifting attitudes, outward expansions and transcendent (off the earth) “peak” experiences, like winged Icarus soaring toward the sun. In South we have the soul, with its downward descents, inner life, and dark depressive moods (like Icarus, again, now falling into the oceanic depths). If rainy days and Mondays always bring you down, you are experiencing a sense of South. This archetypal perspective is alive in our bodies, too, with the mind (it is said of some people that they have “nothing going on upstairs”) – again, North – and the heart with its ever-present desires to fall in love. The mind can be said to be full of hot air (like an inflated balloon ascending into the clouds), and we tend to want to get down to the heart of a matter. It’s fascinating to me that from the brooding heart of the post-Civil War “Deep South” emerged the Blues. And from the Blues emerged country music full of loss and longing for what has been lost, with all of its melancholy blues, sad eyes, broken wings, long goodbyes, bad goodbyes, lonesome doves, friends in low places, falling to pieces, learning to live again, learning to fly again, and lyrical sentiments like, “When you’re flying high, take my heart along / I’ll still be here when you come back down.”
With no desire to grossly over-simplify historical events, I am suggesting that the battle between the North and South in the Civil War was not just a literal battle between the northern states and the southern states, but also an archetypal battle between North and South as states of being: mind and heart, thinking and feeling, spirit and soul.
This seems important at this juncture of history, because the South lost the Civil War. And when the South lost, so did the heart. No wonder country music sings so often of having lost. This loss of the heart seems particularly important to me because heart disease is, and has been for quite some time, the number one killer in America. The heart that attacks and takes us down is the number one killer in the country. It’s worth noting that acclaimed women’s health expert Dr. Christiane Northrup once said, “In the battle between the heart and the mind, the heart will always win.”
This North-South idea emerged quite clearly in popular culture recently. In the charming new show “Hart of Dixie,” for example (with its ad stating "Her Life Is About To Go South"), the south is the backdrop for a young female surgeon from New York who is strong on intelligence and will, but who lacks the warmth and heartfelt bedside manner required to genuinely connect with her patients. She moves to the south after inheriting the medical practice left to her by the dead father she never even knew she had. Likewise, “A Gifted Man” showed a New York brain surgeon famous for his skill and his cold demeanor, bereft of heart, who had to learn to split his time between his up-scale established practice on one side of town, and a down-scale free clinic for poor people on the other, a job that would require him to learn to connect with patients from his heart. What propelled his life in this direction was a visit from his dead ex-wife. In both shows we see the dark wisdom and Underworld ways of Pluto working behind the scenes of life.
An aside: If you’re wondering, “Why surgeons?” my hunch is it’s because the Surgeon archetype is skilled at repairing precisely what has been damaged, which is an archetypal dynamic to explore when Saturn moves into Scorpio in October.