A Federation of Australian Astrologer’s (FAA) talk by Adrienne Barkla
The transits of the outer, transpersonal planets of Pluto, Neptune and Uranus particularly in their hard aspects are major significators of intense events in the life. It is interesting that these outer planets are relatively new discoveries. They are not part of the Jyotish (Hindu) astrological mindset and I think it is also interesting that they relate so well to alchemical symbolism which is so much a part of the Western mysteries from which much of our present day psychology derives. These planets carry energies and when in contact with the natal chart – the blueprint or template of our potential life expression – the ‘note’ of the individuality if you like, synchronous experiences in line with the planet’s prescribed energies precipitate into the life. How these occurrences are experienced by the individual depend in part on planetary placements of the outer planets in the chart: by house; by sign;
by planetary aspect.
There is a school of thought that because these outer planets are so slow moving, for example Pluto with its 248 year cycle, their effects are only generational and they don’t have a personal resonance. Whilst we know that the Pluto in Leo generation to which I belong, is into the power of the individual, ‘the me generation’, that ‘Pluto in Cancer people’ experienced the trauma of the war years and so on, I think we mostly agree that the outer planets when aspecting the natal chart do indeed affect profound experiences – that is we resonate and we feel it.
For example, we know that if Pluto resides nataly in your seventh house you will experience plutonic effects through your relationships, if in your 10th house in your career and so on. We also know that if Pluto conjuncts your Sun you will either be influenced by plutonic experiences whenever you express your identity or you yourself will be a plutonic force in the world. We also know that it depends on a person’s psychological maturity, life experience or spiritual development as to how they will handle these challenging transits or progression events of the outer planets because ‘challenging’ is of course what these outer planets certainly are. By hard aspects I mean squares, oppositions and conjunctions (also inconjuncts and a lesser degree semisquare and sesiquadrates).
The triple wheel, which is the astrologer’s predictive map, is like a huge timing device or clock. The central wheel, the natal map, is like the hub at the centre around which everything revolves, the middle is the progressed wheel and the transit wheel on the outer rim. The centre – the dynamic potential – does not move, the progressed chart is subtle and moves very slowly, and the outer faster. The progressed details the subjective experiences, the internalised journey and the outer transit wheel the outer events or the precipating impulse.
Like a machine, the cogs turning and when they mesh and line up, things happen – events occur seemingly at random but there are many interconnections. I think of driving a car where the condition of the car is a given, its a Jaguar or a Holden or a four wheel drive in either good or bad condition. It has a potential for performance. You the driver move the gears into second, foot on the accelerator and take off, either forward or backward. The car is moving in a wider context there are other cars on the road, there are road rules to consider and so on. Whilst the experience of the driver is the key factor, there always are factors of uncertainty.
This begs the question of fate and self-determination. What do we believe in? Is God in the machine? Is there a Divine Plan or Will working out in our life? As an esoteric astrologer I tend to a bias in this direction, but humanistic astrologers will I am sure stress the opportunity for insight and self-awareness that are afforded as we move through the times of crisis that coincide with transits and progressions of the outer planets (I include Saturn here as well but the ‘outers’ have their place apart) in the ‘shifting of gears’. Make no mistake the ‘outers’ precipitate crisis.
Everyone who lives past their forties will experience the three classic ‘mid life crisis’ transits of the outer planets: Pluto square its natal position; Uranus opposition of natal Uranus and Neptune square its natal position. Everyone will experience Saturn at least twice round the chart, once at 28 and again by 56 and its many well recognised stations and their meanings. However, it is the transits and progressions of Pluto, Neptune and Uranus, the hard aspects in particular to the Sun, Moon Venus and then Mercury, Mars (all the personal planets) that move us to the core of our being. Pluto, Neptune and Uranus over the angles is invariably connected to crisis points, the significance of which is shown by the fact that we use these transits to rectify the chart!
Every astrologer has a cookbook style expectation of what these transits and progessions will bring to the client and Robert Hand’s book “Planets in Transit” is a good one and I recommend it to those of you who want a picture of what will most likely happen at these times. These reliable guides are clichéd but they work. But it is good to remind ourselves of the mystery of synchronicity, which we do not really understand, although we might philosophise and explore the meaning and that is what I want to focus on. Clients don’t tend to ask about the mystery, their concerns are more immediate and focused on outcomes or avoidance.
Predictive techniques work, this we know empirically. Why do they work? What is the mechanism and what is the legacy of an outer event? ‘Death of father’ which for me occured when Saturn conjuncted my Sun and IC – a classic transit response. Natal setting – Saturn opposite a Sun/Mercury conjunction. A whole range of issues, emotional, psychological identity and spiritual shifts are constellated. It has been my experience that generally the outer event and the deeper inner ‘event’ coincide. I am a Jungian and a great believer in synchronicity – the seeming random event brimming with cogeant meaning. It is important that we are able to guide the client through an examination of the context through the layering of the issues that can occur. In my case with Saturn on Sun – death of father, family issues, claiming self hood, releasing old emotional conditioning, grief, isolation, who am I?
We can view these meetings with Pluto, Neptune and Uranus through their transits and progressions to our chart as ‘meetings with Moira’ – the goddess who weaves our fate on a cosmic spindle. Some clients want the cookbook approach such as ‘when will I meet the tall dark stranger’ and how will I know he or she is the one? To the Greek mind ‘hubris’ was the great sin – to live outside our fated limits and hubris resulted always in our destruction. The limits of our fate can be seen in the birth chart. Liz Greene puts forward a very evocative argument on the merits of the falsity of telling our clients of how we can master or overcome these event potentials if we choose. She warns of the power of meeting Moira. It depends on our approach to life, that is, if we see the experience of a planet as an encounter with a deity, a numen (something of the spirit, something unaccountable by reason alone), as the ancients did. Then just alluding to planetary energies as drives or motivations is to underplay what are deeper, transpersonal archtypal experiences.
Meeting a planet in a sign and house is like entering a temple and meeting the manifestation of an unknown god. We may meet that deity as a concrete ‘outer’ experience, or via another person who is the mask through which the god’s face peeps; through the body; though an ideaology or intellectual vision; through creative work; as a compelling emotion. often several of these are experienced together, and it becomes difficult to see the unity between whaq is happening in life outside and what is happening within. nevertehles, the planet bridges the ‘abyss between ‘outer’ and ‘inner’ and in both worlds at once. to meet the personification of all that we have so far explored, distilled into the image of Moira, is to meet that which is compulsive and primordial. it is a confrontation with death and dismemberment, for Moira breaks the pride and will of the ego into little pieces. The Astrology of Fate p. 34.
We can’t change Moira so we must change.
We need the cookbook delineations but it is good to dip into the mythological and archetypal realm from time to time to remind us of what we are dealing with in order to avoid hubris, and then to consider the contextual environment of our client if we are really to do a service to him/her. I think we have a wonderful heritage in the west of a psychological approach to life in that most of us know about the unconscious, the persona and the super-conscious or transpersonal, and that we have composite parts to our psyche and a well developed cult of the individual, but it does break down under Pluto, Neptune and Uranus transits and progressions. It was Jung who said something like ‘my free will is that which allows me joyfully to do what my fate decrees – or what I must do’.
So what happens when we meet Pluto/Hades, ruler of the underworld? My keyword for Pluto is death. What do we tell a client who is coming up for a lengthy Plutonic transit, the eupherisimic ‘period of transformation’? Pluto takes into the underworld, the land of depths, he wears a helmet of invisibility so we can’t see him but he is everywhere. Brother to Zeus he is the dark but equally potent half of the god of the heavens, Jupiter the great benefic.
Originally the depths were ruled by the great mother whose children were Doom, Old Age Death, Sleep, Dreams, Nemesis, the Morai, the Gorgons Hekate goddess of fate…until patriarchy overcame them. Kali, the Hindu equivalent, wears shull necklaces and is more powerful than Shiva the Creator. The myth of Erishkagal and her sister Inanna tells of the descent down to the depths in which the bright sister is ‘stipped naked and bowed low’ which is how we feel under Pluto – the gradual lack of everything which defined our identity – no map, no landmarks, depression, hopelessness loss of will …
It was Pluto who pulls the maiden Persephone from her springtime home and her mother Demeter,’ raping’ her and making her his co-ruler in Hades. It was however, Persephone herself who plucked the death flower from the field that Pluto had set to lure her and she who ate the pomegranate seeds which bound her to the depths. We are unknowing collaborators in our fate and this cycle of light and dark, of death and life, is the basis of the Eluysinian-Orphic Mysteries of Ancient Greece and underpins our reality. Persephone bears Pluto’s child Dionysis, a ‘Christ like’ redeemer, who figures powerfully in myth and meets a terrible fate. Another profound reference regarding the journey to the underworld and the return back is found in Dante’s “Inferno”. Yes, a broader/deeper outlook on life, newfound resources, renewed vigour, a discovery that we are not as civilised as we thought is the result but we must pay for the insight just as we must pay the ferryman as we cross the river Styx.
Alchemy contains a wealth of rich archtypal symbolism and imagery which outpictures the journey to our depths.The Alchemists were called by Jung the first psychologists and he was the great western alchemist par excellance, integrating their mysterious acana into modern psychological terminology, in much the same way as astrologers do. The two arts share sympathetic ground.
The ‘Great Work’, consists of two major phases: The Lesser Work (nigredo and solutio) and Greater Work (coagulatio and rubedo) the first two we can equate with Pluto and Neptune encounters. The first step was putrification culminating in the ‘nigredo’ or black stage, when the matter in the vessel had been reduced to the primordial state wherein the spark of its ‘life’ is driven out of it through vapour. This dead material was then reborn with its own vapour condensed into a liquid, saturated in it. Then the mixture would transmute into a white precipitate, the albedo stage, then a later process would result in a red elixir or powder, or the rubedo which led to the Philosopher’s Stone. This stage of nigredo or ‘the blackening’ was seen as the eclipse of mercurius senex, and was pictured as a dying figure exhaling the spirits and anima. The black raven is a nigredo symbol.
There is in our chemistry a certain noble substance, in the beginning thereof is wretchedness with vinegar, but in its ending joy with gladness. Therefore I have supposed that the same will happen to me, namely that I shall suffer great difficulty, grief, weariness at first, but in the end shall come to glimpse pleasenter and easier things. Michael Maier.
The essence of the nigredo is a blackening or putrefaction (also called ‘calcinato’, to burn or mortificatio to mortify) symbolising the death of the Old King or ego.
Images of Sol and Luna (Sun and Moon/ King and Queen) overcome by death after the coniunctio or union (coitus). Images of rotting, decomposing of the black sun over a lifeless land. Sol and Luna meet, unite and die. It is all about ‘facing the shadow’. Resistance and breakdown. The journey to the underworld. Death of illusion. A head-on ego shattering experience? Sound like a Pluto transit experience?
‘Solutio’ – the whitening is next. If you will not clean the impure body and make it white and give it back to its soul, you will have accomplished nothing in this magistery. Rosarium Philisophorum.
Also called ‘ablutio’ or washing, baptism with fire as well as water, and ‘albedo’ or white. This has to do with the soul, which is the deep part of us that is feeling, and spirit which is higher and reaches beyond our minds. The feminine as a transforming power. Passing from emotion to feeling. A sublimation or ‘rising up’. The purifying of the soul now released from the ego in the nigredo. This can be seen as Neptune by transit or progression.
This stage is often repesented in image by “The bath of the Philosophers” – the figure of a king in a bath of water being washed clean or rather dissolved! Images of a man drowning, the king at sea, in a bath or calling out for help, the pelican piercing its breast or the consciousness of the heart. Other images of purity are the unicorn, virgins, the lunar egg symbolising rebirth and the white rose, the white stone as the end of the Lesser Work. Once we are ‘white’ we can hold spiritual power, we are strong enough not to get wiped away or inflated. This is a challenge to purity and our resistance in relationship to that. Just like the end result of a purificatory Neptune illumination wherein we gain by loss, disillusionment or transcendence.
Speaking of these things to a client is never easy but they will invariably be sensing this already or have come to you in the midst of a crisis for advice. The Greeks also talk about the difference between fate and our ‘daimon’ or inner spirit that drives us to our fate. It is our creative spirit, our inner patterning and perhaps we can discern something of this spirit in the natal chart. I have found that the progressed chart speaks more about what is ready to precipitate on an inner level and the transit chart the trigger. Liz Greene gives a personal example: Prog. Mercury on Neptune and Jupiter on Uranus when she met her astrology teacher a seemingly simple event that changed her life. She was introduced to an exploration of the Neptunian world – an awakening by a teacher.
The key to predictive interpretation lies for me in seeing the pattern of the life that is unfolding. We could say that it is only the outer event that lies in the outer event zone – the deeper parts of us lie beyond in a continuum. Perhaps this is the continuum that the clairvoyent breaks into in his or her predictions. The astrolger is not a clairvoyant but we can synthesize the layers that we see in the triple wheel. We cannot say whether under Saturn conjunct Venus the client will marry or divorce but we can outline a pattern of potential. It is a subjective issue. Forever the stars incline but do not compel. (Esoteric Astrology). If the horoscope is the tool, the individual is the carrier, the Self is the creator.
The outer planets do seem to bring our fate to us. They strip away the veils and force us to acknowledge the hidden or denied aspects of ourselves. They take us beyond our usual ego boundaries, they do seem to activate the deeper underlying design and we must find a way to negotiate these periods.
To close: I am not suggesting you swamp the client with mythos but rather be open to the richness of astrological symbolism, to myth and to psychological insight – to think about your attitudes to fate and destiny and to be mindful of the totality of our Being – that there is both an underworld and a realm above and that there is that within us that drives us to experience both realms and to integrate it into our field of conscious awareness.