Friday, 5 July 2013

Pluto & the UK Sun

Pluto crossed the position of the Sun in the UK horoscope in January this year for the first time since the planet's discovery in 1930, (February, if you are looking at the 1801 chart of the Union with Ireland), and is poised to make contact again this month, this time by retrograde motion – its third pass will not take place until December this year, making 2013 a key year for the UK. Incredibly, this most distant of our planets has completed less than a third of its orbit since it was discovered; it is not always the slowest-travelling planet, though: its highly eliptical orbit means that its speed through each of the signs varies enormously, and for around 20 years of its 248-year orbit – its perihelion – Pluto's orbit crosses and moves inside that of Neptune. A key aspect of this transit is the slowness of Pluto's progress; this is not about sudden events or dramatic happenings – although with the accompanying applying square to Uranus, this too can be part of the picture – but a long-term process with echoes of gestation and birth as what has been secretly brewing in the bowels of the earth gradually manifests itself.

Mythologically speaking, Pluto was an agricultural god who also ruled over the underworld; he also wore a helmet that made him invisible. In symbolic terms, Pluto represents immense, often hidden, power with the potential to destroy and annihilate. As the modern co-ruler of Scorpio, Pluto has links with sex and reproduction, as well as regeneration, however in order for this regeneration to happen, things must be broken down to a fundamental level before they can be reconstructed in a new form. 

Bristol astrologer Catriona Mundle's fascinating talk on the transit of Pluto to the position of the UK's Sun at Bath Astrologer's Forum on Monday July 1st offered plenty of food for thought about the significance of this momentous conjunction. Catriona looked at both the 1066 and 1801 charts; interestingly, both share the same Sun position (within a degree) as well as the same Pluto position – 3 Pis 52 in the 1066 chart; 2 Pis 43 in the 1801 chart. Yes, the 1801 Union with Ireland chart reflects 1066's Pluto return, which says something in itself.. Whichever chart you favour, the same fundamental dynamics are at work. As Pluto conjuncts the Sun – squaring the other trans-saturnian, Uranus, in an ongoing five-year stand-off which will not be over until after 2015 – transiting Neptune has also been quietly transiting our natal Pluto, in the watery sign of Pisces creating a potent outer-planet dynamic.

Symbolically, the sign of Capricorn is about the land, law, status and tradition, whilst the Sun is very much about sovereignty and rulership. Pluto relates to that which is hidden beneath the surface: great wealth and deep, dark secrets. (Interestingly, while we were in Bath, there was a TV programme on that very night about the hidden finances of the Duchy of Cornwall; coincidently the Sun and Pluto were exactly opposite one another in the heavens...). The first chart (1066) is set for 12.00 while the second is set for midnight, reversing the  horoscope's axis, with the Sun in the 10th for rulership and governance in the 1066 chart, and in the 4th for 1801. This makes sense, with 1066 being about conquest and a new royal dynasty, whilst 1801 is more about matters connected with land. Both charts have an angular Sun, lending great weight to the luminary's significance in the chart   

We looked at some historical transits: in the 12th Century (the 1180s), Pluto transited the 1066 Sun around the time of the Third Crusade, and King Richard I (the Lionheart) was kidnapped on his way home from Jerusalem – an event resonant with symbolic connections between the King, the Sun and Lions – and dark, mysterious Pluto. 

Catriona pointed out associations between Pluto and the feminine – in many cultures (possibly all, to some degree), the feminine is traditionally regarded as negative and opposite to the positive male qualities, and Pluto with its associations with gestation and transformation also echo this. She mentioned that, since 1801, there have been more queens than kings in the UK – actually, it is probably earlier than that, with Mary and Elizabeth I in Tudor times, Queen Anne in 1702; Victoria reigning from 1837-1901, and of course our own Queen some 60 years into her reign and still counting. It occurred to me that our new royal baby (imminently expected at the time of writing) will have Pluto natally conjuncting the UK Sun – almost certainly cazimi (in the heart of the Sun), as the conjunction is exact on July 16 and remains within the magic 17 minutes of arc until almost the end of the month. Significantly, the legislation regarding royal succession was recently changed to allow a first-born girl to take precedence in regard to royal succession. Which may seem like a minor and long-overdue point in terms of equality legislation, however this is fundamental change to the British constitution and to a law which dates back centuries. 

Interestingly, another Pluto/Sun conjunction occurred in the 1520s – coinciding with the seed point of the King's Great Matter, when Henry VIII first sought to divorce Catherine of Aragon precipitating the break between the UK and Rome, and the beginning of a new UK constitution. Pluto rocks the foundations of constitutional things, and much religious imagery – halos, for example, which were derived from Roman solar symbolism – with themes of light and dark; good and evil; power, empire and control.

Recently, there have been many echoes of this time in the media, with Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies – both novels focussing intensely on this period in history – winning the Man Booker prize in subsequent years; much raking over Tudor history in television dramas (The White Queen, The BBC's recent Tudor series; the discovery of Richard III's skeleton buried beneath a car park in Leicester). Of course it makes sense to take the 1066 chart as the basis for these events, not simply because of the chronology, but because their themes are of monarchy, sovereignty and dynasty.

The most recent conjunction of Pluto and the UK Sun was in 1766. George III came to the throne in 1760, and went mad, creating a power vaccuum – resonances with Pluto's symbolism of invisibility and a subversion of power. This was the time of the Enlightenment, and importantly the seed-point of the Industrial Revolution, when coal was discovered deep underground, providing the fuel for great technological advances – as well as planting the unknown seeds of climate change. England led the way in the industrial revolution, which really got underway in the 1780s, however I believe the symbolism still holds as Pluto's influence – quiet, invisible, buried deep within the earth – is a gradual process, the effects of which may not be felt until it is already too late. Although coal fuelled the industrial revolution, it was only able to do this by being transported – and the network of canals played a vital role in this regard. The UK Pluto in the watery sign of Pisces perfectly symbolises the symbiosis of water and coal, and this symbolism is once again echoed in current times by the threat of fracking here in the UK – vast quantities of water pumped deep underground for the purpose of releasing great energy in the form of shale gas (both Plutonic and Neptunian echoes there). Scientists do not fully understand the process – or even how much gas there may be locked deep within the earth beneath our country – however plutocrats, driven by hunger for resources to fuel our present energy-rich way of life, are prepared to take a gamble that the fallout will be limited; with the present planetary line-up I am not so sure...

There was much more powerful symbolism: Catriona mentioned Ash Die-back – a mysterious disease affecting the tree whose name is synonymous with burnt wood; the unexplained decimation of bat and bee populations; huge numbers marginalised people and stateless refugees – a Philip Pullman-esque world of displaced ghost-people moving from state to state; the Jewish diaspora; banks and debt – a national debt numbered in trillions, a Pluto-esque immense black hole of unimaginable proportions...

There wasn't time to cover everything – Pluto is not a planet to be hurried – and we were not able to cover the connection with the ongoing Pluto-Uranus square aspect. Although the current astrological line-up is global and there are several countries with planets and angles around the degrees highlighted, I think we can expect current events to have fundamental and far-reaching consequences for the UK. 

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Comets: Hairy stars, celestial scimitars, broom stars... and the death of princes

Rising TV star (and infamous astrology sceptic) Brian Cox and his spacewatching colleagues tell us that this could well be the year of the comet; although Comet Pannstarrs, which visited our skies in mid-March (and I understand is still – just – visible) was not quite the scorcher some of us were expecting. This November, however, we are widely assured we can expect what could be the comet of the century: the catchily named Comet ISON aka C/2012 S1 is  confidently predicted to shine so brightly that it will be visible even during the day. It is thought to be related (although no one knows quite how) to the legendary Great Comet of 1680, which was instrumental in Newton crystallising his theory of what we now know as gravity. They are hedging their bets, though: comets like cats have long tails, but are not best known for their predictability, and there have been more than a few instances of red-faced astronomers and their comet predictions hitting the skids in recent years. Actually, I am hoping on this occasion they are not wrong. With so much gloom and darkness about, it will be nice to see something spectacular in our skies.

Although for long largely ignored in the astrological community (for want, probably, of knowing what to do with them – comets do not conveniently confine themselves to the ecliptic plane of the zodiac, but can appear even in the circumpolar regions where no planet ever ventures), historically comets have have widely been associated with catastrophe. The Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh described fire, brimstone and flood with the arrival of a comet, Arab astrologers held that they heralded wars, earthquakes, disasters and plagues, while Chinese astrological texts dating from as far back as 1500 BCE associate what was known in the East as 'broom stars' with wars, famine, floods, drought, death, betrayal and mutation of fruit trees. In short, just about anything could be blamed on comets and usually was...

In the Western astrological tradition, comets usually heralded 'the death of princes.'
"When beggars die, there are no comets seen; The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes" warns Calpurnia to her headstrong husband Julius as he sets out on his ill-advised journey to the Theatre of Pompey on the Ides of March. (Although in point of fact, the Great Comet of 44BC almost certainly didn't appear until at least July that year – some four months after Caesar's death – but Shakespeare was never one for letting the facts get in the way of a good story). This is one of the earliest widely-recorded sightings of a comet in the West. According to the historian Suetonius, as celebrations were getting underway to mark the anniversary of Julius Caesar's birth (the month of July was named after him) "a comet shone for seven successive days, rising about the eleventh hour, and was believed to be the soul of Caesar." Never one to miss a trick, Augustus, Caesar's great nephew and heir adopted the comet which was to become a powerful political symbol, appearing on coins which would be sent out across the Roman empire. He suggested the comet symbolised  the soul of Caesar being borne off to heaven, fostering a 'Cult of the Comet' whose focus became the newly built Temple of Divus Iulius, in which was displayed a huge image of the emperor with a flaming comet affixed to his forehead. Edmund Halley studied this comet, which was also recorded extensively in the records of the Han Chinese. Contemporary scientific records suggest it was particularly bright – one of just five in the whole of recorded history known to have had a negative absolute magnitude*.

Subsequent comets have also been associated with the passing of great rulers. The appearance of Halley's Comet in 1066 is recorded on the Bayeux Tapestry, coinciding with the succession of the English Saxon dynasty by the Normans, while the Great Comet of 1264 was associated with the death of Pope Urban IV who allegedly fell ill on the day the comet was first seen, and died the day it disappeared from view. It was said the "the prodigy of a hairy star had brought upon his illness and slipped away once the job was finished." Another spectacular visitation was the 1556 Comet, also known as the Comet of Charles V. Upon catching sight of it, the Holy Roman Emperor reportedly exclaimed: "By this dread sign my fates do summon me" and promptly hastened to the monastery of St Juste where he spent the rest of his life.

Between 1664 and 1665, two bright comets appeared over London, and between them, an eclipse of the Moon. Such a triple omen was unique, and merited mentions by both the young Isaac Newton and diarist Samuel Pepys, amongst others. The astrologer John Gadbury notes that they were the brightest in living memory and visible across all Europe. "These Blazeing Starrs! Threaten the World with Famine, Plague and Warrs. To Princes Death; to Kingdoms many Crises: to all Estates, inevitable Losses." The Great Plague followed in 1665, and hot on the heels of that, the Great Fire of London.

The most widely observed comet of our modern age was Hale Bopp – the comet that brightened our northern skies throughout the early part of 1997. The internet was a relatively new phenomenon at the time and numerous websites tracked the comet's progress, providing daily images and resulting in unprecedented public interest. Discovered independently of one another by both a Mr Hale and a Mr Bopp at different locations on July 23rd 1995, this distinctive comet with its somewhat chubby outline and two distinct tails was visible all over the Northern hemisphere – even in large cities with light-polluted skies throughout the spring of 1997.

1997 was also the year in which Princess Diana died. As we now know, she was the most widely observed member of Royalty of our modern age. She was also a figure of whom daily images and heated speculation over her progress and conduct were also beamed around the world in this new global age. The eminent astrologer Maggie Hyde, drew up a chart for the comet's discovery. The comet's position is pinpointed at 10° Capricorn – an almost exact conjunction with the Midheaven Sun of the 1066 chart for the UK.** Diana's natal chart has her Sun exactly opposed to the UK Sun and thus symbolic of her transformative function within the Royal Family: she challenged what it symbolised and precipitated cultural change.

November's comet has no such obvious links with the UK chart. Some astrologers, I believe, have linked it with the death of the Euro (ISON was discovered at the end of the constellation of Cancer, close to a star connected with the tail of Canis Major – the legendary dog set by Jupiter to guard Europa). I'm not convinced this symbolism is totally convincing for the death of a currency, but then again, you never know...

The appearance of Pannstarrs, of course, has coincided with the passing of a Pope, the Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and the death of Margaret Thatcher. Whatever one's view of the Iron Lady (must check whether this comet has any correspondence with her chart or the planet Mars), one cannot disagree that she has left an indelible mark on our country. Whether or not her passing merits a comet fly-past, of course, is another question entirely...


*The brightness of heavenly bodies is measured in magnitude – apparent and absolute. The lower the number, the brighter the object. Roughly speaking, bodies with an apparent negative magnitude are visible to the naked eye in daylight; for example, the bright planets Jupiter and Venus have magnitudes ranging from -2 to -4, depending on phase, proximity and angle. Absolute magnitude is the objective magnitude of an object measured at 1 AU (Astronomical Unit) from both the Sun and the Earth, an Astronomical Unit being equal to the distance between the Earth and the Sun)

**Although there are several possible charts for the UK – many astrologers prefer to use the 1801 Act of Union chart, which also has the Sun at 10° Capricorn – I have always found the 1066 version works best, particularly in relation to the Royal Family. It is, of course, a Royal dynastic chart.