Pluto in Sagittarius:
Apocalypse or Rapture?
originally published in The Ascendant, Sagittarius, 1995
winner of the Goldy Seal Award for excellence in astrological writing
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With Sun, Mercury, Chiron, and Ascendant in Sagittarius, and three other planets in mutable signs, I feel intensely motivated to study Pluto's impending sojourn through Sagittarius. I'm sure those of you with planets in Scorpio or fixed signs would agree that there is nothing like a personal visit from the Lord of the Underworld to suddenly deepen your quest. While Pluto will not transit the first of my mutable planets until the end of 1999, I figure it is not too early to begin attuning myself to this small and distant, but powerful orb. In this article, I would like to share with you some of my early ruminations on the subject.
Before beginning, let me place the task at hand in some perspective. It is my feeling that in speaking of Pluto, we are compelled at the outset to admit our limitations. A great deal has been written about Pluto since its discovery in 1930, but given the fact that we have only had the opportunity to observe him through a little more than one-third of his full cycle, I believe we must approach our task with some humility. Since the full range of his 250-year cycle lies far beyond the span of a single human life, it would be somewhat presumptuous for any of us to claim to know him well. Like the blind men attempting to describe an elephant, each of us may discover something about him, but none of us can lay claim to the whole truth.
This inherent inscrutability of Pluto is echoed by his role in mythology. The name, Hades (the Greek counterpart to Pluto), means "the unseen," a reference to the fact that he seldom leaves his underworld abode, unless he has some definite business above ground, or is overcome by lust for some earthbound nymph. His most prized possession is a helmet of invisibility, given him as a mark of gratitude by the Cyclopes when he consented to release them at Zeus' order. His work, his life, and his true function within the pantheon of deities is, by nature, beyond the scrutiny of ordinary mortals.
The name, Pluto, itself, means "the rich one," implying that beyond his obvious role as governor in the realm of the dead, he is also the guardian of great underground wealth. This wealth is evidenced by the fact that when Pluto does venture above ground, he charges forth in a rather impressive golden chariot pulled by four magnificent black stallions. Because Pluto spends so little time outside of his natural habitat, however, the full extent of his wealth remains invisible, in keeping with his basic nature.
Ironically, Pluto seems to have little interest in the pursuit of worldly wealth that occupies mortals above ground. Except for certain gloomy temples in Greece, and possibly a herd of cattle on the island of Erytheia, which some say really belong to Helius, Pluto owns nothing in the land of the living. While it is easy to associate Plutonian wealth with gold, uranium, plutonium, diamonds, oil (black gold), and other substances below ground which have been known to make humans wealthy, I believe the true wealth that Pluto guards is much subtler and ultimately much more valuable.
While transiting Pluto was square my natal Pluto in 1991, I was visited one day in meditation by a red dragon. Standing in front of the dragon, I felt dwarfed, and mesmerized, as I disappeared into its compelling and unwavering gaze. I closed my eyes, and sank into the moment like a small stone echoing down the narrow walls of a bottomless well. Suddenly, I felt a sizzling white torch burn through my entire body. The dragon was blasting me systematically with his fire, not to destroy, but as a skilled surgeon might wield a laser-knife, first through my crown chakra, then through my third eye. I was being reamed and cauterized from the inside out, and felt the barriers of my skin glow like a soft, luminescent membrane.
To facilitate his work, the dragon severed my head, and tossed it off into the void. He explained to me telepathically that I no longer needed it, as it would interfere with the work yet to be done. Next he gently lowered a golden medallion into my neck cavity, and hung it on a peg at the base of my neck. Merging with the life force in my heart cave, the medallion was transmuted into a golden eagle, which the dragon explained would replace my head as a guidance system. The dragon performed other symbolic (but also tangibly energetic) acts which forever altered my interior landscape. Then as quickly and as mysteriously as he had come, he left me to ponder the imponderable mystery.
In the days that followed, I felt vulnerable and tender. I had been on a journey to the underworld, where Pluto, in the guise of a red dragon, had performed psychic surgery on my etheric body. I had undergone a symbolic ritual transformation, and was no longer the same person I was before. In the days that followed, I experienced a stripping away of everything non-essential, withdrew from all involvements not in line with my soul's purpose, and began to walk a path I could truly consider my own. I interpret this not as rebirth, but as the revelation of an inner wealth that was there all along.
This same revelation of inner wealth can often be evidenced among people with AIDS. Brought to our awareness during the early days of Pluto's passage through Scorpio, this horrific disease has quickened many to the gift of life, even as it slowly strips that gift away. In this quickening by the imminence of death, the soul comes to the surface and reveals itself in small, but transformative acts of kindness, in a fuller quality of presence within each moment, and in a decisive, instinctual understanding of what is important and what is not. While AIDS is certainly not something anyone welcomes into their life, for those who are receptive to its deeper message, there is also an opportunity to experience what life remains from a state of heightened awareness and increased spiritual vitality.
This heightened awareness can also be witnessed on a larger scale in relation to the Earth itself. During Pluto's passage through Scorpio, there was a collective awakening to the damage that we have done to the planetary biosphere. It can be argued that we have not yet made the changes necessary to stop or reverse this damage. Nonetheless, it is no longer possible to function on this planet without an acute awareness of just how close we are to the edge. For those of us who are willing to allow the possibility of impending planetary death to sit on our shoulder, like Don Juan's advisor, our appreciation of the preciousness and the precariousness of life on Earth is dramatically intensified. In the face of Pluto's death and near-death experiences, there is a quickening of consciousness that brings everything into perspective.
Likewise, the threat of nuclear annihilation, the televised spectacle of massive starvation throughout the African continent, the massacre at Tienenman Square, the genocide in Sarajevo, and the bombing of the World Trade Center - to name a few - are all footsteps of Pluto's passage through Scorpio which served as opportunities for awakening in those ready to respond. On a more personal level, the Plutonic demons of sexual abuse, co-dependent relationships, alcohol and drug addiction have forced many to enter their own underworld in order to reclaim an inner wealth suddenly made more precious in the face of self-destructive patterns become conscious.
Throughout Pluto's sojourn in Scorpio, we have all been brought closer to death on many levels, but we have also had our focus redirected to what is most essential within our lives. For those with the capacity to rearrange personal priorities accordingly, there has also been the revelation of commensurate levels of resourcefulness and creativity. In response to outer crisis, whether personal or planetary, the soul is given the opportunity to come forward, and when it does, inner wealth is revealed.
Meanwhile, as we plunged into the depths of this crisis/opportunity, we have also seen an unprecedented consolidation of power and worldly wealth in the hands of fewer people. Pluto's transit through Scorpio has been the age of the corporate merger, the leveraged buyout, and the free trade agreement, all of which serve to bring the invisible plutocracy governing global economic life closer to the surface. It is no accident that Pluto's passage through Scorpio also marks Pluto's closest approach to earth, for this is the time when the Lord of the Underworld drives his chariot in broad daylight.
Given that the Pluto of mythology was only summoned to intervene in the affairs of the living when humans uttered curses against other humans, it can come as no surprise that Pluto's dealings above ground are often ruthless, ugly, and malicious. While the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and homelessness, deterioration of the inner cities, drug wars, and violent crimes of desperation abound.
In the early days of Pluto in Scorpio, a tornado ripped through the town where I lived. In the aftermath of the storm, I witnessed legions of altruistic volunteers operating side by side with looters, thieves, and con artists of every stripe and persuasion. That Pluto is capable of drawing forth both the best and the worst of human nature seems to be part of its inscrutable mystery.
I suppose this intense polarization and juxtaposition of extremes is only to be expected while Pluto is in Scorpio. If history is any indication, however, Pluto in Sagittarius will not be any kinder or gentler. If anything, Pluto's above ground chariot ride in Scorpio is likely to become accelerated. It was during Pluto in Sagittarius, in the early 1500s, for example, that the first wave of settlers began to occupy this country. In 1509, Bartolomé de Las Casas, Roman Catholic bishop of Chiapas, encouraged each Spanish settler of the New World to bring a certain number of Negro slaves with them. It was during this Pluto in Sagittarius period, that the seeds were planted, which eventually lead to the Civil War, and to the racial tensions which persist to this day as a seemingly integral part of American culture.
It was also in 1509 that the converted Jew, Johann Pfefferkorn, received the authority of Emperor Maximillian I to confiscate and destroy all Jewish books in Germany, thus beginning a largely forgotten era of persecution of Jews in a long, sad string of such eras that seem hauntingly perennial. Throughout Europe during this same period, midwives, herbalists, and medical astrologers all began facing persecution, as the first attempts were made to restrict the right to practice medicine. In 1751, one Pluto cycle earlier, China invaded Tibet, and set the stage for the massive cultural genocide that today, has all but wiped Tibet off the map.
It can perhaps be argued that such atrocities and repression have continued throughout history, and are not limited to Pluto in Sagittarius. Nonetheless, according to Dane Rudhyar, Sagittarius has historically been associated with "...fanaticism, martyrdom and intolerance; when men lose the sense of the earth, the narrow feelings of self-preservation and security, the will to personal happiness - and soar on the wings of self-denial toward distant social or mystical ideals, for which they are glad to die." (1) At its best, Sagittarius is capable of striving toward ideals which represent the epitome of human evolution, but at its worst, Sagittarius can also be quite dogmatic, violently opposed to alternate points of view, and all too ready to sacrifice human lives for the sake of abstract principle.
Again, according to Dane Rudhyar, in Sagittarius, "the Night-force which increased in power since the summer solstice is coming to its high-mark."(2) Because Sagittarius precedes the winter solstice, the time of maximum darkness, Pluto in Sagittarius might well be expected to usher in the darkest hour before the dawn. Since Pluto has never been known for its ethical benevolence, nor its unbearable lightness of being, it stands to reason that Pluto's transit through Sagittarius will not be a Sunday afternoon picnic in a field of wildflowers.
As a fixed sign, Scorpio tends to consolidate energy, while as a mutable sign, Sagittarius tends to use the power that has been consolidated. While corporate maneuvers have concentrated economic power in the hands of fewer individuals during Pluto's reign in Scorpio, in Sagittarius, the repercussions of that consolidation could be increasingly felt by many ordinary people, unable to compete in a global marketplace. As Neo-nazi intolerance resurfaces in a unified Germany during Pluto in Scorpio, Pluto in Sagittarius could witness renewed control of that country by fanatical, intolerant right wing forces, and increased abuse of "foreigners." While the Republican party consolidated its power in Congress, at the tail end of Pluto in Scorpio, after two Scorpionic presidential reigns which dramatically altered the political landscape in this country, Pluto in Sagittarius could usher in a dark age of political dogmatism and moral dictatorship.
By the same token, Sagittarius' fire energy is not likely to be any more benign than Scorpio's water energy, when it comes to dealing in death and destruction. As genetic engineering finds its way into supermarkets and medical labs around the world, new cross-species viruses and mutated laboratory diseases, for which there is no known cure, may proliferate. As the nuclear technology developed during Pluto in Scorpio continues spreading throughout the Third World, nuclear terrorism may present a new threat to our survival, and "small, local" wars may pose as big a danger as superpower confrontation once did. As environmental deterioration becomes irreversible, more people could starve, die of cancer and new immune deficiency diseases, or wind up displaced by intolerable environmental conditions. At the very least, Mother Earth's attempt to cleanse herself and regenerate will undoubtedly become increasingly cataclysmic.
These are, of course, worst possible scenarios. The good news is that Sagittarius will also undoubtedly foster the possibility for real change in a world that badly needs to change if it is to enjoy a habitable future. While we have all long understood the need for change in many areas, both on a personal level, and on a global level, the fixed energy of Scorpio has also mounted tremendous resistance to any change that threatened the status quo. What we are seeing at the tail end of Pluto in Scorpio is that resistance at the height of its power. There is tremendous lip service paid to the need for "saving the planet," for example, while in reality nothing is done that would threaten the continuity of business as usual. In Sagittarius, as the energy of Pluto becomes mutable, the possibility exists for actualizing many ideals which are now only being espoused as public relations posturing.
The fire energy of Sagittarius will also accelerate the stripping away of non-essentials. Each of us will become more intimately and more consciously aligned with our soul's purpose, and everything that is not essential to the fulfillment of that purpose will be burned away. Outmoded belief systems will the first to go, followed by superficial involvements that do not engage our passion, nor reflect our integrity. Relationships which serve no higher purpose, possessions which distract us from our focus, jobs which simply mark time will fall away like old skin from a molting snake.
The challenges that test us during this period will literally and figuratively be trials by fire, and whatever survives this testing will be tempered and strengthened to survive the most rigorous conditions. Immune systems will grow stronger; nervous systems will become more resilient; and previously unused portions of our brains and neural circuitry will become activated. Many of the changes that Pluto brings in Sagittarius are likely to be as invisible as Pluto himself, wearing the helmet of the Cyclopes, but I have no doubt that inner wealth, released through trial by fire, will also abound in ways we can't imagine now.
Only fanatical souls intent on liberation within this lifetime will chose to be born, many will chose to leave, and the overall level of consciousness of those remaining will rise dramatically. Old souls will predominate, and Pluto in Sagittarius will accelerate the evolutionary process for all who choose to participate. Those who make it into the age of Pluto in Capricorn may be fewer in number, but they will likely be souls capable of functioning as avatars, boddhisattvas, and enlightened beings within human form.
Perhaps, with Mercury in Sagittarius, I can be excused if I engage in a bit of hyperbole. Perhaps the reality of Pluto in Sagittarius will be far less dramatic than I suggest, and lie somewhere in between apocalypse and rapture. The world and the planet, after all, have survived previous passages of Pluto in Sagittarius without either apocalypse or rapture taking place. And I will be the first to admit I am but a blind man, groping for some working definition of an elephant.
This is, however, the first time that Pluto will pass through Sagittarius since its discovery in mid Cancer, which means that whatever evolutionary lessons Pluto in Sagittarius brings, we will undoubtedly have the opportunity to take them to heart and make them real on the conscious level of our lives. As for myself, I intend to keep watching, and learning what I can through whatever crisis/opportunities come my way. I also intend to let the golden eagle, placed in my heart cave by Pluto's red dragon, take full flight. And you?
1) Dane Rudhyar, Astrological Signs: The Pulse of Life, Shambala, 1978, pp. 96-97.
2) Ibid., p. 96.
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