I’ve got a secret which, if revealed, is likely to get me stoned. So I’ll share it here and then surrender it immediately in case things get ugly. Here it is: Pluto is secretly benefic. The reason it doesn’t feel this way is that we don’t understand Pluto. We can’t understand Pluto because its orbital cycle is so far beyond the limits of a human lifespan that none of us can see the conclusion of the cycle. The only thing we can begin to grok with Pluto is how to engage in the dance without getting our toes tromped on.
When Pluto shows up in the road of our life, it stays for a long time. Slow planets kick up a ruckus in our lives for two reasons. One is we have little experience with them. Mars, for example, demonstrates its two-year cycle when our toddlers hit the “terrible twos”. By the time you’re grown up, you get accustomed to this cyclic energy. But slow planets, especially really slow ones like Pluto, will aspect each planet in your chart by transit basically once (plus retrograding back). So you’ve got no prior experience to fall back on. The other reason slow planets have a bigger impact is that their transits to your chart are SOOO slow they seem to take forever. When Pluto conjoins your Sun it’s not just a few hours or days or a few weeks—it can be for years. You don’t need an astrologer to tell you something’s up: you can feel it. You can’t just ignore it ‘til it goes away, either. You’re faced with an inexplicable set of circumstances that won’t let up.
This is “encountering the archetype on the road”. If we’re astrologers we run to the cookbooks and discover Pluto words like “transformation”, “death and rebirth”, “surrender”, and still we’re caught standing in the middle of the road staring down Pluto. You want to fight… but someone once told me, “If you want to box with God, you’d better have really long arms.”
You don’t need an astrological chart and an ephemeris to know you’re dancing with Pluto. Here’s a shortlist of Pluto Symptoms:
IF YOU FEEL LIKE THIS IT MUST BE PLUTO.
1. How DARE they!
2. It’s Not Fair. It’s Not RIGHT. I WILL make them stop.
3. Obsessed. You can’t get this issue out of your mind.
4. They WON’T get away with this.
5. 40 jillion get-even fantasies.
6. 30 jillion get-it-back-to-how-it-used-to-be fantasies.
7. Boiling blood each time you think about it (which is all the time).
8. Freezing blood when you think there’s nothing you can do.
9. How DARE they!
These may be symptoms for a Pluto diagnosis. But does a diagnosis help us understand Pluto? Does it help you when someone tells you this is transformation at work? In order to dance well with Pluto, we need to enter Pluto stories and roll around with the energy for a while.
A Pluto Tale
In this story, Pluto takes the form of a dog, a guardian daemon—or angel. The story begins with a human being—maybe You, who, like all of us, has managed your life into a nice, pleasing rut. You’ve dug the rut pretty deep, filled it with soft pillows, electronic toys, everything that makes life predictable and pleasant. It’s so deep, in fact, that even when you stand on your tiptoes, you can’t see the horizon.
You may be enjoying your rut, but there’s an old saying:
The only difference between a rut and a grave is how deep you dig it.
In this story, the wise guardian dog, Pluto, is patrolling the ground above your rut and thinking, “This rut is WAY too deep.” Ordinarily, Pluto might give you a pass, but right now he sees something coming over the horizon that is just perfect for you and you can’t see it. This fabulous opportunity won’t just fall in your rut. Unless you get out and intercept it, the opportunity will just pass you by.
So Pluto tries to tell you about it. Unfortunately, dogs are limited to barks and growls, and all you know is there’s an obnoxious dog outside your comfy rut, barking loudly, incessantly, and ruining the rhythms of both night and day. You want to scream. Nothing will shut up this dog. Life is getting miserable. You tell your friends “I’ve always loved my rut ‘til now…, and as soon as that danged dog goes away it’ll be fine again.”
Pluto is frustrated too. He’s on to stage two. Maybe if he throws in loamy dead leaves you’ll look up and see him signaling. But now your new sofa is trashed and you’re looking for someone to sue. (How Dare he!) Pluto pauses to think of something new.
“If I throw enough rocks down there,” he thinks, “you can climb up the rocks and see what’s coming over the horizon.” But the rocks break your new flat-screen TV and expensive aquarium and you’re fighting mad. (How Dare he! It’s not Fair! It’s Not Right!) In fact, you see you’ve finally got ammunition and throw the rocks out of your rut taking careful aim at Pluto. (He won’t get away with this! Blood boiling.) Maybe you’ll knock him out, run him off, or (hehehe) KILL him!
All gets quiet for a little while. Pluto goes off to rethink his strategies.
“Hmmm,” he thinks. “I’ve got a friend with a sewage truck.”
The next thing you know there’s a sewage truck emptying itself into your nice comfortable rut. There’s no choice now. You’ve gotta get out. Everything you own is stinking, including the clothes on your back. (Blood is freezing.) At this point you’ve got two choices: stand there looking at that stinking hole trying to figure out how to rescue your stuff (you can’t—it’ll stink forever), or turn around and look for that new opportunity coming over the horizon.
Now that you’re out of your rut, if you think Pluto will tap you on the shoulder and point to your heart’s desire, you’ll be sadly disappointed. You’ll be so busy obsessing over the stinking cesspool that used to be your rut that you wouldn’t even look if he did. The hidden beneficence of Pluto remains very hidden, and you’re left staring into the cesspool. Your task now is to break the obsession with what’s been lost. Even in the standard Pluto mythology, Persephone couldn’t get out of Hell if she brought anything with her. That six-month-a-year thing was just a compromise for the pomegranate seeds she ate.
You need to learn to seek joy. Do you remember anything from childhood that entranced you, made you lose track of time and Self? This is the time to resample that experience. At some point when you’re not blotto’d by anger or self-pity, make a list of things you can do that can bring you joy. You’ll discover that JOY requires a singleness of focus, an all-out Paying-Attention, that quite eclipses the negative obsessions of Pluto. So your Joy-List must include your commitment to focus attention on the potential joy experience. You can paint by numbers and get stuck in the rebirthing canal, or you can lose yourself in learning something you never knew. You can take a walk in nature and see nothing, or you can LIVE every scent, leaf, and changing cloud.
As you cross the gulf from bitter obsession to new life, one tiny stepping stone of joy at a time, you will discover, eventually, that you have arrived in an unimagined new world. This is the journey into Joy: the journey into a higher level of consciousness. This is when I hear people say, “That was the worst thing I’ve ever gone through, but in a weird way it was the best thing that ever happened to me. If it hadn’t been for that, I never would have….” (and here they fill in the blank with their version of profound fulfillment). You’re not likely to volunteer to do it again, but you’ll appreciate the result. I promise. These are the facts of the matter when you dance with Pluto.
Pluto energy is bigger than we are. Its main purpose seems to be to break open our sense of self. Look at the house placement of Pluto and the house ruled by Scorpio in your chart. This is where you are likely to feel so identified with something that you believe THIS IS WHO I AM. Pluto is here to tell you that concept is too small. You are bigger than that. You must—and with Pluto it’s non-negotiable—you MUST enlarge your perspective.
When we dance with Pluto, we must recognize that the situation is bigger than we are, that the powers are not under our control, and we must knowingly sacrifice. Pluto triggers our biggest fear: the fear that we have no control at all. When Pluto calls, our ruts must change. Maybe we dig a ramp and a loft high enough for us to see over the edge. Maybe we build a ladder and climb out when the dog starts barking. Maybe we wait ‘til the sewage truck arrives, but we MUST expand our perspective. The sooner we get the message the less destruction we suffer. Once we embrace the sacrifice, our lives change in astounding ways. Often the greatest sacrifice is our illusion of control.
Learning to Dance with Pluto
Even though big Pluto transits are relatively rare in our lives, we do get small opportunities to recognize this energy and learn how to handle it. Every month, the transiting Moon makes four hard aspects to our natal Pluto. Every year the Sun and Venus do. You don’t have to watch the ephemeris. All you have to do is watch yourself and your reactions to the world around you. If you can learn how to recognize and respond to Pluto on a monthly basis, you’ll be more skillful when the big Pluto events come along. This is much easier to learn with small things. Here are some silly small Pluto stories that have been part of my learning experience:
The Broken Set
Long, long ago, and just because I fell in love with the pattern, I bought some pajamas at Walmart. They had black leggings for bottoms and a really really cute print top that I found among dozens of different patterns. When I got home, the top was the right size, but the bottoms, hidden, were at least 4 sizes too big. I took them back to exchange them.
The Customer Service staff said, “Just go and find another pair and we’ll swap.” I looked, and since there were no others with the same really really cute top that I wanted, I picked a random set in my size and returned to Customer Service. I suggested we just exchange the pants of the set that fit for the ones that didn’t.
They said, “We can’t break up a set.” I said, “But the one I’m returning is already broken.” (How DARE they!) They said, “That doesn’t matter. We can’t break a set.” (It’s Not Fair! It’s Not Right!) I asked to see the manager, in a state of absurd fury. No help there. He said, “We can’t break a set. We can give you your money back or you can choose another from the rack.”
I argued, got nowhere, got my money back, and left, thinking I’d write Sam Walton, the board of directors, the head of marketing (They won’t get away with this! My blood is boiling. I’ll make them give the pajamas I wanted in the first place) … and then it struck me. My reaction was out of all rational bounds. I was being Pluto’d. I wasn’t going to win, and it would cost me more to try—postage, angst, fury, etc. than I’d ever get back. With great difficulty I let it go (but I didn’t forget!).
A New Puppy
Another time, with a much bigger emotional impact, I was looking for a puppy: a female Maltese puppy to be exact. I had just finished nursing a dear friend through his final days and decided to fulfill a long promise to myself to get a Maltese puppy: small, mellow, and hypoallergenic. So I went off looking in the classifieds. After several near-misses, I went to the home of an elderly lady whose husband decided she needed a doggy companion, and she thought otherwise. Her adorable puppy was tied to the doorknob with about a 2-foot running radius. The pup was bright, friendly, and affectionate, and the woman and I were ready to make a deal. I responded to the woman’s complaint about all the attention the pup demanded by saying “I can definitely deal with the attention demands. I just finished caring for a friend who died of AIDS, so I’m used to being on call at any moment.” At this, the woman said, “I’m not letting this puppy go to ANY home where there has been AIDS.” (HOW DARE SHE!) I tried telling her that dogs couldn’t catch it, and I didn’t have it, and there was nothing infectious in the house. There was no arguing with her. (It’s Not Fair. It’s Not Right.) She wouldn’t relent. I was boiling mad, trying to think of what anti-discriminatory agencies I could find to force her to give up her horrible prejudice and sell me the puppy. (She can’t get away with this. I’ll get even. I’ll report her. How DARE she!!) Then I realized my blood was boiling: the situation was purely Pluto. I couldn’t change this situation.
Pluto was acting like the dog keeping the sheep from the quicksand. I couldn’t have that puppy. I had no idea why, but it clearly wasn’t going to happen. Since this wasn’t the first block in my puppy search, maybe my ideas about getting a puppy had to change: I would have to surrender something. Maybe my new puppy wouldn’t be a Maltese. Maybe it wouldn’t be female.
I went back to the drawing board with a larger perspective and saw yet another Maltese puppy for sale. I called, and they only had one left: a male. I asked about its birthday (after all, I’m an astrologer), and it was the same birthday as my beloved sister who died and my autistic brother. I visited it, and when the six-inch pup saw me he tore across the room, somehow leaped into my lap, and smothered me with puppy kisses as if saying “It’s YOU! It’s YOU! It’s YOU at long last, my forever best friend!” Now, 14 years later, he’s still my best friend.
Meeting Pluto People: The Tar Baby
In dealing with others who are playing Pluto on you, you have limited choices. You can’t change the other person. You can’t make them behave the way you think they should. Your options are limited to walking away without a fight (quitting a job, leaving a marriage, leaving a home or neighborhood); surrendering to stay in a bad situation—which is sometimes possible but usually not advisable, or you can acknowledge to yourself and others that they have the power and you don’t. If I had said to the Customer Service staff, “You’re the guys who have to follow the rules, and I can’t change that. I understand that. But if there is any way you can figure some wiggle room here I’d sure appreciate it,” the PJ story would have ended differently. Maybe they would relent, maybe not. But I would have surrendered my fury. I know people who actually “won” their Pluto battles by deliberate surrender. This sacrifice of the ego is what Pluto is looking for. A Pluto situation may be totally unfair, but when you are stuck in the small picture and fight the situation, it just drags you in deeper. Do you remember the story of Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby? [i]
The Tar Baby, abbreviated
Brother Fox and Brother Rabbit had a natural and ongoing feud. Br’er Fox wanted Br’er Rabbit for dinner, and Br’er Rabbit’s life depended on outsmarting him. So one-day Br’er Fox makes a Tar Baby out of tar and sticky molasses. He molds the sticky goo into a little person, perfectly sized to block the path Br’er Rabbit habitually uses, places the object in the path, and hides in the bushes. Br’er Rabbit comes along, jaunty and friendly as usual, and says hello to the Tar Baby who, of course, says nothing. Br’er Rabbit tries, again and again, to engage the little figure in a friendly conversation, to no avail. Then he gets angry, insults the Tar Baby, (How Dare he ignore me!) calling it names, accusing it of rudeness, and finally hauls off and hits it, (He won’t get away with this!) getting his paw stuck in the goo. By the end of the story, by hitting and kicking with all four paws, Br’er Rabbit gets hopelessly caught. Then Br’er Fox swoops in to take Rabbit home to the stew pot.
“Does the Fox eat the Rabbit?” asks the little boy who hears the story.
“That’s all the further the story goes”, says Uncle Remus.
“Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t.” [ii]
Pluto is the Tar Baby that delivers us to the Fox. This is the place where you’ve lost control and can’t stand it. You want to fight. If self-righteous anger takes hold, you will lose. That’s a promise. Pluto isn’t about whether you are right or not. Pluto is about dropping your ego and growing your idea of who you are.
As I was writing this article, Pluto entered my environment in two ways. Dear friends of mine, soulmates in every way, we’re facing a serious medical procedure. The wife’s heart was fibrillating, and she needed to undergo a two-step procedure involving a sonar-scope to make sure there were no clots, followed by electroshock to her heart to get the beat back into a healthy pattern. It is a dangerous and painful procedure, though not technically a high-risk one, and she’s endured it before, but for some reason this time the fear of death was running strong through both their minds. The other Pluto appearance came as I was reading John Major Jenkins’ definitive work on 2012, The 2012 Story.[iii] And then these two stories came together.
Pluto always evokes themes of sacrifice. We can lose something dear to us willingly or unwillingly. We hear of surrender, but surrender sounds like giving up. Sacrifice is the deliberate letting go of something for a higher purpose. If we recognize this pattern, we can choose to sacrifice our egoic desires as the price of the Plutonic passage. Interestingly, the World Age mythology of the ancient Maya echoes this theme. To paraphrase Jenkins’ longer and more literally accurate telling of the tale, here is the Mayan mythos on what happens at the end of a world age.
The Mayan Mythology: As Above…
There are three important archetypes in this story. One Hunahpu is the conscious leader: a god-being whose ego is in service to higher consciousness, with a higher perspective of the greater good than could be attained by ego alone. One Hunahpu cares about the welfare of all the people and isn’t confused by issues of greed and power. Seven Macaw, on the other hand, is the epitome of ego run amok. With no higher consciousness, no transcendent awareness, Seven Macaw becomes more and more greedy as the age progresses, reaching his greatest power at the end of the age, when he beheads One Hunahpu and declares himself, Seven Macaw, more powerful than the Sun, and owner of all the worlds under heaven.
At this point, the Hero Twins are born—children of the late One Hunahpu. The Hero Twins are beings of high consciousness, as was their father, and they see Seven Macaw racing to take over everything in the world. Seven Macaw realizes the Hero Twins have something he wants or wants to destroy, so the Hero Twins hatch a plan to make Seven Macaw chase them into the cosmic fire, deliberately sacrificing their own egoic selves but guaranteeing the final death of the Seven Macaw who follows them into the flames. The plan works. Seven Macaw is destroyed, and because consciousness survives ego-death, the Hero Twins and their father One Hunahpu are resurrected to begin a new world age where transcendent consciousness becomes the mode of the world, subjugating ego to its appropriate functions.[iv] These are classic Plutonian themes: death and rebirth, conscious surrender or sacrifice, and a transcendent result when the egoic sacrifice is made.
Then Jenkins offered this quotation:
Whenever a profound experience of change is about to take place, its harbinger is the motif of death. This is not particularly mysterious, since it is the limited view and appraisal of oneself that must be outgrown or transformed, and to accomplish transformation the self-image must dissolve. [v]
Which brought the story back to my friends, who were in a panic about death. I couldn’t see a literal death astrologically, and I knew two things about their relationship that were at a tipping point. One was that this Pisces wife with Virgo rising had defined herself as someone who loves by being the servant, preparing meals, keeping a perfect home, saying Yes every time her Leo Rising husband invited folks to dinner. Her inability to outgrow this definition of self was literally killing her. The other problem they had were their two different ideas about how money should be handled. To help her, he was handling all the money issues, but his over-generosity with others and techno-toy addiction was putting her in a financial panic, further stressing her heart.
As they faced this procedure, both of them were acting out in sheer panic. He was spending more, she was cleaning up a storm. It struck me that they could use the necessity for this Plutonic medical procedure to transform the difficulties which were adding so much stress to their lives, and to her very life.
My big, buttinski, Aha! moment came the day before the procedure, so I asked them if I could butt in that very evening and offer some suggestions about what this procedure could mean in the larger picture. I explained that the “motif of death” quote was the key that unlocked the story for me since they were obsessed, panicked, and fearful of their utter lack of control over life itself as this appointment loomed large. I read the quotation and told them the Mayan story, suggesting that they could repeat this story in their own lives, acting as the Hero Twins offering sacrifices. She would approach the fire of the electro-shock, carrying the ego-sacrifices: her twin-soul would ground her in the physical world as he sat in the hospital waiting room.
I suggested that the Leo Rising husband (I called him the Boy-King) needed to turn over household financial handling to a willing and very capable financial servant, his wife, to whom he would sacrifice his need to spend money by entertaining people at will, and buying techno-toys on whims. He would need to sacrifice his financial control by deferring to her decisions about spending. I asked him if his concept of self was totally tied to his financial autonomy, or if he was bigger than that. This would be a sacrifice celebrating his Leonine love for his wife, who would be relieved of heart-straining worry if she could get their financial affairs in order without his toppling them again. Wise King that he is, he repeated back what he thought he heard to make sure he got it, and then agreed immediately.
Then I asked her if she would be the other half of the hero-twins and take his sacrifice into the fire of the electrical jolt to her heart. Yes, eagerly. And then she went on, and on, and on some more about her feelings of financial stress and her fears when she had no control. I reminded her that this money thing was NOT her issue at all. This was HIS sacrifice of control and all she needed to do was carry it to the fire. I asked her if she was willing to sacrifice her self-image as the perfect servant-wife, who cooked any time he invited guests, felt that her identity would be damaged if the house weren’t spotless, and who failed in her own self-image if she said NO to anything. These ego identities were quite literally killing her. Her heart couldn’t keep up with the physical stress.
Surprisingly, to me, this was the more difficult sacrifice. She started to weep and said she didn’t know how she could do it. I reminded her that the goal was to offer the sacrifice. She needed to intend to carry these identifications to the fire and ask that the fire burn away these ego selves. She didn’t need to understand how she could accomplish it—she just needed to offer and intend. When she said yes, she could do make the offer and intend to sacrifice, I could see the energies around her heart relax.
We talked a bit more, wept a little bit, and I left, confident all would be well. Indeed, I got a call as soon as the procedure ended, telling me it went better than expected, over-qualified angelic substitute staff were on hand (one dripping with amethysts), only one shock was required, and they were home within the hour. By that evening she was out and about, glowing with an inner light I hadn’t seen in a long time.
It seems to me that when we are called on to walk through the underworld we need to have a deliberate purpose. There is a sacrifice to be made, and if we don’t know what we are sacrificing that decision can be made for us. When we take our ego into the fire, we come out a more conscious being.
We can learn to recognize Pluto when we encounter it on the road. We can learn what it feels like, and what we can do. We can even learn to trust that the intention is to reach a higher state of being, and yet each encounter comes with the ultimate fear of ego death. I believe that when we open ourselves to the expanded version of life available to us as we walk through innumerable small and large ego deaths, we are preparing ourselves for The Big One: Death—and our symbolic resurrection as One Hunahpu, the conscious being. As we face Death, we can say.
“OK, I recognize this feeling. I’ve done it hundreds of times. I know there is a bigger version of me on the other side, once I let go.”
Thus One Hunahpu is born again.
[i] (To read the original 19th-century story in the African American dialect of “Uncle Remus” as written by Joel Chandler Harris, go to… http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ug97/remus/tar-baby.html)
[ii] This is a very real metaphor of the power system African Americans were living under in the 19th Century (and continuing on). The power structure was such that they developed teaching tales to help children learn how not to get put in the proverbial stew pot. I’ve discovered that clients who live in autocratic and didactic societies have much less difficulty negotiating Pluto passages than those living in relatively free westernized societies. They have no illusions of control. There are things, unfair things, unjust things, that just happen, and if you know what’s good for you, you don’t fight it. But for most of those reading this, we still have the illusion of control, partly because we usually have some measure of control in our lives.
[iii] John Major Jenkins, The 2012 Story: The Myths, Fallacies, and Truth Behind the Most Intriguing Date in History, New York: Tarcher/Penguin 2009.
[iv] As I read this chapter of Jenkins’ book, the US Supreme Court ruled that corporations had the right to spend as much money as they liked on the American political process, thereby giving them the legal ability to buy the government of the most powerful country in the world. I thought: “Seven Macaw has just cut off the head of One Hunahpu.” There will be two more elections until the changing of the World Age. I wonder, who are the Hero Twins?
[v] John Weir Perry, “Spiritual Emergence and Renewal,” Spiritual Emergency: When Personal Transformation Becomes a Crisis, ed. by Stanislav Grof and Christina Grof, New York: Tarcher 1989, p. 67, quoted on page 411 of Jenkins, op cit.