“We are living in what the Greeks called kairos–the right moment for a ‘metamorphosis of the gods,’ of the fundamental principles and symbols.”
Dr. Carl G. Jung
Saturn and Pluto will form an exact conjunction in a single intense pass on January 12, 2020. The two planets conjoin roughly every 33-38 years as Pluto’s eccentric orbit causes the timing to shift by zodiac sign. The conjunction will contain five planets at 22 degrees of Capricorn that includes the Sun, Ceres, and Mercury. It’s a powerful lineup as the planet of structure combines with the energy of hidden influences and is fueled by the force of the Sun. This rare concentration could trigger a redistribution of power globally and nationally. Corrupt structures may be revealed, and we may see deconstruction and reconstruction based on tests of integrity and unraveling moral fiber. The conjunction will also offer a preview of the Pluto return in America’s horoscope in 2022.
Earlier interpretations of Saturn/Pluto conjunctions have focused on the dark side and chronicled violent upheavals. These energies cannot be denied as this planetary combination can bring things to a dramatic end. But there is potential for an expanded view of this energetic combination based on a re-examination of their myths.
Before telescopes only five planets were visible to the naked eye. The Greeks called them asteres planetai“wandering stars” as they appeared to be bright lights that moved against the background of “fixed stars.” They named these moving stars after their gods, and the Romans followed the Greeks. The fastest moving planet was named Mercury, after the swift-footed Messenger of the gods. Venus was bright and beautiful, so she was named after the goddess of love and beauty. Mars looked red in the sky, so it seemed apt to name that planet after the god of war, and Jupiter was king of the Olympian gods.
Saturnus was an old Roman agricultural god who ruled in a past golden age. Under Saturn’s rule, humans enjoyed the spontaneous bounty of the earth without labor in the “Golden Age” described by Hesiod and Ovid. The Romans equated Saturnus with the Greek Cronus, although their natures were quite different in some ways. Saturnus taught the Romans agriculture, and his annual winter solstice festival called Saturnalia bore hallmarks of our Christmas and New Year celebrations. We do not know why the Greeks named the planet we call Saturn after the elder Titan god Cronus rather than another one of the Olympians. We can suppose the Greeks acknowledged the idea of time, since this planet was the slowest moving of those visible, and therefore signified the slower motion of old age.
Astronomy has retained the Roman planetary names, and astrology still uses the archetypes of Greco-Roman gods, complete with their flaws and foibles. With increasingly powerful telescopes we can now see the planets and peer deep into space. Our ability to experience the influence of planetary energies has also grown, and modern changes in society should be taken into account. Therefore, I believe it is time for a “metamorphosis of the gods” and a re-examination of symbolic identities. The Saturn-Pluto conjunction offers just such an opportunity.
Since 2006 Pluto has been designated as a dwarf planet. Pluto’s moon Charon is half the size of Pluto, and is tidally locked, so the two are considered a dynamic binary dwarf planet. The other known moons of Pluto are Nix and Hydra, Kerberos, located between the orbits of Nix and Hydra, and Styx. All of Pluto’s moons were named for mythological figures associated with the underworld, a naming convention begun by 11-year-old Venetia Burney in 1930.
The underworld idea took root. Astrologically Pluto governs the symbolic underworld–what has not yet been redeemed in our psyches. This includes hidden and dormant conditions that need to be brought to conscious awareness, purged, and transformed into new sources of power. Pluto is the urge to regenerate and transform. Pluto rules those who work under the surface such as miners, psychologists, nuclear physicists, and undertakers. Certainly the darker side of Pluto can’t be ignored as the idea of plutocracy, an elite class whose power derives from wealth, stems from Pluto’s misuse. Gold is the source of wealth and the origin of greed–it is an axiom that power corrupts.
The standard interpretation of Pluto can be expanded and deepened if we look at earlier myths, as Pluto was not always the god of the underworld. Pluto is cognate with the Greek Plutos, which means “riches.” He was the Greek god of wealth, giver of gold, silver, and other subterranean substances. Because these gifts were mined, Plutus became recognized as the god of the physical underworld, which in turn became the spiritual underworld, and therefore death. In Greece, this earlier god was sometimes called Hades, which was also the Underworld itself.
According to Hesiod, Plutus was born in Crete and was the son of the goddess Demeter and the Cretan Iasion. Sometimes he was the child of Pluto (Hades) and Persephone, where in the theology of the Eleusinian Mysteries, he was regarded as the “Divine Child.” In art he usually appears as a child with a cornucopia and is shown with Demeter and Persephone.
Demeter and her daughter Persephone were the central figures of the Eleusinian Mysteries, a religious tradition that predated the Olympian pantheon, and lasted for 1,800 years. Similar rites occurred in agricultural societies of the Near East, Egypt, and Minoan Crete. The mysteries were secret initiatory rites that represented the symbolic abduction of Persephone by Pluto-Hades in three phases: descent (loss), search, and ascent. The marriage of Pluto and Persephone was at the heart of this religion, and the main theme was the ascent, or return, of Persephone and annual reunion with her mother. This cycle is parallel to the archetype of the heroic journey described by Joseph Campbell.
Within the Olympian pantheon, Pluto-Hades was permanently confined to the Underworld. It was Persephone, the feminine aspect, his wife and queen, who made the annual depth journey and return to the surface of Earth. Each year Persephone descended into shadows and dark places, the realm of death and buried secrets. Symbolically, she is soul and psyche, representing the psychological work of the shadow. She always returned to the surface, bringing light and warmth, while Pluto remained below as king of the Underworld and all it contained—gold and old bones.
In the case of Saturn, the astrological influence is the embodiment of form, and the dramatic rings surrounding the planet represent the idea of limitation. Saturn is the cohesive force that binds. The ringed planet gives form to our life experiences and also provides our lessons. Saturn constructs, deconstructs, and reconstructs—no form is permanent. When we deal with Saturn we deal with authority, both our own capacity to wield authority, and our ability to be led by and learn from others.
Saturn’s influence by transit brings a reckoning, facing payment of what has come due. If we squander our resources we become bankrupt, but if we are prudent our assets can grow. This is not a cruel or vindictive figure wielding a scythe, but rather a principle of equilibrium, seeking balance. This law is a self-correcting mechanism that brings an end to structures whose life cycle is ending and are beginning to decay.
An alternative mythic identity for the ringed planet could be Demeter. Like the other visible planets, she was one of the twelve Olympians, goddess of the harvest who presided over grains, agriculture, cycles of the year, and the fertility of Earth. More importantly, she was the goddess who presided over sacred law and the repeating cycle of life and death. One of her titles was Thesmophoros, “Law Bringer,” an apt name for the planet said to be exalted in Libra. Sacred law, like karma, is not punishment but the direct consequence of choice and action; we reap what we sow.
There is precedent for Saturn being a feminine planet, even among the Greeks. In an early text by Hellenistic astrologer Dorotheus of Sidon, Carmen Astrologicum, he states “the feminine planets are Saturn, Venus, and the Moon, and the masculine planets are the Sun, Jupiter, and Mars.” Mercury was seen as both. This brings more balance to the planetary gender polarities. Isabelle Hickey, author of Astrology: A Cosmic Science, describes Saturn as both the Dweller on the Threshold and the Angel of the Presence, the testing and teaching agency by which we learn and master our life lessons. She describes Saturn as a feminine archetype and penned a poem about her, saying “freedom is only found through Saturn’s discipline.”
In Qabalah, Saturn corresponds to the Sephirah (sphere) Binah on the Tree of Life. Binah is the Great Mother, matrix of form, and the template of the manifested universe, whose limitation and form-giving power are the womb of creation. The word matter stems from the same root as matrix and mother.
How might we recast the conjunction of Saturn and Pluto if we include the Eleusinian mysteries and alternate myths in the interpretative mix? If Pluto has an aspect of giving gifts mined from the deep parts of our psyches, how might we view his energy in a different light? And, if Pluto is seen not as the vile abductor of an innocent virgin, but rather as acting in concert with his wife Persephone, it’s possible to better understand the nature of cyclic loss and symbolic resurrection.
If we consider Saturn as Demeter, something profound can be understood in the mythic encoding of the cycle of the year. Death does not triumph but is rather a change of state, offering a time of rest and renewal. A wise teacher once said, “All pain is caused by holding on.” Willingly letting go, we can gracefully surrender the forms that need to die, trusting the process of rebirth and reformation.
Perspective is what matters. After the harvest we do not weep for the death of the wheat. Instead, we celebrate the abundance of crops and move with the cycle of the year until spring returns and it’s time to plant again. Likewise, if we have been good stewards of our symbolic fields, we can rejoice. If we have made poor choices we can learn from our mistakes and move on. If we embrace this wisdom we can face what has outgrown its time and be courageous enough to stop clinging to the past. Our openness will make room for new life, and we can make a fundamental course correction.
However we choose to cast the characters in this morality play, the Saturn-Pluto conjunction offers a powerful time of reckoning. We must face the truth of structures of power that have become corrupt, and we can expect some chaos. Collectively we must clear the fields and winnow the wheat, making way for new structures for the next cycle. We should take care at the dawn of a new age what seeds we plant for the future.