As everyone knows by now, Pluto was recently demoted from “planet” to “dwarf planet”. (“Dwarf planet” is an unfortunate name; for a readable explanation of why, try this article by a linguist.) For some folks, this change is of huge importance; for others, it means nothing. It doesn’t matter to the astronomers themselves, for example — Pluto is what it is, regardless of the name attached to it. It does make a huge difference to teachers of astronomy, of course. But what about astrologers?
For astrology, the demotion of Pluto is completely irrelevant. Astrologers and astronomers are talking about completely different things.
Pluto is still the same rock with the same meaning. It doesn’t have to be a planet to rule signs, have aspects, progress through the chart, and do all the other special things that planets do. Chiron, a rock that is well-known in astrology but not much elsewhere, is a sizeable planetoid orbiting between Jupiter and Saturn that serves as a useful model for Pluto’s astrological status.
The larger issue is whether discoveries in astronomy should have any effect on astrology. Should, for example, Pluto’s slightly larger cousin further out, Xena, be included in astrological charts? And what about other planets, when they’re eventually discovered? Astronomers think it likely that the region out beyond Pluto could be swarming with these freezing hunks of ice and rock. Is each one destined to eventually represent a crucial aspect of the human psyche?
There are three ways that astrologers might answer this question.
- Ignore the astronomers. Astronomers can discover what they like; astrologers don’t have to go along with it. There is precedent. For example, consider the precession of the equinoxes. For two thousand years, the spring equinox has been slowly creeping away from Aries and into Pisces. Now the equinox is almost exactly one sign off. When astrologers say that you’re an Aries if you’re born between March 21 and April 21, they’re ignoring the fact that the sun was actually in Pisces, not Aries, when you were born. But so what? What really matters, it seems likely, is the position of the Earth relative to the sun, not relative to the background stars. It’s likely the case that an Aries is fiery and headstrong because s/he was born in the spring, not because the Sun was positioned between Earth and the stars that make up Aries. So astrologers could just pick and choose which astronomical discoveries to make use of. Do we really need to squeeze every new planet into the human psyche? The Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were good enough for Kepler and Ptolemy, they ought to be good enough for us.
- Follow the astronomers exactly. This view argues that the stars and planets really do have a causative effect, and every astronomical discovery gives the opportunity to improve astrological models. We should have thirteen zodiacal signs, not twelve, because the Snake Charmer is technically on the zodiac as well. The motion of the sun around the galactic center needs to be taken into account. Every new planet means more accurate charts and more accurate readings. Or maybe the discovery of a new planet means that humanity itself has changed; we’ve discovered it because we’re ready to grow in a new way, in new directions. In that case, discovering a new planet is cause for celebration, because humanity has crossed a threshold.
- See what works. Take an experimental approach. Try casting a chart with and without Xena, with and without the Snake Charmer, and see what happens. Many astrologers believe that Pluto should remain a planet because they’ve seen its effects in astrological charts again and again. But testing astrology is always tricky; the results seem depend very strongly on what you expect. If you expect to find evidence that it works, you’ll see it. If you expect to find evidence that it doesn’t, you’ll see it. It’s rather like testing to see whether an electron is a particle or a wave…
Ultimately I do think that the discovery of new planets indicates a shift in the human psyche, but not in the way that I describe above. Finding new planets throws the whole enterprise of astrology into doubt in a way that was unthinkable for thousands of years. That’s the shift.
The great lesson of human civilization for the last few hundred years has been: don’t trust authority, don’t trust what the elders say, don’t trust “it’s always been this way”. Ancient authority might be a reliable guide — but then again, it might not. You’ve got to find out for yourself.
Even so-called “fundamentalists” have felt this shift. People who are fundamentalist Christian these days have decided to have that faith — they weren’t necessarily born into it. Even if they were born into it, once they reach a certain age, they really had to decide whether they were going to continue with it.
This idea of deciding your religion is something rather new, but it’s unavoidable these days. The stream of new discoveries and information — whether about planets, biology, psychology, what have you — means that every path of spirit today requires passage through a time of doubt. That’s the shift of psyche.