Understand Pluto by Understanding Persephone…

Somber Hades, Lord of the Underworld, and his three-headed Hellhound, Cerberus…

Yesterday, I posted HERE about Pluto’s impending turn retrograde, set for tomorrow. I talked a little bit about what Pluto signifies in Astrology, and I also held forth somewhat about what retrograde periods might mean when they decide to settle in around us.

Today’s post is more purely aimed at fleshing out the specific character of Pluto.

So this is a Planet that was named after the Roman God of the Underworld. And while it might be a bit uncharitable to the Romans and their Deities to say this, most of the Roman Goddesses and Gods seem like barely updated versions of the earlier Greek Deities. Jupiter, the King of the Roman Gods, with his mighty thunderbolts, feels a lot like Zeus, the King of the Greek Gods…with his mighty thunderbolts… Mercury, the Roman Messenger-God with his winged sandals and magic caduceus-staff is the spitting image of Hermes, the Greek Messenger-God, with his winged sandals and his magic caduceus-staff… You probably get the picture.

But even though the Greek incarnations came first, it somehow transpired that we humans named the Planets of our solar system after the Roman versions of these mythic figures. You know the names: Venus, Mars, Saturn, Neptune…

And Pluto is no exception in all this: the Greeks had an incredibly similar Lord of the Underworld named Hades, but we named our far-distant, planetary system-mate after the Roman version. Still, it can be very instructive to examine one of the primary myths about Hades to understand more about the role that the Planet Pluto plays in Astrology.

This image has always made me think of Persephone before Hades arrived on the scene – she’s carrying on her mother’s agricultural work, but not looking especially passionate about it here, and is maybe wondering if there might be something more for her out there…

To tell this particular story about Hades, though, is also to relate the story of Persephone, a young Goddess who would have a fateful encounter with the gloomy Lord of the Netherworld (whose nature would eventually be mapped onto our icy Pluto)…

So after the generation of Greek Gods known as the Olympians ascended to power, an age of growth took hold. The Olympians settled in to rule, and various species flourished down on the earthly level. One of the Olympians, Demeter, assumed the role of Goddess of Agriculture and of the Harvest, and so control of all green and growing things became her province.

Demeter was often helped in her agrarian efforts by her daughter, Persephone. An innocent and beautiful young Goddess-girl on the cusp of Goddess-womanhood, Persephone seemingly had little independence and identity of her own outside of being Demeter’s sheltered daughter.

Hades abducts Persephone – this is a great summary of what can happen to us when Pluto the Planet becomes activated…

One day, though, Persephone wandered down to Earth, and strolled about in a meadow all by herself. While there, she caught the eye of her grave uncle, Hades, who was watching from down below in his Underworld domain. Unable to fight back his loneliness and desire, Hades harnessed his chariot, raced up toward the surface, caused the earth to open up beneath Persephone, and he gathered her up as she fell, and brought her back to his dark realm below.

And as Persephone dealt with this abrupt and frightening turn of events, her mother was quick to notice her absence, and launched a frantic search for her. It took some time, but eventually, the Olympians learned that it was their own kinsman, Hades, who had abducted young Persephone. When Zeus, their King, demanded that Hades return the wayward Goddess to her home up above, Hades pointed out that while she was his guest, Persephone had eaten six pomegranate seeds…and no one living, not even the Olympian Deities, may eat of the food of the dead.

Zeus found himself caught in a real bind here, not wanting to reward Hades for kidnapping an innocent Goddess-girl and depriving Demeter of her beloved daughter, but also agreeing that the prohibition against the living eating food from the Land of the Dead was an important law that was not to be broken. He settled on a compromise: for every pomegranate seed that Persephone had eaten, she would have to spend one month per year below in the Underworld with Hades, while for the other six months of the year, she could roam Olympus and Earth as she pleased.

As is so often the way with compromises, no one was especially happy with this decision. Hades had only half of the companionship he’d been seeking, while Demeter was being forced to go without her daughter’s company for half of every year. In retaliation, Demeter declared that she would help nothing to grow for those intervals when Persephone was down below in the darkness – this is why we have the Autumn and Winter seasons each year, and why, when Persephone returns aboveground on the Vernal Equinox, we enter the warm and fruitful six months of Spring and Summer (obviously, the Greek tales originated with a society that lived in the Northern Hemisphere…).

Persephone as Queen of the Underworld: now a Goddess of great power, with tremendous influence over her husband, and the ability to inspire fear in the hearts of even the greatest of mortals…

Interestingly enough, though, while her abduction must have been fairly terrifying at the time, Persephone arguably benefitted from it. Where she’d once been little more than an extension of her mother, with no real identity and no real autonomy, Hades’ intervention transformed her into the powerful Queen of the Underworld. Almost overnight, she made quantum leaps forward in establishing a new role for herself, amassing a tremendous amount of personal power, and transforming from a young, naïve Goddess-girl to a fearsome, fully matured Goddess.

In Homer’s classic Greek tale, The Odyssey, the hero of the piece, Odysseus, is obliged at one point to travel to the Underworld, and he clearly states his desire to finish his errand and get gone back to the surface before “dread Persephone” puts in an appearance. And this was one of the greatest heroes of his time, fresh off the bloody horrors of ten years spent fighting in the Trojan War – Odysseus was arguably one of the least cowardly mortals then roaming the Greek landscape, but thoughts of even a three-minute encounter with the Mistress of the Underworld had him wanting to flee that dark place like an incontinent child…

In some tellings, Persephone even seems to become the true power in the Underworld, forcing Hades into a never-ending quest to win her forgiveness and her affections after having stolen her away from the bright, airy upper-world and the life she’d known there. In these versions of the tale, Hades spends the rest of his days in a vain effort trying to make his Queen smile and love him back.

So the point of all this is that when Pluto the Planet – named in roundabout fashion for Hades – becomes active in our lives, it’s possible that we might have to play the part of Hades himself in some dynamic. We might be called to grapple with our own long-denied hungers, to choose whether to exert our power over others, and to bump up against the limits of how much we truly value the consent of those others before we exercise our will upon them.

More likely, though, there’s an excellent chance that during times of Plutonian influence, we may in some manner be slotted to be on the receiving end of some version of the Persephone treatment. That is, Pluto energies may take us on a forced march into some scary Underworld of our own, to face whatever dwells down there in the dark. We may be ripped from our usual routines, and we may be sequestered for a time in some fairly dismal psychic locale. We may have to contend with the worse aspects of human nature, and we may have to make some truly hard choices.

But as with Persephone’s experience, the developments may not be exclusively bad here. Plutonian passages can allow for us to retrieve long-buried psychological material and then transmute it into something positive. They can also trigger profound transformation, and yield massively enhanced power and knowledge.

It’s not really possible to outrun Pluto’s influence, or to hide from the Lord of the Underworld – he comes for all of us at some point. When he does, though, what we can do is accept the challenges that these periods present us, and try to ride them through to some personal metamorphosis.

For this Pluto retrograde, you can prepare and cope by making use of such techniques as meditation, dream journaling, psychotherapy, visualization exercises, shamanic practices, and energy healing. Have faith in yourself, make wise choices about what to use as fuel during this retrograde interval, and accept that change is inevitable…but not necessarily “bad.”

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