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.”

Venus Developments…

Venus, named for the Goddess of Love, is currently connected to Saturn, named for a God who thought it would be a great idea to swallow all of his newborn children so they’d never be able to someday rise up and challenge him… This may not bode so well for our relationships at this time!

It seems to be retrograde season for us down here on Planet Earth, what with Mercury, Jupiter, and Saturn all appearing to be moonwalking back along their orbital pathways, and Pluto poised to join them five days from now.

But if you’re the type who fears retrogrades in general, it may be comforting to you to know that today marks the occasion of Venus – which has also been in retrograde motion for the last six weeks or so – stationing direct. “Stationing direct” is the astrologer’s way of saying “That Planet that looked like it was moving backwards is now knocking that off, and returning to good old, regular, forward-style motion.”

In general, retrograde periods are believed to mark intervals during which the energies symbolized by the Planet in question may act in unusual fashion, they can seem to dredge up people and lessons from out of the past, and they can tend to make themselves felt more on our inner landscapes than out in the external world.

With Venus being retrograde, relationships can conceivably take some hits. Person-to-person connections both romantic and platonic can experience short-circuits. Old lovers, old friends, and other former acquaintances can pop up unexpectedly. We can also be called to work on things we’ve been getting wrong with respect to our relationships with ourselves.

But today, Venus appears to us on Earth to be ceasing her backwards trajectory, and returning to forward, direct motion.

As always, I counsel a good, hard look at your own chart to see if this event will have noticeable consequences in your own life. Venus turns direct at the 27-degree mark of Pisces. Do you have any Planets or meaningful Points (Ascendant, Lunar Nodes, etc.) at that location in your own chart? Do you have anything placed at the corresponding spot in any of the other Mutable Signs (Gemini, Virgo, and Sagittarius)? Is Venus one of the more influential Planets in your chart overall…?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then this may be a meaningful occurrence for you.

And if this direct station does make itself known in your life, the results can take on many forms. Your relationships may seem to iron out some of their own wrinkles for you all of a sudden. They may become busier and/or more positive and agreeable in the external world, while some of the soul-searching about interpersonal bonds and self-love may fade a bit in priority.

That all sounds pretty good…but here’s a note of caution… As Venus stations direct, she’s doing so in a spot that forms a strong and somewhat friction-heavy link with Saturn. This link is called a square – squares form between Planets and Points that are 90 degrees or so apart – and they can be powerful connections that seem to give rise to corresponding real world events. And to be honest, Saturn isn’t exactly warm and cuddly by nature even when it makes more user-friendly connections with other Planets!

So what does this mean…?

No guarantees, but for the next two weeks(-ish), even though Venus returns to direct motion, our relationships may all undergo some testing and tempering. Saturn operates much like a keen and tireless auditor combing through your financial records in a search for mistakes. Saturn is kind of cold and rather merciless, and is entirely without sentiment.

The good news is that if you’ve done the work properly in the area that falls under Saturn’s influence, then you’ll have nothing to fear, and you may even reap some rewards and gain greatly in self-confidence in that area for having achieved “job well done” status.

The less good news, though, is that if you haven’t done the work properly when Saturn appears, your errors and shortcomings will most likely be exposed, and there will be some damage control and repair work to be performed in the wake of the visit.

Mapping these ideas onto the relationship arena, it looks possible that until the first week of May or thereabouts, our relationships may seem to fall under the sway of that invisible “auditor” force. Stresses and even the occasional crisis may materialize in our relationships, misfires may occur, and we may take a more fatalistic view of our interpersonal bonds than we would normally do. When not handled skillfully and with honor, Saturn can promote feelings of fear, doubt, isolation, and grave seriousness…and with a tight square connection in effect, these feelings become more likely.

In addition to examining your own chart for placements in the last few degrees of the Mutable Signs, it can also be a great exercise to analyze your own recent real world experiences to see if any of the above has felt applicable to your life. Have your relationships been more difficult than usual, or seemed more gloomy, or even doomed? Have you been feeling defeatist about them? And do you feel any differently today, as Venus stations direct? That change won’t totally offset the square with Saturn, but it might be something you do perceive, and it might arguably ease some of the abrasive feeling of that Venus/Saturn square.

If any of this does feel like it applies to you, then do your best to hang on until the square fizzles out in a bit over two weeks. There will always be some new development looming on the astrological horizon, but we and the people in our orbits will probably be relieved when this particular one passes on…

Tarot: Majors Above and Minors Below

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I was making coffee earlier, and because coffee makes magic things happen, I was suddenly struck with this analogy from nowhere, explaining how Major and Minor cards in Tarot relate to each other overall.  Try this on for size:

In many bodies of classical mythology, you have your humans living on the mortal plane, and then you have some pantheon of Deities inhabiting a higher, more elevated realm.  By way of examples, in Greek Mythology, you have Zeus and the other primary Goddesses and Gods headquartered atop Mount Olympus, while the humans run around way down below at sea level…in Norse Mythology, Odin and his fellow Deities reside in the lofty domain known as Asgard, and again, the humans are scattered about far below.  Deities and humans being what they are, the Goddesses and Gods are free to come and go as they please, entering the mortal plane at will, and stirring things up in human affairs as they desire…but the same is not true in reverse.  Humans can’t simply gate-crash their way into the godly realms.  In fact, it’s a pretty rare event when a human can even find the godly realms, much less travel there and gain entry.  For mortals in general, the godly realms are Invite Only, and those invites are about as rare as birds’ teeth.

So the point is that while individual cards do work together in readings, a convincing case can be made for the notion that outside of readings, when the cards are just sort of existing in conceptual space…the Majors are like those Deities, inhabiting some rarefied stratum of existence way high above, and going wherever they like, while the Minors are much more limited, and are largely confined to a more mundane realm somewhere far down below.  This goes hand in hand with the commonly trumpeted dictum that Majors represent big, cosmic forces, while Minors deal with everyday affairs…my coffee-epiphany just puts the notion into a more mythology-centric context.  I don’t know, it fits into my own brain real nice, anyway…

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The Magician!

IMG_4678Last night, I watched episodes of two different prime-time TV shows. One was a comedy, and one was a drama…yet in each one, the main plot hinged on an incident in which one of the characters tricked others with a bit of sleight-of-hand in a very critical moment, swapping out one item for another, without anyone else noticing until it was too late.

Only when I got up this morning did it suddenly strike me that these two very different shows were both treating us viewers to Magician moments! The Magician in Tarot is very capable of pulling off even high-level deceptions, and will probably be charming and likable all the while… And then I realized that I’ve actually been seeing similar riffs on illusion and bait-and-switch gambits playing out in other shows I’ve been watching lately (“Orphan Black” – finally watching this! – and, maybe not surprisingly…”The Magicians!”) and in some of the mythology I’ve been looking at (like Rhea tricking Cronus into swallowing a stone instead of baby Zeus…). Just based on these stories alone, it’s very obvious how Magician-energy can have sweeping effects.

And yet, I also have to admit – to you, to myself – that I tend to like The Magician. In the privacy of my own mind, I lean toward viewing it as a “good” or “positive” card most of the time, even though when I read for other people, I’m careful to always remember that all cards cover a range of meanings, and that I need to factor in the context and the surrounding cards and all before I leap to any conclusions, etc. But in my heart…I’m always already halfway to buying whatever it is that The Magician is selling.

How about you? Would you buy snake oil from The Magician at the drop of a hat…or does this character arouse your immediate suspicion…or do you have no set baseline response at all…?

Journey into Greek Mythology

IMG_4615I’ve loved Greek Mythology since I first discovered it in childhood, courtesy of the big orange-colored book you see here at the center of this photo: d’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths.

It’s an endlessly fascinating body of lore, bursting with complex characters, gripping plot-lines, profound symbolism, fabulous creatures, and colorful settings.  I love other bodies of mythology, as well, but I’ll never tire of the Greek tales.  It’s been a while, though, since I really steeped myself in this reservoir of classic, archetypal imagery.

After I polish off the Bhagavad Gita, then, I’ve decided to schedule a reading/studying phase for myself that’s very, very intensely focused on Greek Mythology. I’ve been there plenty of times before, but it’s time to revisit, and in a big way. In fact, this time, I’m planning to dive into it so deeply that I’ll need Poseidon’s help to swim back up and make it to shore…

Mythology in Tarot

IMG_4535Like some kind of conceptual ore, Mythology is a rich vein of material that runs mostly hidden through the bedrock of Tarot. In many ways, you don’t need to know any of it in order to be a skillful, happy, and fulfilled Tarot practitioner…but it can seriously enrich your Tarot game if you do enjoy the study of it. If you know what to look for, you can find references in Tarot to Greek, Egyptian, and Norse Mythology (among others) without straining.

In fact, Anubis — the jackal-headed God shown here, alongside his mother, the glorious Goddess of Nighttime and Magic, Nephthys — appears outright on the Wheel of Fortune card in the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot, the most widely-used deck in the world. The second most popular pack of Tarot cards, the Crowley-Harris Thoth deck, is named for another Egyptian God…

Elsewhere, the Greek Goddess and eventual Queen of the Underworld, Persephone, is often cited as a correlation for The High Priestess, while Odin, the King of the Norse Pantheon, is widely associated with The Hanged Man. These are just a few of the most prominent examples. Other Deities from various bodies of World Mythology can be seen in many of the other Tarot cards.

So do you use Mythology very much in your Tarot practice? Do you know it but not really draw on it? Do you keep track of the Goddesses and Gods who correspond with the Planets, whether for use with Astrology or for Tarot? Or if you don’t know much about Mythology, is it something you’d like to learn more about?

Sweet Chariot…

IMG_4113Studying Tarot can be like gazing into a fractal: the deeper you peer into it, the more it just goes right on opening up new facets of itself like an infinite flower…

Case in point: the Chariot card. I’ve generally thought of this card as signifying things like willpower, struggle, combat, travel, armor, and whole things that are greater than the sums of their parts.

Recently, though, while prepping for parts of the Tarot Toolkit course section on the Majors, it occurred to me that The Chariot has a far more spiritual overlay than I’d ever really given it credit for in the past. Multiple bodies of Mythology tell of the Sun and the Moon (and sometimes the Dawn) being ferried daily across the sky in Chariots, and a great many Deities travel across existence in Chariots pulled by various creatures.

Also, Chariots seem to serve as vessels through which Deities can interface with us mere mortals. When Chariots are utilized in this fashion – almost like the spiritual equivalents of airlocks – we see encounters such as Ezekiel’s meeting with Divinity in the Bible, or Arjuna’s face-time with Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. But when no Chariot is present, and a direct interface occurs, we see results such as Semele being incinerated when glimpsing Zeus in all his unfiltered Glory.

It’s probably not coincidence that the RWS version of this card shows a charioteer who wears the Stars on his cloak and his brow, and a pair of crescent Moons on his shoulders: The Chariot is a safe space where the earthly and the Celestial can safely mix and mingle.