If you have been following the developments of transiting Pluto, you know it’s poised to conjunct (return to) the United States natal Pluto over the next few years. The US has its natal Pluto at 28 Capricorn. Currently, Pluto is at 24 Capricorn. (There is some controversy about what time should be used for the U.S. I’ll stick with the Sibly chart.)
A Pluto return is an event no human will ever experience. This is because it takes Pluto 248 years to orbit the sun and “return” to the place it was for the natal chart. Planetary returns are cycles that mark our lives profoundly, such as the maturing cycles of the Saturn return at 28-30 and 58-60, and the crisis cycle of the Uranus opposition at 40-42. The human lifespan may experience the Pluto square, but what would a Pluto return presage?
Let’s consider the Roman Empire.
Rome’s Natal Chart
Octavian won the Roman civil war on September 2, 31 BCE, at the Battle of Actium. His foes (Antony and Cleopatra) committed suicide on August 1st and 30th of 30 BCE. (Don’t confuse the founding of the Empire with the foundation of Rome itself in 753 BCE.) On January 16, 27 BCE, Octavian became Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus. He referred to himself as princeps — “first citizen” — but the Republic was now merely a fiction.
Tradition picks 27 BCE as the beginning of the Empire. The Senate bestowed the title “Augustus” on Octavian January 16. The Senate usually began business at dawn, around 7:30am local time. That’s how I got all the numbers you see in the chart. I was happy that astro.com allowed me to create a chart for dates before the common era. None of my software does.
The Empire’s Pluto is in Cancer. It was also in Cancer for the recent generation of people born from 1913 to 1938. As Dana Gerhardt reminds us: “The generation born during these years (which saw the Depression and two World Wars) was fiercely protective, security-conscious, and nationalistic. These are deep Cancer traits, along with its sentimental focus on home and family.” This aptly describes the highly conservative Roman Empire, as well. What many people fail to understand is the Empire valued the old and distrusted the new. Christians were a novelty, even faddish. This is why officials were much more tolerant of Jews than Christians, despite their similar resistance to honoring the Empire’s gods.
Some other interesting numbers appear.
First Pluto Return – 219 AD
The Empire’s natal Pluto is at 27 Cancer. The Empire experienced a Pluto return during the years 218-220 AD. This was a period of a terrible ending after a great expansion. The Severan dynasty began in 193 AD under Septimius Severus, the “African Emperor,” who was unpopular with the people and the Senate because he didn’t give a damn about them. He reformed and promoted the military. He understood where his power lay.
The dynasty was marked by its abandonment of philosophic and republican pretense: the emperor was a soldier and did whatever it took to keep the armies content. Until Elagabalus, that is, who so thoroughly scandalized the empire with his religious Orientalism, promotion of women to Senatorial power, and his overt homosexuality, that his assassination was arranged by his own grandmother.
Severus Alexander was the last emperor of the dynasty. He succeeded Elagabalus at the age of fourteen in 222 AD. He was unable to manage the armies, first by being too lax, then by being too harsh, and finally, listening to his mother who advocated bribery over fighting. His was the reign that separated the era of Rome’s greatest expanse from the Crisis of the Third Century: barbarian invasions, civil wars, rebellions, usurpers, plague, debased currency, and a near-economic failure.
The period from 235-284 is the demarcation between ancient and late antiquity. The accession of Diocletion saved the Empire from collapse, but the cost was a naked autocracy: a broad reorganization of the empire that tied peasants to their land and sons to their fathers’ professions, expansion of the armies, rewriting history, and an explicit statement of the emperor as divine.
Rome’s Pluto return had preceded this era. Pluto was now ascendant. Fear was a dictator that ruled with absolute power. Rome abandoned the pretense that the people had choices and that the Senate made decisions. Security was bought at the price of freedom.
Second Pluto Return – 464 AD
The second Pluto return happened in 464 AD. This was during the reign of some puppet emperor-or-other. From 461-472 it was the Germanic general Ricimer who managed the western empire. Historians end the Empire in 476 AD when the Germanic king Odoacer deposed Romulus Augustulus. But, really, Germanic kings had been managing things for a decade. Roman authority had been in the hands of Ricimer since 462.
So it’s interesting to reflect on these two periods of Roman history, to see similarities and transition points. Where might the god of hell be found on earth? How might the workings of evolution, death and rebirth, manifest in an empire?
Certainly, the years marking Pluto’s return were watershed years, eras of profound change, of transitions not endings. For example, the growing influence of the military — a highly pagan entity — added to the intolerance of Christians, and that led to Diocletian’s Great Persecution. Despite the ominous name, little came of the edict. By 300 AD, provinces didn’t have much interest in killing Christians. A generation later, Diocletion’s descendant, Constantine, would serve the Christian god.
Reflecting on Pluto
Pluto transits often mark deep evolutionary moments when the death of one thing gives life to a new thing. Losing the familiar can be difficult, which is why so many of us dread Pluto transits. But something must always die in order for something else to live. Saturn is a scorched-earth kind of god. Pluto brings creative destruction.
So what might be dying in the U.S right now as Pluto approaches our natal Pluto? What must die so that something else might live? What great transition is being signaled?
My reflection on this event began as I was thinking about the transit of Pluto in my own natal chart. My ascendant is at 24 Cancer, which means Pluto is exactly opposing it this month and throughout the rest of 2020.
I don’t want to conjecture about what might die. But I like to reflect on what Dane Rudhyar has to say about Pluto:
This is the great message of Pluto, whose presence became revealed even in the midst of a bitter Depression; for men can only learn the lesson of abundance in poverty, the lesson of health in disease, the lesson of operative wholeness in injury and deprivation.