Ask 9/11 and Katrina if Pluto Matters


As I sat last night on a plane bound for New York, I thought of Pluto. (Doesn't every traveler spend his airborne hours musing over far-off celestial bodies?)

And it wasn't just Pluto's recent media-whorish behavior, or the fact that our former farthest-away planet (an honor now rescinded on behalf of Neptune) turns retrograde today (Mon Sep 4) and, thus, is at a virtual standstill, that had him in the forefront of my mind either.

In fact, it may have had more to do with the reminder, blaring broken-record-style over the loud speaker at SFO Airport, that all US air travel remains on 'orange alert' (an elevated level of security advisory)… following the Aug 10 foiling of an attempted terrorist plot to simultaneously blow up multiple trans-Atlantic flights using liquid explosives. (Destroying airliners over the ocean, using hard-to-detect liquid explosives—Neptune/Pisces, anyone?)

If the overhead announcement didn't jog our memories, we were re-reminded at the security checkpoint, where everyone carrying 'any liquid, gel or aerosol product' was commanded to dispose of it. Is it Pluto I must implicate for the recirculated-air's chapping of my lips, seeing as I was forced to board without my trusty lip balm?

This 'Pluto consciousness' didn't end at airport check-in, of course, considering I was headed on to New York, where I'll be staying for the next two weeks—during which I will also be present in America's cultural capital-city for the commemoration of five years passing since Sep 11 2001, 'the day that changed everything', especially in NYC.

Pluto plays a principal role in this anniversary, mainly because it was its opposition to Saturn in 2001-02 that was the most significant transit occurring around the time of 9/11… and widely considered the astro-harbinger of that day's earth-shattering events. We'd be hard-pressed to imagine any non-NYC-resident who doesn't think about 9/11 when traveling to NYC, if they visit on a less than frequent basis. Throw in the 5-year anniversary of that historical date—in conjunction with the recently foiled terror plot and the heightened security alert—and it's impossible not to consider its macro-influence on our lives.

In a nifty synchronicity of the popular American mind, it was only last week when we were memorializing another dark cloud in our recent history: the 1-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which essentially destroyed New Orleans and other Gulf Coast communities and raised the ugly realities of poverty and racism to a more blatant plane. Pluto, again, comes to mind, since, on that fateful day, transiting Uranus formed an exact conjunction to Pluto's placement in the natal chart of New Orleans.

Interesting, ain't it, that the two most significant events in a generation of American history would mark important milestones (1st and 5th anniversaries) within the same couple-week period, and that both are especially Plutonian happenings… all around the same moment Pluto is 'officially' stricken from the roster of our planetary peers?

The point I'm making here is an open-ended one, in the sense that my goal is merely to get us all thinking more about the possible astrological ramifications of Pluto's demotion. (Isn't that, after all, a mammoth question on everyone's minds, which we astrologers may be rightfully hesitant to answer straight away?)

For those unaware of Pluto's agreed-upon astro-symbolism, this 'former planet' is considered to be 'Lord of the underworld' (like his mythological namesake), representing all the deepest, darkest recesses of our psychological shadow—the violence, the terror, the lust, the greed, the envy, and the ever-present undercurrent dynamics of power, who has it or doesn't, and who wants to forcibly steal it from whom. Pluto is 'kill or be killed', a death-and-rebirth archetype that brings amazing transformations… but not without our willingness to face the brutal pain along the way.

Now, truth be told, I don't much care whether a professional organization of astronomers calls Pluto a 'planet' or not. It's all a semantic hullabaloo. (I will say, however, that I find the assertion of Pluto as a 'dwarf planet', but not a 'planet', to be rather silly. That's like pointing at the typical closet-sized Manhattan studio and declaring it not an 'apartment' but a 'really small apartment'. Are 'little people' not also people?)

I, as well as many other astrologers, will continue using Pluto in my work for the foreseeable future—just as I use Chiron, which has never been (and probably never will be) offered membership in the 'planet' clique. If anything, I'm more inspired than ever to explore the use of other non-planetary bodies for astrological purposes. Furthermore, I have no interest in arguing against the drift of mainstream science, just so some flatly materialist know-it-all can further marginalize my chosen field by pointing at my resistance to evolve with the times, with a snide, 'See how astrologers want to trap us in medieval thinking!' Fat chance.

But back to my original point: Isn't it noteworthy that Pluto has inked more news space over this past month, right as we try coming to terms with the massive lump of societal grief and mourning and anger and darkness that accompanies our collective reflections on 9/11 and Katrina?

And beyond these two anniversaries, do we spy any other indications of Pluto gripping our attentions with his oddly sinister examples of human nature at its ugliest depths? In San Francisco, we've recently borne witness to a series of truly strange news stories smacking of Pluto's stench: a panicked father reporting his baby missing, only to end up the likeliest suspect in the killing, likely as part of a drug deal gone awry; a woman bound and tied, then set on fire and left to burn; a mentally ill man on a psychotic tirade, driving around town in his SUV and purposely slamming it into pedestrians, leaving 20 victims in his wake. Yes, these horrible occurrences happen all the time. But they made it to the top of our news in rapid succession, one after the other, capturing the popular SF consciousness and leaving us to shake our heads in disbelief, wondering what the hell is going on.

In our media-drenched society, what qualify as 'top news stories' are our best bet for windows of opportunity to put our symbolic read onto what the hell's going on. Those of us who practice such 'readings' naturally extend our observations of common links to more personal ends, comparing what transpires in our lives and those of our friends and family to what's happening on the glowing screen. In the examples I personally draw from, I see similarities—many folks (myself included) watching their suppressed shadow urges pop up, confronting the painful realities of life and death, and wondering how to move on from the difficult emotions they're facing—presenting themselves during this particular period of time.

Meaningless coincidences? Pluto, struggling to maintain his voice in the midst of decreased reputability, proving he won't let us reduce his hold on our psyches with a crafty terminological sleight-of-hand?

Let's just keep thinking about it.