In the wake of a troubling general election I wanted to see what the astrological ‘weather forecast’ for the U.K. looked like over the next few years. We don’t need astrological help to see difficulties ahead, of course, but astrology can deepen our appreciation of the cyclic nature of time, and might just enable us to ‘collaborate with the divine’ a bit more effectively as we resist injustice and ecological destruction, and try to create ‘more interesting, ingenious, and loving’ worlds.(1)
In order to illustrate this claim I want to focus on one major upcoming transit* -the passage of Pluto, ‘Lord of the Underworld’, opposite the U.K’s Moon (both circled yellow below), in a commonly used chart for the date of legal union between Great Britain and Ireland (2). This transit will gradually build, augmented during 2016 by Uranus squaring the U.K. Moon, suggesting a continuation of the visceral impulse towards independence already seen in Scotland, and more worryingly, in the success of UKIP, and the planned referendum on E.U. membership. It will be at its most intense during 2017-2018, and will then fade.
Major transits of Pluto to U.K 1801 Moon (outside circle), based on Solar Fire Graphic.
How might this work in a person’s life?
In The Astrology of Fate Liz Greene wrote that ‘the primordial chaos from which life emerges and to which it returns belonged in the beginning to the Great Mother. The male figure of Hades was a relatively late formulation … whenever myth portrays [his] entry into the upper world, he is shown persistently acting out one scenario: rape’. The intrusion of Pluto into consciousness ‘feels like a violation, and we, like Persephone, the maiden of the myth, are powerless to resist’. Her discussion considers the purposefulness of fate, but also evokes the sometimes un-bearable nature of ‘plutonic’ experience.(3)
Since 1984 we’ve hopefully become more aware that allegories of abduction and rape might be inappropriate in relation to cathartic experience and (not least when taken to imply cosmic purposefullness) crises caused by oppression and abuse. We also have more access to other readings/versions of the story, in which Persephone-Kore, as the original and primary goddess, enters freely into a sacred marriage with Hades. (e.g Sara Pike’s review of Ann Suter’s The Narcissus and the Pomegranate). That said, we still need to acknowledge the intensity of pain and struggle involved in both personal and communal crises, and the toxic ancestral inheritance that often impels such eruptions.
‘Slum clearance’, a Personal Moon-Pluto Period in Manchester, 1972.
With the benefit of hindsight my own experience of this transit, in my early to mid-20’s was interesting and briefly turbulent, but ultimately constructive. I left the parental home (natal Moon) for the last time and went to live in a wood where I meditated amongst the trees while three friends enacted a tense sexual triangle (a classic Pluto theme). Moving to inner city Manchester I then got involved in housing action and crisis support. During the following year a personal crisis culminated in an unforgettable visionary experience.
Astrology of the Collective
Parallels between individual stories and the life of nations are of limited value however. The social is not an individual writ large, and history shows that on the collective level we are far from ‘powerless to resist’.
Mundane (‘of the world’) astrology should perhaps be approached with even more caution than natal astrology. Its not necessarily obvious how the charts of nations work, and its all too easy to be seduced into making casual claims about history and politics. What follows is intended as an exploratory excercise, but it does, I think, raise some quite profound existential questions.
The Moon in a nation’s chart is said to represent the people (the masses), and might be expected to reflect conditions for women, and for children. The U.K’s Moon, at the top of the chart, in the public tenth house, has been linked to our tradition of parliamentary democracy, but could also be read as an image of a people uprooted from the land (far removed from the base of the chart, the ‘Earth Point’/4th house cusp, of roots, the home, inheritance, family origins, ‘property’, land, gardens, fields, orchards, ‘the tillage of the earth’***, and ecological foundations). Pluto’s major transits signify (and perhaps unleash) periods of turbulence, power struggles, death (symbolic or physical) and destruction, and if conditions are favourable and things go well, transformation and renewal. They may also indicate material interventions such as mining, or demolition and rebuilding. A good way of illuminating the upcoming transit of Pluto opposite the U.K. Moon is to look at previous comparable transits.**
Margaret Thatcher Elected
When Pluto squared the U.K Moon in 1979-80, Margaret Thatcher’s election as Prime Minister inaugurated a period of manufacturing meltdown, with the loss of some two million jobs. Inflation was brought down at the cost of steeply rising unemployment (by August 1980 to 2 million, for the first time since the 1930’s). Many communities were subsequently devastated by multi-generational unemployment. With the Pluto transit forming (in 1978) the Ridley Plan, a strategic document outlining the new government’s preparations for taking on the miners (who had defeated a Conservative government in the 1970’s), had been leaked to the press. ‘Power’ is a keyword for astrological Pluto, and revenge is a Pluto/Scorpio theme.
Thatcher’s victory followed what the right wing media successfully mythologised as ‘the winter of discontent’. In response to wage restraint and spending cuts (amounting to 20% of public spending) imposed by a Labour government at the behest of the neo-liberal I.M.F, some 2,000 strikes were organised by low paid public sector workers during an unusually severe winter. Since much is still made of the supposed profligacy and ineptitude of ‘retro socialism’ effective counter-narratives are needed about the causes of these disputes (such as here). The period was, nevertheless, ‘a positive and transformative time’ for many female activists.(4) During the early 1980’s there were large scale trade union demonstrations, and inner city riots.
Ther Great Depression
Moving back through history we find Pluto crossing the U.K. Moon during 1929-30, which was, of course, the period of the Great Depression. At this time unemployment rose steeply (to 2.9 million by the summer of 1932). The ‘co-incidence’ of finding another period of mass unemployment under this transit cycle is, well, striking. In 1931 unemployment benefits were cut by 10% and the means test introduced. Attendance at work camps (‘slave camps’) was made compulsory for the long term unemployed, in the face of opposition from socialists and anarchists (see here and here). The National Union of Unemployed Workers organised National Hunger Marches against the means test.
My grandparents at Herne Bay, Kent, 1934.
The photograph above shows my mother (sitting on a farm gate) with her parents, on a trip to Herne Bay. On a much less happy occasion, when my grandfather was made redundant (I don’t have an exact date), he walked about twenty five miles, from Charlton out into the Kent countryside, on the strength of a rumour that there were jobs to be had at an engineering works in Edenbridge. By the time he got there the jobs had gone. He would then have had to walk home. This, apparently, was the only time my gran saw him cry.
Chartism and the Plug Riots
The next comparable transit occured in 1840-42, long before Pluto was discovered. This was during the period of chartist agitation for universal male suffage, the repeal of the hated 1934 Poor Law that was forcing unemployed people into workhouses, and the repeal of the Act of Union with Ireland. During the transit several massive petitions (and see here) were taken to parliament. In the words of the 1838 petition, presented to parliament by a progressive M.P. from my home town:
“The land itself is goodly, the soil rich, and the temperature wholesome; it is abundantly furnished with the materials of commerce and trade; it has numerous and convenient harbours; in facility of internal communication it exceeds all others. For three-and-twenty years we have enjoyed a profound peace. Yet with all these elements of national prosperity, and with every disposition and capacity to take advantage of them, we find ourselves overwhelmed with public and private suffering …
We have looked upon every side, we have searched diligently in order to find out the causes of a distress so sore and so long continued. We can discover none, in nature, or in providence. Heaven has dealt graciously by the people; but the foolishness of our rulers has made the goodness of God of none effect.
The energies of a mighty kingdom have been wasted in building up the power of selfish and ignorant men, and its resources squandered for their aggrandisement. The good of a party has been advanced to the sacrifice of the good of the nation; the few have governed for the interest of the few, while the interest of the many has been neglected, or insolently and tyrannously trampled upon”.
Atfer both this, and an even larger petition in 1842, had been rejected by parliament, the Chartists organised a massive wave of strikes that came to be known as the Plug Riots (see here, here, and here). This ‘first general strike’ involved some half a million workers, and was the biggest excercise of working class strength in the nineteenth century.
The Factory System
Finally, and perhaps most surprisingly, in 1771, during a previous passage of undiscovered Pluto across 19 degrees Capricorn (where it will be once again in 2017-18), opposing the Moon in the chart of a yet-to-be-inaugurated United Kingdom, we find Richard Arkwright, inventor of the water frame and ‘father of the factory system’, establishing the first successful water powered cotton spinning mill. Arkwright, who had moved from Preston to Nottingham to escape the militancy of Lancashire cotton spinners, started with 200 workers, mostly women and children. Dr Andrew Ure, in his Philosophy of Manufactures (1835) wrote: “To devise and administer a successful code of factory discipline, suited to the necessities of factory dilligence, was the Herculean enterprise, the noble achievement of Arkwright”. In a chapter on the moral economy of the factory system Ure extolled the ‘sublime spectacle’ of Sunday schools as ‘quiet fortresses’ at times of ‘political excitement'(5). ‘The great transformation’ had been unleashed.(6)
It would be interesting to make a fuller study of this cycle, looking at other possible significations of the Moon and Pluto, other aspects, and other transits (particularly the Uranus square). But if we accept that the above demonstrates a cyclic pattern, we must surely also conclude that our lives, and the lives of the collectives we are part of, are to some extent ‘fated’ -choreographed by the cyclic dance of more-than-material bodies, planetary powers, some say gods, moving through the vastness of space; and that we live within an intimately communicative, sentient and/or ensouled cosmos. Unfortunately ‘the foolishness of our leaders [still too often] makes the goodness of [those gods] of none effect …’.
* In astrology ‘transit’ refers to the passage of a planet either directly across, or making a signficant angular aspect to, a given point in a horoscope. Both the transiting body and horoscope point are charged with symbolic meaning that will manifest in various ways during the period of the transit. ** I’ve restricted this discussion to the 4th harmonic ‘hard’ aspects -conjunctions, oppositions, and squares. Each transit would be close for two or three years, and would fade in and out for several years before and after exactitude. I’ve mostly looked at events that occured while the transits were within a 2 degrees orb. ***Willilam Lilly Christian Astrology
Sources: (1) adapted from ‘democratic animist’ astrologer Caroline Casey’s Making the Gods Work for You, Harmony Books, 1998. (2) Michael Baigent, Nicholas Campion, and Charles Harvey, Mundane Astrology, Aquarian, 1984, pp533-439. (3) Liz Greene, The Astrology of Fate, George Allen and Unwin, 1984. pp38-40. (4) Tara Martin-Lopez and Sheila Rowbotham, The Winter of Discontent; Myth, Memory, and History, Palgrave MacMillan 2013. (5) E.P. Thompson The Making of the English Working Class, 1963 pp395-7. (6) Karl Polanyi, via Molly Scott Cato The Bioregional Economy.