Exploring the societal shifts Pluto in Aquarius will cause!
In January 2024, Pluto will move into the sign Aquarius for the first time since the 18th century, after a brief introduction from March to June 2023. Astrologers the world over are positioning to make sense of what this signifies. To take an effective step in that direction, we first need to assess Pluto’s role in the astrological schematics and what it means for it to move into a fixed sign strongly associated with winter symbolism.
Pluto: A far-out body
Pluto is one of the outer planets, together with Uranus and Neptune. Unlike the luminaries and five visible planets, these three entities are not visible without the help of a telescope. Astrology is dependent upon principles informed by vision and perception. If you removed yourself from the Earth, you’d find there are no houses, no angles, no zodiac signs, no day, no night, no rising or setting of planets, no retrograde motion — these are visual experiences we perceive from the Earth’s surface, and perception is everything.
As a result, the outer planets do not rule things as the seven visible bodies do. Rather, they map broad shifts in societal experience. They function like tectonic plates, moving many hundreds of miles beneath our feet in unseen patterns. The shifting of continental plates sends earthquakes of varying size and devastation toward the surface. The outer planets are similar in their function, periodically releasing their tensions on the surface world.
Such is the reality of the outer planets. Their transits are rarely uplifting, rarely comforting. Uranus breaks, Neptune dissolves. Pluto has been said to transform, but I think this interpretation is misleading. Firstly, transformation as a concept was understood for millennia through combustion (the dark period where a planet old in phase is renewed for another cycle) and the planet Mercury, which has a strong association with the prefix trans-. Secondly, the planets and stars do not compel. Pluto does not require that we transform, even if it points to things in desperate need of a hard reset.
Humanity is not so great at trans-forming itself, it turns out. Researchers of organisational change hold that between 50 and 70 per cent of large-scale transformation projects fail. This statistic holds whether we’re talking about corporate entities, government bodies, or some other large organisation of semi-autonomous people. We are resilient as a species and more likely to adorn ourselves with the appearance of change than fully submit ourselves to inner transformation.
To understand Pluto, we must centre ourselves on the imagery of the underworld. With Pluto (or Hades), we’re at the periphery of existence, the furthest reaches where mortals may not enter, the depths within the Earth devoid of sunlight or life. This astrological body signifies all that light does not touch: individual and collective traumas, the untallied cost of systems devised to keep some things visible and other things unseen. In Pluto, we have a primer for obliteration and sublimation.
With Pluto, we also have an image of immense wealth. Pluto derives from the Greek ploutos (wealth), and just as mineral wealth is found within the earth, so too are spiritual riches and wonders to be found by excavating those harrowing realities relegated to Plutonian steps across eras and geographies.
Our recent dance with Pluto
Pluto entered Capricorn in January 2008, right in the middle of the real estate housing bubble burst. As Pluto continued to move through Capricorn, we saw several global political and economic systems challenged as people subjugated by those systems rose in resistance (eg. the Arab Spring, #MeToo, Black Lives Matter). Guards of an ageing order stirred neo-nationalism and populist sentiment: “Make America Great Again” from Trump in the United States, “Brazil above everything, God above everyone” from Bolsonaro in Brazil, Brexit under Cameron and Johnson in the United Kingdom, a revitalised “Chinese Dream” in Xiping’s China, the global resurgence of Zionism under Netanyahu’s administration in Israel, the rightward shift since Erdogan’s 2002 victory in Turkey etc. Already tense relationships between governments and the governed settled into deeper dissention with the launch of WikiLeaks and the testimony of Snowden — truthfully, the cracks are everywhere you can think to look.
Now we globally prepare for Pluto’s ingress into Aquarius. Aquarius isn’t like Capricorn, it is far more dogmatic, more forceful, less deferential to institutions and authority, and more likely to exhort a decentralised position.
Sometimes to understand a sign, it helps to consider it in contrast with the opposing sign. Aquarius is opposed by Leo, the fixed-sign positioned in the height of summer. Leo is a bestial sign, ruled by the sun that shines singularly in our skies. This sign is associated with a feral outlook, a tendency to glorify and enshrine. Leo ascends somewhat direct or straight against the horizon and what planets invoke from within this sign tend to last. When Pluto passed through Leo from 1937 to 1958, we witnessed a centralisation of power among the few, distribution of wealth among the elite, and the moralising of “rugged individualism”.
Aquarius is a human sign ruled by Saturn, the central enemy of the Sun. Through Saturn’s sign, solar images, such as monarchical systems of government, ostentatiousness, authority etc, are undermined and weakened. This sign tends to emphasise the many, the down-trodden, the abject. Aquarius rises obliquely over the horizon. This sign isn’t fearful of short-lived wins if they are sufficiently disruptive. If Pluto’s position correlates with shifts in societal definitions of appropriate uses of power (and it does), through Aquarius we will see the dust kicked up as Pluto’s transit of Capricorn consolidates into “new” systems prioritising the many over the few. We last saw this when Pluto toured Aquarius in the 18th century. Upon Pluto’s return two centuries later, we suspect we have outgrown our solutions and efforts to dismantle them are growing.To bring the ideas together more succinctly, we have:
Pluto | Power and obliteration, amassed traumas stemming from choices made in the overworld, the quarry we can later mine to extract deep and salient lessons.
Aquarius | Fixed and stubborn, associated with winter and things freezing over, a humane sign associated with logic and reason, describes the dejected due mainly to its rulership by Saturn.
A historic look: April 1777 to December 1798
Pluto’s orbit is elliptical. It does not transit each sign at an even pace. Presently, Pluto moves swiftest in Scorpio (11-year transit) and most slowly in Taurus (32-year transit). Aquarius lies midway between the apogee and perigee of Pluto’s synodic cycle, averaging Pluto’s motion with a 20-year transit. To get a sense of how we might expect Pluto-in-Aquarius to show up in our world over the next two decades, we will look at the illustrations left to us from Pluto’s last transit through this sign in the late 1700s — we will keep our assessment at an almost criminally high level, but what we see should still be instructive.
To break up this period, we will be organising Pluto’s movement by sign and by the system of planetary terms laid out in Hephaestion*. Each sign is comprised of five sets of terms, allocated to the five visible planets, and is the stronger of the two forms of degree-based essential dignity, the other being dignity by face, or decanate. The term-ruler is said to impart its own signification within the limits of its term.
Saturn rules the first set of terms in Aquarius. His term is comprised of six degrees, then Mercury’s with six degrees, Venus’s with eight, followed by Jupiter’s with five and, finally, Mars’s with five, rounding out a full 30 degrees.
Leading up to Pluto’s ingress into Aquarius
The late 1700s was a transition period between the Age of Enlightenment and the Industrial Age. This two-decade bridge features major wars between nascent and crumbling powers, updates in economic theory, and a rush to figure out how to make high-toll human tasks automated through machinery and technology.
Russians overcame the Ottomans in the Russo-Turkish war and, for the first time, Russian influence extended into Crimea. Russian attention has returned to Crimea and Ukraine at the Pluto return of Russia’s victory in 1774.
In the final year of Pluto’s transit of Capricorn, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolutionary War officially began.
Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations (1776) garnered considerable attention from statesmen and economic policymakers. Critics of capitalism argue that, as a system, capitalism had a propensity for harmful synergies with a complex web of existing unjust socioeconomic systems, and had the effect of concentrating wealth and power among the upper classes to a staggering degree.
In Smith’s time, the idea of a free market was a radical one, seen as an efficient way of moving power away from the 18th-century elite (ie monarchy, the state, nobility). In The Wealth of Nations, Smith argues for the labour theory of value (far before Marx did, although Marx is often credited for this), and posits that as labour produces the value it has a share in the value that is created. The state-regulated form of capitalism in Smith’s treatise never did materialise. What we did get is currently undergoing its Pluto return.
As Pluto moves into Aquarius, a humane sign associated with rational faculty, human activity galvanises in rebellion against images of the sun. How this was done in the late 1700s, and which industries or persons were tackled, will be assessed in conjunction with the term-ruler.
Pluto between 0° 00’ 00” – 5° 59’ 59” Aquarius, term of Saturn: April 1777 to March 1781
The British monarchy, still reeling from a banking crash earlier in the decade, struggled to maintain control of the East India Company during this period. Incidentally, the problematic bank crisis occurred while Pluto was in Capricorn — Capricorn rules India.
The bulk of the Revolutionary War would be fought during Pluto’s passage through Saturn’s term. The states wanted to be free of association with the British crown and escape heavy taxes levied without colonial representation in British parliament.
Abolition movements grew in the United States and Pennsylvania became the first colony to pass an Abolition Act. Few enslaved people were freed immediately; the act outlined a process called gradual emancipation which kept some forms of enslaving legal until the 19th century.
Pluto between 6° 00’ 00” – 11° 59’ 59” Aquarius, term of Mercury: March 1781 to February 1785
Mercury is a planet associated with astronomy and instruments. Through both, the discovery of Uranus was made not five days after Pluto’s ingress into Mercury’s terms. Uranus was initially named Herschel after the astronomer who discovered it.
During this period, Ironbridge connects the banks of the River Severn in the UK and becomes the world’s first bridge made from cast iron. Advances in metalwork and engineering ushered in the beginning of the Industrial Era, where machinery and industry proliferate and replace agrarian economies — a perfect signature combining Pluto, Saturn as the ruler of Aquarius and Mercury as ruler of this term.
America wins the Revolutionary War and becomes fully independent from Great Britain. The philosopher Immanuel Kant published his Critique of Pure Reason, which sought to define the limits of the faculty of reason and question the possibility of metaphysics.
Pluto between 12° 00’ 00” – 19° 59’ 59” Aquarius, term of Venus: February 1785 to March 1790
Cotton mills first become horse powered. French chemist Claude Berthollet introduced a method of bleaching textiles using chlorine gas. America names its first president. The British commence colonisation of Australia in the southern hemisphere.
At the close of Pluto’s transit of this term, the French Revolution begins with the storming of the Bastille. This war, alongside the American Revolutionary War, will profoundly affect global politics, providing successful case studies for implementing democracy and republicanism in contemporary government.
Pluto between 20° 00’ 00” – 24° 59’ 59” Aquarius, term of Jupiter: March 1790 to March 1794
It is characteristic of Jupiter to increase all things in motion. In this period, the Atlantic slave trade grows. In response, abolition movements gain momentum in the west. France abolishes slavery — though it would be reinstated under Napoleon in the early 19th century.
Pluto between 25° 00’ 00” – 29° 59’ 59” Aquarius, term of Mars: March 1794 to December 1798
Mars has historical associations with war-like images, fire and illness. His influence over Pluto’s passage through this term is clearly seen in the invention of the cotton gin, which sped up production more than fifty times. This machine featured a new form of engine that ushered in the Industrial Revolution.
In this period, the smallpox vaccine was created, the first step toward the successful eradication of smallpox. In the US, states ratify an amendment to the US Constitution that removes legal recourse for private citizens to sue states they’re not a citizen of. And, for a touch of the dramatic, the Pope is taken captive in the French Revolutionary War. Pluto left Aquarius and entered Pisces in December 1798.
A speculative look forward
Let’s combine what we saw in Pluto’s previous tour through Aquarius with the world terrain as we see it today and take
a speculative look forward.
Pluto between 0° 00’ 00” – 5° 59’ 59” Aquarius, term of Saturn: March 2023 to Feb 2027
In the 18th century, the British monarchy lost consecutive battles in the American colonies and struggled to maintain the East India Company. The exploitation of human lives grew, as did the collective rage and rebellion of the common people. I see no reason why this coming period should be any different.
We are likely to see a major loss for the British crown that will deepen fractures in the Commonwealth into severe fault-lines. As it did with the Australian continent, the monarchy will probably extend its reach to find a new foothold.
We’re likely to see more protests as labour exploitation increases. A major, foundation-challenging revolution is likely to begin or be seeded here. It would be very fitting for agricultural developments to be announced during this time, as well.
Pluto between 6° 00’ 00” – 11° 59’ 59” Aquarius, term of Mercury: Feb 2027 to April 2030
With Mercury, we bring in the rational mind, science and technology, philosophy and the arts. In the 18th century, we made major technological advancements applying to the sky and earth. Aquarius signifies such sharp, dramatic divides like the upper, inaccessible reaches and the lowest places where humans labour. In our lifetimes, this is likely to result in major space and earth advancements.
The space developments we make will likely be of an obvious nature (colonies are hardly a thing of science fiction!). The earthly advancement is harder to imagine. Two things immediately come to mind: a super (quantum) computer, because currently the chips driving these machines are made of sand and silicone; and a vacuum train (like the Hyperloop), which may even be built underground — transportation certainly seems ripe for revolution! I also suspect we will see important philosophical treatises rise at this time.
Pluto between 12° 00’ 00” – 19° 59’ 59” Aquarius, term of Venus: April 2030 to Feb 2036
The French Revolutionary War seemed an unusual thing to have commence under Venus, unless you change your paradigm and remember that Venus is modifying Pluto through Aquarius, not overriding it. The French Revolutionary War rose in sympathy with the results of America’s Revolutionary War. The two nations used the same colours in their victory flags. Both fought against an overpowered monarchy, seen as a central figurehead of all that was wrong in those times. I suspect sister movements to what rises in Saturn’s term will be identified here. I’m also looking for developments in the world of fashion. Venus lightens (remember the use of chloride to bleach fabric?), so I imagine this will somehow be part of the theme.
Pluto between 20° 00’ 00” – 24° 59’ 59” Aquarius, term of Jupiter: Feb 2036 to March 2039
In this period, just as with the previous passage of Pluto through this term, I suspect we will see widespread growth in all things, in movements and counter-movements, in practices and rebellions. This transit gives power to forms of gentrification, both old and new.
Pluto between 25° 00’ 00” – 29° 59’ 59” Aquarius, term of Mars: Mar 2039 to January 2044
t seems fair to expect similar themes this time around. New forms of combustion are likely to emerge, some of which may focus on entirely new technologies (likely to still generate heat). This period augurs dramatic or climactic moments in warfare. Historically secure seats of power may find themselves vulnerable. Expect further development with respect to vaccines or medically-applied therapies that use needles or invasive technologies.
Pluto will finally leave Aquarius for Pisces in January 2044.
Watch for yourself
As Pluto moves into Aquarius, you might take an interest in tracking where and how this astrological influence shows up in global affairs. Get familiar with the charts of your nation and its leaders, and the astrology of nations with close ties to your country. Watch for Pluto hitting hard aspects to the luminaries or angles in any chart or hard aspects to a natal Pluto. If your nation is old enough, you may find you can rewind the clock back a few times to see what happened the last time Pluto hit those degrees!
Whatever comes, history is unfolding as it must. As the counterpoint to Leo, Aquarius will de-emphasise concentrations of power and support more democratic solutions that attend to the many. As an Aquarius myself, I am looking forward to watching this journey unravel.