PLUTO AND THE FOUR ANGLES
The cross of matter, upon which spirit is crucified! A rather drastic metaphor in these more life-affirming times, but in many ways the picture it paints is apt. At the deepest level, you are not your birth chart. You are not even the twelve signs. You are the sky itself: that vast undifferentiated consciousness out of which arises your individuality and particularity.
Sky-consciousness is brought down to earth through incarnation, and anything born in time has a birth chart. Each chart is unique, but all charts hang on the same cross: the four angles — Ascendant, Descendant, Midheaven, and Astrological Nadir.
THE ANGLES THEMSELVES
The Ascendant and the Midheaven both represent external, social perspectives on you. They are the view from outside, not inside. The distinction between them is simply one of distance. The Ascendant symbolizes what you appear to be from the sort of close social distance where we observe we what term "personality." Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Talkative or quiet? A natty dresser or smiling merrily though a haze of slime? More deeply, the Ascendant suggests a good way for you to present yourself to the social world, the most authentic and psychospiritually useful way. Wear that "mask," and you feel centered and at ease. You feel as though you have your act together — because you do.
Moving to the Midheaven, we stand further from a person. We are no longer operating in that Meyers-Briggs universe populated by ENTJs and INFPs: personalities, in other words. We are unable to discern characterological details anymore, only the grosser kinds of social labels: a "working class person," a "New Age type," a "conservative banker."
In our culture, much of the Midheaven action centers on career. Doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs. More broadly, it relates to one's most natural, happiest role in community: one's "mission" in the world, with all the flavor of destiny and high purpose that image suggests. Midheaven also has deep connections to questions of reputation, status, and the honor (or dishonor!) in which you are held by people who don't really know you on an intimate, personal level.
Astrologers are in general no wiser than the cultures in which they are operating. We must adapt to the customs and mythologies of the "tribes" we are trying to serve. Sometimes this necessarily creates blind spots and distortions in astrological practice. A fine example of this unfortunate principle lies in the way we tend to take the Ascendant and the Midheaven more seriously than the other two angles; it is pure cultural bias, nothing more. An alien cultural anthropologist aboard a UFO could get a quick PhD. writing about it. And the point is painfully simple: in our culture, Self-Image (Ascendent) and Status (Midheaven) are dominant themes. Surrendering to Committed Love (the Descendant) and the twin tasks of Nest-Building and Psychological Reflection (The Nadir) are prioritized less nobly on the collective shopping list.
But that is madness...or at least an excellent formula for sorrow. In my earlier books, I succumbed to that trap myself. But I am going to try to avoid it from now on. Descendant and Nadir are as fundamental as the other two points; all angles are co-equal elements of the same symmetrical, four-dimensional symbol.
The Descendant reflects the fact that no one can be complete, or even very clear psychologically, without love. I use the word "love" broadly here. It goes far beyond notions of sexuality and romance, although it includes them. Friendship is a Descendant reality, as is business partnership. Even fierce competition, to the point of entering into the status of "enemies," is a Descendant phenomenon.
The point is that we learn about ourselves through interacting with others. At the Descendant, we glimpse a set of human psychological energies which are in some sense foreign to us. Encountering them provides a shock that generates self-awareness in us. At simpler levels, at the Descendant we are made aware of qualities in others that we ourselves lack, and in making common cause with such people, we both prosper.
Whether the relationship reflects the profound intimacy of a long, deep marriage or simply the mellow familiarity of a years-long friendship, the critical notions with the Descendant are those of commitment, equality, and the shared journey.
Regarding the fourth angle, a quick practical note: Technically, it's called the "Astrological Nadir," but in practice simply the "Nadir." The fuss arises because officially the Nadir is the point straight down below you, opposite the Zenith directly overhead. In astrology, the Nadir is opposite the Midheaven rather than the Zenith — and the Midheaven isn't necessarily straight up. The simplest way to define the Midheaven is that it is the part of the sky where sun reaches its highest elevation during the course of the day. In winter especially, that may not be very high at all. From now on I am going to follow common practice and simply call the "Astrological Nadir" the Nadir. Roots — that is the key concept in unraveling Nadir symbolism. Deep down inside, what are you? When you're transparent, revealed, unguarded, free of pretense, unencumbered by any position or role ...who are you? The answer, like geological strata, has a lot of levels. You are your soul: that feeling inside yourself to which you must be true if you are going to live authentically and vibrantly. You are your dreams, your core values. And, for better or worse, you are also deep down a representative of your family of origin, your ethnic roots, your ancestry. All these are dimensions of the Nadir. And they all are connected with that precious commodity: self-knowledge. Nadir symbolism is inseparable from issues of home and hearth. The human urge to experience membership in a "clan" is symbolized here. What that term means nowadays is hard to define — and that idea itself affords us insight into one of the most widespread sources of sorrow in the modern world. We live in the age of homeless people, and I'm not just talking about that poor soul rattling a styrofoam cup outside your window. In a sense, we are all homeless — because the Nadir represents a basic human need, unchanged in its essence since time began: the need to have a secure place in a network of human relationships that can be assumed to be permanent. What the modern world has done to the Nadir in this regard speaks for itself. We've replaced it with disintegrating nuclear families, transitory, disposable relationships and friendships, and, in the ghetto, with gangs.
PLUTONIAN ASPECTS TO THE FOUR ANGLES IN THE NATAL CHART
The four angles all represent extremely sensitive points; our psychic radio is tuned carefully to any planet located near them. Thus, if Pluto forms a conjunction with any of your angles, the first and most fundamental statement we can make is that you are an extremely Plutonian individual on that basis alone. Each angle has its own nature and issues, and Pluto-on-the-Nadir is not interchangeable with Pluto-on-the-Descendant, but those observations are secondary to the central one: a "big" Pluto suggests a life dominated by Plutonian themes regardless of how Pluto attained that kind of centrality.
The Ascendant is the cusp (or beginning) of the first house. Much that we might say about Pluto in the first house applies equally to Pluto conjunct the Ascendant; their natures are the same. In the identical way, the Descendant is the cusp of the seventh house, the Nadir is the cusp of the fourth house, and the Midheaven is the cusp of the tenth house.
Thus, we won't need to repeat here material we've covered earlier. If you have Pluto on the Ascendant, go back to Chapter Seven, read about Pluto in the first house and add some exclamation points! All that we might say about a first house Pluto is expressed in an exaggerated, intensified form when Pluto is actually conjunct the Ascendant. The same goes for Pluto on the Nadir (read about Pluto in the fourth house), Pluto on the Descendant (read about Pluto in the seventh house), and Pluto on the Midheaven (read about Pluto in the tenth house).
One detail. Perhaps you were born with Pluto in the twelfth house ...but just barely. Had you been born just a few minutes earlier, it would have formed a conjunction with the Ascendant, or been in the first house. It still counts. Nothing rigid here, but I would suggest that if Pluto is within about two and a half degrees of an angle, even if it's in the "wrong" house, it still counts as a conjunction... the proof of the pudding being that people report that it feels like a conjunction.
Aspects other than conjunctions can and do form between Pluto and the angles. Let's explore them...
THE MOVING SQUARE ASPECTS
The Ascendant and the Descendant are always opposite each other. Thus, when Pluto squares one of them, it must of necessity be squaring the other one too. Similarly, if Pluto is conjunct the Ascendant, it is simultaneously in opposition to the Descendant, or vice versa. In terms of transits or progressions, Pluto squaring the Ascendant/ Descendant axis suggests insistent, demanding cir? cumstances in which you are challenged, many times quite literally, to reveal who you really are and what you really want. It is a season of unmasking. Some false note has crept into your external, presented self. It may be an old lie, told for safety, gain, or convenience, that is now coming unraveled. It may be that you've changed inwardly to the point that your old self is simply running on momentum...and the situation is becoming untenable.
This tension derives from Pluto/Ascendant interactions. What about Pluto’s simultaneous interaction with the Descendant? Your partners will be holding the mirror before you. In friendships, between lovers, in business, there is typically an awkwardness at such times. Should a person make a weak response, we often find behaviors and attitudes oscillating between numbness and apathy on one hand, and touchy definance on the other. As one’s response evolves, increasingly there is a desire to make “real contact” with a few people – and a tendency toward brutal solutions if that sense of real encounter is not forthcoming. One might be quick to “nuke” a long-standing relationship rather than working at disentangling the web of ritual the years have spun.
This is a delicate matter. While we must recognize the virtue in working hard on relationships and sticking with them, we must also accept that sometimes alliances that have been meaningful and alive come to places where they are no longer consistent with who we are: a distinctly Plutonian truth.
THE NATAL SQUARE ASPECTS
In the natal chart, squares between Pluto and the Ascendant suggest a perilous skill: the ability to misrepresent oneself with style and panache, or at the very least to keep secrets effectively.
Life is complex and situations arise in which one can make a moral case for obscuring the truth. I have this particular square in my own chart, for exacmple, and being a professional counselor involves honoring confidentiality – a noble enough notion, but in practice if often calls for a degree of verbal nimbleness reminiscent of con-artistry. Often, I must “pretend I don’t know” or distort my own biography…simply in order to honor the higher principle of client confidentiality.
Those same skills can be abused. Weaving a web of lies is one Shadow aspect here: another lies in getting trapped in a web that is woven unintentionally often for the highest of reasons – the man or woman, for example, who smilingly abides a sham-marriage “for the sake of the kids”.
Regarding the inevitable Pluto/Descendant square that accompanies any natal square of Pluto to the Ascendant, there is throughout the life a pattern of meeting soul mates whose task is to keep us psychologically real, often through rather shocking confrontations and interactions. There is always some sorting out to do here. On one hand, this configuration suggests that friends, lovers, and associates with real insight and psychological intensity will appear whenever we need them, often telling us what we don’t want to hear, helping us unmask. But the same configuration also promises a second possibility, and threatens a third: those soul mates, for all their love and confidence, may be incorrect in their “insights” sometimes! Worse, such a configuration suggests that there may be some “karma” with dark Plutonian corrupters, power-trippers, and faux-gurus who can prove stickily seductive and convincing.
THE MOVING TRINES AND SEXTILES
If Pluto is trine the Ascendant, it is simultaneously sextile the Descendant, and vice versa. We can’t have one without the other.
In terms of transits and progressions, the trines and sextiles in this axis of the chart suggest periods of personal discovery, often of radiant blooming. Circumstances conspire to welcome the inner person whom we have already become at the interior level into visible, expressed manifestation (that’s the Ascendant). These circumstances are usually brought into being at least in part by other people whom we love and trust (which is where the Descendant comes in).
Often, under these aspects, there is a distinct sense of saturation and empowerment, both subjectively and from the outward social perspective. A person seems to be “coming into herself” with more directness, steadier eye contact, more confident body language. Not atypically, these personal developments begin in the context of one especially deep human relationship which serves as a sort of “experimental laboratory”. From there, they begin to generalize into the rest of life.
THE NATAL TRINES AND SEXTILES
In the natal chart, Plutonian trines and sextiles to the Ascendant/ Descendant axis often correlate with a degree of charisma, or at least a visible quality of depth, intensity of being, and apparent wisdom. Much depends upon the rest of the chart; if the notions of a charismatic quality are generally well-supported, these configurations intensify them. If not, they add a only a hint of that energy. We must immediately emphasize the distinction to be made between appearances and reality — Pluto trine or sextile the Ascendant adds to the style in this regard; adding to the substance behind it is often another matter.
Simultaneously, the natal Pluto/Descendant interaction implies a pattern of profound encounters with soul-shaping teachers throughout the life — and warns of seductive false teachers who offer glib rationalizations and temptations. Here, for example, the person who in spiritual fact has given too much power to money in his life meets the "prosperity consciousness" guru who in his or her impact on this particular individual offers only slippery rationalizations for staying stuck and not facing the basic financial attachment. Or the woman who must eventually integrate a terrible sorrow about her childhood falls prey to a happy-face, "positive-thinking" maestro who only helps her put off the descent into hell which will ultimately liberate her.
In these two examples, we must emphasize that the teacher may or may not be of pure intent; what matters is how the teaching is heard and used. Something in us all hates facing the dark; with this "lucky" Plutonian configuration, we usually have no trouble finding convincing, authoritative figures who will help us pretend it isn't there.
PLUTO-NADIR/MIDHEAVEN: THE MOVING SQUARES
The Midheaven and the Nadir are always opposite each other. Thus, as with the Ascendant-Descendant, when Pluto squares one of them, it must square the other one too. Similarly, if Pluto is aligned with the Nadir, it simultaneously must oppose the Midheaven, and vice versa. In such cases, read "Pluto in the fourth house" or "Pluto in the tenth house" earlier in the book.
Most of us face Midheaven career questions from time to time. We may feel the inner need for a change in direction, or perhaps circumstances force such considerations upon us — we're laid off, for example. Taking it beyond career, we also face evolutions in terms of our public, visible status: marriage, divorce, becoming a parent...all these are Midheaven issues too.
Underlying such considerations is always the Nadir and its eternal, intensely personal themes: who am I? What will satisfy me? What's the right course for me, spiritually and psychologically?
The Midheaven blooms out of the Nadir; that is the key principle in understanding the Plutonian squares to this vital axis of the chart. When Pluto transits or solar arcs through square aspects here, friction arises between what you have actually become on one hand, and on the other hand, two stuck places: that complex of memorized self-imagery, attitudes, and psychological "drills" (Nadir) and your resultant role in the community (Midheaven). Psychological insights, bravely won, must penetrate down into core assumptions about yourself, and then be expressed publicly.
A woman, for example, might have come to realize that she is more capable and competent in general than she had been trained to believe. Perhaps she's a fine painter; perhaps she's cleaning houses for a living. Pluto coming to this square aspect to the Midheaven/Nadir axis suggests that, while she may have already done a lot of the basic insight-generating work, she still has two hurdles to overcome. The first Plutonian hurdle, which is pertinent to the Nadir, is that deep down inside she is still carrying a lot of negative unconscious assumptions about herself that limit her. These assumptions are stored nonverbally as underlying, unchallenged attitudes. Illustration: a friend says, "Maybe you should think of trying to sell some paintings. You're really good, you know." And our hero, agreeably, says, "Maybe I will." And then does nothing.
We're all familiar with that inertial state. To conquer it, our painter needs to feel her own capability, not merely agree intellectually that it's there. Insights are not enough. How can she do that? That's where the Midheaven comes in, via her Nadir-imagination. Inwardly, she must invent a character, almost as a film director might, and then pretend to be that character in some public way. Specifically, we can picture her constructing an image of a successful, confident artist and then, in character, bringing slides of her work to a local gallery.
Isn't this fakery or hypocrisy? No — the real "fakery" and "hypocrisy" lie in the life she is actually living.
PLUTO-NADIR/MIDHEAVEN: THE NATAL SQUARES
When Pluto is square the Midheaven/ Nadir axis in the natal chart, the basic dynamic we've just outlined sits latently in the hardwiring of the psyche forever, awaiting triggers. Thus, there is a pattern of explosive, disruptive self-realization which leads to eruptions regarding one's position in the community. From a biographical perspective, this is not a peaceful configuration, although inwardly it need not feel oppressive. Psychological work is dangerous in that it breeds unpredictable changes in the outer life. A person born under this pattern does well to accept the Buddhist notion of impermanence; everything changes. He or she can ride the changes gracefully, or store them up like pressures mounting in an underground fault until one day all the freeways are twisted and all the crockery is broken.
THE MOVING TRINES AND SEXTILES
If Pluto is trine the Midheaven, it is simultaneously sextile the Nadir, and vice versa. One cannot exist without the other.
When transits, solar arcs, or progressions trigger the Midheaven/Nadir axis through these softer aspects, opportunities arise. Superficially, it is accurate to describe them as "professional" opportunities, although we must be quick to extend our imaginations into the realm of anything we are doing visibly in the community.
Seizing these opportunities is where the art lies; to succeed, we must typically employ Plutonian techniques. That means our success will exist in proportion to our willingness to be driven by a passionate sense of destiny. In practice, such attitudes often create an eagerness to assert oneself, to cut corners, and aggressively to claim what we view as our own. Thus, under such a configuration, we might observe an unemployed young man posing as a window washer in order to have two minutes to plead his case face-to-face with a powerful executive. Under these Plutonian energies, such flair, creativity, and initiative is rewarded...
...if the Midheaven-fruit for which we are reaching is truly, cosmically, ours. And that is a Nadir question. As always with this axis, self-investigation (Nadir work) must precede self-extension into the world (Midheaven work.) And under these energies, opportunities for such inner work abound as well. Good counsel is available, or inspiring books. Time exists for sitting in silence and simply feeling and absorbing one's true nature. Will we take advantage of that possibility? That is the question.
THE NATAL TRINES AND SEXTILES
With a natal trine or sextile between Pluto and the Midheaven/Nadir axis, the key principles, as always, remain essentially the same as in the scenario we've just investigated. What changes is only that we view them as an ongoing, stable condition rather than as a transitory one. If the rest of the birth chart shows many signs of emphasis on the outward, public side of life, the scope of such a person's career accomplishments is limited only by his or her audacity. If there is less birth chart focus on such concerns, often a more relevant analysis arises when we consider other Midheaven dimensions — reputation, community service, or changes in status linked to maturational, marital or parental developments.
Always, Nadir-based self-knowledge must shape, drive, and delimit the Midheaven changes. Losing sight of that simple truth is one of the mythic blind spots of our fame-mad society.