Perhaps no planetary duo is more feared than Mars and Pluto. The traditional and modern rulers of Scorpio, these are the gods of war and the underworld. When they collude or collide—by natal aspect or by transit—even among the most seasoned astrologers, an involuntary shiver will run up the spine. This is an explosive combination—driven, ruthless, destructive, and violent. Too—it can bless us with superpowers. Mars aligned with Pluto can fuel phenomenal success. Planets represent energies—these can tip one way or the other.
Imagine standing on a platform in an underground tunnel, with train tracks on either side. A northbound train enters the station and speeds past without stopping. Feel the rush of energy going through you as the train passes. The pillars and walls vibrate with a sound like metal shimmying to a thousand beating drums. If you’re feeling relatively relaxed and receptive, notice. Even with your imagination alone, you can feel this. The Mars whoosh has a rejuvenating impact on your body’s energy field.
A warrior, athlete, and daredevil, Mars pumps us up. After his train disappears, you may have the brief sense that you could easily leap or fly. Mars’ natural expression lifts us and drives us forward. But, if you’re feeling tense or tired, you’ll perceive Mars as an assault on your system. His rush of energy may leave you feeling pummeled, exhausted, and/or angry—as though you’d just been kicked up and dropped down.
Now imagine a southbound train enters the station, powered by three locomotives. This train also thunders past without stopping. Here’s Pluto, bringing his explosion of sound and energy. Yet his activity is more like a tornado, arising from below the ground. Pluto storms up through our energy fields, swirling, churning and unblocking clogged or stagnant energy. His gifts are transformation and change.
As his train goes through the station, you may sense a sudden downward-turn, as though you’re in a roller coaster car that’s just crested a peak. This shift in direction is disorienting—maybe there’s a brief tumult or helplessness in your stomach—before the energy keeps driving you forward and down. Pluto is taking you to his underworld home, where it’s dark, but great wealth and power abide.
Imagine with your sensory body. Here comes the northbound train through the station. Now—here comes the south. Feel both vibrations rushing through you at once. This is the energy potential when Mars and Pluto collude or collide.
Such a meeting occurred just last week. On October 19, 2016, Mars and Pluto were conjunct at 15 Capricorn. Why talk about planet transits after they happen? This is one way astrologers have always learned. During their transits, the planets will descend to earth and put on a show for us.
We can call these shows omens—warnings about what can happen when these planets next meet. Or we can call them darshans—which is a Sanskrit word for “divine viewing.” This is about seeing and being seen—we behold a deity and the deity sees us too. Darshans are gifts of sight that bless the perceivers. We benefit from our seeing. Omens are meant for the uninitiated. As the root word in “ominous,” “omens” typically describe the worst that can happen—because that’s where the energies will go if left to most people’s unconscious patterns. Darshans are demonstrations from which wise eyes can learn.
In the days before during and after this transit was exact, I saw a handful of Mars/Pluto omens—or darshans. Diviners have always looked for meaning in odd events like strange births, unusual weather, or other bizarre happenings, and the news today gives us a cornucopia of odd events to read. Among the top stories last week were a few that clearly showed the hands of Mars and Pluto. Taken together they warn—or simply display—how people can succumb to the worst of these two archetypes. People can 1) go crazy, 2) get locked in a standoff, or 3) do a crash, burn, and rise.
Meeting “crazy” is the Pluto/Mars madness we most fear. Here’s deranged Michael Vance of Oklahoma, a few days after the conjunction, on the run after using his AK-47 to start a gun battle with police. Earlier he’d shot, stabbed, and tried to sever the heads of his aunt and uncle in their mobile home. He livestreamed his getaway on Facebook, “This s—t is intense,” he said. “This was a rage killing,” said the county sheriff. “Nothing’s stopping him,” said the local police sergeant, “He has a mentality that he’s going to go on this path and nothing’s going to be able to stop him.” As I write, Vance is still on the loose, car-jacking and shooting as he goes.
A few days earlier, in another example of Mars/Pluto crazy, what was supposed to be a friendly Philadelphia flash mob suddenly turned violent. Summoned by posts on social media, about 150 teens gathered near a Temple University theater, when a rogue group began tackling, punching and kicking people at random. Imagine into this melee for a moment. Can you sense the energies of Mars and Pluto diving, colliding, swirling, and leaping?
Another warrior-gone-bad moment came on the day after the Mars/Pluto conjunction, in the third debate of the US presidential election. In what some have called a “horrifying threat to the democratic process,” the Mars-rising candidate, Donald Trump, announced that he couldn’t commit to accepting the upcoming election results. Whispered Mars to Pluto, “Will he incite violence if he doesn’t win?”
The regularity of Mars/Pluto transits is a good argument for stronger programs promoting national mental health care. People whose systems are already out of balance tend to swing furthest when wild energies hit. If our boundaries are weak—we can’t contain the powers. We erupt. Having a healthy “self” container helps us to keep negative influences out and hold ourselves in. This is not the same as repression. When we can host our wilder emotions internally, we can investigate. We can observe our complexes in action. With effort, we can even direct their power for good instead of damage. We can let the “crazy” flush through our system and turn it towards better ends.
The sky scheduled a Pluto/Mars transit for my son in his second year of college, which meant he was shaping the conditions for this experience in his freshman year. A young man in his first two years of college—well, no matter how much I love and trust my son, it was easy to fear something stupid, reckless, or even dangerous might occur. We’re meant to act on our fears and then forget them—otherwise we feed the future with our negativity. So I took action—I told my son it was a very bad time to be reckless—and, strange as it seems, he listened to his mother the astrologer! Later he confessed that more than once my “omens” had ruined his fun. Even so, the aspect arrived. His transit tale was more like the second darshan of this past week—the standoff.
When force meets force, often enough, nobody wins. Three days before the October Mars/Pluto conjunction was exact, Iraq, backed by a US-led coalition, launched a battle to retake Mosul from ISIS. No one expects this to end soon. Said President Obama, “Mosul will be a difficult fight and there will be advances and setbacks,” which is pretty much what you get when you go to war under planets like these. News reports show a bleak desert landscape. From the background comes the tired sound of constant explosions and guns. The Iraqi soldiers look alternately victorious, confused, weary, alert, and scared. The miles won today can easily be lost tomorrow.
Mars/Pluto aspects are the last thing an astrologer wants to see in the charts of people going through a bitter divorce or lawsuit. This heavenly script suggests a long, drawn out death dance, like that between the scorpion and the snake. For my son, the transit evolved into a two-years’ war with various roommates—a series of petty battles which certainly weren’t dangerous, though the passions it inspired in him were intense.
Surrender is the medicine recommended for the standoff. Yet this is an intricate concept. Surrender doesn’t mean capitulating, just giving up and walking away. Rather, it’s recognizing that this battle isn’t going anywhere good. We surrender to reality—we admit what isn’t working, which is the first step towards finding another way. I won’t pretend to advise the generals at Mosul, but if winning this region through sheer force were the answer, surely this would have happened by now. In the end my son recognized that he lost more than he gained in warring with his roommates. He learned to choose his roommates more wisely next time, also how to let things slide, which was bounty enough from this transit. But there were more gifts. He also managed to map a few of his “volatility”triggers. This is underworld gold.
The third darshan from last week was perhaps the most spectacular. It happened on the very day this transit was exact—on one of the very two planets in question! If the planets are sending us messages, surely this was one. On October 19, the European Space Agency was breathlessly watching as its Schiaparelli Mars Lander was about to touch down on the red planet. It had been successfully ejected from the mother ship, had coasted toward Mars, entered its atmosphere, began decelerating with brakes and parachute, then deployed its thrusters for additional braking—when suddenly the ESA lost contact with it and the mother ship.
The next day, NASA had the photos. There were two new objects on the Martian landscape–a dark blotch and a white speck. It was the crashed Lander and its parachute. Alas, the thrusters had turned off too soon and the Lander hit the planet hard and exploded. Sometimes with Mars and Pluto, despite our best efforts, we crash and burn. What matters with this kind of darshan is what happens next. Do we rise from the ashes or lay back and die? For the ESA, the mission will go on. They restored contact with the Trace Orbiter mother ship, who over the next few years will quite productively map the methane on Mars. We can also assume that future thrusters will be improved. With “crash and burn,” surrender is still the medicine. We accept the failure and move on.
Next week, transiting Pluto will make the last of its five squares to my Mars, a transit that’s been with me for over two years. In that time, I’ve navigated through my own sequence of going a little crazy, growing daring, finding myself in a stand-off, and watching matters crash and burn. All that happened before this transit was first exact. But that’s when I got my bearings. With outer planet transits, it’s always the year before they’re exact when we get the best signs. This is also the time to visualize positive intentions that are suitable for the archetypes. With Mars/Pluto and my other transits, I had hoped for a steamy love affair. I got excited about Match.com! And, after a few months, I met my soul mate! But as the planets drew closer, I found myself newly partnered with an angry man. I’ve been in these stalemates before. This time I got out early.
Mars and Pluto can give us the power to do great things. I often see them in the transits and progressions of women at the time of conception and birth–both powerful transformations. As for me, I surrendered to the unexpected solitude of my year. I got to work on other things I cared about–my passions instead of my desires. That’s often one of the better uses for this transit, to work independently (Mars) on something that grabs you (Pluto). And that brings me to my final darshan: my own success. During the nearly forty years that I’ve been writing essays, despite my trying, I’ve never been able to manage to write a single book. Yet over this past year, I’ve written two and a half of them! My spiritual practice, my physical exercise, my diet–they’re the best they’ve ever been. Obsessed and undeterred, with the energies of Mars and Pluto fueling me, it’s as though I’ve had an army of internal resources. I’m a little sad to see this transit go.
Likely there are millions of other Mars/Pluto stories like mine that never manage to make the news or even our astrology cookbooks. Someone gets the courage to stand up to a bully. Another works through a professional challenge. Somebody else discovers a marvelous new way to do some old thing. These are the victories that will make our planets cheer. Mars wants us to get ahead. Pluto wants us to be more powerful. They give us their energy. How we shape it–that’s called free will.
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