Life without Pluto

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Astrolabe in the house – now a museum – of Leonardo da Vinci,  Amboise, France

On 24th August 2006 a group of scientists and astronomers got together in Prague and decided to demote the status of Pluto from planet to dwarf planet. Their decision came after a lengthy period of search for the definition of what a planet is.

Several years later I visited the Jodrell Bank Observatory with two children aged 8 and 10. The Observatory has a brand new visitor centre and I was looking forward to seeing how they had reconfigured the site and displayed the old brass observational sextants and other instruments, including the famous mechanical orrery with its planets orbiting the Sun. I was very disappointed. All of these had gone, along with the Planetarium which had offered interactive quizzes and visual high speed trips across the galaxy.

In their place were two very modern buildings with slick display boards, often accompanied by a video but not much else. Equipment and fun experiments in the hands-on area for children had been reduced and the two children I was with soon lost interest as there was little to engage them. In one area, empty apart from displays on the wall and a large modern orrery suspended from the ceiling, we searched out and named the planets. Pluto, long demoted, wasn’t there and I explained to the children why it wasn’t there, also telling them it had been discovered in 1930. The new visitor centre may be state of the art, presenting bang up to the minute modern science, but all sense of the history of discovery behind it had been erased.

This got me thinking about how life, for those heretical beings amongst us who dare to claim we are astrologers, would be without Pluto. OK, so Pluto has been around a relatively short time and its discovery and subsequent inclusion in astrological charts and interpretations is also relatively new. But its discovery, after lengthy research by Clyde Tombaugh, coincided with the start of an era of world war and disruption, brought to a halt by the dropping of the atomic bomb. Astrologically Pluto is often feared, or at least treated with due caution and respect as it can herald big changes and upheavals often leading to transformation. The Hubers, in their book The Planets, describe Pluto as one of the three transpersonal planets saying, “The stimulation of Pluto’s energy makes us experience an expansion of consciousness affecting all of our lives”. Would we want to be without this?

When using astrological psychology, especially with a client, it would become quite difficult to interpret a chart and give a consultation without including Pluto. Symbolically, Pluto offers opportunities in life for us to transform ourselves and our ways of thinking and move on. It can encourage us to go boldly go where we’ve not been before, sometimes plumbing our inner depths and spaces and demanding that we make ourselves anew.

As an astrological psychology consultant I know that real, deep, life-changing experiences or issues can be triggered by Pluto in the natal chart. I’ve been able to support people going through Plutonic changes as they travel through challenging times. But one thing is for sure, and that is that we’ll come to grief if we try to use Pluto’s energy to gain personal power and control over someone or something. But we can learn to use the energies of Pluto, a transpersonal planet, not for ourselves, but for those things which affect the collective, embracing change, transformation and the good clear out and spring clean that goes with it.

IMG_1621Reflecting on my disappointment that Jodrell Bank had changed and become more slick and glitzy, I can raise a smile at the thought of Pluto at work in this complete makeover. Gone is the old, the history and the links with the astronomical past. However, the best part of the visit was a guided walk around the enormous, and famous, Lovell Radio Telescope. Like following the stations of the cross in a church, we were taken to a series to display boards around the perimeter of the telescope. I learned more in the short talks at each than I ever have about  – yes – the history of this impressive piece of engineering, once the largest radio telescope in the world but now demoted to the third largest.

In the makeover, the baby wasn’t quite thrown out with the bathwater after all. I wonder – did Pluto get the last laugh here?

Lost in Cumbria

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It was summer and we’d gone away to Cumbria for a weekend break in our campervan, We were staying on a  site new to us, having read about it and heard good reports. In a park-like setting, with views of the sea, nearby access to the beach and village, and plenty of walks to be had, it sounded ideal.

The weather was good – quite hot as I recall – and we decided to explore the nature reserve area, adjacent to and part of the campsite. Following rocky paths, we climbed through a wooded wilderness, clambered over mossy rocks and stones and took care to avoid the cowpats and the insects which went with them. We couldn’t see any cows, but there was a faint whiff in the air so we guessed they were around. The cowpats were enough evidence.

Enjoying the walk, we explored the area for about an hour but realised quite soon that we weren’t getting anywhere and were going round and round in circles. We were following the same paths over and over again and we started to recognise the same cowpat, which we passed several times.

No matter, it was warm and sunny, we were glad of some shade and we spotted a shy roe deer and several butterflies – painted ladies, wood whites, even a dark green fritillary and a cinnabar moth. We began to wonder if we were a bit lost, passing that cowpat once again, but at that stage we weren’t really worried, knowing it wouldn’t be dark for a long time.

Repeating the same circuit yet again by following the now all-too-familar paths as we tried to find our way out, we both started to get a bit edgy. The dog gamely kept up but did give us a few looks which said “Why are we going down this path again?” It was getting cooler by this time and we were getting tetchy with each other too. Were we really lost? Nobody knew where we were, there was no phone signal and the Google map of the area included the nature reserve, but not the paths. It just showed up as a green space on the map.

Going round the circuit once again, we climbed up one of the rocky paths and found our way blocked by a large bovine. We reined the dog in on his lead, but he’d seen the cow and made an executive decision. He diverted from the blocked path and took off in a downward direction along another path we’d clearly missed, but had been searching for.

With some relief – it was cooling rapidly, and we praised the dog – we reached the gate at the entrance to the reserve. It was the same gate we’d entered through, with a “Please close the gate” sign, but there was no info board with a map of the place.

How good it was, though, to see civilisation again, in the form of the children’s play area in the campsite, and some mown lawns, people, and best of all, to get back to our van and put our feet up!

Brexit day: Better to light a candle

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Better to light a candle…..

We light candles to remember someone, to honour them, to keep their memory, essence and spirit alive in our own lives and in our minds. It’s a conscious act, to light a candle. I sometimes do it in a church or cathedral to remember and honour a person who has passed from my life and our world. It’s a bit of an emotional thing to do, but it’s also satisfying. Action has been taken and a statement made.

The saying “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness” is said to be a Chinese proverb. It’s been quoted as something Adlai Stevenson said about Eleanor Roosevelt. The first time I heard it said was by  Satish Kumar at a talk he was giving, sometime back in the early 1990s. It struck me as a very powerful thing to do, to take action rather than rail against the darkness, to bring light to the situation. I’ve never forgotten it.

I remember it now, as I write this a few days ahead of the UK’s departure from the European Union. Here in Britain there have been some crazy fund-raising schemes to raise money so that Big Ben – currently silent and undergoing renovation – can be allowed to strike eleven bongs at 11pm on 31st January in celebration of our leaving the EU. A vast sum of money was donated to the fund by one of the donors who is inextricably involved in the dubious promotion of Brexit. But the scheme has fallen flat and Big Ben will not bong. Thank goodness I say. What a crazy misuse of money.

Is the UK’s exit something to celebrate? Maybe, if you voted to leave, especially if the likelihood of new trade deals is believed. But what is to be celebrated? What are these leavers going to get? Sovereignty used to be mentioned as one reason, but we don’t hear much of that word now, although there’s still a fair bit of ardent Union Jack flying going on. The dodgy-sounding mantra “Take back control”, which was the Leave campaign’s motto, never satisfactorily clarifies exactly what that “control” will be. Or maybe their idea of control is putting a halt to immigration, which will leave us in need of British workers who are willing to get out into the fields to pick our fruit and veg. And who will replace the social care workers and NHS staff we’ll be losing out on? The government have made reassuring noises about getting additional NHS staff, but I’m a sceptic and nowadays I don’t swallow a lot of the duplicitous stuff that is promised.

Many people believe that Brexit is done and dusted, but in reality it’s only just about to start. The truth is we don’t know what will change in our country and in our everyday lives .

Trade deals they say – we shall be free to have new trade deals with other countries – but as I understand it, these things take several years to negotiate. In the interim, we don’t quite know what this will mean for the people of the UK; those who voted to leave and those who voted to remain will be in the same boat, the same murky, misty darkness. Some will be hoping for a bright new start, that it will all be alright, we’ll muddle through, we’re British and we won the war! Remember Churchill? Yes, of course we can stand on our own etc. etc. I’ve heard all of these arguments and more, but supported by very little of substance because the truth is, we none of us know what will happen when we move into this new, unknown space.

I read Will Hutton’s article pubished in The Guardian several days ago. As well as analysing Britain’s potential future prospects, he comes up with a sound idea for peaceful action to mark the occasion, saying:

So at 11pm on 31 January, dismiss [Boris] Johnson’s extravagant claims for what lies ahead and the faux celebrations. Light a candle in a window, at your door, in your garden; find friends to do it together. We stand for a European Britain. We will be back.

I rather like that. I feel European, but I’m also British. The two are not mutually incompatible. I wanted to remain, and that desire will not go away; I have a French daughter-in-law and extended family in France because of this, Spanish friends in Spain, colleagues with mutually-shared interests and aims in Germany, former students in Greece, Italy, Malta, Belgium, Ireland, Sweden, Bulgaria and The Netherlands. European countries all of them and in the EU too.

So on Friday I will be lighting a candle to mark the passing of our EU membership, but I will also be lighting it for a European Britain. We may appear to be physically leaving, but in spirit, we’ll always be there.

Nature v Nurture

CET in colour

When I was training to become a teacher, I remember one lecturer stressing that the child (and ultimately, the adult that he or she becomes) is a product of heredity and environment.

The formula given was H x E = I: heredity combined with environment makes the individual. It’s maybe a bit simplistic but it gets the message across. Nature and nurture together have a huge impact on what we become.

In my book The Cosmic Egg Timer – a comprehensive introduction to astrological psychology –  I include a chapter explaining the Family Model, the primary source of heredity and environment, in the natal chart. By considering the planetary positions of the Sun, Moon and Saturn in a person’s chart, a lot can be learned about the Mother/Father/Child relationships which existed as that person was growing up, and what might have shaped and influenced them. Astrological psychology is about self-awareness, personal growth, and taking charge of your own life. It has nothing  to do with prediction or “fortune telling”, and often a lot to do with healing personal rifts and wounds.

The Sun – our star – symbolises, in the natal chart,  the will and the mind together with IMG_0698aspects of the personality which relate to “self”, like self-confidence, self-esteem and self-identity. A young child is not ready or capable of developing these things for him/herself; they’re something which develops slowly as the child grows and matures. The child therefore projects their own Sun/sense of self on to the person in the family whom they assume plays that “leadership” or sense of self role.  Traditionally that is the father, but nowadays it could just as easily be the mother, in which case the child will look to the mother to fulfil both parenting roles. Note that this role may also be shared by both parents, depending on the role each assumes within the family set up. Ideally, the Sun in the natal chart will be placed high and somewhere near the top of the circular chart. This “perfect” placing doesn’t always happen and variations and what they mean are explained in The Cosmic Egg Timer.

Saturn, the planet which is sometimes associated with boundaries and restrictions, is symbolic of the physical self as well as security in all its manifestations. Security means different things to different people, but one thing is for sure –  we all need security, especially when we’re children. Who is the first and best person to offer this, along with protection? Mother of course, so a child will project their Saturn needs on to her. She’s the one who gives out the rules and guidelines on what’s what as the child grows up. She – or the parent who assumes this role (again, it could be either) – is the one who keeps us on track. Ideally, in the natal chart Saturn will be placed low down. You can read more about this, and why, in The Cosmic Egg Timer.

The Moon symbolises emotional needs and how people express themselves with and through their feelings. Feelings can be a minefield which some people prefer not to walk through, and the sensitivity and vulnerability of the Moon is something which can stay with us into adulthood. The Moon in the natal chart represents the child in the context of the Family Model – it’s about you or me as we grew up in the family we were born into. In the chart the Moon is ideally placed somewhere on the horizontal axis of the circular natal chart where it stands the best chance of making contact with others and connecting with them.

There is much more about the Family Model in The Cosmic Egg Timer, where family relationships, family dominance and specific bonding between child and one or both parents is covered. Once our own Family Model is understood, a lot of insight can follow, along with healing some of the stuff left over from childhood.

 

 

 

 

Another Place

P1080293We took off in our campervan at the weekend, encouraged by the forecast of sunny crisp weather, and headed for the Merseyside and Sefton coast. We’ve been to Crosby beach, near Liverpool, countless times before to walk and enjoy sculptor Antony Gormley’s “Another Place” – his 100 statues of his naked body which stand on the beach, and stretch out into the sea.

They’ve been there for some time now and many are rusting as most are covered at high tide. Those standing higher up the beach are often clad in various garments which people have put on them – Liverpudlians have a great sense of humour so one or two Antony’s could be dressed in anything ranging from hippie gear to part of an NHS worker’s uniform. Some might have a traffic cone as a hat.

We parked by the prom, with clear views of the sea and passing ships en route to the port of Liverpool, ate lunch in the ‘van warming up the home made soup we’d brought with us, then walked along the coastal footpath towards Formby. The frost had gone, but there was a chill, brisk wind. Invigorating, enjoyable stuff, with sea views all the way. When we started to return, the sun was beginning to dip towards the horizon. By the time we were back at the ‘van the tide was in and most of Antony’s statues were either covered, or just head and shoulders above the waves.

One nearby was strikingly silhouetted against the rolling, bronzed waves illuminated by the low sun. Something about that image reminded me of what my dad used to say: “Always face the sun and the shadows will fall behind you”.

Then we continued our journey to Southport, where we stayed overnight, cosy and warm in our ‘van in spite of the sub-zero temperature outside.