The Pluto Return of the USA
The Astrology of America’s Evolutionary Edge
“The nightmare is buried deep in our consciousness — so deep we do not recognize it at first.”
Raoul Peck, Exterminate All The Brutes
The United States of America is facing a cosmic reckoning.
In the 246 years since its founding, the entity called the USA has grown to be a global hegemon with unprecedented influence over economics, politics and culture worldwide. It achieved that status through an industrialization of slavery and genocide, a theft of land, labor and lives that continues to this day, and has left a gaping spiritual sinkhole at the center of this country’s consciousness. Our absurd political landscape is a reflection of this hole. Yet even as we watch, transfixed by the tragicomedy in the headlines, most of us fail to recognize that we are actually standing on the collapsing earth itself.
Our story about ourselves has its roots in deep amnesia, from which we are just beginning to wake up. Whether we like it or not, those of us born into American society and American mythology are the inheritors of something violent, something traumatic, a debt that has never been paid back and that deepens daily. Pluto, the planet of death, evolution and transformation, is bringing the origins of this country full-circle, reminding us that we cannot “love-and-light” ourselves free from the unhealed, barely-examined wound of our collective past.
If you can already feel this epic moment in your bones, I am writing these words for you.
Although times have always been dire, the astrology indicates that we are not simply fantasizing our intuitive sense of climax. The reason the QAnon-style narratives of the “coming storm” and “the Great Awakening” resonate so deeply across America, particularly in spiritual circles, is because we truly are approaching a systemic breakdown, and with it the (long-term) potential for metamorphosis and rebirth. Our nervous systems sense the threshold; the astrology validates the immediacy of the timing. If we are held by the American amnesia, our rootless minds can only define what we sense in vague spiritual terms and utopic visions. But once we begin to understand our national shadow, and the way it operates in each of us, we become aware of how high the stakes really are.
The fallout of the US Pluto Return will last years or maybe decades. But how we show up to the reckoning itself — the events of 2022, whatever they may be — will have enormous influence on what we create moving forward. I am writing with the conviction that the more folks know about these timelines and archetypes, the more we can engage them with agency and manifest them with the least amount of suffering possible. I am offering a narrative you are invited to integrate with your own, a framework for understanding our moment in time. It is a story whose ending is unwritten. That part is up to all of us together.
In this essay I provide a breakdown of the current astrology that is both political and spiritual; grounded in systemic analysis but with an eye towards the brighter potentials of humanity. The “new age” spirituality associated with astrology is often escapist and avoidant of messy issues like politics, capitalism, race etc, so my intention here is to face them head on. Yet we are also missing an aspect of reality if we refuse to acknowledge less material truths like energy, archetypes, spirit possession, reincarnation and karma. I hope this series of essays contributes to the wider conversation happening around bridging these realms.
It would also be dishonest of me to give the impression that these ideas and perspectives are my “own”. Not only am I drawing on concepts and ideas from the rich lineage of social justice work in the US (more on that below); this piece of writing is guided acutely by a team of non-physical beings whose message I am devoted to bringing through. They are a colorful cast of characters: fungal, angelic, ancestral, extraterrestrial, animal and more. We are working together with humanity’s best interest in mind.
Personally, I believe everyone has a similar invisible team. They believe in you even if you don’t believe in them. But, I’m not here to convince anyone of the reality of the spirit world. These ideas are yours to try on no matter what rings true for you on where they might have come from.
Of course, my real world positionality is important too. I’m a white woman — cisgendered, half Jewish, born in Brooklyn and raised in the mountains of southwest Virginia. I’ve been a casual student of astrology for about sixteen years and a more serious practitioner for about six. I have a degree in politics, but after college I spent eight years teaching yoga and other energy practices in a cult-like organization; when I left that community in 2015, the stars and planets were calling. When I learned that the US was approaching its Pluto Return, I was immediately drawn to look deeper, and in early 2018, I began to study US astrology in earnest, mapping out the transits of the early 2020s and getting to know the archetype of Pluto. Around that time that I started having visions of collapse and bloodshed on this land. For a while, disturbing images were entering my mind on a daily basis. The more I learned both about Pluto and about American history, the more I could sense the violent potentials. Over time, I developed psychic boundaries and a more grounded way of relating to these potentials, and I hope I can offer some insights from the trenches. I don’t think every violent vision has to manifest — as I mentioned above, the intention of this essay is to subvert the worst of possibilities. What’s very clear, however, is that since those visions first came through, we’ve been on a crash course in their direction.
Yet as Raoul Peck so poignantly puts it, “the nightmare is buried deep in our consciousness”. In the years of working with this energy I have learned that not everyone is ready for real conversations about Pluto, about the massive psychological wound in which Americans swim. Only a few public astrologers have offered in-depth analyses of the US Pluto Return, or even mentioned it at all, and much of what’s out there doesn’t emphasize the genocidal history that is the crux of the issue. Even the pieces that do, in my opinion, seem to hold it with a lack of urgency, like meteorologists calmly noting rising winds and “thunder in the vicinity” but never mentioning the massive storm on the horizon. The astrology industry’s lack of focus on the Pluto Return mirrors the broader establishment denial of the severity of American history and the need to take responsibility for it. More than that, it reflects the collective amnesia, the failure to truly reckon with the nightmare.
In Peck’s docu-series Exterminate All The Brutes, he quotes Sven Lindqvist, the author of the eponymous book that inspired the film. Regarding the massive moral failure of European colonialism, Lindqvist wrote, “it is not knowledge we lack. It’s the courage to put it all together and understand what we know.” Although on the individual level millions of people are working hard to clear the amnesia, it still drives both American ideology and American policy. Even when we have knowledge and courage it can be hard to “understand what we know”. It takes a rootedness in our personal ancestral lineages, an integrated knowing of our own place in it all. And it takes a spiritual resilience, a willingness to be with deep pain. It takes a strong stomach. The psychic territory of American history is full of blood and rotting flesh.
In working with this material, I have continuously found refuge in the potent lineage of the American civil rights movement, and the work of Black artists, activists and teachers in particular. I owe a deep debt to the work done over the centuries by those most marginalized by colonialism, not only for the ideas and perspectives that have helped me synthesize this piece, but also for the fact of their having traversed this territory and digested the evil ahead of me, offering me an example of how to speak from an integrated place. This is what it means to “understand what we know” — to face the shadow comprehensively enough to begin to tell a different, honest story.
As a white person I don’t feel I can fully lay claim to this lineage — it’s my responsibility to reach back beyond the amnesia, making peace with my own traumatized blood lineages and finding the healers and magicians and paradigm-shifters among them. And in general, there are a lot of aspects to the US Pluto Return that I can only speak to from a white perspective. But there’s also something that we share, no matter our ancestry, if we identify as American, or if we are living on Turtle Island at this moment in time. Our souls share a karmic burden. In that sense, the historical fight for liberation, which has been ongoing since the moment colonization began, is a resource for all of us.
I appreciate the literature and art of the civil rights movement because it grasps the true nature of Pluto. It is not afraid to speak clearly and concisely to the shadow itself. It conveys the tragedy and the absurdity of the American story with both elegance and gravity. It doesn’t pretend that there are quick fixes, that a happy ending is destined, that power will cede itself willingly. These are also Pluto’s lessons.
Using an astrological framework means we are working with archetypes. As I experience them, archetypes are wide, deep, often-overlapping fields of information. We can tune into them somatically, through story/myth, through ritual, by studying them intellectually, or just by sitting in quiet in contemplation of one. When we do tune into an archetype, we have access to that field of information, meaning we can perceive much more than whatever we might cognitively “know”.
This is beautiful, but when you’re working with an archetype like Pluto, it also calls for a warning. As we start to explore the astrology, we’ll be taking a psychic journey into the shadow of American history. The astrological framework is a support structure, like a bridge over a lava field, or a glass-bottomed boat through which we can peer down into shark-infested waters. To a certain extent, it provides psychological safety, a way to grasp what’s happening without needing to walk on the lava or swim with the sharks.
Yet also… the lava fields and the shark-infested waters are what we live in, and what lives in us. There is no way to fully separate from the American shadow, and therefore, despite any precautions you or I might take, there’s a possibility of “falling over the edge” as you read this essay. I won’t get more graphic than the reference to rotting flesh a few paragraphs back. But as you become familiar with the archetypes of Pluto and Capricorn, and start to access their wider fields of information, your nervous system may have a visceral reaction. If you notice your heart rate increasing, for example, or shallow breath, muscle tension, dissociation/shutdown, etc — the invitation is to take a minute (or an hour, or a day, or a month) to bring your focus back to breath, presence, your current basic safety, and anything else you need to feel ready to continue. Notice when something in your heart feels alive at the idea of returning to the territory.
If you think I am exaggerating, being hyperbolic about the Pluto Return, this essay is not for you.
If you’re still up for the adventure — let’s go.
On July 4th, 1776, humans were over 150 years away from “discovering” the planet Pluto. But it was there, lurking deep in the cosmos at 27°33" of Capricorn, the same degree of the zodiac to which it is returning in 2022, for the first time since the signing of the Declaration of Independence. There are three exact dates to the US Pluto Return: Feb. 20th, July 11th, and Dec. 28th. They may or may not be overtly significant days; what the Pluto Return is really about is the broader life cycle of the entity we call the United States of America.
“The United States” and “Turtle Island” are not words I use interchangeably. Turtle Island is an indigenous term for the North American continent, referring to the land itself and its innate spirit. Turtle Island has existed for hundreds of millions of years, and had a very different relationship with humanity before the colonizers arrived. It has a consciousness and a will of its own. My sense is that this land is rooting for all of us in our cosmic transformation.
The USA is something else. It’s the entity that violently birthed itself on the east coast of Turtle Island between 1776 and 1787, and subsequently grew to dominate the resources and life on the land. The Pluto Return is happening to the USA, on Turtle Island.
In natal astrology, the return of any planet to its position at the time of a person’s birth is considered significant. You may have heard of the Saturn Return, a transit that happens around age 29 and has become a pop astrology buzzphrase. Saturn is the planet of discipline, boundaries, time and mortality, and after it has made its way through each sign of the zodiac, it returns home to integrate the lessons on those themes. The real-life experience, which unfolds over 1–2 years, is almost always tough. If we accept what the universe is trying to teach us, and make the necessary adjustments, we come out more mature, more confident, more aware of the preciousness of life. Folks whose lives take a long-term downward turn around that time are often those who resist Saturn’s lessons.
Not all planetary returns are so heavy, but Saturn and Pluto share an astrological reputation for being tough teachers, and are often directly connected to negative collective factors, including oppressive governments, war, and natural disasters. Pluto, however, has a 246-year orbit, meaning that while no human will ever experience a Pluto Return, the USA is on the threshold of its first. To understand it, we need to accept a responsibility that transcends our lifetimes. No matter our personal “innocence”, we are living here as Pluto comes home. We are the ones who have to endure and survive this reckoning with our collective shadow.
Liberal media outlets in the US have made heavy use of the term “the big lie” to describe Donald Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was stolen. The term comes from Adolf Hitler himself, who first used it in Mein Kampf to accuse Jews of distorting the reasons Germany lost WWI; later it became a central Nazi propaganda strategy to justify the Holocaust, and has been used by authoritarian leaders in various ways since. Basically, a “big lie” is a political lie so outrageous that people believe it, because they can’t imagine anyone lying so shamelessly. Donald Trump and the US Republican Party are definitely embracing this tactic with their claims of a “rigged election” — and the movement towards a right-wing electoral takeover is definitely part of the US Pluto Return.
But the true “big lie” of American mythology is much deeper, darker and more insidious than Trump’s narcissistic claims can touch. It is not only the slavery and genocide that characterized the US agenda in the 18th & 19th centuries, the lie that founders of this country believed all humans to be equal; it’s also the anti-democratic imperialism of the 20th century, and the exploitation of human and natural resources that continues to this day as we feed our need for oil, electronics and other aspects of the “American dream”. The idea that post-WWII America has mainly been a force for good in the world is one massive blindspot in our collective consciousness. The idea that our comfortable lives and fancy toys could exist without daily breaking of bodies and environmental devastation is another. Even most “liberal”, “educated”, “well-informed” Americans are smothered by the heavy blanket of our self-centered mythology. The lies we’ve been told (and have told ourselves) have generated a moral smugness that leaves us in deep denial about what exactly is coming full circle during the Pluto Return.
As I’ll cover later in this series, there is a Plutonian thread linking the American genocide of the 18th & 19th centuries with the Nazis, the development of nuclear weapons, and the origin of the US “shadow government” or “deep state” (a CIA/military venture that subverted democratic intentions around the world during the Cold War, and which now exists more as a “shadow economy”). The United States is an entity that has grown only more destructive as its reach and power have increased. Pluto is the force of evolution. It often brings death — but it ultimately won’t stand for anything that doesn’t support life. The USA, in its current incarnation, has reached the end of a cycle. Transformation is possible. Birth and death are the same thing. Let’s be real, though: both are usually bloody.
There are many nations on earth that have been through multiple Pluto Returns, and not all of them map to horrific breakdown of order, although major shifts in power structures, including the deaths of leaders, are common. But there is a Plutonian quality to the USA’s industrialization of death, and its subsequent unilateral use of the power it acquired through that death, that makes it unique in history. Like a mutant genetic pattern, we temporarily evolved into dominance. But there’s too much sickness in our veins and our organs, too much accumulated disrespect for life in our national “system” for this particular incarnation of ourselves to survive. We have missed many omens, made many enemies and embraced a narcissistic fantasy about our unquestioned place as “the greatest country in the world”. That is not a recipe for long-term survival in the “animal” world of biological evolution. Pluto is about to show us that it doesn’t work well on the human level, either.
What exactly is dying? There are many layers and dimensions to this question, which I’ll be breaking down in the rest of the series. Due to some obscuring astrological factors, it’s likely that the full truth of whatever happens in 2022 won’t be known immediately, and some aspects may not be revealed for years. But I believe the events of this year will come to be recognized as the beginning of the current American organism’s final collapse.
In 1776, Pluto was present, but fully unconscious: Uranus would be the first planet discovered by telescope in 1781, Neptune in 1848, and Pluto not for 82 more years, in 1930. The fact that we are conscious of it now gives us an advantage in these times of activated Plutonian energy. If we are brave enough, we can grab it, own it, channel it, write our individual and collective destinies with it. The only way to do that, though, is to surrender to the death of the American “big lie”. If we are determined to cling to the old mythology, what unfolds over the next few years will not “make sense”. If we try to ride the dying life form through the portal of death, the US Pluto Return will be something that just happens to us, likely something by which we will feel intensely victimized. If we recognize it for the reckoning it is, and show up with a true willingness to work with Pluto and let our false narratives be stripped away — then, maybe, we have a chance at taking things towards a rebirth.
It all starts with getting to know the Pluto archetype itself, an impersonal, unsympathetic energy that we nevertheless need to befriend. Without further ado, here’s an introduction.
You may have heard that Pluto is no longer a planet. The astronomical reasons are logical: in 2005, first Eris and then many other small, icy celestial bodies were discovered in an area outside the orbit of Neptune, now called the Kuiper Belt. Compositionally, Pluto has more in common with KBOs (Kuiper Belt Objects) than it does with gas giants like Neptune and Uranus, so its re-categorization as KBO/dwarf-planet makes sense. But you can’t deny the fascinating psychological/astrological component. At a time when we are collectively ignoring our species-wide climate crisis, the literal need to adapt for our own survival — is it a surprise that mainstream thought patterns buried Pluto?
In general, the discovery of each new outer planet has happened simultaneous to a widening of public consciousness around that planet’s themes. Uranus, related to technology, paradigm shifts, and flashes of insight, was the first planet discovered by telescope, and opened astronomy up to a world beyond Saturn that had never been known before. Its 1781 discovery also coincided with the American Revolution, the French Revolution in 1789, and the Haitian Revolution beginning in 1791. Neptune, whose presence can be highly spiritual, oceanic, creative and utopian, as well as obscuring or delusional, was discovered in 1848. The spiritualist/mediumship movement dates its origin to that year, and it’s also the year the Communist Manifesto was published. Both of these events reflect Neptune’s tendency towards idealism and unity-consciousness, its potential shadow of haze, deceit or oblivion, and the real transcendent truths it brings to the table. As Neptune flooded in through the second half of the 19th century, deep-sea exploration began, the dreamlike imagery of Impressionism took over the art world, and socialist political movements sprang up across Europe.
Pluto was first sighted by telescope in 1930. However, its underworld-esque themes were rumbling like a train in the distance for decades before. The global power clashes of World War I, and the violent Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 (a wake-up call regarding Neptune’s idealism), were preludes to Pluto’s becoming fully conscious. Also in these decades, Albert Einstein published his theory of relativity as nuclear physicists worked towards splitting the atom (a goal that was achieved in 1932); and Sigmund Freud led the development of psychoanalysis, the study of humanity’s unconscious psychological drives. Freud and Einstein actually engaged in a little-known, open-letter correspondence in 1931–1932 on the Plutonian subject “Why War?”¹
And then: Pluto became manifest. The abridged version of Mein Kampf that went on to sell millions of copies was published in 1930, and Hitler became chancellor of Germany in 1933, opening the Dachau concentration camp the same year and putting his genocidal desires into action. Joseph Stalin killed close to one million Soviet citizens during his paranoid Great Purge of 1936–1937. Nuclear physics began to evolve in dangerous directions, especially after nuclear fission was documented in 1938 and the Manhattan Project, a combined US, British and Canadian effort to build an atomic bomb, began its work in 1939. Then in the 1940s, all hell broke loose. Humans held more power, literally, than ever before. And we used it to kill more humans, literally, than ever before. An estimated 70–85 million people (about 3% of the world’s population at the time) were direct casualties of World War II.²
So — meet Pluto, Lord of the Underworld.
Pluto is an archetype who demands our respect. We will never be granted conscious access to its power if we don’t stay humble in its presence, if we want the rebirth without the death. Leaders like Hitler and Stalin weren’t even Plutonian individuals as much as lost, psychopathic souls carried by a Plutonian influx. The mass casualties of WWII are, in my opinion, inextricable from any modern understanding of Pluto — and what we really have to grasp is how incomprehensible they are. A single human brain cannot hold the full reality of that much death. We are not evolved enough to “wield” Pluto. The first step to healthy relating with this archetype is acknowledgment of our smallness in its presence.
Like every planet, Pluto is named after a figure in Roman mythology. Not all mythological characters align perfectly with the energy of the planets named for them (see: Uranus), and why they align at all is beyond the scope of this essay. However, there are definitely some fundamentals of Pluto’s myth that are essential to any comprehensive understanding.
Before he had a Roman name, Pluto was Hades, the Greek ruler of the underworld. Hades was the most prominent of several chthonic gods (“chthonic” translates to “under the earth’) who were associated both with the spiritual realm of the dead, and with the physical earth/ground. Chthonic cults, which were common among agricultural workers in ancient Greece, worshipped the gods by offering animal sacrifices. The bodies of the animals were either thrown into a deep pit in the earth with libations poured over them; or burned fully to ash in a sacrificial event called — yup, literally — a holocaust.³ The Eleusinian Mysteries, a secretive initiation ceremony held for centuries, centered on the chthonic myth of Persephone, who is kidnapped to the underworld by Hades, and her mother Demeter, who fights for Persephone’s return. The initiation itself was described as a journey into the underworld, followed by a return to the light (many scholars believe an entheogenic substance was used in the ceremonies).⁴
Chthonic gods were not portrayed as evil, but they were feared; or, one might say, they were held in healthy respect. Because he was the ruler of the underworld, Hades in particular was treated with deference: the Greeks didn’t like to say his name. When they needed to refer to him, they used the word Plouton, which means “riches” — an agricultural allusion to the riches in the soil of the earth.
As time passed and Roman culture usurped dominance from the Greeks, language evolved, and the god of the underworld came to be called Pluto, with the term Hades referring to the underworld itself. Pluto had both the positive association of the mineral riches contained in the earth, and the more fearsome role as ruler of the dead. He was quick to anger if anyone tried to cheat death or escape from the underworld, but aside from that, he was usually indifferent to human affairs. He was known for a passive fairness, a quality that matches the impersonal nature of the Pluto archetype.
There is a deep resonance between death/the dead, and soil, or deep earth. All bodies go back to the earth, nourishing the soil. Death creates life. Pluto, ruler of the underworld, is responsible for this ongoing metamorphosis; it is something that belongs to him. We humans may have “eternal souls” — an immaterial aspect of self that doesn’t die with the body — but alive in our bodies, we are part of another process over which we have no agency. Not only will our bodies return to the earth; they are servants to the expansion of life itself, the irrepressible urge towards macrocosmic survival. Pluto is evolution — the genetic force that drives life to flourish into its infinitely varied expressions. And physical death is the flip side of that coin, a necessity for the continuation of life. If individual bodies didn’t die, genetic adaptation would be impossible. The rich soil of ongoing survival, from which life springs, is nourished by microcosmic death.
I want to invite you to stop and take a breath here. Be present with any heaviness or activation in your body. This variety of perspectives on Pluto is taking you deep into the archetypal field — and it is not a psychic space in which most of us are used to spending time. You’re safe: I promise these words will bring you out to the other side. But I want to invite you to recognize where you are, what you are experiencing. Pluto is a reality we don’t want to acknowledge most of the time, but it’s always with us. It’s normal to move through layers of shutdown, dissociation and despair when connecting to Pluto’s field — these things too are part of life on earth, part of having a body.
And, as Pluto’s myth reminds us: there are riches in the underworld. You don’t get them without going there (hence the narrative structure you may be picking up on). And you don’t get them without surrendering, not only to various forms of death, but to a massive, insatiable, unconscious yearning for life. The riches guarded by Pluto are the secrets of conscious evolution, access to a miraculous survival drive. They are what we need to shift the direction of our manifestation, both in the US and worldwide. The doubt, the fear, the heaviness, the powerlessness that come up in us when we meet Pluto are what we need to transmute before our bodies can hold the true frequency of survival. It’s my prayer that you accomplish this transmutation by the end of the essay. I hope to leave you not in despair or shutdown but brightly, ardently alive.
Charon is the name of Pluto’s moon, and of Pluto’s mythological ferryman, responsible for transporting souls into the realm of the dead. Some figures in mythology were able to cross from the heavens into the underworld and come back again with Charon’s assistance, while others were refused entry. A few got in through devious means; not everyone who went in made it out. Pluto’s realm wasn’t easily accessible (unless you were dead), and he was selective about which visitors he received. Anyone who wanted to visit secretly or against Pluto’s wishes had to go through an initiation of sorts, finding a way to fool or persuade Charon (who was described as ugly, foul and unkempt) to transport them across the river.
The archetypal field of Pluto has a similarly high threshold for access. But we approach from a very different place than the ancient Greeks: for us, Pluto has been “discovered”. We can connect to it not just through myth but through our knowledge of its influence on history: the events that transpired as Pluto’s literal body entered our collective consciousness, and the threads that connect those events to today’s polarized climate. In my opinion, any understanding of Pluto without this analysis is shallow. But there is an ugliness to it — as if we must wallow in our own shit until Pluto reveals himself. It takes courage and stamina to get there. This is one manifestation of Charon. There are also fields like evolutionary biology and quantum theory, where concepts developed by modern science can offer additional layers and angles to our knowing of Pluto. But Charon is present here too, in the effort it takes to form even a lay understanding in these areas.
The word katabasis means “to go down” in Ancient Greek, and it’s used to describe the common narrative in many mythologies of a trip to the underworld. Characters who endure katabasis usually return with some kind of prize: a loved one they’d hoped to save, an important object they’d quested for, or heightened knowledge about the meaning of life. But the trip is challenging and risky, and not everyone makes it out.
If the discovery of Neptune signified a transcendence of the concept of an omniscient god (Karl Marx’s 1843 observation that “religion is the opiate of the masses”⁵ seems to speak to this), Pluto represents our first interaction with a force beyond that god. The power of the atomic bomb is one example of this larger-than-human force; Hitler’s ability to carry out the Holocaust, to manipulate death in such a massive, unilateral manner is another. As humanity crossed Plutonian thresholds in our science and psychology, perhaps we in some sense crossed the river Styx. But I am not convinced we had Charon’s permission.
Did we arrive in Pluto’s territory truly initiated, and with the proper respect?
Have we learned the lessons of the mass death that followed?
As a whole, it’s clear that we haven’t. As I’ll continue to explore, the mass death that started in WWII has now evolved into an entire Plutonian industry, exploiting both human life and the “riches” of the earth. This is much bigger than just the United States, but it’s a key perspective for anyone who wants to understand the Pluto Return. We are the main beneficiaries of this destructive system, and the lie of our national mythology wants us to pretend it doesn’t exist. Pluto is the invisible link between the original US genocide, the Nazis, and today’s global “deep state”. It’s the link between white supremacy, anti-Semitism and the bizarre mishmash of conspiracy theories currently occupying so much of our psychic space. It also ties nuclear fission to space travel, environmental devastation and our current evolutionary predicament. Pluto speaks directly to the power made manifest on earth in the last century… and to the fact that as a species, we do not appear to be ready to handle it.
Pluto would like me to let you know that he is pleased to meet you. His hand is extended — it’s safe to shake it, if you’d like.
The astrologers in the crowd are probably wondering: when are we going to get to Capricorn? The US Pluto Return is happening in the zodiacal sign of Capricorn, a whole separate archetypal field, though thankfully we don’t have to go through another katabasis to access it. While Pluto is the main character of this one-deity show, Capricorn is the stage, the territory where the action happens. It’s a chunk of the human experience, one phase of life along the cycle of the zodiac. It’s actually towards the end of the cycle, the last earth sign before Aquarius (air) and Pisces (water) finish things out in a swirl of collectivism. In this sense, Capricorn is a civilizational edge, presenting a question of how much human life can be organized, predictable, regulated — versus how much must we surrender to decentralization. Capricorn is where we set up systems that are larger than life, where we strategize, make rules, distribute power, set goals and move towards them, look at the big picture and then break it down into actionable pieces. A lot of “progress” has happened with Capricorn energy at the helm. But what actually counts as progress in the face of Pluto? Are our systems and structures supportive of macrocosmic survival?
Pluto has been in Capricorn since 2008; it leaves for Aquarius in 2024. The last time this transit happened, 1762–1779, is marked by the American Revolution; the time before that, 1516–1532, Martin Luther posted his 95 theses, leading to the division of the enormous Catholic Church. Pluto tends to bring death to our systems and institutions when it’s in Capricorn, initiating changes that eventually shift power balances around the world.
Although Pluto’s workings are unconscious and mysterious, there are always omens. In 2008, Pluto danced between Sagittarius and Capricorn as the US subprime mortgage crisis blossomed into global stock market collapse. The “economy” (talk about a system that is larger than life) was revealed to be propped up by something corrupt, false, rotten, something that ultimately couldn’t sustain itself. The broad collapse was complex and multi-causal, but at its roots were predatory American lending practices and decades of legislation that enabled them. Much of the predation was aimed at racially segregated minority neighborhoods, a continuation of racist housing policies sponsored by the US government throughout this country’s history.⁶ Another root cause was corruption at the investor level, an inevitable result of the greed and psychopathy encouraged for decades in the field of finance.⁷
Of course, what collapsed in the Great Recession was only a tiny portion of the Capricornian structure that is “the economy”. Pluto essentially sent it crashing with his pinky finger. It was an omen, a microcosmic event pointing to a macroscopic problem. But at least on the level of policy, we did not heed Pluto’s warning. Instead, Congress passed the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, bailing out the banks and other financial institutions whose corruption had caused the crisis to begin with. The injection of money into the broken system was like the government choosing to caulk over a massive crack in a cement wall, or to support a single branch on a tree whose entire trunk is rotting from the inside out.
Capricorn is both the tree and the cement wall. It’s an earth sign, and it’s also a cardinal sign, one that takes place at a solstice or equinox, initiating a new season. This combination makes it hugely generative and impactful. Again, Capricorn and “progress” go hand in hand: Capricorn see problems and fixes them in concrete, practical ways. In its healthiest expression, it’s grounded, responsible and unstoppable, rooting into even the rockiest of environments like a tree. In its shadow form, however, Capricorn can be cold and crushing, an arbiter of brute force, like cosmic cement. Individuals with strong Capricorn influence in their natal charts are usually natural leaders with strong work ethics and more than a little ambition. They have to walk a line between their powerful initiatory tendencies and the fact that not everything can be planned, controlled or guaranteed.
Capricorn likes to build. It likes to think big and be practical at the same time, which is why it’s the sign of our larger than life structures. Think: all three branches of government; the electoral system; the military; the economy; education, healthcare and all other social services; law enforcement; tax collection; public transportation; and also our physical infrastructure like bridges, dams, highways, and waste disposal and water systems (as well as the humans who operate this infrastructure). Think also of corporations and organized religions, and other massive organizations of humans around the globe. Like every sign, Capricorn represents an essential phase in the zodiacal cycle of life. We need to organize ourselves somehow — but is there a limit to how many people can be “organized” at once? Are these structures about to burst? This is what I mean when I say Capricorn represents a civilizational edge.
Of course, while organizing ourselves somehow might be necessary, the way we’re doing it currently is clearly not working. Both in the US and worldwide, the structures in which we live are Capricorn at its most vile. They are rigid and inhumane, exploitative and of service mostly just to those with callous ambition, or those who are willing to play a dirty game. The unbreakable hierarchy of our current economic structure; the white supremacy built into our systems of policing, law, medicine, housing, etc; the fundamentalist Christian and patriarchal values imposed on women and folks of non-normative sexualities or gender expressions — all of these are expressions of a cold, controlling materialist Capricorn, the archetype in its most destructive incarnation.
The colonial mindset itself also matches the Capricorn archetype. In the birth chart I use for the USA, Pluto is in Capricorn in the second house, an area of the chart that signifies a country’s resources. The United States, of course, stole its resources, a manifestation of both Pluto (the power and the death) and Capricorn (the inhumane system of slavery, and the literal earth stolen methodically from Native Americans). Most of today’s plutocracy, the billionaire class of mainly white men who happen to be responsible for the worldwide extraction of fossil fuels, minerals and labor taking place in the name of technology, are from America. They reached their roles of global influence through an American system designed to support wealthy white men, perpetuating the Plutonian history of this country by exporting the dirty work to poor countries with lax labor laws and selling a technological “American dream.” These days, as there is not much more earth left to exploit, the plutocrats are fantasizing about colonizing other planets.⁸
When I explore the international angle of the US Pluto Return, I’ll look more at Pluto’s time in Capricorn since 2008, and the global omens we’ve collectively missed. The Pluto Return doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and there are structures other than the USA that are also moving through big transformations. The balance of power between “structures”, ie nations, is shifting, as it historically has when Pluto moves through Capricorn. Also, a separate astrological event that took place in 2020 maps to another likely transformation: the birth of a class of super-structures in the forms of the largest tech companies, with their plutocrat owners commanding earth’s resources more unilaterally than ever before. In 2024, Pluto moves into Aquarius, and we will be left with the rubble of its visit to our power structures. Over the next few years, we will have some lessons on what “the edge of civilization” really means.
Let’s regroup. We’re not out of the lava fields yet, but we’ve established our bearings: we’ve recognized the “big lie” coming full circle in the Pluto Return; we’ve studied the rocky civilizational edge of Capricorn; and we’ve entreated Pluto to receive us, and maybe even allow us access to some evolutionary riches. (If you’ve been skimming, however, you may not have actually met him.) Now, it’s time to scout the landscape a little more thoroughly.
In the essays that follow this one, I’m going to explore the event of the US Pluto Return from four different angles. The first is the “deep state” angle, the overlaps I keep noting between the Nazis, the covert US military apparatus of the Cold War, and today’s worldwide shadow economy. The second is the cultural/somatic angle, an analysis of the aspect of Capricorn that is the body itself, and the ways exploitative systems and ancestral trauma exist within it. The third angle will be the international perspective, looking in particular at China, Russia, and the overconfidence baked into the American mythology that leaves us blind to shifts in world power structures. Finally, I’ll get even deeper into the spiritual weeds by talking about karma, evolution, and ancestral healing.
Before I wrap up this intro, though, I want to address one other subject: Donald Trump. He occupied our headlines daily for four years, normalized white nationalism and misogyny, and encouraged a seething throng of his supporters to attack the US Capitol. He seemed like the American id come to life. And he’s still around, holding rallies, endorsing Republican party candidates and giving every impression he’s planning to run for president in 2024.
Will Trump play an outsize role in the US Pluto Return, or its aftermath? Despite the remaining national fixation, my gut sense is that he won’t. More than a true carrier of Plutonian energy, during his years in office, Trump was mostly Pluto’s wrecking ball. Even in his narcissistic delusion, he was serving a cosmic agenda, dismantling the already rotten systems and putting the American ugliness on full display. In some sense, Trump may be more like Charon than Pluto. He’s definitely foul and unkempt. What if his grotesque spectacle was not an introduction to Pluto, but the initiation before the meeting?
Donald Trump is and was the manifestation of a dying system, a not-even-that-charismatic demagogue who coasted to power on an already simmering hate which he recognized and exploited. The fascist impulse that fastened itself to him is something different, stemming from the real American nightmare of colonial Christian white supremacy and late-stage capitalism. This overlapping mesh of oppressive systems generates intense experiences of powerlessness, leaving individuals psychologically vulnerable to figures like Trump, who present an image of power and invite them to attach themselves. But the reality is that Donald Trump could have gone much, much further in encouraging violence from his supporters. He didn’t want power so much as he wanted the narcissistic rush of “winning”, and even now he’s still getting high on his own lies about the 2020 election. Whatever it takes for a leader to harness the deeper fascist impulse, I don’t think that Trump has it. Ten years from now, his name may feel like a relic.
Yet the fact of Trump’s election, and his two failed impeachments, give us some very direct information about what exactly is dying during the US Pluto Return.
Trump is a demagogue, a grassroots leader who turns public sentiment to his favor by playing to the frustrations of the masses, but has no real capacity for leadership, or rationality behind his arguments. Writings about this type of political actor go back to ancient Greece, and the founders of the US had demagogues in mind as they designed systems intending to ensure the integrity of their newly established political apparatus. The word “demagogue” appears multiple times in the Federalist Papers, in the notes from the Constitutional Convention in 1787, and in many other writings by the American founders, with demagogues consistently named as threats to democracy.⁹ Both the electoral college and the separation of powers were systems developed in part to prevent demagogues from seizing power.¹⁰
Yet one Pluto cycle later, Trump rose up, like a monster out of the American swamp, riding a wave of misinformation, fear-mongering media and aggravated public sentiment straight into the Oval Office. The electoral college didn’t stop his election — and two separate impeachment trials failed to convict him, even after his blatant encouragement of the January 6th insurrection attempt. The fact that the systems designed explicitly to protect against leaders like Trump were unable to stop him, or even hold him accountable, demonstrates their toothlessness. And the toothlessness is a result of the spiritual rot present from the beginning in American government. Not only was Trump’s election made possible by the racism and colonial entitlement that has been cultivated in poor white people for hundreds of years; he was acquitted because most Senate Republicans, despite their firsthand experience in the attack, were too afraid of their Trump-worshipping constituency to vote to convict. Only in a system as pre-polluted as America’s could Trump’s toxic egotism take hold the way it did.
Don’t get me wrong: the Democratic Party is also responsible for the collapse. They have participated in the dismantling of democracy by embracing neoliberalism, stifling progressive voices, and choosing to live in an elitist reality bubble that comes closer to popping every day. Watching the Democratic Party right now feels like watching a slow motion tragedy. They have not heeded Pluto’s omens — they are trying to ride the dying life form through the portal of death. Joe Biden’s personal astrology looks enormously challenging in 2022. Although so much of the Pluto Return is already manifest, I can’t help but have the feeling that Pluto has one more trick up his sleeve.
So: what is dying in the US Pluto Return?
The simplest way to say it is: the American establishment. This includes our established laws, our Constitution and Bill of Rights; and it also means the power structure of the establishment, the two-party system that guards against candidates who don’t come up through its ranks and adhere to its rules (hence the chaos and division Trump is causing in the Republican Party).
Attached to the establishment is the apparatus of government itself. All the systems I mentioned earlier, all the functions of government we take for granted, could begin to break down during the Pluto Return, to an even greater extent than is happening today. None of it will happen instantaneously, just as an old, complicated machine that’s been running for centuries might take time to grind to a halt, even if its power supply was cut suddenly. We can eventually build a new apparatus, maybe even a new Constitution and Bill of Rights. But we don’t get to bypass the death of the old one.
The American establishment is not the “deep state” — and the deep state is not, for better or worse, what’s dying during the Pluto Return. It’s a separate, amorphous entity that is funded by the US government as well as, essentially, the rest of the world. It’s the military economy, a marketplace in which any country that wants weapons must participate. It’s taken many different forms over time and is currently global, decentralized and very much not within the control of the American political elite. It overlaps with the largest tech companies in their mutual dependence upon extraction of fossil fuels and rare earth minerals for the continuation of industry. It perpetuates extreme environmental devastation and human rights abuses, the scale of which, like Pluto, are too vast to grasp. It’s the latest phase of the colonial project, driven by the same trauma, greed and spiritual emptiness that make up the foundation of American mythology.
“The nightmare is buried deep in our consciousness — so deep we do not recognize it at first.”
This is true of both the suppressed murderous history of colonialism, and the Plutonian system that feeds our privileged lifestyles today. The American big lie tells us that “progress” means more and more humans around the world will be able to have what we have: clean running water, abundance of food, fancy technology, time for leisure, non-perilous lives. But the truth is that our lifestyle would not be possible without multiple industries that depend on environmentally destructive practices, and supply chains that originate in countries with terrible records on human rights. In particular, our electronics, batteries and much of our high-tech weaponry are made with minerals that are mined and assembled at huge environmental costs through the back-breaking labor of other humans.¹¹ We do not recognize this nightmare. Just like the horror of American history, much of it is hidden deliberately from us. And even when we know the facts, the scale of the problem feels immediately debilitating.
In the next piece in this series, I’ll explore the real “deep state”, as well as the fantasy “deep state” or “cabal” upon which many conspiracy narratives rest. Although the anti-Semitic roots of these narratives trace back centuries, the fantasy is so popular today because it acts as a psychological defense mechanism, allowing people to simplify and externalize the Plutonian evil that is all around us. One of the most terrifying aspects of the US Pluto Return is the 400 million+ guns owned by Americans, many of whom believe they are up against an evil army of blood-drinking pedophiles. Even those who are not that far down the rabbithole still embrace narratives that posit themselves against an evil government trying to steal their guns and freedom. This delusion could be the premise for the slide into the full-fledged fascism and white nationalism that is the deepest, most nightmarish potential in the American psyche.
I think the current human predicament has something to tell us about what it means to meet Pluto uninitiated. As a species, we have more power than we’re spiritually ready to hold. We are hurtling blindly towards our own destruction, despite the millions and millions of individuals aware of the problems. Can we adapt in time to survive? Can we face ourselves directly enough to figure out how? Pluto’s current less-than-planetary status symbolically tells me no. But maybe the US Pluto Return will bring him back out of the closet, make us face the shadow hard enough to wake the fuck up.
James Baldwin, an acute observer of America’s Plutonian nature, once wrote: “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Both as a nation and as a species, we must look hard and deep at our apocalyptic origins if we want to shift the apocalypse we’re about to manifest. Only by facing Pluto, daring to stomach the underworld, can we retrieve the riches that might have the secret to our survival.
I do not have many answers when it comes to the question of “what can we do?” In the following essays, I’ll share additional information and perspectives to help us understand the different dimensions of the Pluto Return, and I hope all of it supports readers in finding their own psychic bearings. While astrology isn’t exactly objective, it provides a framework that we can lean into in the midst of so much other uncertainty, a map of timelines and energies that we can rely on, even if we don’t know exactly how they’ll turn out. It offers insider information on the cosmic plan — if we’re willing to really look at what it’s telling us. Maybe if enough of us know about the US Pluto Return, and take responsibility, we can change our own destiny.
What that looks like, though, is a very personal choice. Maybe we are going through metamorphosis, a cellular-level transformation; maybe each one of us is an imaginal cell. If we are becoming a butterfly, some of us will become the wings, others the eyes, others the legs and the heart and the lungs — from our personal vantage points, we can’t necessarily see the big picture, so we should be cautious around judging others. We each have a unique role to play, and we each have to follow our own inner compass to live out the blueprint for that role.
It’s my prayer that we move through the portal of the US Pluto Return as consciously as possible, channeling the death energy towards the big lie and oppressive systems within ourselves; in this way we can transmute as much human, animal and earth death as possible. Beyond that, at this point, I have no advice on what to “do”. I am grateful to all who took the journey of these words, and are arriving at this heavy edge of truth with me. I’ll be back — but really, we’re all going to have to let Pluto take it from here.
This is the first essay of a five-part series. I’m planning to complete them by the of the year, and publish them here on Medium as they are ready. Follow me so you don’t miss them! For more astro-political reading, check out my other essay, Astrology for the New World, and the Astrology for Activists ebook it introduces.
You can also find me at www.activistastro.com and @astrologyforactivists on IG. If you want to send me a little love in compensation for my hundreds of hours in the underworld, you can tip me at paypal.me/activistastro, or on Venmo @hummingbirdstar .