Turning Point: The United States’ Pluto Return
by Ray Grasse
The following piece about the coming Pluto return was published in late 2019, before the George Floyd murder, the economic crash of 2020, and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Like individuals, nations experience “planetary returns,” too, when celestial bodies make a complete circuit around the sky and return to the zodiacal position they once occupied. But the full return cycle of Pluto is an especially lengthy one, taking over 240 years to complete.
While individual life-spans obviously aren’t long enough to experience one of these, nations and empires certainly can. Using July 4, 1776 as its birthdate, the United States is on the verge of experiencing its first Pluto return. While that’s technically not set to occur until 2022, when Pluto reaches 27 Capricorn, for a planetary cycle as long-range as this it’s necessary to allow for an orb of several years, if not a decade or more on either side.
So what will this mean for the United States?
One usually hears Pluto described in such general terms as transformation, death and regeneration, the pitfalls and potentials of power, confronting shadow issues, and so on. That’s all true enough. But one way to begin understanding what to expect is by looking to historical examples of Pluto returns in other nations’ horoscopes, since some of those nations have survived long enough over time to experience two, sometimes even three of them. While each of these nations’ histories are distinct, they nonetheless offer some useful examples for us to draw upon
Pluto Returns in the Roman Empire
Using 27 BCE as the start of the Empire, Pluto’s first return occurred during the period around the years 216-223 AD. This was, not surprisingly, a period of instability and change, associated with the Severan Dynasty. (1) The divisive and highly unpopular emperor Elagabalus reigned between 218 and 222 AD, and his rule became notorious for sex scandals, religious controversies, and various “outrageous” behaviors—including the infamous banquet where he allegedly smothered guests by flooding the room with rose petals. After he and his mother were dragged through the streets and assassinated by the Praetorian Guard, his reign was followed by that of Alexander Severus, who ruled from 222 to 235 AD. Though Severus restored some semblance of moderation to the Empire, he too fell out of favor with his troops and was assassinated along with his mother—thereby marking the end of the Severan Dynasty. His death in 235 AD is viewed as the pivotal event signaling the start of the “Crisis of the Third Century,” where a succession of briefly-reigning military emperors, rebellious generals, and counter-claimants presided over governmental chaos, civil war, general instability and economic disruption.
The Empire’s second Pluto return took place during the years around 461-468 AD, which was a period of turmoil during which the Empire found itself increasingly threatened by forces at its borders. Several years before, in 455 AD, the Vandals entered and sacked Rome itself, while at the Battle of Cap Bon in 468 AD the Vandals destroyed a combined Western and Roman invasion fleet. But it was several years later, during the reign of the barbarian Flavius Odoacer from 476 to 493 AD, that the Roman Empire col- lapsed altogether.
In short, both of the general periods associated with the Empire’s Pluto returns represented dramatic periods of change, power struggles, and political instability. But it’s important to note it was only with the second of those returns that the Empire finally collapsed. In and of itself, in other words, a Pluto return doesn’t necessarily portend the demise of a nation, although it does always seem to involve considerable upheaval.
Pluto Returns in the British Empire
In some ways, England offer an even better illustration of a nation’s Pluto returns, since it survived three of them in all. Using the coronation of William the Conqueror on Dec. 25, 1066 as the birth of modern England, the first of those returns (allowing for both precession-adjusted and non-precession-corrected dates) occurred around the years 1311 to 1315; the second of those around the years ranging from 1555-1562; while the last of those unfolded around the years ranging from 1801-1810. (Note that I say “around the years” since it’s important to also allow a wide orb for Pluto aspects, due to its exceptionally long orbital period.)
Regarding the first of those, the time-frame 1311-1315 was accompanied by serious environmental problems, most notably in the so-called “Great Famine” which began in 1315 and caused enormous social unrest for years to come and resulted in the death of millions. And, as my colleague Kenneth Bowser pointed out, 1314 saw the pivotal victory of Robert the Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn, signaling the separation of the Scots from England.
The general period around England’s second Pluto return, 1555-1562, was a key turning point in the Empire’s history in various ways. In addition to a major insurrection in Kent in 1554 and the widespread persecution of Protestants in 1555, this period saw the ascension to the throne of Queen Mary I, who reigned from 1553 to her death in 1558—making her the very first, non- jointly ruling female monarch of England. That was followed by the ascension of Elizabeth I to the throne in 1558, which was a time of high drama for both her and the nation, bracketed on one end by the beheading of Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, and the famed stand-off between Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots on the other.
Perhaps most significant of all, though, this period signaled the inauguration of the so-called Elizabethan era, regarded now as a “golden age” in English history and literature, and characterized by such luminaries as William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, and Edmund Spenser. (Elizabeth’s reign was also associated with the famed astrologer, mathematician, and occultist John Dee—the individual credited with actually coining the term “British Empire.”) In several respects, this period was indeed a Plutonian “rebirth” for England, insofar as Elizabeth took an essentially bankrupt economy and restored fiscal responsibility to it, while overseeing a great surge in global exploration and ushering in a period of relative stability and internal peace to the country. But underlying that relative peace and stability were serious problems, among them longstanding animosities between Catholics and Protestants that simmered below the surface and led to several assassination attempts on Elizabeth’s life.
England’s third Pluto return occurred in the period around 1801 to 1810. Aside from this being the general time frame associated with the Industrial Revolution, 1801 specifically saw the formal creation of the United Kingdom, when Great Britain (England, Wales, and Scotland) joined forces with Ireland—arguably as profound a transition point in English history as any. And whereas 1801 witnessed the end of England’s commercial boom, 1809 saw a fiscal regeneration with the start of a new economic boom— a true Plutonian “rebirth” of sorts. During this general period England also found itself embroiled in various military conflicts in the effort to hold its Empire together, including the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, the Napoleonic Wars from 1803 to 1815, the Peninsula War from 1808 to 1814, the Anglo-Russian War from 1807 to 1812, the Anglo-Swedish War in 1810, and the 1812 conflict with the newly independent United States. (2) This period also saw the British monarchy becoming increasingly unpopular, and even played host to the famed “madness of King George,” when the head of the Empire was himself slipping in and out of dementia, having been formally recognized as “insane” in 1810. It’s tempting to consider that the king’s condition may well have symbolized a deeper imbalance festering within the Empire itself, perhaps reflecting the darker stirrings of Pluto.
But there is another development around this period of English history that’s easily overlooked but which may be crucial toward understanding America’s own Pluto return. To see that, though, we need to step back and look at something which began under England’s previous Pluto return, and which came to an end under this third one. I’m referring here to the fact that during the earlier reign of Elizabeth I, the Empire saw the formal inauguration of its slave trade, under the direction of Sir John Hawkins—truly, the nefarious shadow side of that era’s “golden age.” Then, more than two centuries later, it officially came to its end during Pluto’s next return, with the passing of the ‘Abolition of the Slave Trade Act’ in 1807—directly in the midst of England’s third Pluto return.
It’s not difficult to see the Plutonian character of this development, in both positive and negative respects. On the one hand, the slave trade showed England acting out the darkest impulses of human nature, with all its bigotry, cruelty and greed; then, the abolition of slavery during England’s third Pluto return, revealed England in a more redemptive and cathartic light, as the nation struggled coming to terms with that bloody institution. Pluto transits often involve contending with some unresolved darkness or transgression from the past, and if one truly confronts and resolves those issues, the effect can indeed be transformative; if not, though, those unresolved issues can consume and destroy from within. Fortunately, under that third Pluto return, England chose to confront and finally abandon that legacy.
The Implications for the United States
So what does all of this mean for America, in terms of what we can expect the years ahead? These are a few of the possibilities I’d suggest we watch for.
1. One effect of the Pluto return for America will almost certainly be economic. In doing research for this article, I thought it might be helpful to look back at what happened during America’s half-return of Pluto during the mid-1930s, when it reached 27° Cancer, in hope that might provide some symbolic hints as to what the full Pluto return will bring. While that technically became exact in the mid-30s, its influence extended for a number of years on either side. The 1930s represented the very midst of the Great Depression, when Americans were facing privations and anxieties they’d rarely experienced before. While we may not experience anything quite on that scale again under the coming return, there are enough troublesome indicators already in play to believe it will be a turbulent time for the U.S. economy. (It’s good to remember, though, not everyone was affected equally or in the same way by the Great Depression; in fact, some individuals actually became quite wealthy during that period—which simply goes to show that seemingly difficult planetary energies can manifest quite differently for different individuals.)
2. Based not only those earlier Pluto returns of both Rome and England but on what we already see happening in the U.S., it’s also safe to say we can expect to see a growing mood of social unrest in the country—possibly bordering on a civil war-type atmosphere. Notice I said “type.” Do I personally believe that could result in an actual “civil war,” with neighbors shooting and attacking each other? While even a few politicians have hinted at that possibility, I think that’s highly unlikely. But there’s little question there will be strong—and potentially violent—emotions bubbling up to the surface these next few years. What could possibly trigger such an extreme level of anger and unrest? Well, let me count the ways. In addition to hot-button issues like abortion, immigration, political corruption, and income inequality, it’s likely that whoever wins the next presidential election will elicit a firestorm of reaction on the opposite side of the political divide. If Trump wins, that would trigger much frustration and anger among his detractors, while his loss certainly would not be taken well by his supporters either, to put it mildly.
3. As I pointed out, during its last Pluto return England was embroiled in a number of military conflicts in various parts of the world, and it’s possible America could likewise find itself embroiled in one or more conflicts, too, whether that involve Iran, Korea, Venezuela, or another country. But considering the more covert, even underhanded side of Pluto, this could just as easily manifest through acts of sabotage, terrorism, or cyber-terrorism directed at the U.S. rather than conventional battlefield conflicts.We saw a striking example of Pluto at work in the events of 9/11, where the attack itself may have been out in the open but the perceived enemy seemed almost anonymous. Where was the terrorism being directed from exactly, and how could we respond? Americans felt a nearly paralyzing sense of powerlessness in their inability to get a clear grip on the situation, its perpetrators, or a possible resolution; in fact, that sense of powerlessness is one of the key signatures of challenging Pluto aspects. While I hope the United States doesn’t experience anything along those lines again, that possibility can’t be entirely dismissed, and we even need to consider the possibility of a “false flag” attack in which a perceived act of “foreign” terrorism is actually orchestrated from within the U.S. itself to serve some homegrown political or militaristic purpose.
4. Falling as it does in Capricorn, the impending Pluto return strongly points to explosive scandals or falls from grace involving prominent individuals, be those politicians, celebrities, religious authorities, or business leaders. Previously hidden corruption, including sex crimes or possibly even treasonous activities, will be exposed to the light of day. Will that extend to the very highest political office of the land— i.e., the President? Impossible to know for sure, but it will undoubtedly be a challenging time for whoever is occupying the Oval Office at the time, whether they be Republican or Democrat.
5. Especially since the Pluto return is occurring in an earth sign, another likely impact will be environmental in nature, in terms of problems with the land and agriculture. Archetypally speaking, Pluto governs such things as toxins, refuse, and hazardous materials, so it’s not unthinkable our country’s problem with pollution could reach a tipping point, and that we’ll be forced to come to grips with the poisons in our food that result from fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. Oil spills or problems with nuclear fuel sources are always a possibility, so that could be added to this mix. As before, I wondered whether we might find some useful clues from the earlier half-return of Pluto, and was struck by the fact that the mid-1930s also witnessed the infamous “Dust Bowl,” which was a natural calamity affecting millions of Americans but precipitated in large part by (hu)man-made agricultural practices. Interestingly, while that condition lasted throughout the entire decade, it climaxed almost precisely with the exact Pluto half-return. This is from a Wikipedia description about that time:
Severe drought hit the Midwest and Southern Great Plains in 1930. Massive dust storms began in 1931. A series of drought years followed, further exacerbating the environmental disaster… By 1934, an estimated 35 million acres of formerly cultivated land had been rendered useless for farming, while another 125 million acres—an area roughly three-quarters the size of Texas—was rapidly losing its topsoil. Regular rainfall returned to the region by the end of 1939, bringing the Dust Bowl years to a close. The economic effects, however, persisted. Population declines in the worst- hit counties—where the agricultural value of the land failed to recover—continued well into the 1950s… The worst dust storm occurred on April 14, 1935. An Associated Press news report coined the term “Dust Bowl” after the Black Sunday dust storm. (Emphasis mine) (3)
While we may not actually experience another “Dust Bowl” exactly, it’s a good possibility we’ll be dealing with environmental problems that impact our farms and our food supply in the coming years. To some extent, of course, that’s already happening, due to severe flooding and fires in large portions of the Midwestern and Western states, which has led some agricultural experts to predict food prices could skyrocket over the next few years. The effects of hurricanes on the southern and southeastern states are also a possibility to consider.
6. Another effect that strikes me as worth mentioning centers around the growing threat of autocracy. It’s no secret Pluto can behave quite dictatorially at times, and we’ve already started seeing signs of that not only in Donald Trump’s unabashedly forceful style but in the rise of various far-Right neo-fascist elements throughout the country. (4) (While it’s true that we’ve been seeing the rise of “strongman”-type governments in several countries besides the U.S. in recent years, that’s more likely due to the influence of the current Saturn-Pluto conjunction in Capricorn, along with the fact that transiting Pluto has been opposing its 1930 discovery point of 17° Cancer in recent years, too.)
Even here, I was surprised to find some intriguing parallels from that period of America’s half-return of Pluto in the 1930s. Though now largely forgotten, America in the 1930s saw the rise of various pro-fascist groups around the country including the Silver Shirts, Black Legion, Khaki Shirts and Fascist League movements. While for the most part this trend remained outside the mainstream, it received sup- port from no less prominent figures than Ezra Pound and Charles Lindbergh. And in 1934, the U.S. came perhaps the closest it’s ever come to a true fascist coup d’état, when democracy was nearly subverted by a cabal of wealthy individuals and businessmen but prevented by Major General Smedly Butler. As one article described it:
Fascism had reared its head in Europe, and the world had yet to make up its mind what it thought about it—that would come later, in World War II. Many thought that the best way to pull America out of the Great Depression was to install a dictator—even the New York Herald-Tribune ran a headline called ‘For Dictatorship If Necessary.’ Although the newspaper’s article was in support of FDR, a group of wealthy financiers believed that America should indeed have a dictator. . . So, they began to plot a coup d’état that would later come to be known as the Business Plot, or the Wall Street Putsch. (Emphasis mine) (5)
It’s startling now to realize that had it not been for General Butler, America could have gone in a dramatically different direction during the 1930s, similar to Germany. So, with Pluto now coming up to its first full return, does this mean that an elected candidate—Trump or otherwise—will try to exert even greater control over our country’s government? A related possibility could be that Trump loses the election but simply refuses to abdicate the Oval Office, thus creating a constitutional crisis. Or could it be simply mean that wealthy plutocrats will consolidate their already formidable control over the country, such as through more corporate-friendly legislative measures and judicial appointments?
7. The last possibility I want to touch on harkens back to what happened with England during the early 19th century. What “darkness” from our own past will we be contending with these next few years? It seems clear that, on one level anyway, it’s similar to that of England during the early 1800s—namely, the legacy of slavery. America was built upon it, the nation’s economy thrived because of it, and while the institution itself was officially discontinued, we’re still coming to terms with its legacy and all it implied—racism, bigotry, greed. Slavery and racism have long been a stain on the nation’s soul, and though we’ve tried hard to deny that history, it’s becoming increasingly hard to avoid. There’s even been talk in the U.S. these last couple of years about the feasibility of reparations and making amends to America’s black population for slavery. While I think that’s unlikely to happen, strictly from a legislative standpoint, the timing is certainly fitting in light of Pluto returning to its founding degree.
As usual, I often look to cinema for symbolic clues into the shifting “zeitgeist,” and in that spirit I was especially struck by the blockbuster horror film Us! released in March of this year (2019). To my mind, the movie presented an uncanny illustration of America’s impending Pluto return in terms of contending with that legacy of racism. Aside from the fact that its writer/director was himself black, along with most of the film’s actors, the movie focuses on America coming face-to-face with that underworldly “shadow” side, and with the hidden darkness that’s been simmering beneath our nation’s sunny surfaces for too long. I don’t want to give too much away about the plot for those who haven’t watched it yet, but for those who would like to see a more imaginative depiction of America’s Pluto return, I highly recommend watching it with an astrologer’s perspective in mind. (Also, note how one of the “shadow” children in the movie is even named “Pluto”!) (6)
Nor is this impending challenge solely about America’s black population. The Pluto return also seems related to our national discussion around minorities in general, and our culture’s uneasy relationship with Muslims, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, and the LGBTQ community. Previously repressed elements of our population (including women) now seem poised to make their voices heard in ways like never before, something which became especially evident in the latest U.S. mid-term elections. The influence of Pluto is also apparent in our national debate over immigration and the ongoing crisis involving Mexican and Central American refugees at our southern border. Here, too, there are fascinating parallels with what unfolded in America during the 1930s. While researching this article, I was surprised to learn about the following controversy from that earlier time.
Most Americans are familiar with the forced relocation in 1942 of 112,000 Japanese Americans from the West Coast to internment camps. Far fewer are aware that during the Great Depression, the Federal Bureau of Immigration (after 1933, called the Immigration and Naturalization Service) along with local authorities rounded up Mexican immigrants and naturalized Mexican American citizens and shipped them to Mexico to reduce relief roles. In a shameful episode, more than 400,000 repatriodos, many of them citizens of the United States by birth, were sent across the US-Mexico border from Arizona, California, and Texas. Texas’ Mexican- born population was reduced by a third. Los Angeles also lost a third of its Mexican population…(Emphasis mine) (7)
On an archetypal level, much of this anxiety over immigrants and minorities seems rooted in a deeper fear or even hatred of the “other,” and a disdain for all those existing outside our own familiar tribe. One of Pluto’s painful secrets seems to be just this: the hatred we direct towards others is actually self-hatred, projected outward. Once we become conscious of that dynamic, it becomes possible to transmute those emotions, and the result is genuine transformation and rebirth. But that takes considerable self-awareness, courage, and intelligence—qualities that seem to be in short supply amongst many Americans these days.
Some Timing Considerations
U.S. chart with transits of February 22, 2022
Source: Astrodatabank, RR: C
As for when these dynamics can be expected to start manifesting, the Pluto return is technically set to fire exactly on February 22nd of 2022 (and by precession-adjusted standards, in February of 2024). As I hinted at the outset, though, a long-term cycle like Pluto return requires an exceptionally wide orb of influence on either side, so as with both Rome and England the long-range effects of this cycle necessarily extend for many years before and after that window of exactitude; indeed, I don’t think would be excessive to speak of the entire 2020s as representing the peak period of America’s Pluto return.
In terms of its early influence, it’s therefore clear to me that it’s already being felt—and has been for quite some time, actually. I’d even suggest that we were permitted an early sneak preview into that influence when Pluto first ingressed into Capricorn back in 2008. Did anything of importance happen then which correlates to what we’ve been talking about thus far? Well, besides a major tremor in America’s economy that year, the United States elected its first black American president, Barack Hussein Obama. He was elected in November of 2008 but assumed office in January of 2009. I can hardly think of a clearer symbol of America’s having to come face-to-face with its legacy of racism and slavery, and general uneasiness towards the “other,” than the election of a black president with a Muslim-sounding name. I also believe that the Saturn/Pluto conjunction which will become exact in January of 2020 will likewise serve as an early trigger for the U.S. Pluto return, and that much of what we’re already seeing in the country in terms of unrest over Trump, immigration policies, abortion, partisan loyalties, and racism, is directly intertwined with that larger Pluto- return cycle.
But as noted, the U.S. Pluto return will technically not be exact until February of 2022. It’s important to remember that alignments like this are similar to New Moons in that they represent the initiation of new cycles, and as such “plant seeds” that continue developing long afterwards. So while its possible there could be some important symbolic “seed-events” happening around that month, the full effects of America’s Pluto return will probably not reveal themselves for years, possibly even decades afterwards, in the various areas explored here.
On a final note, it’s important to note that while the U.S. Pluto return will likely prove challenging in various ways, a configuration like this presents powerful opportunities as well. In that regard it’s good to remember that despite the problems which attended England’s second Pluto return, that period eventually became one of its culturally richest. In turn, England’s third Pluto return witnessed both a decline and a rebounding of its economy. As for the tangle of issues we already see coming to a boil in the U.S., one could think of it in much the same way that health practitioners talk about the “detox crises” a body goes through after a long build-up of poisons before it can become well again. We’ve been seeing just such a toxic build-up of America’s social, political, economic, and environmental issues these last few years, and that could all intensify these next few years. Will we confront and resolve those problems, and emerge from this period a newly reinvigorated and healed society, having survived the death/rebirth dynamic of Pluto?
One way or another, we’ll be finding out soon enough.
Notes and References:
(Author’s note: This essay first appeared in the December/January 2019/2020 issue of The Mountain Astrologer magazine (with minor adjustments made for purposes of clarity). It is included in Ray Grasse’s recent anthology StarGates (Inner Eye Publications, 2020).
1. My thanks to Lynn Hayes for her input about Pluto returns in the Roman Empire: https://www.astrodynamics.net/pluto-returns-roman-empire/
2. From a symbolic standpoint, it’s worth noting that shortly after England’s third Pluto return, Mary Shelley published her famed work Frankenstein, a story ostensibly about the resurrection of dead bodies—an overtly Plutonian theme.
4. As I pointed out earlier, the third return of Pluto for England coincided precisely with the famed “madness of King George,” when that country’s imperial ruler literally drifted into insanity. While it’s too early to say whether Donald Trump will still be president during the peak of the U.S. Pluto return (either way, we’re within the general orb of that long-term cycle) it’s hard to resist drawing parallels between that period and this.
5. https://bigthink.com/politics-current-affairs/fdr-coup? rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1
6. The popular TV series “Stranger Things” also offers another possible expression of America’s Pluto return, with its narrative of dark subterranean forces growing out of control and threatening the lives of surface dwellers.
7. https://www.gilderlehrman.org/content/historical -context-mexican-americans-and-great-depression
Images and chart data:
US flag / sparkler: Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
Elizabeth I: National Portrait Gallery, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Burning twin towers: National Park Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
US chart: Astrodatabank: USA Nation No. 1 (Sibly chart), Rodden Rating