The Saturn-Pluto Cycle: In General

ASTROLOGY, POLITICS, AND HISTORY – Tim Lyons – April 16, 2020

The Saturn-Pluto Cycle: In General

  1. In General
  2. In Particular

In this installment, we will discuss the Saturn-Pluto conjunctions and cycle in a mostly-general way; in the next installment, we look more closely at the current Saturn-Pluto conjunction.

In general, the Saturn-Pluto cycle symbolizes the development of form and structure out of Plutonic matters – matters like viruses, on the one hand, and psychological complexes, on the other. Consider those as images of the dark side, and the dark side generally appears dominant, at least on a collective level, during Saturn-Pluto conjunctions. However, the aspect also suggests a drive to transform our view of the world in and around us and thus to effect, through personal power and organization, transformative change in the collective – for though Pluto transforms, the transformations begin in the mind. Pluto takes us beyond many boundaries, particularly the one between inner world and outer world; thus the connection between inner work – work on the intensional world (the mind)– and extensional change. This may seem strange, or even ridiculously idealistic; however, remember what I said in an earlier installment about the Pluto-dynamic: that enormous changes can grow, via chain reactions, from very small beginnings. Witness the current pandemic.

Saturn-Pluto aspects, particularly the ones that take place in Capricorn, can set in motion cycles of development that can transform the structures of the extensional realm. The previous conjunction in this series (i.e. the conjunctions in Capricorn[1]) took place in 549 AD. The Plague of Justinian broke out during that period, transforming the Roman Empire. Justinian himself contracted the disease in 541, and it spread to the British Isles by 547. After long struggle, Rome, weakened by the plague, which ravaged port cities far more seriously than others (apparently because the rats who carried the bacillus travelled by boat), fell to Totila and the Ostrogoths in 546. William McNeill writes:

…the failure of Justinian’s efforts to restore imperial unity to the Mediterranean can be attributed in good part to the diminution of imperials resources stemming from the plague. Equally, the failure of Roman and Persian forces to offer more than token resistance to the Moslem armies that swarmed out of Arabia so suddenly in 634 becomes easier to understand in the light of the demographic disasters that repeatedly visited the Mediterranean coastlands from 542 onward, and accompanied the Moslems in the first critical stage of their imperial expansion. More generally, the perceptible shift away from the Mediterranean as the preeminent center of European civilization and the increase in importance of more northerly lands…was powerfully assisted by the long series of plagues, which confined their ravages almost entirely to territories within easy reach of Mediterranean ports.[2]

Justinian, recovered from plague and struggling with external enemies, did not make conditions any easier for afflicted citizens of the empire: he extracted taxes ruthlessly, sometimes demanding of the living taxes owed by those who had died.[3] But the Empire had weakened greatly, so invasions from the north followed shortly thereafter. These lessons of that period for our own time seem clear, both as regards government hierarchies and the problems related to trade (as in “globalization”); the pattern accords well with those described by William H. McNeill (Plagues and Peoples) regarding the relations between micro- and macro-parasites (e.g. viruses and military/hegemonic machines respectively).[4]

Saturn-Pluto interactions suggest a transformation of and/or empowerment of Saturn’s structures; however, on a collective level, the latter generally gain at least temporary ascendancy. Thus we see, at present, government incursions into citizens’ lives and even, as in Venezuela, attempts to increase imperial dominance under the cover of the pandemic. However, because government hierarchies will often resist the required changes, they may eventually suffer great defeats, often with catastrophic consequences for those who live under the hierarchies’ hegemonic sway. (See previous paragraphs.).

In a period of collective structural transformation, we should note the presence in our world of two types of structure, one of which resists change and one of which thrives on it. [5] In the former category, put all government structures as well as humankind’s various feats of engineering; most such structures result from changes, often brought about by humans. The latter category – the sub-lunar realm – contains the forms of the organic world, forms that consist of changes even as they can effect changes in their environment. In the former, we find suspension bridges, buildings, and highways; in the latter, we find viruses, bacteria, trees, and spinach. The things in the latter category thrive on transformation, as they don’t survive unless they transform constantly – for example, viruses. In humankind’s engineering feats, by contrast, change generally indicates either the end of function or problems related to it. Think of Galloping Gerty – or even rust and rot, examples of second-category things involving themselves with first-category items The former come under the rulership of Saturn; the latter come under the rulership of the Moon. In the natural world – the “sub-lunar realm” – structure and form consist of operations instead of solid “things” – or we might say, operations play the defining role. Saturnian structures, by contrast, generally result from operations; though they may serve a function, they generally do so effectively to the extent that they do not change form on a macroscopic level.[6]

In the previous paragraph, I offered rust and rot as examples of 2nd-category processes affecting 1st category “things” – also processes, of course, though Saturn, functioning as a trickster, would convince us otherwise. Viruses, another 2nd-category process, can obviously affect Saturn’s “structures”: though viruses do not seem to effect buildings and bridges, they can wreak havoc with social structures of all sorts, as the historical record clearly shows. Astrologically, Pluto will affect – force a transformation in – Saturn’s structures.

The Saturn-Pluto conjunction can also symbolize the development of social restriction (Saturn) from unconscious complexes and phobias related to control (Pluto). Viewed more hopefully, the cycle developing from the conjunction can symbolize the development of transformed social structures from people’s sense of shared value (Pluto as the natural ruler of the 8th house) and from a sense, developed or developing in the collective, of the need for a transformation of delusions (Neptune), social responsibility (Saturn), and even human inventiveness (Uranus) – the recognition of the need for inventiveness to further goals that benefit people, not just the structures themselves[7], for social structures to do similarly, and to move from delusion to compassion. We can see all of the above in the present situation, at least in seed form.

[1] Though the Saturn-Pluto conjunctions take place roughly every three and a half decades, with the variation resulting from Pluto’s changing speed, the ones in Capricorn take place much less often, and in no pattern that I can discern. Remember, too, in this discussion, the evidence accumulated by Richard Tarnas that the conjunction’s energies appear for many years to either side of the year of the precise aspect.

[2] William H. McNeill, Plagues and Peoples, pp. 141-2.


[4] File Justinian’s come under Mr. McNeill’s “macroparasitism”; file the plague bacillus under “microparasitism.”

[5] Saturn rules some organic structures, though, with the skeleton as a prime example. The boundaries between rigidity and flexibility seem – well, flexible! I sometimes say that Saturn’s structures tend toward rigidity while the Moon’s tend toward flexibility and change. I prefer to say not, as in the traditional astrological writings, and even many today, that the skeleton “is ruled by Saturn”, or even that Saturn “rules” the skeleton, pure and simple, but to say, rather, that Saturn rules the skeleton insofar as the skeleton qualifies as “rigid.” Similarly with discussions of other astrological “ruler” designations.

[6] The apparent stability of such structures deludes us, of course; Saturn often functions as a trickster. A steel bridge will eventually collapse even if well-constructed; nothing lasts forever. Nevertheless, the function of the structure depends on some degree of stability. With Saturnian structures, proper function depends on some degree of unchangingness, whereas with lunar structures, unchangingness generally indicates ill-health or death.

[7] From an astrological perspective, the huge surveillance industry shows Saturn coopting Uranus, a process with strong mythic roots.

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