Pluto’s 20-year transit through the sign of Aquarius promises massive changes in how we see ourselves as human, particularly in our relationship with technology.
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Pluto was discovered in 1930 and takes 248 years to complete an orbit of the sun. But because its orbit is elliptical, it spends a longer or shorter time in each sign, from 11 years in Scorpio to 32 years in Taurus. It’s about to move into Aquarius and will stay there for 20 years, or until 2044.
In mythology, Pluto was the lord of the underworld. Astrologically it asks us to go down to the depths of experience. As Pluto moves through the signs, it exposes that which has been kept hidden in order to bring it to the surface and heal it. This often manifests as challenges associated with shifts of power. So, while Pluto has been in Capricorn (2008 to 2023) we have been dealing with Capricornian matters, namely the dark side of the corporate world and the financial markets, starting with the crash of 2008, followed by the birth of the crypto currencies, the exposing of the role of the rogue offshore financial industry in the ‘Panama Papers’ and in general the bringing to light of political and corporate corruption.
While Capricorn is an earth sign associated with the material world, Aquarius is a fixed air sign. So, before we look at the possible role of Pluto in Aquarius, let’s look more deeply at the nature of Aquarius.
Aquarius is one of the fixed signs along with Leo the lion, Taurus the bull and Scorpio the scorpion. And of all these signs it is the only one represented by a human figure. Plus Aquarius is ruled by Uranus, the disruptor, the pattern breaker, associated with advances in science and technology. So, as Pluto challenges and brings out the deepest qualities of the sign it is transiting, Pluto moving from Capricorn to Aquarius suggests a challenge to our sense of humanity, our relationship with technology and what it means to be human.
Aquarius and Gender Identity
Aquarius, the water carrier is an air sign. Air is about thinking, communication and intelligence. The other two air signs are Gemini and Libra. The way the three air signs think and communicate is different.
Gemini as the sign of the twins thinks dualistically. This type of thinking comes from the basic split between positive and negative, between observer and observed, between signifier and signified. Gemini’s logic is either/or, for and against, and the debate that goes on between two opposites. This debate creates a gap and the creative spark of ideas across this gap is the way Gemini thinks.
Libra’s logic is different from Gemini’s. While Gemini deals with the logic of either/or, Libra deals with both/and. As the sign of the scales, Libra is concerned with balance and harmony, and its aim is to reach agreement between the two parties through compromise or finding common ground. This process involves carefully weighing all the options, each with its pros and cons.
Aquarius looks for a transcendent position which abolishes the difference between conflicting points of view. In other words, it looks for a higher dimension, beyond Gemini’s space of either/or and beyond Libra’s space of harmonious compromise. This is a type of dialectical thinking where two apparently opposing positions are brought together.
Applying these three logical procedures to the world of gender identity:
Gemini says: Women and men are different. “Vive la difference!”
Libra says: Women and men need each other because each has what the other wants.
Aquarius says: Whatever sex we are, we’re all human!
When Pluto transits the sign of Aquarius, the Aquarian point of view of gender difference gets empowered and traditional views of gender are challenged at the deepest level. At the surface we’re looking at the non-binary, the gender-fluid. At the deeper level, Pluto brings up questions such as “What does it mean to be female or male?” And having said that, “What is more important, my gender identity or my humanity?” and “What does it really mean to be human?”
Another part of this conundrum is that gender is to a great extent socially defined and socially conditioned. The Aquarian provides a space to step outside of this conditioning and define oneself in one’s own terms. In this quest, Aquarius is aided by its modern ruler, Uranus which enables us to go beyond Saturn’s ‘rules’ that require us to accept the traditional gender roles, and for each of us to find our own individual solution and our own sense of what is right for us.
The Aquarian way through this labyrinth is experimental. If it feels right for you, then carry on; if not, then find another path. This experimental approach lays great stress on your own sense of personal truth, your authority as an individual. For rather than relying on the hand-me-down traditions that categorise gender identity and define the rules of engagement between the sexes, Pluto in Aquarius allows us access to this theatre of lived experience with all its joys and disasters. While many prefer to be spectators, some are obliged to be actors. But from the results of these experiments, answers may emerge.
Pluto and Technology : The Artificial Uterus
This story begins from the rumour of an experiment. A development of IVF, (In Vitro Fertilization) in which an egg is removed from the woman’s ovaries and fertilised with sperm in a laboratory. The fertilised egg, called an embryo, is then returned to the woman’s womb to grow and develop. But what if the embryo is grown outside of the body? Placed in an artificial womb, a safe environment, provided with all the nutrition it needs and then when it’s ready, disconnected from that environment and ‘born’.
Normally the embryo/foetus is within the woman’s body, obtaining nutrients from the mother’s blood through the placenta. Not only that, it can feel the vibrations of the mother’s body: the breath, the heartbeat, the sounds of her nervous system. The child is protected not only physically but also by the woman’s energy field (aura). If the body of the mother is replaced by an artificial womb, there is an emotional disconnect. In effect that child has grown in a type of egg in the way a bird, a turtle or a crocodile grows. Then when it is ready, the egg breaks and the creature is hatched.
Certainly the development of artificial wombs could reduce deaths and disability for babies born extremely preterm. But if this experiment (again, Aquarius is the sign associated with scientific experimentation) were to be extended beyond premature births where the child spends some time in the womb before being born and were to lead to the replacement of human pregnancy by the use of an environment for artificial gestation, we run the risk of creating children that lack any emotional and energetic connection to the mother and hence to other humans.
(Aldous Huxley describes this process in his 1932 science fiction novel ‘Brave New World’ where people are born in hatcheries and never know their mother or father.)
And this for me is an important if not vital part of being human, the fact that we are connected to other humans, not only through our needs and interests but also through the primary connection of our species, our human identity – that which we all have in common.
Pluto and Artificial Intelligence
Who wrote this? Did a human write it or was it put together by some super-sophisticated algorithm? And that picture, was it created by a program? And that speech by [insert name of politician here], saying things they don’t usually say, is that a deep fake, taking their voice and synthesizing the words to make it seem like they were saying it? And how can you tell?
Artificial Intelligence challenges us in many ways. Even the name is challenging! Of course, it depends what you mean by intelligence. Sure machines programmed with algorithms are better at making complex decisions based on masses of data. This is great for things like weather forecasting or handling the real-time data of an investment portfolio or a self-driving car. But what really challenges us is the idea of machines with that intrinsically human quality of creation.
There are different types of creation. The one we are most familiar with is the way something is made from something else. The way paper is made from wood pulp, the way glass is made from sand, or the way a painter takes various pigments and turns a blank canvas into a picture. The type of creativity here is ‘made from’. AI can also operate at this level, taking the bits and pieces of the world and putting them together in different ways like an engineer or bricoleur. And the result is a high-school essay culled from scraps of ideas formulated in sentences found online or the reconstruction of a face from digital images beyond what Photoshop can do.
But this is a limited type of creation. Better to call it formation. Because in all these examples, things are formed of other things. And maybe AI can do it better than us. But this is not only challenging, it’s deeply troubling. It’s almost there, but there’s something missing, some kind of spark or essence that is so difficult to name, but we feel it. What is it? Can we call it a human quality that comes from lived experience?
As algorithms learn from their mistakes and develop greater and greater skill and finesse, will they ever replace the human creator? Will we be unable to distinguish the song, or the poem or the painting produced by AI? And if we can, what is it that remains essentially human in all this?
The next 20 years of Pluto transiting through Aquarius will present us with this encounter between human creativity and the ever-greater sophistication of man-made algorithms. We already have AI robots like Ameca who can hold intelligent (if limited) spoken conversations while mimicking human facial expressions and body language. This encounter is a challenge we cannot and must not duck and something which will surely teach us more about what it means to be human.
National Identity or Human Identity
We live in a world where our national identity is an important part of who we are. We may be poor, living at the bottom of the economic food chain, but if our country is a great military power we identify with that power and feel good about ourselves. We may be just getting by, living from paycheck to paycheck, but if our country has a ‘wise and noble king’ whose ceremonies and pageantry are broadcast and viewed worldwide, that bolsters our sense of identity. We may be living in a country whose economy is a wreck, with crazy inflation and a worthless currency but when our national football (soccer) team wins the world cup, we feel proud and good about ourselves.
But national identity is a recent thing. It has only existed for a few hundred years. Some historians date its origin to The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 that established the idea of national sovereignty. This treaty brought in an international order consisting of sovereign states with defined borders which no other state ‘should’ violate and invade. But on the other hand, within a nation state, the government can do what it likes to its population, whether that be by denying women their rights, or by persecuting ethnic, religious or sexual minorities. And if anyone complains or even mentions such abuses, they can be told that the affairs of their country are sovereign and to basically ‘mind their own business’.
Before national borders, say during the Mediaeval period, people would be subjects of the local king, duke, baron or bishop. They would share not only the same local or national identity, but also the same ethnic identity, they would speak the same language and belong to the same religion.
But we live in a post-colonial world where the increased ease of movement of people around the planet has led to races mixing, much to the chagrin of the racial purists. This has led to an incongruence of ethnic, national and religious identity and given birth to such ‘double-barrelled’ expressions as Afro-American, British Muslim, White Jamaican or Israeli Arab. As a result, national identity is being seen more and more as a mere bureaucratic requirement irrelevant to an individual’s human identity.
The twenty-year transit of Pluto through Aquarius will present further challenges to the concept of identity. Some will retrench back into their nationalistic or tribal ghettos, while others will accept the responsibilities implied by what it means to be ‘human first’ before any other identity.
And if we accept that our human identity overrides the other identities that we cling to, not only our national identity, but also our racial identity, our class identity, our religious identity, what does that imply regarding how we live with each other? What will politicians do if they can no longer divide us on these spurious grounds, when the game of ‘divide and rule’ no longer works? What happens when religious leaders can no longer condemn non-believers to burn in hell? Or when a particular group can no longer be blamed for society’s ills?
I doubt that Pluto’s transit of Aquarius will stop wars. But it should expose the attempts of politicians to justify their power grabs, invasions and occupations on religious or racial grounds and further empower the concept of ‘the international community’.
Aquarius and community
Aquarius is the most individualistic of the signs. It is also the most sociable. This points to an important part of the transition from the previous sign, Capricorn. Ruled by Saturn, Capricorn is concerned with the power of institutions and tradition – governments, corporations, bureaucracies in general. Aquarius is more grassroots. What we create for ourselves when we get together.
According to The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), a UK thinktank, “No matter who’s in power, our democratic machine needs rewiring. If people are once again to be authors of their own lives, and to feel secure, they must sense their influence in the collective decision-making endeavour that is democracy.”
To a great extent this comes from a profound feeling that governments and corporations have let us down with their self-serving, incompetence and sometimes downright corruption. This is the legacy of Pluto’s time in Capricorn.
But a tide of individual and community action is rising. And it will be fuelled by Pluto’s transit through Aquarius and motivated by a reaction to the top-down decision-making and massive inequality in many countries. As we have said, Pluto changes the nature and dynamics of power and Aquarius is the sign of democracy.
This contrasts with the opposite sign to Aquarius – Leo, the lion, the king of the jungle, whose ideology taken to the extreme gave us ‘the divine right of kings’. In fact the last time Pluto was in Aquarius was from 1777 to 1797, the time of the French and American revolutions, the rejection of monarchy and the birth of modern democracy.
Human identity and the climate crisis
And what does the worsening climate crisis tell us about being human? When we face the reality that the environment has become so degraded by human activity and so unstable that our very existence as a species is threatened. Pollution and global warming do not respect national borders. A river dammed in one country will impact the agriculture in a country downstream. Fields cleared by the slash-and-burn method in one country will create poisonous smoke that will impact the health of the citizens of neighbouring countries. The greenhouse gases produced in a country addicted to fossil fuels will impact the whole planet. Our national borders will not protect us.
And while politicians may try to divide us, and while international corporations may continue with their exploitation, the reality is that all life on earth, including the survival of our own species depends on us realising our common identity as humans.
And while we face the inevitable consequences of climate change, the positive result could be for more people to grasp the concept that what one individual does, what one country does affects the whole planet. I would go so far as to say that realising our identity as human and putting human values before political expediency and profit is now crucial.
Pluto’s 20-year transit through Aquarius is expected to raise some deep issues regarding what it means to be human and the relationship between man and machines. But there are some things that are likely to be missing from the Aquarian agenda. Let us recall that Aquarius is an air sign and that the Aquarian approach is logical and experimental, and according to our current scientific paradigm, scientific proof depends on repeatability, or if that is inconclusive, on statistical evidence. But these are further based on assumptions about the nature of reality. Any theory or practice that does not fit within these constraints is labelled ‘pseudo-science’ or ‘superstition’.
This is not the place to pick apart scientific methodology but merely to say that the transit of Pluto through Aquarius is unlikely to provide general scientific acceptance of alternative medicine such as homeopathy and acupuncture, to prove the reality of telepathy and other so-called paranormal phenomena, or even ‘heavens forfend’ astrology! This will probably have to wait until Pluto moves on from Aquarius into Pisces in 2044.