Historical Ephemeris: articles
2. More about Neptune-Pluto cycles
Uranus, Neptune and Pluto do a slow zodiacal dance. Elegantly, their orbital periods are synchronised: Uranus' orbit is approximately half the length of Neptune's, Neptune's is two-thirds that of Pluto, and Uranus' one-third of Pluto's. Uranus' orbit of the Sun takes 84 years, Neptune's 165 years and Pluto's 248 years.
Pluto's orbit is eccentric. Most of the planets have close-to-circular orbits, but Pluto swings emphatically. Its distance from the Sun varies by a factor of one quarter of its furthest distance. As a result it spends around 36 years in Taurus and 12 years in Scorpio. This makes for an interesting pattern of inter-aspects between Pluto, Neptune and Uranus. Uranus-Neptune cycles are quite regular, while Uranus-Pluto and Neptune-Pluto aspects have interestingly varying rhythms. We'll tackle Uranus-Pluto cycles in a later article.
Conjunctions and oppositions
In one conjunction-to-conjunction cycle of about 493 years, Pluto goes round the zodiac twice, while Neptune does it three times. Interestingly, successive conjunctions take place at roughly the same zodiacal position, with a creep of 5-6° each cycle. Here are the figures:
-578 8 Taurus
-84/83 15-16 Taurus
+411/412 22-23 Taurus
905 28 Taurus
1398-99 2-3 Gemini
1891-92 7-8 Gemini
2384 12-13 Gemini
Note how the conjunction positions shifted from Taurus to Gemini just before the 1398-99 conjunction, which marked the very beginning of the Renaissance – a massive, quantum swing in human history.
The first conjunction of the Taurus series was in 1071 BCE, and the first of the Gemini series was in 1398-99 CE. Here astrology can help us identify longer periods of history. The conjunction of 1071 BCE marked a prehistoric watershed, when many early civilisations faded into the past. These included Sumer, Egypt, Crete and Mycenae, Megalithic NW Europe, Harappa and Shang China. These had thrived in the Aries phase, which began around 3540 BCE.
During the Taurus phase, and after a slow start, increasingly mercantile, urban and imperialistic civilisations arose. These included Babylon, Greece, Rome, Persia, Mauryan India, Han China, Olmec and Mayan Mexico and Chavin Peru. This phase lasted 2,469 years, ending at the end of Medieval times, on the 1398 conjunction.
The Renaissance was born at the start of the Gemini phase. This eventually-global cultural revolution originated in Europe, penetrating most of the world within one Neptune-Pluto cycle, by 1892. The Gemini phase lasts until the 3800s. The urban-industrial and global village eras of recent times constitute but the early parts of this long Gemini phase.
Owing to the cyclic coordination of Neptune and Pluto, oppositions take place when Pluto sits in the sign of the conjunction and Neptune in the sign opposite. In about 247 years, Pluto moves one turn of the zodiac, and Neptune one-and-a-half turns. The issues explored in the conjunction sign are therefore given a further airing at the opposition.
Sextiles and Trines
When on the Scorpio side of the zodiac, Pluto moves fast – at a similar pace to Neptune. The two planets stay in aspect for around 80 years. We are in one such period today. Neptune and Pluto formed a waxing sextile in 1950, between Libra and Leo, and will end it in 2031, between Aries and Aquarius. The periods of exactness are 1950-55, 1976-84 and 2026-31. When Pluto was in Scorpio (1984-96) it reached its perihelion (closest point to the Sun) and fastest speed in 1988. Previous instances occurred in 1741 (start of the Industrial Revolution), 1493 (Columbus) and 1246 (the Mongols).
At the waxing sextile and the waning trine of every cycle, when Pluto returns to Scorpio, such a protracted aspect happens. The last waning trine period was 1704-1785 (continuously exact 1704-39 and 1777-85). Over many millennia, as the conjunctions creep round the zodiac, these protracted periods shift to other aspects. Imagine an 80-year square! This creep-cycle lasts approximately 29,600 years and, if one takes Aries as the start, the current megacycle started in 3540 BCE.
When a cycle starts at the conjunction, its seeds are already laid. Things don't usually happen in big, dramatic quantities (a marked exception being the fall of Rome to the Visigoths in 410). At the 1398 and 1892 conjunctions, few blatantly world-shattering events took place. Yet telltale tendencies were there, hidden away in the drawing rooms of Florence in 1398, or in workshops, societies and consulting rooms in 1892. These tendencies were to change the world.
At the waxing semisextile (30°), new developments ferment surreptitiously. Situations arising or initiatives taken set the stage for future growth, though people might not see this at the time. At the semisquare (45°), vital longterm decisions/adjustments are made, as amassing facts present potent possibilities and their implications. Seeds germinate, and ideas, visions and predicaments spark the need for long-haul action, for 'staying on the case'. At the waxing sextile (60°), germinated seeds become visible plants, growing wildly, everywhichway. This rushing time of escalation and unfoldment, in Neptune-Pluto's case, can be drawn-out but intense, as the 1950s-80s have been in our own time.
Then comes the waxing square (90°). Possibilities must become more actual, get real and work, or crash or dwindle. It's crunch-time, and reality wrings out the excess and the unlikely. These can be testy times, times of showdowns, disintegrations, reintegrations and shifting agendas. At the waxing trine (120°) things are developing well, or willy-nilly, settling in, establishing roots, extending – or, at times, lapsing into chaos or doldrums. The doors are open and the buds are showing.
At the sesquiquadrate (135°), there can be snags and hurdles, cutting away the dross. It's a course-adjustment and final check, as if to say "Are you sure?". Sharp distinctions, rivalries, hidden agendas or inevitabilities show themselves, and some hard swallowing or clinching events can occur. Intention and reality can grate. At the waxing quincunx (150°), if intention and reality are disjunctive, weird situations develop, and if they are 'in order', then a new reality presents itself. The flowers are coming out.
This new reality, and its implications, fully present themselves at the opposition (180°). Whatever was sought, it is answered by reality, and whatever was unfolding becomes fact. This is it. Whatever as born at or after the conjunction has now become established fact – or it proves itself to be unrealisable. Whatever the case, reality shifts, and there's no going back. Now that we've got here, what do we do now?
At the opposition, it's too late to regret or change anything. Reality has changed, and reassessment is needed. Now we have to handle the outcomes! Many consequences reveal themselves during the waning quincunx (210°), and successes and failings, achievements and shadows, are all visible, bringing unforeseen rewards or problems, and usually both.
At the waning sesquiquadrate (225°), something must be done with this. We're much the wiser, yet a crisis of reorientation appears. Fruits are developing, but if people are lax the harvest will be wasted. Then comes the waning trine (240°): what once was new is now settled, established and normalised, for better or worse. This is what we have become. Things trundle along the groove they have settled into, though the possibilities inherent in that can now be drawn out. In Neptune-Pluto's case, this is a protracted aspect, lasting up to 80 years.
Then comes the waning square (270°), and trouble. Whatever now is established and routinised, whether helpful or problematic, is now thrown into question. It's harvest-time, with a lot of work to do. What once was new is now a thing of the past, busily delivering consequences, even holding things back. Yet the harvest produces seeds for the next cycle. The world must now build on this, and lessons learned must be applied. The past dominates. Change becomes advisable, though the preference is to continue with tried and tested habits. But dross and dead leaves must be cleared away. During the waning sextile (300°), dividends are reaped, feasts are held and conclusions drawn, or stultification and gridlock set in. Usually it's a mixture of both. Now we are definitely continuing tradition for its own sake.
At the waning semisquare (315°) the past must be released and wrapped up. If anyone is unhappy, too bad. Final details must now be put in place. Future possibilities emerge, though immediate change seems improbable or unwished for. The past dominates. Lessons must be learned and issues clarified. The wish to move on into the future is now generated. During the waning semisextile (330°) it's reminiscence, understanding, forgiveness and completion time. We're stuck with what we have. Things must be put in perspective and in context. The next conjunction approaches, bringing a new start, bringing a new agenda and starting-point.
Now we shall review a whole cycle of Neptune-Pluto aspects – the last full cycle and the opening of the modern age.
Renaissance and Discovery, 1398-1644
This whole cycle brought Europe's ascendancy. The 1398 conjunction came just fifty years after the Black Death, one of humanity's greatest ever crises. One third of Eurasia's population died. Whole towns, regions and institutions dwindled. God and reality came into question. The Medieval order crumbled. Humanity suddenly became more materialistic and pragmatic.
Around 1400, the new Ming dynasty was modernising China. West African states such as Songhai were wealthy, educated and advanced. The Incas and Aztecs were on the rise. Turks were impacting seriously on the Middle East and the Balkans. Northwest Europe was rising in momentum and influence. Quietly, Renaissance ideas, arts and letters were being incubated in places like Florence, under the patronage of mercantile families such as the Medicis. And a quiet development happened in Portugal: Prince Henry the Navigator opened a mariner's college, sponsoring Atlantic and African explorations. Something enormous was beginning.
Around the semisextile of 1423-24 (Cancer-Gemini), early Protestants (Bohemian Hussites) started causing trouble for Catholic Rome, and the Portuguese occupied Ceuta, their first north African outpost. Holland became the centre of European business and music. The ingredients of change were building up. At the 1438-1440 semisquare (Virgo-Cancer), Gutenberg published his first printed book – this alone was an incredibly significant event. Africa's richest state, Songhai, was at its peak, the Inca conquering period was starting and, before long, Byzantium was finally to fall to the Ottoman Turks. Admiral Zheng He took a Chinese fleet to India, Mecca and Africa – though these imperial probings later came to nothing. At this time, China, the Muslim bloc, the Incas and the Europeans were all subconsciously contemplating continental-scale expansion.
The extended sextile came in two phases, from 1461 to 1480 (Libra-Leo to Sagittarius-Libra) and 1536 to 1540 (Aries-Aquarius) – generally in effect for 80 years. This was the High Renaissance and the Reformation in Europe, a veritable rush of ideas, creativity, social and economic change. Many wars and conquests occurred worldwide, the biggest being Spain's destruction of the Aztec, Mayan and Inca civilisations in the 1520s-30s. The sextile brought relentless change and development in technology, ideas, beliefs and geopolitics – just as the 1950s-70s sextile period was also to do.
The square occurred in 1568-72 (Gemini-Pisces), during the time of Elizabeth I in England, Nobunaga in Japan and Akbar the Great in India. Protestants and Catholics, modernists and traditionalists angled for dominance in Europe, while Akbar's 'reformation' attempted a reconciliation of Hindus and Muslims. Russia found its feet and Europe grew richer – thanks partially to Mexican gold and the African diaspora (slave trade). In China, conservatives slowed modernisation and returned China to an isolationism which was to last until the end of the cycle. Wide-open worldwide possibilities emergent at the conjunction were now narrowing down: the American civilisations were dead, China and India, after a burst, failed to take their expansion further, Africa was being co-opted by Europe, and Europe was on an unstoppable roll.
During the trine of 1594-98 (Leo-Aries), all these developments grew sounder. Tokugawa Japan and Elizabethan England were on the rise, merchant adventurers plied the waves, and the Spanish American empire reached its peak. This was the time of Shakespeare, Galileo, Kepler and Bacon. European modernism was now serious and spreading. By 1607-1609, at the sesquiquadrate (Virgo-Taurus), England and France started colonising North America, Holland found independence (symptomising the growth of mercantile capitalism), the scientific revolution was starting, and Europe was on the edge of an enormous power-showdown, the Thirty Years' War.
The Pilgrim Fathers landed in America at the quincunx of 1619-23 (Scorpio-Gemini). The Thirty Years' War broke out over confused religious conflicts, wrecking Germany. The Manchus, soon to take over China, were mustering power. Traditional and modernistic power each vied for influence, worldwide. This friction reached a climax at the opposition of 1644-48 (Sagittarius-Gemini, with a Uranus-Neptune conjunction too).
Revolution and imperialism, 1644-1892
Europe, especially Germany, was carved up afresh by 1648, the end of the Thirty Years' War. The Manchus took China, the English civil war and the French Fronde rebellion inadvertently squeezed Western Europe into modern times, and European world-dominance accelerated. Capitalism, urban life, scientific thinking and popular opinion were creating a new reality. Europe was tired of God, kings, lords and a fixed social order. It was seeking something new. This would painfully, lengthily unfold during the waning Neptune-Pluto hemicycle.
On the waning quincunx of 1672-73 (Aquarius-Cancer), Manchu China entered a century of greatness and stability, Moghul India passed its peak and European science, architecture and society were transforming the very shape of life. The 1685-89 sesquiquadrate (Pisces-Cancer) established England as the world's leading economic power. China closed itself off and the Ottomans passed their zenith.
Then came the 80-year waning trine, 1704-39 (Aries-Leo to Cancer-Scorpio) and 1777-85 (Libra-Aquarius). The modern world clearly emerged: financial markets, banks and the first multinational corporations appeared, with 'cabinet politics', a growing sense of social rights, and a profusion of scientific, agricultural and technological discoveries. The first modern industrial factories and cities were built, Moghul India turned into the British Raj, Germany was reborn, and USA was founded. All this just flowed out like a torrent – topped by the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars afterwards!
The Neptune-Pluto square of 1817-20 (Sagittarius-Pisces) came close to a Uranus-Neptune conjunction in 1821. Here came the reconstitution of Europe after Napoleon's attempt to unite it. The first railways began to link the smoky, clanking cities of the Industrial Revolution in Britain. Trades unions were founded. Latin Americans won independence. The modern world was going strong. The friction between 'progress' and tradition went through another major shift.
The waning sextile of 1844-45 (Aquarius-Aries) clearly underpinned the 1848 European revolutions, the growing workers' movements, the Communist Manifesto, the California Gold Rush (making USA a transcontinental power) and the growth of Australia. Capitalism now dominated the world. The semisquare in 1856-57 (Pisces-Taurus) saw the Crimean War (the first truly modern war), the opening of Japan, the peak of Victorian culture and the Indian Mutiny – glory with complications. Modern society, with serious reservations.
In 1868-69, the semisextile (Aries-Taurus) saw the modernising Meiji Restoration in Japan, the first American transcontinental railroad, the unification of Germany, the rise of the European 'scramble for Africa'. Victorian urban-industrial reality was an established fact, and the world was being reshaped. The dynamic of the Renaissance was fulfilled. Seeds were settling for the future too – their germination, at the next waxing semisextile, came in 1916-17, the First World War.
In 1891-92 came the Neptune-Pluto conjunction. The world made another quantum leap, now interlinked by railways, steamboats and telegraph wires. The 1890s were unremarkable for big events, though rich in trends and initiatives. First the trends: millionaire-driven, big-capital, corporate America, while rising in power, was mirrored by the growth of international socialism; modern world-cities such as New York, Bombay, Shanghai, Rio and Johannesburg were now prominent; modern Japan made its mark; the last corners of the world were explored; Europe was unwittingly passing its world leadership to Russia (then the 'hotbed of capitalism') and USA.
Here are some inventions of the 1890s: automobiles, aeroplanes, electrical systems, frozen and canned foods, plastics and artificial fibres, X-rays, photographic film, the oil and advertising industries, phonographs, radio and mass media, skyscrapers and pharmaceuticals. Some big ideas of the 1890s: nuclear physics, new age beliefs (spiritualism, parapsychology and Theosophy), socialism, feminism, electoral democracy, social insurance, psychoanalysis, sociology, independence movements, art nouveau and pre-modern music (Mahler, Debussy). The 1890s represented a massive turning-point in history. The 20th Century was defined in this decade, around the Neptune-Pluto conjunction.
The movements of Pluto, in history, seem to chart the actual mechanics of fundamental factual change. Pluto's keyword, 'transformation', has 'form' in the middle of it. The movements of Neptune chart evolving social imagery and perceptual constructs – ideas, beliefs and contexts of understanding. When event-fundamentals and beliefs-perceptions interact, we get the basic undertow of history and its themes. Thus, in Neptune-Pluto cycles, we see a basic driving-force which moves and drives historic tendencies and trends. What humans do with this is what makes our world.
In the next article we shall examine how Uranian inspirations and imperatives interact with Neptunian beliefs and perceptions.
The Historical Ephemeris © Copyright Palden Jenkins 1993-99
The Historical Ephemeris
by Palden Jenkins
Astro-historical tables for 2,500 years