Historical Ephemeris: articles
1. Neptune-Pluto cycles
When I was young I asked my history teacher whether there were such things as cycles in history. He told me to get on with my work, since questions like that would not help me pass my exams. Hmmph! From that moment on, something in me resolved to find out the answer to this question. Little was I to know that I was to become an astrologer seven years later, and that, twelve years after that, I would start studying astrological cycles in history.
What a fine way to advance a career! Historians won't touch astrology because it's ideologically way-out, and astrologers hardly touch history in depth because of insufficient knowledge or interest – and also because of a fixation on birth charts and specific, single events, such as the birth charts for constitutions or for specific events.
So here, in this short series on astro-history, I shall be examining some of the major cycles of history – focusing not on events but on trends and timespans. Now, here, it's dead easy to pluck events out of history to prove one's point and, hopefully, I'm not going to do that. Nevertheless, some remarkable perspectives on history arise.
In this article, I want to look simply at the conjunctions of Neptune and Pluto, the slowest cycle of time when seen in terms of planetary motions (unless one wants to get esoteric or precessional about it). Before starting, however, here are some initial observations.
A sense of process
We're looking here at historical trends, undercurrents and threads. Trends take at least decades, if not centuries, to unfold. Therefore, there can often, but not always, be a time-delay between an astrological and an historical event. Also, as astrologers, we're privy to understanding the underlying tides of human thought and feeling. In other words, we're looking at humanity's psychosphere – its body of collective psychological motion and the way it oozes, leaks and expresses itself into the world throughout history. This is psycho-history. This means we can (theoretically, at least) detect the points at which crucial historical thought-processes begin, change and go through their modulations. It also means there can be a time-delay between inner process and noticed event – though events can spark inner processes too.
Sometimes a thought-form can surface before an astrological event – especially if there is receptivity to it. One recent example is the surfacing of the idea of perestroika (restructuring) which emerged in the mind of Mikhail Gorbachev and his mates on behalf of the Russian collective psyche a few years before the Saturn-Neptune-Jupiter-Chiron aspect which brought down the Iron Curtain in 1989, and some seven years before the Uranus-Neptune conjunction in Capricorn in 1993. Though seven years in history is small-fry – and perestroika is yet to hit the more resistant capitalist West! But it's coming.
So, in examining longterm cycles, we need to be discerning in our interpretation, and non-simplistic. Nevertheless, direct hits do occur – and 1989 brought a recent example. The Wall fell down within a couple of days of a conjunction of Saturn and Neptune (with other planets involved too). We need also to watch out for our own prejudices and misunderstandings of history. An example: we are taught that the 'New World' was 'discovered' by Columbus in 1492. Historically, this is incorrect – there was much more pre-Columban transoceanic traffic than we are taught. Columbus' 'discovery' of the Americas is, in a sense, more a white-supremacist ideology than history.
Now, while it so happens that Pluto went into Scorpio in 1491 and that Pluto was in Perihelion in 1493 (which both are significant things in themselves), this 'discovery' of the Americas, and the widening of public horizons that it meant for Europeans, was nevertheless significant. However, Columbus' 'discovery' cannot be ascribed solely to these two Plutonine astrological events. He was really an expression of a dynamic which arose long before, in 1394-98, during a super-configuration involving Neptune conjunct Pluto in Gemini opposed by Uranus in Sagittarius. More about this configuration later. This dynamic unveiled a new world of possibilities, especially for Europeans, which manifested as a continental New World a century later (though this world was as old as the hills to its own inhabitants).
It would be easy to ascribe the 'opening of the New World' to, say, Pluto perihelia, but this would be inaccurate. One wouldn't be entirely incorrect – we had another Pluto perihelion in 1988, at the time of a dawning into world consciousness of the full impact of the Global Village. It's probably more correct and relevant to connect the 'discovery' of 1492 to the undercurrent of the 1390s and the massive turning-point which occurred then. A symptom of this is seen, in the 1390s, in the form of the Genoese Prince Henry the Navigator, who sponsored the earliest Portuguese explorations down the coast of Africa. Astrologically, this was the real symptom of the times, and Columbus, in this light, was but an effect of Prince Henry's actions. In other words, astrology can help us identify the really significant points in history which other historians might pass over.
Neptune-Pluto cycles last about 495 years – half a millennium. They characterise an underlying driving-force behind history, an undertow of reality which marries the inevitable ram-force of Pluto with the imaginal, ideational power of Neptune. This combined force helps us define our underlying historical reality on a collective-unconscious level – this world-view and body of collective experience being a combination of actualities and perceptions.
Immediately, if we study the tables in this ephemeris, one absolutely major time-point emerges, and another follows up behind. The first is the -570s, and the second is the +1390s. Between -578 and -575 there was a pretty exact mutual conjunction of Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, at 8-10° Taurus, with Saturn in opposition. How amazing. How can that happen? There's no inherent reason why it should. Well, it's part of the remarkable elegance of planetary motion which reveals itself when we study these things! This represents a mega new start, an entirely new cycle of history for humanity. By the way, the next event of such magnitude comes around the year 3370! So, stick around for some more action!
The 1390s (Neptune-Pluto conjuncting at 2° Gemini, with Uranus opposing just beforehand), represents a half-way point in this cycle. What is amazing is the relative accuracy of these configurations: the -570s one happened in just three years, and the 1390s one (a bit more staggered) took just eight years (peanuts when we're talking millennia).
It just so happens that the -570s represent the beginning of history as we know it. Before this, we rely on archaeology and mythology. After this, we have written history (and newer mythologies!). There's more. This was a time of transition of consciousness, worldwide. It was as if humanity was really beginning to think about its situation – and new cultures emerged in the succeeding centuries to prove the point.
Some of the world's most influential thinkers were alive around this time and in succeeding decades – and for a configuration like this, 100 years (at least between semisextiles in the cycle) is an acceptable historical 'orb'. Lao Tzu was active within this period, as were Confucius, Sakyamuni Buddha, Zoroaster, the first Greek philosophers and reformers (Peisistratus, Xenophanes and the Seven Wise Men), the Jewish Old Testament writers (often called Deutero-Isaiah) – and things were happening in the Americas too, such as the beginnings of the pre-classical Mexican and Peruvian civilisations.
I'd hazard to guess that the Arthurian cycle, as a religious-magical path of the West, was cooked up at this time – the ascendancy of the Celts. Humanity was becoming more objective, more individualised, and it was tearing itself away from its roots. The ancient civilisations of Egypt and Mesopotamia were on their way out. Humanity was beginning to look afresh at statecraft, psychology, technology, science, society and rationality.
In fact, this was the undercurrent-start of the modern world. Across the world, within 400 years afterward, new civilisations had grown up, of a newly-materialistic bent: Greece and Rome, Han China, Mauryan India, Persia, Olmec Mexico and Chavin Bolivia. Humanity was beginning to get more large-scale, more imperialist and rumbustuous, more mass-oriented. All sorts of aspects and details of human culture can be read into this – it deserves a whole book.
What about the 1390s? This marked the very beginning of the Global Village we all now know and love. It was at this time that the peripheral, undercultured Europeans, a smelly, flea-ridden, boozing, cannon-firing lot with big pretensions and a greed for gizmos, undertook to start taking over the world. At this time, the Medicis were in the ascendancy in Florence (the San Francisco of the Renaissance), and Europe was within reach of developing printing, changing its religion and society and exploring the world.
There was a post-medieval questing for something new (Gemini-Sagittarius!). Not only in Europe: the Ottomans were about to take over Constantinople, the Incas and Aztecs were on the rise, and Ming China was getting adventurous too. The world was up for grabs, and it could have been the Chinese, the Arabs or the Europeans who globalised it. One thing favoured the Europeans: a singular lack of traditional principles.
Let's look briefly at the other conjunctions of Neptune and Pluto. Following the -570s was the conjunction of 84/83 BCE. This represented a dawning of a new secularism and power-oriented materialism across the world. Specifically, it took the form of the civil wars of Rome (Julius Caesar et al), the institutionalisation of classical China by Han Wu Ti, the collapse of Parthia, the rise of the Kushans and the spread of Buddhism outside India. Generally, it meant a watershed, a "well, what next?" phase, in which newer civilisations and cultures were now challenged to make something of what they had achieved.
In terms of Arnold Toynbee's understanding of the rise and fall of civilisations (see his Study of History, OUP, many editions), various civilisations, having made themselves evident, were confronted with a crisis of meaning, a need for choice. Interestingly, Rome and China of this time have many parallels and synchronicities: around the time of Jesus, for example, both were undergoing major crisis and change – Rome under Augustus and China under Wang Mang. Meanwhile, India, Greece, Babylon and the Olmecs had stumbled, losing their impetus.
On the next conjunction in 411-412, Rome fell (to the Visigoths in 410), Japan and China opened up to foreign influence, Churchianity was on a roll in Byzantium and West Europe, the northern Europeans (formerly 'barbarians') were settling into their places after the Folk-Wandering period, Teotihuacán and the earlier Mayan cities were being built, Tiahuanacu (Peru) and classical Gupta India were at their zenith and China was in disarray.
Civilisations of the previous millennium were proving either to be transitory, by dint of choices perhaps not made at the previous conjunction, or to have lasting qualities which carried them through, because they had changed themselves. This was the beginning of the world's medieval (in-between) period.
The following conjunction was in 905. This marked the fall of Tang China (one of China's greatest phases), the birth of Russia (Kiev), the emergence of strong European nations, of Fujiwara Japan and Toltec Mexico, the prelude to the Muslim invasions of India and the zenith of Arabic and Byzantine civilisations. Things were changeful and turbulent, and something was trying to come through: world medieval cultures were painfully giving birth to something. This was to come in the 1390s.
In retrospect, the world sought unconsciously to globalise, and the only civilisation capable of doing it was the Europeans – mainly because they were sufficiently violent and uncultured to overcome all resistance. The Mongols gave it a try in the 1200s, though, and the Muslims before that. The 1390s saw the downfall of most African civilisations, and most of the Old World civilisations were in bad shape, mainly due to the Black Death 50 years before – a wipe-clean of history. The Americas were in transition: the Mayans, Mississippians and other cultures were gone, and new militaristic, materialistic empires (Aztecs and Incas) took their place.
This was the beginning of the European Renaissance, which was to lead to the subsequent Reformation (religious change) and the scientific, industrial and political revolutions which were to characterise an utterly new civilisation. During this Neptune-Pluto cycle, Europe was to dominate the world, and by 1891-92, at the next conjunction (in Gemini), the job was complete. The world was carved up, mapped out, bought up, buzzing. Entirely new cities like New York, Shanghai, Bombay, Johannesburg and Buenos Aires had appeared. World population started skyrocketing.
In terms of specific events, the 1890s were a relatively quiet period – the Europeans were by now world masters, by both fair means and foul – and they were beginning to lose the initiative too, to their colonised subjects. But first, there were some seeds to sow. The decades around the 1890s saw the beginning of flight, the internal combustion engine, electrical technologies, plastics, pharmaceuticals, corporate multinationals, telegraphy, psychotherapy, the new age movement (Theosophy and spiritualism), socialist parties, third world nationalism, feminism (suffragettes), quantum physics, nuclear technologies... and a few other things which, within a century, were to change our world. Not a small, uneventful seed-point! The action lay not in major events, but in rooms and workshops where major innovations were gaining ground.
In this light, the dramatic world situation of the late 20th Century and the Bi-millennium represents not so much a new beginning, as an expression of previous beginnings – in the 1890s and 1390s. The next Neptune-Pluto conjunction is in the 2390s (again in Gemini). In other words, we are today in the opening stages of a cycle (a long-running waxing sextile of Neptune and Pluto), and not at the end-beginning of a cycle. Many things might end in the coming decades but, astrologically, our time is a continuation of themes already established, not an utterly new start. The new start already happened in the 1890s. Perhaps 1900 might have been a better Millennium than 2000.
What is this current cycle about? Certainly it concerns whole-planet issues, and we know what they are (especially since the 1960s, though all the contributory pieces were actually in place in 1900). The questions of this cycle concern humanity (our numbers and the real quality and purpose of our lives), planet Earth and its ecosystem (an old question, since environmental devastation started 5,000 years ago, though it mushroomed from the 1390s onward), the mass human psyche and its dubious health, and, probably, the relationship between Earthlings and others in this universe. And it's in the global domain where the nexus of this bundle of enormous issues lies. This is new territory. Well, perhaps.
In the next article, we shall trace the finer details of Neptune-Pluto cycles.
The Historical Ephemeris © Copyright Palden Jenkins 1993-99
The Historical Ephemeris
by Palden Jenkins
Astro-historical tables for 2,500 years