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Pluto is the farthest known planet from the Sun and by far the smallest with a diameter of 1,444 miles and a mass only 2 percent that of the Earth. Pluto completes an orbit of the Sun every 247.69 years, meaning that it spends more than 20 years in each sign of the zodiac. Thus, an entire generation is born while Pluto is transiting each sign.

The existence of a ninth planet was suspected when astronomers detected a gravitational affect on the orbit of Neptune. Percival Lowell, an American astronomer, built a private observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, called Lowell Observatory in order to locate the hypothetical planet, which he termed Planet X. He began his search for this planet in the early 1900s without success. In December 1929, a young amateur astronomer, Clyde Tombaugh, was hired to continue the search. His research eventually led to the first sighting on February 18, 1930 after conducting a very careful sky survey and examining hundreds of plate pairs. The official discovery was announced March 13 on Lowell's 75 th birthday.

Scientists at the Lowell Observatory requested suggestions from the public for the naming of Planet X. Many names were proposed, including Atlas, Minerva, Apollo, Zeus, Perseus, and Vulcan. However, its name came as a result of a letter from Venetia Burney, an 11-year-old schoolgirl in Oxford, England, who recommended it be named after the Disney character, Pluto. It is possible that this idea was accepted based on the fact that the planet is in perpetual darkness (from the myth of Pluto, the Roman god of the underworld) and because the first letters, "PL," are the initials of Percival Lowell.

Pluto, also known as Hades, the brother of Zeus and Posiedon in the Greek culture, was a grim deity, yet not a totally evil one. He rarely ventured from the underworld, which he inherited following the defeat of the Titans. When he did travel the overworld, he hid himself with a helmet of invisibility. He was also called the God of Wealth from not only the precious metals hidden in the earth, but also the fact that the number of his subjects—the dead— could only increase. Over time, a gradual idea of judgment entered the myths of Hades, associating him with the idea of punishment and reward. Most souls were said to spend life after death in the dreary Meadows of Asphodel. Evil sinners were doomed to torture for eternity in Tartarus, while heros resided in Elysium enjoying feasts and games.

The myth surrounding Pluto's wife, Persephone, is symbolic of the origins of the seasons. Persephone was the only daughter of the goddess Demeter. While Persephone was out picking flowers, a chasm opened up revealing Pluto. He quickly pulled her into the underworld and made her his wife and Queen of the Lower World. Demeter scoured the land looking for her daughter and once she discovered what had occurred, she was grief-stricken. She wandered the land alone, bringing famine to the earth in her grief. The people called out to Zeus for assistance and he answered by ordering Hades to release Persephone. However, she had already eaten a pomegranate seed. Having fed upon and drank from the goods of the underworld, she was obligated

Greek God Hades Art
Pluto, ruler of the underworld, with the three-headed dog, Cerberus, at his feet. From Jack Bryant's New System, 1774. Reproduced by permission of Fortean Picture Library.

to spend a third of the year with Pluto. Thus, the winter when the Earth is cold and barren is the time Persephone resides in the underworld and Demeter travels the Earth alone and yearning for her only daughter. At Persephone's release in the spring, the Earth begins to grow and flower again.

In ancient Mesopotamia, the ruler of the dead and the underworld was the goddess Ereshkigal, the Queen of the Great Below. Unlike her Roman and Greek counterparts, Ereshkigal was an unhappy figure who resented her exclusion from the divinities of the upper world and agonized over the fate of those souls unlucky enough to die in early childhood. Ereshkigal had a sister Ianna who was goddess of the sky and heavens. After Ereshkigal's husband died, Ianna attended the funeral in the underworld. However, Ianna was not welcomed by her sister. Instead, Ereshkigal forced Ianna to meet the same tests that all souls encounter when they enter the underworld.

When traveling to the underworld, there are seven doors. At each door, each soul must give up a garment or jewel to pass through it. Ianna did the same thing and thus as she passes through the seventh door, she is completely naked. Upon her entrance into the underworld, she is forced to bow to Ereshkigal, who then kills Ianna and places her on a meat hook to rot. However, Ianna was prepared in case of any problems. Before leaving, she requested the help from two small men called mourners. Hearing that Ianna is in trouble, they go to the underworld to seek out Ereshkigal. When they arrive, they find the Queen of the Great Below in great pain not only from losing her husband, but also from the process of giving birth. The two men provide her with their company and the needed space to cry, moan, scream, and complain. Ereshkigal, grateful for the comfort the men offered, offered them the choice of a gift. They chose the freedom of Ianna, who was then brought back to life and permitted to return to her kingdom.

The myths of Ereshkigal and Persephone cover many aspects of Pluto—stripping away things one identifies with, forcing vulnerability, and understanding one's shadow or dark side. It allows a transition beyond areas of habit where one becomes stuck in life. It helps to understand that the attitudes, people, or things once so strongly attached to are not part of one's our true self. Pluto is ultimately about life-changing transformation from something old into something beautiful and new like the caterpillar transitioning into the butterfly, never to be the same again. One must die to the old to be transformed into the new.

Death and rebirth are Pluto's primary associations. This powerful planet represents the ultimate threat to the ego because it obliterates the ego's facade by penetrating deeply into the true self and exposing the shadows and pain that must be dealt with. Pluto characterizes the will, or a person's inclinations or disposition in the sense of what drives them in life. Pluto's sign in the natal chart describes how the person expresses these drives. Its house placement indicates where there is a tendency to control and dominate.

The reason for this association is it is human nature to fear life-altering changes, so there is an attempt to hold on tighter, to control the process and outcome. However, when undergoing a Plutoian experience, it becomes impossible to maintain this control because it is only by letting go that the transformation process can take place. Ultimately, Pluto's placement in the natal chart exposes the areas of life where the individual is learning to surrender control and let go of old patterning. If a person works with this force throughout his or her life, the Plutoian experience can be renewing; by fighting it, the experience can be much more difficult and painful.

Like the mythological figure, Pluto is not evil. He governs the regenerative process which eventually leads to physical and psychological healing. In order to heal, an individual must first recognize and eliminate the toxins, whether physical, emotional, or mental. When Pluto is prominent in a chart, the individual often possesses intuitive knowledge of the healing process which can be used to help themselves and others.

Modern astrologers place Pluto as the ruler of the sign of Scorpio. Like Scorpio, Pluto represents hidden matters, power, metamorphosis, oppressiveness and extremes. Before Pluto's discovery, Mars was considered the ruler of Scorpio. Interestingly, Pluto is considered the higher expression of the planet Mars. Mars rules sexual desire while Pluto is associated with orgasm and the conception, which brings about new life. Mars is also tied to aggression and courage; Pluto with intensity and the courage to let go.

—Tishelle Betterman


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