Saturday, March 11, 2017
Earth Mother and Dwarf Planets: astrological relevance to issues of sustainability and ethical agriculture; fossil fuels and present day global ecological crises
Ceres and Pluto
In August 2006, the International Astronomical Union made the official announcement that Ceres (right) was upgraded from asteroid to dwarf planet, and Pluto (left) was downgraded from planet to dwarf.1 Suddenly, these two disparate celestial bodies were thrust together in our collective consciousness. Despite the misgivings of astrologers about their change in status (Pluto’s downgrade, in particular), both bodies will now be designated as dwarf planets in future school texts, mainstream periodicals, encyclopedias, reference books, and the like; that’s how the collective will think about them. Included as the new dwarf kid on the block, only Ceres and Pluto will be addressed in this article, because they’ve been around with us, astrologically, for some time.
Now that Ceres and Pluto will be linked together in the public mind as newly minted dwarfs, we may need to change our own perceptions accordingly — that is, re-imagine this shift in category symbolically, seeing what we can newly discover about these two planetary archetypes, not so much singly but as a planetary pair in aspect to one another. In our astrological interpretations, we’ve all worked with Pluto as a single entity, and those of us who use the asteroids have worked with Ceres. But until now, many of us may not have explored their themes — both in astrology and mythology — in a way that shows their relationship to each other.
In mythology, Ceres and Pluto are opposing figures in the life of the maiden Persephone (“Proserpina” in the Roman version), so they already have a historic connection by way of their inherent symbolism in Greek and Roman story. Ceres is described in both cultures as a vegetation goddess: Her name in Greek was Demeter, which literally means “Earth Mother,” or Mother Earth. She was known as the provider and overseer of the bounty of the Earth; she ruled everything that grows from the soil and from which we obtain our nutrition, our food. In ancient Roman ritual, she was especially honored when the wheat and grain were harvested (the word “cereal” is derived from her Roman name). Statues of Ceres usually portray her wearing a garland of grain and holding a basket filled with flowers or fruit. In some depictions, she carries a sheaf of wheat, resembling the imagery of the constellation Virgo. We can actually associate Ceres with many of the astrological keywords that we use for Virgo, especially terms involving food and nutrition, and some astrologers consider Ceres to rule the sign of Virgo.
Pluto, on the other hand, was ruler of the Underworld in his mythology and was lord of all that belongs beneath the Earth. Although we think of grain and wheat and fruit and vegetables as the visible products of the Earth — what we can actually see growing — we also know that the food we obtain from the Earth begins in the root system beneath the soil. Indeed, the seed itself that Ceres provides spends varying periods underground, in Pluto’s realm, before it germinates and sprouts.
If we think about it further, other vital resources that we depend on also have their beginnings beneath the soil, in Pluto’s realm: not only the underground springs that irrigate the land and help crops to grow, but also fossil fuels, minerals, iron ore, diamonds, gold, and silver — virtually all the treasures of the world that make life on Earth rich and plentiful. Pluto was known to the ancients as the Lord of Hidden Wealth; his name derives from Plouton in Greek, which means “the rich one,” or Ploutos, which means “wealth.”
Caretakers of the EarthTo understand To understand Earth and vegetation in their fullest sense, therefore, is to be aware of both what appears on the surface of the ground and is visible (Ceres’s realm) and what is beneath the ground and hidden (Pluto’s realm). As providers of Earth’s vast bounty, above and below the ground, Ceres and Pluto are thus inexorably intertwined and interdependent; they have a symbiotic relationship. This is especially relevant these days, because we find a collective connection between that very symbolism of Ceres, Earth Mother and provider of our food supply, and Pluto, God of the Underworld and its hidden wealth — the two new dwarf planets. As we know, there’s growing concern in the scientific and political world today about the potential depletion of Earth’s resources — that is, how we make use of Pluto’s underground reserves in the form of water, gas, oil, and coal and how this will ultimately impact our food supply.
Humankind now faces such problems as world hunger, drought, famine, and, most urgently, the effects of global warming resulting from the use, misuse, and overuse of fossil fuels. In our collective consciousness, we’re now dealing with Mother Earth herself and discovering what kind of mothers we are to the planet we inhabit.
In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, under the auspices of the United Nations, issued a dire warning to the world at large: Humans are dangerously overheating the planet through the burning of fossil fuels (coal, gas, and oil), releasing too much carbon dioxide into the air and thus causing climate changes that will have an impact on everything from agriculture to zoology.2 Scientists are telling us that almost everything frozen on Earth is melting. Researchers predict that the resulting rise in sea level will flood certain low-lying areas, which will adversely affect crops, food production, coastline ecology, and animal, fish, and bird life, to say the least.3 Scientists also say that the polar regions could be virtually free of ice during the summer months by the year 2070 because of these rising temperatures.
According to the report’s findings, parts of the world, especially in the southern regions, will experience severe drought and famine, and some animal and bird species will become extinct. Weather patterns have already shifted worldwide, causing an increase in deaths, diseases, heat waves, floods, avalanches, storms, deforestations, etc. Although the northern regions will be friendlier to farming, scientists predict that there will be an increase in weeds, funguses, insect pests, and also wildfires in the northern sectors as a result of the climate shift.
Former Vice President Al Gore, in his film An Inconvenient Truth and in his writings and speeches, has used more popular and understandable means to call attention to these scientific findings on climate change. Public awareness was further increased when both Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel received a joint Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts.
On October 12, 2007, the day Gore was awarded the Nobel Prize, transiting Ceres had returned (on its second pass) to his natal Ceres. Ceres’s prominent 10th-house placement (with the North Node and Venus in Taurus providing sturdy bookends) was magnifying his work on global warming in the outer world. Transiting Pluto also conjoined his natal Jupiter, adding greater force to Jupiter’s quincunx to Ceres; Gore’s natal Pluto also widely squares Ceres.
In terms of the world’s heightened awareness of global warming, through Gore and others, I believe it’s no accident that both Ceres, the provider of Earth’s bounty, and Pluto, the god of underground treasures such as fossil fuels — as well as death and destruction — have now been paired as two new dwarfs on the collective level. Like us, Ceres and Pluto are symbolically the caretakers, each in their own way, of our food supply and, ultimately, of all of Earth’s rich resources. The jury is still out on this, so it remains to be seen whether the destructive force of Pluto or the ability of Mother Earth to produce and sustain life will prevail — whether the natural symbiotic relationship between Ceres (Earth Mother) and Pluto (Lord of the Underworld) will continue in a helpful and productive way.
The large question for the 21st century has to do with our planet itself: How are we using the resources that are found beneath the ground, in Pluto’s realm? Because how we use these resources has to do with the very substance of life, our food supply, Ceres’s realm. With the collective elevation of Ceres to dwarf planet, I would hope for greater global recognition of the archetype of Mother Earth and our grateful awareness of her and her abundant gifts to us.
On a related topic, there is also some symbolic resonance regarding the strange disappearance of the bee population in some regions of the world, where bees have been abandoning their hives, essentially destroying their own colonies. One-third of our food supply depends on the activities of bees, since they pollinate our crops; indeed, Albert Einstein claimed that, if the bees ever disappear, humans would have only four years of life left.5 Interestingly, the bee was associated in Greek religion with Demeter/Ceres herself; she’s often depicted carrying flowers in her basket as well as fruit, suggesting her connection to pollination. Bees also represented the soul’s descent to Pluto’s Underworld, since bees do not come out of their hives in winter.
More Food for Thought about Food
Another association between Ceres and Pluto entails one of Pluto’s keywords in astrology: transformation. When working with Pluto, we’ve mostly applied the term transformation as a psychological process, which is certainly valid. In terms of Pluto’s connection to Ceres, however, transformation also has very much to do with the processing of food itself: What we take in as food is transformed in our bodies into fuel and energy.
The sign of Virgo comes into play here again, since Virgo is also associated with such processes as chewing, digestion, and assimilation: the breaking down of food into tiny particles so that it can be transformed into fuel and energy. In this sense, both Ceres and Pluto are connected with the vital life force itself, with energy in the fullest sense of the term, whether it’s energy through food or energy through fuel. Ceres and Pluto provide the force and the resources that life depends on for survival.
Certainly, Albert Einstein, who had Ceres conjunct Pluto in Taurus in the 11th house, understood the transformation of energy (Ceres–Pluto) into matter (Taurus) as a universal truth for humankind (11th house). Bringing one of Einstein’s more lofty concepts down to earth somewhat, we can also perhaps apply the term “transformation of energy” to agriculture as well: As vegetation dies and decays in its cycle of growth, it goes back into the soil and ultimately enriches it, providing the essential nutrients for new growth. Thus, nothing in nature is ever wasted; it is conserved, recycled, and revitalized. Both energy and matter are reconstituted in some way in order to be transformed into the vital ingredients that are needed for new life to spring forth.
In the natural world, Ceres, as the symbolic Earth Mother, provides ground for the seed that grows our food; that seed is often contained in the plant itself. As the plant dies, its seed is released back down to the ground, whether as a spore or another type of propagator. In this wild, uncultivated form, nature has an organic way of replenishing itself through the unending process of birth, death, and rebirth. In farming, of course, this process is controlled and organized through human cultivation. Either way, we can see the symbiotic connection between Ceres’s life-giving process and Pluto’s death and transformation process at work, where the living and dying plant are both part of the growing cycle.
To state it another way, Ceres and Pluto, understood as a pair, signify the various way stations or seasons of life that define existence itself, where dying is part of the equation: from the soul’s birth through growth, to decline, death, transformation, and rebirth, over and over again. Ceres and Pluto, in combination, show us that the life force itself does not die; it is transformed through nature’s various processes in the human, plant, and animal kingdoms. Fertility itself, the realm of Ceres, is generated by way of some form of sexual libido, a force we also associate with Pluto in astrology.
Ceres and Pluto are connected in still another way that speaks to a basic condition of life in its most radical sense: To eat, we have to cut down or kill something living — this goes for vegetarians and carnivores alike. We farm most things in order to eat them, whether they be vegetables or animals. To eat is an implacable condition of survival, regardless of the species. Life feeds on life — that’s the hard truth of being alive. So it is with Ceres and Pluto, who signify the connection between life and death as existential givens. Whatever lives must die and return both to the Earth Mother and to the Lord of the Underworld. And whatever dies will live again in another form, since energy, or life force, is never lost; it’s conserved, transformed, and regenerated.
As custodians of Earth’s resources, we humans do have the responsibility to preserve plant and animal life as much as possible — not only as an act of altruism, but also to preserve our food supply for the sheer survival of our species. The lesson to be learned with higher consciousness is to husband our resources, to limit our cutting down and killing, to use only what’s necessary for our well-being, and not to waste the gifts of the Earth, be they food, fuel, or other resources.
This symbolic connection between Ceres the provider and Pluto the destroyer can be found in most religions, where both the act of eating and the necessary killing that comes with the territory are reverently acknowledged: There’s usually some kind of blessing or thanks to God performed before eating, and some kind of sacred ritual often accompanies the slaughter of animals. We see remnants of this in modern times, with the saying of grace before meals in Christianity, and in the Catholic Mass, where the eating of the wafer is likened to ingesting the living body of Christ. In Jewish observance, a prayer of thanks is said before eating, and there are very specific religious proscriptions around slaughtering an animal. Native American cultures also bless the animal and thank it for making the ultimate sacrifice to humans, both before the hunt and in the killing itself.
I’m not familiar with rituals in Islam and other world religions, but I would venture to say that there’s a basic understanding in all religions that food is a gift from a god as well as a silent complicity with that god in the killing that’s entailed. Ceres, Earth Mother and provider of food, and Pluto, Lord of Death, are both involved in the act of eating, where the signifiers of life and death are necessarily intertwined. In a similar way, Saturn, who in Roman times was also an agricultural god, was often portrayed with the sickle or scythe, resembling both the farmer cutting down the wheat and the Grim Reaper, Death itself.
This universally complex relationship with food — and its intricate connection to both life and death — can sometimes be seen in the charts of people with eating disorders. Singer Karen Carpenter suffered from anorexia, a disease that ultimately took her life.6 She had a fire trine between Ceres and Pluto. A trine can often be likened to the Moon: We run to our trine, as we do to our Moon, when the chips are down, when we need comfort and solace. Unfortunately, the Moon in Karen Carpenter’s chart is conjunct Pluto, which complicated her food and nurturing issues considerably, and her Ceres in the 6th house of nutritional habits is conjunct Chiron, the planetoid symbolically associated with an abiding wound.
Another chart that reveals food issues is that of Sarah Ferguson, the former Duchess of York, who from adolescence struggled with overeating and weight gain. She has a square between Ceres and Pluto; very often squares in a chart, unlike trines, will seek resolution of an issue. In this case, Sarah Ferguson was able to resolve her weight issues and go on to become a spokeswoman for Weight Watchers International; she also does charitable work in the area of childhood obesity. (It’s interesting that Al Gore, with his Ceres–Pluto square, has also been struggling with his weight of late.)
Edie Sedgwick was another person with a Ceres–Pluto square. She was a member of Andy Warhol’s entourage in the 1960s and suffered from anorexia compounded by severe drug addictions. Her Ceres–Pluto square is actually part of a t-square with the Moon in Pluto-ruled Scorpio, and the t-square empties into her 8th house of compulsive and often destructive behaviors. Her Ceres in food-loving Taurus was drastically enhanced, even overwhelmed, by the Pluto/Scorpio/8th-house prominence.
Love, Loss, and Letting Go.
There is also a connection between Ceres and Pluto that has to do with the psychological relationship between mother and daughter, which ties in with the sexual coming-of-age of the girl-child. This dynamic forms the basis for the famous Persephone myth, in which the maiden was abducted by Pluto, as she plucked a narcissus from the ground, and was forcibly taken down to the Underworld. Her mother Ceres, in her grief, wouldn’t allow any plant life to grow unless she got her daughter back. Without things growing, there would be famine and the eventual elimination of humans from the face of the Earth. This threatened Zeus and the other Olympians, who were dependent on worship and sacrifices from humans for their own power and sustenance.
So, a deal was eventually struck: Persephone was returned to Ceres for two-thirds of the year, while the Earth flourished; the other one-third of the year — in the dead of winter — Persephone would go back to the Underworld, where she reigned as queen with Pluto. She was compelled to return to Pluto in winter because she had eaten a pomegranate seed that Pluto had given her. By eating the pomegranate seed, Persephone had broken a law of the Underworld: Whoever ate anything there could not return to the land of the living. It was only through divine intervention that an exception was made for her.
The Earth during winter would be barren, yet the seeds of regrowth would be hidden beneath the ground, as signified by the pomegranate, an emblem of fertility and renewal since the fruit is plump and full of seeds. Analogously, the narcissus, which Persephone plucked, was associated with death and rebirth among the early Greeks and Romans; it was planted on graves and was part of initiation ceremonies used in the worship of Demeter/Ceres as well as with various cults of the Underworld.
There are many versions and interpretations of the Persephone story, but the themes of nature’s reproductive cycles; of food, nurturing, and the transformation of energy; and of the changing seasons and climates of the year, as well as death and rebirth — all resonate with the theme of Ceres and Pluto as a symbolic pair. We can also say that if, on a psychological level, Ceres represents a time of flourishing, growth, fertility, and creation, then Pluto can be seen as a time when we need to go inward, to restore and transform our energies, to step into the darkness for a while, in order to renew ourselves and come back in a replenished and revitalized form. This is true of vegetation and of the bees staying in their hives in winter in the natural world, and it applies as well to human activity.
Persephone’s story also resonates with the themes of attachment, separation, and loss — and how these psychological states are mediated in human affairs. When Persephone was abducted, Ceres grieved for her and was inconsolable. Indeed, many statues of Ceres depict her carrying not only various fruits, vegetables, flowers, and grains, but also a torch, which signifies her relentless search for Persephone. In the development of a religion and the stories surrounding it, the deities themselves grow, develop, and change; they are psychological creatures in their own way and suffer through experience just as mortals do. In this case, Ceres ultimately had to accept that she would be apart from her daughter for a portion of the year. And Pluto, too, had to learn that he could not possess the object of his desire at all times. In love, whether it be maternal or sexual, we often experience some form of separation and loss and the inevitable grief that comes with attachment. We also come to realize and accept, often through our yearning, that our loved one will eventually be separated from us in some form and at some time.
In this last sense, Ceres signifies the mother who must eventually let go of her attachment to her maturing child, since the child must be initiated into the process of sexuality, a process that necessitates separation from the mother. During the time away from her mother, Persephone was Queen of the Underworld, the possessor of a distinct realm of power and authority.
One variation of the Persephone myth enhances this theme of Persephone’s maturation and sexual development. In that version, Venus and her son Eros observed Persephone, innocently picking flowers in a field and living too closely with her mother. This image of a maiden not penetrated or initiated into sexual life and the fullness of her womanhood did not sit well with the Love Goddess. So, she bade Eros shoot an arrow into Pluto’s heart so that he’d be filled with desire for Persephone. Thus, when Persephone plucked the narcissus, the ground opened up, and Pluto, wearing a helmet that rendered him invisible, drew her down into the Underworld, where she was forcibly initiated into sex.
On a psychological level, we can also say that when we’re unaware of life’s necessary passages, as the innocent virgin Persephone was, we’re often thrust into them unwillingly by a kind of invisible force in the form of a power, person, or event that seemingly overtakes us — what we astrologers call a “Pluto experience.” However, as reiterated in myths and stories throughout the world, it is necessary, for our greater development, to leave the safety of the mother’s realm and engage in life’s challenges. We must do so, ultimately, whether voluntarily or by force.
Life demands that we be cast out of Paradise in some form or other, which is a metaphor for the birth process itself. It is our human imperative, the deities insist, to engage in life’s inherent processes, to partake of the separations and losses as well as the connections and discoveries that evolve from lived experience. Like Persephone, we alternate, in a kind of cyclical rhythm, between the fertile, nurturing world of Ceres and the dark, transformational world of Pluto in life’s ongoing development.
There is a time in our early years when we remain in the bosom of home and family, seemingly oblivious to the cares of the world. But then we’re called to leave home — literally or psychologically. As in the story of Parsifal and other hero tales told everywhere, we must leave the tribal setting and set out on our path, to individuate, to quest, to find our cup of life or holy grail. Persephone could not step out into life willingly and developmentally; she remained in a kind of Paradise, untouched and unsullied. The deities demanded, however, that she not only encounter life’s darker side, but also eat of the pomegranate so she could digest the seeds of creativity, fertility, and growth and thus fulfill the cycles and rhythms of life’s unending processes.
As for Ceres herself, as an aspect of the mother archetype, she came to realize through her own travails that, although she was the sustainer and nurturer of her beloved child, a day will inevitably come when the child will need to have a life of its own. There’s the giving and the letting-go in motherhood; the letting-go is often the more difficult of the two.
The theme of separation from one’s child or children can sometimes be found in the charts of people engaged in intense custody battles. One recent example is seen in the chart of Britney Spears, who has Ceres and Pluto conjunct in Libra — squaring Venus–South Node in the 4th house, for good measure. The conjunction of Ceres and Pluto can often embrace both maternal and destructive impulses. With these two planets in Libra (square Venus) in Britney’s chart, the breakup of her marriage to Kevin Federline seemed to trigger the compulsive (South Node) acting-out of these contrasting impulses.
Another example of a complicated custody battle can be seen in the chart of Mia Farrow. She has a square between Ceres in Scorpio and Pluto in Leo, as well as a fire trine between Pluto and Venus, with Venus in the behind-the-scenes 12th house. Her triangle with Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn evoked a host of Ceres–Pluto themes: incest (in the myth, Pluto was Persephone’s uncle, adding yet another dimension to her multilayered story), mother–child dynamics, sexual secrets, separations, losses, attachments, and on and on.
A chart that also resonates with the Ceres–Pluto theme of attachment, separation, and loss is that of poet Sylvia Plath. This mother of two young children committed suicide while in despair about motherhood, her career, and the breakup of her marriage to fellow poet Ted Hughes. She had a Ceres–Pluto opposition, perhaps the most difficult of Ceres–Pluto aspects, since the native can feel overwhelmed by powerful outer forces beyond his or her control. Or the person may alternate between periods of intense creativity (Ceres) and debilitating depression (Pluto), as was typically the case with Sylvia Plath.
When looking at Ceres and Pluto in our own charts, natally or through transits and progressions, it may be helpful to explore some of the themes I’ve previously mentioned. We can also observe the varying effects of a Ceres return, which happens every four to five years. Al Gore, for example, went into a kind of dark place of self-transformation around the time of his Ceres return in 2003, growing a beard and removing himself from politics — eventually emerging from his Underworld place (Pluto) to devote himself to an issue he cared deeply about, the concern for our Earth (Ceres). Through our own Ceres–Pluto dynamics, we can likewise address our attitudes toward the natural world we inhabit and depend on for survival. Do we live, eat, and enhance our environment in a positive, life-sustaining way, through Ceres’s nurturing processes? Or do we essentially behave with a silent death wish, drawing ourselves down into Pluto’s darker realm, whether as individuals or as a species?
Ceres and Pluto in combination also allow us to explore relevant themes for personal psychological growth and self-development. How well do we accept and adjust to the changes within the seasons of our own lives, and how much do we try to hold on to that one precious season of our youth? Do we permit ourselves to age gracefully and naturally, in harmony with nature’s inherent cycles, rhythms, and processes — letting go where we need to let go, yet retaining what is healthy, vital, and life-enhancing?
By way of Ceres and Pluto, we can also examine our relationship to food and our eating practices. How do we select, digest, and assimilate the food we eat? And as a culture, how do we grow, produce, and market our food? Where do we, as humans, fit into the global ecosystem? What, if any, is our responsibility to each other within the human family?
Within our own family structure, how do we relate to our children’s need for independence and separation? To our partner’s need for the same? And how do we relate to our parents, partners, and friends as they age and change? These are just some of the questions that can be brought to awareness through the themes of Ceres and Pluto, as they increasingly emerge in our collective consciousness as a planetary pair.
There’s one final chart I’d like to present — that of Elvis Presley. His tight Ceres–Pluto conjunction in Cancer in the 8th house opposes Venus and squares erratic Uranus. A virtual poster-child for the symbolic pairing of Ceres and Pluto, Elvis had food issues galore, along with heavy doses of 8th-house sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. But most tellingly, like Persephone herself, he comes back from the dead on a regular basis.