Saturday, 6 February 2016

The Uranus-Eris Cycle

Eris is currently in the late phases of her cycles to all three of the outer planets. We're close to the waning square of the Pluto-Eris cycle, in 2020, and in the balsamic phase of the Neptune-Eris cycle, which ends in the late 2030s. The new Uranus-Eris cycle is, however, almost upon us, with three conjunctions happening between June 2016 and March 2017. The Uranus-Eris cycle is the only one which is on a human scale, as it usually lasts around 90 years. The other cycles are irregular and last anything between 200 and 500 years. 

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The Uranus-Eris cycle is about innovation rather than revolution. Over the last 500 years, almost every cycle has been a voyage into the unknown, marked by a major technological or knowledge-based advance. Uranus is particularly Promethean here, displaying vision and inventiveness and – always the rebel – bursting free from the chains of convention that pinned him to the mountain side. But what does Eris represent? It could be our soul purpose, also struggling to break free from the oppressive systems and ideologies that stifle and suppress its deeper needs. But Eris goes deeper than Uranus – just breaking free isn't enough for her. She wants to awaken us to the need for change.

Let's take a brief look at the last few Uranus-Eris conjunctions to see if they bear out what I've said. We'll start 500 years ago, in 1516, when they were also conjunct and starting a new cycle. Two really significant things were happening, both of which opened up the world. The first was that the world was expanding to an extraordinary degree. A quarter of a century earlier, in 1492 under a Uranus-Eris waning square, Columbus became the last man to discover America. This started a period of global exploration, with the voyager Amerigo Vespucci realising around the turn of the century that South America was so large it must be a continent and in 1513 Balboa seeing the Pacific for the first time. That same year Magellan led the first expedition to sail into the Pacific Ocean, which he did in October 1520. However, what was good for Europeans definitely wasn't good for the inhabitants of the New World, who were devastated by diseases carried by the newcomers and whose cultures were largely destroyed by the religion they brought with them. At the same time, back in Europe, that religion – Roman Catholicism – was about to be dealt a severe blow. In 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to a church door, starting a process that resulted in the end of the Church as a temporal power in western Europe. The rise of Protestantism led in subsequent centuries to the emphasis on self as an authority, the protestant work ethic, the industrial revolution and ultimately capitalism.

The next conjunction was in 1607, the year that the English colonisation of America started. But additionally, a group of dissenters – Puritans, in fact – left England for Holland where they hoped to be allowed to worship in their own way. (It didn't work out for them, and in 1620 they too left for America. We know them as the Pilgrim Fathers). This conjunction also saw the struggles that occurred between Gallileo and the Catholic Church. His use of the refractive telescope led to the discovery of four moons around Jupiter, and that Venus had phases and the Moon's surface was rough – all revealed in Starry Messenger (1610). He soon found himself in trouble with the Church because of his observation of sunspots (the Church had decreed the sun was perfect, so blemishes were impossible) and his endorsement of heliocentrism. He fell foul of the Inquisition in 1616 and was forced to recant. Also during this period, Kepler – out of the clutches of the Church in the northern lands, so free to explore without fear of persecution – worked on his laws of planetary motion.
The following conjunction, in 1727, is the only one that seems not to have any big ideas associated with it. However, the one after is an interesting one. It was in 1834, a couple of years after the young Charles Darwin joined HMS Beagle to undertake scientific and geological exploration. This work was the foundation of his theory of evolution. The cycle continued to pick up on the development of his theory, as On the Origin of Species was published on 24 November 1859, just days before an exact square between Eris and Uranus, which formed both a Thor's Hammer with Mars and a T-square with the Sun (Thor's Hammer was explained in my previous post). The time around the opposition in 1882 saw the rise of more progressive social agendas, like sociology as a science and the idea of Social Darwinism, promoted by the philosopher Herbert Spencer (who coined the phrase 'survival of the fittest'). The direction of travel was now towards freedom of thought and away from the rigid, authoritarian, religious doctrines.

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So on our journey to date, we've seen the world open up as the New World is explored and colonised, then the heavens expand through the explorations of Gallileo and Kepler, and finally our past is extended through the development of Darwin's theory of evolution. Now we reach the conjunction of 1927-8, which occurred – just about – in living memory, and at the very beginning of Aries. On their final encounter in January 1928 Uranus and Eris were joined by Jupiter, ensuring it would be a big one – as indeed it was, particularly in the worlds of physics and cosmology which is what I want to look at.
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 I haven't talked much about the Uranus-Eris squares, but I've found the waning ones to be a good pointer to what the next cycle might be about. Those of the previous cycle took place in 1903, between January and October. That was the year of the first powered flight by the Wright brothers, and between 1900 and 1927 there were quantum physics, which came to public attention in the early 1900s, both of Einstein's theories, the splitting of the atom by Ernest Rutherford, early ideas for liquid fuel rockets to reach outer space and for a 'city of knowledge' – a repository of the world's knowledge that sounds very like the internet. Additionally, a number of people whose work was essential to the coming cycle were born at this time, including physicist Wolfgang Pauli (1900), astronomer Jan Oort (1900), physicist Werner Heisenberg (1903) and pioneer of radio astronomy Karl Jansky (1905).

Some of the amazing ideas around at this time were Lemaitre's theory of an expanding universe that might be traced back to an origination point, Jan Oort's calculation of the position of the Galactic Centre (largely confirmed by Karl Jansky five years later) and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle – all in 1927, the same year that the famous Solvay Conference met in October to discuss the newly formulated quantum theory under an exact Uranus-Eris conjunction. By the time we reached the oppositions in 1970-1, we had exploded atom and hydrogen bombs, taken photos of the Earth from space, walked on the Moon and sent our first message over an early version of the internet. The beginning of the 1970s also saw the publication of the Club of Rome's Limits to Growth, which set out scenarios of where we might find ourselves by the middle of this century if we didn't address our consumption of resources. E F Schumacher's Small is Beautiful was published soon after. Both laid out what I believe to be an Eridian maxim, namely that you can't have infinite growth with finite resources.

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By the time we reached the waning square, there had been numerous space probes sent into the Solar System, the Hubble telescope had been launched, the world-wide web had become a publicly available service and the Human Genome project was underway. The three exact squares between Uranus and Eris in 1992 were very close to the Uranus-Neptune conjunction. 1992 marked the discovery of the Kuiper Belt (which effectively sealed Pluto's fate), the discovery of the first exo-planet (one that was orbiting round a pulsar), and is said to be the start of the Internet Age. In 1995 we found the first exo-planet orbiting a main sequence star – and we've found loads of them since; the Hubble Deep Field image was taken the same year – that's the one that revealed a myriad of galaxies, some of which were among the youngest and most distant ever seen. And in 1996 we were introduced to Dolly the Sheep, the world's first cloned animal.

You can see the rapid pace of development since 1927 in just this small corner of the scientific-technological world alone, and there's been no let-up since the start of the twenty-first century. The Large Hadron Collider, drones, cyber-warfare, smartphones, GPS, robotics, 3-D printers, building a base on the Moon and a manned mission to Mars are just a few of the things which have come along and there's plenty more in the pipeline. But does the future lie in technological wizardry? I keep getting a picture of Uranus as the sorcerer's apprentice in Disney's Fantasia – great fun at first but look at the mess he ends up in. The trouble with gadgets like smartphones is that a few months later, a smarter one appears and you've just got to have it … they breed dissatisfaction. I see Eris challenging Uranus to be really inventive this time round and churn out solutions to some of the big problems facing us right now, rather than simply producing more and more stuff. Eris is concerned with justice and fairness, and together the pair of them could move mountains.

I don't know what will emerge from this series of conjunctions, something that could surprise us all, maybe, but I'll leave you with something I find curious. The second Uranus-Eris conjunction, in September, is on exactly the same degree (23o Aries 16') as Eris was when Columbus arrived in the New World, so America's having an Eris return during these conjunctions. It'll be interesting to see how that plays out, especially as it's a presidential election year and the early signs are that the business-as-usual candidates aren't going to have an easy time. The young, the disaffected and the dispossessed – The Other that Eris represents – are the ones spearheading the movement for change. 
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There are two other things worth noting. The first is the chart for the start of the Islamic Era. Though not exact, the Pluto in that chart is very close to Eris' position in the other charts. And Pluto will not only make a return to the Pluto in the US chart but will also square the one in the Islamic Era chart as it approaches the waning Pluto-Eris square in 2020. The second is the degree of that first square between Pluto and Eris: 23o 14' Capricorn-Aries, so close to the Uranus-Eris degree and the 'New World' Eris. This suggests that these encounters between Uranus, Pluto and Eris should be seen as part of a process rather than separate events.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Eris - possible meanings

NB Highlighted phrases describe qualities attributed to Eris

So what does Eris represent in astrology? Well, the matter's not really settled yet but a number of suggestions have been put forward. Looking at events around the time of her discovery paints a very bleak picture, but no planet is entirely bad (or good, for that matter). If we look at what was happening around the time of Pluto's discovery, we find a similar picture – financial collapse, gangsters and the emergence of a pernicious ideology that ended in a world war, yet now we associate Pluto with death and renewal. Perhaps the scum has to rise to the surface before we can move on to something more positive. We can be certain that Eris is not a peaceful and tranquil energy – she's provocative, disruptive, contrary and polarising. So how can that be a good thing? By spurring us on. She's the grit in the oyster, the hat pin that provokes a reaction when you sit on it ... and so on.

Let's take a look at what's been happening since we became aware of Eris. It starts off very dark but bear with me, because there are glimmers of hope even in the darkest of events, and I'm going to end on a positive note.

Events following the discovery of Eris are strangely similar to the ones for Pluto: a financial crash, terrorists rather than gangsters and the rise of a pernicious ideology ... but I'm going to focus on the Middle East because, unsurprisingly, Eris' footprints are all over it. First, though, I want to mention two other things that are relevant to the time Eris was discovered. The first is the unrest in the Caucasus and the Chechen Black Widows – women terrorists who, between 2002 and 2004, took part in attacks (Moscow Theatre and Beslan School sieges) involving hostages that ended in many deaths. They were the only groups of women to do so, as far as I can tell and seemed like a graphic illustration of Eris in warrior mode, to me. The other is the number of extreme weather events since 2004, starting with the Asian tsunami just days before Eris was identified as a planet and continuing through Hurricane Katrina, the Haitian earthquake, the Japanese earthquake/tsunami and Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines in 2013. These events come under the heading of faceless, impersonal and uncompromising forces that destroy indiscriminatelythe former for a political cause and the latter as an ecological backlash because of how we're treating the planet. Eris is prominent in all their charts.

Before looking at recent events in the Middle East, we need to take a look at one that's approaching its centenary. At the end of the First World War the then-imperial powers of Britain and France carved up the land of the old Ottoman Empire to their advantage and with no regard for the people who actually lived there. Promises made to certain groups of people, like the Kurds and the Arabs, weren't kept. This agreement, which is known as the Middle East Mandate, is at the heart of what's going on today. The chart for the signing of the mandate has Eris in a prominent position. 

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We move on to 2001, close enough to Eris' discovery to be within orb. The destruction of the World Trade Centre (whoever you think was responsible for it) was the equivalent of the apple that Eris rolled into the wedding feast. It set in motion a train of events that led to the invasion of Iraq, the emergence of Islamic State and their declaration of the Caliphate. Eris is strong in these charts, but perhaps the most interesting is the one for the Iraq War, especially when compared to that of the Middle East Mandate. Eris, on the Midheaven of the mandate chart, is almost exactly conjunct the Sun in the start of war chart. Eris plays a long game, just as she did at her discovery.

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Eris is also about the way we treat The Otherthe dispossessed, refugees, the disenfranchised, social outcasts, the enemy; and also about the resentment of the excluded, which has been building for at least a century in various parts of the Middle East. We have to accept our part in the creation of Islamic State, because it didn't come from nowhere. It sprang from our colonial past. However terrible their actions seem to us, they're the result of decades of resentment and frustration. If we refuse to listen to other people's grievances, we shouldn't be surprised if they do whatever it takes to make us sit up and take notice. Also relevant here is the so-called Migrant Crisis. In the few years since Eris was discovered, we've messed up Iraq, Libya and Syria and now we're getting huffy because people there have had enough and are making their way to Europe. This shows us other aspects of Eris, namely the will to survive and facing life in the rawas millions of people have been forced to do. The trickle of people crossing the Mediterranean became a flood last summer as we approached the Jupiter-Neptune opposition. Eris was linked to this by a semi-square to Neptune, and Amy Shapiro (see below) says 'at the extreme, Eris-Neptune aspects have seen times of waves of immigration, and displaced populations facing the circumstances of living in exile' (p 137). For months the public mood towards migrants, and even drowning migrants, ranged from indifference to hostility. The narrative was that Britain was full up; we didn't want these people coming over and stealing our jobs and our houses, and claiming our benefits … all the usual stuff you hear from politicians and press. 
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Then at the beginning of September, the body of a child, Alan Kurdi, was washed up on a Turkish beach and a press photographer took a photo of him, lying at the water's edge. That photo changed everything. It went round the world instantly through social media and suddenly people woke up to what was happening. They started to demand action from their governments and when it wasn't forthcoming, they took action themselves, driving refugees across borders, offering them places in their homes and so on. The ice in people's hearts had melted, I believe, because the 'migrants' were no longer the faceless Other. They were families, just like their own, and they were suffering. This is another Eris attribute: she moves us beyond our self-important and isolated ego and the fortress mentality it fosters. Now, something interesting was happening astrologically during this period. Jupiter and Neptune had moved into opposition from mid-August but for just the first three days of September a Thor's Hammer formed around that opposition, made up of a Jupiter-Sun conjunction which formed sesquiquadrates to an Eris-Ceres square with Neptune at the midpoint.  

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 Rael and Rudhyar (see below) describe this configuration as a challenge to concrete action that answers a pressing social or evolutionary need (p 124). Briefly, Ceres is about the body and survival issues, while Eris is about the soul and what motivates us. The Moon, only fleetingly part of the configuration, is about the emotions the photograph of the child evoked. Neptune – on the tension point of the Hammer – calls on us to find our humanity, while Eris demands justice for the disenfranchised. Uranus is the instantaneous transmission of the image and the Jupiter-Sun conjunction, on the Ascendant, explains why it had such a massive impact. It shifted something in our psyche and put us in touch with our humanity again.

Are you starting to see how Eris is not all bad? You may question her methods, but don't blame her for having to prod us into action – we don't like moving out of our comfort zone. Nimbyism is, alas, much more prevalent than altruism, and usually something has to break before we can expand into something greater, just as a shell has to break before a chick can emerge. In the case of Alan Kurdi, it was our hard-heartedness, or small-mindedness, that cracked open. We realised our similarities to those fleeing were more important than our differences. This, I think, takes us to the crux of Eris: she's about our soul purpose. And if we want to let our soul shine through, we have to curb the worst excesses of our ego, whose mission is to keep things exactly as they are. We could call individuals who let that happen spiritual warriors or paradigm shifters. It's not an easy path to tread, it can be a lonely one and you have to be able to cope with rejection and ridicule – and much worse, in some cases. Take Malala Yousafzai, for example. She was actually named after a Pashtun warrior woman. Her father encouraged her from an early age, believing her to be special in some way. By the age of ten she was speaking out for education rights, especially for girls, after the Taliban moved into the Swat Valley, where she lived, and stopped girls attending school. By the time she was 14, she was planning to organise the Malala Educational Foundation, to help poor girls go to school. She received death threats, and was shot in the head on 9 October 2012. She survived the attack, was flown to England for treatment where she's lived ever since, along with her family. The Taliban had failed spectacularly in their attempt to silence her, as the following year, on her 16th birthday, Malala spoke at the UN as advocate for worldwide access to education. And on 10 October 2014, almost exactly two years after the assassination attempt, she was named co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (shared with Kailash Satyarthi) – the youngest ever Nobel laureate at the age of 17. 

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Malala has a strongly aspected Eris, with several aspects including ones to the Sun, Moon and Mars and another Thor's Hammer, made up of Eris-Saturn square Sun, sesquiquadrate Pluto – which is pretty powerful stuff. Would she have received as much recognition if she'd remained in the Swat Valley and completed her education? We won't ever know. But circumstances forced her to break with her old life, and allowed her soul purpose to shine through. Malala clearly knows what she's come here to do and I think she's just the first. Once the children of the Noughties reach maturity I reckon we'll see a lot of them rising to the challenge that Eris presents.

Suggestions for further reading

I drew on these books for what I've written above

Le Grice, Keiron (2012) Discovering Eris: The symbolism and significance of a new planetary archetype Edinburgh: Floris Books

Seltzer, Henry (2015) The Tenth Planet: Revelations from the Astrological Eris Bournemouth: Wessex Astrologer

Shapiro, Amy (2014) Inviting Eris to the Party New Age Sages

Plus (for aspect patterns):

Rael, Leyla and Rudhyar, Dane (1980) Astrological Aspects: A Process-Oriented Approach Santa Fe: Aurora Press

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Eris - background information

Eris is a dwarf planet which doesn't seem to have registered much in astrological consciousness yet, but I think that might change soon because we're approaching a major encounter between Eris and one of the outer planets. It feels like there's something of the Dance of the Seven Veils about Eris. Photographed on 21 October 2003, she wasn't identified as a possible planet until 5 January 2005. There was further delay in announcing her discovery, on 29 July 2005, and her name, on 13 September 2006. And of course, during this process she managed to get Pluto demoted from full planet status to dwarf, on 24 August 2006. 
Mike Brown
Even her naming was problematic. The team that discovered her gave her a working name of Xena, after a television character. They couldn't put that name forward because the organisation that decides these things wanted the new object to have a classical name. Mike Brown (leader of the team that discovered her) wanted to call her Persephone but there was already an asteroid with that name. He also toyed with the idea of naming her Lila, a name very similar to that of his recently born daughter. Given the chaos she caused along the way, my money's on the planet herself holding out for the name Eris, which belongs to the goddess of strife and discord.

Actually, 'strife and discord' is a rather simplistic way of looking at Eris. She goes much, much deeper than that. Deeper and darker than Pluto, I'll wager, especially now we know Pluto has a heart. Joking aside, now that Pluto's helmet of invisibility has been removed, will our relationship to him change? 
Pluto showing us his heart

In myth there are two Erises, with completely different genealogies. One is daughter of Zeus and Hera, and sister of Mars, and she seems to be the more warlike of the two. The other is much more interesting and possibly much more ancient. She's the daughter of Nyx and Erebus (Night and Darkness), or in some versions, of Nyx alone. Hesiod tells us that this Eris is 'kinder to men.' There might also be a connection between Venus and Eris, as light and dark sisters, though it doesn't figure in Greco-Roman mythology. We see it in the ancient Sumerian account of the descent of the Goddess Inanna to the Underworld to visit her sister Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld. Inanna is stripped bare and brought low during her descent, then killed when she reaches her sister's kingdom. Inanna's corpse is hung on a peg and left to rot ... though she is, of course, reborn and returns to the upper world. It's a story that comes down to us in folk songs like Cruel Sister, where the rivalry between dark and fair sister spills over into murder, with the fair sister eventually being vindicated. 
Cruel Sister

The story most often associated with Eris is the one about the apple of discord. This shows how one small slight can spiral out of control, with devastating consequences. Eris wasn't invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis – after all, who wants the goddess of strife at their wedding?

But Eris isn't easily thwarted. Unseen by the other guests, she rolled a beautiful golden apple bearing the words 'For the fairest' into the room where all the guests were partying. It landed at the feet of the goddesses Hera, Athene and Aphrodite and each of them coveted it. Zeus, immediately recognising the danger to himself in having to decide which goddess should be judged the fairest, delegated the task to Paris, a Trojan prince. The goddesses tried to bribe him, Hera by offering him kingdoms, Athene by offering him wisdom and skill in warfare and Aphrodite by offering him the most beautiful woman in the world. Paris chose Aphrodite's gift and awarded her the apple. The only problem was that Helen, the woman in question, was already married – to the king of Sparta. The Greeks subsequently formed an expedition to retrieve Helen from Troy, which developed into the Trojan War and ultimately the destruction of Troy.

There are echoes of this myth in later tales like Snow White, with the wicked stepmother's 'Mirror, mirror on the wall … who is the fairest of them all?' and her gift of the poisoned apple. And in Sleeping Beauty we have the thirteenth fairy who isn't invited to the christening because thirteen's an unlucky number; so she turns up uninvited and lays a curse on the young princess. So Eris is no stranger to us.

Finally, a few vital statistics for Eris. Her cycle is about 560 years and very elliptical, to the extent that she spends nearly half of it in just three signs – Pisces, Aries and Taurus. She's at her slowest in Aries, taking about 125 years to move through it – that's about one degree every five years. She first entered Aries in 1922 and remains there until 2044, so almost everyone alive today will have Eris in Aries. Her last perihelion was in 1699, when she was nearly 38 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun. That's 38 times further than we are, because an AU is our distance from the Sun – 93 million miles. She was at aphelion in 1978, 97.5 AU from the Sun. Pluto, by way of comparison, is just under 30 AU at perihelion and nearly 49 AU at aphelion. As well as having an elongated orbit, she's also steeply inclined to the ecliptic: most planets lie within 8o of the ecliptic, Pluto used to be the most eccentric with a 17o inclination but Eris is more extreme, at 45o. That means she isn't bound to the zodiac so, just to add to her formidable reputation, for almost all of her time in Aries she's actually among the stars of Cetus – the monster from the deep. Eris is an orbit-crosser, spending part of her orbit within that of Pluto. She has one known moon, Dysnomia (Lawlessness).

Eris and Dysnomia

So what does Eris represent in a horoscope? I'll take a look at this in my next post.