Archetypal Astrology and the Coronavirus

Posted by Krystyna Knight on Mar 23, 2020 3:47:39 PM

A guest post by Keiron Le Grice, Ph.D.

The following article is based on notes made for an online presentation for Pacifica Graduate Institute on March 20, 2020.

In response to the exceptionally testing circumstances we now find ourselves in, as we try to deal with the traumatic impact of the coronavirus as it aggressively spreads around many parts of the world, I wanted to share some reflections on how we might gain a larger perspective on what is happening, and what we’re passing through, in terms of the archetypal patterns of history. At the same time, these reflections give a sense for the kind of things we are concerned with at Pacifica, the ideas we’re exploring in courses and in the classroom, and some of the ways in which we’re trying to understand and illuminate human nature and our place in the world at this critical moment of our collective history.

sun peaking over planetArchetypal Astrology

One of the great things about being at Pacifica, and being in the field of Jungian psychology, is that one gets the chance to engage with the deepest existential and spiritual concerns of life, and also, not 

infrequently, with perspectives and practices that are obscure and often ostracized from mainstream thought, falling outside of the accepted paradigmatic boundary lines of academic discourse. Such subjects compensate for the limitations of the contemporary worldview and the modern scientific outlook, and can prove to be great sources of wisdom, offering perspectives that the world really needs. One such subject is astrology. It is a area of thought that, like alchemy and Gnosticism, was of tremendous interest to Jung himself. Indeed, he often called upon astrology as an aid to his work with his patients.

Astrology has occupied my own interest for thirty years, and it has been a central focus of my scholarly research both at graduate school and in my teaching and writing while at Pacifica. My particular focus has been on archetypal astrology, pioneered by Richard Tarnas, author of the 2006 publication Cosmos and Psyche, who supervised my doctoral research. I myself have written two books in the area of archetypal astrology, including my 2010 publication The Archetypal Cosmos. A couple of years ago, my Pacifica colleague Safron Rossi and I co-edited a volume, Jung on Astrology, gathering together and organizing all of Jung’s writings in this area.

In Jung’s view, archetypes are the universal principles, patterns, and powers that move us all and shape our lives from the collective unconscious—the containing psychological matrix underlying consciousness. They are the governing principles in the background of experience that together comprise a kind of thematic framework within which our lives unfold. The archetypes manifest within and through our thoughts and feelings, drives and desires, and through circumstances and events in the world. They are not causes in the usual sense, but they are enacted by and revealed through causal chains of events. Discerning and differentiating the archetypes of the collective unconscious is a key challenge of the process of psychological transformation that Jung called individuation. This process leads us towards a recognition of the Self, the central organizing power of the totality of our being. In Jung’s view, the Self is our own innermost uniqueness but also the universal or God part of us—the incarnate god-image, as he put it. It is the pregiven source of our lives and its realization represents our life’s goal.

Archetypal astrology offers one means of identifying and tracking the archetypes, and coming into closer relationship with the intentions of the Self. It is perhaps unparalleled in its ability to concretely map, in a more objective externally observable way, the shifting patterns of archetypes in human experience. It also enables us to look at historical, cultural cycles—the big picture of world events—and to see our individual lives in that context.

Untitled design (42)The basic assumption informing this approach to astrology is that the inner world of the psyche and the outer, external cosmos are deeply connected and related—indeed, that they are related expressions of a single unitary reality that Jung referred to as the unus mundus (a term taken from Hermetic philosophy). Astrology rests upon the assumption of an inner-outer, psyche-cosmos correspondence, such that the positions and movements of the planets in the solar system, and the relationships they form with each other, are revealed to be indicative of the changing expressions of archetypes in the collective psyche. As the planets in outer space move and form new relationships, so the archetypes in the psyche “move” in their relationships to each other. Over time, different planetary combinations or alignments are formed which synchronistically indicate the powerful constellation or activation of the corresponding archetypes. Astrology can be used as a kind of symbolic map of the collective psyche.

Each planet is correlated with a distinct archetypal principle with its own cluster of themes and meanings. For example, Mercury pertains to the life of the mind, the intellect, analysis, communication, perception, and knowledge; Venus pertains to beauty, love, romance, pleasure, harmony, and things that bring enjoyment; Mars is connected to the experience of anger, assertion, and aggression—to the archetypal warrior, one might say.

Tracking the movements of the planets day by day, month by month, and year by year, one can interpret the archetypal significance of the configurations they form. The study of these shifting configurations, applied to collective experience, is called “world-transit analysis.”[i]

Saturn-Pluto World Transits

Let us consider now the current positions of the planets, as indicated in the chart below (showing planetary positions for March 20, 2020, Noon ET, New York City). We are especially concerned with the cluster of four planets that I have circled in yellow—in astrology this close proximity of two or more planets is known as a conjunction. The planets in this case are Pluto, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars. Each of these planets moves at a different speed in its orbit. It takes Mars just under two years to traverse the Zodiac and come back to its original position; it takes Jupiter just under 12 years; Saturn about 29 years; and Pluto 248 years. Today, looking at the chart, we can see that there is a coincidence of the planetary positions, indicating that they have all come to occupy more or less the same section of space in the Zodiac. To see these four planets aligned in this way is quite rare. Considering only Saturn and Pluto, the two slowest-moving planets of the four, these form “conjunctions,” occupying the same degree of the Zodiac, about every thirty to forty years. Within this forty-year cycle, after twenty years or so they are positioned opposite to each other (“oppositions”), and about ten years after the conjunctions and oppositions they are positioned 90-degrees from each other (“squares”). Tarnas has called this series the “quadrature alignments.” They indicate periods, he notes, of “crisis and contraction” around the world, which may be understood in terms of the interaction and mutual stimulation of the two corresponding archetypes associated with Saturn and Pluto.[ii] We will consider historical examples of such periods in a moment.

Chart 1. Positions of the planets at noon, March 20, 2020, New York City

            LEGrice Chart #1The Pluto archetype is associated essentially with power and will and desire, as in Nietzsche’s will-to-power and Schopenhauer’s insight that we are subject to an inexorable Will that drives us incessantly, conceptualized too in the Freudian id and the primitive drives in the Jungian shadow. Pluto pertains to the underworld in myth and the unconscious realm of the instincts, most especially to the experience of instinctual compulsion and possession, characterized in part by the experience of the Dionysian archetype, as Jung describes it. The engagement with the instincts can promote rebirth and transformation—two other essential elements of the experience of Pluto.

Saturn pertains to the experience of fear, pain, suffering, and death. Yet it is not essentially negative in character for it applies equally to work, effort, responsibility, wisdom, maturity, authority, and judgment. It is manifest in the established order and structure of things, in security and tradition, and in all that is old. It pertains to time and the mythic Chronos. More generally, we meet Saturn in all experiences of limitation, restriction, constraint, and problems. It impedes and slows things down. It matures and ripens. It manifests in boundaries and structural limitations of all kinds.

We will see, therefore, that historical periods in which Saturn and Pluto were in close quadrature alignment (conjunctions, oppositions, and squares) were characterized by experiences that exhibit the combined qualities of the two principles. For instance, at these times Pluto drives and empowers the Saturnian experience of weightiness, contraction, and suffering to an extreme, often manifesting in a kind of transformative intense pressure-cooker experience that calls forth our latent capacities for self-control, responsibility, perseverance, and self-discipline—Saturnian virtues all.

In a sweeping survey of periods of Saturn-Pluto alignments, Tarnas explains that they have coincided with events of tremendous historical crisis and gravity, notably often with the outbreak of major wars. The First World War, beginning July 28 1914, was accompanied by a Saturn-Pluto conjunction, as was as the start of the Cold War, in 1946, and the height of the Cold War, in the early 1980s. The Second World War began under a 90-degree square alignment between the two planets. The 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. took place when Saturn was opposite Pluto. In the chart below, the green symbols on the outside of the chart wheel show, for illustrative purposes, the positions of the planets in July 1914. Note how the positions of Saturn and Pluto (circled in purple) have moved since that time, now forming another conjunction (refer again to the original group of four planets—the black symbols inside the chart).

Chart 2. Positions of the planets on July 28, 1914 (the green symbols) relative to positions on March 20, 2020 (black symbols)

Le Grice Chart 2Tarnas’s analysis of the archetypal meanings of Saturn-Pluto alignments was written following his reflection on its forms of manifestation in these earlier periods. I have included extracts below, to give a flavor of his analysis. Note how each description applies, often with striking relevancy, to the events and character of the current coronavirus crisis. He explains,

the successive quadrature alignments of the Saturn-Pluto cycle coincided with especially challenging historical periods marked by a pervasive quality of intense contraction: eras of international crisis and conflict, empowerment of reactionary forces and totalitarian impulses, organized violence and oppression, all sometimes marked by lasting traumatic effects.  An atmosphere of gravity and tension tended to accompany these three-to-four-year periods, as well as a widespread sense of epochal closure—“the end of an era,” “the end of innocence,” the destruction of an earlier mode of life that in retrospect may seem to have been marked by widespread indulgence, decadence, naïveté, denial, and inflation.[iii]

At the time of writing, it feels as if we have just been hit by the shaking realization that, indeed, the world has irrevocably changed, and that our former lives, from the perspective of this current moment, seem complacent and innocent. We might look back ruefully on the petty squabbles between nations and competing political viewpoints, on the prolonged wastefulness and acrimony of the BREXIT impasse in Europe, and the blasé consumerism and profligacy of the world. It feels now, in this new reality, as if we took so much for granted, including our many freedoms and luxuries.

We are left with the unshakeable sense of the end of the world as we knew it. Understandably, we are struggling to come to terms with new reality announced by the rapid spread of the virus and with our emotional reactions to it—fear, anxiety, panic, and perhaps trauma and a confrontation with death. This moment is qualitatively comparable to the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, witnessed on television by so many millions. We all felt the gravity of that event and knew in our bones that it was a critical, defining moment of world history. So too today, for the outbreak of the coronavirus will no doubt prove to be even more consequential and perhaps more traumatic and long-lasting in its effects.

Tarnas notes that periods of Saturn-Pluto world-transit alignments tend to be characterized by

profoundly weighty events of enduring consequence; violence and death on a massive scale; the irrevocable termi­nation of an established order of existence; collective intensification of division, antagonism, and hostility; the deployment of massive, highly disciplined, carefully organized destructive power; and a widespread sense of victimization and suffering under the impact of cataclysmic and oppressive forces of history. 

More generally, this archetypal complex tended to constellate a widespread sense that one’s life was determined and constrained by large impersonal forces of many kinds—historical, political, military, social, economic, judicial, biological, elemental, instinctual—too powerful and dominant to be affected by the individual self.[iv]

Again, parts of this description fit, with uncanny precision, the current state of lock-down enforced in many places around the world, with the feeling of individual powerlessness in face of the stringent laws and mandates issued and imposed by governments and scientists struggling to contain the outbreak, under threat by an invisible virus, and at the mercy of food and medicine supply lines, with all these factors together leaving us caught in a situation totally beyond our control. The experience is understandably triggering for all of us even if we are not stricken by the virus itself.

The gravity of the crises announced by Saturn-Pluto alignments is matched, however, by the fortitude of the response. Tarnas explains

Saturn-Pluto alignment periods are also characterized by displays of personal and collective determination, unbending will, courage and sacrifice; by intensely focused, silent, strenuous effort in the face of danger and death; by a deepening capacity for moral discernment born from experience and suffering; and by the transformation and forging of enduring structures, whether material, political, or psychological.[v]

“Whether for good or ill,” he continues,

such periods seemed to coincide consistently with a collective sense of stern purposeful­ness and determi­nation, a galvanizing of the will against overwhelming odds, grim resolution in the face of extreme danger.  Acts of personal or societal self-denial, intense hard labor, sustained commitment to an arduous task, and a radical deepening of gravitas in the collective psyche were typical.. . . A frequent theme of correlations with this cycle was the sustained mobilization of collective will and resources to meet a life-and-death emergency . . . [vi]

Again, we meet in the coronavirus situation the same archetypal themes as in previous historical periods coinciding with Saturn-Pluto alignments but with a different context and a unique set of causes. Archetypes are universal patterns and principles that, when manifesting in the concrete specifics of human experience, take on many different forms. One cannot tell from astrology alone whether a Saturn-Pluto world-transit alignment will indicate the outbreak of war, a terrorist attack, the specter of nuclear holocaust, severe economic austerity, or other forms. But the characteristic themes and qualities of the Saturn-Pluto combination are evident in all such cases.

Saturn-Pluto Alignments Since the Second World War

March 1939–March 1941             square

June 1946–September 1948         conjunction

December 1954–October 1957    square

March 1964–January 1968          opposition

May 1973–May 1975                   square

December 1980–October 1984    conjunction

March 1992–January 1995          square

June 2000–April 2004                 opposition

November 2008–August 2011    square

January 2018 – December 2021  conjunction


Major Events During Saturn-Pluto Alignments

1913 – 1916    Start of First World War

1939 – 1941    Start of Second World War

1946 – 1948    Start of Cold War, formation of Soviet Bloc

1973 – 1975    OPEC Oil Embargo

1980 – 1984    Height of Cold War

2001 – 2004    9/11 Terrorist Attacks, War on Terror

2008 – 2011    Global Financial Crisis, Economic Austerity

2018 – 2021    Coronavirus Pandemic

Saturn-Pluto Themes in the Coronavirus Pandemic

Already the coronavirus crisis has exhibited many of the Saturn-Pluto themes detailed by Tarnas above, including

  1. The fortification of boundaries—national, social, personal—with the closing of borders, the closures of public spaces and stores, social distancing, lockdowns, self-isolation, and even enforced quarantine.
  2. The return to a basic primal reality, concerned with the bare necessities of survival, and with the trimmings and many of the comforts of modern life taken away—Saturn-Pluto tends to feel hard, harsh, unforgiving, and unrelenting, especially until one gets used to the marked increase in existential pressure and psychological intensity under this archetypal combination.
  3. The empowerment of the brute survival instinct—an expression of the Plutonic power drive intensifying the Saturnian fear of death, destitution, incarceration, and such like, and seeking to protect us from our fears. Such is the intensity of these feelings that Saturn-Pluto archetypal energies can make one live and act in a manner or face a reality that is impersonal, ruthless, and brutal, even to the loss of one’s humanity. It especially important under the influence of the Saturn-Pluto archetypes to keep one’s heart compassionately open to others and the world and to try to live in terms of one’s higher values.
  4. The need for a kind of asceticism, with discipline and self-control, imposed from without and/or necessitated in response to circumstance.
  5. The tremendous mobilization of resources as in a war effort, with countries on a wartime footing.
  6. Apocalyptic scenarios and fantasies—people in isolation, frontline workers wearing surgical masks or gas masks, the stockpiling of supplies, the sense of the end of the world as we know it, the fear that the suffering and entrapment might never end, the prospect of major economic systemic collapse and catastrophic overload of medical facilities and resources.
  7. Severe economic hardship and austerity. To give historical parallels: The immediately preceding quadrature alignment of Saturn-Pluto took place 2008–2011, and accompanied the global financial crisis in the wake of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, with austerity measures introduced in many countries of the world, with Greece hit especially hard. Saturn-Pluto often coincides with periods of several economic depression, which results in turn in human suffering and calls forth immense reserves of resourcefulness to survive. The OPEC oil embargo crisis of 1973 also occurred under a Saturn-Pluto alignment. Like the images of the long queues at gas stations in ‘73, we will no doubt look back on this current moment, with the footage and photographs of closed stores, empty streets, and overflowing hospitals as the defining images of this current period.
  8. Archetypal fantasies of hell. One set of mythic fantasies associated with Saturn-Pluto relates to the experience of hell and purgatory, with the experience of a kind of hellish entrapment or imprisonment, with such fantasies potentially triggered, or at least manifest in our emotional reactions, by the constant reporting of infection and fatality figures, the widespread exposure to death, enforced and self-imposed quarantine, with the accompanying sense of exile (with families stranded overseas in some cases) and a claustrophobic “no-exit” scenario. The themes of Saturn-Pluto manifest both within and without, with circumstance eliciting a set of fantasies and emotional reactions, which then color and pervade our experience of the world.
  9. A compulsive fastidiousness around hygiene and cleanliness, not unlike the patterns of obsessive compulsive disorder, which is also associated with Saturn-Pluto—Saturn as fear and anxiety, the urge to self-protection, routines, order, and so forth, with Pluto as compulsion driving these expressions of Saturn to an extreme. Regarding these themes specifically, a comparison can be made to the Saturn-Pluto period of 2001–2004, and the television series Monk, which some of you may be familiar with. It premiered in July 2002, and featured a private police investigator (Adrian Monk, played by Tony Shaloub) who was obsessed with personal hygiene, tidiness, order, and routines, and led a restricted life, fearful of outside contamination—themes now apparent across many parts of the world in attempts to delay or prevent the spread of the virus. Saturn-Pluto periods participate in the same archetypal qualities defining those moments in time. These qualities manifest not only in world events and personal experience, but also in artistic creations of those times, as in this example.
  10. Totalitarian control—with governments wielding powers to curb and control behavior, imposing drastic restrictions upon the normal patterns of human life, we have a sense of living under the oppressive influence of law and the force of hard necessity. In one form, Saturn-Pluto is also associated with the experience of being oppressed by impersonal bureaucratic machines of government, corporations, ideological systems, and so forth. More broadly, the crisis promotes a sense of being the victim of the unbending power of fate and circumstance, in which it appears we have little free will, and therefore little capacity to change our circumstances to make ourselves feel better and to alleviate the pressure.
  11. A world-historic challenge. The virus outbreak is, in sum, a grave, world-historic challenge requiring moral courage and sustained discipline and labor to overcome—a response appropriate to the essential character of the Saturn-Pluto complex

Other Astrological Factors

Keep in mind here, too, that the archetypal qualities of Saturn and Pluto in combination also currently stand in relation to the archetypes associated with Jupiter and Mars (the other two planets in the four-planet conjunction, described above). Jupiter is the archetypal principle of expansion and amplification; it has long been associated with travel and foreign dealings, a breath of perspective, a large scale, growth and prosperity, and with culture and the flow of commerce connecting countries. We can thus see the archetypal Jupiter, empowered by Pluto, in the epic proportions and scale of the crisis, with predictions of the increasingly vast numbers of people likely to be infected, and with the global outreach of the spread of the virus, bringing to consciousness increased awareness of different places and peoples across the globe. We see it also, under the influence of Saturn (which negates, limits, blocks), in the closing of national boundaries, prohibiting travel, grounding flights, severely impeding commerce, and closing down almost all cultural activities. The archetypal Mars—the principle of action, assertion, and a warrior-like energy—may be observed, in relation to Saturn-Pluto, in the restrictions on physical movement and in the urgent, decisive actions being taken to try to combat the crisis. The impact of Saturn-Pluto in the area of life falling under the scope of Mars has seen the virtual end of all sporting activities too, but, in response, has prompted large numbers of people to return to nature for hikes—vigorous outdoor activities and adventures are typically associated with the Mars-Jupiter combination.

With so many  of our usual activities restricted or cancelled entirely, however, life energy—libido in depth psychology—has far fewer means of expression, far fewer outlets. Our desires to do as we wish are thwarted, our instincts to live and act are checked, the basic passions and drives that send us out into the world cannot be satisfied. As a result, we have to handle these blocked energies psychologically. Libido has to be contained and, with little extraverted forms of expression, it can be driven inwards, activating the unconscious both creatively and problematically. The entire complex of archetypes can be seen to serve the Saturn-Pluto theme of transformation and the overcoming of instincts.

If we look again at chart 1, showing the current planetary positions, we can also see a red line connecting the group of four planets in the conjunction (Saturn, Pluto, Jupiter, and Mars) to another planet, Uranus, whose symbol resembles an old-fashioned television aerial—I have circled the Uranus symbol in orange. The red line indicates that there is a square (90-degree alignment) between Uranus and these other planets, which introduces another dynamic archetypal factor into the complex of currently activated themes and energies.

The Uranus archetype is associated with themes such as freedom, awakening, rebellion, and revolution. It is the birthing energy of the new, the creative spark of invention and innovation. It often manifests in a sudden and unexpected manner, possessing a trickster-like quality, with the capacity to disrupt and awaken, to activate and break open. Its manifestation is often likened in astrology to an electrical charge or a lightning bolt. During Saturn-Uranus quadrature alignments, one tends to observe sudden breaks in structures and disruptions or breakdowns in the ordinary patterns of life and norms of functioning. This archetypal pairing is associated with the acute crisis, and with the sudden and unexpected collapse of the established order of things. Two examples from recent history are the Black Monday stock market crash of 1987, during a Saturn-Uranus conjunction, and the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the ensuing financial collapse of 2007–2008–Saturn and Uranus were in an opposition alignment through the period of 2007–2012.

As in these examples, we can recognize Saturn-Uranus now in the sudden and unexpected manifestation of the crisis, promoting acute financial uncertainty with global stock exchanges in freefall, businesses suddenly forced to close, and many people in a state of anxiety about their jobs and economic wellbeing in the future. Saturn-Uranus, in one way or another, often manifests as the cracking of the structure of our lives and disruptions to the ordinary routines of living, turning the world on its head. For vast numbers of people already, the eruption of the coronavirus crisis has led to an enforced break from the usual routines of working life—Saturn as the force of necessity, Uranus as the break. Although accompanied by acute uncertainty, the current crisis has also given opportunities for people to live differently, perhaps more authentically in some sense, and to reconnect with children or spend time in nature, within the constraints of what is permitted by distancing regulations.

Something of the quality of the Saturn-Uranus archetypal combination is captured by the old adage that “necessity is the mother of invention,” with many people having to suddenly switch to online working—Uranus pertains to new technology and innovation, Saturn to work, routines, material necessities, and the structure of things. Often, as we know, it takes a crisis to precipitate such change and to impel us to embrace the new. 

Into the Future

Looking ahead, although Mars quite quickly moves out of the immediate astrological picture, the close alignment of Jupiter, Saturn, and Pluto will persist throughout 2020. By the middle of May, all three planets will begin so-called retrograde motion, appearing, from our vantage point on Earth, to move backwards in their orbits, plotted against the Zodiac—a perceptual phenomenon created by the relative speed of the movement of the Earth. This apparent reverse movement prolongs the duration of the three-planet conjunction. Symbolically speaking, the retrograde motion of planets in astrology tends to indicate periods in which events and experiences revisit the same territory, but with the themes of the transit alignments now already plainly apparent and with some perspective, therefore, on what we are facing. Optimistically, we might hope that this change to retrograde direction could signal a retreat of the virus or a reprieve from the more severe restrictions we are currently living under, but this conclusion is far from certain. Let us hope, at least, that the aggressive spread of the virus will have abated by that point and the world has the opportunity then to gather itself and review what must be done next—perhaps, if needs be, giving us the opportunity to ready ourselves for the possibility of a second outbreak.

By August of this year, Mars also returns to prominence, this time in a square (90-degree alignment) with Jupiter, Saturn, and Pluto, having moved on 90 degrees from its March position. Jupiter and Saturn will move “direct” again—that is, in the normal counterclockwise direction around the Zodiac—by mid and late-September, respectively. By October of this year and through into early 2021, all three planets can again be seen in a close conjunction, occupying the same section of the Zodiac (in the sign Capricorn), separated by only a few degrees.

The chart below (chart 3) depicts the positions of the planets, indicated by the green symbols, on November 3, 2020 (which happens to be the date of the U.S. presidential election). The symbols circled in purple represent the positions of Jupiter, Saturn, and Pluto. As before, the black symbols inside the chart wheel pertain to the positions for March 20 2020. One can see that the three planets’ positions, because of retrograde motion, are basically the same in March and November. This does not mean that the crisis will necessarily persist in its current extreme and worsening form until then. It does indicate, however, that the world will be colored by the same archetypal themes and we will no doubt seeking to overcome some of the formidable challenges presented by the virus and its effects on society.      

In the slightly longer term, moving into 2021, Jupiter and Saturn begin to move further and further away from Pluto. By the end of January they are 10 degrees or more beyond Pluto—the usual range for conjunctions to be operative is 10–15 degrees. The period of the Saturn-Pluto world transit, which began in 2018, will draw to a close by the end of next year. We should not expect that events and themes beginning during this alignment will abruptly stop at this point; rather, the ending of the world-transit indicates that the dominant qualities, moods, and motifs of the Saturn-Pluto archetypal complex will gradually move out of the foreground of experience, to be replaced by other world transits of a different character. Yet the effects of the Saturn-Pluto period will remain with us, folding into the evolving totality of our experience, just as the world remains irrevocably changed by the world wars, the war on terror, and other major events that have begun during Saturn-Pluto periods.

Chart 3. Positions of the planets on November 3, 2020 relative to positions on March 20, 2020 (black symbols)

Le Grice Chart 3The Depth Psychological Dimension of the Saturn-Pluto Combination

The personal experience of the Saturn-Pluto archetypal complex is often characterized by the excruciatingly slow passage of time in which each moment feels intense and compressed, often accompanied by unrelenting circumstantial and psychological pressure from all sides with seemingly no possibility of escape. Much as we might want to be free of this, the experience of Saturn-Pluto has its deeper purpose in terms of psychological development, for it builds a detached, resilient, steadfast consciousness and a will able to do what it must, dispassionately, facing and overcoming obstacles, and taking upon ourselves the responsibility and hard labor essential for effective living and deep transformation. Unable to take flight to more agreeable circumstances, one has to stand one’s ground in spite of the immense difficulties one is faced with. One therefore has to overcome oneself—fears, resistances, emotional protestations, and so forth—until circumstances shift and allow a return a more normal mode of functioning.

In depth psychological terms, with regard to individuation, the Saturn-Pluto complex is especially associated with a number of overlapping themes and challenges:

  • The experience of Saturn-Pluto forges and fortifies us, forcing us to rely on our own inner resources and reserves, thereby effecting a moral strengthening of consciousness against the unconscious
  • Saturn-Pluto is alchemical through and through, in that it pushes us to deep transformation. It is associated with the “Herculean labor,” as Jung described it, of facing the shadow (the dark half of the personality) and the instinctual unconscious. This archetypal astrological complex often seeks to impel us to develop the capacity to resist, control, and overcome the instincts with the exertion of the moral will and ascetic self-discipline.
  • In blocking the expression and satisfaction of the instincts (in stopping us from satisfying our passions and appetites), the Saturn-Pluto experience brings a violation of natural state, ending the instinctive, unconscious expression of libido. It forces us to be more aware of the ways in which we are unconsciously lived by the instincts and then to intervene in this process thereby strengthening the development of consciousness and furthering individuation.
  • Together these archetypes are associated with the driving to an extreme of fear and the impulse to self-protection, which can often then make possible the purging, release, and integration of such fears if they can be successfully handled. In the stirring of deep-lying fears and desperate drives for survival, it brings these emotions and drives to consciousness such that we can experience and contain fear rather than unconsciously act on them. In this way it promotes self-overcoming (to use Nietzsche’s term) and the transformation of instinct. By facing fear, primitive drives, and sometimes the evil within us, we can take steps to overcome inner division, such that we become more whole.

In broader terms, this crisis might also be preparing us, practically and psychologically, for what we must do to face the ecological crisis now and in the years to come. The early period of this current Saturn-Pluto world transit alignment saw increasing efforts to face the stark reality of the ecological crisis, fronted by Greta Thunberg, David Attenborough, and others, holding governments to task for their gross failure to take necessary actions. The ecological crisis, like the response to the coronavirus, demands a coordinated global response, and will force us, willingly or otherwise, to radically restructure our way of being in the world—including less flights, less commerce, less consumerism, and living in closer alignment with nature. We have already seen positive benefits in terms of reductions in air pollution levels as a result of the lock-down measures to combat the virus. The current Saturn-Pluto period might help to lay the foundations for the kind of individual and collective will, focus, and self-discipline needed to face the ecological crisis. With a consciousness forged by the experience of the Saturn-Pluto archetypal complex, can we mobilize the collective will to save not only human lives but entire species and even the biosphere? 


[i] See, Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 102.

[ii] Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 207.

[iii] Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 209.

[iv] Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 210.

[v] Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 210.

[vi] Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 258.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Jung, Carl Gustav. Jung on Astrology. Edited by Safron Rossi and Keiron Le Grice.

London: Routledge, 2017.

Le Grice, Keiron. The Archetypal Cosmos: Rediscovering the Gods in Myth, Science

and Astrology. Edinburgh, UK: Floris Books, 2010.

Tarnas, Richard. Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View. New York:

Viking, 2006.

Astrological charts generated by Astrodienst (


Keiron Le Grice is Core Faculty and Chair of the Jungian and Archetypal Studies specialization of the Depth Psychology program at Pacifica. He was educated at the University of Leeds, England (B.A. honors Philosophy and Psychology) and the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco (M.A. and Ph.D. Philosophy and Religion). He is the author of four books including The Archetypal Cosmos: Rediscovering the Gods in Myth, Science, and AstrologyThe Rebirth of the Hero: Mythology as a Guide to Spiritual Transformation, and Archetypal Reflections: Insights and Ideas from Jungian Psychology. A founding editor of Archai: The Journal of Archetypal Cosmology, Dr. Le Grice now serves as Senior Editorial Advisor at Archai and as commissioning editor for Muswell Hill Press in London.

Topics: topics, archetypes, Pacifica Graduate Institute, collective trauma, Jungian & Archetypal Studies, pandemic, astrology