For several thousand years, astrologers of all nations and cultures used only the visible planets and luminaries to cast horoscopes and predict the future. Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – these were the basic elements of the horoscope (remember, a horoscope is the actual map of the sky at a given moment, not the daily forecasts you read in the newspaper).
The ancient Greeks and Romans used a series of “lots” to add more detail to the charts, and after the fall of the Roman Empire when knowledge moved eastward, Arab astrologers continued their use and these chart factors became known as the “Arabic parts.” There are close to 100 of these “parts,” or “lots” and the most commonly one used today is the “Part of Fortune.” These points are derived from a mathematical calculation between three chart points, often including the ascendant. They are predictive in nature and reinforces the idea that the birthchart describes the fate of the individual.
Astrology, of course, was used primarily to determine one’s fate and predict the future. The belief that the human experience was an evolving process and that the individual held the key to his or her own transformation would have been a completely foreign concept.
In modern astrology, the traditional planets described above represent aspects of the personality. I will discuss my views on the Sun and Moon and the relationship to the soul in another article, but for now let’s think of the Sun as being the conscious mind and the Moon as representing the instincts and emotions. Mercury represents communication, Venus attachment, Mars aggression, Jupiter expansion, Saturn contraction. The outer planets represent transformational forces that inspire and encourage the evolution and growth of the individual.
The whole idea of individual liberty and freedom as a common value is relatively recent. For thousands of years humans existed as a part of a greater whole: a community, a tribe, a religion, a feudal system. Even though democracy flourished in Greece, the keeping of slaves was an accepted practice and the idea of individual liberty existed primarily as an idea and not in any kind of practical form. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Europe descended into a dark age, followed by the Renaissance in Europe during which ideas of individual liberties began to emerge. This brought about a wave of revolutionary fervor that was primarily aimed at the Catholic church and was followed by the Inquisition in which millions of heretics were killed.
The discovery of a new planet brings in a wave of that planet’s energy into the human experience. The first of the outer planets, Uranus, was discovered in 1781 as the human experience was throwing off the shackles of power and discovering new philosophies of individualism and new ways of thinking. The philosopher Hegel emerged during this time, declaring that the whole of history represents an evolution towards personal freedom and self-knowledge. These are particularly Uranian sentiments. This was also a period of exceptional technological advancement and inventions, another quality of Uranus. In addition, the emergence of Uranus coincided with the French and American revolutions and the Industrial revolution which completely transformed human society as it began to shift wealth from the nobility to a more entrepreneurially-based economic system. Empires began to crumble and individual states emerged.
Neptune was discovered in 1846. Neptune inspires us to transcend our everyday mundane world – to expand spiritually, to become more creative. In the midst of Uranus-inspired revolution and change came an emergence of the supernatural and the spiritual. You can read more about this in my earlier article here. For the individual, Neptune represents the personal experience of the divine as opposed to the blind faith of religion (ruled by Jupiter).
Pluto’s discovery in 1930 coincided with the concept of psychology as the study of the subconscious and the patenting of the atomic bomb. Pluto rules both of these areas of human experience – the depth of the subconscious and the underworld of human life, and the concept of total destruction as being the root of creation and regeneration. Pluto’s discovery period marked the rise to the War to End All Wars in which the world witnessed a destructive force never before seen. Pluto’s power in the birthchart is to inspire us with the courage to face our fears and emerge from darkness to the light of Truth.
Before the discovery of these planets, these concepts of personal transformation were virtually unknown. And the same is true of Chiron – the Soul Healer as I like to call it. Discovered in 1977, most of us didn’t really begin working with Chiron until the early 1980s and some astrologers still do not include it in their toolbox. Chiron’s role is to expose the wounds of the soul, many of which we come in with at birth, remnants of experiences from other lifetimes which are ready to be processed and healed. Chiron is associated with holistic healing – the idea that the body, mind and spirit are integrated systems and must be approached as a whole in order to facilitate treatment of medical conditions. Interestingly, the mythological Chiron was the mentor to the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius, and widely thought to have invented the concept of homeopathic medicine. (One of my pet peeves is the idea that Chiron was one of the Centaur race of bestial buffoons. In my view this is not correct – while Chiron was in fact half horse and half man, this occurred as the result of his conception in which his mother, attempting to avoid being raped by Saturn, obtained help from Hera to transform into a mare. Her attempt was unsuccessful and Chiron was the result.)
Chiron orbits primarily between Saturn and Uranus, acting as a bridge between the personal planets and the transformational forces. Chiron’s discovery at this time suggests that the process of individual healing and evolution through lifetimes of karma is accelerating. To me it’s a fascinating exercise to look back at these discovery periods which so clearly delineates the ongoing evolution of the human experience.
Of course many other planets have been discovered since Chiron, but not all of them have found a place in the astrological toolbox. We are still working to discover the astrological meaning, if any, of Eris and all of the trans-Neptunian objects that are beginning to show up in ephemerides and astrology software. Personally I like to keep my charts simple – sometimes the use of too many chart factors obscures the obvious and confuses the picture. But as humanity awakens for the Aquarian Age, we are likely to continue to see new waves of planetary influence emerge to guide us into the future.