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Is a global war underway?
The Eris-Pluto cycle suggests an answer
Pluto may be a relatively small ball of rock and ice hurtling through the Kuiper belt and weighing just one sixth of the Moon, but in astrology it punches far above its weight. When you’re experiencing a Pluto transit, you know about it. Pluto’s relegation in 2006 to “dwarf planet” status has done nothing to blunt its power. That said, the downgrade—which came following the discovery of the more massive dwarf planet Eris in 2005—raises a question for modern astrologers: if we’re using Pluto in our astrology, why not Eris too?
Of course, some readers will already have had Eris in their symbolic toolboxes for a long time. But she’s new to me. And, given the Jupiter-Eris conjunction this week, it seemed like a good time to see what she might have to say about world events. In particular, I took a good look at the synodic cycle of Pluto and Eris—and was taken aback by what I found.
Planetary synodic cycles
A synodic cycle is generated by considering the relative movement of two planets around the Earth. The best known of these cycles is the lunation cycle, which depends upon the relative positions of the Sun, the Moon and the Earth. It’s a cycle of immeasurable importance to lifeforms on this planet.
But if we’re interested in world history, it’s to the slow synodic cycles of the outer planets that we must turn: Jupiter-Saturn, Uranus-Neptune, Saturn-Pluto, Pluto-Neptune and all the rest. These cycles are among the most powerful tools we have for predicting world events, because as they move through each major aspect—conjunction, waxing sextile, waxing square, waxing trine, opposition, waning trine, waning square, waning sextile—they offer us additional confirmation of the cycle’s themes. By the time we reach the latter phases of a cycle, we can be confident that we know what the cycle is concerned with and are in a strong position to make predictions about what will come next.
And so to the Pluto-Eris cycle. I assumed a cycle based on the interaction between bodies named for the god of the underworld and the goddess of discord would be concerned with heavy themes—and I was right. The current Pluto-Eris cycle, which began with a single conjunction of the two bodies in 1756, seems to speak to, among other things, the theme of global war.
In this piece we’ll survey the phases of this cycle we’ve experienced to date, and see why it suggests that the Ukraine conflict is merely the latest global conflict in a series of them going back to 1756.
The discovery of Eris in 2005 shook astronomy. Initially thought to be larger than Pluto, Eris prompted a debate in the field over whether it should be considered a planet. Rather than add to the planetary pantheon of our solar system, astronomers instead chose to redefine the “planet” classification entirely. They added the condition that to be considered a planet a body must orbit the Sun, be massive enough to become round in shape, and have “cleared its neighbourhood” of other objects. Thus, Pluto was summarily demoted from planet status, and joined Eris in a new category, that of “dwarf planet”.
Still, the decision was controversial: not everyone agreed that Pluto deserved to be stripped of its planetary status. And in honour of the debate that followed, Eris—initially nicknamed “Xena” after television’s “warrior princess”—was named after the Greek goddess of strife and discord.
But now to the big question: what does Eris mean in astrology? One answer is that, as Chinese premier Zhou Enlai supposedly said in 1972 when asked about the consequences of the French Revolution, “it’s too early to say”. We simply haven’t had enough time to be sure of what Eris signifies yet. (Some traditional astrologers are still indignant that moderns have been arrogant enough to assign meanings to Uranus, discovered in 1781. Lord knows what they say about those who think they know what Eris means…)
With that said, we won’t figure out what Eris means in astrology without… using Eris in astrology. So to proceed, we need some tentative conclusions about what Eris signifies. Here I’ll draw heavily on Keiron Le Grice’s excellent book on the subject, Discovering Eris. Le Grice employs several strategies in trying to decode Eris’s meaning, including considering the mythical associations of the goddess Eris, surveying historical events and the Zeitgeist around the time of her discovery, and noting Eris’s extreme distance from the Sun. On the last point, Le Grice writes that there seems to be a correlation between a planet’s distance from the Sun and how fundamental its related archetypal principle is. Eris, Le Grice infers, is probably symbolic of a principle even deeper and more archaic than that of Pluto.
In particular, Le Grice notes that Eris’s discovery in 2005 came during a period marked by the phenomenon of global terrorism and the related “war on terror”. At the same time, this was also a period in which the true seriousness of the world’s ecological crisis became apparent, and when the world was hit by a sequence of appalling natural disasters, including the Asian tsunami (2004), Hurricane Katrina (2005), the Kashmir earthquake (2005), Cyclone Nargis (2008), Sichuan earthquake (2008) and the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster (2011).
Le Grice sees Eris as having to do with reactions to globalisation, either from groups that feel marginalised or violated by its processes, or from the Earth itself. Among many other things, he suggests Eris fundamentally signifies: the dynamic tension that exists between pairs of opposites, such as that between civilisation and nature; the strife that accompanies moves towards global unity; and reactions against evolutionary change that need to be integrated to create a coherent whole. I wonder if Eris may relate to dialectical processes, as they apply to the slow grind of world history: action, reaction and synthesis.
The Pluto-Eris cycle in particular seems to have to do with the strife that accompanies globalisation, in the form of global war.
The Pluto-Eris cycle
While Pluto takes around 248 years to orbit the Sun, Eris takes about 560 years. Both bodies have elliptical orbits, and so their synodic cycle varies considerably in length over time. We usually see a period of 440-480 years between successive conjunctions of these bodies, but there can be as little as 350 years between them, and possibly even less than that. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find reliable astronomical data on this cycle, which is unlikely to be of interest to anyone other than mundane astrologers.
In what follows, we’re going to review the events that took place around the major aspects of the current Pluto-Eris cycle, which began with a single conjunction in 1756. The cycle will take us through to the next conjunction in 2115. The orbs I’ll be using are those recommended by Richard Tarnas in Cosmos and Psyche.
Conjunction (1756) - The Seven Years’ War
Within 12° orb: 1748-1768
The year 1756, when the last Eris-Pluto conjunction took place, immediately catches the historical eye. This was the year the Seven Years’ War began. The war is held to have broken out on the 17th of May that year, with Pluto and Eris within 1 degree of conjunction.
ChatGPT says of this conflict:
The Seven Years' War (1756-1763) is widely regarded as the world's first global war because it involved major European powers such as Britain, France, Spain, Austria, and Prussia, as well as their colonies and allies across the world, including North America, South America, Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. The war was fought on multiple continents and involved significant naval battles, making it a truly global conflict. The Seven Years' War had a profound impact on the balance of power in Europe and around the world, and it set the stage for many of the major geopolitical and economic developments of the following century.
Events at a conjunction reveal the themes a cycle will be concerned with. The Seven Years’ War is generally seen as the first truly global war in history. Winston Churchill himself referred to the Seven Years’ War as “the first world war”. We will soon see how the theme of global war, signified clearly at this time, has been expressed repeatedly through the major aspects of this cycle.
Waxing Sextile (1855-1859) - The Crimean War, American Civil War
Within 6° orb: 1845-1870
The sextile is a weakly harmonious aspect. We don’t see a truly global war in this period, but we do see the breakout of two major wars with global implications: the Crimean War and the US Civil War, which had ramifications on the global slave trade.
Of the Crimean War, ChatGPT says:
The Crimean War (1853-1856) was a conflict primarily fought between Russia and an alliance of Britain, France, and the Ottoman Empire over control of the Black Sea region. The war began when Russia sought to expand its influence in the Balkans, leading to the Ottoman Empire declaring war. The conflict saw significant naval and land battles in the Crimean Peninsula and had significant geopolitical consequences, including the decline of Russian influence in Europe and the emergence of Germany and Italy as major European powers.
Waxing Square (1907-1911) - The First World War
Within 10° orb: 1897-1924
The First World War presumably needs no introduction. Pluto and Eris made several exact waxing squares between 1907 and 1911. The war waited until the 28th of June 1914 to begin, with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. Nevertheless, at this time Pluto and Eris were still just 3° from an exact square.
This was also close to the perfection of a Saturn-Pluto conjunction, which came in October 1914. It’s almost as if Saturn took on the role of faster-moving “trigger planet”—as the personal planets do in individual lives—in bringing the global conflict into being.
Trine (1940-1943) - The Second World War
Within 10° orb: 1934-1951
The Second World War is held to have begun on the 1st of September 1939, with the German invasion of Poland. At the time, Pluto and Eris were less than 2° from an exact trine. The trine is a harmonious aspect, of course, but when we’re dealing with two planets of the nature of Pluto and Eris, that can simply mean the two planets are in agreement about the manifestation of extremely challenging events.
Once again though, we can see Saturn as a trigger planet. When the war broke out, Saturn and Pluto were just over 1 degree from an exact square. This was the waning square of the cycle that began with the conjunction at the outbreak of the First World War. We can perhaps begin to see now how the Saturn-Pluto cycle of 1914-1947 tells a short story, which is part of a larger tale of global conflict told by the Pluto-Eris cycle of 1756-2115.
Opposition (1976-1978) - The Cold War
Within 12° orb: 1972-1983
The opposition came at the height of the Cold War, when two vast, ideologically opposed coalitions faced each other across the Iron Curtain. On one side was a capitalist bloc led by the US; on the other, a communist bloc led by the Soviet Union. In 1983, just after another Saturn-Pluto conjunction in 1982, and with the Pluto-Eris opposition still within orb, the world came about as close as it has ever come to nuclear Armageddon, aside from the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. We were fortunate to avoid direct conflict between the United States and USSR at the time. But, with most of the planet split between two antagonistic alliances, the oppositional nature of this period of time is clear.
Waning Trine (2003-2004) - The Global War on Terror
Within 10° orb: 2000-2009
In around 2000, Pluto moved to within 10 degrees of orb of a trine with Eris. Soon afterwards, with Saturn and Pluto in opposition, came 9/11 and the beginning of the Global War on Terror, the United States’ global campaign against its opponents in Al Qaida and beyond. The GWOT included the invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. Perhaps more than ever before, we saw the US take on the role of global police in this period, a grim one for so many people in the Middle East.
Waning Square (2020-2021) - The Ukraine War
Within 10° orb: 2014-2026
The waning Pluto-Eris square went exact in 2020 and 2021, years that will of course be remembered as the major years of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many astrologers have made the connection between this aspect and the pandemic, and it may well exist. But we’re concerned here with how the current Pluto-Eris cycle relates to global war—and a paradigm shifting war has indeed begun.
To review what we’ve seen: the Seven Years’ War, the first global war, broke out with Eris and Pluto less than 1° from conjunction; the First World War began with them less than 3° from a square; and the Second World War started with them less than 2° from a trine. If I had better maths, I’d try to calculate the chances of these three world wars all breaking out with these two bodies so close to perfecting a major aspect. It can’t be high.
And of course now, at the waxing square, we’ve seen another major war breaking out. The Russian invasion of Ukraine began on the 24th of February 2022, with Pluto and Eris still within 4° of the waning square. Interestingly, the war arguably began several years earlier, with the Russian annexation of Crimea and the breakout of conflict in the Donbas in 2014. 2014 is the year the two planets moved to within a 10° orb of the square, the orb Tarnas recommends for this aspect.
All this would seem to support the idea that, far from being a localised war, Russia-Ukraine is a global conflict. And many observers would agree. The war is widely seen as a proxy war between the American-led West and Russia. Russia has allies of its own, of course. They’re participating in the conflict with varying degrees of commitment, with some like Iran supplying weapons and others, such as China, behaving more cautiously.
What is also undeniable is that while the fighting itself may be localised to Ukraine right now, it’s being fought globally in other theatres using other methods. For example, a crucial component of the conflict is financial and economic in nature. Think about the wide-ranging sanctions the West placed on Russia, which had serious implications for its trading partners, too. And think of the growing efforts by certain states, particularly the BRICS countries of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, to shift away from using the dollar as reserve currency, and to settle international transactions in other currencies. This is financial warfare on a global scale.
While the war in Ukraine rages, there’s also much talk of a conflict between China and the US taking shape, potentially around the flashpoint of Taiwan. Relations between the two countries began to significantly decline during the Trump presidency and reached all time lows over the Covid period and beyond.
It’s hard to draw lines between US-China competition and the fallout from the Ukraine war. What is clear is that taken overall, the geopolitical climate is extremely dangerous. Once again, the world seems to be dividing into opposing camps. This may not be obvious if you get all your news from CNN or the BBC, but there are very different perspectives on the war being put forward in the developing world.
With all this in mind, many commentators have suggested that “World War 3” has already begun. The Eris-Pluto cycle suggests they may well be right. Of course, the term “World War 3” tends to conjure visions of nuclear holocaust for many of us, but it doesn’t have to go this way. The main point I want to make is that the astrology I’ve presented here forces us to consider the idea that we are witnessing the early stages of a global conflict. As scary as that may be, doing so may be helpful if we wish to insure against being completely blindsided if the situation continues to deteriorate.
Incidentally, Eris and Pluto will remain within 10 degrees of orb of the square until 2026, a year astrologers already have their eyes trained on for its remarkable astrology, which includes a conjunction of Saturn and Neptune at 0 Aries, followed by a remarkable outer planet configuration in the middle of the year that my colleague SJ Anderson has nicknamed “the basket”:
Astrology as extraordinary as this is unlikely to appear without an extraordinary prelude. We are now living through that prelude.