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Alexandra Stanko

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Uranus square Pluto: Fire under the Pressure Cooker

“Have you also noticed this weird energy?” My colleague Fanny made me turn and wake up from my copying chore on a grey January morning. A strange question considering the circumstance of two in-company trainers preparing for their work in the finance division of a major German corporation. She looked exhausted and unusually irritable, feeling for an answer in her body. Maybe she felt as squeezed as I did. “Has this got to do with this strange astrological constellation that’s going on?” Now I was wide awake. She was the third one to raise this question within 48 hours and I felt I owed her an answer.

The constellation she was referring to was the infamous 90° alignment of Uranus and Pluto, in astrological jargon called the “Uranus-Pluto-Square”. And although this square doesn‘t “cause” anything, it represents a prominent quality of our time which has colored and shaped our lives and headlines for more than four years now, coinciding with the beginning of wide-ranging, cultural changes and a shift in the balance of power – and dramatic upheavals, not only in Eastern Europe.

In order to understand the qualities involved it’s good to look at the two astrological signs that these two planets are currently in: Pluto is in the cold winter sign of Capricorn and Uranus is in Aries, the first sign of spring and the beginning of the astrological zodiac. These two signs have been setting the tone in the last four years, the atmospheric backdrop and also, on a more global level, the area where the drama takes place.

So, what does Capricorn stand for? If we think of December / January, the months of Capricorn, these are months associated with winter, coldness, contraction and scarcity but also clear air, crystalline crispness, faces with clear contours, a barren, naked nature, which has withdrawn from the surface to concentrate and preserve its ‘life-juices’ during this austere time. Those who are thrifty and know how to preserve their energies and cleverly plan, pool and measure out their resources (especially within the community) and apply self-discipline will make it through this harsh time. It’s a natural perseverance test and part of the life cycle. Capricorn is also an earth sign, which means that it is closely related to matter, form and money. On a more abstract level it is symbolizes safety by adhering to tried and tested traditions and eventually the tangible structures and regulatory functions of society and the economy. On a more practical level this sign is also concerned with work, authority, status, results, target-setting, efficiency and measurable performance for the sake of the collective survival, be it a corporation or the government or society as such (as opposed to Leo’s creative will to perform and produce as a proof of his individual potency).

The sign of Capricorn and its themes and motives receives particular attention nowadays because, astrologically, an important planet is in this sign, which signifies evolutionary change: Pluto. In astrology, the planet Pluto signifies growth and transformation through crisis and loss, pushing things to the extreme so that the shadow side of circumstances, behavior or attitudes that have outlived its usefulness are revealed, recognized and let go. It signifies a process of death and (re)birth. On a personal level, this process of shedding one’s skin is difficult enough and slow and painful, but mostly, in the long-run, rewarding as the process makes way for something new to emerge. On a collective level, however, positions tend to harden in these times rather than change, and people and nations are often put into “survival mode” and driven by primitive instincts rather than lofty ideals.

In classical mythology Pluto is also the lord of the underworld. When Pluto influences a time period, that which was hidden and has been smoldering for a long time comes to light and upsets the status quo, often accompanied by power games and some dirty laundry.

Pluto in Capricorn (2008-2024)
Enter Pluto the winter sign of Capricorn in 2008, when a ‘blizzard’ hit Wall Street, marking the beginning of an economic and eventually societal winter, the ‘coldness’ and ‘austerity’ of which has touched many a nation and individual ever since. Suddenly, the feeling of scarcity made itself felt, the feeling of “there is just not enough anymore” has crept into the news and the minds of people. We all started wondering where all the money and the resources had gone.

Massive corruption and fraudulent practices came to light in the finance sector. Regulations (Capricorn) and laws had been manipulated (Pluto) to serve primitive needs (e.g. greed). As Pluto denotes extremes, the rich seem to have never been richer, the poor seem to have gotten poorer, the money elite (Pluto & Capricorn) has never been more powerful and willing to do everything to maintain their power and try to enforce it by control (control is a theme both related to Capricorn and Pluto). This is one of the shadow sides of Capricorn, the tyrant-victim polarity; stinginess, pessimism, careerism and scapegoating are other dark manifestations.

And this is where people will feel it on a personal level. An initial “tightening of the belt” to save resources often enough turns into a “tightening of the screws” at work and finally into a “tightening of the hearts and minds”. Energetically this might feel like being put in a “pressure cooker”, being condensed down to the bare essentials. Our skin might feel as if it was an under-sized suit, way too tight to be comfortable, as if reality had crept under it to create a feeling of being squeezed and controlled. ‘Cold winds’ and the fight for survival deepen the wrinkles and let people’s faces look harsher than they usually do. As a consequence people also might “wall themselves off” to protect their boundaries and hold on to what they have. Eventually, though, outlived structures will have to die and boundaries will have to come down to be replaced by something new.

In itself the period of Pluto in Capricorn is a challenging time, in which the (un)fair distribution of resources is a major concern and a trigger for crisis. But there is another theme or force that is in conflict with these hard times and hardening attitudes, in astrology represented by Uranus. Without it, we simply might have headed further into a social and economic ice-age of stagnation and conservatism since 2008. With it, there is the potential of sudden change and liberation. Put together, it feels like an earthquake building under the tension of two tectonic plates. If the feet were sensitive enough, they could feel the incremental increase of the inbuilt tension waiting anxiously for the ground to either crack or cause a smaller or more dramatic earthquake literally as well as metaphorically. That’s the ground we’re standing on at the moment, and this spring (2015) we will experience yet another peak in this development. Aries
This tension (symbolized by the 90° angle or square between Pluto and Uranus) has been with us approx. since 2011, when Uranus moved into the sign of Aries, the first sign of the zodiac, indicating the onset of springtime. Interestingly enough, the Arab Spring happened exactly during that time in 2011, clearly displaying the rebellious, fiery and hot-headed energy associated with Uranus in Aries, willing to topple all old and oppressive authorities.

But the sign of Aries, although describing the nature of a warrior, does not automatically go to war and leave a trail of blood. Aries also describes the nature of an athlete, the attitude of a sportsman. When the intensive energy has no healthy outlet, however, it will run and rage against any obstacle, no matter at what cost. But in general, the astrological sign of Aries symbolizes something quite constructive: It is the sign of new beginnings, the power of springtime shoots making their way through the dark soil up into the light, a time of sprouting, of sheer life-force blindly and aggressively pushing forward. It represents a time of action and improvisation, a time of youth, growth, competition and naïve courage, hurling itself into the open space of life. The sign of Aries does not reflect, does not think about the consequences and therefore has no self-doubt. It goes into action because a new life cycle has to be initiated, impulses need to be set to move forward. Aries just wants to be alive and kicking. And shape life.

Because of this sign’s fiery nature, freedom and independence are seen as a necessity to maintain one’s identity, and competing, taking risks and triggering a crisis is perceived as the warrior’s path to learn courage, the ultimate goal of this sign. And without a challenge, there is no hero. The will to be self-reliant, however, can also manifest in forms of broken alliances and, also on a more collective level, broken treaties and nations that wish to become independent and break free from previous associations.

In comes the lightning bolt Uranus in March 2011 (marked by the nuclear disaster in Fukushima), the “awakener to freedom” in the astrological pantheon, but also the “shaker” not only of the earth, but also of the status quo, charging this powder-keg of a fire sign with its high-voltage. Earthquakes, explosions, bombs, bush-fires and blown fuses are physical manifestations of this energy, which also work well as metaphors to describe its impact on people’s minds. Uranus symbolizes sudden and radical changes. Whereas the transformation processes indicated by Pluto are slow, grinding and seemingly never-ending like on a torture rack, the changes that Uranus brings are unpredictable, out-of-the-blue and erratic: a revolt that erupts suddenly, a protest group that pops up overnight, the swoosh of a sword, a discovery that turns everything upside-down, or a decision that changes the course dramatically and radically – for better or for worse.

Uranus in Aries (2011-2020)
Although the energy-level of the period of Uranus in Aries is unquestionably high and its quality definitely impulsive and its cry for freedom loud, Uranus is not in itself and necessarily an indicator of disasters or horrible things. This is the planet representing individualism and liberation, it stands for discoveries, revelations and scientific breakthroughs, based on the willingness to question the status quo, to challenge the authorities, to break the rules – and break free from the constraints imposed on us by our culture to be true to one’s own identity and integrity. It can also symbolize a strong statement made for a pluralistic and multi-cultural world-view to fight for the freedom of the individual.

The consequence of this urge for independence symbolized by Uranus, however, is often enough a separation from society at large, from the past or the mainstream in general, choosing the role of the eccentric, the rebel, radical or maverick. Again, its influence exacerbates the need of nations wanting to leave previous associations in pursuit of their identity, see the strong separatist movements in Scotland, Catalonia, the Basque Country, Veneto or even South Tyrol that made the headlines in 2014. But we can also observe a radicalization and even militarization of fringe groups, who respond to this urge to action by mere contrariness.

On a personal level
In our personal lives we might find our fuses being short and ourselves as unfamiliarly prone to sudden outbursts of anger. This is when we’ve been touched by the hot-headedness of Uranus in Aries. If you feel crushed and squeezed by relentlessly oppressive forces to submit to a robot-like state in the name of efficiency, you’re probably experiencing the pressure of the other extreme, Pluto in Capricorn. When you find your soul boiling like soup in a pressure cooker hit by a lightning bolt, chances are that you are right in the middle of this current conflict represented by this square.

In the run-up to the (seventh!) peak in March/April 2015 we will probably find two protest marches occupying our mind’s TV screen, with Pluto’s flying banners reading: “If you want to survive, you have to submit to the system!” challenged by the loud voices of Uranus chanting “If you want to be alive, you have to break with the system!” Or you might be dancing to the tunes of “Should I stay or should I go?” – whether you are caught in a dissatisfying relationship or job.

The individual responses and answers to this challenge of our time will be different, of course; some will (have to) be radical, some of us will try to integrate elements from both sides. Rebels will need to learn sustainability, hardliners the lesson of opening up to new perspectives. In the end, if we honor our increased need for authentic expression and public integrity and dare to make a new beginning, the lid might come off and we might find our soup – well done.