Our Plutonian Journey

I am celebrating a milestone this month, one of nearing completion of a long and dark Underworld journey.  I have been living and breathing a very personal dance with the planet Pluto for more than a decade. For the past several years, as it has come to the exact degree of my Capricorn Sun, most of the ways I have thought of myself and my place in the world have shifted. 

I have written two installments of what I’ve come to think of as my “Pluto diaries”, originally as part of an intended memoir. I shared them on my Patreon page, first created as a means of support for the yet-to-be-completed book and, more recently, The Natural Wisdom Podcast. I have been shy about sharing these personal stories further, but as the United States enters our own collective Pluto transit, specifically the return of Pluto to its place at the birth of our country, my words seem relevant. Titled “The Death of Control”, they capture some of my experience of what an encounter with Pluto feels like. 

The basic energy of Pluto intensifies and eliminates. The end result is a rebirth, like that of the phoenix rising from the ashes of destruction. The Lord of the Underworld in mythology, Pluto guards the riches buried beneath the surface. The only way to get to them is by visiting the Underworld. The ancient myth that best captures the process is that of Inanna, the Sumerian queen who went to visit her sister in the “place below”, where she was summarily killed and hung on a meathook prior to being brought back to life and released. I told the whole story in my Pluto class, as well as in a writing salon session on the planet Venus.

Whether you live in the States or simply watch from elsewhere in the world, the Plutonian process is evident in a number of ways, but perhaps no more clearly than through our confrontation with the shadows inherent in our creation. Our country is in the throes of our Pluto return. An internet search of “US Pluto return” will provide a list of astrologers opining on the subject. But we have only to pay attention to the national conversations to get a sense of the shadows we are facing. As I write this, for example, we have just celebrated Thanksgiving. I grew up with the version of the holiday told through rose-colored glasses, about pilgrims and cooperation. Now we are being forced to acknowledge the more brutal history behind the holiday, with many questioning whether we should even retain it on the calendar.

Such is the way of Pluto, bringing to the surface what has been buried and hidden. Yet as in the myth, treasures are hidden in the darkness, most notable among them a sense of unshakable power that comes only from facing the dark places and reclaiming what we have turned our backs on. The wisdom of Pluto is the depth of character that comes with honoring both the light and the dark within us all.

The next couple of years will show what our collective Pluto process has in store; for now we are in the midst of the chaos and dismantling. My own journey is still in process as well, of course, but I can finally feel the light at the end of the tunnel. I hope to write part 3 of my Pluto diaries in the coming months, as I emerge more fully from the Underworld, bearing its gifts.

Why astrology??

Every once in a while, I run into someone who tells me they are curious about astrology, but hesitant to get a reading. They often mention they are afraid of what I might find when l look at their chart.

Yet the real value of astrology, contrary to what much of the popular newspaper horoscopes might lead us to believe, is that it gives language and meaning to what we already sense, but can’t yet explain. We may know we are drawn to certain kinds of experiences or people; the chart can help us understand why, and how to work with our innate preferences.  And as the quote conveys, like any other conception of the world, astrology is a model, nothing more and nothing less, and it can be useful.

The natal chart is more like a map or blueprint than an operating manual. Rather than telling you what to do, the patterns in the Cosmos at the moment of your birth can help you understand – and honor – your unique combination of likes, dislikes, purpose, and potential. In any given moment, too, examining the interactions of the current planetary positions with our own can help us navigate to where we want to go. Rather than determining our movements, astrology illuminates what is at play and how to work with it, somewhat like obtaining a weather report to know whether or not to grab a raincoat.

I have found astrology to be invaluable to me for understanding myself, guiding my career choices, and navigating my relationships. I also rely on it to give me some context for world events, and as well as personal challenges. Understanding the archetypal forces at work – such as the study of power with Pluto, or learning to take responsibility for my life and choices with Saturn – offers me greater opportunity to make conscious choices.

For instance, as I have mentioned several times in the past year, one of the risks of 2021 is the shadowy tendency to harden into dogma and judgment; a way to work more consciously with the issues of our time is by leaning into curiosity and honoring multiple viewpoints. This theme is indicated by the Lunar Nodes, and is heightened by the eclipses of the year ( June and November, roughly). It switches as the Nodes shift signs in early 2022, pointing us to another set of polarities with which to practice.

In my view, astrology is a valuable tool for self-discovery, acceptance and understanding, and helping us see the shadowy places and bring them to light – in ourselves and our world. It is not a way to tell someone who they are, what is going to happen to them, or to incite fear or superstition.

My Chart Interpretation Series begins on Friday, September 17th. The course is intended to offer you the basic ability to read your own (or someone else’s) chart; to hone your intuition; and to help you navigate your life more joyfully and consciously. I would love to see you there! You can watch last spring’s free introductory class here.

Scorpio and the places that scare us

“Shadow work is the path of the heart warrior” – Carl Jung

Here in the northern hemisphere, we are immersed in deep darkness. We’ve just finished with Halloween, originally known as All Hallow’s Evening, a time for honoring our ancestors and loved ones who have passed, as well as our own mortality. Ancient Northern European cultures called this celebration Samhain (pronounced “sau-wen”), In Nordic traditions, the season is honored as Winterfest.

In all cases, the holiday (“holy day”) honors and pays respect to the growing darkness of the season, marking the cross-quarter position of the sun: 15 degrees Scorpio corresponds with the mid-point between the autumnal equinox and winter solstice. The days have been getting shorter since mid-June, and we are entering the darkest time of the year.

On November 18th, the sun and moon came together at 26 degrees of Scorpio, conceiving a new lunar cycle through their sacred union. This is the time of the year in which we are supported on our journey into the underworld to face the parts of us that we hide, fear, or dislike. This is the shadow work that “shows us our own light”.

Scorpio underworld journey
Scorpio New Moon

Scorpio, symbolized as a scorpion, encompasses such aspects of life as sex, death, and birth. It is also associated with debt, taxes and shared resources. How are all these things related? Intimacy. Intensity. Power, especially in relationship with others. And the surrender that allows transformation. These are the places that hold the most fear and therefore the most power, as well as the greatest potential for abuse.

The purpose of Scorpio, the eighth house, Pluto (Hades, god or goddess of the underworld, power) and Mars (god of war; will, action, desire) is facing into what we hide, and hide from, inside ourselves. The way through these parts of ourselves we don’t like is love. Through inquiry we find the unconscious drivers of our reactions. Through compassion we heal them.

The ancient Sumerian myth of Inanna, Queen of Heaven, tells this story of descent, compassion, and rebirth. In the story, Inanna must relinquish all her control in order to meet her darkest self, who kills her. She is reborn only after meeting the shadow with compassion and empathy.

In the formerly hidden gospel of Thomas, Christ lays out our Scorpio work:

“If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you;

If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

What is within us is both bright and dark. Hatred, rage and violence co-exist alongside love, compassion and tenderness. One can turn into it’s darker counterpart when it is unconscious, when we don’t ‘bring it forth.’

Our own power is often an aspect of ourselves from which we hide. Seeing others as more powerful than us is a strong signal this is true. What makes them seem more powerful? Where do we believe our lives are limited by someone else?

Another sign we don’t fully understand and claim our power is that we try to control aspects of our lives, or worse, other people’s lives. The shadow of power is control. Somewhere along the way, the two became confused. Using our ability to act in a manner that focuses on controlling ignores a basic spiritual law: we have the right to and responsibility for our actions, but not the results of those actions. We need to be aware of the consequences of what we do, yet without attaching ourselves to the outcomes.

We always have the ability to act with honor and respect, for ourselves and everyone and everything. We surrender our limited view of how we want things to turn out, and focus on acting with integrity and authenticity. Then, we trust.

One of the lessons of Scorpio and Pluto is the development of deep trust in life itself, as well as in ourselves. This is the crux of the lesson for most of us. Can we trust that when we look deeply within we can accept what we find with love? Can we trust that when we act out of the authenticity of our deepest selves we can live with the results?

In this dark season, it is time to find out how to trust. What we bring into the light, to consciousness, as Christ says, will save us.

“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” Carl Jung

This month,

Take time to plumb your own depths through meditation or journaling;

Light a candle or offer a meal to your ancestors;

Sit still in the dark and simply listen;

Practice compassion for someone or something you don’t like, within or without;

Let yourself feel powerful, and

Practice deep trust in yourself and your true desires.

Co-create your life with the planets

Imagine if, during a particularly challenging time, you were handed the script of the play that is your life and offered a chance to co-direct.

A reading of your astrological birth chart gives you the information you need to share the director’s chair.

Each of us is on our own unique heroine’s (or hero’s) journey. We are the protagonist, the star of our life story. In an astrological context, the signs of the zodiac describe the setting of our personal play; the planets are the actors; and the houses delineate the scenes.

By learning the language, characters, and context, we gain the ability to co-direct.

Our birth chart is a record and a map of our soul’s story. It shows us our inborn physical, emotional and mental tendencies, our karma. While in past centuries astrologers often used their skills to pinpoint and predict actual physical events, the real value today lies more in bringing to light what is on the inside of us. Our chart describes our unique blend of the qualities of the planets as they express through the zodiac signs in the arenas of our lives marked by the houses.

Astrology’s blend of astronomy, mythology, psychology and nature offers us a language with which to communicate with our souls and the natural world about our lives.

The words of the language are the mythological stories that express timeless, universal themes of being human on this planet. The planets, for instance, each represent archetypes or universal patterns of human behavior. We each contain all of them: stern, authoritative Saturn; assertive Mars; harmonious Venus; each describes an element of our make-up.

The qualities of each planet live in us based on how they are moderated by sign and house placement. As well, we have the opportunity to bring their shadows to light, to balance them with each other, and to put them into practice in the most constructive way possible for us.

Will our personal Mars, planet of will, give us clarity about our desires or fall into anger when we don’t get our way? Is our Venus manipulative and indulgent or does she bring beauty and true pleasure into our lives and the lives of others?

Rather than showing us a predestined fate, understanding the patterns in our chart offers us the opportunity to co-create our lives with the forces of nature. In every aspect of ourselves and our birth charts we can learn how to develop more skillful approaches. We can express our internal planetary energies constructively or destructively.

Fate and free will move together in the dance of life on Earth.

When we can read the map, on our own or with the help of an astrologer, we can make choices in line with our soul’s desires. We can become the co-directors of our own unique play.


Reading the map of the soul

I have been a map freak for as long as I can remember. My addiction began on family road trips, as I pored over routes and destinations with Dad. I became good at reading the symbols and lines, calculating distances, finding the shortest route or most scenic, or the one with the longest stretches of Interstate in the days before everything was freeway.

Earth map
Map of possibilities

More than just a practical tool, a map could be a source of endless speculation and imagination, especially as my collection eventually extended beyond highway maps into topographical maps of the mountains and wilderness areas I wanted to explore. In his book “Grizzly Years”, Vietnam vet and grizzly expert Doug Peacock credits a map with getting him home alive from the war. Staring at the big green spaces on a tattered piece of paper spread before him on a table, he was able to temporarily escape the madness around him. In an echo of his process, I have spent many hours seeing not colors and symbols on paper, but meadows and streams and potential campsites, and the routes on which to reach them. Maps are a window to a world that one can enter in daydreams until it is time to go there in form.

So it is small wonder that, when I realized an astrological birth chart is nothing more or less than a life map, I fell in love with astrology. In a flash, the discipline went from the mysterious and impenetrable realm of magicians to a practical tool for seeing where I am in the timeline and cycles of life. A chart is a window into the world inside myself, past, present and future. The skies and heavens as well as future and past opened their cloaks to me.

The night before a reading with the astrologer who taught me to read the birth map, I dreamed I had a star-shaped cell phone. In the dream, I am frustrated: the touchscreen on the face of the phone is missing, and I cannot figure out how to make a call without it. When I woke from the dream, I knew astrology was not new to me; I simply needed to replace the lost touchscreen to regain my ability to communicate with the planets and stars.

The knowledge came quickly. Within weeks, I learned what each of the symbols depicted and how to orient myself to the axes of the chart. Next came the outlines of the mythological characters and stories behind the zodiac and planets. I garnered a growing library of books, gathered birth data from friends and family members willing to share it, and began interpreting. I was reading charts for anyone willing to experiment with me within months. Moreover, my readings were helpful, if still rudimentary.

Then came a surprising turn of events: I began to feel the planets as they moved through the sky and activated points in my chart. Sometimes, the ways in which they showed up were entertaining, as when I found myself spilling everything from a cup of water to my oatmeal as Neptune, God/Goddess of the sea was active. There were more serious moments when I felt stern Saturn sitting on me, testing my dedication to my new business. This spring, when the sun moved into Gemini, the sign related to communication, I began to write as I had not been able in a year or more, beginning with publishing a blog post for the first time in six months. A saying in the field of statistics is that “correlation does not equal causation”. I don’t know how the events in the cosmos are connected to events on this planet; I simply know they are.

Soul map
Map of the soul’s journey

Astrology has become a daily touchstone for me. I check the moon’s travels every morning, as well as some of the faster moving planets. I often see trends and opportunities in time to make some preparations, either mentally or physically. When I knew Venus was getting ready to stand still in the sky in preparation for moving forward again, I planned a quiet day at home to stand still with her, knowing my energy would be low. The moon cycles, more real to me now than when my body was cycling with them, let me know when it is most supported to begin something new or work toward completion of a project. Each new moon has its own themes based on its sign, and, more personally, based upon its house position in my chart.

Sometimes, astrology simply saves my sanity. Knowing that our country and world are in a revolutionary period, in which our shadows are being unearthed for healing, has helped me trust the current political upheavals will result, eventually, in necessary change.

“The greatest gift of astrology is not about prediction but about CONTEXT. Not “What’s going to happen?” but “What does it mean?” And, “How can I respond in a useful way?””

Emily Trinkaus

The study and practice of astrology and nature healing in general is a lifelong endeavor. The sky is vast, as is life. But this apprenticeship to the forces of nature is as child’s play to me. Every book I read, chart I interpret, and observation of a pattern in the sky reflected in my life fascinates me. This, of course, is evident in my chart, now that my star phone is working.

Soul Fire

Mountain healer
Lichen heart on mountain rock

I met my soul during the summer of 2014. The words seem ridiculous, but they are true. I suppose I knew I ‘had’ a soul, but soul was a concept, not an experience, and I was certainly not in a conscious relationship with mine.

That July, I participated in a SoulFire retreat, offered by spiritual activist and author Sera Beak. This retreat for women was intended to support us in deepening our relationships with our souls. I had read Sera’s spiritual memoir, Red Hot and Holy, the previous December, my first Christmas on my own, in a rented cottage on the Oregon coast. In between walks on the beach, cooking and eating my holiday dinner, and wandering through the coastal village, I read and wept and laughed out loud as I recognized parts of myself I didn’t even know I had. In contrast to my serious and idealized spiritual strivings, her story was filled with passion, humor and real humanity. I took her advice to dance a little more, meditate a little less, and have a glass of wine before reading a couple of particularly offbeat passages in the book. I began to realize something was missing in my earnest spiritual pursuit.

When I returned home from the ocean, I dove into Sera’s website for a little more of her refreshingly irreverent story. There, on her offerings page, was an invitation to her retreat. It was to be held in a location that had intrigued me for years and was all the more attractive because it was a short drive from the family cabin in Montana where I spent part of every summer. Moreover, the dates of her retreat overlapped with my planned Montana time. Without thinking about it too much, I signed up. The quote from my journal the following morning says, “Sometimes I am still amazed how loudly and clearly Life speaks to me”.

Months later, a couple of weeks before the event, I panicked. I had never been to a ‘women’s’ retreat, dismissing them as too frivolous. Now, anticipating my first, my mind filled with visions of a room full of perky 20- or 30-somethings dancing naked, and my 50+ self trying to be something I am not. I went so far as to check the possibilities of refunds and try to think of someone to take my place, but it was too late. I finally determined it was about time for me to stretch out a bit, and trust the initial urge to attend.

My fears were unfounded. The women ranged in age from 20-something to at least 60-something. Many of us had the same apprehension about being out of place, yet none of us were. There was dancing, but fully clothed, and besides being fun the movement helped us process and release the intense emotions that came up in our work. And the experience of sharing the parts of our journeys that are uniquely feminine had a healing power I had not imagined. The combination of retreat structure, Sera’s guidance, and the willingness of women to be open, vulnerable and supportive, encouraged real transformation.

During one exercise to clear a ‘soul block’, a story or memory that holds us back from fully expressing ourselves, I couldn’t shake a childhood memory. At some point in my miserable junior high school years, we were each asked to write a will for the class yearbook, filling in blanks to describe our states of mind and body, then bequeathing possessions. Being my literal-minded and serious self, I wrote on the form that I was of “pretty good” mind and body, or words to that effect. Nothing special but perfectly functional was my assessment of myself. When the yearbooks came out, my answers stood out to me as arrogant and unimaginative in the sea of sarcasm and self-effacement from my classmates. In the end result of this process, as I saw 40-plus years later, some hidden sense that it was not OK to be OK was reinforced. I had internalized that it was safer to downplay and minimize myself in order to fit in and not draw attention.

In my journal entry a couple of days later, I make the commitment to just be myself, to stop apologizing for being quiet, shy, liking solitude, loving nature. I also reclaim pleasure, telling myself it doesn’t have to be hard to count. My self-reclamation project was in evidence a few nights later when I overcame the critics in my head for my soul expression to the group, our last retreat assignment. Rather than forcing myself to dance or sing because others were planning to do so and I thought I should, I followed my inner guidance to choose silence. When my turn came, I asked the women to stand in a circle. I settled myself firmly into my body, and feeling 100 percent me, walked slowly around the circle holding each woman’s gaze for a moment as I passed. I stood in my own authority and sovereignty and silently invited each of my sister souls to do the same.

A few days after the soul retreat, I sat on the porch of our family cabin in the mountains repeating the simple soul retrieval meditation we had learned. As I sat quietly, I asked to be shown any part of me I may have lost in the past, either in this life or before. At the cabin, sitting quietly in the sunshine, surrounded by birds and breeze and creek, it registered how much of my voice I had restricted over the years. I was dismayed to remember how many times I had shut up (or down), deferring and holding back rather than sharing what I felt or knew. As someone whose public life had long involved speaking and writing, I saw how much I had shaped my words around how they would be received, rather than what was true. As I sat quietly with my eyes closed, I saw a soft, shimmering gold sphere floating in front of me. I knew it was my voice and welcomed it back. Only days later as I drove along the Yellowstone River, returning from a day in the park, it flashed on me I wanted to write. I began the process of putting my stories onto paper the next day.

Three years after SoulFire, life is irrevocably different. There is no going back to looking outside of myself for guidance and authority. Now I listen to my soul, whether through meditation or quiet walks in the wilderness. I live in the place where my soul has felt at home since I was a little girl. I have reinvented my work and career, leaving behind corporate communicator to become a natural healer, astrologer, writer, yoga teacher. The process has been scary and uncomfortable and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

In a post-retreat dream, a bottle of red wine in the back seat of my vehicle has leaked its red color all over the car: the red passion of soul I have kept bottled for so long is seeping into my body.