In 1977 the nature of modern astrology changed, and in ways which astrologers maybe wouldn’t have expected. This wasn’t an earth shattering event, but a shift which would only unfold with time.
Since the discovery of the “outer planets”, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto our view of astrology got extended beyond the classical scheme of the seven planets (which for the purpose of astrology include the Sun and Moon). These outer planets were biggies, and were understood as powerful influences. In fact, if any planet was considered the epitome of powerful and heavy, it was tiny little Pluto which was only discovered in the 1930s.
None of these discoveries changed our modern sense of expecting to find the next big one though, orbiting beyond the last big one we found. It was really a very settled, ordered scheme, circling like a clock mechanism, and the building interpretative school of psychological astrology knitted the new planets into its scheme once it came on the scene.
When the next one came it wasn’t quite what the paradigm expected though (even if the new planet was predicted by some astrologers), and it wandered in much nearer than the cold wastes beyond Pluto. Which brings us to 1977. In November of that year Chiron was discovered. Between Saturn and Uranus, with an eccentric orbit swinging between these two planets, smaller than Pluto and a lot closer, people didn’t know if this was a large asteroid, some kind of comet or a small planet. Science settled on the term “planetoid”.
But the “next one” wasn’t a one at all, it was a key unlocking a multitude, a far more complex sky. More such bodies have been discovered since, and these bodies that resemble Chiron are all termed (along with Chiron himself) centaurs, after their mythological name sakes’ forms.
I feel Chiron and the centaurs are tremendously important, and fascinating, but their possible meanings and functions in astrology aren’t what I want to try and address in this blog post directly. Chiron elicited tremendous interest from the astrological community, and with good reason. But there was also resistance to this “new planet”. The classical scheme, even with the added triumvirate of modern outer planets, was neat and elegant. Chiron’s addition wasn’t. It was almost as unresolved as real life. And he was so small, and he wasn’t really a planet, and we didn’t yet know what he meant, and he wasn’t trans-plutonian (wasn’t that somehow cheating?), and yeah, he was really small. But Chiron got his due all the same, just not the kind of due we got used to expecting, not the singular due we are used to understanding. And so, I’ll wager, will the other centaurs. Chiron was a lesson that what you expect isn’t necessarily what’s happening.
Small and multiple is a funny thing for astrologers to focus on. It’s not the narrative we usually chose. To borrow some phrases from the author Starhawk, it takes starlight vision to notice it, rather than the flash light vision of linear, rational awareness. Astrology had for a while been trying for that “we’re a science dammit” line of credibility, like Canute starring into the gloriously unscientific sea. And somewhere in there “small” and “myriad” was all too much. The clue should have been that poster bad boy for psychological astrology himself, Pluto. He’s tiny, and he turns out to be a binary anyway, but we didn’t used to know that either. We could take that when there was just one of him.
After almost 29 years of living with Chiron though, the ground had moved, and it moved under Pluto’s feet. Imagine that. In 2006 Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet, along with other comparable bodies. It was now seen to have its greatest kinship with other bodies in the Kuiper belt, a whole swarm of objects out there, similar to Pluto in broad composition and orbital characteristics. Wailing and gnashing of teeth! Heresy! How dare they demote Pluto?!
But of course they hadn’t.
Pluto hadn’t got any less powerful or meaningful. What had been said in effect for astrology was that something as powerful as Pluto turns out to be small, complex and part of an enormous number of similar objects that we have so little idea about. The pattern suddenly opened out, and that was a totally different sense of power. The door on dynamic, patterned complexity had been opened, and poetically enough, Chiron’s symbol looks very much like a key.
This isn’t all that Chiron is about, but it is one of the things we have learned since we started hearing the sound of hooves in the celestial night.