Monday, July 27, 2009

Chiron and Pluto: The Comet Brothers

© 1995-2009 by Joyce Mason

“...the runt planet Pluto is actually the king of the ice dwarfs, the leader of the cosmic centaurs...Some astronomers, only partly tongue in cheek, say we should regard Pluto not as the smallest of planets, but as a comet to end all comets.” —Nigel Henbest, The Planets: Portraits of New Worlds [1]

I am a Chironoholic [2]—a Chiron fanatic. For the first two decades after its 1977 discovery, it was amazing to me that the planet named after the wise centaur was still struggling to gain a little respect and hoof-hold in the astrological community. As one among a number of astrologers who regarded Chiron early-on as the missing link in chart interpretation, I often wondered where we went wrong in conveying the importance of this small-but-mighty “wanderer” to our more skeptical colleagues. Chiron is the key to an individual’s life purpose and wholemaking process, no puny role in a person’s life.

Some of the ads I used in the old Chironicles newsletter began, “Imagine a chart without Pluto... if you’re not using Chiron, you’re missing more than you can imagine.” The parallel I’m drawing isn’t overly dramatic. In fact, research indicates that Chiron and Pluto are more alike than most of us would have ever dreamed. If we put so much emphasis on Pluto, astrologically, it follows that we should regard Chiron as an equal. (Anyone who has ever experienced these two forces in a stressful aspect to each other, either in their natal chart or by transit, knows I’m not kidding.)

In the intervening years since this article was first written, now updated in this post, Pluto has been demoted from planetary status and Chiron has caught on. In an odd way, I guess they have more or less met in the middle. Surprisingly, astronomers were ahead of astrologers in giving Chiron the recognition it deserves.

Astronomers Jump on Chiron’s Bandwagon
Chiron is the first of many composite objects with the characteristics of both a planetoid and a comet called centaurs in honor of mythical Chiron. This dual nature is one of the first hints that “you can’t put Chiron in a box” and that duality has to be dealt with, in a figurative sense, when considering Chiron’s psycho-spiritual implications. The designation “centaur” was saved for other similar objects expected to be found in the same neighborhood of deep space. Indeed, they were. Between Chiron’s discovery in 1977 and 2002, these “
notable centaurs” joined the herd: Pholus (1992), Nessus (1993), Asbolus (1995), Chariklo (1997, named after mythical Chiron’s wife), Hylonome (1995) and Amycyus (2002).

Chiron actually has two astronomical designations, as a planetoid (2060 Chiron) and as a comet (45P Comet). Centaurs like Chiron were previously considered “refugees” from the Kuiper Disc, but a newer theory suggests they come from the Scattered Disc (see “Comets” header in this article), a distant region of the Solar System that is sparsely populated by icy minor planets known as scattered disc objects (SDOs), a subset of the broader family of trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs). The following update from this Wikipedia article highlights the unique origin of the composite centaurs (emphasis mine):

Comets are divided loosely into two categories: short-period and long period—the latter being believed to originate in the Oort cloud. There are two major categories of short-period comets: Jupiter-family comets and Halley-family comets. The latter group, which is named for its prototype, Halley's Comet, are believed to have emerged from the Oort cloud but to have been drawn into the inner Solar System by the gravity of the giant planets. The former type, the Jupiter family, are believed to have originated from the scattered disc. The centaurs are thought to be a dynamically intermediate stage between the scattered disc and the Jupiter family.

When the International Astronomical Union designated Chiron and the class of objects it represents as “centaurs” in Chiron’s honor [3], these scientists were onto the parallel between mythical Chiron’s composite form and the fact that the planetary object named after him also is a composite entity. [4] Here is but one example of how some astronomers showed Chiron more initial respect than some astrologers did. Not only has an entire new class of space objects been named after Chiron, but astronomers were so jazzed about Chiron’s perihelion in February 1996—their chance to view the centaur in rare position closest to the Sun—that about 50 of them formed a Chiron Perihelion Committee (CPC) and exchanged e-mails fast and furiously. They hoped to engage astronomers, both amateur and pro, in viewing Chiron, during this window that happens only once every 50 years, to compare notes. There were even some exchanges between astronomers and astrologers—as unlikely an alliance as the Sharks and the Jets becoming blood brothers in West Side Story. (Chiron and Pluto have much more affinity as comet brothers.)

As Chiron’s perihelion approached, Alan Stern, a planetary scientist who writes articles on Chiron’s latest astronomical developments, also advocated a trip past Chiron in a NASA fast fly-by. It is only through one of these unmanned reconnaissance missions that we will ever see Chiron’s surface features, measure its mass and density, probe its composition, and get photos of this prototype centaur.

Did the Millennium Aspect--Chiron conjunct Pluto at the Big Turn--herald the “second coming” of inner enlightenment?

How Pluto Is Like Chiron
Although it is at least ten times bigger than Chiron, Pluto is roughly 3-4 times further away from the Sun, depending on it’s location in its orbital path. Balancing distance and size factors, it is no more far-fetched to consider Chiron as a significant astrological influence than it is to use Pluto. Let’s look at their astronomical similarities:

~ Both have highly tilted, eccentric orbits

~ They share a blurred identity, i.e., both are so unusual, astronomers wondered if they should be called planets at all (opening quote)

~ Each is relatively tiny

* Pluto is 2,360 km in diameter, and it would take 25 Plutos to make up the mass of Mercury, the next smallest planet [5]

*Chiron is estimated to be 200 km in diameter, roughly the size of New Hampshire

~ Both are composed in large part of “ices” containing carbon monoxide, methane, and/or nitrogen

~ Each is believed to be a fragment of a larger mass

*Chiron is thought to be what remains of “the mother of all short period comets,” from which all others split off [6]

*One theory on Pluto is that it was originally bound to Neptune’s Moon Triton [7]

~ Each crosses the orbit, at some time during its own orbital path, of the planet next in toward the Sun (Chiron crosses Saturn’s path and Pluto crosses Neptune’s).

There are many more synchronistic and metaphorical similarities. For example, Pluto has a Moon (Charon) with an identical name to Chiron except for one letter (and the two are often confused); both were discovered this century; and as far as the slow waltz of planetary movements goes, their perihelia follow each other, like a two-step (Pluto’s in 1989, Chiron’s in 1996). From the standpoint of astrological application, their functions are so similar; people often confuse Plutonian and Chironic energy. Both involve, at least in part, issues of death and sexuality. Pluto transforms; Chiron transmutes. meaning “ have an identical event occur, but to have a different reaction to it...” [8] Soon after Chiron’s discovery, the late Tony Joseph noted the connection between Chiron transits and “...pregnancy and birth, sex, parenting, illness, and death” and suggested co-rulership of Chiron between Scorpio and Sagittarius. [9] Barbara Hand Clow distinguishes them this way: “Chiron is a master teacher of bravery...of clearing that which isn’t strong and healthy. Chiron deals with Pluto willingly instead of avoiding the Underworld till the very last second...It is hard to face Pluto without Chiron as a guide, and now we have the assistance.” [10]

Hot Chironic Events
When I originally wrote this article in 1995, there was a trio of events, about to occur for the first time in most of our lives. I hoped they’d rock Chiron out of relative obscurity and into its rightful place among the stars. First, Chiron’s ingress to Libra on September 9, 1995; second, its perihelion (its orbital pass closest to the Sun) on February 14, 1996; and third, it perigee (pass closest to the Earth) on April 1, 1996.

For one thing, with Chiron in the relationship sign, I trusted that anyone who hadn’t gotten Chiron in any other way would surely be awakened when the subject of healing relationships went global. Old wounds from the battle of the sexes [11] were up for lancing, and following this letting of bad blood, alternative ways to make modern relationships work became the opportunity of the hour. Chiron hit many of us where we live when it entered the sign that rules not only partnerships and our sense of peace and beauty, but social interaction, and the law. This was especially true for those of us lived in front of the tube at the O.J. Simpson trial, where the deep wounding around so many of these issues in modern American culture was painfully obvious.

Many of us, arguing only half-heartedly about Chiron’s rulership, [12] suspected to find associations between Chiron and Libra never before noticed during its shortest (15-month) sojourn in the Venus-ruled sign. I longed to uncover more about Chiron’s seemingly good relationship with his wife, the sea nymph Chariclo. I hoped Chiron in Libra would stimulate further insights about why Chiron received his incurable wound at a marriage ceremony. What I actually saw—just as good or better—was more astrologers and astrology students beginning, at last, to form a relationship with Chiron.

During this same 1996 timeframe, Chiron’s perihelion was followed closely by perigee. Chiron pioneer/astrologer Zane Stein pointed out Chiron’s interesting affinity for holidays that year. What a sense of humor in cosmic proportions to manifest these significant astronomical events on Valentine’s and April Fool’s Day—all the same for some of us! If anyone ever doubted that “laughter is the best medicine,” surely one of the great healers of all time—mythical Chiron—had the last laugh and the last word on Chiron in Libra!

On a more serious note, I do believe that perihelion began to bring new insights about Chiron’s meaning to us, including new information about his astrological significance. If Chiron is the bridge between Heaven and Earth, perihelion is the time to walk across it and get the best view of the other side (lit up by all that sunshine). At perigee, the insights could come “down to earth” for our practical implementation.

Dramatic Illustrations of Chiron
Naturally, not everyone has Chiron highly aspected. Not everyone is Plutonian, and not everyone is Chironic. However, if you’re an astrologer (as was mythical Chiron), chances are you are Chiron-prominent. Astrology and the healing arts are one of the most positive expressions of Chiron.

Not everyone plays good Chiron, either (think good cop/bad cop)—same with Pluto, who can be the Darth Vader of the zodiac in the wrong mask or mindset. To give two dramatic examples from the ‘90s when this article was originally written (and since this article is about Chiron and Pluto), I would like to illustrate with the charts of
David Koresh and Timothy McVeigh and the event charts of the Branch Davidian Fire and Oklahoma City Bombing. The comparison seems especially relevant, since the bombing in Oklahoma was an alleged act of retribution for Waco.

David Koresh had a close natal Sun in Leo/Chiron in Aquarius opposition (Birth data: 8/17/59, 8:49 AM, Houston, TX). Without considering Chiron in his chart, you’d miss the tense T-Square focal to Jupiter conjunct Ceres in Scorpio in the 2nd house. This suggests a religious zealot who would give total sustenance and offer to meet all the physical and material needs of his followers; and to defend what he felt belong to him with the fixed intensity of a scorpion throwing thunderbolts. As Chiron foster-parented so many young boys and trained them as warriors, Koresh’s Chiron gone awry adds to our understanding of the infamous tragedy. The real drama comes from the transits of Chiron, Pluto, and Saturn to his T-Square. At the moment of the fire (4/19/93, 12:15 PM, Waco, TX), Pluto conjoined focal Jupiter, and Saturn was conjunct natal Chiron. But what really tells the story is the exact conjunction of transiting Chiron to his natal Uranus at 18 Leo, on the Sabian symbol, A Chemistry Teacher Conducts an Experiment for His Students (and the “lab” blew up). [13]

In Timothy McVeigh’s chart (4/23/68, 8:19 am, Lockport, NY), natal Chiron stands 16-degrees away from the rest of an Aries stellium including Saturn, North Node, and Venus. Used negatively, Chiron would contribute to his role as an anti-hero. Chiron in Aries can have issues with principles of anger, aggression, and war. As Chiron trained heroes in the martial arts, the militia movement can be seen as a negative use of the Chiron principle. Blending the planets involved, it is not difficult to understand McVeigh’s misguided mission to bring death and destruction by fire in a disordered quest for justice. The Sabian symbol on his Chiron, A Comedian, is not funny in context when considering some of its key phrases—"puncturing illusions" (of safety and security) and “being a trickster” (sneaking in bombs).[14]

McVeigh’s chart also gives us a chance to rethink sextiles as a “good” aspect or the positive/negative designations we tend to give angular relationships. Consider his tight natal Chiron/Mercury sextile, with Sun only 2-degrees away from Mercury. At the bombing, T-Mercury was conjunct the natal Chiron/Mercury pair. His anti-heroic thinking had ease and unencumbered opportunity to express itself–not exactly a plus in this case. (Back to “context is everything.”)

McVeigh’s natal Chiron opposes N-Uranus and quincunxes the asteroid Ceres. In the Ceres myth, Pluto abducts innocent Persephone, grabs her from her mother and drags her to the underworld. McVeigh ripped many innocents from their mothers and absconded with them to Pluto’s realm on April 19, 1995 (9:02 AM). This is echoed by transiting Ceres within a degree conjunction of his natal Chiron at the time of the bombing. Of course, the most dramatic aspects are the exact transits of Chiron conjunct and Saturn opposite his natal Pluto; and transiting Pluto in Sagittarius trine natal Chiron, adding fire to the fuel, as Pluto stationed before its retrograde dip back into Scorpio the next day.

A New Breed of People
Despite these sad stories, as a whole, we are mutating into a better species of human being. I call Chiron the harbinger of homo improvement. Chiron represents our cultural wound—the split between intellect and instinct. We are beginning to bridge that chasm, the split between left and right brain, masculine and feminine, yin and yang, light and dark. Once these forces ebb and flow in harmony within us, whatever comes up, we will know instinctively what to do, when and how to do it. Instinct integrates knowledge, wisdom, and those signals from the pit of your stomach. If you could trust you’d always know just what to do in any given circumstance, what would there be to fear? If, truly, as
A Course in Miracles and other spiritual materials advocate, the absence of fear is love, the eventual result is Peace on Earth.

If you still doubt the inter-relationship and equal importance of the Comet Brothers, consider their conjunction within minutes on January 1, 2000. I call this the Millennium Aspect. Blend just two of their key words—transform evolution. While there could be a less optimistic interpretation of this conjunction, the Sabian symbol for 12 Sag, where the brothers met at the Big Turn, further supports homo improvement: It is on the degree symbol, A Flag That Turns Into An Eagle; the Eagle Into a Chanticleer Saluting the Dawn.

The bird is the first to see the sun rising, so he believes his cry made the new day dawn. It reminds us of the power of the mind and synchronicity, i.e., what we see (believe and declare) is what we get. Our highest ideals can be asserted proudly...there is a bursting forth of higher self. Dane Rudhyar’s keyword for this degree is annunciation—evocative, because in a Christian context, the Annunciation refers to the day when an angel announced to Mary that she would become the mother of the Christ.

Did the Millennium Aspect herald the “second coming” of inner enlightenment? Astrologers, the Magi, following a star often depicted in art as a comet, attended the First Coming. Even though we now believe the Bethlehem Star was a grand conjunction, the collective consciousness saw it as a comet. How ironic that at the turn-of-the millennium two bodies conjoined that can be considered comets—Chiron and Pluto—carrying a similar signature as the birth of Jesus—a comet and conjunction.

Another synchronicity—the eagle in the Sabian symbol— is also a symbol for Pluto. To pair other key words and emphasize the large number of parallels between Christ and Chiron, the Chiron/Pluto conjunction is pregnant with healing. But there is no doubt that healing will only come by way of a showdown between Good (Chiron as the Christ figure) and Evil (Pluto as Hades). The Sabian is an omen—that we have the choice, if we have the vision, to transform and transmute our deepest wounds into a blessing.

Some people laughed at those of us who meditated on mountaintops at the
Harmonic Convergence in 1987. Holding that vision of a healed world is about to pay off. The doomsayers are right, but for the wrong reason. The world did end in the year 2000—the world as we knew it. While it is a world I don’t mind leaving behind, it will be “the end of the world” to many who have benefited from its inequities, where greed and other abuses of power are a way of life. The Internet and worldwide media 24/7 mean we can no longer view ourselves as separate from the global community. This new reality is taking hold. We are starting to get that we are one another.

To bring these thoughts up to date, I’d like to comment on what the Comet Brothers are up to nowadays. Pluto in Capricorn is forcing us to rethink our institutions in a do-or-die way. Deep change rarely happens until the need for it hits home in our wallets. The global financial crisis is a blessing in disguise, our only hope that a prevalence of people and institutions will hurt enough to jump on a bandwagon that transforms the way we handle resources. Chiron is tight with Jupiter and Neptune in a trio conjunction in Aquarius as of this writing (July 2009). This tells us that the cure (Chiron) and new frontiers (Jupiter) come from sticking to our ideals (Neptune). But we have to do all this in an Aquarian way, as a world community. To quote the lyrics from The Age of Aquarius in “Hair,” which I just heard again this week in a local production, we need “harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust.” I maintain that the grassroots connections we are making every day on the Internet are evidence of the barriers we are breaking down between Us and Them. (Read more of my thoughts about the triple conjunction in
The University of Pelion Online.)

The closeness of Comet Brothers at the Big Turn surely hinted at this evolving brotherhood. Comets have been seen as omens throughout history—for good or evil, depending on cultural context. If Chiron is the harbinger of homo improvement, there is no mistake that astronomical Chiron is the forerunner of something brand new going on “out there”— and that the “something” is “far out.” The Comet Brothers at best are about rebirth and healing. Conjoined like a Siamese twin with Pluto in Sag during the Big Millennial Turn, Chiron, the mythical half-breed, joined transformational Pluto as a precursor of mutations yet to come. The mutations are both literal and figurative—contact with other planets and species is a wild possibility. (One of my friends is an
animal communicator. It’s already real to me.)

But whether or not Star Trek is on the horizon, despite any current chaos, I have to report what I see growing every day on Facebook, Twitter, and in my face-to-face contacts. We are slowly but surely evolving into the characteristics of Chiron’s namesake—gentle, well-rounded people, keepers of the ecology, who coach others, despite our own wounds and woes, to live life heroically.

[1] Henbest, Nigel, The Planets: Portraits of New Worlds, Penguin Books (1994), p. 186.
[2] I am indebted to Elaine McCollough for coining this wonderful term.
[3] Stern, S. Alan, "The Chiron Perihelion Campaign," (March 1995) Sky and Telescope, p. 34.
[4] Stern, Alan, "Chiron: Interloper from the Kuiper Disk?", Astronomy, August 1984, pp. 28-33.
[5] Henbest, p. 173.
[6] "The mother of all short period comets," Discover, February 1991, p. 9.
[7] Henbest, p. 178.
[8] Riddle, T. Stan, "Chiron’s Secret Identity and Association with Virgo," Chironicles, April 1995, p. 10.
[9] Lantero, Erminie, The Continuing Discovery of Chiron, Samuel Weiser (York Beach, ME: 1983), p. 50.
[10] Clow, Barbara Hand, Chiron: Rainbow Bridge Between the Inner and Outer Planets, Llewellyn (St. Paul, MN: 1987), p. 8.
[11] I use this phrase in its most generic sense, referring to the anima/animus within anyone, despite gender or sexual orientation.
[12] I am aware of five theories about Chiron’s rulership: (1) Sagittarius; (2) Virgo; (3) Co-rules Scorpio and Sag; (4) No rulership — not consistent with Chiron’s nature as a humble teacher who was not a god; and (5) The Virgo-to-Sagittarius sector of the zodiac,
The Chiron Sector. While #5 is my own theory, I think of Chiron as having a strong affinity for this sector of the zodiac, rather than ruling it. I am not convinced that rulership is a useful concept when working with Chiron. Chiron represents a very personalized and experiential path to individuation. How can wholeness be just one thing (sign)?
[13] and [14] Klimczak, Rick, Degree Symbols of the Zodiac: The Sabian Symbols, Arachni Press (Silver Spring, MD: 1989).

This article was first published in “Welcome to Planet Earth” (Libra/Scorpio '95)



Laurel Kornfeld said...

I have nothing against Chiron, but strongly disagree with classifying Pluto as anything other than a planet. The so-called "official" demotion of Pluto was done by only four percent of the IAU, most of whom are not planetary scientists, and was opposed by hundreds of professional astronomers in a formal petition.

Pluto is estimated to be 70 percent rock, and more significantly, it is in a state of hydrostatic equilibrium, meaning its own gravity pulls it into a round shape--a characteristic of planets and not of shapeless asteroids. Pluto does not orbit into the inner solar system the way a comet does, and as you noted, it is much larger than the biggest known comet.

Elliptical orbits do not disqualify objects from being considered planets. We have discovered exoplanet systems in which several planets orbit the same star, all on different orbital planets. These objects are larger than Jupiter, so saying they are not planets is ridiculous.

The IAU definition makes no sense in two areas. First, it says dwarf planets are not planets at all, which makes no linguistic sense and departs from the usage of the term "dwarf" in astronomy, where dwarf stars are still stars, and dwarf galaxies are still galaxies.

Second, the IAU definition classifies objects solely by where they are while ignoring what they are. If Earth were in Pluto's orbit, according to the IAU definition, it would not be considered a planet either. A definition that takes the same object and makes it a planet in one location and not a planet in another is simply unusable.

I do agree, however, that sending a mission to Chiron is a good idea in spite of the fact that I view Chiron as being in a different class of objects than Pluto.

Joyce Mason said...

Laurel, thanks for sharing your views and wealth of information on Pluto and Chiron. I had no idea that the decision to demote Pluto was made by such a small percentage of the IAU. Planetary classification appears to be, at best, a work in progress.

Lana said...

Thank you for this post. I have always felt the same way about Chiron, Pluto, and their link. In the late 1980s I had an all-night dream about their similarity and how to define the subtle differences. Your article makes me want to revisit that. I also agree with Laurel about Pluto. There is a lot more to ponder on the subject.

Joyce Mason said...

Lana, thank you for commenting! I'm fascinated by your all-night dream about Chiron and Pluto. Did you by any chance write it up and are you willing to share parts of it? If yes, I would love to read your insights. I agree that there are important and subtle differences between the energies of Chiron and Pluto that are worth our attention and analysis. If I get anything out of the classification controversy about either of them, it's that they are small but mighty, complex and difficult to "put in a box."

Despite the Nigel Henbest quote that starts my article and his belief that Pluto is a comet, I never felt Pluto should be demoted from planetary status. What I do think is fascinating is that some people have *perceived* Pluto as a comet and that Chiron is technically half-comet. This has to do with what I call "omenclature." Comets have been perceived thoughout history as omens, either positive or negative. The Star of Bethlehem was often depicted as a comet, even though we know now it was the conjunction of several planets. There were Chiron and Pluto, together, at the Big Turn of this Millennium. Something in our collective consciousness sees comets when something important is going on. I am still pondering the rich metaphors in this projection, especially since many people have predicated a "Second Coming" of inner enlightenment.

I'm very impressed with your web site and have added it to The Radical Virgo blog roll. Please keep in touch!

Lana said...

Dear Joyce
Thanks very much. I will try to go back and revisit the dream via meditation. Rest assured, you will be the first person I contact when the material surfaces! Meanwhile the only time I have touched on it is in my blog of 19 October 2008:
“Chiron has a similar energy to Pluto up to a point. While Pluto is into depth-psychology and letting go of outworn forms, Chiron is about depth-psychology too but with a healing twist. So when you are undergoing a Chiron transit it can feel very much like a Plutonian event and equally transformative at a cellular level, but you reach a point when you can suddenly see the purpose of the event much more easily and turn a crisis into a miracle. The timing of Chiron is also different from that of Pluto. A Pluto problem can take a long time to steal into your life and to resolve. Chiron events are often shorter in duration, often come to notice in a sudden crisis, and be instant in resolution.”
I will be back!

Joyce Mason said...

Lana, everything you've said about Chiron and Pluto from your dream rings so true! Since I focus a lot on Chiron in my blog as one of my specialties, maybe you'd like to guest blog sometime, especially if enough memory of the dream comes forward and you're willing to share. Contact me directly anytime to compare notes: E-mail me.

Thanks for this lively connection!