Why Precession Matters
This article was first posted on social media in April of 2017
Many astrologers speak of the Pluto return of the United States as though it were just around the corner. The tropical position of Pluto for the various times used for the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 was 27° Capricorn 34’. According to contemporary tropical ephemerides, transiting Pluto will reach this position on February 22, 2022. That is straightforward and uncontestable until one notices that the orbital period for Pluto is 247.686 years.* In February 2022, Pluto will not have completed an entire orbit since July 1776, as indicated in a tropical ephemeris. In February 2022, only 245.64 years will have elapsed since July 1776.
The position of Pluto in terms of sidereal reckoning on July 4, 1776 was 5° Capricorn 57. According to sidereal ephemerides, transiting Pluto will reach this position on February 22, 2024. If one adds the portion of the elapsed year when the Declaration was adopted which is 1776.505 to 247.686, the result is 2024.191 which produces the February 2024 date. So what is happening here? The sidereal position corresponds to Pluto’s orbital period and its correct position in terms of sidereal reckoning, but the tropical position is correct for the tropical frame of reference.
This apparent contradiction is an example of one of the Earth’s motions: precession. The Earth’s spin axis wobbles, or more formally, precesses, like a child’s spinning top due primarily to the gravitational tugs on the Earth’s bulging equator by the Sun and Moon, as well as lesser gravitational perturbations by Jupiter and Saturn. The wobble is exceedingly slow and takes approximately 25,800 years to complete a single cycle. Precession continuously changes the orientation of the Earth with respect to the stars that comprise the zodiac at the rate of 50.25 seconds of arc per year, one degree in 71.6 years and an entire sign of the zodiac in approximately 2150 years, which illustrates the difference between tropical and sidereal reckoning. According to sidereal reckoning, the zodiac is defined by the positions of the stars that comprise it. The sidereal frame of reference stays aligned to the sky. According to tropical reckoning, the zodiac is defined by the seasons, which disconnects that entire frame of reference from the sky. The result is perfectly illustrated in the case of Pluto’s return to its natal place in the horoscope of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.
More than three and a half degrees of precession will have accrued in 2024 since 1776 (3° 37’ 35” between July 4, 1776 and February 22, 2024). Tropical reckoning does not take precession into account. The result of disregarding it is that the tropical position of Pluto in February 2022, which shows an exact conjunction of transiting Pluto to its natal place in 1776, is actually two years short of an exact conjunction; thus the U.S. Pluto return is incontrovertibly in 2024, not 2022. The point is that tropical longitudes cannot be used to describe era to era comparisons. Precession very quickly—in this case in less than one complete Pluto orbit—produces enormous errors in terms of where planets really are in the zodiac if a moving standard like tropical reckoning is employed. If sidereal reckoning is ignored as the over-arching frame of reference, astrology itself becomes divorced from the sky and astrological timing becomes confounded especially as people—and countries—age.
Therefore when looking at longer spans of time, for example the 951 years between the Battle of Hastings in 1066—the last time that England was successfully invaded—and the present day in 2017, the tropical positions between those dates are not a true comparison of the 1066 positions versus the present day because the tropical zodiac moves with respect to the sky and the sidereal zodiac, a fixed frame of reference, as a practical matter, does not. Almost thirteen and a half degrees of precession have accrued between A.D. 1066 and A.D. 2017. The average movement of stars is 0.0029 seconds of arc per year in right ascension and 0.029 seconds in declination per year. The great majority of them take hundreds of thousands of years to move one degree. A few close stars like Sirius, the dog star, are much faster. Even so, Sirius has moved a little more than a half degree in less than two millennia but precession moves the equinox by almost 28 degrees in two millennia.
Many people expect massive change from the conjunction seven years from now. In the chart of an individual, the effect of Pluto in combination with its natal place is to reconfigure the life. When people get the sextile, square or trine to their natal positions, they are often shut out, ostracized, laid-off, occasionally divorced, or the important people in their lives exit or die. If the benefics simultaneously configure such a transit, it can look like a metamorphosis, whereby one is propelled, apparently providentially, into their destiny. If the malefics are in play with transiting Pluto, such a transit to the natal Pluto may mark the beginning of extraordinary problems that may well take years to work out. If there are simultaneous transits from malefics and benefics to the natal Pluto when it also becomes involved with transiting Pluto, the native may be forcibly torn from a bad situation that inhibits growth and find that what was painful was a blessing in disguise that opened up a new life. Pluto is frequently revolutionary in its affect; sometimes it is evolutionary in a natural fashion as at the onset of puberty (if transiting Pluto gets involved with natal Venus or the Moon) or when a prince succeeds to the throne when the king, his father, dies. However it manifests, its overall effect especially with its natal place is to bring about significant and sometimes radical change.
The conjunction is the grand-daddy of all contacts. We haven’t had one yet; the country is too young. There are three elements in 2024, which is an election year, that support more than garden variety changes. First, on election day, November 5, 2024, with respect to sidereal reckoning, transiting Mars will be in 5° Cancer, transiting Pluto will be in 4° Capricorn and both of them sit astride the U.S. Pluto in 5° Capricorn 56’. Those three planets in combination hold the potential for violence. The issue then devolves onto what would provoke violence. Second, transiting Saturn on election day in 2024 will be in 17° Aquarius closely square the U.S. Uranus in 17° Taurus 18’. When individuals experience the transit of Saturn to their natal Uranus, their options are limited and they are obliged to conform to a policy or an agenda such that their freedom of action is temporarily reduced. If the constitution were suspended or rescinded fully or partially, there could be rioting in the streets and violence on a national scale that might cause the government to deploy troops to keep order.
Third, transiting Jupiter will square transiting Saturn in 2024 and 2025. Saturn represents the inertia of the status quo ante, which is more or less perturbed when acted upon by Jupiter, depending on what else is in play. Jupiter-Saturn combinations were considered the most momentous possible in the ancient world. Jupiter and Saturn were square in 2005 and 2006 when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were raging and opposition to them began to gain momentum. Jupiter and Saturn were exactly trine in September 2008 when the New York Stock Exchange imploded due to gross mismanagement and malfeasance at the highest levels of arbitrage, banking, insurance and government agencies. Some people claim that despite the highflying contemporary stock market that the country still has not recovered from the 2008 debacle. Even with the trine that is supposed to make everything wonderful, prosperous and stable, combinations of Jupiter and Saturn signify a sea change that may be thrust upon us rather than chosen. The Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions are the best of that pair because they most often signify unity, justice, resolve and a return to slow, steady growth. The conjunction of this weighty pair is called the “foundation combination” because it is stable and enduring. The squares of Jupiter and Saturn are the antithesis of stability, surety, well-laid plans and responsible governance. This often even contravenes the sinister-dexter rule as in 2008. The Jupiter-Saturn trine then was a dexter trine but transiting Saturn in 20° Leo sesquiquadrate the U.S. natal Pluto in 5° Capricorn carried the day in September 2008 when the collapse began.
There is a ray of light in the 2024 situation because transiting Jupiter in Taurus will throw a trine to the U.S. Saturn in 23° Virgo, but it is a sinister trine (the faster planet is to the west of the slower one or a fixed point); a dexter trine would be much better. A dark horse may well win in 2024 who takes the country down a new path, but those efforts may come to nothing due to the sinister trine.
There is an example in English history of the effect of the conjunction but it has only been obvious one time, although the English have had three conjunctions since 1066. Also, for this to work right on time, the date of the Battle of Hastings, October 14, 1066 has to be the argument, not the coronation of William, Duke of Normandy on Christmas day 1066 as William I, king of England. Hastings was the battle from which there was no return for the Saxons, conquered by the Normans, the strongest military force in Europe at the time. October 14, 1066 is 1066.786 in terms of the decimal portion of the year elapsed at that point. Adding one Pluto orbit—247.686—to that gives 1314.472. The Battle of Bannockburn that secured Scottish independence for nearly three hundred years was fought on June 23 and June 24, 1314. That figure, 1314.472, is June 23, 1314 when Robert the Bruce, king of Scotland and the Scottish schiltrons prevailed over a larger English force led by Edward II, king of England. Scotland effectively separated from England as a result of that fight. Divorce, separation and removal that leads to a new unfoldment is the essence of Pluto. Sometimes it’s a metamorphosis that from a long way off, as it resolves into form, may look disconcerting because it is different than the present day.
© Kenneth Bowser, 2017
*Explanatory Supplement to the Astronomical Ephemeris And The American Ephemeris And Nautical Almanac(London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1961), 491.