Tuesday, 28 April 2009

The Astrological Eris



Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you,‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

(Genesis 3.17-19)


The goddess flings a snake at her from her dark locks,
and plunges it into the breast, to her innermost heart, so that
maddened by the creature, she might trouble the whole palace.
Sliding between her clothing, and her polished breast,
it winds itself unfelt and unknown to the frenzied woman,
breathing its viperous breath: the powerful snake becomes her
twisted necklace of gold, becomes the loop of her long ribbon,
knots itself in her hair, and roves slithering down her limbs.
And while at first the sickness, sinking within as liquid venom,
pervades her senses, and clasps her bones with fire.


(Virgil, Aeneid 7)


And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first.

(Margaret Thatcher, interview to Woman's Own magazine, October 31st, 1987.)


* * *

One of the excitements that comes along perhaps once or twice in a modern astrologer's life is the discovery of a major new planet. We had it in 1930, with the appearance of Pluto, and then again in 1977 when the curious planetoid/comet Chiron came to light. Both of these have proved to be hugely important in the birth-chart. However, it takes astrologers a fairly long time to be able to work out what on earth these planets mean, the archetypal symbolism which they carry; Liz Greene is on record as saying that it took twenty years of observation before she felt comfortable teaching about the astrological significance of Chiron, for example.

The astrologer also has to distinguish between primary, important elements in the chart and secondary, minor ones. There are so many asteroids and other bodies knocking around the solar system that one could easily fill up every degree of the chart with something. New planets need watching to see if they are important or not. Amateur astrologers are often so hungry for the chart to render them information that they chuck everything in and can't thereby see the wood for the trees.

Anyway, we now have a new planet (or dwarf-planet) to consider: Eris, one of a number of so-called Kuiper Belt objects. Larger than Pluto and three times farther out, I shall say now that my instinct says this one is going to be very important. Because in astrology the solar system is a symbol of the totality of the psyche--both individual and collective--the discovery of a new planet represents the emergence into consciousness of a new principle, which was hidden or unconscious before. (As above, so below, in the ancient hermetic formula.) As a result, the principle tends to erupt in the collective at the same time as the new planet's discovery, on both a psychological and a physical level. Synchronous world events can often give a degree of insight into its meaning. The discovery of Uranus coincided with Benjamin Franklin's experiments with lightning, and with the French and American Revolutions: we now associate the planet with the Promethean fire of new knowledge and technology, and with attempts to map out, plan or otherwise control life or human societies according to rigidly rational and ideal criteria. The way the French Revolution toppled from the enthroning of Reason to the bloodshed of the Terror is a very precise articulation of Uranian principles. The idea of the urban tower-block is also very Uranian--one can imagine post-World War II architects saying, 'Why shouldn't people live on top of each other up in the sky, instead of side to side in glum little terraces?! Think of the views! Think of the space we'll save in cities!'--totally neglecting, of course, the fact that many people need contact with the earth to be happy, and that the habitability of the building depends on keeping the lifts functioning: twelve flights up are not much fun for the frightened old lady with shopping when the lift is out of order or blocked by the body of a slumped junkie. But such is the glorious abstraction of Uranian vision.

Neptune (discovered 1846) coincided exactly with the first use of anaesthesia and with rages for spiritualism and esoteric doctrines; Pluto (1930) with the rise of fascism, the theoretical foundations for nuclear weapons, and the spread of psychoanalysis to London and the US. (Freud moved to Hampstead in 1938). So current events give us some clues as to the meaning of a new planet, but even these require time and observation so that the astrologer can distinguish the new planetary 'note' from the background noise. Also time and experience are required to be able to get a sense of the wholeness of the new principle, its archetypal breadth, rather than overemphasising a single, historically contingent manifestation. For example, astrologers in the 1930s thought Pluto was to do with organised crime, because of Al Capone and so on. Indeed it is, but because it represents the principle of ruthless survivalism--germane to immigrant experience, of course--and not because it is somehow 'the planet of crime'. Crime is as archetypal and varied as any other aspect of human life, and potentially can be represented by any planet. Even sub-types of crime, such as serial killings, may have very different planetary significators dependent on motive: a twisted sense of mission, lust, material benefit, or inspiration from psychotic delusions, and so on.

A further corollary of the idea that planetary principles nudge up into consciousness around the same time as the planet is discovered lies in the significance of names. The giving of names is also archetypal: the names fit the planets in a mysterious way. People have continued to feel that there is something mysterious and dignified about the heavens, deserving of names with mythic resonance, which is why we call Uranus 'Uranus', and not William Herschel's ghastly original suggestion, Georgium Sidus, 'George III's Star'. (The French understandably didn't like 'Georgium Sidus' much and wanted to call the new planet 'Herschel', which also fell by the wayside for the same reason.) The giving of Greco-Roman names keys us into Greco-Roman mythology, which is another, related source of insight about the nature of a new heavenly body. The intricate patterns of myth, of course, represent another human attempt at capturing the total richness and complexity of the psyche.

So, we have Eris. Discovered in 2005, it is a little smaller than our Moon and a quarter as big again as Pluto; it has one satellite of its own. It has a highly eccentric orbit which takes it three times farther out that Neptune or Pluto, as noted above, but which also brings it in as close as both the latter two at various points in its 577 year orbital cycle. Like Pluto, it is angled oddly to the 'plane' of the solar system.



When first discovered it was given an alphanumeric designation, and then the working-name 'Xena', after Lucy Lawless' character in the TV series of the same name. An archetypal complex of images was already beginning to emerge: the planet was identified as feminine, as the 'strange, foreign one' (Greek ξενα), and the associations of the name 'Lawless' were certainly vivid. The body caused considerable chaos for astronomers: the discovery of a planetoid larger than Pluto called Pluto's status as a planet into question, and it took some months before the International Astronomical Union could resolve the issue and come up with a watertight system of classification. (Though see Laurel's kind comment at the end of this article.) Until this was done, the planet could not be officially named, because of the different naming criteria laid down by the IAU for different classes of object. When an agreement was reached, Pluto was downgraded to the status of 'dwarf planet', along with Xena and the largest of the asteroids, Ceres; and eventually the name Eris, after the Greek goddess of Strife, was given to the new heavenly body. Astrologers observed wryly as the planet was so dubbed, reflecting on the chaos and discord its discovery had already set in motion. Yet again, a new planet seemed to have been aptly named. Eris' moon was named Dysnomia, 'Lawlessness', in a homage to Lucy Lawless:



But what might the new planet mean astrologically? Well, first things first. Like the other 'new' planets, Eris will represent a collective rather than a personal principle, because everyone born over a 50 year period will have Eris in the same sign. (In fact because of its peculiar, very elliptical orbit, Eris will go through some signs much more quickly than others, as Chiron does.) One of the disadvantages of this is that the consultant astrologer is therefore like to meet only people who have Eris in Aries or, if the client happens to be in their 70s or 80s, in Pisces. (Eris changed signs in the 1920s: my late grandmother had Eris in the last degree of Pisces.) This means that it is impossible to get direct experience of how Eris functions in say, Libra, although in 300 years we will no doubt find out. We have a less extreme version of this problem with Pluto--there's no one alive with, say, Pluto in Taurus, but the astrologer might meet clients with Pluto in Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, or Sagittarius, or even, just conceivably, in late Gemini. This at least allows us to get a sense of how the planet functions in the different elements.*

So except by means of historical inquiry, we aren't going to be able to get much sense of what Eris is like as a generational influence in Air or Earth, so the blindfold is rather on and we are in the realm of the informed guess. But like the other outer planets, Eris won't be a personal planet: the building blocks of the the conscious ego in astrological terms are Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. We may well be implicated in the collective concerns of the generation we are a part of through links between the personal planets and the outer ones--everyone is--but these influences are wider than the personal ego and are often difficult to integrate. The outer planets tend to be indigestible to the ego, and I suspect that Eris will prove to be among the more difficult of these. The conflicts and crises associated with Eris by house and aspect will be beyond the control of the individual, stretching and confronting us with elements that are alien to the individual personality.

The Mythological Eris

The next, and indeed fundamental, key to the meaning of a new planet follows on from its name. As I noted above, astrologers have always looked to the myth of the deity associated with the planet in question for insights into its meaning. This only works sometimes, having proved less than helpful in the case of Uranus, Neptune and Pluto--the mythology of Neptune in particular is of only the vaguest use in understanding its action within the psyche. (This suggests that the archetypal meaning of the 'new' planets, representing principles that were just beginning to surface consciously in the human psyche, were understandably hard for individuals to grasp. Better names for Uranus, Neptune and Pluto would have been Prometheus, Dionysus and Moira. One only has to read 19th century classical scholarship on Euripides' Bakkhai to get a sense of how very difficult the complex Dionysus archetype was for the average Victorian to grasp.)

Eris, fortunately, is fairly distinct in mythological terms and fascinatingly presents us with a dual face. Hesiod describes in the Works and Days how--

After all, there was not only one variety of Strife, but over earth
two Strifes exist. One, men would praise, seeing her at work,
but the other they revile, for they have wholly different natures.
The one, a cruel being, foments evil and war and battle;
no mortal loves her, but under compulsion by the will of the deathless gods
they pay harsh Strife her due of honour. But the other is the elder daughter
whom dark Night brought forth, and the son of Kronos on high,
dwelling in the upper air, embedded her in the earth's roots;
she is much kinder to men. She stirs up even the idle to hard work,
for a man grows eager to labour when he sees his neighbour,
a rich man who hurries to plough and plant
and put his house in good order, and one neighbour contends with another
as they hurry after wealth; this Strife is good for men.
Potter too is piqued with potter, craftsman with craftsman;
beggar begrudges beggar, and bard resents bard.
(My trans.)

This is extremely interesting. All the planets are double-faced and multivalent: they have both positive and negative manifestations in human terms. But the mythology of Eris makes this absolutely explicit from the start. The doctrine of the two Erides in the Works and Days is a rewriting of the description of the 'bad Eris' in Hesiod's own earlier Theogony; she appears there as the sister of Ares, the god of war, causing bloodshed and giving birth to a catalogue of miseries:

But abhorred Eris brought forth painful Toil, Forgetfulness, and Famine, and tearful Sorrows, and Squabbles too; Battles, Murders, Manslaughters, Quarrels, Lies, Disputes, Lawlessness and Ruin, all of similar nature; and also Oath, who most troubles men upon earth when anyone wilfully swears a false oath.


Ares' unpleasant sister is elsewhere called Enyo: in the Iliad, Homer explicitly identifies the two. So, the mythological picture so far gives us 'negative' Eris, embodied in argument and conflict, but also the 'positive' Eris who represents the urge to achieve, the spur of healthy competition. (I find it very interesting that Eris should be discovered just as debate rages about the place of competition in our education system; the positive Eris seems the antithesis of our current 'All must have prizes' educational philosophy, as Melanie Phillips, loath though I am to namecheck her, has described it.) Mythologically speaking, Eris seems to represent both Strife and Striving, Contention as well as a rather Thatcherite-sounding Competition. However, it's striking that Hesiod's attempt to demarcate the twin Erides as having 'wholly different natures' wobbles somewhat towards the end of his description in the Works and Days. The vision of the angry potters and resentment-filled beggars is taking the idea of rivalry (positive Eris) and moving it towards quarrelling and violence (negative Eris.) The thing they seem to share, the archetypal core, if you like, is envy. As Liz Greene has pointed out, in a discussion of Saturnian defences, '[e]nvy can be extremely creative. Through making envy conscious, we can discover what we want and value, because we see it in someone else and wish we had it...Envy, recognised and constructively channelled, can spur us toward developing qualities and abilities which we might not otherwise have recognised as our own potentials.' (Barriers and Boundaries: The Horoscope and the Defences of the Personality, p. 139.) Envy, if we cannot acknowledge it, can also lead us to attempt to destroy the person or institution which possesses the quality we feel we do not have ourselves. The positive Eris is actually called 'Emulation' elsewhere in classical literature, and I think the concepts of conscious and unconscious envy may well be the key to the astrological Eris.

But of course the most famous mythological story concerning Eris recounts her role as catalyst of the Trojan War. Hera, Athena and Aphrodite had been invited along with the rest of Olympus to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, who would become the parents of Achilles, but Eris had been snubbed because of her troublemaking inclinations. The bad fairy in the folk-tale Briar-Rose and the wonderfully creepy Maleficent in Disney's Sleeping Beauty are clear sub-literary echoes of Eris:



She therefore tossed into the party the Apple of Discord, a golden apple inscribed τῃ καλλίστῃ, 'tei kallistei'--"To the Fairest One"--provoking the goddesses to begin quarreling about the appropriate recipient. The hapless Paris, as we all know, was appointed to select the most beautiful by Zeus, a mythic complex which Liz Greene has seen as especially relevant to the crises and challenges experienced by people with strong Libra. Each of the three goddesses immediately attempted to bribe Paris to choose her. Hera offered political power, Athena skill in battle, and Aphrodite tempted him with the most beautiful woman in the world: Helen, wife of Menelaus of Sparta, the option which the hapless Paris chose and which brought about the utter destruction of his city, kin, and people.

It should be apparent by now, I hope, that Eris is a powerful deity in myth, with an archetypally rich series of themes with which we can work. Below I discuss these under three headings: the first discusses Eris in evolutionary terms, as a symbol of Darwinian struggle; then I look at it in economic and political terms. Finally, I offer some thoughts about its psychological significance. I must emphasise again that these are initial explorations, and are offered tentatively.

Eris as Darwinian Survival of the Fittest

The further out we go the less and less personal the planets are; Pluto, for example, is a very archaic energy, representing the collective urge to survive at all costs, regardless of the fate of the individual. It thus has a strong connection with the phenomenon of extinction in the service of the broader sweep of organic life. (One can see why Pluto is a very uncomfortable energy when it erupts into personal human life, when certain elements in society may be marked out by the collective for suppression or ruthless extirpation, whether they be blacks, Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, or Muslims; we should note that the full horror of the Nazi death-camps were exposed to the world during a precise Saturn-Pluto square.) If Pluto is the collective survival instinct at its most primitive, Eris may have something to do with the driving mechanism for evolution: competition between species for light, food, and water. Members of a single species may differ significantly, and those which have some advantageous genetic quirk will survive and procreate in greater numbers than members of the same species which do not possess the same advantage, so that the new adaptation gradually passes through the gene-pool. Eris may be the astrological symbol of the survival of the fittest (a phrase Darwin never in fact used) by means of natural selection. It seems rather Eridian to me that genetic change is merely happenstance, an accident of DNA replication; for every advantageous error in replication, there must be innumerable useless or actively harmful changes. Evolution can only proceed because species reproduce in such vast numbers, of which the great majority are totally dispensible (Pluto). As Darwin wrote:

As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected. From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form.

Transiting Eris conjuncted Darwin's Sun in Aquarius as he set off on his voyage aboard HMS Beagle, during which he made the observations that led eventually to the writing of The Origin of Species. The conjunction was operative--to within a degree--during the entire 1831-6 voyage. As The Origin of Species was published in 1859, Eris moved in to conjoin Darwin's natal Mercury and precisely square his natal Saturn~Neptune conjunction in Sagittarius in the 12th. The book's publication had an interesting Eridian flavour: Alfred Russel Wallace sent Darwin a theoretical version of a mechanism for evolution, closely similar to his own, just as Darwin was preparing to publish. Fortunately the two were able to come to an agreement to present their work together at a meeting of the Linnean Society of London in July 1858.

Envy and the Economic Eris

Hesiod's positive Eris seems to me to have an obvious bearing on economic issues. In the Greek, the word for the 'well-ordered' house of the industrious peasant is the same as that which lies the root of our word 'economics'--literally the 'rules of housekeeping', or something along those lines. This is worth a degree of speculation. On the one hand, the principle of Eris-as-Emulation brings to mind Keith Joseph and 'Thatcherite' economic policy, according to which the desire for self-betterment is inculcated by the urge to enjoy for oneself what others have, thus driving growth and ensuring efficiency within a deregulated market. But these phenomena always form an archetypal unity with their opposites, and I am inclined to see the Thatcher government/Old Left conflicts of the early 1980s as profoundly suggestive of the nature of the astrological Eris. Whilst the left saw Thatcher's free market economics as heartless, elevating competition above all other human concerns and initiating a decade of grotesquely conspicuous consumption, the right saw only sour resentment which discouraged ambition and entrepreneurship. The conflict is archetypal: where the left sees greed, the right sees envy, and each is necessary to justify the other's self-righteousness. Hesiod's picture of the relationship between the two men, shiftless and industrious, is recalled.

Whatever one thinks of Thatcher, her emphasis on the importance of competition, not only in the goods market but also in capital and labour markets, closely echoes the mythology of Eris. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that her birthchart features a Venus~Eris trine. We should also remember that the word 'Venus' may be connected etymologically to terms for buying and selling, and in any event comes from an Indo-European root *wen- meaning "to strive after, wish, desire, be satisfied"; I suspect the two planets might well get on better than we might expect. (It is Venus~Aphrodite, after all, who ends up in myth with Eris' fateful apple.) In Thatcher's chart, Eris also forms an inconjunct aspect to the Moon, and is also just conjunct Uranus, out of sign, suggesting the nasty, disruptive shock her policies gave the country, as well the cool way in which she imposed her new economic vision for what she saw as the country's own good. As she came to power, transiting Eris squared her natal Jupiter and Pluto exactly, and inconjuncted Saturn. Indeed, Thatcher conducted her entire premiership this close Jupiter~Eris~Pluto T-Square, suggesting her radical, brutal transformation (Pluto) of the country's institutions of wealth-creation, in order to foster unchecked growth (Jupiter) by means of competition and economic aspiration (Eris). In the early 80s, transiting Pluto opposed transiting Eris and, just as the Miners' Strike got going in 1984, squared Jupiter: a nice example of the way that political events mysteriously find protagonists who echo their own astrological weather. Thatcher even unknowingly echoed Hesiod, famously claiming to be an ordinary, thrifty housewife. And as always, it takes two people to express both sides of an archtypal conflict, behind which there is a mysterious unity, and I was unsuprised to find that Arthur Scargill, leader of the National Union of Mineworkers and Thatcher's chief opponent during the Miners' Strike of 1984-5, has Eris closely conjunct Saturn. As Thatcher left power in 1990, Eris was beginning to oppose her natal Sun on 19 Libra. Furthermore, though I haven't time to go into it here, Thatcher's single-minded (and immensely popular) pursuit of the Falklands War, and in particular the sinking of the Belgrano, suggest that the archetype of the other Eris, the sister of Ares, was not absent from her nature:



The Psychoanalytic Eris

Leaving Thatcher and delving into psychoanalytic theory, I am inclined to associate Eris tentatively with the Freudian 'return of the repressed'; that is, the disruptive rising to the surface of some unwelcome and disowned psychic element, which, if not given access to consciousness and the ego's associated executive functions, will often be projected onto an outer 'hook', or express itself through neurotic or somatised symptoms. I suspect a link here with Mercury as psychopomp, his guise as leader of dead souls; as such, he is the only one of the Olympians who regularly ventures down into Hades and returns, a symbol of our ability through thought and language to work with the contents of the Unconscious. Mercury is officially allowed to go down and up between earth and Hades, as it were; but Eris comes whether invited or not. I have an instinct--and it's no more than an instinct at this stage--that Eris may turn out to have something to do with psychological crises and breakdowns, in which repressed conflicts erupt into consciousness, and possibly it may also have some bearing on allergies and phobias. (Analysts tell me that an allergy sometimes represents the somatisation of an unconscious complex which the ego is not allowing to surface in any other way, though as the son of two doctors I am somewhat sceptical.)

Eris seems to be the spectre at the feast. Appearing at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, or in her fairy tale guise as the bad fairy at the Christening, she represents the irrefusable eruption of disowned psychic contents. ("You weren't wanted", say the three podgy, fussy good fairies to Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty, when she haughtily asks why she was not invited.) These may not in themselves be purely negative, but they will be raw and unadapted. I remarked earlier that Eris is likely to be one of those archetypal principles which is difficult for the ego to metabolise, like Chiron or Pluto; I wonder in particular if it has a particular connection to women's repressed rage at patriarchal oppression, as planetary archetypes tend gendered one way or the other for a reason, though some, like Pluto, are ambiguous. As sister of Ares~Mars and symbolically associated several times over with the imagery of the warrior-woman, there is potentially much to explore here. (Alas, Lorena Bobbit's birth data do not seem to be available.)

* * *

One final strategy we can use to get a sense of how Eris might work psychologically is to consider how well it might 'get on' with the other planets, using a mixture of astrological experience, mythology, and intuition. Some astrological principles have a certain amount of common ground: Mercury and Uranus are 'friends' if you like, as are the Moon and Neptune, Saturn and Chiron, or the Sun and Mars; they can, as it were, make partial common cause. Some pairings are less happy: the Sun as symbol of the personal consciousness is swamped and threatened by Neptune's amorphous, ego-obliterating solutio, for example, and the Moon's penchant for identifying with the body and with one's roots makes it uncomfortable with Uranus' cool, dissociative disregard for the flesh.

Eris' collective nature is unlikely to make it a natural bedfellow for the Sun. If, as I suspect, Eris reflects a very primitive level of struggle in organic life then it stands in marked contrast to the Sun's personal values. On the other hand, the urge to strive, to distinguish oneself from the common herd is germane to the Sun; I wonder if there is something Eridian in the idea of injured merit and its associated concommittants of insecurity and inflation. (See below for a discussion of Iago in these terms.) It's fitting somehow that Maleficent should be so aristocratic, in constrast to the co-operative bourgeois busyness of the good fairies. Sun~Eris might therefore suggest contempt and hatred for the collective as the profanum vulgus, a sense of terrible insecurity and resentment at exclusion disguised by inflation and a tendency to autocracy.

I doubt that Eris and the Moon have much common ground. The Moon symbolises what makes us comfortable, and Eris is likely to be an uncomfortable energy; that said, a fiery Moon (Eris conjunct Moon in Aries, for example, which a very large number of people will have) which relishes challenge and competition might be better able to express this energy in a healthy way. A Cancerian Moon squaring Eris might find it rather more difficult.

Mercury is a different matter. Behind the astrological Mercury is the archetype of the Trickster--wonderfully explored by Lewis Hyde in his superb anthropological work Trickster Makes This World--which is the archetype of creative intelligence in the service of desire. Curious, ambiguous and given to devilment, Mercury as thief and mischief-maker has something in common with the mythological Eris. Both can foster conflict: I'm reminded of a Yoruba myth in which Eshu, the messenger and go-between of the gods, walks in a line between two men working in two fields on either side of a road. One man thinks Eshu is wearing a red hat. The other thinks he is wearing a black hat. They fall to quarrelling, and end up having a fist-fight over the nature of the disputed garment. Eshu watches them, sighs, and goes on his way--wearing his special hat that is red on one side, black on the other. Mercurial conflict arises from the archetype's sheer ambivalence, and can be prevented by the intelligent fostering of multiple perspectives. But 'negative' Eris foments disaffection and disputes out of a sense of personal slight, creating conflict by revealing tensions that are present but unconscious in the psyche. The inscribed apple which Eris lobs into the wedding-party is after all designed to prey on the vanity of the three goddesses and to set them against each other.

With Venus, myth gives us a hint, in that it is Venus, as I've noted, who ultimately benefits from the choice of Paris. I've also mentioned positive Eris' connection with imitative desire, the way that we learn what to want because we see others wanting it. This is rather inimical to Venus' personal values, but there is common ground here with the Taurean side of Venus, with its acquisitive connection to money and possessions. 'Keeping up with the Joneses' might be a Venus~Eris phenomenon in archetypal terms, and given the competitive, invidious nature of positive Eris, in connection to Venus the phrase 'All's fair in love and war' comes to mind.

That the relationship between the two planets is actually rather complicated is indeed suggested by the pairing of love and war in certain schools of Greek thought. The Sicilian pre-Socratic philosopher Empedocles famously thought that Love (φιλία) and Stife (νεῖκος) were paired cosmic forces which brought about the combination and separation of the elements, which would otherwise be unvaried and undifferentiated. Empedoclean Love was certainly identified with Venus at various points in antiquity, but Strife was normally connected with Mars, as for instance in the famous proem to Lucretius' De Rerum Natura, in which Strife (Mars) lies in a state of post-coital collapse in the lap of Love (Venus), a scene of course wonderfully painted by Botticelli. However, astrologically, Love and Strife might better be connected with Neptune (dissolution back into undifferentiated unity) and Eris (the revelation of latent conflict). This again makes me feel that there is something very important about Eris; it may be connected somehow to the unanswerable question of why human beings are different at all, which is profoundly linked to the issue of consciousness. After all, on one level, every birthchart contains the same 'stuff': we all have the same planets, the same elements, and the same signs. On another level, we are profoundly differentiated, with different elements of the chart emphasised or de-empasised, and at widely varying levels of consciousness. Eris may well perform a function akin to the cilia of the lungs, sweeping material upwards from the unconscious and laying intrapsychic conflict bare so that we must confront it.

Mars also plays a clear role in the mythology of Eris, which suggests how they may interact astrologically. Eris is quite simply his sister, a kind of female version of the unpleasant, brutal Ares, the most disliked of the gods in Homer. In Iliad IV, Homer identifies her with the goddess Enyo:

Strife whose wrath is relentless, she is the sister and companion of murderous Ares, she who is only a little thing at the first, but thereafter grows until she strides on the earth with her head striking heaven. She then hurled down bitterness equally between both sides as she walked through the onslaught making men's pain heavier.

Again, I am tempted to see the image of Strife literally growing in terms of Freudian repression: from being ignored and repressed she expands to vast size, or perhaps, if kept tamped down in the unconscious, she swells to become the proverbial 'elephant in the living room'. I recall an example of this once when I was teaching a teenage girl as a private tutor (she was a Libra, so I suspect she may have had an Eris~Sun opposition) who was given to self-harming. Her mother, a seductive, rather glacial personality, was clearly jagged with rage at her daughter's refusal to get up or wash, and her habit of cutting her arms lightly with razor-blades. I recall once being sat down to teach Twelfth Night in their kitchen as the mother busied herself around us, making small-talk, totally ignoring the fact that her daughter was sitting there actually bleeding from numerous fresh cuts. Both went on to make fairly obvious attempts to get me--a hired tutor of no importance--onto their 'side'. The atmosphere of unspoken rage and conflict was so powerful and so uncomfortable for me as a neutral outsider that I resigned from the job. Mars~Eris may then suggest both healthy self-assertion through competition--Eris as Emulation again--as well as difficult, knotty conflict and violence.

Jupiter and Eris and rather strongly linked in myth; Hesiod, as we have seen, has Zeus implanting the positive Eris 'in earth's roots', suggesting that she is firmly embedded in our experience of being incarnated, of living on earth and in physical bodies. It also suggests that she needs proper acknowledgement if we are to live well and enjoy the earth's produce. She thus reflects a variety of Saturnian gumption here, the urge toward profitable industry, in a kind of positive version of God's curse upon Adam in Genesis 3, quoted at the top of this article: by the sweat of your face shall ye eat bread. Interestingly, from the post-Homeric 'cyclic' epics, which survive only in fragments, and from other sources, it appears that it was Zeus himself who was responsible for getting Eris to disrupt the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, along with Themis, the personification of 'that which is right', that peculiarly Greek combination of natural and social law. Zeus felt, according to myth, that the world was becoming gravely overpopulated and that a good drawn-out war would be an excellent method of culling human beings. Therefore, at the wedding, he stationed Hermes at the door and bade him forbid Eris entrance; when he did so, Eris rolled the (clearly preprepared) apple into the assembly from the door, thus bringing about the war, as Zeus knew she would.

My own feeling is that it is not Zeus~Jupiter but Themis who is the key here, and that Zeus is just something of a patriarchal stooge. Themis is a Plutonian deity, the mother of the Moirai or Fates; she represents the boundaries of natural law which brings Nemesis in their wake if crossed. Eris here is, if you like, the executive branch of Nemesis. Eris, in this guise, doesn't destroy by attacking personally, laying about her with weapons like her brother Ares; rather with one small, well-placed action she exposes radical internal conflicts which ensure that people eventually destroy themselves. (Echoes of the appropriately named Chaos Theory.)

As for Saturn, we seen that the positive Eris is potentially rather compatible with Saturnian values; one might expect tenacity and industriousness to be appropriate interpretations of a Saturn~Eris trine or sextile, or a conjunction of the two planets trining the Sun or Moon. (I would especially expect this to be the case with the conjunction in early Taurus which will occur in the late 2050s). Negative Eris also chimes with Saturn's tendency to envy and resentment, and to its sense of exclusion. Eris might well be implicated in Saturnian situations of victimisation and chronic insecurity, with their unfortunate associations with scapegoating. (Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma Bomber, had Eris conjunct both Chiron on one side and Saturn~Venus on the other; perhaps we might think of Eris' apple symbolically in terms of explosive devices.) But on the other hand, Saturn represents the boundaries of the personality, its barriers and defences, whilst Eris may represent the breaching of those barriers by repressed material. Where Saturn attempts to block, Eris will undermine insidiously, chipping away until the whole structure falls. This is why my intuition tells me Eris may have much to do with situations of psychic breakdown.

Uranus and Eris have some kinship; both are disruptive to the old order. But Uranus does away with the old from the top down, in order imposing a new vision or pattern; it is all mind and spirit. Eris, on the other hand, has links to the squalling Freudian id, destroying the old from the bottom up by forcibly reminding it of what has been hidden down in the basement. (Or in the attic: Jean Rhys, whose book Wide Sargasso Sea re-imagines the 'madwoman in the attic' of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre through a postcolonial and feminist lens, had Eris opposition Venus, inconjuct the Sun and Uranus.) In total contrast to Uranus, Eris has no interest in building or imposing something new. Eris represents a realm of archaic instinctuality with which Uranus would rather not deal at all, though the two planets might have superficially similar aims.

I can see little common ground between Eris and Neptune. Eris is all about the sense of difference, not Neptunian porousness; they might conceivably share a resentful sense of exclusion and abandonment, but where Neptune suffers and self-victimises, Eris plots revenge.

Pluto and Chiron are the planets most obviously akin to Eris. Pluto and Eris, as I noted, represent very primal, impersonal urges, to struggle and to survive. I'm rather glad I won't be around to see the Pluto~Eris conjunction of about 100 years hence: if I had to place an astrologer's bet on some kind of ghastly climate change-driven third world war for the earth's resouces (the conjunction will be in Taurus), that would be the aspect on which I would place my money. Chiron shares a maverick quality with Eris, and Eris, like Chiron, is possessed of a vast, savage rage. But with Chiron, the rage is inspired by a wound, and a wound which tragically is nobody's fault but for which there is nevertheless no cure. It's a planet which seems to have a connection with a sense of cosmic unfairness. With Eris, on the other hand, the rage is personal: it is a sense of pique, of anger at her exclusion from the party. As I noted above, there is something in Eris of a sense of injured merit, which reminds me very strongly of the murky patterns of Othello. Eris (or Eris~Pluto, or Eris~Chiron) may well have an Iago-like quality.



Iago's resentment of Othello is the flipside of his love and loyalty to him; but when he is passed over for promotion, his sense of personal slight is so global precisely because it taps into some terrifying, inner black hole, generating an implacable destructive power totally out of proportion to the stimulus. This led Coleridge to say that Iago acted with 'motiveless malignancy', but this isn't quite true. He does have motives, but none of them either separtately or together are sufficient to explain his actions. His self-justifications are contingent and oddly throwaway. But like Eris, he doesn't destroy Othello and Desdemona directly: he works on Othello's own insecurities, fostering his latent jealousy until the general destroys himself and his wife. I've always found it interesting that Iago uses techniques which might elsewhere belong in a comedy: lost hankerchiefs, verbal trickery and so on. W. H. Auden called him a 'practical joker', and that captures something of Eris too: on one level, the image of the three noblest goddesses of Olympus squabbling on the floor for a gilded gewgaw is cynically amusing. But I think that envy--that Eridian keyword--is central here. Othello feels pathological jealously, torn apart by the feeling that someone else (Cassio) has taken or is taking away what is his; but Iago acts, in part, from envy, which not only wants what someone else has, but wants the other person not to have it. (I often watch this in my brother and myself: both of us are Taureans, and he's prone to jealousy, and I to envy. They're quite distinct.) Envy, according to Chaucer, is the worst sin because it destroys all the virtues; other sins only attack one, as Gluttony, for example, destroys Continence.

I think Othello may have much to teach us about the dynamics of Eris~Pluto, and about Eris more generally; my whole generation (Thatcher's children) has Eris opposition Pluto, and it might be worth looking at themes of invidiousness in charts where the opposition is emphasised by a connection to a personal planet. Iago is the apotheosis of envy, as well as being a very accurate portrait of the superficial charm, absence of conscience and terrible inner emptiness of the psychopath. As for Othello himself, when we watch the play we see a masterful portrait of an unconscious complex coming to the surface and taking over the personality, because the ego is not strong enough to mediate it. And Iago stands on the sidelines, manipulating things like a demonic psychologist, a Mengele-Freud.


* * *

That is what I have to say on the subject of Eris, so thank you to any and all readers who have waded through this absurdly long post. I hope the forgoing is illustrative of something of the complexity of the mythological Eris as an archetype, and suggestive of the ways in which the new planet may be interpreted astrologically. From now on, I'm going to look at Eris in every chart that I do, to see if further themes and patterns emerge. (One thing I did note when examining charts for this article was the number of times I found Eris involved in inconjunct aspects, which might reflect the fact that inconjuncts (150 degree aspects) occur between planets in signs which are not compatible by quality, element, or gender; such planets are triply in conflict.)

There are numerous places for further research. The transit cycle of Eris and the other outer planets needs to be studied; one would expect there to be a link with the build-ups to various wars. A brief perusal reveals that Eris squared Pluto all through the decade before the outbreak of WWI; it was exact in 1910 and moved out of orb during the war itself. At the moment of Archduke Franz Ferdinand's assassination--the 'golden apple' to WWI's Trojan War--Eris in Pisces was exact trine to Neptune and Mercury in Cancer, trining the Archduke's own natal Mars. Eris is also strikingly prominent in the chart for 9/11: as the first plane hit the World Trade Centre, there was a Mercury~Eris opposition exactly over the Ascendant/Descendant axis. The outbreak of WWII (the first shots fired in Danzig) saw Eris on 4 Aries, right in the middle of a close Moon-Jupiter conjunction in the 8th.

Much here remains to be seen. One thing, however, that cheers me about Eris is that its difficult associations will force astrologers to take a more cautious view of the new planet's benefits. It's traditional for newly-discovered heavenly bodies to be hailed by the woolier end of the astrological community as symbols of spiritual enlightenment, universal harmony, and other New Age bromides. Even Chiron, who has one of the saddest and most pessimistically pragmatic stories in myth, full of irreversible loss and chronic pain, was seen in some quarters as the astrological poster-boy for 'healing' in the tofu-and-shamanic-drumming sense. It's as though any newly-discovered planet has to be seen through Uranian~Neptunian spectacles before a more realistic vision can be forged. But with Eris, personification of discord, envy, and competition for resources, goddess of hard work and imitative acqusitiveness, the antipsychopomp who might as well be Mercury's tricksy sister as that of Mars? Unlikely, I feel.


* * *

*Incidentally, the TV drama Skins absolutely captures, in exaggerated form, something of the distinctive quality of the Pluto-in-Scorpio (1984-96) generation: intense, introverted and insular, but with a paradoxically compulsive need to network and share, cynical and often self-destructive and highly sexualised, but with a forensic, mordant eye for hypocrisy and self-delusion in the society about them:



I reflected while watching it that it's the generational shifts in the outer planets' signs that mark that heart-sinking sense of a generational gulf. The kids in Skins are meant to be only 9 years younger than me, yet never has anything made me feel quite so antique.

8 comments:

Mariana said...

"Envy, recognised and constructively channelled, can spur us toward developing qualities and abilities which we might not otherwise have recognised as our own potentials.' "

Salieri was envious of Mozart. Was he a genius of untapped potential? He was a composer all his life. Whatever talent he had, he put into his music. If there was genius in there, it should have come to the surface, but there was none. If one is envious of beauty, does it mean one has the power to morph one's physiognomy into a more beautiful shape? We are as we are.

She says it "can" mean untapped potential, meaning it may not. In your opinion, what does envy mean, in those cases where it's not a sign of untapped potential?

Laurel Kornfeld said...

The International Astronomical Union's planet classification system is far from "watertight" and most certainly does not represent any type of agreement among astronomers. Only four percent voted on their planet definition, and most are not planetary scientists. Their decision was immediately opposed by hundreds of other professional astronomers in a formal petition.

The IAU definition makes no sense in that it states that dwarf planets are not planets at all. That is like saying a grizzly bear is not a bear! It is inconsistent with the use of the term "dwarf" in astronomy, where dwarf stars are still stars, and dwarf galaxies are still galaxies.

A second reason the IAU definition makes no sense is that it defines 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 a planet either. A classification scheme that takes the same object and makes it a planet in one location and not a planet in another location is essentially useless.

Many astronomers favor a broader planet definition that includes any non-self-luminous spheroidal body orbiting a star. The spherical part is important because it means an object is large enough for its own gravity to pull it into a round shape--a characteristic of planets and not of shapeless asteroids. If we use this definition and assign dwarf planets as a subcategory of planets, our solar system has 13 planets and counting: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris.

Bo said...

Hi Mariana,

it still reveals what we value, what is important to us. Musical talent is a good example: we don't necessarily have to be able to play or compose to place music at the centre of our lives. Salieri's a very interesting one: thanks for bringing it up. I think what Salieri is envious of isn't limited to musical talent per se, though that is important: it's also youth, and effortlessness, and a sense of divine giftedness, and personal prominence. (After all, if Mozart had never been born, we'd all regard Salieri as a worthy, perfectly competent composer who was well worth listening to.) In archetypal terms, it is a Senex-Puer conflict which has more to it than envy.

Envy, I think, needs to be met rigorous honesty, and this of course can be extremely painful. First of all, we have to be honest about what we want, what the feelings of envy reveal about our unmet needs and longings. If these are too painful to face, it's very easy to fall into demonising the person envied (or the thing they have which one wants), expressing contempt and scorn. This is especially important when one envies one's own child, as happens all too often.

Secondly, if we face up to it in this honest fashion, envy can make us painfully aware of our own inadequacies: it can give us a very hard reality check which can be painfully deflating to our more grandiose self-conceptions. If one envies a friend their handsome partner and lovely figure, it can make us acknowledge--if approached with honesty--that we may simply be less attractive than they are and that's just the way it is. (Though of course one can lose weight and keep oneself nice, etc.) It may also make us aware of how much we want to be made to feel beautiful by having the status symbol of a beautiful partner.

In astrological terms, this is a Chiron issue: the place where it hurts, but just has to be accepted from a philosophical point of view.

Salieri's envy is particularly Chironian because there was absolutely nothing he could do but accept. A transcendent musical genius, stupendously more talented that he, just happened to be alive in the same place and at the same time. It's not fair.

* * *

Dear Laurel, thanks for this! It shows that the whole process has been wonderfully Eridian.

Debbie Keil-Leavitt said...

I just wanted to thank you for the wonderful work you did on Eris, and for sharing it. While I have struggled a bit with her when I read charts (Well, she is new, is in exact opposition to my natal Mars in Libra, conjunct my Jupiter, and square my Mercury/Chiron in Capricorn so I guess the response makes sense!) In any case, my studies/research is showing that even with the slowness of these outer (dwarf) planets, if they are angular or in tight aspect to personal planets, the myth is very powerful and the person tends to live it in some form. Pluto on a person's angles or aspecting a personal planet has certainly proven to be powerful! They are also strong in transits, like Pluto - Would love your input about this.

Bo said...

Hi Debbie
many thanks for your kind comment. Let me get back to you---intertesting array of aspects. The Eris thing is going to be a book eventually!

Anonymous said...

Arguably the most significant news stories since the discovery of Eris have revolved around such natural and man-made civic/environmental disasters as Katrina, SE Asian tsumani, Haitian and Chilean earthquakes, coal-ash disaster in Tennessee and, of course, the latest Gulf debacle.

None of these areas has ever been, or will be, the same after these events, and it's likely even larger ones are looming. Out of the near-chaos of such events comes a RE-ordering: people and other creatures relocate or remain behind, but in both cases they are often forced by new circumstances to recreate their lives according to their new conditions. Thus the coupling of Eris with the notion of CREATIVE CHAOS. The ones lucky (or unlucky) enough to survive the destruction and undergo a kind of rebirth(all Plutonian themes),will have to come up with new and heretofore unanticipated ways of sustaining themselves. A rearrangement of values based on often vastly different material conditions will be in order.
If striving and competition for potentially scarce resources come to dominate, DESTRUCTIVE CHAOS may ensue and lead us toward HELL ON EARTH. For now we are still clinging to Limbo while getting whiffs of Purgatory.

Christ, I'm not even Catholic......

Bo said...

The same thought had occurred to me also---it's in the book I'm currently writing!

Amy Shapiro said...

Bo, Great overview of Eris dynamics. Please send me a link to your book when it's ready (at NewAgeSages.com).
Thank you,
Amy Shapiro
(Author, Forces At Work: Astrology and Career)

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