This is Part One of an 8-part blog series
originally published as an article in
The Mountain Astrologer (August/September 2014)
The Age of Ceres
It is an astrological truism that, as our awareness of the solar system evolves through new astronomical discoveries, the constellation of archetypes and metaphors by which humans navigate the world also shifts. When new planets are discovered, astrologers generally remain on the lookout for some new paradigm emerging into our collective consciousness. Perhaps when a planet is promoted (or, as in the case of Pluto, demoted), there may be a similar shift in metaphorical significance worth noting. If so, it is likely that Ceres’ recent promotion from asteroid to dwarf planet in 2006 by the International Astronomical Union parallels an important sea change in our understanding of who we are and what we are doing here on Earth – a planet of limits and consequences[i]. In this article, I would like to speculate about Ceres’ rising capacity to illuminate the current state of the anima mundi or soul of the world, given recent developments since her change in status.
Although Ceres has been known to astrologers since her discovery by Italian astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi in 1801, and in popular contemporary usage at least since the publication of Demetra George’s groundbreaking book Asteroid Goddesses in 1986 (Demetra George and Douglas Bloch, Asteroid Goddesses: The Mythology, Psychology and Astrology of the Reemerging Feminine, San Diego, CA: ACS Publications, 1986), this body’s new bona fide membership in the planetary pantheon prompts a revisitation.
Ceres as the Harbinger of a New Era
Until the invention of the telescope in the early 17th century, our knowledge of the solar system — and its reflection in the human psyche — was limited to the Sun, Moon, and five visible planets. The discovery of Uranus in 1781 roughly coincided with the rise of the Industrial Revolution, which made possible the exploitation of Earth’s resources on a large scale, as well as the emergence of capitalism as a way of organizing and directing the course of industrial prowess. Five years before the discovery of Uranus, Scottish philosopher and father of modern economic theory Adam Smith published An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (more widely known simply as The Wealth of Nations) — generally considered to be his magnum opus and the first bible of the capitalist revolution.
The discovery of Neptune in 1846 roughly paralleled the rise of socialism and communism as a counterforce to capitalism, and the transcendentalist movement of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau as a precursor to the modern environmental ethic that battles corporate malfeasance today. Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto was published in 1848, launching the socialist and eventually the communist response to capitalist abuses. In 1849, Thoreau published Resistance to Civil Government (Civil Disobedience), which in turn informed the politics of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. and set in motion a counterforce to the Uranian industrial–capitalist exploitative mindset of progress and prosperity at any cost.
Lastly, soon after Pluto was discovered in 1930, we experienced the Great Depression signaling the sordid downside of capitalism run amok, the rise of fascism culminating in the Holocaust of World War II, and 15 years later, the power of the atomic bomb, dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to unleash unprecedented death and destruction.
In 1936, Johns Maynard Keynes wrote The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, in which he argued that demand was the key variable affecting economic growth, the free market alone was not sufficient to guarantee full employment, and the government had an active role to play in stimulating the economy. All are essential ingredients of the modern consumer culture and corporate welfare state that have pushed us to the precipice we stand on now.
Meanwhile, Hitler wrote Mein Kampf in 1925, in which he called for German domination of the world and extermination of the Jews — a chilling testimony to the power of human arrogance to plunge the entire world into an Underworld experience.
Later, Robert Oppenheimer, the chief architect of the Manhattan Project, which created the first atomic bomb, quoted from the Bhagavad Gita the passage where Krishna transforms himself into Shiva in order to convince Arjuna to do his duty, saying, “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds,” and aptly describing what the Age of Pluto had become.
In 2006, as Ceres was being promoted to dwarf planet, Pluto was demoted to the same status. Although there are many possible interpretations of this shift, my take on it is this: In the intervening years between the discovery of Pluto and this latest astronomical changing of the guard, we have had ample time as a species to wake up and smell the burning bodies. In this 75-year or three-generation stretch of our history, there was a very real opportunity to take responsibility for the terrible forces of destruction that we, the human species, had unleashed through our industrial prowess and technological ingenuity. By and large, we have failed to do so, and now, as we enter this new Cerean Age, we must instead turn our attention to dealing with the consequences of this failure. We are also entering an era when, despite our prodigious power, it is the natural world — as represented by the all-powerful fertility goddess Demeter — that will likely have the last word.
The manifesto marking the advent of the Cerean Age was not a book, but Al Gore’s documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth, released the same year that Ceres’ status was changed. The film depicts Gore giving a keynote presentation with data and predictions regarding climate change. Gore had apparently relaxed a great deal since the days when he “used to be the next president of the United States” (his opening joke), and the presentation was offered with warmth, pathos, and humor, but the message was dire and urgent.
[i] Ceres is not the only new planet in our solar system. Additional dwarf planets discovered in the Kuiper Belt beyond Pluto in recent years include Haumea (2003), Sedna (2003), Orcus (2004), Makemake (2005), and Eris (2006). In addition, new Centaurs, potential dwarf planets in the Kuiper Belt, and Oort Cloud objects are being discovered at an incredibly rapid rate, year by year. Each of these bodies has its own contribution to make to our rapidly shifting understanding of the planetary zeitgeist. My focus in this article is on Ceres, because it has been part of the astrological lexicon for some time now, and it’s easier to make relatively educated guesses about its role, given recent events that fit its symbolism. The other bodies require more time to observe, I think, before we jump to premature conclusions about them.