We haven’t delved much into Pluto in synastry, and believe me, we will. But I thought, as a kind of primer, before we get into the deeper waters of Pluto and its significance in interpreting the nodes, I would answer Neeti Ray’s request (check out her excellent blog, Astrology Expressed) and take a little time to explore the way Pluto operates. I know Pluto aspects in synastry spook a lot of people, so some clarity is in order.
All of the outer planets misbehave in synastry. Even the best of contacts give us something to struggle with, though the positive shows itself more readily with the easier aspects. Any outer planet contact is at its worst when we’re taken by surprise. When we’re older and have risen up from the metaphorical ashes a few times, we learn what we’re up against. If we’re taken in our innocence, the experiences of the outer planets can be life-altering. They’re meant to be. It’s difficult enough if we have major outer planet contacts within our natal chart, but when the contacts come from outside, via synastry, they can shock, stun and paralyze us, because we never see them coming. The experience comes to us via another, because we are blind to that dynamic within ourselves.
Pluto has a dangerous reputation in synastry. He’s the guy in the room who causes everyone to back away a little. It’s well-deserved. With Pluto comes jealousy, obsession, compulsion, fearsome desire, terror, rage–a fight to the death, to the last gasp. In its more self-destructive phase, it can be a wish for death. With Pluto can come the experience, and hopefully an understanding, of the deepest, darkest desires of human nature: the impulse to destroy, to break taboos, to experience the forbidden. But Pluto is also about the impulse to cleanse, the impulse to heal. Pluto strips away the crust, the rot, the poison that is preventing us from experiencing our own spiritual wholeness. He doesn’t ask our permission or compliance. Pluto will get what it wants, by any means necessary–we only go along for the ride. When Pluto contacts another’s planet, it is to discover these dynamics within itself.
The Martian side of Pluto, in his role as the higher octave of Mars, is the one most visible in synastry. Pluto, in relationship mode, sets out to satisfy desire. No matter the planet it contacts, Pluto desires to be reborn through a deep psycho-sexual exchange with another human being. Pluto can go after whatever it needs to this end with a frightening intensity. There is a vast difference, though, between the way Mars and Pluto operate. Mars simply satisfies desire. In comparison to Pluto, Mars is rather mindless–it sees something it wants and it goes for it. On the other hand, Pluto has an agenda, a purpose, which is ultimately soul-oriented. Pluto wants to test our limits, to strip us down to the essence. Mars is direct. Pluto is not. There is an attraction/repulsion dynamic to Pluto that is interesting to observe, particularly in synastry. Pluto is torn between the known and the unknown; it senses that the unknown offers a kind of death, and is not fool enough to embrace it wholeheartedly, even though it knows that particular death is necessary. Pluto will do this ‘dance of death’ until desire inevitably wins out (it is Martian, after all). Then Pluto will hang on until its mission is accomplished, no matter the suffering. Life may be divided into ‘before’ and ‘after’ this Pluto contact. We are still ourselves, but we are not the same.
Transformation is Pluto’s ultimate goal. Whatever the aspects, Pluto strips away the ineffective coping mechanisms and false confidences of any planet it touches. Pluto will explore that planet’s depths and seek out what isn’t working. Pluto doesn’t involve the willing seduction and surrender that Neptune implies. With Pluto, the attraction is hypnotic, and very often feels unavoidable. The old Self, with all of its imperfect coping mechanisms, struggles to stay alive. Usually, the old Self loses. (Or it runs away, living to fight Pluto another day.) Relationships with heavy Pluto contacts have a Nietzschean tinge: that which does not kill me makes me stronger.
It would be nice if we could say that all these Pluto contacts were for the best, but that would be like putting a Good Housekeeping seal of approval on an earthquake. It’s good to rebuild, but the method or means or timing can be in question, and it doesn’t always have to be from the ground up. Pluto has the task of stripping away any psychological dross that no longer works for us, or affirms what has been shakily established. But Pluto, too, has to learn its limits. The best of Pluto goes forward with awareness. The worst of Pluto doesn’t know the difference between pruning dead branches and uprooting the entire tree. He can be a healer, allowing new growth, or he can be a thug, leaving us lying battered in the street.
Pluto challenges a planet’s strength and integrity. When Pluto touches something in a chart, there is nowhere to hide. Whatever secrets I may have, Pluto will seek them out. Whatever flaws, he will find. If Pluto touches Venus, my values and my self-esteem, and the very way I express my love, will be in question. If Pluto touches Mars, there will be a cutting or burning away to the very essence of desire. Pluto touching Saturn will act like the aforementioned earthquake, tearing down whatever I have built in the house Saturn occupies. With Pluto/Moon contacts, I may well feel that I’m in a struggle for my soul. At the very least, all my previous reference points and security patterns will be threatened. The person with the heavier Pluto influence tends to have the upper hand in relationships, which is why, when I see strong Pluto between charts, I always hope that I see it going both ways. This does, in fact, tend to happen with Pluto, which I find a bit mysterious. It’s as if people who enter into Pluto wrangles have a mutual desire for this kind of intense transformation, and Pluto is their weapon of choice.
Pluto has the tendency to use its penetrating insight as a weapon. Ask anyone who knows someone with Pluto square Mercury. If they’re unhappy with you, they may not say anything for months, and then suddenly unleash a tirade of painful truths that your ten years of analysis wasn’t able to reveal. Pluto to any planet, either natally or between charts, brings this same pattern of silence, observation, analysis, and explosion. They will erupt on you just when you think you’re safe, when you are least able to defend yourself, and often walk away not realizing what they’ve done. Pluto’s powers of observation may be acute, but it’s not the most sensitive or empathetic of energies. Ruthless is the word that comes to mind again.
An unaware Pluto has a number of flaws, chief amongst them the desire and ability to control and manipulate. Pluto often isn’t aware of its power, and will not realize that, from your point of view, your association feels as if you’ve been dropped into the middle of a guerrilla war. Sometimes, they are outright manipulative, and will push your buttons just to see what they can get you to do. Even within a minor aspect between charts, Pluto may try to manipulate the partner’s planet to its own ends. Pluto is always about power, and the undeveloped Plutonian types were often bruised children who have been made deeply insecure. We misuse power when we are trying to redress feelings of powerlessness. Plutonian types have a great deal of charisma, and need to be persuaded to give up these mindless manipulations and focus their power for the good.
When Pluto is involved in a synastry, power is always an issue. Who has it, who uses it, who controls it within the relationship. As we’ve previously discussed, outer planets influence inner (see Synastry Q & A: Gods of Evolution), but those with the inner planet have the ability to make Pluto sharpen its awareness of the way it operates. The inner planets are not helpless against Pluto’s assault. Because the inner planets are so immediate and conscious, they will have a greater understanding of the way Pluto must transform, and inner transformation is ultimately what Pluto is after (after the death and rebirth, that is). No accident that Pluto is the planet that rules analysis and any other means of self-exploration. Pluto’s attempts to plumb your depths are, in fact, motivated by an intense desire to understand itself. In positive mode, Pluto will take the inner planet by the hand and embark on a mysterious, challenging, sometimes frightening journey towards a greater purity of interaction and intention. The inner planet will provide Pluto with a means and a perspective; Pluto will provide the desire, the drive and the will.
Plutonian relationships aren’t for everyone. If you have a lot of air, or prefer peaceful companionship to having your psyche pulled out and splayed all over the place, I wouldn’t recommend them. If you want passion, if you want intimacy, there are other ways. But Pluto associations are unique in their ability to help us get beyond the surface of the mundane world. Not in a dissolving, Neptunian way, but by means of the deep, chthonian mysteries of the realm of matter itself. If you want company on your journey through your own psychological underworld, Pluto is your man.