Astrology and astronomy are strange bedfellows. Astrologers feed on astronomical data, finding meaningful interpretations of physical phenomena, yet astrologers often feel rebuffed and demeaned by astronomers. While astronomers acknowledge that their science was initially unified with astrology, they are quick to distance themselves from what they see as an antiquated pseudoscience. Astronomers must recognize – however quietly – that astrologers’ sense of wonder and awe when they contemplate the heavens mirrors their own fascination with the sky. It is an uneasy relationship.
In Pluto: New Horizons for a Lost Horizon, editor Richard Grossinger has brought together an interesting and eclectic group of thirty-one essays, musings, and even a poem and a miniature play, on the farthest planet (if we could agree that it is a planet) in our solar system. These essays explore the meaning of Pluto as a mythological, astrological, and psychological phenomenon. Although astrology is part of the process of exploration, the book is not an astrology book per se; rather it amplifies and deepens our understanding of what Pluto means to us as a distant and alien world.
Planet or dwarf planet, Pluto is the farthest object that we identify as part of our solar system (meaningfully if not literally). It is so impossibly distant that it seems certain that it is other, yet it does belong to our local solar neighborhood and in that sense it is us. It is a border, a boundary, a mystery on the edge of what we could possibly consider familiar. In fact, some authors entertain the idea that Pluto is truly an alien presence, introduced from outside the solar system.
Might Pluto truly be an alien world? The timing of the book is meant to coincide with humanity’s first real meeting with Pluto, as NASA’s spacecraft New Horizons approaches it in the summer of 2015. Astronomers have thus given astrologers and mythologists new grist for their mills, perhaps unwittingly undermining their own cool objective perspective in the process. We are going to see what the tiny planet and its moon, Charon, really look like. The mystery of Pluto will remain, but we will have seen the face of the celestial body that we named for the god of the underworld. We are going to see Pluto – and the astronomical interest is dwarfed by its symbolic magnitude.
In preparation for this historic and profound (perhaps fateful?) event, Pluto: New Horizons for a Lost Horizon is excellent reading. No specific astrological knowledge is needed, and readers need not fear being overwhelmed by astrological jargon, although many of the essays are not exactly easy reading. This is a book that is designed to make you think and feel. It provides many perspectives on Pluto, and the symbolic meaning of the Lord of Hades is not casually entertained.
The book’s range spans from the scientific (you’ll learn a lot about the more distant objects in the solar system, not just Pluto) to the speculative. The experience of the book is in some ways similar to a good horror story, in that at least while reading you can entertain even the seemingly wildest speculations. The feeling of unease (uncanny might be a better word) is both thrilling and unsettling. I recommend this book to people who want to feel something of the power of an astrological symbol. It is an experience worth having.