Mundane astrology is the branch of the field that focuses on world events. The term is derived from the Latin mundo, meaning “world”, and it’s probably a rather unfortunate term – after all, how excited can you get over something that calls itself “mundane”? Yet following the correlations between celestial cycles and worldly events in politics, social trends, and economics is actually a matter of fascination for many astrologers and those interested in astrology.
The Holy Grail for mundane astrologers is a demonstrable link between something that happens in the sky and a predictable manifestation on Earth. Such links often prove elusive, especially as the sky and Earth are always in motion, with many overlapping cycles occurring simultaneously, and no two moments in time are ever really alike. Add in innovation and changing conditions on this planet, and it gets very tricky indeed to sort out the relationship between the celestial and terrestrial realms. Even the most convincing retrospective analysis tends to run into trouble when the astrologer applies knowledge of the past to the future.
Yet while the task is daunting, it isn’t impossible. One approach, favored by Richard Tarnas in his book Cosmos and Psyche (2006, reviewed on this site), is to emphasize the overall archetypal flavor of events. While recognizing that worldly events will always be novel, we can still identify reliable patterns of meaning that relate to astrological phenomena. We wouldn’t expect the Neptune-Pluto conjunction (meeting) in the 1890s to be all that much like the one in the 1390s, because the world had changed quite a bit in 500 years. Yet there are some similarities if we look at the types of challenges and opportunities that were present at both conjunctions.
Working with larger archetypal patterns, many mundane astrologers look at a variety of cosmic cycles and cast their net wide to catch the flavor of the associated events. In Brother Pluto, Sister Eris, Thomas Canfield takes a somewhat different approach, focusing instead on the ongoing cycle of only two planets, Pluto and Eris (technically dwarf planets, from an astronomical perspective), and examining their cycle in great detail. Pluto is known as the planet of deep transformation, and as lord of the underworld he is associated with death and rebirth. Eris is mythological figure associated with discord. The two together represent a kind of meaningful disharmony.
The book is very well written, and Canfield is quite accomplished as an historian. His descriptions of the complexities of things like The Hundred Years War is illuminating even before we get to the astrology. At the core of the book, however, is the author’s tenacious hold on the Pluto/Eris cycle and its association with times of upheaval and change. Canfield uses the analogy of a crime scene to describe his detective work, and indeed he makes for quite a forensic astrologer.
All planets (and other objects orbiting the Sun) have a cyclical relationship with each other. From the perspective of the Earth, they meet at some point in the zodiac, like the hands of a clock at noon. After their meeting, the faster-moving planet begins to pull ahead of the slower-moving one, just as the minute hand gradually leaving the hour hand behind until they meet again at a later point.
Some cycles are quite fast – the Moon and Sun meet every month, for example – while other cycles like Pluto and Eris are extraordinarily long. It is these longer cycles that are generally held to have the most powerful mundane effects. When planets get into an angular relationship with each other, the cycle is triggered and events unfold according to archetypal patterns. The book extends beyond the cycle itself, to include some cases of Pluto and Eris affecting individuals on the world stage (for example, Kaiser Wilhelm had Eris conjunct his Neptune when he began the expansion of the German navy).
Brother Pluto, Sister Eris traces the cycle of the two ‘suspects’ through 800 years of history. There are some advantages to this detailed analysis, including an ability to see the different effects of different points in the cycle and the ability to observe a variety of manifestations of the two planets interacting with each other. One certainly gets a sense of the power of the Pluto/Eris cycle, as the relentless transformative process of Pluto meets the chaotic mischief of Eris. The book is largely a history of wars and other events that we might well label tragic.
If we can learn from history, we can perhaps avoid the more difficult manifestations of Pluto and Eris. With awareness of the challenges that this cycle provides and the pitfalls we have succumbed to in the past, we may be able to come to a more positive – or at least less destructive – experience of the Pluto/Eris cycle. Perhaps as a result of steeping himself so deeply in the history of these two cosmic troublemakers, Canfield is not so optimistic.
Whether Canfield has convincingly made his case against (or is it for?) Pluto and Eris is up to the individual reader. Certainly, the book is an enjoyable, if somewhat gruesome, read. The impossibility of factoring out other astrological cycles and the ongoing history of unpleasant events in our collective history always make any book on mundane astrology at risk for appearing either too selective or too inclusive, but Brother Pluto, Sister Eris certainly makes a solid argument. General astrology buffs will enjoy the book for its introduction to these two planets in relationship to each other, while astrological researchers will have a great time adding to and analyzing Canfield’s work.