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American Materialism: The Elephant in the Middle of the Room

September 15, 2015

By Jessica Murray   

Pluto is the planet of taboos. How appropriate it is that the god of Hell is the governor of these festering energies, always in the atmosphere but rarely discussed honestly and directly. The danger attached to these ideas causes baroque mythologies to build up around them, a system of apologias which would provide a fascinating self-study if we had the courage to look into them. In our own natal chart, Pluto’s placement points to issues we may be semi-aware of but rarely look into, because we simply don’t know what to do with them. It is human to resist confronting this realm of the psyche. As individuals, it is difficult to even begin without a trusted, dispassionate guide. We need help negotiating that dark, uneven path, which is why we have therapists and AA groups. But what do whole countries do with their Pluto issues?

For the United States, the big taboo is money. Our enthrallment with the world of matter is something we are all too aware of, but don’t know what to do with. In the USA birth chart (July 4th, 1776, 5:10 pm, Philadelphia, Pa), Pluto resides in the second house, the house of valuables, territory, things of worth. Materialism is America’s elephant in the middle of the room.

Pluto represents the forces of regeneration which manifest as takeovers and makeovers. The second house governs resources and ownership. This placement, whether in the chart of an individual or a country, links the planet of control together with the activity of possessing.


Through this astrological lens we can start to make sense of why money is so central to the American ethos. No other topic is held with such fierce ambivalence: coveted above all else, yet strangely despised. It is rare to hear money talked about in a sober, rational way; instead it is approached with a kind of magical thinking masked in a façade of dead seriousness. Obsessing about money sucks the energy out of Americans from every socioeconomic faction, from the high to the low, the haves right along with the have-nots. If your natal Pluto is in this house, you are familiar with the intensity it puts into your financial dealings. You may have found that your personal karma involves “going through hell (Pluto) and back” as regards earning, selling, buying and saving. Similarly, as a group entity, America is destined to grapple with intensified financial dealings. We are meant to go through economic hell and – if we’re smart – climb back up into the light, having matured as a culture.

Certainly it is obvious to the rest of the world that the USA has a desperately neurotic relationship with money. The problem is that it is not obvious to us. Individual members of a collective inevitably have a hard time seeing the idiosyncrasies of the whole of which they are a part. But as astrologers, we are in a good position to achieve this perspective; and as souls who have incarnated into incomparably perilous times, it would seem that we had the responsibility to use it.

Considering the degree of impact our financial dysfunction has upon the world at large, it is remarkable that more thoughtful analysis is not attempted on the subject. From our frenzied consumerism to our obsession with security, we are fixated on money without any sense of what it means in the big picture.

America has been using her Pluto in the 2nd house like a nonstop partygoer, eating and drinking herself into oblivion and then shopping for the next round.

Pluto’s House Placement

Let’s review how Pluto affects the activities of a given house. What house does your natal Pluto occupy? Here is where you find yourself simultaneously repelled and fascinated by a certain set of activities. You may invest more time and energy into them than you’d want others to know about. Or you may avoid them like the plague. Even activities that would seem to be as rote and prosaic as commuting or using the telephone (3rd house) may be associated with feelings of danger or compulsion. This is not because of the activities themselves. It is because, for you, that house’s activities channel deeply compelling forces. Unprocessed feelings and urges bubble up from the depths of the unconscious, and play themselves out through the activities designated by your Pluto placement.

Pluto in America’s 2nd house does not mean that money and territory are fated to be a problem. Our money issues are merely symptomatic. At issue is our collective karma about right use of power, which gets expressed through the way we use our resources.

Material wealth is not the origin of our power as a nation. But we think it is. That is the problem.

The Pathology of Power

Pluto’s meaning encompasses decay, compulsion and shame. But what does this have to do with power? The placement of this planet in the natal chart shows us where we have been operating undercover – literally (hidden affairs, espionage) or undercover of awareness – and have cultivated, over time, a set of obsessive habits. These take up residence in our unconscious, where they don’t have to answer to criticism.

Psychology tells us that repressed material gains potency as a result of the energy invested in keeping it secret. Astrology tells us that Pluto governs the Dark Mysteries of death and rebirth, which, when tapped, allow us to access tremendous power. But unless mindfully used, that power waxes destructive.

However you explain the potency of Pluto, it is the source of the greatest power available to the chart. And as a first step in getting in touch with it, we have to look at how we misuse it. Does America misuse the power of money? Our country has more wealth at its disposal than any nation that has ever existed on Earth. Where does it all go?

Most of us don’t like to think about how much of the national budget goes to the Pentagon, but let’s look at it with the dispassionate eye of an accountant for a moment. At this writing, one hundred and eighty billion dollars of our money has been spent in Iraq over three years’ time. Whether or not it has been well-spent (killing and maiming innocents, destroying the infrastructure, reducing ancient holy sites to rubble, spreading depleted uranium throughout the air, soil and water, and convincing young Muslim idealists worldwide that Bin Laden was right), let us just try to wrap our minds around that number. We are talking about 250 million dollars a day.

Moreover, we are in debt. Major debt. It is beyond this writer’s capability to conceptualize the several trillion dollars that America is apparently in debt. And how are we making amends? We are giving away money to those who need it least. In a world where four billion people earn less than four dollars a day, our leaders are busy planning additional tax cuts for the already preposterously wealthy profiteers who put them in office. And so far, Congress and the public have been letting them do it.

It is time for America to raise its collective hand, as at a twelve-step meeting, and say: “I have a problem with money.”

Plutonian Cover-Ups

The Plutonian level of the psyche is masterful at covering itself up. Its operations tend to take place in their own little world under their own separate laws, quite apart from our self-image and its laws. Like a cult member avoiding questions from skeptical outsiders, we tend to resent being asked about the area designated by Pluto’s chart placement. We prepare ruses to throw people off the scent. Take another look at your own chart and ask yourself whether you protect your compulsions with stories that wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny. When the will to grow is properly engaged, however, we can drum up the courage to challenge Pluto’s blind workings and access its power creatively. This requires seeing through the tales we tell ourselves about why we are riveted upon certain subjects in a not-altogether-wholesome way. The process of transforming Pluto from a destructive to a regenerative force begins with identifying the alibis and obfuscations that the unconscious mind has erected to keep our dramas intact.

In the natal chart, Pluto’s placement by house and aspect indicates our personal myths. In the national chart, it points to our collective myths. It takes a special kind of awareness to see through our own myths. Certainly it will take a great deal more consciousness than we have thus far been using, to admit that — as a nation comprising a mere five per cent of an increasingly impoverished world population — we Americans harbor some rather incongruous beliefs about wealth and entitlement.

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About the author

Jessica Murray has been practicing astrology in San Francisco for 40-years, After graduating from Brown University in psychology, fine arts and linguistics she toured with a women’s theatre group before moving west in 1975, where her study of Carl Jung led her to astrology. She is author of Soul-Sick Nation and At the Crossroads, and contributed to the anthology Transpersonal Astrology. Her articles appear in the online magazines Reality Sandwich and Day Keeper and frequently are featured in The Mountain Astrologer magazine. More information and articles can be found on her website,

Category:  Opinion  

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