With Pluto retrograde from 17 April until 27 September we are given an opportunity to explore our darkness and confront the shadow self. Our shadow is all the parts of ourselves we disown. Our demons live in the shadows but, according to psychoanalyst Carl Jung, it is not just the negative aspects of our psyche that are buried here. Many positive qualities also remain hidden because we’ve been taught over time that they are unacceptable or wrong.
In the most recent Know Yourself Astrology Course we had a fascinating discussion on the shadow which got me thinking about how we can use this Pluto retrograde period to explore and come to terms with these unclaimed aspects of ourselves. For as Jungian analyst Aniela Jaffe puts it, “the shadow is the sum of all personal and collective psychic elements which, because of their incompatibility with the chosen conscious attitude, are denied expression in life,” and many of these elements are worth reclaiming.
For example, if you were brought up in a family where the predominant philosophical position was atheism you may have felt very uncomfortable when as a child you began to experience psychic sensitivity or interest in spiritual matters. These inclinations were not wrong but you repressed them because they were unacceptable at the time. Pluto retrograde is a good time for looking into our darkest corners and bringing these repressed aspects of self into the light.
When we look directly at our shadow all the unclaimed parts of us, both those that are genuinely unhealthy and those we have learned to be ashamed of, become clear to us and we can then choose consciously what we wish to manifest. This is Sun energy: bringing the shadow into the conscious light of awareness. But the process of exploration, the journey we take into the psyche during Pluto retrograde, is not always pleasant.
This is because the shadow is tightly bound up with shame. Not guilt in the sense of knowing we have done something wrong and feeling the prick of our conscience, but that heavy, dark feeling that something about us is not acceptable, the need to hide some aspect of our being, perhaps even from ourselves. Pluto retrograde allows us to access this darkness within, particularly our unconscious need to control ourselves, others and the outside world.
However the shadow is not exclusively the realm of Pluto. It is also strongly associated with Saturn because it is often the authority figures in our life who teach us that certain parts of ourselves are not acceptable and should be suppressed. These beliefs are then internalised and manifest as the voice within that brings self-doubt and self-censoring. Neptune also plays a role by allowing us to deny our inner shadow and to hide its truth from ourselves.
If we don’t come to terms with our shadow we can begin to project it onto others. This can manifest as a tendency to look for a partner who has the qualities we find difficult to access in ourselves, such as gentleness or strength. However it can also come out in blaming behaviours, judging others for the qualities we cannot acknowledge in ourselves, even if they are as clear as day to our friends and family.
Developing an understanding of the polarities in astrology can add greatly to our understanding of the shadow self because in many cases where we identify strongly with one archetype in a polarity (say Virgo), the other archetype (in this case Pisces) may be scorned or neglected. This forces it into the shadow. Thus our objective with all the polarities in the zodiac, and particularly those in opposition in our natal chart, is to work towards balance.
In Jung’s view, the shadow needs to be made conscious and integrated into the self so that we are no longer projecting it onto others, a habit that make healthy relationships extremely difficult to maintain. Metaphorically such integration involves a journey into our own inner darkness where we must confront our demons. This journey can be frightening and painful but ultimately leads us onward and upwards into a brighter place. During Pluto retrograde we have an opportunity to begin this important journey.
How will Pluto retrograde affect you?
If your chart is strong in the Scorpio archetype you’ll really feel Pluto retrograde, as will anyone who has Pluto personalised in the chart as a ruling planet or in aspect to the Sun, Moon or chart ruler. To better understand how this will affect you take a look at which house Pluto is transiting in your chart. For example in my chart Pluto in moving through my 8th House and is conjunct my natal Sun, Moon and Venus.
If Pluto retrograde transits one of your natal planets the issues it brings up may feel very raw and personal. If this is the case remember that the best way to work with Pluto is to surrender. Often he will take something from you that you feel very strongly about, even something as important as a job, home or relationship, but if you can let it go you will be given something far more valuable in return.
If you have Pluto retrograde natally the shadow self is something you may already feel quite familiar with. Perhaps you have a dark side, a secret self that only a few trusted others ever see. For you this may be a time of questioning whether these darker aspects of self really need to be hidden, and if so whether they contribute to your well-being.
You will experience Pluto retrograde differently depending on how Pluto is aspected in your chart. For example if you have Pluto in aspect to Venus you could find yourself exploring the shadow through your partnerships, while for someone with Pluto in the 12th House this journey may be a very solitary experience.
For more on Pluto retrograde read Pluto and Mars retrograde: seek out what lies beneath.
Meanwhile, in another part of the cosmos…
Our journey into the shadow is supported by an ongoing t-square between slow movers Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune. This configuration is all about facing up to reality and accepting our situation as it is, rather than living in a idealistic dream of how things could be. The unflinching honesty this calls for will be a real asset as we work with Pluto retrograde.
Over the next three days this t-square is activated by the Moon transiting over Saturn in Sagittarius, bringing up competing feelings of frustration and guilt around responsibility. We know we have to face up to them but we just don’t want to! If it’s all just too much take things a little easy. When the Moon passes on you may be more ready to deal with your challenges.
Working with Pluto retrograde
Confronting our darkness is not pleasant and Pluto retrograde will be difficult for many. However the reward is worth all the hard work and heartache. By unearthing and integrating the lost and hidden aspects of ourselves our capacity to live our lives as happy, creative and powerful beings is greatly increased. Are you feeling Pluto retrograde? Please share your experiences so we can learn from each other.
Faith is founder and principal of Insight Astrology and has been teaching and giving readings for over twenty years. She is fascinated by astrology as a tool for personal growth and passionate about empowering others to read its language.