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Pluto retrograde: confronting the shadow self

Pluto retrograde

With Pluto retrograde from 27 April 2021 until 7 October 2021 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 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.” Many of these shadow 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 . 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.

The shadow is not exclusively the realm of Pluto. It is also strongly associated with Saturn because it is mainly the authority figures in our life who teach us that certain parts of ourselves are not acceptable. 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. It can also come out in blaming behaviours, judging others for the qualities we cannot acknowledge in ourselves.

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.

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, during this time of introspection, 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 transit will affect you take a look at which house Pluto is passing through in your chart. For example in my chart Pluto in moving through my 8th House and is right on top of (conjunct) my Vertex point.

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: peace of mind.

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.

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.

If you don’t have one yet, you can get a free birth chart at To understand how to read your birth chart, and follow the transits in your own life, download my free ebook The Language of Astrology.

25 Comments on Pluto retrograde: confronting the shadow self

  1. I’m wondering if one can see the Pluto retrograde as a phase where all the “hidden crap” which Pluto has been digging up unconsciously while in direct motion, is now planted on our doorstep so we can deal with it?? It might be especially relevant if you have Pluto transiting the 12th house (like me) – a process which is highly individual and is sometimes not even felt and seen on the conscious level. I’m thinking of this as a digging machine – and then, to be able to dig some more, going deeper – Pluto needs to “unload” what he has been digging up so far. They say that diamonds comes from the ground so it kinda makes sense ;-)

    • I like your metaphor Anette… Indeed many good things come from dark places!

    • Jessica Corcoran // July 14, 2021 at 9:02 pm // Reply

      I’m also currently experiencing pluto retrograde in my 12th house. I had pluto exact conjunct Mars in scorpio 2 rulers of scorpio so I feel pluto retrograde intensely. In the 12th House it is all internal and the more you can surrender and let go of the easier the process, I have had time to not8the last 3 pluto retrogrades in the 12th house and I’ve noticed something strange keeps happening around this time, I instinctively take in these large big breaths and apon exhale I can feel as though my body is releasing or letting go of a ton of bricks, but I have to be in a very passive relaxed state for this process to take place, this can go on for months at differing varies of intensity. But it has made me come to realise pluto the planet of transformation can only work its magic when we’re in a very relaxed meditative state like when the caterpillar cocoons in darkness and silence only to immerge far more beautiful and powerful than before. Pluto wants to change us for the better but only if we surrender. Even though Mars is also the modern ruler of scorpio they are opposite energies, pluto the higher octave of scorpio gathers gathers strength through passive inaction, as apposed to Mars gathers strength through direct Action.

  2. Thank you Faith, for this nicely written piece of insight!

  3. Demitra M. N. // April 25, 2016 at 3:06 pm // Reply

    I have been confronting not only my own Shadow my whole life but the Shadow of mass consciousness as well. With my natal Pluto retrograde in the 10th house (and opposing my natal Sun and Mercury in the 4th) my career focus has always been the psychology of the Mind — my own, that of others, and that of the Collective. Hence, I am no stranger to political intrigues and worldwide conspiracies. Pluto is also the ruler of my Ascendant so I am a very private person indeed. While this time period hasn’t really been feeling like much of a challenge for me I will have to admit that I am feeling much more inclined than normal to speak my truth openly (for a change). In the past, it was more normal for me to protect others from the truths I uncovered, because I sensed they were not ready to hear or deal with any of it. But I have grown weary of walking on eggshells around other people and their sensitivities. I feel very strongly that the time has come for everyone to wake up to the reality we have created collectively. This is done by each of us owning our respective slice-of-the-pie. As our repressed and hidden issues surface, we must release and process, however painful, in order to move out beyond of our old familiar comfort zones and change our world. Then and only then can we discover that we are now able to reclaim personal powers and energies that were simply not available to us before we dug-in and made the effort.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience Demitra… It’s difficult to acknowledge the darkness within ourselves and even harder to reveal it to others. I think this applies on the level of our collective consciousness as well…

  4. Samuel Guia // April 25, 2016 at 9:59 pm // Reply

    I went through a square of the Pluto-Uranus squaring and opposing my Mar-Jupiter conjuction in Libra in the past two years and leaving my housing situation in shambles. I ended up living with a man dying of cancer and living in a dark garage of his own house. I saw him going through a bankruptcy and a divorce in the last twelve months and I felt trap in a place that is beginning to test my patience and compassion towards my housemate. Will this Pluto retrograde help me in any way, like it weakens Pluto’s expression to bring up dark matter into my life and start bringing more light into my own life instead?

    • It’s difficult to know without seeing your chart Samuel. I do think there is an opportunity at this time to see our darkness more clearly and to take responsibility for that, which of course is the first step to moving away from the darkness and into the light…

  5. Hello, thank you for the continuous well written articles! I have Pluto in my 12th Libra, sextile neptune in sag (2nd) and semi-sextile Uranus in scorpio (1st) as well as a 9 degree orb conjunction to my Libra ASC.. Im not sure if I should put that into play though.

    I started feeling this retrograde almost immediately. Last Tuesday on the 19th I felt the need to reach into my soul and see what it needs to be, who I need and want to be. I am sometimes too consumed with what people think of me and what my life should be in terms of societies standards and expectations as a 37yo mother and woman. I feel as though I do not fit those standards and am choosing to live my own path. So last week, I decided to book a solo surfing trip to another country without telling anyone. I will start checking in with myself more often to make sure I am living in accordance to what MY SOUL needs and NOT what others think I should be doing.

    Does this sound like a 12th house Pluto natal placement? Pluto is Rx my 3rd house capricorn… also the house that rules short trips! lol

  6. Nice write up. The Capricorn component to the Pluto retrograde is catching my attention more and more. It really speaks to responsibility. The shadow side of being responsible and probably more to point the rejection of it. Or denial. We are past the half way mark of Pluto’s trek through Cap. Last time we had it was of course 1770’s. Big ass time for the world when the US decided to go to war with King George. Arguably the world has not been the same. These are heady times to be alive. Who is our responsibility? Who is not? How are leaders being responsible? How are they not? With Saturn in Sag working out the long T square energy with Neptune/Jupiter calls out the hypocrites. That’s perfect for Pluto Retro in Cap. But still at the end of the day it is every man or woman for themselves. When they wake up every morning and look in the mirror they know is they are living up to their fullest. What’s the path to get to their fullest and how is their shadow working against them is something Pluto retro can help them figure out. Or not they can wait till next year’s Pluto Retro….

  7. Pluto retrograde natally here, it’s like Pluto is always retrograde in my life ha ha…
    Pluto retrograde effect:
    1. I started learning my self, psychology, astrology, etc etc
    2. Figuring out problems, and the cause
    3. Diet
    4. More curious about everything and everyone

  8. Lions and tigers and Pluto…OH MY! There’s a reason I chose my profile pic! In my natal chart, Pluto is in Virgo, square w Venus, in opposition w Jupiter, and in a trine w my Asc Taurus. In current chart Pluto is in Capricorn. Pluto is in opposition w my Sun and Capricorn is my Sun sign. This is a time like no other for me. I wavered, but now realize I have the opportunity to emerge as something transformed. Did you know the caterpillar is decapitated in its transformation – but then it can frickin’ FLY!

    • I can relate LBelle! Transiting Pluto is currently conjunct my natal Venus, Sun and Moon and square my natal Pluto. Big time life changes!

  9. I neglected to mention that transiting Pluto is in sextile w natal Neptune, is in trine w nat Asc and nat Ceres and nat moon.

  10. I have found this very heavy dark thoughts ..down feeling felt terrible wed13 th Thursday friday …anxiety …other people feeling the same …I wont this to pass and feel the sunshine

    • I know exactly what you mean Jillian, especially with regard to anxiety. Pluto transits can be very heavy on our mental health! As this is a long transit it’s really important to put in place a self care routine which allows us to reflect on and process our feelings. Personally my go to is time in the garden – I really feel for people experiencing the COVID lock down in a city apartment! Also, although it’s instinctual to want this to be over, putting our focus on what we wish reality would be like, instead of relaxing into and accepting what reality is, ultimately only makes us more stressed and anxious.

      I like to think of transits like waves in the sea. Some are small swells and ripples that bouy us up and fill us with a sense of oneness with the ocean. Others are dumpers, and there ain’t nothing you can do to stop that baby from dumping you! In either case, the best approach is to let the wave take you. It’s hard because transits tend to come in clusters, according to our age and personal natal chart. Having lots of heavy transits wash over us over an extended period is exhausting! We barely have time to come up for air before we are dumped by the next one. Stay strong and remember: you can do this!

  11. Do you think Pluto conjuncting a midpoint would also count as important? I am still not sure how much importance to give to midpoints. I have a venus/mars and mars/MC midpoints at 25 degrees Capricorn.

  12. Thank you Faith for sharing your wisdom and knowing I will walk this road with love because I like to grow, I love Pluto. Big kiss Anna

  13. I am able to deal with my own shadows, uncomfortable but I’m used to the pain of it all, but I am frightened by the wider world. The anarchy in places like Portland and the refusal by the Democrats to stop it. The flooding of the USA with illegal incomers. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. I pray to God to protect us while we transition into the Age of Aquarius. Rules are what we agreed to play by. I have Pluto retrograding onto Chiron opposite Jupiter Conjunct Uranus 11th and 12th. Over it, lol. Wish I could jump to my Happy Ever After. Sadly we seem to be Taking the Long Way Home.

  14. Hello my Shadow. In my World my Shadow is my Twin Flame.
    I look forward to a few months of revising our connection.

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