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Pluto retrograde: confronting the shadow self

Pluto retrograde

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.

18 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 ;-)

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

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

    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 //

    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. Veronica // April 26, 2016 at 1:40 pm //

    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

    • Thanks for sharing Veronica. A great example of how retrograde Pluto can prompt us to let go of unnecessary fears and inhibitions…

  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
    ????

    • Thanks for sharing Aprie. It’s always good to hear from people who are experiencing these placements personally.

  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.

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